Sunday, September 30, 2012

Yavuz BaydarColumnist, "Today's Zaman-Facing Turkey's Past: Struma and 1915

Facing Turkey's Past: Struma and 1915
Posted: 09/18/2012 12:02 pm

Apology, in my opinion, is secondary. First and foremost, the emphasis
should be on this society's courage to face the sins of the past. We
were deprived of it until today. This is a frightened society. I am not
ashamed to say this: We were fed this fear, we were scared throughout
all our lives. Our ruling system has been based on fear. We have to
change that. The only way is to confront our past.
These are the words of İshak Alaton, a prominent octogenarian Turkish
businessman of Jewish origin. After releasing his memoirs not so long
ago, Alaton has become more and more vocal, calling endlessly for an
end to the bloody Kurdish conflict as one of the "wise men" ready to be
part of a dialogue on reconciliation, asking for the courage to face
the crimes that were committed during the collapse of Ottoman rule and
asking citizens to speak out.

When a ship called the Struma was dragged to the port of Old İstanbul
in 1941, Alaton was a 15-year-old witness to the agony onboard. The
60-year-old vessel was the last hope of 769 Romanian Jews fleeing the
Nazis, but its engines had stopped at the Black Sea end of the
Bosporus. The issue led to pressure on Ankara from Adolf Hitler's
regime, and after 72 days of despair, the Struma was sent by Turkish
authorities back into the Black Sea, where it was torpedoed by the
Soviet navy. Only one person survived.

"Those responsible for this in Ankara are, to my mind, murderers. This
society, of which I am a part, has a problem with hiding from its past.
We pretend that if we lock them away the problems will be gone. But the
corpses that rot in there poison the air that we breathe. Is any
serenity possible without confrontation? Let us do it, so that we can
make peace with the past."

The Struma disaster, a hidden episode in the republic's history, is the
subject of a new book written by Halit Kakınç, and its preface is
written by, yes, Alaton himself.

It is not for nothing the subject of "genies out of the bottle." is to
persist on the agenda of Turkey, opened up in a sort of "Turkish
perestroika" by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the
past decade.

And, only days after the release of the Struma book, another hit the
shelves -- a potential intellectual bombshell.

"1915: Armenian Genocide" is its title and, not only due to its cover
but also its groundbreaking content, it overwhelms many others on the
subject that have been published. What makes the book outstanding and
unique is that it was written by Hasan Cemal, an internationally
renowned editor and columnist who is the grandson of Cemal Pasha.

This kinship is key to understanding the book's historic significance:
Cemal Pasha was a member of the triumvirate, whose other parts were
Talat and Enver Pasha, responsible for the Great Armenian Tragedy,
which started with a mass deportation of Ottoman Armenians from their
homelands and ended with their annihilation between 1915 through 1916.

In his account, Hasan Cemal concludes it was genocide. He does not
intend, or pretend, to argue his case like a historian would. His is a
painful intellectual journey that takes us through his own evolution, a
rather ruthless self-scrutiny of his intellectual past that amounts to
an invaluable piece of private archeology.

He has done this before. In other books, he questioned his "militarist
revolutionary" past (in the '60s and'70s), confronting boldly his own
mistakes -- his deep disbelief in democracy, plotting coups, his
experience as newspaper editor, etc.

But this one is even more personal.

"It was the pain of Hrant Dink which made me write this book," he told
the press. Dink was a dear Turkish-Armenian colleague to many of us, as
he was to Cemal. He was assassinated in broad daylight on a street of
Istanbul by a lone gunman in January 2007, sending shockwaves around
the world.

"Look at my age; it's been years and years that I have defended the
freedom of expression. But should I keep secret some of my opinions,
only for myself? Should I still have some taboos of my own? Should I
still remain unliberated? Is it not a shame on me, Hasan Cemal?"

In the preface, he writes: "We cannot remain silent before the bitter
truths of the past. We cannot let the past hold the present captive.
Also, the pain of 1915 does not belong to the past, it is an issue of
today. We can only make peace with history, but not an 'invented' or
'distorted' history like ours, and reach liberty."

The pain of Dink's memory -- which scarred many of us so eternally --
may have been a crucial point for it, but by turning a "personal
taboo-breaking" into a public one, Cemal opened a huge hole in the wall
of denial of the state. It broke another mental dam.

This bold exercise in freedom of speech will, in time, pave the way for
the correct path. It is up to the individuals of Turkey to do the same,
and bow before their consciences. Perhaps this is why there has been
such silence over this book in the days since its publication. It is
also very difficult to find in bookstores. There are rumors that some
chains are refusing to sell it. This may be true, but it cannot now be

The genie is out of the bottle but the ghosts of the past are also very
much alive. The "silent treatment" is proof of that. If anything, it
shows how frightened people are. Not only does the state owe an apology
for the past, but an even bigger apology is necessary for enforcing,
decade after decade, a mass internalization of denialism in this

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sassounian: Azeri, Turkish-American Groups Denigrate US-Armenian Executive

Four Azeri and Turkish-American organizations launched a coordinated anti-Armenian campaign last week, attacking the integrity of Mark Hoplamazian, the CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation, in order to intimidate him and other Armenian-American executives.
Hyatt 200x300 Sassounian: Azeri, Turkish American Groups Denigrate US Armenian Executive
Mark Hoplamazian
In a letter to Thomas Pritzker, executive chairman of Hyatt Board of Directors, leaders of the Assembly of Turkish-American Associations (ATAA), Azerbaijani-American Council (AAC), Federation of Turkish-American Associations (FTAA), and Azerbaijan Society of America (ASA) accused Hoplamazian of being involved in “ethnic propaganda campaigns.”
The Azeri and Turkish groups attacked Hoplamazian for speaking at the Sept. 22 banquet of the “Armenian Assembly of America (AAA), an Armenian-American lobbying group, as a Hyatt executive.” They also expressed their unhappiness that he “serves on the Advisory Board of ‘Facing History and Ourselves,’ a non-profit group that ‘teaches about the Armenian genocide.’”
The four Turkic organizations claimed that “Mr. Hoplamazian’s engagement with ethnic special interest groups that spread antagonisms against Turkey and Azerbaijan may be in violation of the Conflicts of Interest clause of Hyatt’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics.” However, a review of the hotel chain’s code, posted on its website, does not provide the slightest hint that the Hyatt executive violated any of its provisions.
In their letter, the Azeri and Turkish groups made a series of malicious statements by referring to the Armenian Genocide as an “allegation” and as “World War I-era inter-communal atrocities.” They falsely alleged that these “atrocities” were “never tried in any tribunal and no intent to exterminate Armenians was ever established. No sentences or court verdicts were issued in terms of the 1948 United Nations Convention on Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.”
By making such ridiculous claims, the leaders of these Turkic organizations simply exposed their ignorance of the basic facts of the Armenian Genocide. They conveniently forgot about the Turkish Military Tribunals of 1919 that sentenced the Turkish ringleaders of the Armenian Genocide to death. U.S., Swiss, and Argentinean federal courts have also reaffirmed the veracity of the Armenian Genocide. Furthermore, in 1985 the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities adopted a report classifying the Armenian Genocide as an example of genocide.
The Azeri and Turkish groups also claimed that they represent “over half million Americans of Turkic descent.” This cannot be true simply because there aren’t that many Turkic people living in the United States, according to the latest U.S. census. Even if there were half a million Turkic Americans, it is highly doubtful that all of them would have given their consent to be represented by these organizations for such absurd misadventures. Most probably, these four groups altogether have a tiny fraction of the constituencies they claim.
Clearly, the faulty statements and silly accusations of these Turkic groups are intended to intimidate Hoplamazian and force him to disengage from any involvement in Armenian or genocide-related issues. More ominously, by targeting and making an example of the Hyatt CEO, Azeri and Turkish groups hope to discourage other Armenian-American executives from pursuing similar activities.
In their joint letter, the Azeri and Turkish groups indirectly threatened Hyatt’s corporate interests by indicating that the company “currently runs a total of four successful hotels in Istanbul, Turkey, and Baku, Azerbaijan.” One wonders if the governments of Azerbaijan and Turkey have authorized these two-bit groups to speak on their behalf. Moreover, do these organizations realize that they are undermining the business interests of their native countries by foolishly threatening a global corporation like Hyatt?
It would be highly regrettable if the unwise Azeri and Turkish campaign against prominent Armenian-American executives were to start an undesirable chain of events that leads the Armenian community to take counter-actions against successful Turkish-American businessmen, such as Muhtar Kent, the chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company.
The Azeri-Turkish letter is highly unlikely to bring any tangible benefits to these groups, as Hyatt’s Board of Directors will most probably dismiss their baseless allegations. More importantly, such a racist assault on the integrity of an exemplary Armenian-American executive would energize Armenians on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the genocide to pursue more vigorously their just demands from both Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Lastly, it is outrageous that these Azeri and Turkish groupings kept totally silent when an Azeri officer axed to death a sleeping Armenian in Budapest, Hungary, but are now alarmed when an Armenian-American CEO exercises his right to free speech in Beverly Hills!

In Facing Its Adversaries, America’s Got a Hidden Lever: Armenia

From The Truman Project
Most Americans wouldn’t be shocked to learn that the largest American embassy in the world is in Baghdad, Iraq. But the second-largest is in a surprising place: Armenia. It begs the question: why?
The best explanation is a real estate mantra: location, location, location. Armenia, a landlocked country with just three million people, might be in the roughest neighborhood in the world. But in America’s eyes, it might be in the most important position of any US ally to advance President Obama’s foreign policy agenda.
What it lacks in natural resources–it has little oil, gas or jewels–it makes up for in geography. Few countries are in better position to shape US foreign policy than Armenia.
Armenia borders Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iran. As a part of the former Soviet Union, it relies on nearby Russia extensively for trade and military backing. The US has a significant stake in all five countries, and Armenia is now coming into view as a potentially potent lever to advance American aims.
That is, if the Armenians can be won over.
As the US tries to woo Armenia to become a stronger ally in the region, the term “geostrategic” has never been more apt. Armenia is literally at the center of a number of countries that Washington considers among its top priorities. As President Obama tries to accomplish key foreign policy objectives–like preventing Iran from attaining nuclear bombs or seeing democracy flourish in Russia–he’s got to encourage Armenia to play along.
To Armenia’s south, one such issue is unfolding in Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. Last  week, a media skirmish between the US and Israel boiled over when Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stated publicly that America had no “moral right” to say whether or not Israel could bomb Iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon. President Obama reportedly called Netanyahu at 3AM to quell tensions.
America is racing to develop every diplomatic pressure point it can on Iran, lest Israel launch a preemptive attack and embroil America in a third Middle East war in ten years. One of those pressure points goes straight through Armenia.
While the US has cut off formal relations with Iran–Washington talks through Switzerland’s embassy there–it’s no secret that it employs a variety of foreign policy crowbars to influence and destabilize Iran’s ruling regime. Some, like President Obama’s latest round of economic sanctions, are well known. Partnering with Armenia is not, but could have a major impact. Through economic and diplomatic incentives, the US is actively trying to shape Armenia into an ally. As President Obama seeks to economically isolate Iran–his sanctions have cut the value of Iran currency in half–he is trying to regionally isolate the regime, as well. Armenia is key to that strategy.
For Armenia, the game is far less simple. Partnering with the US–with whom it has a good, but not great, relationship–could alienate the few friends Armenia has left in the South Caucasus region. It wants military cooperation with Russia, but economic access to the west.
While it has tried to deepen relations with the European Union and the US, Armenia’s two best friends at the moment are arguably the US’s most challenging adversaries: Russia and Iran. That’s not necessarily because of shared ideologies, or even shared interests; it’s because Armenia doesn’t have many friends to pick from.
Of its four neighbors, two–Turkey and Azerbaijan– have have closed off their borders to Armenia. To go on a road trip, every Armenian must pass through either Tbilisi, Georgia or Tehran, Iran.
Why the frosty reception? Turkey, which the New York Times recently called “the historic nemesis of the Armenians,” is still steaming mad over the negative PR associated with Armenian Genocide. The Turks claim rogue military elements are responsible; Armenians believe the Turkish government is reluctant to take the blame.
In either interpretation, the facts are stark: about 1.5 million Armenians perished in a war with Turkey between 1915 and 1918. The Turks closed off its border in 1993, and with it, a significant chunk of Armenia’s economy disappeared. In the decades since, Armenia has pressed for international recognition of the genocide–and rightfully so–but that has only stoked the fire with the Turks.
But, while one would think that the genocide rift is what led Turkey to close off its border, it’s not. Instead, Turkey is standing in solidarity with another neighbor over a contested territory.
Azerbaijan, another fromer Soviet republic, shut its borders with Armenia after the two battled over an Armenian-populated enclave in Azerbaijan, called Nagorno-Karabakh, in the 1990′s. Today, the territory remains a “semi-autonomous” area; meaning that the Azeris want it back, the Armenians believe they control it, and the Karabakhtis has declared independence (which no country has formally recognized).
Meanwhile, the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan is sliding downhill. Last week, Azerbaijan made a deal with Hungary to extradite a convicted Azeri murderer. (The man, eight years ago, nearly decapitated a sleeping Armenian serviceman with an axe at a NATO-sponsored English class.) He was returned under the condition that he would serve at least 25 more years in jail.
Instead, as the New York Times put it, he received “a new apartment, eight years of back pay, a promotion to the rank of major and the status of a national hero.” Uproar in Armenia ensued. Armenia’s President released a statement warning, “The Armenians must not be underestimated. We don’t want a war, but if we have to, we will fight and win.”
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan is enjoying the windfall from oil exports. Israel, in particular, has strengthened relations with the Azeris, purchasing 30 percent of their oil from them, as well as selling them over $1.5 billion in military supplies. The US is also a buyer of Azeri oil. As the New York Times points out, Azerbaijan invested more money in its military than Armenia’s entire state budget last year. Hardly the sign of harmonious relations to come.
So far, Armenia’s walked a diplomatic tightrope with skill. As my Lonely Planet travel book explains, “Despite its limited resources, Armenia has become a master at geopolitics. What other country in the world can say it maintains good relations with the US, Russia and Iran?”
Given the cards they’re dealt, Armenia has been a remarkable success story. If America hopes to engender greater cooperation, it’s got to sweeten the deal–through trade agreements, offering economic reforms and encouraging private sector development in Armenia.
Armenia became independent in 1991. Two decades later, it’s still trying to find its footing in the region. It may not have gold, oil, gas or jewels to give to the US. But, instead, it may have something more useful: a strategic position in the most critical—and potentially most dangerous—region in the world.
Daniel Gaynor is Truman’s Writer and Digital Strategist. He can be followed on Twitter @DannyGaynor