Friday, 1 May 2015

Armenian News...A Topalian...Armenians Should Now Pursue Legal Claims Rather Than Further Genocide Recognition 

By Harut Sassounian, Publisher 

Armenians experienced unforgettable days last week during the Centennial commemorations of the Armenian Genocide. In many respects, Turkish denialists' much-feared ‘Tsunami’ became a reality! While Armenians around the world were busy organizing commemorative events in recent years, their efforts were amplified by some unexpected developments, including Turkish President Erdogan's irrational rhetoric and reaction.

The year began with Erdogan's childish maneuver, switching the Gallipoli War Centennial to April 24, to derail the observances planned for the Armenian Genocide Centennial. The international media quickly exposed the Turkish President's ploy, providing extensive publicity for the upcoming genocide anniversary.

In early April, the Kardashians' visit to Armenia generated thousands of articles and TV reports, and millions of social media posts. A few days later, Pope Francis created his own ‘Tsunami’ by uttering his courageous words on the Armenian Genocide. Once again, Erdogan made matters worse for Turkey by insulting not only the Pope, but also one billion Catholics, and the nation of Argentina, the Pontiff's birthplace. Shortly thereafter, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Armenian Genocide providing further media coverage of this issue.

Being in Armenia for the first time on April 24, and on the occasion of the Centennial, was a deeply moving experience. The Armenian government did monumental work inviting 1,000 dignitaries from 60 countries, including prominent scholars, legal experts, political leaders, parliamentarians from 30 countries, and survivors of other genocides. On April 22-23, the distinguished guests participated in a Global Forum "Against the Crime of Genocide," where I delivered brief remarks castigating Pres. Obama's failure to keep his promise on using the term Armenian Genocide. I explained that contrary to a widely-held misperception, the United States has repeatedly recognized the Armenian Genocide.

On April 23, all six political parties represented in the Austrian Parliament issued a joint declaration recognizing the Armenian Genocide. As expected, Turkey overreacted by withdrawing its Ambassador from Vienna. This is the second Turkish Ambassador to be recalled to Ankara this month. As an increasing number of countries recognize the Armenian Genocide, Turkey may soon have fewer envoys, isolating itself from much of the world!

Also on April 23, German President Joachim Gauck delivered a powerful speech at a memorial service in Berlin, acknowledging not only the Armenian Genocide, but also Germany's complicity in the Ottoman Turkish genocidal campaign. Despite heavy pressures from Turkish leaders, the German Bundestag is expected shortly to adopt a similarly-worded resolution which would send shock waves throughout the 1,000 rooms of Pres. Erdogan's newly-built palace, since Germany was Turkey's ally in 1915, and continues its close relationship until today!

In the evening of April 23, the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I jointly presided over a historic rite of canonization in Etchmiadzin, declaring the Armenian Genocide victims to be Saints. Following this moving ritual, at the exact hour of 19:15 or 7:15 pm, churches throughout the world began ringing their bells 100 times. Later that night, the System of a Down band performed a free concert at Yerevan's Republic Square. The thousands of young people in attendance were highly energized despite the heavy downpour. The concert was aired live, disseminating the band's Genocide message to millions of people worldwide.

On April 24, a memorable observance took place on the grounds of Tsitsernagapert, the Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan, with the participation of hundreds of religious leaders, Ambassadors, officials, and presidents of Russia, France, Cyprus and Serbia. While the heads of two superpowers came to Yerevan on April 24, Turkey was unable to attract to Gallipoli the same caliber of leaders, despite its considerable efforts. It was perfectly fitting to this solemn occasion that the distinguished guests at the Yerevan Memorial spent several hours huddled in blankets like refugees, in freezing temperatures, sheltered under a large canvass from the rain.

One of the most stunning developments last week was Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu's declaration that the Armenian "deportations were a Crime Against Humanity" -- which under international law is tantamount to recognizing the Armenian Genocide. No one should be surprised if Erdogan dismisses Davutoglu after the June Parliamentary elections.

Now that the Centennial is behind us, it is high time that Armenians turn the page on Armenian Genocide recognition and begin to systematically pursue their claims from Turkey through international, regional and local tribunals.

Would Israel tolerate calling the Holocaust a 'massacre?'
By Israel W. Charny and Yair Auron
Apr. 30, 2015 

In putting our desire to protect our 'ties' with Turkey and Azerbaijan above our willingness to recognize the Armenian Genocide, we in Israel sacrifice basic principle and integrity.

There is no political or economic situation in which we Israelis – or Jews worldwide – would accept any other nation denying the Holocaust or the full scale of its killings and torture. We would be hurt, insulted, horrified. We would experience the denial as a kind of endorsement, or even repetition of, the degradation our nation suffered in the Holocaust.

The Armenian people are no different. They are hurt, insulted and horrified by the minimization of the Armenian Genocide by our State of Israel.

For many years, they looked up to Israel with great respect and a deep sense of kinship with a people who, like them, suffered a massive genocide. They admired us enormously for our amazing ability to rebuild our vibrant and thriving nation. They, themselves, are just beginning on their path of reconstruction.

Now, although many Armenians continue to admire Israel greatly – both writers of this piece have been awarded the Presidential Gold Medal in Armenia for our contributions to the memory and recognition of the Armenian Genocide – a degree of hate of Israel is mounting. How could the people of the Holocaust fail to extend full recognition to the Armenian Genocide (which, at times, is referred to as the "Armenian Holocaust," especially in Hebrew, such as in one article by an historian in Bar Ilan University Magazine and various press reports)?

Israel has had its "excuses." But would we accept such excuses from a government that denies the Holocaust was genocide?

Moreover, we, the proud people who are not to be led like lambs to humiliation, would look for ways to fight back hard and resolutely.

The history of our denial of the Armenian Genocide casts us in a light of being a manipulative, self-serving and dishonorable people. Justifiably so. It makes us cowards that to protect our once-upon-a-time relationship with Turkey and now to an increasing extent with Azerbaijan – a Muslim, Turkic-speaking state – we have sacrificed basic principle and integrity. Is that the Israel we believe ourselves to be – and want to be?

When the Knesset Education Committee met in June 2012 to consider the unanimous resolution of the Knesset to recognize the Armenian Genocide, almost everyone who spoke – including then-Knesset Chairman Reuven Rivlin – was firmly and warmly for recognition. There were two parties who were opposed. One was a spokesman for the Azerbaijan Jewish community and the other was the spokesman for our Foreign Ministry. Do you remember how America’s State Department was at the head of the opposition to rescue Jews in the Holocaust and then to recognizing the new State of Israel? The atmosphere in the Education Committee was overwhelmingly in favor of recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and then suddenly the chairman of the committee, a representative of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party stood up, banged his gavel and announced, “The meeting is now adjourned. I will arrange for a vote in the future.” Not surprisingly, he never arranged the vote.

For many years, the government of Israel did not even allow mention of the Armenian Genocide. The brother of one of the writers of this article, the late poet T. Carmi (Charny), was editor in the 1960s of Ariel, the respected magazine of our Foreign Ministry, of which thousands of copies were published in a number of languages, on glossy paper that was unusually expensive for those days. In a totally innocent article on the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem, there was a passing reference to the survivors of the Armenian Genocide who had found refuge in Jerusalem – the same survivors to whom our current president, Rivlin, emotionally referred to in his address to the United Nations this year on International Holocaust Day. After all the copies of the magazine were printed and bound, this terrible infraction of the sheer mention of the Armenian Genocide led the Foreign Ministry to order the withdrawal of all the copies of the issue so that the one sinful page could be removed.

For many years, the Israeli government literally forbade mention of the Armenian Genocide in our media (until a principled Yaakov Ahimeir took the daring leap, in 1994). During those days, too, there was at least one instance in which the Israel Broadcasting Authority met for a detailed discussion on whether to show a documentary about the Armenian Genocide and voted overwhelmingly to do so, but the next morning then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir exercised his veto power to cancel the broadcast. (Our Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem did show the film in the Cinematheque auditorium with the participation of the legendary mayor Teddy Kollek, the wife of the Russian freedom fighter Andrei Sakharov, the Armenian Patriarch and others).

Our beloved Israel has been shamefully cowardly, unethical, and cheaply self-serving (including on behalf of its highly questionable lucrative arms export businesses). Are we ready now to salvage some of our self-respect and express a full fellowship with the victims of the major genocide that preceded ours, and in fact is known to have contributed a good deal to the subsequent execution of the Holocaust?

Professors Israel Charny and Yair Auron were invited by the Armenian government to speak at the Centennial Observance of the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan, in April 2015 . Both are leaders of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, and Auron has created the outstanding and probably sole academic program in Israel on genocide at the Open University.
A Letter To The Armenians
29 April 2015 

On the centenary of the Armenian genocide, eight writers from Turkey post this letter to their fellow Armenians.

It has been a hundred years since hundreds of thousands of Armenians of this land have fallen under the systematic massacre of the Ottoman State. In 1915, women and men, young and old, they lost their lives, their families and their homes.

We at P24 (Independent Journalism Platform) humbly pay our respect to the fallen and present this letter from eight writers. This short film produced by P24 and directed by Enis Rıza carries the messages of Adalet Ağaoğlu, Ahmet Altan, Oya Baydar, Murat Belge, Hasan Cemal, Cengiz Çandar, Perihan Mağden and Bejan Matur.

CLICK BELOW to VIEW VIDEO LETTER (Turkish with English subtitles) 

Apirl 27 2015

Armenia has called on Ireland to recognise as "genocide" the deaths
of 1.5 million Armenians during World War 1 by then Turkish forces.

The call was made by the Armenian Consul to Ireland at a service of
remembrance in Dublin today.

The service was organised by the Irish parish of the Armenian
Apostolic Church to mark the beginning of what Armenians call the
genocide against their race, perpetrated by the Ottoman authorities
between 1915 and 1923.

Clergy from seven Christian denominations and a representative of
the Jewish Community were among those in attendance at the service,
which took place in Taney Church of Ireland in Dundrum.

Turkey has said the killings and forced removals were the result of
fighting against neighbouring Russia in World War I and reject the term

However the European Parliament and the Vatican has been joined this
week by Austria and Germany - the Ottoman's main allies in World War
I - in branding the killings as "genocide".

Similar ceremonies have taken place in independent Armenia and
throughout the world where the Armenian diaspora is scattered.

The Turkish government has for the first time sent a minister to the
Armenian Church's commemoration in Istanbul however it withdrew its
ambassadors from the Vatican and Vienna over their use of the term

Novinite, Bulgaria
April 27 2015

Bulgaria's Ambassador in Ankara Krasimir Tulechki was summoned to
Turkey's Foreign Ministry Saturday.

The meeting was regarding the decision taken by Bulgaria's National
Assembly to recognize the "mass extermination" of Armenians as
opposed to the initial version of the document that qualified it as

Meanwhile, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has issued a statement
regarding the events of the past several days. The adoption of the
document was blamed upon "the ultra-nationalist, xenophobic, racist
ATAKA party".

"Our neighbor Bulgaria's Parliament has unfortunately been taken
hostage by the extremist elements within itself, by ignoring the
humanitarian and concrete initiatives that Turkey has taken in this
historical issue," the statement said.

Furthermore, a position was expressed that this turn of events would
negatively affect the relations between the two countries.

Ambassador Tulechki in his turn stated that he will take every effort
to convince Bulgaria's southern neighbor that the declaration is in no
way aimed against it.

He noted that he will be working for restoring the good state of
bilateral relations in all fields of interest.

Deutsche Welle, Germany
April 25 2015

Turkish President Erdogan has slammed the world leaders for recognizing
the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide. Erdogan said countries
like Germany, France and Russia should first "clean their own stains."

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has strongly criticized the European Union
and the US for using the word genocide to describe the massacre of
Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago.

The Turkish president accused Germany, France and Russia of "supporting
claims based on Armenian lies."

Erdogan also accused the United States of siding with Armenia, despite
the fact that US President Barack Obama stopped short of calling the
killings "genocide" and instead used the Armenian term Medz Yeghern
(great catastrophe) for the World War I killings.

"The latest countries to speak of genocide are Germany, Russia and
France. What happened during the two world wars that had been initiated
by Germany in the past century is before our eyes," President Erdogan
was quoted by Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency as saying on

Demonstrations are being held in several countries to mark the 100
years of Armenian killings

"First, they (Germany, Russia and France) must, one by one, clean
the stains on their own histories," he added.

The US is siding with "hatred," the president said, also slamming the
European Union, which on April 15 voted to call the events genocide.

"Hey European Union! Don't offer us any thoughts. Keep them to
yourself," Erdogan said.

During the centenary commemorations of the massacre on Friday in
Armenia, French President Francois Holland said Turkey must recognize
the killings as genocide, while Russian President Vladimir Putin also
used the word that Ankara strongly objects to.

Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenian people were murdered
around the time of the First World War. Turkey says the victims of
the event were merely casualties of war, arguing that the toll has
been exaggerated.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis described the killings as "the
first genocide of the 20th century," drawing the wrath of Turkey,
which recalled its Vatican envoy in protest.

'Confronting history'

Earlier in the week, German President Joachim Gauck called Turkey's
Ottoman Empire killings of Armenians "genocide" at a memorial service
in Berlin.

The Turkish government's statement, issued late on Friday, claimed the
German president didn't have "the right to attribute to the Turkish
people a crime which they have not committed."

It also warned Germany that it had angered its large Turkish
population, saying they "will not forget and forgive President
Gauck's statements."

On Friday Germany's parliamentary speaker, Norbert Lammert, said that
Germany's own history made it even more important for it to stand up
on the subject.

"We Germans cannot lecture anyone about dealing with their past,
but we can, through our own experiences, encourage others to confront
their history - even when it hurts," he said.

Germany's parliament is expected to vote on a motion to officially
declare the killings of Armenians as genocide before its summer break.

The draft resolution, published online earlier in the week, was
careful to point out that Germany's role in the Holocaust during
World War II was even worse than the Turks' attack on Armenia.

More than 20 parliaments globally now recognize the event as genocide.

Commemorations have taken place around the world to mark the centenary
of the massacre.

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, Italy
April 27 2015
Fazıla Mat | Istanbul
27 April 2015

Despite significant progress in recent years, Turkey is still
struggling with an anniversary that marks a past yet to be overcome

April 24th marked the centenary of the "Metz Yeghern", the "Big Evil",
which thousands of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire endured
between 1915 and 1917 with deportations resulted in mass killings.

Like every year, Turkey took on the classic defensive position against
the term "genocide", while the Armenian diaspora has been struggling
for fifty years to have this term recognised.

An unresolved issue

>From the beginning of the Republic to date, Turkish official
historiography has used the term tehcir (forced deportation) to
describe the phenomenon that led to the virtual disappearance of the
Armenian population from Anatolia, and has justified the events as
acts of self-defense stemmed by the circumstances of national peril
in the context of the First World War.

Although the moderate Islamist government of the Party of Justice and
Development (AKP) and its leader, unlike other nationalist governments
of the past, acknowledged the atrocities - President Tayyip Erdogan,
former Prime Minister, offered his condolences to the descendants
of Armenian victims last year - Turkey does not recognise in any way
the premeditated, systematic killing of Armenians.

According to the President, the purpose of the campaigns by the
Armenian diaspora "is less about remembering the suffering endured by
the Armenians than about being enemies of our country and our people.

[...] As in all periods of history, great pains and tragedies
occurred during the Great War. Not just Armenians have suffered the
consequences. [...] If we kept count of the pains that our people
have suffered in the last hundred years, we would have to say and to
claim much more than the Armenians".

Observers point out a difference in tone between Prime Minister Ahmet
Davutoglu and Erdogan on the issue. While the former is generally
considered as more conciliatory and diplomatic, according to Etyen
Mahcupyan - Turkish-Armenian journalist and advisor to the Prime
Minister - Erdogan's harder attitude towards the Armenian diaspora
stems from the concern of losing "the 4% of the nationalists' votes"
close to the June 7th elections.

Mahcupyan also maintains that "it is impossible not to define genocide
what was done to the Armenians in 1915". A few days later, he announced
his official resignation from his post "because of seniority", adding
that he will continue to work "informally, without a salary". Many
have naturally connected the advisor's sudden change of appointment
to his statements.

The Armenian genocide on the international scene

Although Erdogan declared that the resolution adopted last Thursday
by the European Parliament, which recognised the Armenian genocide,
leaves him completely unfazed, the terminology adopted by the
international institutions and community to commemorate the centenary
deeply troubles Ankara.

Brussels' decision endorsed Pope Francis' speech of last April 12th,
which referred to a text by John Paul II to say that the one against
"the Armenian people", along with the "Syrian Catholics and Orthodox,
Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Greeks, is generally considered the first
genocide of the twentieth century". The Pope words sparked protests
from Ankara, that expressed "disappointment, pain, and loss of
trust" towards the Vatican. "Considering the suffering unilaterally,
taking sides of a group only and hiding the suffering of the other,
is not suited to the Pope and the position he holds", criticised
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Then, all eyes were on the speech that President Barack Obama would
deliver to Congress on April 24th to commemorate the events of 1915.

The Turkish diplomacy pressed for days for the US president to avoid,
as in past years, to use the word "genocide".

The centenary-induced anxiety led Ankara to anticipate the
commemoration of the Battle of Canakkale (Dardanelles) - also
celebrating its centenary this year - to April 24th to divert
international attention from the Armenian events. Armenian president
Serzh Sargsyan was also invited to Canakkale, but rejected the
invitation with a strongly worded letter addressed to his Turkish
counterpart, with the postscript reading: "Your Excellency, a few
months ago I invited you to join us for the commemoration of the
innocent victims of the Armenian genocide in Yerevan on April 24th. It
is not in our habits to accept an invitation before receiving an
answer to our own".

In Turkey

Meanwhile, Turkey had its own preparations for the centenary. The
Turkish-Armenian community (about 50,000 people), together with members
of the diaspora and Turkish civil society, held a commemoration -
as in the past years - in Taksim Square, where a concert was held
for the occasion. Even there, however, there were discrepancies and
discordant voices.

The Vadip (Platform of solidarity and communication between
foundations), regarded as the most important Turkish-Armenian civil
society organisation, drafted a statement to be read on the day of
commemoration. However, according to Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos,
the text was to be sent to the advisors of president Erdogan to get
an opinion, sparking controversy within the community.

On the other hand, the Armenian Patriarchate allegedly refused to
collaborate in drafting the message without comment. Patriarchal vicar
Aram AteÅ~_yan (who replaces Patriarch Mesrob II Mutafyan, seriously
ill, and was not elected by the Armenian community), announced that
on April 24th there would be no commemoration, but only a Mass. "I
just hope that, as faithful citizens attached to this country, we will
be able to spend the month of April without any unpleasant incidents
and in peace, without suffering pain and sorrow", the Archbishop said.

According to Harut Ozer, a member of Turkish-Armenian civil society,
this happened because the Turkish-Armenian society "internalized
intimidation" and most of it is not interested in these issues because
"it was ripped off its feeling of belonging". This is not a surprising
statement, since Erdogan, commenting on the resolution of the European
Parliament only a few days ago, said without much hesitation that
they could "deport both Armenians who are [Turkish] citizens that
enjoy all the benefits of our country and those who are not citizens
but fled their country for Turkey".

This is not even an isolated comment, since Erdogan had already made a
similar threat in 2010 (the difference is that this time is extended to
"citizens" too). It is not uncommon for Turkish politicians to "accuse"
each other of being "Armenians" when they want to insult. The mayor
of Ankara Melih Gökcek even sued Turkish-Armenian journalist Hayko
Bagdat because he (jokingly) called him "Armenian" on twitter.

"Gökcek is a person who, when he does not like someone, asks them
if they are Armenian. If, as he claims, calling someone 'Armenian'
is an offense, then the mayor will have to pay many thousands of
pounds in compensation", said Bagdat.

Meanwhile, several books on the Armenian issue were published in
April. A lot of attention was garnered by "The Armenian Genocide"
by Raymond H. Kévorkian, published by Ä°letiÅ~_im and presented
as "the widest study carried out on the issue". Several magazines
as Birikim, Mesele, Evrensel Dergi, and #Tarih devoted their last
issue to the centenary. In addition, on April 26th, the Bogazici
University hosted an international conference which long remained
in doubt, apparently because of the title: "The Armenian genocide:
concepts and perspectives in comparison". According to rumours, the
Bilgi University, which in 2005 hosted the first conference on the
"Armenian issue" and was supposed to host this meeting too, stepped
back because of the term "genocide" in the title.

Signs of optimism

Some positive signs, however, do emerge in the prevailingly negationist
Turkish landscape. For the first time in fifty years, three politicians
of Armenian origin were candidates in the upcoming elections to
the leadership of three different parties (AKP - moderate Islamist,
CHP - party of Kemalist tradition, and HDP - a party led by Kurdish
politicians that positions itself as a national-level left wing
formation), highlighting the diversity of ideas that characterises
the Armenian community itself.

A part of Turkish civil society, however, knows well by now what
remained a repressed memory for so long, and presses for a change. "In
Turkey there is a significant group of citizens who apologise to
Armenians, participate in their city's commemoration of April 24th,
carefully read the articles and books published on the subject, and
share their ideas on social media. Although they are not too many,
these people have turned the Armenian issue from a foreign policy
one to a matter of internal politics", writes Ahmet Insel on this
month's issue of Birikim.

Addressing the issue of the Armenian genocide would mean for the
Turkish society to embrace the values of civilisation and humanity. If
ever there will be a change in Turkey, it will take place only when
society will no longer be subjected to the logic of the State and
citizens will be able to think for themselves", he concludes.

Today's Zaman, Turkey
April 24 2015

White doves of peace were released and messages of empathy and
condolences were relayed to Armenians by Ankara at the Patriarchate
of Turkey's Armenians in Istanbul on April 24 at a liturgy to honor
those who died during the 1915 events.

Ahead of the centenary, Ankara became angry when the Pope and the
European Parliament called the killings genocide. On Wednesday, Turkey
called a similar declaration by the Austrian parliament outrageous
and said no one should "lecture others on history."

However, the event at Virgin Mary Church was full of peaceful
messages. At the mass, Acting Patriarch Aram AteÅ~_yan told about a
thousand attendees -- including EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkır,
who stayed inside almost until the end of the ceremony -- that World
War I, and especially the 1915 pages of history, are full of pain.

"Our people's children lost their lives on the roads of deportation
and in other places as a result of a cruel politics, and suffered a
lot. It is their memory that had us gather here," he said.

"Turkey's Armenians are an inseparable and loyal part of
this country, and they are fully aware of their citizenship
responsibilities. [...] We are agonized that this pain and sizzling
wound has been emphasized only after 100 years. Nobody should
expect that we should feel joyful about our situation today without
remembering our past experiences.

Everybody has a right to say anything within the limits of freedom
of expression. Many states support our wounded people in the name of
justice. But, our agony would be doubled if our pain has been used
as a tool in politics," he added.

Archibishop AteÅ~_yan also prayed for the "soldiers of the Ottoman
Army" who lost their lives in the Dardannelles War and extended
his gratitude for the attendance of all Foreign Ministry officials,
religious leaders and foreign diplomats -- among them Greek Orthodox
Ecumenical Patriarchate Bartholomew, Turkey's Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva
and diplomats from the American, British, French and German consulates.

Following Archibishop AteÅ~_yan's sermon, Archbishop Tatul AnuÅ~_yan
read President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's message in which Erdogan
extended his condolences to the children and grandchildren of the
Ottoman Armenians.

"We know the sad events that Armenian society went through in the
past and I want to repeat that we sincerely share your pain. I would
like you to know that our hearts are wide open to the grandchildren of
Ottoman Armenians all over the world," said Erdogan, who had extended
his condolences to the Armenians last year as well.

In his message, Erdogan also commemorated all Ottoman citizens,
"whatever their ethnic and religious identity," who lost their lives
"in similar circumstances."

Then, white doves of peace were released inside the church.

Ottoman authorities rounded up several hundred Armenian intellectuals
in Ä°stanbul on April 24, 1915, marked by the Armenians as the
"Meds Yeghern" (Great Catastrophe), in a series of mass killings and
deportations directed by authorities who believed the empire's ethnic
Armenians might be conspiring with wartime enemies.

Turkey accepts that many Armenians died in partisan fighting during
World War I but denies that the killings amounted to genocide, arguing
rather that they occurred as part of a larger conflict that took the
lives of Ottoman citizens of various ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Before the commemoration, Bozkır told journalists that Turks and
Armenians have a common history.

"It's not correct to reduce the shared history of Turks and Armenians
to events that took place 100 years ago. We desire to have the events
of World War I be investigated. Then, we will be able to look at a
common history," he said.

"We respect the pain that our Armenian brothers and sisters went
through. We consider those events bad. Therefore, we are not against
any commemoration of the pains that were lived. We felt obligated to
join the memorial service. We have to leave behind what happened 100
years ago and look to the future," he added.

Armenian attendees of the mass lit hundreds of candles and joined
the church choir in singing hymns.

Arsin ArÅ~_ık, a retired university professor whose grandparents
fought in the Dardanelles, said that the symbolic number of years is
not important.

"Pains get reduced if they are shared. There is a common pain. Fifty
or 100 years, these are symbolic. The important thing is to share
the pain. We all know what happened," he said.

A woman who was weeping on a church bench at the end of the memorial
was upset because she was not able to make it for the liturgy.

"This was because I was driven to other places when I told the taxi
driver that I was going to the church to pray," said Gulum GumuÅ~_
Akkaya, a recently retired high school mathematics teacher. "But I
will stay here for a while for the father of my father who was killed
in 1915-1916. He was from Harput, Elazıg in eastern Anatolia."

An elderly woman at the church said that she is pleased with the
attention that the mass received. She said reporters asked her many
questions about history and the importance of the day.

In reference to the unease about using the world "genocide" in
Turkey, she said: "Please write, 'they were deported.' What happened,
happened. Today is a nice day. We commemorate our losses and it is
very nice that the president expressed his condolences and officials
were here."

New Statesman
April 27 2015

by Elif Shafak
Perhaps the most difficult word to pronounce aloud in the Turkish
language is "soykirim" - genocide.

"They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else": a History of the
Armenian Genocide Ronald Grigor Suny Princeton University Press,
520pp, £24.95

An Inconvenient Genocide Geoffrey Robertson Biteback, 304pp, £20

Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering Armenia Armen T Marsoobian
I B Tauris, 368pp, £22.50

After a literary event in London this month, a middle-aged Turkish
woman in the audience approaches me and says with a shaking voice:
"Armenians have powerful lobbies in the west and they have convinced
the world of their side of the story, but what about the Turkish side?

Will anyone listen to us? Of course not, we are lonely. We have no
friends. It is your duty as a Turkish writer to tell the world our
version of events."

"Our version" versus "their version". A sense of loneliness mixed
with bitterness. Hurt enmeshed in anger. A widespread paranoia that
the entire world is conspiring against Turkey and an unflagging
reluctance to come to grips with the past. Such are the sentiments
that affect Turkish society today when it comes to the subject of
the Armenian Genocide - "the Great Catastrophe" - which took place
in the Ottoman empire during the First World War and began with the
deportation of Armenians en masse from several corners of Anatolia into
Syria's deserts, causing the deaths of between 500,000 (according to
Turkish historians) and 1.5 million Armenians (according to Armenian
and western sources).

Perhaps the most difficult word to pronounce aloud in the Turkish
language is "soykirim" - genocide. Emotions fly so high that reason
is put aside. After Pope Francis called this dark phase of history
"the first genocide of the 20th century", a top religious official in
Ankara claimed this would only "accelerate Hagia Sophia's conversion
into a mosque". When the European Parliament voted along the same
lines as the Pope, President Erdogan insinuated that he could deport
100,000 Armenian nationals working in Turkey. The Turkish press
follows closely which world leaders have joined the list of those
who pronounced the G-word, and which world leaders have refrained
from doing so (a list that includes President Barack Obama). It is
as if people are more interested in the word than in the series of
disastrous events it describes. What's in a word that makes it so
hard to hear and even harder to accept?

The term "genocide" was coined by the eminent Polish-Jewish lawyer
Raphael Lemkin, who drafted the UN's Convention on Genocide in 1948.

Combining the Greek "genos" ("tribe" or "race") and "-cide" from Latin,
denoting an act of killing, he referred to the deliberate killing of
a large group of people. Lemkin's concept was born out of his thinking
on the Armenian massacres. Since then, there have been heated debates
as to what should be included in this category, ranging from Stalin's
horrific purges to the deadly settlement of Kazakhs or the Holodomor -
the extermination by hunger of millions of Ukrainians in the USSR.

This month, on the 100th anniversary of the events of 1915, bookshops
in the English-speaking world are displaying a stream of works on
the genocide. They make for a harrowing reading list. As a Turkish
novelist, I find it difficult to read the testimonies in these books
and yet, my conscience tells me, I must. As my grandmother used to say,
"They were such good neighbours, our Armenian neighbours in Sivas. We
were close, their children would play in our house, we would visit
their house... we cried when they left. We thought they would come
back." In order to understand how and why the culture of coexistence
was broken, we must read history from multiple angles, not just the
narrative we grew up with.

Ronald Grigor Suny, an Armenian-American scholar specialising in
Russian and Caucasian history, draws on both eyewitness accounts
and historical documents in A History of the Armenian Genocide. He
demonstrates how the Ottoman equilibrium between Muslim and
non-Muslim populations (religious minority groups, known as millets,
had legal protection) disappeared with frightening speed throughout
the second half of the 19th century. Once brimming with military
power and economic resources, the empire now turned into "the sick
man of Europe". The swiftness of the decline, mixed with the fear of
"internal and external enemies", created a fertile ground wherein
xenophobic policies could flourish.

Suny elaborates in poignant detail the myriad conflicts over land
among a range of ethnic and religious groups across Eastern Anatolia.

"What was fundamentally a matter of economics and embedded differences
in political clout was therefore easily ethnicised, interpreted and
understood as a conflict between Turks, Kurds and Armenians." It
complicated things even further that Ottoman Armenians were heavily
concentrated in the six vilayets across Eastern Anatolia, which was
becoming a frontier for clashes between the Russian and Ottoman
empires. The steady military decline of the Ottoman empire, the
interventions of rival European powers, international power struggles
such as the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78, accompanied by some Armenian
rebel groups' alliance with the Russians: all had a direct impact on
the ruling elite's perception of the entire Armenian population as
"dangerous subjects" - hence the beginning of the Armenian Question.

In this turbulent framework, the rise of nationalism would have
devastating results for the Ottoman social order. Nationalism, as an
ideology and as political praxis, was at odds with the cosmopolitan
fabric of multi-ethnic and multi-religious empires. One after another,
various ethnic groups in the Ottoman empire rebelled, longing for
their own independent nation state. Like other imperialists, the
Ottomans were caught in a quandary. For a while the reformist elite
tried to develop a supranational identity that would surpass all
ethnic and national divisions, binding people of all backgrounds to
each other. This glue they labelled "Ottomanism". There were Turkish,
Armenian, Jewish, Syrian, Kurdish and Circassian intellectuals who
passionately believed they were all fellow Ottomans and should stay
together. But against the tide of nationalisms the glue couldn't hold.

After being pummelled by Bulgarian, Greek, Serbian and Albanian
nationalisms in the Balkans, the Turkish elite were now discovering
their own nationalism. Two competing ideologies thrived: Islamism
and Turkish nationalism. The ideal of a supra-identity embracing all
millets was slowly and sadly abandoned.

Suny explores four main factors that accelerated the pace of events:
the European intervention, which internationalised the Armenian
Question; the Armenians' appeal to the European powers; the sultan's
new policy of centralisation, which endangered the semi-autonomous
status of many provinces; and the sultan's new alliance and
strategy with Muslim Kurds against Christian Armenians. With striking
versatility, he studies the period from many angles, pointing out how
"Ottoman Armenians were caught between their loyalty to the imperial
government and their desire for reforms promoted by the Europeans".

Suny also reminds his readers of Bernard Lewis's statement that,
for the Turkish leaders of the time, "the Armenian movement was the
deadliest of all threats . . . [T]he Armenians, stretching across
Turkey-in-Asia from the Caucasian frontier to the Mediterranean coast,
lay in the very heart of the Turkish homeland - and to renounce these
lands would have meant not the truncation, but the dissolution of
the Turkish state." In the eyes of the Young Turk leaders this was a
zero-sum situation. The Armenians had sided with the "enemy", could
no longer be trusted and had to be relocated.

Suny's narrative voice is calm and balanced. One of his strengths
is his meticulous attention to psychological and cultural as much
as international and domestic factors. He underlines the harmful
effects of "the imperial ambitions of European powers, which repeatedly
intervened in Ottoman politics". He highlights how the First World War
changed everything, destroying any possibility of coexistence. "Had
there been no World War there would have been no genocide..."

Geoffrey Robertson QC, head of Doughty Street Chambers, the largest
human rights legal practice in the UK, was one of the three jurists
of the UN Justice Council, all appointed by the secretary general. At
the beginning of his book An Inconvenient Genocide he makes it clear
that he has no family ties with this dark stage of Ottoman history. It
is not because he comes from an Armenian background that he is drawn
to the subject: it is his consciousness as a human rights advocate
that guides him.

Questioning why and how the Armenian Genocide could remain a "crime
without name" for so long, Robertson criticises what he terms "the
chorus of denialism". His book rests upon three main pillars: the
law, history and politics. After setting the legal framework for
the usage of the word "genocide", he offers a historical framework
extending back to the time of Sultan Hamid, who in his efforts to
advance a pan-Islamic ideology sanctioned the massacre of thousands
of Armenians in the mid-1890s. Yet, for all their horror, the Hamidian
massacres did not amount to genocide, Robertson concludes, because they
were not planned by a central government in the way they were later
on. Echoing Suny, he argues that things changed dramatically when
"an extreme nationalism entered the soul of the CUP" - the Committee
of Unity and Progress, the new ruling elite.

Exactly how many lives were lost in 1915 has long been a matter of
contention. Armenian historians have argued that this was a systematic
extermination of a race, but Turkish historians argued it was a mass
relocation, which was made necessary under war circumstances. One thing
is obvious, however: by the end of the First World War the number of
Armenians in the Ottoman empire had been reduced by 90 per cent. My
grandmother's neighbours would never come back. Turkey's Armenians,
who constituted about 30 per cent of the population in Eastern Anatolia
and had been in this region for more than a thousand years, were lost
in a vast human tragedy.

Civilians, mostly women and children, perished during the impossible
forced walk from their home towns to the deserts in Syria. Lacking
enough food and water, many of them died due to starvation, disease
and fatigue while others became victims of sporadic violence. Of those
"lucky ones" who were able to reach Syria, many died in typhus-ridden

Using eyewitness accounts of diplomats, missionaries, journalists and
Red Cross members, as well as photographic evidence, Robertson lays
out the extent of the catastrophe. One of the most powerful chapters
in his book is about the little-known "Constantinople trials". At
the end of the First World War the Turkish parliament condemned the
CUP members who had been involved in the deportation of Armenians. A
committee was formed to investigate the crimes. Mustafa Arif, the then
minister of the interior, announced: "Unfortunately those who were
our leaders during the war have applied the law of deportation in a
manner that would rival the most bloodthirsty bandits. They decided
to exterminate the Armenians, and they were exterminated." Had he
said these words today he would be prosecuted under Article 301 of
the penal code for "insulting Turkishness".

Robertson tackles the question of whether genocide denial should
or should not be a crime - a difficult one for those of us who
believe in freedom of speech. He insists that the Turkish government
should acknowledge the crime and make a historic apology. He offers
suggestions that will help the process of reconciliation and peace.

Gestures are important, such as restoring the old Armenian churches,
erecting monuments to the victims and mentioning the tragedy openly
in school textbooks. Strikingly, Robertson is equally adamant that
Armenia should "express regret for the vigilante killings of Turkish
officials in the 1970s and '80s", which were terrorist offences.

In Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering Armenia, Armen Marsoobian,
a professor at Southern Connecticut State University, has produced
a formidable work of research that is partly microhistory, partly
political history. At times the book reads like a novel, focusing
on the trajectory of Marsoobian's forebears, the Dildilian family,
starting with their lives in the Ottoman empire and ending with
their migration to the United States in the first half of the 20th
century. The narrative is enriched with an amazing range of visual
material: photographs, drawings, maps, house plans. "Keeping family
secrets can be motivated by a variety of reasons," he writes.

"Secrets hidden by one generation from the next are often the result
of shame or fear: the shame that comes from believing - often falsely
- that one should have behaved differently in a morally challenging
situation or the fear of causing harm if a trauma is passed on to
the younger generation..."

Marsoobian describes powerfully the struggle to survive and its impact
on the human psyche. The chapter on the forced Islamisation of the
Dildilian and Der Haroutiounian families is riveting. Despite the
importance of Marsoobian's grandfather to the government, he and his
family were forced to convert to Islam and adopt Turkish identities
in order to avoid deportation. Thus Tsolag became Pertev, Mariam
became Meryem, Jirair became Fatih and Aram became Zeki. Reading this
list of names, I could not help but wonder how many other families
in Turkey had been in a similar position. How many names have been
changed, erased, forgotten. The final exile, and the final chapter,
arrives when the Dildilians understand that there is no future for
them in their homeland. Together with Armenian orphans they leave
their beloved Istanbul behind.

These books, and many more, should be translated into Turkish and
made available to readers in Turkey. As fellow human beings we do not
have to trap ourselves in nationalistic mental boxes. Nationalism has
already caused humanity enough harm. We need to recognise the enormous
human suffering of the Armenians in the late Ottoman empire. This
need not be an "either/or" choice as my middle-aged Turkish reader
seems to fear; at the same time, we can research and recognise the
sufferings of many Turks, Kurds, Circassians, Azeris and Alevis. Our
minds and hearts are vast enough to mourn all the sorrows and silences
in our common history.

The Sufis used to say that time is a big circle wherein the past and
the future whirl together. Especially in the Middle East the ghosts
of history are with us. In lands where people cannot discuss things
peacefully, books are our wise companions. They reveal to us truths
that we are reluctant to see.

Some day, one hopes, Armenians can start to forget and forgive -
but, for that to happen, Turks and Kurds must first remember. Memory
is a responsibility. It is time to abandon the unhealthy Manichaean
duality of "our version v their version". There is no "us"; there is
no "them." After a hundred long years, it is time to read together,
remember together, grieve together.

Elif Shafak's most recent novel is "The Architect's Apprentice"

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