Boston, Mass.—The Armenian nation is far too familiar with the struggle of maintaining our identity and the challenge to persevere through the many inhumane cards life has dealt us. Due to the safe haven Armenians found in the Syrian community following the events of the Armenian Genocide, the small northwestern town of Kessab was once densely populated by Armenians. However, we have yet again been confronted with defending our homes as the population was forced to evacuate. Forced to flee to nearby Latakia and Bassit, over 700 Christian families of Kessab have been displaced.
On Friday, April 4th the Armenian community of the Greater Boston
area gathered at the entrance of the Tip O’Neill Federal Building in
Boston to bring awareness to the current events taking place in
Kessab and to condemn Turkey’s role in the destruction. Organized by
the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Boston “Nejdeh” Chapter and the
Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts, over 100 human
rights activists gathered to protest the State Department’s failure to
condemn the perpetrators of the invasion and occupation. The
Massachusetts offices of the Department of State are located in the
O’Neill building, making it the ideal spot to stress the hypocrisy
evidenced by the Department’s silence regarding the role of its
NATO-ally Turkey. According to eyewitness accounts, the Al-Qaeda
affiliated extremists openly passed through a Turkish military base to
cross the Syrian border and attack the town and villages of Kessab.
The group marched holding signs stating the facts and chanted various slogans, “Obama, Open up your eyes!
Don’t support terror! Turkey run, Turkey hide, Turkey’s on Al
Qaeda’s side. State Department, can’t you see, Al Qaeda’s ally is
Turkey,” as officials and passers-by read through pamphlets, asked
questions, and made phone calls spreading the word. The Armenian Youth
Federation of the Greater Boston “Nejdeh” Chapter and the Armenian
National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts seek justice once again and
stand in solidarity with our fellow diasporans who have recently been
forced out of their homes in Kessab.
Beginning in 1923 with the founding of the republic, Turkey was governed by a secular, Kemalist and nationalist ideology, with the single-minded objective of creating and maintaining a monolithic, single-nation state. Regardless of which party was in power, leftist or rightist, the “deep state”—dominated by the armed forces, big business, big state bureaucracy, media, and academia—directed all the affairs behind the scenes. The “deep state” leaders and their backers emerged as the elite of the society, aptly named the nationalist White Turks; they inherited and developed a state built on the economic foundations of plundered and confiscated Armenian and Greek wealth. The masses in Anatolia were mainly utilized as free bodies for the military elite, or as cheap labor for the industrial elite, and remembered only at election time. White Turks looked down to pious Sunni Muslim majority and labeled them takunyali, or clog wearers. The disappearance of the Armenians and Greeks from these lands was fiercely denied. The existence of other ethnic people in Turkey, such as the Kurds, was also continuously denied. Turkey is only for Turks, was their motto. As the Armenians and Greeks were already wiped out, the other ethnic groups were told that they were now Turks, or else.
The supremacy of the White Turks ended in 2003 with the election of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his moderately Islamic party. Despite attempts by the “deep state” to topple him, Erdogan outmaneuvered the White Turks, thanks to the religious Sunni Muslims of Anatolia and the recent arrival of underprivileged masses from Anatolia to the big cities. The provincial and religious Turks quickly secured and strengthened their grip on power. The influential fundamentalist religious leader Fethullah Gulen, who had been forced to leave Turkey during the previous regimes, cooperated with Erdogan and his followers quickly filled the cadres of bureaucracy, including key posts in the police, security, judiciary, and academic fields. Hundreds of “deep state” leaders and elite White Turks in the military, media, and academia were arrested and jailed on charges of an attempted coup d’état against the government. Many White Turks began to leave the country. Although less intolerant toward minorities than the White Turks, the attitude of the new leaders toward minorities and the Kurds did not change much.
The alliance between Erdogan and Gulen ended in late 2013, when Erdogan felt secure enough to discard Gulen, and shut down the numerous supplementary educational facilities he controlled. Many parents in Turkey depended on these facilities for the child’s advancement, as the state education system is not sufficient to secure admission to the state universities. These facilities were used as a powerbase by Gulen; they were a major source of income and facilitated recruitment of new followers. Soon after Erdogan announced his intention to close these facilities, state prosecutors and police controlled by Gulen revealed they had uncovered a major corruption scandal involving four of Erdogan’s ministers and hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes. The scandal was replete with juicy details of money-counting machines and millions stashed in shoeboxes in the ministers’ homes. Erdogan counter-attacked by swiftly removing, replacing, and firing thousands of state prosecutors, judges, and police officers deemed to be followers of the Gulen movement. In the last few weeks, at least 10 taped telephone conversations involving Erdogan himself have been leaked. In them, Erdogan directs his son to dispose of hundreds of millions of cash in euros and dollars from their homes; orders several businessmen to pay $100 million each toward buying a media empire that he wants controlled; demands another media owner to fire several journalists; and decides how much certain contractors must pay in return for large contracts.
In the Western world, even a hint of attempted bribery or corruption is sufficient in bringing down governments. But in Turkey, Erdogan carries on, dismissing the evidence as plots hatched by his one-time ally (and now mortal enemy) Gulen, as well as other virtual enemies, such as “parallel states” within Turkey, and, predictably, external enemies such as Israel, the U.S., the European Union, and the “interest lobby,” all jealous of Turkey’s fast growth. Erdogan’s latest move is to try to win back the nationalists who were charged and jailed for attempting to topple his own government; as a result, most of the jailed “deep state” leaders have been released, including the former army chief of staff and other commanders; one of the masterminds of the Hrant Dink assassination; the racist lawyer who hounded Hrant Dink for “insulting Turkishness”; the politician who was charged for stating “The Armenian Genocide is a lie” in Switzerland, and with whom the European Court of Human Rights recently sided in the name of freedom of speech; an organized crime leader who arranged several contract killings of anti-nationalists and Kurds; the murderers of a German and two Turkish Protestant missionaries in Malatya; and several other ultra nationalist/racist intellectuals and journalists.
While these divisions have emerged among the Turks of Turkey, the Kurds of Turkey have made major advances toward greater autonomy, language rights, and self-determination—a struggle that began in the 1980’s as a guerilla movement and, more recently in the 2000s, has become a political movement. The imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan imposed his will on Erdogan, who conceded to peace talks in exchange for a ceasefire.
Even though the four major divisions within Turkey—the “deep state,” the Erdogan people, the Gulen people, and the Kurds—keep fighting and plotting against one another, they come together and close ranks when it comes to the Armenian issue, past and present. The Turks themselves categorize Armenians into three distinct groups (in a completely misguided manner): the Good, the Bad, and the Poor. The small Armenian community in Turkey is the Good, as it is easily controllable and no longer a threat, possessing neighborly memories of shared dolma or topik. They’re Good, that is, as long as they don’t ask much about the past or present, like Hrant Dink dared to. The Armenian Diaspora is the Bad, with its evil presence in every country poisoning locals against Turks and Turkey, and spreading lies about the “alleged” genocide of 1915. Finally, the Armenians who recently left Armenia to come to Turkey to find bread are the Poor. The Kurds, on the other hand, have more empathy toward the Armenians; however, it is mainly because “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Although Ocalan came close to acknowledging the genocide, he has empathy only for the Good Armenians in Turkey and continues to define the diaspora as part of the external lobby threat against both Turks and Kurds. While the Kurds (barring a few exceptions) acknowledge the sufferings of the Armenians in 1915, they cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the active role they played in the genocide, nor open the subject of returning the vast properties seized from the Armenians.
Those Armenians who believe in meaningful dialogue with the peoples of Turkey now face the additional challenge of choosing one or more of these groups at the risk of alienating the others. The prospect of any productive result, however, becomes dimmer by the day. Nevertheless, dialogue does continue, with the involvement of civil society organizations and intellectuals, and more significantly through the emerging force of Islamized Armenians of Turkey. Dialogue must and will continue until all four groups start to see that all Armenians, whether in Turkey, the diaspora, or Armenia—and whether good, bad, or poor—were all equally impacted by the genocide and equally demand acknowledgment and restitution.