Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Undoing Years of Progress in Turkey - The New York Times

ISTANBUL — Entire towns and districts are under siege. Tanks ram through narrow alleys closed off by barricades and trenches. Residents are trapped indoors for weeks because of curfews. Those who venture outside risk sniper fire. Their bodies lie on the streets for days before they can be collected. Bullets fly in through windows and buildings collapse under shelling, killing those seeking shelter at home.
One of the most affected places is the city of Diyarbakir’s historic Sur district, where I was mayor from 2004 to 2014. Sur has been under 24-hour curfew since the beginning of December. Many of its neighborhoods lie in ruins. Its historic buildings are damaged, once busy shops are shut, hospitals lack staff, and schools are closed. Tens of thousands of people have fled.
Sur’s walls surround an ancient city that has been inhabited for millenniums. Its narrow streets, spacious courtyards and elegant stone structures are reminders of a rich multicultural legacy — a legacy that has survived, albeit in an impoverished state, a century of conflict. Small but increasingly visible communities of Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Yazidis and other minorities live alongside adherents of diverse interpretations of Islam in what is now a predominantly Sunni Kurdish town.
Over the past decade, our municipality worked hard to revive and preserve this heritage. We oversaw the restoration of many historic buildings, including mosques and churches. The reopening of the Surp Giragos Armenian Church, which is now the largest Armenian church in the Middle East, after nearly a century in ruins has encouraged “hidden” survivors in Turkey of the 1915 genocide to rediscover and embrace their heritage. Efforts to restore the old synagogue in memory of Sur’s once vibrant Jewish community were underway before the eruption of violence last summer.
In 2012, Sur’s community leaders established an interfaith dialogue group bringing together representatives of the region’s different religions, cultures and civil society groups. Known as the Council of Forty, it has played a crucial role in keeping sectarian violence from reaching our city. Thanks to its efforts, Sur came to symbolize the vision of peaceful coexistence in a region plagued by intolerance.
It causes me immense grief to see that pluralism fall apart along with Sur’s buildings. Sectarianism is destroying Syria before our very eyes. To avoid the same fate in Turkey, the Council of Forty has called on the government to lift the curfews, and asked all sides to end hostilities and return to peace talks within the framework of parliamentary democracy.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said recently that military operations in the besieged Kurdish towns would continue until they were “cleansed” of ”terrorists.” “You will be annihilated in those houses, those buildings, those ditches which you have dug,” he threatened. But what peace can be built through destruction? Decades of military policies against the Kurds have shown only that violence begets more violence.
Many residents of these towns are poor families who were forced to flee the countryside when the conflict between the Kurds and the Turkish state was at its peak in the 1990s. Those who are digging trenches and declaring “self-rule” in Sur and other cities and towns of southeastern Turkey today are mostly Kurdish youths in their teens and 20s who were born into that earlier era of violence, poverty and displacement, and grew up in radicalized ghettos.
Now a new generation will grow up with the trauma of killing, destruction and forced migration. Where will they go? What will become of them? And how will an angrier generation of Kurds and Turks find common ground? The truth is that my generation may be the last to reach a peaceful settlement through dialogue.
Dialogue is possible when those in power want it. Last spring, the two sides were on the verge of a breakthrough after two and a half years of negotiations. The Kurds, when given a real and fair choice, have repeatedly picked politics over violence and opted for coexistence in a democratic Turkey, where their rights and identities are recognized, over separation. But as the destruction goes on, their faith in a political solution withers.
In 2007, Sur became the first municipality in Turkey to offer services in local languages, including Kurdish, Armenian and Assyrian, besides the official Turkish — a move that infuriated the authorities in Ankara, the capital, and led to my removal as mayor. In 2009, months after being re-elected with two-thirds of the vote, I was arrested on charges of separatism. (I was released five months later on health grounds and kept my role as mayor throughout my arrest.)
As I was rounded up along with hundreds of Kurdish activists and elected politicians, my teenage son left our house to join the P.K.K. “You are wasting time with your politics and dialogue,” he told me. I dedicated my life to trying to prove him wrong and bring him home in peace. I have been discouraged before, but never lost hope. Today, I struggle to keep that hope alive.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The European Congresses and the Armenian Genocide

By Christopher J. Walker
Who were Prince Metternich and Viscount Castlereagh, and what part, if any, did they play in shaping the Armenian Genocide?
They were the two men — one an Austrian prince-diplomat, and the other an Anglo-Irish aristocrat — who grabbed Europe by the scruff of its neck as Napoleon was losing in 1814-15, and formed the system of big-power control of nations and movements of European nations, to try to ensure that everything would in future stay unalterably the same, and that no radical upstarts would disturb their vision of static orderliness. The system they created was known as the “Congress System” and it culminated in the Congress of Berlin (1878), which arguably fixed the fate of Armenians both for Sultan Abdul-Hamid’s murderous outbreaks of 1894-6 and for the desolating Genocide of 1915-16. Those two very reactionary gentlemen did all they could to make sure that power resided with a small elite, that matters of state would never be devolved to the people, and that popular voices would not be heard.
But there were problems. Castlereagh (pronounced ‘castle-ray’) committed suicide in 1822, and his English successor, George Canning, though also politically on the right, responded vigorously to the movement for the liberation of Greece from the grip of the Ottoman Turks, and permitted the British fleet under Admiral Codrington to destroy the Turkish navy at Navarino in 1827. This looked like letting power slip out of the empires and into the people. Metternich thought Canning had been converted to liberalism. And after Canning’s death, the Duke of Wellington (another Anglo-Irish landowner, quite out of sympathy with democracy) called the Navarino engagement an “untoward event.” According to Wellington, the Ottoman Empire should have been left exactly as it was. Greece should never have been set free, but left to the iron control of the Turkish Ottomans.
Even earlier, Britain had walked out of the Congress of Verona of 1822, called to justify the entry of French troops into Spain to quell a revolt. Although this might have seemed like the end of the Congress system, the notion that “big powers” could, with their high-handed decisions and secret agreements, order the future of Europe, persisted. Once the “big diplomats” had tasted the sweets and delicacies of control, they were reluctant to give them up.
In the aftermath of the Greek rebellion, relations grew so bad between Russia and Turkey that war broke out between 1828. The war affected the Balkans rather than the Caucasus, but we remember it for Russia’s first capture of Kars, under General Paskievich. At the conclusion of the war, when Russian troops were threatening to march on the Turkish capital, peace was concluded between Russia and Turkey at Adrianople (in September 1829). What is important for us is that no international “Congress” was set up to make any changes to that peace.
Ideological problems also beset the “concert of Europe.” Right at the outset, the northern powers of Russia, Prussia and Austria established a “holy alliance” based on a kind of mystical Christian fundamentalism. Castlereagh, a man who never understood the idea of religious notions entering politics, to his credit dismissed it as “a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense.” But the Holy Alliance had purchase, and its forbidding, far-right posture was seen in action over the next 20 years, especially in Hungary when it dared to revolt.
A big challenge to the super-reactionary forces occurred in 1848, the “year of revolutions” in Europe. The aspirations of ordinary people simply could not be constrained by the creaky croaks of political leaders who wanted everything to stay the same. The people hated the absolute monarchies imposed throughout Europe by reactionary powers, and detested the solutions devised for them by distant bureaucratic empires. They wanted constituent assemblies and some form of representation, they yearned for localism, their local languages and traditions. A wave of popular revolt spread across Europe, against the iron control of the empires, the political sterility, and the Stasi-like surveillance of anything that could be construed as political activity. The revolutions of 1848 were uncoordinated (though inspired by the example of France), and often chaotic; they were largely simple expressions of local discontent, and the heavily armed empires had no difficulty in mobilizing their brutal well-trained troops to crush the popular uprisings.
A few years later the members of the alliance found themselves fighting among themselves — most memorably, Britain and France against Russia in the Crimea in 1853-6. But still the model of the Congress remained, to impose its political will if necessary. The war was concluded by the Congress of Paris, 1856, when Russian aspirations were knocked down by Britain and France, and Russia (for the second time) was forced to evacuate Kars. The Black Sea was neutralized, a position which held until 1870, when Russia decided to dispense with the regulation, and construct a Black Sea fleet. “Congress” remained too valuable a notion to dump, even when the “great powers” were fighting amongst themselves.
And then we had the Congress of Berlin, designed to do little more than curb Russia and increase the diplomatic purchase of Great Britain. Everyone who knows Armenian history of this period will know how Article 16 of the San Stefano treaty, concluded in early 1878 between Ottoman Turkey and Russia, was changed into article 61 of the Berlin Treaty, a change which meant that the administration of Western (Turkish) Armenia was left unreformed, that is, dependent on the non-existent good will of Turkey — whereas if it had been left as it was under the provisions of San Stefano, the reform might have succeeded, since it would have been dependent on the presence of Russian troops. But no significant changes or reforms occurred in Western Armenia, and the misery and discontent grew among the people, culminating in the paranoid outbreaks of killing of Armenians coordinated by the Sultan Abdul Hamid and the armed militia he had created, backed by the military.
If we look at the diplomatic structure of what actually happened, we see the malign influence of the Metternich-Castlereagh pattern. For the San Stefano treaty was perfectly all right on its own terms. It was a natural, local peace treaty, designed to bring to an end hostilities between two empires. But then the rightist, self-important pattern of 1815 heaved into sight. The two powers, Russia and Turkey, were seen as not be trusted to achieve peace between themselves. They were just naughty children, who needed daddy-diplomats to guide them. “We know best” was the tone of the Berlin Congress.
Did they know best? When we look at the hundreds of thousand of Armenians killed in Abdul Hamid’s murderous outbreaks it is hard to say so. These dead were the fruit of international diplomacy by “big powers,” scoffing at the pretensions of local needs, as they determined to impose their power and influence (and financial muscle) across the globe.
The Congress of Berlin was the last of the post 1815 congresses. But the spirit of murderous distrust had been sown among Turks as far as Armenians were concerned, and after 1896 the Turks had seen how they could absolutely and entirely get away with murder without any of their people being convicted in a court of law for mass-killings. So when new ideologies arose after the Young Turk revolution of 1908, seeking a unity of all Turks from Anatolia eastwards, the Turks realized that no one would impede their death-dealing actions towards Armenians. So the events of 1915 unrolled, which we have been commemorating in the centenary year.
Does all this matter now? In a way it does, since, in the new biography of Dr. Henry Kissinger, written by Harvard professor Dr. Niall Ferguson, praise is extended by both the subject and the biographer toward the ‘Congress System’ as an agent of peace. Was the Congress System an agent of peace, or the main diplomatic structure which brought about the Armenian Genocide?
(Christopher J. Walker is a British historian and author. He is the author of several volumes on Armenian history, includingThe Armenians, with David Marshall Lang, Armenia : The Survival of a Nation, and Armenia and Karabakh.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Turkey Was First Country to Recognize the Armenian Genocide…in 1918

The Armenian Genocide is rarely discussed in the Turkish Parliament; even rarer are statements calling for its recognition.
On Jan. 14, two of the three recently elected Armenian members of the Turkish Parliament boldly dared to raise the issue of the Armenian Genocide in their parliamentary remarks.
A court session of the Turkish courts-martial of 1919–20. The Young Turk leaders, Enver, Djemal, Talaat, among others, were ultimately sentenced to death.
Selina Dogan, representing the opposition Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP), made the following statement in parliament: “Since this issue concerns not only Armenians but also Turkey, therefore, it should be raised in the Turkish Parliament and not in other parliaments. Otherwise, on every April 24, we will continue making trite statements and hastily rid this topic from our minds. I am convinced that none of us is interested in doing so. I would like to remind you that during a 2015 public rally in Erzurum, the prime minister clearly stated that the deportation is a Crime against Humanity.”
Garo Paylan, representing the Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), then took the floor and also spoke about the Armenian Genocide: “One hundred years ago, the Armenian people were uprooted and exterminated by a decision of the state. My family—grandfather and his family—also suffered from these events. My grandfather was orphaned, having lost both parents. I am from the generation of orphans and leftovers of the sword, living in this land. My race is massacred.”
As Paylan was speaking, several members of parliament shouted in disapproval. Baki Shimshek, a member of the ultra-nationalist opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), warned: “We are in the Turkish National Assembly. No one can say that genocide was committed. Such rudeness is unacceptable!”
Although this was an unusual discussion, it was not the first time that affirmative statements were made in the Turkish Parliament on the Armenian Genocide. In November 2014, Sebahat Tuncel of the HDP proposed a resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide. Tuncel urged President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to come to parliament to acknowledge and apologize for the Armenian Genocide and other mass crimes. The resolution also asked Erdogan to repeat his apology publicly at one of the sites of mass killings, and declare April 24 as an official Day of Mourning. In addition, the parliament was asked to form a truth commission and make public all documents in the state archives pertaining to these mass crimes. Finally, the proposed resolution sought moral and material restitution for descendants of the victims. Not surprisingly, Tuncel’s resolution was quickly suppressed, never to see the light of day again!
As I reported over a year ago, Tuncel’s proposal was not the first time that a resolution was submitted to the Turkish Parliament to recognize the Armenian Genocide. On Nov. 4, 1918, the newly constituted Ottoman-Turkish Parliament discussed at length the crimes committed by the Young Turk government, after a motion was presented stating: “A population of 1 million people guilty of nothing except belonging to the Armenian nation were massacred and exterminated, including even women and children.” In response, Interior Minister Ali Fethi Okyar declared: “It is the intention of the government to cure every single injustice done up until now, as far as the means allow, to make possible the return to their homes of those sent into exile, and to compensate for their material loss as far as possible.”
As a result of this motion, a Parliamentary Investigative Committee was set up to collect all relevant documents describing the actions of those responsible for what was then called the “Armenian deportations and massacres.” The evidence was turned over to the Turkish Military Tribunal, and those found guilty were hanged or given lengthy prison sentences.
In addition to this parliamentary motion, we need to recall the words of Kemal Ataturk, the first president of the Republic of Turkey, who was quoted by the Los Angeles Examiner on Aug. 1, 1926, as stating: “These leftovers from the former Young Turk Party who should have been made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse from their homes and massacred.”
The combination of the 1918 parliamentary motion, the guilty verdicts of the Turkish Military Tribunals, and the damning words of Ataturk qualify Turkey as the first country that recognized the Armenian Genocide!
Consequently, rather than seeking recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey, Armenians should demand restitution for all of their losses, as promised 98 years ago by Minister of Interior Fethi Okyar!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Diyarbakir's Christians suffer in margins of Turkey-PKK war

Armenian Christian women pray during an Easter mass at Surp Giragos church in Diyarbakir, in the Kurdish-dominated southeastern Turkey, April 5, 2015.  (photo by REUTERS/Sertac Kayar)

Diyarbakir's Christians suffer in margins of Turkey-PKK war

The peal of church bells mingles with children’s laughter. The Muslim call to prayer floats through the air. In the cobbled courtyard of the Surp Giragos Armenian Orthodox Church, young lovers sip wine and plan their weddings and lives. It’s a typical day in Sur, the ancient heart of the Kurds’ unofficial capital, Diyarbakir.
Summary⎙ Print Diyarbakir's Christians, many of them ethnic Armenians, have been caught up in the violence between the Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Workers Party.
Author Amberin ZamanPosted December 31, 2015
So it was until armed teenagers with the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), the urban youth branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), declared “self rule” over large swathes of Sur, erecting barricades and digging trenches to keep state authorities out. The pattern is being repeated in towns and cities across the Kurdish-majority southeast, part of the escalating war between the Turkish armed forces and the PKK that was reignited following the collapse of a two-year cease-fire in July. Over 150 civilians, including dozens of children, have been killed, most of them by the security forces, claim rights advocates.
In Sur, Turkish special forces teams backed by tanks, helicopter gunships and armored personnel carriers have laid virtual siege to the district, which now lies in ruins.
The youths remain dug in, but over half of Sur’s residents have fled. And while their suffering has been well-documented, little has been said about the clutch of Christians who have been quietly toiling to resurrect Sur’s once vibrant multi-faith community. It was brutally destroyed in 1915, when Ottoman forces and their Kurdish collaborators slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Christians (most of them Armenians) and other non-Muslims in what many respected scholars call genocide.
“Now we are caught between two fires, between the PKK and the state,” said Gaffur Turkay, who has helped to run Surp Giragos, the largest Armenian church in the Middle East, since it reopened its doors in 2012.
“Because of the ongoing violence our church has been forced to shut down. We were meant to open a museum in September on the church premises but had to cancel,” Turkay told Al-Monitor in an interview in Diyarbakir. The cafe, which used to draw hundreds of visitors and with it sorely needed income to help maintain Surp Giragos, is deserted.
In Turkey live the descendants of tens of thousands — some say many more — of Armenians who converted to Islam in the aftermath of the genocide to avert certain death. These “leftovers of the sword” embraced Islamic traditions, but everyone knew they were Armenians.
“Our tragedy is that Muslims never accepted as us true Muslims, nor Armenians as true Armenians,” Gaffur noted. “And in this [cycle of] violence we are again stuck in the middle,” he added.
The reopening of Surp Giragos, after a costly and meticulous restoration project, encouraged many hidden” Armenians like Turkay to emerge from the shadows to reclaim their identities, and never so many as on April 24 of this year, which marked the centenary of the genocide.
They came out to formally join diaspora Armenians from far-flung corners of the world in a poignant commemorative service amid the ruins of Surp Sarkis, another Armenian church in Sur.
Popular historian Osman Koker notes in “Armenians in Turkey 100 Years Ago” that prior to 1915, “Some 10,000 of 35,000 inhabitants of Diyarbakir were Armenians. … Half of the members of the town council and a significant portion of the members of the provincial council were Christian, notably Armenians. … Nearly all of the lawyers, physicians and pharmacists of Diyarbakir were Christians, and the majority of them were Armenians.”
For decades the genocide, formally and vigorously denied by Turkey, remained a taboo subject. Those who dared to challenge the official line, that the majority of the empire’s Armenian subjects fell victim to starvation or disease during their forced deportation to the Syrian desert, faced prosecution. But under Turkey’s Islamist Justice and Development Party, which came to power over a decade ago, open debate of 1915 has grown louder and in line with European Union-oriented reforms, some confiscated church properties are gradually being returned.
In this new spirit of openness, Armenians descended from victims of the genocide found the courage to come to Turkey to rediscover their roots. Many traveled to the Kurdish areas, where local Kurdish-run municipalities welcomed them in an effort to make amends for the horrors of the past.
Khatchig Mouradian, an Armenian Lebanese academic at Rutgers University in New Jersey who has done extensive research on the genocide, was until the fighting erupted a frequent visitor to the Kurdish areas and brought fellow diaspora Armenians, including students, there a couple dozen times over the past five years.
“In recent years, Diyarbakir had become a laboratory where shards of Armenian memory were mended as the city braved the difficulty of confronting the legacy of the Armenian genocide,” Mouradian told Al-Monitor in an interview. “Today, alongside the lost lives and pulverized historic stone and glass, the memory and legacy is being buried under yet another layer of violence.” Mouradian added that he would “never bring groups now.”
Abdullah Demirbas, Sur's former mayor, spearheaded the campaign for Armenian Kurdish reconciliation, making the ancient tongue of Armenian and Syrian Orthodox Christians, Aramaic, part of the official menu of languages used by his municipality. Demirbas was instrumental in helping to raise funds for the restoration of Surp Giragos and other non-Muslim places of worship.
“Sur was my child. I cannot believe what is happening,” he told Al-Monitor over tea in Istanbul. But like many Kurds, he blames the state for the breakdown of the peace process. “The trenches are not the cause. They are the result of the government’s refusal to accept the Kurds as equals,” said Demirbas, who has been repeatedly jailed and prosecuted on thinly supported charges of “membership of a terrorist group.”
Save for a few shattered windows, Surp Giragos has survived intact. So too have Chaldean, Protestant and Syrian Orthodox churches. But another Sur landmark, the 500-year-old Kursunlu mosque, was not as lucky. The once imposing structure has been reduced to rubble, its remaining walls blackened by smoke from a fire that the YDG-H insists was caused by rockets fired by the security forces. The government claims that the PKK was responsible. On a recent morning when the government briefly lifted its round-the-clock curfew over Sur, small groups of people gathered around the remains of the mosque, cataloguing the destruction with their cellular phones and praying before the tombs saints buried in its garden as masked youths stood guard.
“Look,” said one of the youths, pointing to an armored vehicle parked within a direct firing line of the mosque. “Who do you think did this?”
As the bloody standoff in Sur enters it second month, the city’s Christian worshippers have had to celebrate Christmas elsewhere.
“It was a very sad Christmas for us,” said Ahmet Guvener, the pastor of the Protestant church in Sur. He counts some 100 souls in his flock. “If the fighting doesn’t stop our community, our whole way of life is going to die,” he told Al-Monitor in an interview. Guvener has other reasons to worry. Suspected Islamic State sympathizers posted a chilling video on YouTube showing footage of Guvener and fellow “infidels” who are called “a big threat to Islam.” It ends with an image of the IS flag planted in the sand on an unidentified beach. Guvener said a group of pastors targeted in the video filed a criminal complaint in October.
“The government has censored hundreds of videos on the grounds that they constitute a threat to national security. But for some reason this video, which is a clear invitation for us to be harmed, remains online,” he concluded with a bitter laugh.

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