Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Erdogan’s Governing Party in Turkey Loses Parliamentary Majority

ISTANBUL — Turkish voters delivered a rebuke on Sunday to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as his party lost its majority in Parliament in a historic election that thwarted his ambition to rewrite Turkey’s Constitution and further bolster his clout.
The results represented a significant setback for Mr. Erdogan, an Islamist who has steadily increased his power since being elected last year as president, a partly but not solely ceremonial post. The prime minister for more than a decade before that, Mr. Erdogan has pushed for more control of the judiciary and cracked down on any form of criticism, including prosecuting those who insult him on social media, but his efforts appeared to have run aground on Sunday.
The vote was also a significant victory to the cadre of Kurds, liberals and secular Turks who found their voice of opposition to Mr. Erdogan during sweeping antigovernment protests two years ago. For the first time, the Kurdish slate crossed a 10 percent threshold required to enter Parliament.
Continue reading the main story

Turkey's Election Sends Message to Erdogan

Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., still won the most seats by far, but not a majority, according to preliminary results released Sunday night. The outcome suggests contentious days of jockeying ahead as the party moves to form a coalition government. Already, analysts were raising the possibility Sunday of new elections if a government cannot be formed swiftly. Many Turks were happy to see Mr. Erdogan’s powers curtailed, even though the prospect of a coalition government evokes dark memories of political instability and economic malaise during the 1990s.
With 99 percent of the votes counted, the A.K.P. had won 41 percent of the vote, according to TRT, a state-run broadcaster, down from nearly 50 percent during the last national election in 2011. The percentage gave it an estimated 258 seats in Turkey’s Parliament, compared with the 327 seats it has now.
“The outcome is an end to Erdogan’s presidential ambitions,” said Soner Cagaptay, an expert on Turkey and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Almost immediately, the results raised questions about the political future of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who moved to that position from that of foreign minister last year and was seen as a loyal subordinate of Mr. Erdogan.
Speaking Sunday night from a balcony at the party headquarters in Ankara, Mr. Davutoglu struck notes of triumph and optimism, touting his party as the winner because it won the most seats, without mentioning the loss of its majority.
“The elections once again showed that the A.K. Party is the backbone of Turkey,” he said.
Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, the leaders of the People’s Democratic Party, celebrated in Istanbul. Credit Murad Sezer/Reuters
Mr. Erdogan, who as president was not on the ballot Sunday, will probably remain Turkey’s dominant political figure even if his ambitions have been curtailed, given his outsize personality and his still-deep well of support among Turkey’s religious conservatives, who form the backbone of his constituency. But even among those supporters, including ones in Kasimpasa, the Istanbul neighborhood where Mr. Erdogan spent part of his youth, there are signs that his popularity is flagging.
“A lot of people in Kasimpasa have become disheartened by Erdogan’s aggressive approach in recent weeks,” said Aydin, 77, who gave only his first name because some of his family members are close to Mr. Erdogan. “I voted for the A.K.P. because it has become habit, but I think Erdogan lost votes this week.”
Turnout was 86 percent for the elections, which were seen as a referendum on Mr. Erdogan’s tenure, especially his plan for a presidential system that would have given him more power. Polling had consistently shown that the majority of Turks are opposed to the change.
By law, Mr. Erdogan can call for new elections after 45 days if a coalition is not formed, and the political uncertainty sent Turkey’s currency, the lira, to a record low against the dollar in after-hours trading.
The vote turned on the historic performance at the ballot box of Turkey’s Kurdish minority, which aligned with liberals and secular Turks opposed to Mr. Erdogan’s leadership to win almost 13 percent of the vote, passing the legal threshold for earning representation in Parliament.
Selahattin Demirtas, 42, a former human rights lawyer who leads the largely Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, told reporters Sunday night: “As of this hour, the debate about the presidency, the debate about dictatorship, is over. Turkey narrowly averted a disaster.”
Continue reading the main story Video

Kurds Celebrate Election Success

There was celebration in the streets of Turkey over gains by the Peoples’ Democratic Party, which aligned with liberals and secular Turks opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
By Reuters on Publish Date June 8, 2015. Photo by Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.
The People’s Democratic Party, known as H.D.P., was able to broaden its base by fielding a slate of candidates that included women, gays and other minorities and appealed to voters whose goal was to curtail Mr. Erdogan’s powers.
“I voted for H.D.P. because it’s the only party that can break up Erdogan’s bid for absolute power,” said Selen Olcay, 47, a fitness instructor who voted in Istanbul’s Sariyer District. “In this election a lot of Turks abandoned their ideological preferences and voted strategically to derail Erdogan’s one-man rule.”
The Kurdish party opted to run a unified slate, rather than field independent candidates as it had in the past. But it was a big risk: either it would reach the 10 percent threshold and enter Parliament, or it would be shut out, and its seats would have gone to the A.K.P.
In the city of Diyarbakir, in the Kurdish heartland in the southeast, celebrations broke out as people flooded the streets, dancing and setting off fireworks.
In Istanbul, Kurds saw the election as the culmination of decades of struggle, some of it waged violently by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which has fought an insurgency from a base in northern Iraq for more political rights. In recent years Mr. Erdogan’s government had entered peace talks with the Kurds and violence ebbed, and Sunday’s vote raised hopes for a final deal.
“This is the victory of peace against war,” said Sirri Sureyya Onder, an H.D.P. official, speaking to a group of reporters after preliminary results were published.
Supporters of the A.K.P. at the party’s headquarters in Ankara, the capital. Credit Umit Bektas/Reuters
The Republican People’s Party, the main secular opposition party, came in second with 25 percent of the vote, but it was the Kurds whose surge positioned them as kingmakers in the next Parliament. It also highlighted the evolution of the Kurdish movement, from the battlefields of the southeast, where a bloody insurgency raged for nearly 30 years, to the halls of power in Ankara, the capital.
Even as days of political bargaining lie ahead, the elections capped a two-year period of seismic shifts in Turkish politics. Widespread antigovernment protests in 2013, set off by plans to raze an Istanbul park and replace it with a mall, laid bare the growing resentments among liberal and secular Turks toward the governing party. Then, a corruption scandal threatened to engulf Mr. Erdogan and his government. Mr. Erdogan survived by targeting the followers of his erstwhile ally, the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who over the years had taken positions in the judiciary and the police and were accused of orchestrating a graft inquiry.
Turkey has felt strains in other arenas. It has taken in nearly two million Syrians, who have been a burden on services and exacerbated tensions in border regions, especially as the economy has slowed. In the wake of the Arab Spring, Turkey pursued an Islamist agenda in the region, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, whose president was deposed by the military. Its policy in Syria of pushing for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad has been unpopular in Turkey, and Mr. Assad, four years later, is still in power.
The diminished power of Mr. Erdogan’s party is likely to rein in Turkey’s ambitions to shape events in the Middle East, an activist foreign policy that has been controversial among political opponents and the public.
“Turkey’s foreign policy will be less driven by the A.K.P.’s ambitions, which is basically driven by a foreign policy vision to make Turkey a regional player at any cost,” Mr. Cagaptay said, suggesting it had supported various Syrian factions opposing the Assad government and sometimes turned a blind eye to fighters crossing into Syria to join the Islamic State.
He added: “The outcome of the election will take Turkey’s anti-Assad policy down a notch. The government will not be able to drive its agenda single-handedly anymore.”
Turkey, a member of NATO, has seen its relations with its Western allies deteriorate, mainly over Syria and the fight against the Islamic State, the militant group that controls vast areas of Iraq and Syria. An American-led coalition has been carrying out an air campaign against the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, for nearly a year, but Western officials complain that Turkey has not done enough, such as allowing its air bases to be used for bombing runs. Critics also partly blame Turkey for the rise of the Islamic State for its early support of Islamist groups in Syria.
The election was defined by bitter partisanship, with opponents criticizing Mr. Erdogan for his accumulation of powers, his bashing of the news media and his lavish new official residence, which Mr. Erdogan justified by saying his previous residence was infested with cockroaches. The campaign was also marred by violence, including a bombing last week at a Kurdish political rally that left two people dead.
“Erdogan’s salvos over the past week show how nervous he is about the outcome of this election,” said Ugur Kaplan, 24, a student who voted in Istanbul.
“The A.K.P. has lost votes, and it’s because of him. People are tired of having their lives dictated by one nutty man. It’s time for change.”
Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

State Department Denounces Erdogan-Turkey for Targeting Journalists, Armenians and Gays

U.S. State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf speaks to journalists during a press conference
U.S. State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf speaks to journalists during a press conference
WASHINGTON—US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denounced President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attacks against Western media outlets, but brushed aside criticism that Turkey was an unreliable ally despite the growing rift between the two countries.
Asked about President Erdogan’s accusing the New York Times, CNN and BBC of trying to weaken and divide Turkey, and later expanding on it with a claim that journalists, Armenians and homosexuals were “allies in sedition,” Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications at the US State Department Marie Harf told a daily briefing that the US supports freedom of expression, and remains concerned about government interference in freedom of expression in Turkey, “We’ve said that for a long time and we remain concerned.”
“An independent and unfettered media is an essential element of any democratic and open society,” said Harf. “As Turkey’s friend and as their NATO ally, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold democratic values, including due process, judicial independence, and freedom of expression, including access to media and information.”
When asked if she would “denounce or decry or criticize” Erdogan for his criticism of homosexuals, Armenians and journalists, she responded “Absolutely.”
Turkey’s President Erdogan continued his salvoes against a number of minorities ahead of the June 7 general elections, when he accused Armenians, journalists, and homosexuals on Wednesday of supporting the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
“Their biggest ally is Dogan Media. The Armenian lobby, homosexuals and those who believe in ‘Alevism without Ali’ – all these representatives of sedition are [the HDP’s] benefactors,” Erdogan said during an address to citizens in the eastern province of Bingöl on June 3.
On June 3, the Turkish president also repeated his ever-toughening rhetoric against international media. “They also received the support of some foreign media outlets, which see Turkey as their colony,” he said.
In recent days for different reasons, Erdogan has slammed several media institutions including the daily Hurriyet, which is owned by the Dogan Media Group, daily Cumhuriyet, the New York Times, CNN International and the BBC.
Erdogan has made slights against Armenians on several occasions in the past, including last year, when he raged against opposition politicians for calling him an Armenian. “They called me a Georgian. Pardon me for saying this, but they said even uglier things: They called me an Armenian!” Erdogan said in an interview on national TV in August 2014.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sassounian: Hastert Should Also Be Investigated on Turkish Bribery Accusations

Federal Prosecutors last week indicted former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert for:
1) lying to the FBI on why he had withdrawn nearly $1.7 million from various banks in the last four years, and
2) evading the reporting requirements of banks for large cash transactions.
Each count carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The indictment charges that in 2010 Hastert secretly met one of his former students and agreed to pay him $3.5 million to secure his silence for “past misconduct,” when he was a wrestling coach at the Yorkville High School in Illinois from 1965-81. Since that meeting, Hastert, 73, paid him $1.7 million by initially withdrawing $50,000 at a time from several banks; after being questioned by bank officials, he reduced each withdrawal to just under $10,000, to evade the banks’ reporting requirements.
In December 2014, when asked by the FBI as to why he had made such large cash withdrawals, Hastert made “materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements,” the federal prosecutors said. Hastert was making these payments to his former student to conceal sexually abusing him decades ago, according to various news reports.
Hastert’s indictment is of particular interest to the Armenian-American community because of past accusations that he had received large bribes from Turkish entities to quash pending Armenian Genocide Resolutions, while serving as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2007. These claims were never fully investigated by the U.S. government. After retiring from Congress, Hastert worked for Dickstein Shapiro LLP in Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist for Turkey and other clients.
Ironically, at the start of his political career, Hastert strongly supported recognition of the Armenian Genocide. He spoke on the House floor on April 19, 1984, in favor of a congressional resolution acknowledging the genocide. On June 5, 1996, he voted for an amendment to cut U.S. aid to Turkey until that country recognized the Armenian Genocide. Furthermore, in August 2000, Speaker Hastert met with Armenian community leaders in Glendale, pledging to bring the pending Armenian Genocide Resolution to a vote, despite then-President Clinton’s vehement objections.
However, moments before the genocide resolution was to be voted upon on Oct. 19, 2000, Hastert yanked the bill from consideration, using the excuse that Clinton had sent him a letter raising “grave national security concerns.” How is it that the Republican House Speaker, who fiercely opposed a Democrat president on almost every issue and supported his impeachment, suddenly decided to agree with him on rejecting the Armenian Genocide Resolution? Four days later, the Turkish Sabah newspaper reported that Hastert had agreed to block the resolution on condition that Clinton made such a request in writing.
Could there have been a sinister reason why Speaker Hastert had a sudden change of heart on the Armenian Genocide issue?
Vanity Fair magazine revealed in its September 2005 issue that former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds had reviewed wiretaps of Turkish phone calls claiming that Hastert’s price to withdraw the Armenian Genocide Resolution would be at least $500,000. The FBI overheard Turkish speakers boasting that they have “arranged for tens of thousands of dollars to be paid to Hastert’s campaign funds in small checks” because contributions less than $200 do not have to be itemized in public filings. In fact, Vanity Fair’s examination of Hastert’s federal filings from 1996 to 2002 showed that his campaign had received close to $500,000 in un-itemized payments.
Shockingly, rather than investigate Edmonds’ credible accusations, the FBI fired her, and the U.S. government did not allow her to testify in Congress or in court, using the “state-secrets privilege” as a cover.
Not surprisingly, Speaker Hastert’s visits to Turkey in 2002 and 2004 were funded by the Turkish-U.S. Business Council. Consequently, in July 2004, Hastert issued a blunt statement vowing to block all future Armenian Genocide Resolutions—a pledge he kept until his departure from the House in November 2007!
Interestingly, Hastert’s personal wealth went from $270,000 to up to $17 million during his 2 decades of service in Congress, at a time when his congressional salary was $175,000 a year! Where did his millions come from?
Six months after leaving the House, Hastert began to reap the benefits of serving Turkish interests in Congress by joining the firm Dickstein Shapiro as a lobbyist representing the Turkish government, among other clients. He worked jointly with former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, sometimes traveling together to Turkey, and splitting millions of dollars in lucrative lobbying fees. Last week, immediately after the federal indictment was issued, Hastert resigned from the lobbying firm.
A full investigation should now be conducted of all allegations against Hastert that have been ignored for far too long. The American public needs to know if he was being bribed, or even worse, blackmailed, by Turkish entities during his tenure as speaker, the third most powerful office in Washington after the president and vice president!

Federal Senate of Brazil Recognizes Armenian Genocide

(Agencia Prensa Armenia)—The Federal Senate of Brazil passed on June 2 a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. The Resolution No. 550/2015 was introduced by Senators Aloizio Nunes Fereira Filio and Jose Serra.
The resolution expresses its “solidarity with the Armenian people during the course of the centenary of the campaign of extermination of its population” and states that “the Senate recognizes the Armenian Genocide, whose centenary was commemorated on April 24, 2015.”
The Federal Senate of Brazil (photo: Wilson Dias/ABr)
Filio stressed the need for Turkey to recognize the genocide and to establish a productive dialogue with Armenia. “But that also means respect for life, respect for diversity, and commitment that this will never happen again,” said Filio.
“[The] statement of the plenary of the Senate is the most important in the history of the Armenian Cause in Brazil,” James Onnig Tamdjian, Director of Politics and International Relations of the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Brazil, told Prensa Armenia. “It is an important sign that all political parties have joined and offered their solidarity in the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide,” he added.
“To honor the victims and recognize the contribution of the thousands of Brazilians—descendants of Armenian refugees—to the economic, social, and cultural formation of Brazil, we emphasize that no genocide must be forgotten so that it does not happen again,” reads the text.
The draft highlights that the Armenian Genocide was rooted in the “need for a racial cleansing, to make Turkey—then multiracial—a uniformly Turkish nation.”
In addition, it denounces the “systematic denial, pressure, and intimidation against those who try to reconstruct historical events.”
“The policy of extermination is so far denied by the Turkish government,” reads the draft resolution, and cites the cases of recognition from a growing number of countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, and Venezuela in Latin America, as well as European countries, the European Parliament, and, more recently, Germany and Pope Francis.
“It is estimated that at least 100,000 descendants of Armenians live in Brazil, mostly in São Paulo. They are Brazilians whose ancestors had to leave their homeland to escape the genocide. In Brazilian lands they could restart their lives, build families, and contribute to the economic, social, and cultural development of our country,” reads the resolution.
The Brazilian government has not yet recognized the Armenian Genocide, although the legislatures of Ceará and Parana have. “In 2015, the State of São Paulo instituted April 24 as the Day of Recognition and Remembrance of Victims of the Genocide of the Armenian people,” concludes the resolution.

Bohjalian: Murder Cannot Be Hid Long. The Truth Will Out.

The Armenian Weekly Magazine
April 2015: A Century of Resistance
In March I spent three days at “Responsibility 2015,” the conference on the Armenian Genocide sponsored by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation held in Manhattan. At the end of the final day, I was at once invigorated and exhausted. I was inspired by the passion of the artists and activists and intellectuals, and I was emotionally wrung out by the realities of imagining for three days the genocide that a century ago this month was commencing.
It was impossible not to contemplate my visits to Western Armenia, and what I have seen there. I was brought back to Van and Kharpert and Diyarbakir. I was brought back to Chunkush and the Dudan Crevasse. And I was brought back to Digor.
The St. Sargis Church sits hidden on a ledge halfway down a steep ravine. (photo: Victoria Blewer)
Digor isn’t on a lot of the maps that we Armenian pilgrims follow on our journeys back into the world that was ours once. It’s a town of about 2,500 people, mostly Kurds. But it’s not far from Ani. It’s no more than 20 miles from the Armenian border. The editor of this newspaper, Nanore Barsoumian, has been there. So has her predecessor, Khatchig Mouradian.
At some point in the 1950’s, a small Turkish military contingent drove to a rocky plateau west of Digor and placed dynamite inside the five medieval stone churches that comprised the isolated Armenian monastery of Khdzgonk. And then they blew them up.
Most of them, anyway. I had heard that one proud section of the largest of the five churches, St. Sargis, was still standing.
We all know the appalling lengths to which Turkey will go to deny the genocide. We know the government is pathologic; we know that it approaches the culpability of the Ottoman regime with a despicable, Stalin-like determination to rewrite history via lies and bluster and threats.
But if you want to see firsthand the lengths to which the government has gone to deny the historical reality of the Armenian presence on the Anatolian plains, visit St. Sargis. I journeyed there last summer with my family.
St. Sargis is not easy to find. The monastery compound is only eight miles as the crow flies from Digor, but it sits hidden on a ledge halfway down a steep ravine. We only found it because we were traveling with Khatchig, who knew the mayor of Digor, who, in turn, offered us a guide from the village to lead us there.
But we hiked through the desert-like hills to the edge of a plateau, looked down, and there it was: St. Sargis. The center of the church and the iconic Armenian dome, despite great gaping holes in the walls, had survived the blast.
St. Sargis Church (photo: Victoria Blewer)
I remember wondering when I was climbing several hundred feet down the vertigo-inducing ridge into the sheltered ravine, did the Turkish soldiers lower their dynamite over the side of the cliff with pulleys and ropes, or did they carry it in their packs? Clearly they’d needed a lot: I’d seen black and white photographs of the five-church compound. The churches had been constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries, and they had been built to last.
I’ve visited a lot of Armenian ruins across Historic Armenia—perhaps as many as 30 or 40 different monasteries and churches in places that most North Americans outside of our community couldn’t find on a map. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of visiting a castle keep in Scotland or the ancient city in Rome. The soul wonders at the past and we are left wistful by the ephemerality of our lives.
But here is how it is different: Often these ruins—while as old as some Roman temples or the remnants of a tower in the Scottish highlands—were the homes to vital, vibrant, and active congregations or monasteries a mere hundred years ago. When Babe Ruth was playing baseball. When Scott Fitzgerald was honing his craft. When Alexander Graham Bell in New York was ringing a fellow named Watson in California.
By the 1950’s, when the locals who live in Digor recall the Turkish soldiers blowing up the 5 churches, the monastery had been sitting empty for less than 40 years.
Today much of the rubble has disappeared back into the earth. Scrub brush and dirt have slowly buried the shattered stonework, as well as the walls of the chapels that were blown out and into the nearby crevasse.
The last stage in any genocide is denial. My sense is that’s why decades after evicting the monks, the Turks tried to blow up the site—one of perhaps dozens of churches they would destroy in the 1950’s.
It wasn’t enough to ethnically cleanse the Armenians from the country; it was important to scour away any trace that once upon a time we had lived there, too—even in a ravine in the absolute middle of nowhere.
It wasn’t enough to ethnically cleanse the Armenians from the country; it was important to scour away any trace that once upon a time we had lived there, too—even in a ravine in the absolute middle of nowhere. My wife and I speculated that the only reason St. Sargis remains is because the soldiers ran out of dynamite and it was too much work to bother coming back to finish the job.
But, as Shakespeare observed, the truth will out.
The full quote is even more meaningful here: “Truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long…at the length truth will out.”
Indeed: Murder cannot be hid long.
As drained as I was at the end of “Responsibility 2015,” I was also confident that we—Armenians—are winning. We really are. While so many of our ancestors’ voices were stilled, their descendants are speaking more passionately and powerfully than ever. “Long” is a relevant term. A century is but a blink in geologic terms.
You can blow up a monastery. But you can’t bulldoze the truth.

The paperback of Chris Bohjalian’s most recent novel, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, was published in May.


Armenian Festival JUNE 6 & 7 2015 on Schenectady Today

Armenian Festival on Schenectady Today
The Armenian Festival & Commemoration of Armenian Genocide of 1915! – Segment on Schenectady Today



Ralph Enokian from the Armenian American community spoke about the Armenian Genocide
Professor/Cavalliere Phlip J. DiNovo, president and executive director of The American Italian Heritage Association and Museum has forged a connection between Armenian Americans and Italian Americans in Albany. On May 21st, the association held an event, "The 100th Rememberance of the Armenian Genocide of 1915" at their Italian American museum. Ralph Enokian, an American of Armenian descent, and expert on the Amernian Genocide spoke to a capcity crowd at the museum. "This year marks the 100th year rememberance of the Armenan genocide," say DiNovo." My hope is other ethnic groups will make note of the Armenian Genocide." The American Italian Heritage Museum of Albany is the largest Italian American museum on the East Coast. For more information, please log on to www.americanitalianmuseum.org or email info@americanitalianmuseum.org.

Historical Background on Italian and Armenian Relations

Italians and Armernians share many attributes including a migratory status throughout much of history coupled with sincere pride over the achievements of their respective homelands.
As does Italian civilization, Armenian civilization goes back many thousands of years. The first great meeting between the two cultures occurred under the dominion of the Roman Empire, which conquered part of the Armenian Kingdom in 1st Century, AD; while the other part of the Armenian Kingdom remained independent. Today, you will see remnants of Roman culture in Armenia in the way of ruins, such as temples that were erected to Roman gods many centuries ago.
In the Early Middle Ages, Italians and Armenians shared a zeal for capitalism, with a focus on international trade.Treaties were established between Armenia and Italian independent city states such as Genoa, Milan, Padua and most noteworthy Venice. One treaty brokered between Venice and Armenia allowed Italian factories to be built in Armenia in exchange for Armenian factories to be built in Venetian territory. Armenian manufactuers, merchants and workers flocked to Venice, so much so, that an island was set aside to serve their religious needs with a settlement of monks of the Mekhitarst Order. This island was named San Lazzaro degli Armeni and is today a major center for Armenian Catholicism and Armenian culture. Monks still live there and have published a variety of historical books on Armenia. The island library is today one of the largest in the world with over 150,000 volumes on Armenia and other cultures of Asia Minor and Eastern Mediterranean.
Today, estimates range between 4,000 to 5,000 Armenians living in Italy. Some Italian families were orginally from Armenia but understandably have lost touch with their cultural roots since they have lived in Italy for hundreds of years. Armenians have made a serious contribution to the betterment of Italy in a number of fields such as in medicine through the work of Giorgio Baglivi, in engineering through the work of Anton Sourian, in chemistry through the work of Giacomo Luigi Ciamician, and many more in other fields.
In 2000, Italy passed a law that made it illegal for any Italian to deny the existence of the Armenian Genocide. This past April Pope Francis addressed the Armenian genocide during Mass at Saint Peter's Basilica when he said, "In the past century, our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies. The first, which is widely considered 'the first genocide of the 20th century,' struck your own Armenian people."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

“Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.”

ISTANBUL — On Sunday more than 50 million Turks will go to the polls in parliamentary elections. No one doubts that the Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., which has been in power since 2002, will once again receive the largest number of votes. No one expects a major triumph for either of the two large opposition parties — the secularist Republican People’s Party (C.H.P.) or the Nationalist Action Party (M.H.P.). Yet one big question looms: Will the fourth-largest party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (H.D.P.), clear the 10 percent barrier needed to enter Parliament? The answer will define Turkey’s immediate political future.
The H.D.P. is the latest in a series of parties to advocate the Kurdish political cause; most of its predecessors were shut down by Turkey’s draconian courts for “separatism” or “links to terrorism.” It’s no secret that the party has implicit ties with the P.K.K., or Kurdistan Workers Party, an armed group that both Turkey and the United States define as “terrorist.” (In an imperfect analogy, if the P.K.K. is Turkey’s version of the Irish Republican Army, then the H.D.P. is Turkey’s version of Sinn Fein.)
Consequently, most Turks think the H.D.P. deserves no sympathy. However, the party has recently recast itself as a progressive left-wing force, championing the rights of all minorities, including gays and lesbians, and has thus won the sympathy of some liberals. Moreover the party’s young and charismatic leader, Selahattin Demirtas, has become a political star, thanks to his bold challenges to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
All of these factors have helped the party enlarge its mandate beyond core Kurdish nationalist voters, who traditionally never gave Kurdish parties more than 6 percent of the national vote. Sunday’s election presents a huge opportunity but also a major risk: Turkey’s 10 percent national electoral threshold is the highest in the democratic world. This means that a party earning 9.9 percent of the vote won’t gain a single seat in the 550-seat Parliament, even if it wins certain constituencies by a landslide. In the past, Kurdish parties bypassed this problem by running their candidates as “independents,” which allowed them get into Parliament but minimized their clout. This time, Mr. Demirtas and his colleagues decided risk nominating the H.D.P. candidates as a party slate. As a result, they will either win big or lose big.
If the H.D.P. passes the 10-percent threshold, the party will gain close to 60 seats — twice the number currently held by their supporters in Parliament. Then Mr. Erdogan and his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, will barely have a simple majority, which the A.K.P. needs to form a government on its own, as has been the case since 2002. The A.K.P. may even be forced to form a coalition with one of the opposition parties.
If the H.D.P. fails to get to 10 percent, however, almost all of the seats in Kurdish areas will go to the ruling party, which is the H.D.P.’s only serious competitor among Kurdish voters. In that case, the A.K.P. will easily form a strong government, and it may even win enough seats (60 percent) to write a new constitution on its own, rather than through a broad national consensus. And the essence of that new constitution would likely be an all-powerful presidency tailor-made for Mr. Erdogan — with no checks-and-balances at all.
Many of those who plan to vote for the H.D.P. fear Mr. Erdogan’s ambitions to further dominate the state — along with the judiciary, the media and business. In the past two years, the A.K.P. stranglehold on Turkey’s institutions has grown so brazen that neither Mr. Erdogan nor his supporters try to hide it anymore. Instead, they proudly declare that they are purging the nation of “traitors.” This triumphalist authoritarianism is one of the reasons Mr. Erdogan is so popular; members of his base — primarily religious voters — are enjoying an era of political revenge after decades of marginalization by a similarly authoritarian secular elite.
This election will also determine the trajectory of Turkey’s Kurdish movement. If H.D.P. candidates fail to enter Parliament, their base, which includes militant Kurdish nationalists, may react violently. Separatism among the Kurds, fueled by a sense of exclusion from Turkey’s political system, could flare up. As a result, the three-year-old “peace process” between Ankara and P.K.K. militants — one of the few successes of Mr. Erdogan’s government — may be at risk.
For the sake of peace and stability, it is vital that the H.D.P. clears the 10-percent barrier and enters Parliament. If the party succeeds, it must be wise enough not to see victory as a blank check for Kurdish nationalism. Most of the new votes it gets on Sunday will, in effect, be “borrowed votes,” garnered from people fed up with Mr. Erdogan who want pluralist democracy throughout the nation, rather than P.K.K. domination in the southeast.
Turkey has already seen too many radical ideological movements that claim to have reformed themselves, but act otherwise when they taste power. If Mr. Demirtas and the H.D.P. win big on Sunday, their challenge will be to avoid this pitfall and exercise their power more responsibly than Turkey’s current leaders have done in recent years.
Mustafa Akyol is a columnist and the author of “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.”