Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Nazarian: Ninety-Nine Years Ago Today

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Impressions from the Armenian Genocide commemoration in Istanbul
Ninety-nine years ago in the wee spring hours, Ottoman-era policemen marched through the streets of old Constantinople. Over the course of that fateful night, and the weeks that followed, they arrested and deported the most prominent Armenian writers, poets, journalists, intellectuals and men who lived by the pen from the Golden age of the Armenian intelligentsia in old Constantinople. These men were taken to the Haydarpasha train station and shipped deep into the interior of Ottoman Turkey where they were jailed and murdered.
A scene from the commemoration in Istanbul (Photo by Eric Nazarian)
A scene from the commemoration in Istanbul (Photo by Eric Nazarian)
Only a few survived, among them the iconic Komitas Vartabed, the priest, composer and musicologist who became mute and descended into madness as a result of the horrors he witnessed during the Armenian Genocide.
Komitas’s ancient musical soul went silent and today, 99 years later, I sat on the wet asphalt in the heart of Istanbul listening to his otherworldly voice recorded once upon a time in the early 20th century. It was crackling and booming on multiple loudspeakers among Armenians, Turks and Kurds gathered and jam-packed like sardines to honor the Armenian martyrs and to call what happened here in this country by its rightful name—Genocide. Young, old, middle-aged, natives and diasporans…we all sat side-by-side humming with Komitas, Dle Yaman and Der Voghormya.
Youth and elders held up laminated color and black-and-white photocopies of Krikor Zohrab, Siamanto, Diran Kelekian, Daniel Varoujan and several Ottoman-era Armenians who lived by the pen and were cut down by the swords. Their eyes gazed out from the photocopies at this new, small and fearless generation of Turks and Armenians committed to keeping the flame and voice of memory alive through the act of solemnity and presence together as a unified voice.
This is a brave and vocal minority that has chosen to not be silent. Middle-aged women wept openly. Members of the New Zartonk stood steadfast with printed banners. All gathered had managed through solidarity and sheer will to silence the filet mignon of Bolis real estate where millions pass through on a daily basis.
The press swarmed all over the street, perched on the roofs of businesses and establishments that demonstrated great respect to the commemorators by allowing the photojournalists to lean out of their windows and second-story patios immortalizing this brief hour on this very busy Spring day where the spirits of our one and a half-million dead were prayed for. Next year, this generation will return again and again and again.
While the speechwriters and politicos continue to conjure new ways to manipulate verbs and adjectives to avoid the truth of the Genocide, this new generation will be burning the midnight oil printing out the laminated images of the martyrs.
This small victory is a symbolic one that would have been unimaginable before. However small, its echoes are being heard now very loud and clearly across the world thanks to the point, shoot, save and upload settings in our garden variety of smart phones. And today’s presence and solidarity, like Komitas’s voice, will not be silenced. Today, I began to grasp the meaning of the word “vicdan” which means “conscience” in Turkish.
These young university students and Istanbul natives were here out of duty and a calling sitting on the damp asphalt holding vigil. They were here because they cared. Who would have thought that in 2014 we would hear the ear-shattering boom of Der Voghormya in the ground-zero of Istanbul? That is not to say things here are where they should be. Far from it but each small symbolic step here is a step forward.
After the end of the commemoration, I was handed a red carnation. With Komitas’s voice lingering in my ears, I felt a certain temporary peace gnawed by the begrudging reminder that we would never be able to grasp the complete magnitude of what happened during the Genocide. Yet, we will continue to hold candles to collective and personal memory and through voice, song, image, solidarity and creative outpouring honor and demand justice for what will continue to dwarf our imaginations for generations to come

Sassounian: Turkey Still Haunted by Genocide a Hundred Years Later

Every time the Armenian Genocide is mentioned anywhere in the world, Turkish officials protest hysterically like children caught with their hand in the cookie jar!
Turkish leaders’ psychotic behavior could be explained by their guilty conscience, despite public protestations of innocence, as they know full well that their ancestors did indeed commit one of the most heinous crimes in the annals of history—genocide!
Earlier in April, the world witnessed yet another manifestation of Turkish temper tantrums when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, despite heavy-handed pressure from the Ankara regime and its highly compensated lobbying firms, adopted Resolution 410 on the Armenian Genocide with a 12 to 5 vote. This is the first time in a quarter century that this body has approved such a resolution.
Even though the Turkish government is amid all sorts of turmoil at home and abroad, officials in Ankara made the Senate resolution their top priority. For a few days, Prime Minister Erdogan set aside his despotic moves against Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to hide his and several ministers’ multi-million dollar money laundering and bribery schemes. He also ignored the revelations of secretly taped conversations featuring Foreign Minister Davutoglu and other high-ranking officials plotting to orchestrate attacks on Turkey from across the border—which would then be used as a pretext to attack Syria in support of jihadist terrorists who are unsuccessfully battling the Assad regime.
The Turkish diatribe against the Senate action included Davutoglu’s warning that “Turkey would not remain silent” if the Armenian Genocide Resolution goes from Committee to the full Senate. The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued an even harsher reaction, accusing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of “exceeding its authority and responsibility.” Davutoglu rushed to call Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to prevent passage of the resolution.
Also getting into the act was Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek, who called the Armenian issue a “burden” in American-Turkish relations. A commentator for the widely circulated Hurriyet newspaper noted that the genocide resolution would raise the blood pressure in Ankara! Former Turkish Ambassador Omer Engin Lutem chimed in, acknowledging that Turkey is “forced to expend a great deal of effort in order to prevent the passing of such resolutions,” not to mention the millions of dollars spent on lobbying firms each year!
Pro-Erdogan newspapers even resorted to publishing falsehoods about the genocide resolution, claiming that the measure was no longer valid since it was not adopted by the full Senate before April 24, or that the resolution was meaningless because House Speaker John Boehner announced in Ankara that he would not allow the House version to come to the floor. Of course, both these claims are false, as the House and Senate versions are not part of a joint resolution and can be adopted separately by either chamber later in the year.
Armenian-American voters should do everything possible to prevent the re-election of Boehner in November. Similarly, the Armenian community should oppose those Senators who shamefully voted against this resolution, even after Sen. Robert Menendez removed several clauses to accommodate opponents.
The five Republican Senators who voted against the resolution were John Barrasso (Wyoming), Bob Corker (Tennessee), Jeff Flake (Arizona), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), and James Risch (Idaho). On the other hand, Armenian Americans should strongly support the 12 Senators who voted in favor of the resolution: Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), John McCain (R-Az.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).
One of the unexpected consequences of the resolution was the deepening rift between two formidable forces in Turkey—Prime Minister Erdogan and the influential Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan accused Gulen supporters of siding with “the Armenian lobby” by contributing close to $10,000 to Menendez’s campaign. The Turkic American Alliance (TAA) refuted Erdogan’s accusations, stating that the group has “always expressed its displeasure to Menendez over resolutions that upset Turks and Azerbaijanis.” TAA officials promised to sue Turkish journalists for claiming that their organization supported the Armenian resolution.
A final thought: Contrary to public impression, the primary objective of introducing Armenian Genocide resolutions is not to attain genocide recognition, which has already been accomplished several times (U.S. government’s official report to the World Court in 1951, President Reagan’s 1981 Proclamation, and House Resolutions in 1975 and 1984). Rather, these resolutions simply serve as a convenient tool to keep the Armenian Genocide a burning issue and focus media attention on the Armenian Cause. Furthermore, the resolutions routinely create total panic in Ankara due to Turkish officials’ hysterical reaction. The Turkish government also wastes tens of millions of dollars each year to counter resolutions that merely express the “sense of Congress.”
Armenian efforts to pass such resolutions are a form of retribution against successive Turkish governments for not coming to terms with the skeletons in their closet.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Turkey Rights Group Calls for End to Genocide Denial

On the eve of World War I, around 2 million Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire in 2,925 settlements including cities, towns, neighborhoods and villages all over the Asia Minor from West to East, North to South. They had 1,996 schools with 173,000 students, both boys and girls, and 2,538 churches and monasteries.
The Genocide as well as the policies pursued by the Turkish government during the Republican period put an end to these communities. The villages and neighborhoods after the annihilation of their inhabitants were no longer Armenian settlements.  Today’s Armenian population in Turkey, estimated to be around 60,000, live dispersed mainly in three major cities, primarily Istanbul. The state did not only exterminate Armenians but erased their traces. You will not find any indication of Armenian life in places which were once Armenians’ hometowns.  Churches were not only left to become ruins due to the forces of nature, but they were destroyed by cannon balls and dynamite. There is not a single Armenian school today all over the Anatolian peninsula. Armenians were not only killed en masse but also their whole civilization with their schools, churches, cemeteries, monasteries, businesses was wiped out.
During this process other Christian peoples of the Asia Minor, Assyrians/Syriacs and Greeks also fell victims to the Genocide orchestrated by the central government.  At the beginning of the 20th century every one out of five people, in other words 20 percent of the total population in Asia Minor was non-Muslim.  Now this ratio has fallen below 0.01. Under normal conditions, taking as basis the rate of increase in population, the Christian population in what is Turkey today would have been around 17 million.   This simple mathematics is clear enough to conceive the magnitude of the annihilation.
Genocide is not only unimaginable atrocities, mass murders, dead bodies floating on rivers, valleys filled with mutilated human bodies. Nor is it only  the fatal march where death becomes a salvation, as compared to the horrors, robbery, rape, illness, or being forced to leave behind the dead bodies of your loved ones, the deep, incurable injury passed from one generation to the other, an indescribable, irreparable,  unforgivable evil in action.
Genocide is also an enormous robbery. And it is not only limited to the Armenians’ countless immovables seized by the state and the local notables, that are worth amounts beyond calculation.
In addition to this well-known version of the plunder, the robbery also included confiscation of the Genocide victims’ money and jewelry deposited in Ottoman Bank branches across the country, totaling some 22 million dollars  at 1915 rates. Furthermore, starting from the beginning of the 20th century American and French insurance companies had started to sell life insurance policies in Anatolian provinces to tens of thousands of Christians worth, again at 1915 rates, more than 2O million dollars. The Ittihadists right after the Genocide tried to collect this money from the insurance companies, by writing numerous official letters and also trying to persuade the American Ambassador Morgenthau, saying “the owners are dead with no heirs to make any claims, so this amount should be transferred to the Ottoman treasury.”
This immeasurable robbery is one of the major reasons for the denial of the Genocide for 99 years and today’s corruption in Turkey has its roots in the Genocide theft.
Denial is not just saying “I didn’t do it.” Denial means to say “we did it because they deserved it.”
The shameless denialists on TV channels, those “reputable” academics and intellectuals are legitimizing and justifying the Genocide. They are encouraged by the fact that the majority of the Turkish public are ready to believe them, even expect  them to reinforce in this manner what they already believe in—i.e. the official theses.  Denial means to insult the victims, their memory and their descendants. Denial means criminalizing and antagonizing the descendants of the victims. Denial means the continuation of the Genocide, this biggest crime against humanity. What is worse, it means creating and winning the support of a society which chooses to be a bystander and keep silent.
We, as human rights defenders, insist that the Genocide should not  be reduced to a political and diplomatic agenda item of negotiations, a tool to be used in international relations. It can’t and it should never be forgotten that Genocide is before anything else and more than anything else a mass human rights violation committed by the state itself—a crime against humanity .
Denial is the most comprehensive, most effective and most widespread human rights violation, due to the simple fact that it becomes the source of, furthermore an encouragement for a wide variety of many more current and future human rights violations.
The Turkish state should hear and respond to the demands, requests and wishes expressed by the Armenians who are uprooted from their homeland and dispersed throughout the world for the restitution of the incalculable losses their ancestors and they themselves have suffered and continue to suffer because of the Genocide and its denial. Denialism is also an obstacle to the process of restitution of losses, to any step for alleviating the continued sufferings and to the achievement of justice.
Therefore we, on the 99th anniversary of the Genocide, on 24th April 2014 raise our demand from all the branches and representation offices of our Human Rights Association throughout the country  at the same time of the day:

Sassounian: Erdogan Waves Finger at Obama During Heated White House Talk

Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Seymour Hersh, in a sensational article “The Red Line and the Rat Line,” published in the London Review of Books, discloses that the Turkish government secretly orchestrated the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria, killing hundreds of civilians. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had hoped that the Syrian regime would be blamed for that chemical attack, leading to a retaliatory U.S. strike on Syria, since President Obama had warned Syrian leaders that using chemical weapons against rebel fighters would cross a “red line.”
Erdogan’s plot almost worked! In the aftermath of the sarin attack, Obama began planning a massive U.S. strike on dozens of Syrian targets, even though British intelligence had informed the U.S. joint chiefs of staff that samples of the sarin gas obtained from the site of the attack did not match the chemical weapons in Syria’s possession. A former U.S. intelligence official told Hersh that “Erdogan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups.” Hirsh revealed that the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency had issued “a highly classified” document on June 20, 2013, confirming that “Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.”
Last May, several members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in Turkey with two kilograms of sarin. A Turkish court accused the group of planning to acquire other related materials to launch a chemical attack in Syria. Five of the arrestees were freed shortly thereafter, while the rest were released pending trial. They were not seen again!
After a special UN mission went to Syria to investigate two earlier chemical attacks in spring 2013, a person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity told Hersh that “there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on March 19 in Khan al-Assal, a village near Aleppo… It was clear that the rebels used the gas.”
Just before launching the joint U.S., British, and French attack on Syria in September 2013, Obama suddenly decided to postpone the strike, using the excuse that he needed congressional approval. The real reason for the delay was the president’s discovery that he was being set up by Turkey for an “unjustified” attack on Syria, but did not want to publicly acknowledge his near blunder with potentially catastrophic consequences for the entire Middle East. Ironically, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was the one who rescued Obama from embarrassment by securing Syria’s agreement to hand over its chemical stockpile, thus providing the president a cover for canceling his threatened attack.
Hersh further revealed that the chemical weapons had reached the Syrian rebels through a CIA operation code named “rat line”—a secret Turkish-U.S. agreement in 2012 to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya to Syria through Turkey. After the terrorist attack on its consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the hub of this clandestine activity, the U.S. pulled out of the covert arrangement, yet Turkey continued to supply Libyan weapons to the Syrian rebels.
By the end of 2012, as the rebels were losing the battle against the Assad regime, a former U.S. intelligence official told Hersh that “Erdogan was pissed,” leading him to concoct a scheme to have the rebels use sarin gas and falsely blame the Syrian government, thus instigating an attack by the United States on Syria.
To personally plead his case for a U.S. attack on Syria to save the rebels from defeat, Turkey’s prime minister flew to Washington. On May 16, 2013, Erdogan, along with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the head of Turkish intelligence, Hakan Fidan, had a working dinner at the White House, with Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. Infuriated by Obama’s unwillingness to take military action against Syria, Erdogan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House,” Donilon recounted to a foreign policy expert who reported it to Hersh.
“The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdogan exposed politically and militarily,” Hersh explained. “Without U.S. military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdogan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him—where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’”
After the August 2013 sarin attack near Damascus, a former intelligence official told Hersh: “We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdogan’s people to push Obama over the red line. … The deal was to do something spectacular. … The sarin was supplied through Turkey.” Another indication of Turkish officials’ complicity was Hersh’s report that phone calls intercepted by the U.S. revealed their joy with the success of their orchestrated chemical attack!
Hersh concludes his exposé by relaying a most worrisome observation from a former U.S. intelligence official: “I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdogan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong, the answer was: ‘We’re screwed.’ We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdogan, but Turkey is a special case. They are a NATO ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdogan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: ‘We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.’”
For almost a century, successive U.S. governments have failed to understand a fundamental geostrategic truth: Turkey needs the U.S. much more than the United States will ever need Turkey. There is indeed something terribly wrong when the tail wags the dog!

Reality Check: Talking to Turkey

A friend posted an article on Facebook that included one of the leaked audio recordings (with an English translation appearing on the screen) of Turkish ministerial level discussions of, not to mince words, invading Syria.
Very interesting stuff, but not as interesting as the comment that the poster made.  It noted that the “crazy Tashnags” get criticized every time we advise prudence in dealing with Turkey, rightly pointing to the latter’s recent actions in Kessab as evidence of its ongoing intentions of exterminating Armenians.  Specifically, TARC and the protocols are cited.  But it doesn’t end with those two formal efforts at bogus reconciliation.
Ankara is not home to incompetents.  The Turkish diplomatic corps are good at what they do.  Otherwise, Turkey would not have fared as well as it has.  These same seasoned practitioners put their wiles to good use in duping some among our communities.  These Armenians presumably think they are very clever and helping promote our cause by agreeing to meet, usually in secret, with Turks who come calling from Ankara.  Meanwhile, all they’re doing in reality is undercutting our open, largely consensual, advocacy efforts because the Turks use those meetings to argue, “Hey, we’re meeting with the Armenians and we’re making progress,” to the very same people we’re lobbying!
Plus, it’s not as though the ARF is opposed to interfacing with Turkey.  We’re just not fond of playing the fool.  We worked with the Committee of Union and Progress, pre-Genocide.  We negotiated with them during the life of the first Republic.  In the late 1970s, we started meeting, along with the other two parties, with Turkish representatives before the 1980 coup changed the regime in Ankara.  You will recall that in recent months, the ARF was even formally present in Turkey, though that was largely a Kurdish-based interaction.
Hopefully, Turgut Ozal’s threats of invading the Republic of Armenia in the 1990s and Kessab today will jolt our naïve compatriots out of their kumbaya stupor.  We must continue to organize.  We must continue to strengthen ourselves politically in the Diaspora.  We must continue to strengthen both Armenian republics, not just militarily, diplomatically, and economically, but internal-politically (i.e. weed out corruption and enhance citizen engagement in public life).  We must continue the barely-started process of relearning the Turks—government and civic-society level.  We must engage with Turks and Turkey cautiously, astutely, and always openly to disallow gamesmanship and misrepresentation of what transpires when we interact with them.

Armenia as a Technology Hub?

Armenia—with its highly educated population, an entrepreneurial spirit, a legacy of research and development during Soviet times, and high growth digital sector—can become a technology hub or “Silicon Mountain” in the region.
According to the Enterprise Incubator Foundation, in 2012, Armenia exported $120 million worth of IT software and services, mostly to the U.S., Canada, and the European Union. There were about 360 IT companies in Armenia, with an average annual growth of 23 percent. Revenues accounted for 3.3 percent of its national GDP, with the industry contributing 8 percent of total exports. About 1 in 10 of the companies had a turnover of more than $1 million.
Armenia used to be a hub for the Soviet Union’s scientific and research and development (R&D) activities, including industrial computing, electronics, and semiconductors. Since independence, the country’s focus has been towards software development, outsourcing, and IT services.
Although Armenia has around 90 percent coverage of 3G network nationally, only around 40 percent access the network.
Students experiment in robotics during a workshop at Tumo.
Students experiment in robotics during a workshop at Tumo.
That is why places like the Tumo Center are so important. Tumo is a new kind of after-school learning environment where thousands of teenage students are put in charge of their own learning, in a place where there is access to the internet and technology. The Center teaches skills necessary to succeed in the digital industry, for example in animation, video game design, web development, and digital video and audio.
Another organization helping prepare Armenia for digital future is Armtech, which promotes Armenia’s high technology economy and encourages investment; allows for the networking among high tech professional worldwide; and organizes a leading Armenia tech conference every year.
Then there have been the technology investments. In 2011, Microsoft Corporation established an Innovation Center in Yerevan, and in the same year India set up a joint Center for Excellence in Information Communication Technologies at Yerevan State University. In response, the Armenian government opened an information and high-tech office at the Plug and Play Center in Silicon Valley in December 2012.
The latest accomplishment came in December 2013, when Technology and Science Dynamics Inc./Armtab Technologies Company, an American-Armenian joint-venture, announced the first tablet and smartphone made in Armenia.
A country that has made the most of its small land mass while leveraging the intellectual capacity of its population has been Israel. The percentage of Israelis engaged in scientific and technological inquiry, and the amount spent on research and development in relation to gross domestic product, is the highest in the world.
A number of factors have contributed to this, including investing within the country to patent technologies and attracting foreign investment to build research and development centers. The Armenian government should consider these and other models to further enhance some its natural resources—its people.
Perhaps it could appoint an Advisory Board (including diasporans) to work alongside these existing organizations to set and implement Armenia’s digital plan, to not only develop the sector but identify new opportunities to leverage.
Armenians are no strangers to the digital sector, with Avie Tevanian, a former senior vice president and former chief software technology officer at Apple; Alexis Ohanian, co-founder the social news website Reddit; Vahé Torossian, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Worldwide Small and Mid-market Solutions and Partners (SMS&P) organization; Katherine Safarian from Pixar, and an Oscar recipient; Zareh Nalbandian co‐founder and CEO of Animal Logic, one of the world’s leaders in digital animation; and many others.
The opportunities that are available are huge. For example, WhatsApp Messenger, a cross-platform mobile messaging app, was recently acquired by Facebook for $19 billion.
Armenia’s most valuable commodity is before us, we just need to open our eyes.

Hundreds Commemorate Genocide in Diyarbakir

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DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (A.W.)—Hundreds attended the commemoration of the Armenian and Assyrian genocides here in Diyarbakir on April 24, including Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality co-mayor Fırat Anlı and former mayor of Sur Municipality Abdullah Demirbaş.
A boy stands near the Monument of Common Conscience during the genocide commemoration in Diyarbakir. (Photo by Scout Tufankjian)
A boy stands near the Monument of Common Conscience during the genocide commemoration in Diyarbakir. (Photo by Scout Tufankjian)
The commemoration was jointly organized by the Diyarbakir Bar Association, the Diyarbakir branch of the Human Rights Association of Turkey (HRA), and the Gomidas Institute (GI).
At noon, attendees gathered at the Monument of Common Conscience (Ortak Vicdan Anıtı), where pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) parliamentarian Altan Tan, GI’s Ara Sarafian, head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association Tahir Elçi, and HRA Diyarbakir member Raci Bilici delivered speeches.
Altan Tan stated that the genocide committed in 1915 against Armenians and Assyrians is a dark blemish on the pages of history. Today, only through understanding one another can we defeat the oppressors, he noted.
The speakers at the commemoration (Photo by Gulisor Akkum)
The speakers at the commemoration (Photo by Gulisor Akkum)
Sarafian said that the genocide of the Armenians and Assyrians in 1915 was one of the darkest pages of the history of these lands, and it was followed by the Turkish Republic’s oppression of Kurds, Alevis, liberal intellectuals and communists.
The monument of common conscience can serve as a means of confronting the past. Armenians, Turks, Kurds, and Assyrians should struggle for a better future, Sarafian added.
Elçi briefly talked about the genocide of the Armenians and Assyrians. Today, we share the pain of the Armenians and the Assyrians, he noted.
Speaking on behalf of IHD’s Diyarbakir chapter, Bilici said that the perpetrators of the genocide against the non-Muslims in 1915 not only destroyed entire communities, but confiscated all their possessions. The genocide continues to be denied because of the fear of reparation for the property that was stolen, he added.
This report was filed by The Armenian Weekly Diyarbakir correspondent Gulisor Akkum.

Congressional Delegation Commemorates Genocide in Yerevan

“It’s much harder to get tomorrow right if we get yesterday wrong.” —Chairman Ed Royce, U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Speaking at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Armenia
YEREVAN—In a powerful show of American solidarity with the Armenian people, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee traveled to Armenia this April 24th to join with government officials and hundreds of thousands of Armenian citizens participating in events marking the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY), ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian and Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) in a moment of silence as they approach the Armenian Genocide Memorial.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY), ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian and Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) in a moment of silence as they approach the Armenian Genocide Memorial.
Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY) were joined on this Congressional Delegation by House Foreign Affairs panel members David Cicilline (D-RI) and Lois Frankel (D-FL).  The Congressional delegation held meetings with Armenian President Serge Sarkissian, Garegin II, Catholicos and Supreme Patriarch of All Armenians, and other senior Armenian officials, and paid a solemn April 24th visit to Tsitsernakaberd, the national memorial to the Genocide.  Additional meetings are scheduled for Friday, April 25.
Chairman Ed Royce, after placing a wreath at Tsitsernakaberd, noted that: “I am honored to be here in Armenia to express support and solidarity with the Armenian people on this day of solemn remembrance 99 years after the Armenian Genocide.  History is a continuum.  It’s much harder to get tomorrow right if we get yesterday wrong.  It is vital for the world to accurately acknowledge the wrongs of yesterday, so that atrocities like this genocide of 1.5 million Armenians are never again witnessed.”  The senior California legislator added: “I have long and wholeheartedly agreed with President Ronald Reagan, who called this first genocide of the last century exactly what it was—a genocide.”
Congressman Eliot Engel, the senior Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, speaking during a press conference today, said: “I stand here in solidarity with our Chairman and other members of the Committee to say that it is very important for the world to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, and we call upon Turkey to immediately recognize and apologize for the Armenian Genocide.”
Congressman Cicilline, in a strongly worded statement at Tsitsernakaberd, noted that he was “honored to be here today to remember the one and a half million martyrs who were killed during the Armenian Genocide,” and then went on to “call on Turkey to recognize this historic fact so that we can begin a real conversation about reparations.”  In her comments, Rep. Frankel underscored how honored she felt, “as a Congresswoman and a mother, to stand in solidarity with the people of Armenia.”
Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Congressional colleagues with ANCA leaders at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Armenia.  From Left to Right: ANCA Legislative Affairs Dir. Raffi Karakashian, ANCA WR Chairwoman Nora Hovsepian, ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian, Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY), Mrs. Marie Royce, Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), ANCA National Board Members Steve Mesrobian and Raffi Hamparian.
Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Congressional colleagues with ANCA leaders at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Armenia. From Left to Right: ANCA Legislative Affairs Dir. Raffi Karakashian, ANCA WR Chairwoman Nora Hovsepian, ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian, Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY), Mrs. Marie Royce, Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), ANCA National Board Members Steve Mesrobian and Raffi Hamparian.
Video of the Congressional Delegation’s press conference is available at:
A delegation of ANCA leaders traveled to Yerevan earlier in the week to welcome Chairman Royce and his colleagues to Armenia.  ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian thanked the members of the delegation, giving voice to the profound appreciation of Armenians worldwide for their travels to be in Armenia on April 24th and to take part of the nation’s solemn commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.  “We join with Armenians from around the world in thanking Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel, Congressman Cicilline, and Congresswoman Frankel for their strong leadership and sincere devotion to a truthful and just resolution of the Armenian Genocide—a crime against all humanity.”
Hachikian is joined by ANCA National Board members Raffi Hamparian and Steve Mesrobian, ANCA Western Region Chairwoman Nora Hovsepian, longtime Orange County area community leader Sylvie Tertzakian and ANCA Legislative Affairs Director Raffi Karakashian.
Pictures from the Congressional delegation’s visit are posted to the ANCA Facebook page at:
Complete coverage of the Congressional delegation’s visit to Armenia will be provided in upcoming days.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Armenians Seek Justice Once Again

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.
A scene from the protest in Boston (photo by Ken Martin)
A scene from the protest in Boston (photo by Ken Martin)
On Friday, April 4th the Armenian community of the Greater Boston area gathered at the entrance of the Tip O’Neill Federal Building in downtown
A scene from the protest in Boston (photo by Ken Martin)
A scene from the protest in Boston (photo by Ken Martin)
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.
A scene from the protest in Boston (photo by Ken Martin)
A scene from the protest in Boston (photo by Ken Martin)

Sassounian: Why Turks Were Capable of Exterminating Armenians, but not Jews

Endless comparisons are made between the Armenian Genocide and the Jewish Holocaust. However, there is yet another comparison that is rarely made: the Turkish ability to carry out the Armenian Genocide and inability to eliminate the Jewish settlers from Palestine during the same period. Such a comparison has not been made because hardly anyone has studied the Turkish deportation plans of Jews during World War I in relationship to the Armenian Genocide.
My preliminary analysis is based on information gleamed from Prof. Yair Auron’s book, Zionism and the Armenian Genocide: The Banality of Indifference, Vartkes Yeghiayan’s Pro Armenia, and other archival materials. I would like to detail the circumstances of deportations of the Jews and how they were mostly spared, while Armenians were not! More importantly, what steps did the Jewish Diaspora and settlers in Palestine take to avoid suffering Armenians’ tragic fate?
Armenians and Jews, as minorities in the Ottoman Empire, were convenient scapegoats for the whims of ruthless Turkish leaders. Interestingly, the Young Turks used the same arguments for deporting both Armenians and Jews. The Turks had accused Armenians for cooperating with the advancing Russian Army, while similarly blaming Jews for cooperating with British forces invading Ottoman Palestine. Furthermore, Jews were accused of planning to establish their own homeland in Palestine, just as Armenians were allegedly establishing theirs in Eastern Turkey. In yet another parallel, Jamal Pasha, one of the members of the Young Turk triumvirate, had cynically commented that he was “expelling the Jews for their own good,” just as Armenians were forcefully removed “away from the war zone” for their own safety!
In 1914, when Turkey entered World War I on the German side and against the Allied Powers (England, Russia, and France), Palestine became a theater of war. Turkish authorities imposed a war tax on the population, which fell more heavily on the Jewish settlers. Their properties and other possessions were confiscated by the Turkish military. Some Jewish settlers were used as slave labor to build roads and railways. Alex Aaronsohn, a Jewish settler in Zichron Yaacov, wrote in his diary: “an order had recently come from the Turkish authorities, bidding them surrender whatever firearms or weapons they had in their possession. A sinister command, this: we knew that similar measures had been taken before the terrible Armenian massacres, and we felt that some such fate might be in preparation for our people,” as quoted in Yeghiayan’s Pro Armenia.
In Fall 1914, the Turkish regime issued an expulsion order for all “enemy nationals,” including 50,000 Russian Jews who had escaped from Czarist persecutions and settled in Palestine. After repeated intercessions by German Ambassador Hans Wangenheim and American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, these “enemy nationals” were allowed to stay in Palestine, if they agreed to acquire Ottoman citizenship.
Nevertheless, on December 17, 1914, Jamal Pasha’s subordinate, Bahaeddin, governor of Jaffa, implemented the expulsion order, deporting 500 Jews who were grabbed from the streets and dragged to police headquarters, and from there forced to board ships docked in the harbor. Homes of Jewish settlers were searched for weapons. Hebrew-language signs were removed from shops and the Jewish school of Jaffa was closed down. Zionist organizations were dissolved, and on January 25, 1915, the Turkish authorities issued a declaration against “the dangerous element known as Zionism, which is struggling to create a Jewish government in the Palestinian area of the Ottoman Kingdom….”
In response to protests from Amb. Morgenthau and the German government, Constantinople reversed the deportation order and Bahaeddin was removed from his post. According to Prof. Auron, the condition of the Jewish settlers could have been much worse had it not been for “the influence of world Jewry on Turkish policy…. The American, German, and Austrian Jewish communities succeeded in restraining some of its harsher aspects. Decrees were softened; overly zealous Turkish commanders were replaced and periods of calm followed the times of distress.”
Back in 1913, Pres. Wilson had instructed Amb. Morgenthau upon his appointment: “’Remember that anything you can do to improve the lot of your co-religionists is an act that will reflect credit upon America, and you may count on the full power of the Administration to back you up.’ Morgenthau followed this advice faithfully,” according to Isaiah Friedman’s book, Germany, Turkey and Zionism: 1897-1918. After arranging for the delivery of much needed funds from American Jews to Jaffa, Morgenthau wrote to Arthur Ruppen, director of the Palestine Development Association: “I have been the chosen weapon to take up the defense of my co-religionists….”
In Spring 1917, the Turkish authorities issued a second order to deport 5,000 Jews from Tel Aviv. Aaron Aaronsohn, leader of the Nili group – a small Jewish underground organization in Palestine working for British intelligence – immediately disseminated the news of the deportation to the international media. Aaronsohn secretly met with British diplomat Mark Sykes in Egypt and through him sent an urgent message to London on April 28, 1917: “Tel Aviv has been sacked. 10,000 Jews in Palestine are now without home or food. Whole of Yishuv [Jewish settlements in Palestine] is threatened with destruction. Jamal [Pasha] has publicly stated Armenian policy will now be applied to Jews.”
Upon receiving Aaronsohn’s reports from Palestine, Chaim Weizmann, a key pro-British Zionist in London, transmitted the following message to Zionist leaders in various European capitals: “Jamal Pasha openly declared that the joy of Jews at the approach of British troops would be short lived as he would then share the fate of the Armenians…. Jamal Pasha is too cunning to order cold-blooded massacres. His method is to drive the population to starvation and death by thirst, epidemics, etc….”
American Jews were outraged hearing of the deportations in Palestine. News reports were issued throughout Western countries on “Turkish intentions to exterminate the Jews in Palestine,” according to Prof. Auron. Moreover, influential Jewish businessmen in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire demanded that their governments pressure Turkish leaders to abandon their plans to deport Jews. Jamal Pasha was finally forced to rescind the expulsion order and provided food and medical assistance to Jewish refugees in Tel Aviv.

Schiff Delivers Open Letter to Turkish People on House Floor on Genocide

Schiff Delivers Open Letter to Turkish People on House Floor on Genocide

WASHINGTON—Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the lead sponsor of the Armenian Genocide resolution, went to the House of Representatives floor on Wednesday to deliver an open letter to the Turkish people on the Armenian Genocide.
The full text of the speech is below:
An Open Letter to the Turkish People:
Today, I write to you on a topic of great importance to both of our nations. It is on a subject that many of you, especially the younger generation, may know little about because it concerns a chapter of world history that your government has expended enormous efforts to conceal.
Turkey has been at the center of human civilization from Neolithic times to the present, and your arts, culture and science have enriched the world.
But interwoven with all of Turkey’s remarkable achievements is a dark chapter that too many of today’s Turks know little or nothing about.
Were you aware that your grandparents and great-grandparents had many Armenian neighbors and friends – that twenty percent of the population of today’s Istanbul was Armenian? Did you know that the Armenians were well integrated into Turkish society as celebrated intellects, artists, craftsmen and community leaders? Have you ever wondered, what happened to the Armenians? Have you ever asked your parents and grandparents how such a large, industrious and prosperous people largely vanished from your midst? Do you know why your government goes to such lengths to conceal this part of your history?
Let me tell you a part of their story. The rest you must find out for yourselves.
Ninety-nine years ago this month, in the dying years of the Ottoman Empire, the Young Turk government launched a campaign of deportation, expropriation, starvation and murder against the empire’s Armenian citizens. Much of the Armenian population was forcibly removed to Syria, where many succumbed during brutal forced marches through the desert heat. Hundreds of thousands were massacred by Ottoman gendarmes, soldiers and even ordinary citizens.
By the time the slaughter ended in 1923, one and a half million Armenians had been killed in what is now universally acknowledged as the first genocide of the Twentieth Century. The survivors scattered throughout the Middle East and the wider world with some making their way to the United States, and to Los Angeles.
It is their grandchildren and great grandchildren whom I represent as a Member of the United States Congress. Theirs is a vibrant community, many tens of thousands strong, with schools, churches and businesses providing a daily link to their ancestral homeland. And it is on their behalf that I urge you to begin anew a national conversation in Turkey about the events of 1915-23.
As a young man or woman in Turkey, you might ask: What has this to do with me? Am I to blame for a crime committed long before I was born. And I would say this: Yours is the moral responsibility to acknowledge the truth and seek a reconciliation with the Armenian people that your parents and their parents could or would not. It is an obligation you have inherited and one from which you must not shrink. For though we cannot choose our own history, we decide what to do about it — and you will be the ones to shape Turkey’s future.
At the end of World War II, Germany was a shattered nation – defeated in battle and exposed as history’s greatest war criminal. But, in the decades since the end of the war, Germany engaged in a prolonged effort to reconcile with the Jewish people, who were nearly exterminated by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The German government has prosecuted war criminals, returned expropriated property, allied itself with Israel, and made countless apologies to the victims and to the world. Most important, Germany has worked to expunge the cancer of dehumanizing bigotry and hatred that gave rise to the Holocaust.
This path, of reflection, reconciliation and repentance must be Turkey’s path as well. It will not be easy, the questions will be painful, the answers difficult, sometimes unknowable. One question stands out:
How could a nation that peaceably ruled over a diverse, multicultural empire for centuries have turned on one of its peoples with such ruthlessness that an entirely new word had to be invented to describe what took place? Genocide.
As in Judaism and Christianity, the concept of repentance or tawba is central to Islam. Next year will mark a century since the beginning of the genocide and Armenians around the world will mourn their dead, contemplate the enormity of their loss, and ask, why? Answer them, please, with words of repentance.
Adam Schiff
Member of Congress

Boston Billboards Call for the Recognition of the Armenian Genocide

By Rosario Teixeira
BOSTON, Mass—During the month of April, the 2014 Armenian Genocide commemorative billboards will be displayed at the corner of Arsenal and School Streets in Watertown; on Cambridge Street, at the Lechmere Station in Cambridge; and on Route 1 South, 1/4 mile from the Gillette Stadium, in Foxboro.
Sponsored by Peace of Art, Inc., the 2014 Armenian Genocide commemorative billboards honor the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide.
Sponsored by Peace of Art, Inc., the 2014 Armenian Genocide commemorative billboards honor the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide.
Sponsored by Peace of Art, Inc., the 2014 Armenian Genocide commemorative billboards honor the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide. In this year’s message, “Recognize the Crime of the Century, the Armenian Genocide,” the word “genocide” has imbedded the number 100, and handcuffs.  The number 100 refers to the approaching 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The handcuffs refer to a century of victimization and denial by the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide and their supporters.  The Armenian Genocide was the crime of the century because it was the first genocide of the 20th century.  Had the genocide been condemned by the world community, it would have been a step toward ensuring that such crimes that attempt to eliminate unwanted groups defined by race, religion, and ethnicity, do not take place in the future.
Millions of people around the world have been killed, falling victim to genocidal campaigns, political calculations, and ethnic cleansing.  As the Armenian people struggle for recognition of the crime of the century, the world remains blind to crimes against humanity perpetrated around the globe.   The world community must recognize the Armenian genocide and condemn other such crimes.
A billboard in Watertown, Mass., reminds passersby of the Armenian Genocide.
A billboard in Watertown, Mass., reminds passersby of the Armenian Genocide.
In 1996, Peace of Art, Inc. founder and president, Daniel Varoujan Hejinian, began to display the annual Armenian Genocide commemorative billboards, bringing awareness about the Armenian Genocide to the community at large.  Since 2003, through the annual commemorative billboards, Peace of Art, Inc. has been calling for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and it has urged the President of the United States, and the United Nations to recognize the Armenian Genocide.  It is also time to urge Turkey to confront its history, and to make amends.
“To deny the Armenian Genocide is to further victimize those who perished and their descendants, it is an act of blaming the victims.  After a century of denial, it is time to place the ‘handcuffs’ on the criminals. For those who think that after the last survivor dies there will be no more witnesses, and with the passing of time the Armenian genocide will be forgotten, know that all Armenians are survivors of the genocide, and as long as the Armenian genocide remains unrecognized by Turkey, millions of Armenians around the world will demand recognition and justice,” said Hejinian.
Peace of Art, Inc., is a non-profit educational organization registered with the Massachusetts Secretary of State, and tax exempt under section 501(C)(3).  For more information visit www.PeaceofArt.org

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Adopts Armenian Genocide Resolution

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Adopts Armenian Genocide Resolution

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez speaks at Wednesday's Genocide commemoration on Capitol Hill
Chairman Menendez spearheads successful campaign for truth over strong opposition from White House; Turkish Government
WASHINGTON—For the first time in nearly a quarter century, a U.S. Senate committee on Thursday adopted an Armenian Genocide Resolution, calling upon the Senate to commemorate this crime and encouraging the President to ensure that America’s foreign policy reflects and reinforces the lessons, documented in the U.S. record, of this still-unpunished genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
“Today’s vote affirms America’s commitment to truth, deals a serious setback to Turkey’s campaign of genocide denial, and sends a clear message to President Obama that he must end his Administration’s complicity in Ankara’s cover-up of this crime,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. “We thank Chairman Menendez for his powerful leadership and express our thanks to each of the Senators who cast their votes for this human rights measure.”
With a vote of 12 to 5, the Committee voted to condemn and commemorate the Armenian Genocide. Those who joined Senator Menendez in supporting the measure were Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ed Markey (D-MA), John McCain (R-AZ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Tom Udall (D-NM). Those opposing the measure were Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Bob Corker (R-TN), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Jim Risch (R-ID). Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) did not vote.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) spearheaded the effort to have this influential foreign policy panel take a strong stand regarding the Ottoman Turkish Government’s centrally planned and systematically carried out campaign of genocide from 1915-1923, which resulted in the deaths of over 1.5 million men, women and children, and the exile of a nation from its historic homeland.
Senator Menendez announced the vote at the Armenian Genocide Observance on Capitol Hill yesterday evening, where he told his colleagues and attendees, “To me, to all men and women of good will, I would think there is a simple statement – genocide is genocide, and you cannot call it anything else but that and you need to have a recognition of that. Next year when we mark a century – a hundred years ago that the Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turkey, it seems to me that with most of the survivors gone – but with a few left – it is incredibly important for us to lead globally at this time.”
During Committee discussion of the measure, Chairman Menendez told his committee colleagues, “I think the Armenian Genocide is a horrifying factual reality that can never be denied. I just don’t think you can pick and choose your genocides. Genocide is genocide.” Commenting on U.S. complicity in Turkey’s genocide denial, Chairman Menendez explained, “I am chagrined when I hear that some country will act in a certain way and therefore we here in the United States Senate, the Congress of the United States, that we should refrain from acting simply because someone will be upset.”
Though Ranking Republican Corker voted against the measure, arguing that “I don’t think it’s a good time to bring this type of resolution up,” he did affirm that, “I agree with scholars that a genocide took place. It’s a terrible tragedy.”
Chairman Menendez was joined by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) in introducing S.Res.410, the underlying Armenian Genocide legislation which was amended and adopted today. Joining Chairman Menendez and Senator Kirk as cosponsors of S.Res.410 are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senate Assistant Majority Leader Durbin, Senate Environment Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Senators Ed Markey, Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
State Department Stops Short of Public Attack Against Armenian Genocide Resolution
Earlier in the day, journalists questioned State Department Press Spokesperson Jen Psaki regarding the Obama Administration’s position on the Senate Armenian Genocide Resolution and pending Committee consideration. Psaki explained, “Well, our position has long been that we acknowledge – clearly acknowledge as historical fact and mourn the loss of 1.5 million Armenians who were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. These horrific events resulted in one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, and the United States recognizes that they remain a great source of pain for the people of Armenia and of Armenian descent, as they do for all of us who share basic universal values. Beyond that, I don’t have any other comment for you.” Despite repeated queries, Psaki stopped short of the State Department’s traditional practice of openly arguing against the adoption of Armenian Genocide legislation.
According to news reports, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry the night before the Committee vote in opposition to the measure. Senators and Representatives Welcome Committee Passage of Armenian Genocide Resolution
Following the successful passage of the resolution, Senator Markey, who chairs the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, explained, “It is long overdue for the United States to join the many other nations who have formally recognized the Armenian Genocide. That is why today’s passage by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of the genocide resolution in advance of the ninety-ninth anniversary is so historic. I was proud to vote for this important resolution today in Committee, and I will keep fighting to ensure its passage by the full Senate. I will continue to work with the Armenian-American community to build a prosperous and bright future for the Armenian people.”
Following the vote, House Armenian Genocide Resolution lead co-author, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) noted that, “Today’s vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to send the Armenian Genocide Resolution to the full Senate is a welcome milestone on the long journey towards official U.S. recognition of the first genocide of the 20th Century. It’s my hope that the full Senate will soon take up this resolution, and that my colleagues in the House will be inspired by their example. Next year will mark a century since the beginning of the killings and death marches that claimed 1.5 million Armenians and the centennial must not be allowed to pass without recognition by both Congress and the Administration.”
Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) concurred, stating, “Today’s vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is an important chapter in the effort for official recognition by the U.S. government of the Armenian Genocide. The leadership of Senator Menendez is evident in the strong support the resolution received and I commended him for his dedication to the pursuit of official recognition of the Armenian Genocide. It is now time for the House to act on H. Res. 227, calling on the President to acknowledge the facts and ongoing consequences of the Armenian Genocide.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Four Shades of Turkey, and the Armenians

The Four Shades of Turkey, and the Armenians

Like a cell dividing itself into two, then each new cell further dividing into two, Turkey keeps being divided. Although divisions always existed, they remained mostly suppressed, until now. In this article, I will outline the old and new divisions in Turkey, and the Turks’ perception of us Armenians.
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.

Turkish academia and the Armenian genocide

Turkish academia and the Armenian genocide

Thousands of master’s theses and Ph.D. dissertations in the social sciences are written each year in Turkey. The Higher Education Board (YOK) keeps an electronic database of their topics and titles. A search in the database of dissertations on the Armenian genocide returns a striking result: Only four theses have been written on the issue and, as their titles immediately suggest, they all reflect Turkey’s official position on the massacres.
SummaryPrint Turkish newspapers have exposed attempts by official institutions to control academic research on the Armenian genocide.
Author Orhan Kemal Cengiz Posted December 22, 2013
Translator(s)Sibel Utku Bila
The four titles are as follows: “Armenian genocide claims in view of international law,” “The importance of pressure groups, lobby activities within the context of the so-called Armenian genocide,” “Turkish-Armenian relations in history and the impact of Armenian genocide claims on Turkey’s European Union membership process” and “Armenian genocide claims in international law.”
That is all Turkish universities have been able to produce in terms of theses on the topic of the Armenian genocide. How is this possible? Are there no academics willing to write dissertations contesting Turkey’s official history line and argue, for instance, that the 1915 events were a genocide? Or is there a state mechanism in place that doesn’t leave it up to chance?
A Dec. 12 report in the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos reveals that academics working on dissertations about the Armenian genocide are under the close scrutiny of the Turkish Historical Society (TTK). According to Agos, the TTK has asked YOK for the details of academics studying the Armenian issue and the YOK chairman, in turn, has asked universities to provide that information. A document Agos published indicates that the YOK chairman had asked universities to supply “the names of master’s and doctoral students working on the Armenian problem, the titles of their researches and contact information, in view of making them available to the Turkish Historical Society in the work it conducts.”
As I mentioned in my previous article for Al-Monitor, various government institutions in Turkey are busy making counter preparations for 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. The TTK is one of them. The society is likely to have requested the said information from YOK with a view of using it in those preparations.
When Agos asked the TTK why they needed that information, a TTK official stated that scholarships might be offered to academics working in this realm. Agos then asked whether the TTK would give a scholarship to someone whose thesis qualifies the 1915 events as genocide. The official responded that, since the TTK does not officially recognize the Armenian genocide, providing a scholarship to such a study might not be possible.
Agos argues that the TTK’s real motive is to control the academia and keep records of those working on the Armenian problem.
A subsequent report in the Taraf daily backed up Agos’ argument that those studying the Armenian genocide are being secretly profiled. Two former presidents of Istanbul’s Bogazici University, interviewed by Taraf, shed light on how the censorship mechanism works in the academia.
Ustun Erguder confirmed he had received letters from YOK with requests for information. “During my term as university president, YOK would send such letters, but we would dismiss them as [those requests] had nothing to do with our understanding of academic freedom. That’s something that has been done for years. We had even received letters suggesting we made sure that theses 'supporting Turkish unity' were written. … It is out of the question for me to approve of YOK requests seeking out the names and details of those writing theses on the Armenian problem,” Erguder said.
Another former Bogazici University president, Ayse Soysal, made the following comments: “I used to receive similar letters from YOK, while I was university president. It was routine.  Two types of letters would come from YOK. One would be in the form of [suggestions] that we support studies backing the state’s official view on subject X or subject Y.”
The insight the two former presidents provide on how the system functions explains why only four dissertations have been written on the Armenian genocide and why all happen to be in line with Turkey’s official view.
In another article for Al-Monitor, I had written also about how Turkey’s non-Muslims' birth registries were marked with secret codes and how the non-Muslims could not become army officers, judges or policemen. And this latest example — the lack of even one academic thesis contesting Turkey’s official position on the Armenian problem — is another indication that certain taboo realms are besieged by unwritten but stern rules.
True, the Armenian taboo has been broken in Turkish civil society and intellectual life. Yet, it continues to exist in this or that form in the “official” realm. Thanks to the exposure of practices such as the TTK request for information about academics studying the Armenian problem, we are getting clues on how Turkey’s official theses are being produced and sustained.
No doubt, the exposed practices represent only part of the whole picture. To understand fully why, how and in what atmosphere Turkey’s official theses remain intact, the known pieces need to be brought together with the pieces that remain beyond our knowledge. Only then will we be able to know how Turkey’s official history theses are able to survive unchanged.

Armenian-Americans blame Turkey for Kassab invasion

Armenian-Americans blame Turkey for Kassab invasion

On March 30, Kim Kardashian, an American television personality of Armenian descent, posted two tweets with the hashtag #SaveKessab, which was retweeted over 6,000 times and generated dozens of articles in the English-language press. Another Twitter user commented, “Kim Kardashian is tweeting about #Kassab. [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is in trouble now.” 
SummaryPrint The jihadist attack on the Armenian Syrian town of Kassab has raised more questions about Turkey’s support for Islamic groups fighting in Syria.
Author Pinar Tremblay Posted April 3, 2014
Kardashian’s Kassab tweets were followed by other celebrities, such as the Armenian-American singer Cher. Regardless of how controversial these messages are, we must acknowledge they have reached millions who would otherwise be clueless about the historic Armenian coastal town of Kassab. Located in the northwest of Syria’s beautiful Latakia region, Kassab is a tourist desination situated near the Turkish border.
Kassab has seen significant immigration from other towns with large Armenian populations, such as Aleppo and Homs, since the start of Syrian civil war in March 2011. Though comprising only 1% of the Syrian population, Armenians are Syria's seventh-largest ethnic group. The fall of Kassab could be costly for Turkey.
The Armenian diaspora has launched several protest movements all around the world. On March 27, a protest was held in the Armenian city of Yerevan. On March 28, hundreds gathered in front of the Turkish consulate in Los Angeles with "Save Kassab" signs. Harut Sassounian, publisher of the California Courier, told Al-Monitor he was present at the protest. Sassounian added, “I hold the United States, United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar fully responsible for the atrocities committed against Christians and Armenians in Syria, because they are the ones training, arming and supporting the so-called rebels. The civilized world must reject the murderers who are masquerading under the guise of regime change to impose their radical rule in Syria. The Syrian people deserve a democratic government. However, I fear that the foreign fighters who have infiltrated Syria are far more brutal than the Assad regime. I believe that regime change should come through peaceful negotiations, not beheadings and suicide bombings."
Several other protests took place in front of Turkish embassies and consulates from Moscow to BeirutYeni Safak covered protests in Sydney, Australia, reporting, “Turks gave an answer to the Armenians.” The news suggested that as the group gathered in front of the consulate with chants of “Turkey get out of Kassab,” it was met by another group of protesters with Turkish flags in their hands. It is a fair, yet sad, observation that the diverse and quaint town of Kassab has brought up centuries-old enmities thousands of miles away.
Different delegations representing the Armenian diaspora have met with US State Department officials, urging them to “take immediate action to end the vicious onslaught on the historically Armenian town of Kassab, Syria, which was overrun by al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in an attack launched from Turkey on March 21.” The same day, March 28, State Department Deputy spokesperson Marie Harf spoke on the crisis in Kassab, stating, "We are deeply troubled by recent fighting and violence that is endangering the Armenian community in Kassab, Syria and has forced many to flee.” Several members of Congress have condemned the attacks in Kassab while a petition has been launched to recognize the atrocities occurring in Kassab on the White House website.
The concerns of Armenian-Americans are strongly shared by a small but resilient minority of reporters and citizens, particularly those living in the border towns of Turkey. Although rarely reported in the mainstream media, Turkish people have protested the government’s actions in Syria multiple times. Public-opinion surveys have consistently shown that support by the Turkish public for any military involvement in Syria is low. Even among Justice and Development Party loyalists, only 32% are supportive of such action. It would be fair to assess many Turks as not knowing what really is happening in Kassab as the Twitter and YouTube bans continue.
The same cannot be said for many Armenian-Americans, as many of them have relatives in Kassab and the region. Indeed, the crisis hits close to home for thousands of Angelinos. One of my best students, George Doctorian, happens to be one of them. He told Al-Monitor, “My great-uncle was asleep when he was suddenly awoken at 5 a.m. by the sound of gunshots. His son rushed into the room and told him that their town was under attack. Their neighbor had a car and they quickly jumped in and drove to Latakia. They left everything behind — passports, money, pictures, etc. My great-uncle left without a shirt. Everything they own has been left behind. They have been trying to get new passports and documentation, but it is almost impossible due to the ongoing conflict. My great-uncle believes that if they had waited a little longer to get their paperwork, they surely would not have made it out in time.”
He added, “Our family back in Kassab fears the worst. Churches have been destroyed and there are reports that even the cemeteries have been desecrated. Many reports show that the Turkish government has funded these rebel groups, primarily Jabat al-Nusra, and this is evidenced by the fact that these rebels were able to enter Kassab through the Turkish border."
I hope for Doctorian's commentary to be taken seriously by all parties. He said, “The events that are occurring in Kassab are horrific and should not occur in the 21st century, when the international community stresses the importance of religious freedom and basic human rights. I would, however, caution Armenians to stop using the word 'genocide' when describing the events that are taking place in Kassab. The word 'genocide' entails many requirements [in regard to what] was perpetrated by the Young Turks in the first world war. Using the word 'genocide' [for] the events in Kassab is wrong and does a disservice to our ancestors who went through the genocide."
It is understandable that the younger generations of Armenians fear further persecution of their relatives in Syria. It is also understandable that Armenian youths from different parts of the world yearn to go to Syria to fight in defense of their relatives. With this background analysis, news about Los Angeles gang members going to Syria to take up arms in pro-Assad militias is not surprising.
The Turkish government denies any involvement in the events of Kassab, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s statement that Turkey’s door is open to Kassab's Armenians has only further escalated tensions, as Armenian pundits consider Davutoglu’s comments a “mockery of the international community."
Davutoglu has failed to answer the simple question: How did these armed militants enter the town of Kassab, if not through the Turkish border? The alleged leaks from a meeting between Davutoglu and high-level intelligence, military and Foreign Ministry representatives have been interpreted as a Turkish willingness to engage in war with Syria. To top this all off, during his March 30 victory speech, Erdogan declared, “We are in a state of war with Syria.” Since the Turkish government’s pleas for a no-fly zone have not found support in NATO, some in Turkey now ask: With an overwhelming electoral victory, would the Turkish government establish a de facto no-fly zone on its own?
Erdogan is now well-known for his recent obsession with “lobbies.” Although I have doubts about the “robot lobby” and “interest-rate lobby,” I know the Armenian lobby in the United States is real and legitimate. Will Erdogan criticize the Armenian lobby, as well? Most importantly, will the efforts of concerned Armenians and others around the world help deter further escalation of the Syrian civil war and save innocent lives?