Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Diyarbakir’s Surp Giragos Church Among Properties Expropriated by Turkish Government

The Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church (Photo: Nanore Barsoumian)
The Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church (Photo: Nanore Barsoumian)
DIYARBAKIR, DIKRANAGERD (Armenian Weekly)—A list of lands and buildings in Diyarbakir’s Sur district—including the Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic and the Armenian Catholic Churches—have been expropriated by the Turkish government, according to reports.
Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos reported that an “urgent expropriation” cabinet decision was taken regarding 6,300 plots of land, citing the March 25 issue of the Official Gazette of the Republic of Turkey (T.C. Resmi Gazete), the country’s official journal that publishes new legislation and official announcements. Based on the report, the Surp Sarkis Chaldean Church, Virgin Mary Ancient Assyrian Church, and the city’s Protestant church have also been expropriated.
Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality Cultural Heritage Director Nevin Soylukaya told Agos that some properties belonging to the municipality have also been expropriated, and that the local government will initiate legal action. She also urged owners of other expropriated properties to take legal action. Armenian Weekly contributor and member of the Surp Giragos Church reconstruction project Raffi Bedrosyan said that there will be a strong effort to reclaim the lands. “All legal and political channels will be mobilized within Turkey and internationally to stop this legalized robbery,” Bedrosyan told the Armenian Weekly.
According to Agos, lands in Abdaldede, Alipaşa, Cemal Yılmaz, Camikebir, Cevatpaşa, Dabanoğlu, Hasırlı, İnönü, İskenderpaşa, Lalebey, Malikahmet, Özdemir, Süleymangazi, Savaş, Şemhane, and Ziyagökalp neighborhoods, as well as two neighborhoods in Yenişehir province have been expropriated through the decision.
On Feb. 14, reports emerged that the Armenian Catholic Church of Diyarbakir had suffered extensive damages during clashes between Turkish armed forces and Kurdish militants in recent months. A series of images depicting the extent of the damage to the church were posted on the “Armenian Church Surp Giragos and Surp Sarkis in Diyarbakir” Facebook page. The Armenian Catholic Church is located in the historic Sur district of Diyarbakir, which has been a target of military operations by the Turkish state.
Bedrosyan in a Jan. 7 article had written that “[The historic Sur district] is now mostly in ruins. Most of the buildings have been destroyed by rockets and cannon fire from army tanks. The Surp Giragos Church has escaped relatively unscathed with only broken windows and some bullet holes. But the Armenian Catholic Church had its doors broken down and some internal damage. The most important mosque in Sur, the historic Kursunlu Mosque—originally the St. Theodoros or Toros Armenian Church, converted to a mosque in the 16th century—has been completely burned down.”
Armenians from around the world flocked to Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir on Oct. 22, 2011, to attend both the consecration of the largest Armenian Church in the Middle East and the Badarak held the following day. The church was renovated by the Surp Giragos Armenian Foundation, with the support of the local Kurdish-controlled municipality of the time.

It's Time that the US... Finally Recognized the Armenian Genocide," Robert Fisk

All week, the G-word has been rattling around the foreign ministries of the world. Ever since John Kerry – he of Israeli-Palestinian peace "in six months" fame – announced that Isis was committing genocide against Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims, we’ve been trying to work out just what he’s talking about. Even the poor old Canadians and their super-liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau, have since been refusing to recognise the Isis atrocities as "genocide" – the attempt to exterminate an entire race of people – preferring instead to talk about “crimes perpetrated…against religious and ethnic minorities.” Could this be, ask Canadian critics, because Canada last month withdrew the last of its clapped out CF-18 fighter jets from the battle against Isis?
More likely the Canadians have caught on to the whole genocide trap. But first: yes, Isis have indeed committed horrific crimes against minorities under their control. Their massacre of Shia Muslims and the murder and enslavement of Yazidi and Christian women and children are all real – perhaps 10,000, perhaps 100,000, the figures are as numbing as they are vague. The Isis magazine Dabiq admits all this – perhaps the closest anyone has come to self-incrimination since Pol Pot listed his crimes in Cambodia.
But there’s a problem. These terrible atrocities are being committed on the very land and deserts upon which a far more terrible genocide was perpetrated just over a hundred years ago by the Turks who head-chopped and knifed and shot to death a million and a half Armenian Christians, raping their women and throwing so many of their dead men into the waters of Anatolia that the very rivers changed course. And Turkey – heaven be praised – is now our good friend, Nato ally and, since this month, our bastion against the Muslim refugee "invasion" of Europe. Back in 1915, the Brits and Americans had no problems in naming the guilty party, along with the Turks’ militia ally – again, take in your breath – the Kurds, now our brave allies against the forces of Isis darkness.
All this, you see, is a bit embarrassing. The Yazidis and Christians of Iraq have certainly been massacred – including a few Armenian grandchildren of the 1915 survivors, although that hasn’t cut much ice in the US – although the Shia Muslims of Iraq were being slaughtered in Iraq by the thousand during the latter half of America’s military occupation.  The Shia, I suspect, have been given a bloodbath upgrade to genocide because Shia Iran agreed to a nuclear deal with the rest of the world. But back to Yazidis for a moment.
One of the worst genocides against this forlorn, centuries-old religion occurred in 1892 when the Turkish Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II targeted them for mass extermination. But the Sultan included among his victims tens of thousands of 19thcentury Armenians – whom Mr Kerry cannot bring himself to declare victims of genocide in the 20th century (although he did so for many years when he was a mere Senator). So earlier references to Yazidi extermination have to be left out of the Kerry narrative of history. The current Kerry mantra for the Armenian genocide is “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century”.
La Clinton is going to be no help in all this. She regularly condemned the Armenian genocide until she became Secretary of State to Barack Obama and discovered that the frightful persecution of the 1915 Christians – a teaching forum for future Nazis who witnessed the genocide as young German army officers and later put their lessons into practice against the Jews – was now “a matter of historical debate”. Donald Trump has not yet entered this particular blood-boltered ‘debate’ although his Trump hotel in Azerbaijan – a country which, like Turkey and (to its shame) Israel, denies the Armenian genocide – suggests that we shall be hearing from him soon.  
Much of the rest of the world – governments and parliaments of 29 countries up to last year – have recognised the Armenian genocide. For 20 years, The Independent has regularly referred to the Armenian Holocaust – with a capital ‘H’, the very same word (‘Shoah’ in Hebrew) used by many ordinary Israelis to describe the slaughter. But not the Americans.
Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose Sukhoi jet had of course not yet been shot down by the Turks, attended the official genocide memorial day in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, declaring the genocide a fact of history – to the fury of the Turks -- while President Obama skulked in Washington, still too fearful of offending his Nato ally whose airbases – ironically built, in many cases, on lands stolen from murdered Armenians – were so important to the US Air Force which was already supposedly destroying Isis.
All in all, then a pretty mess. Kerry tells us that Isis is “genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions…” as if the destruction of the Armenian people in 1915 was not – and is perfectly happy to label the dark forces of the ‘Islamic Caliphate’ as genocidal themselves – which they clearly are. But it raises another frightful question. Since we know that Isis sells Syrian and Iraqi oil to the Turks – Russian bomber pilots have seen miles of Isis oil convoys running to the horizon towards Turkey – and since Turkish journalists have been imprisoned for reporting on secret Turkish arms transfers to Islamists in Syria – the Americans are, in effect, blaming Isis for the genocide of a hundred thousand or more human beings while being too frightened to label the Armenian massacres of a million and a half souls as genocide lest it offend Isis’ sinister chums in Turkey.
It’s not difficult to accuse the bad guys of genocide – Colin Powell had no problem over Darfur in 2004 – but shouldn’t we stand up to the real bullies who prevent us honouring the memory of those million and a half Christians who were treated just as Isis treats the Yazidis and Christians and Shia today: the Turkish government and the Turkish army and the Turkish institutes of state? And all this at a time when an increasing number of brave Turks are themselves acknowledging the Turkish genocide of 1915?
Forget it: 75 million visas to Turkey in response to their $3-billion European bailout to block those refugees is enough to keep the Armenian mass graves of 1915 well and truly closed. Just ask John Kerry.


Armenian Genocide Museum of America

734 15th Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005
Date: March 29, 2016
Contact: Press Office
Telephone: (202) 383-9009


WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Armenian Genocide Museum of America (AGMA) is pleased to announce that as of today its state-of-the-art online museum ( is fully accessible on mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones.

The interactive site, which was launched in April 2015, invites visitors to explore the story of the Armenian people and its fateful experience in 1915. Initially available only for laptop and desktop computer viewing, the online museum is now optimized for mobile devices.

Presenting the Armenian Genocide from multiple perspectives, the online museum highlights the role and extent of American involvement in denouncing the atrocities committed against the Armenian people during World War I and in delivering the humanitarian aid that rescued the remaining survivors from further mistreatment.

The story begins with an exploration of the rich culture of the Armenian people created over millennia to underscore the gravity of the loss of an entire civilization with the destruction of historic Armenia.

This theme has been expanded upon with the preliminary installation of the online museum's galleries that feature additional information about the richness and creativity of Armenian civilization.  They cover such topics as Armenia's ancient history, its spectacular architectural heritage, the variety of arts created across the centuries, as well as the tragic record of their destruction during and since the years of the Armenian Genocide.

The enormity of the human losses during the Armenian Genocide is set against this background to stress the relationship that once existed between the Armenian people and their now decimated homeland. It reveals the extent to which the places once associated with worship and celebration, with commerce and education, and the historical memory of significant events from the time of the Armenian monarchies, have been erased from the face of the earth.

By underlining with resonant content the historic identity of the Armenian people, their art and culture, and their perseverance in the face of adversity, the online museum also reinforces the universal message of our common humanity and collective responsibility, and explains why the story of the Armenians and other peoples who have suffered similar fates must be told.

The museum is also dedicated to educating the public about the continuing consequences of the Armenian Genocide. Viewers will learn how the international community's failure to condemn the genocide and hold the perpetrators accountable made the Armenian Genocide a prototype for later crimes against humanity, including the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, and most recently the Syriac, Armenian, Yezidi, and other minority communities subjected to genocide by the Islamic State noted in the resolution adopted this March 14 by the U.S. House of Representatives.

An educational video introducing the entire online museum explains the Armenian Genocide in the context of a century and more of mass atrocities around the world and examines the role of American leadership in responding to the problem of genocide.

The introductory video, as well as the online exhibits, feature the oral testimony of survivors supported with pictorial and other documentary evidence. The title of the video, "Coming to Terms: The Legacy of the Armenian Genocide," echoes the expression that became the international theme of the centennial as governments and world leaders joined Armenians around the world on calling upon Turkey to face up to the evidence.

The testimony of other significant figures underscores the world's reaction and America's response to the Armenian Genocide with observations by Theodore Roosevelt, Major General James Harbord, Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Consul Jesse Jackson, subsequent remembrance day statements issued by sitting presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, supplemented by the striking invocations made by Pope Francis during the April 2015 commemorative observance at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

The online museum also confronts the Turkish government's denial policy by recalling the late Hrant Dink's heroic role in exploring avenues for creating a common ground for understanding.  Dink was assassinated in 2007.

The launch of the online museum was timed with the centenary of the Armenian Genocide.  It followed the production of a series of digital exhibits issued by AGMA, theArmenian National Institute (ANI), and the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) over the preceding months.  With these digital exhibits, hundreds of images from the Armenian Genocide and previously unexplored aspects of the Meds Yeghern were brought to light.  These and other resources are also accessible through the AGMA online museum.

In the spirit of cooperation to pay due respect to the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide, many individuals and organizations joined with AGMA in supporting the creation of the online museum and its many components. Among them are the Armenian Film Foundation, Zoryan Institute, Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, and Armenian Studies Program at the California State University in Fresno. They augmented the resources available from the United States National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Republic of Armenia National Archives, and Armenian General Benevolent Union's Nubarian Library, among others.  AGMA also extends special thanks to film makers Carla Garapedian and Ted Bogosian, as well as historian and geographer Dr. Robert Hewsen.

AGMA also thanks again with particular appreciation the renowned photographer Hrair Hawk Khatcherian whose commitment to documenting the cultural and religious heritage of Armenians across their historic homeland and the diaspora is on display through the magnificent photographs he shared with AGMA and which form such a central part of the visual experience of visiting the online museum.

Joining Hrair Khatcherian in making the online museum an exceptional experience is the soulful musicianship of Gevorg Dabaghyan, enveloping viewers with haunting melodies from the mountains of Armenia. He continues the unique tradition of composing and playing music on the national instrument of Armenia, the duduk, made from the native apricot tree. AGMA is honored to feature Mr. Khatcherian's and Mr. Dabaghyan's exemplary and unequalled artistry.

The AGMA online museum is being produced by the museum planning and exhibit design firm of Gallagher & Associates which has been working with AGMA, ANI, and Assembly staff and board members to bring the concept of an Armenian Genocide museum to the public since the start of the project. Its video production service prepared "Coming to Terms: The Legacy of the Armenian Genocide" under the direction of Michael Buday.

The online museum was primarily made possible by the generous contribution of the Estate of Agnes Kazanjian. Donors to AGMA, Anoush Mathevosian, Hirair & Anna Hovnanian Foundation, Edele Hovnanian, Dr. Sarkis Kechejian, Dr. Nishan Kechejian, the Alice Ohanessian Irrevocable Trust, Julie Kulhanjian Strauch, Noubar Tcheurekjian, and the Trustees of the Armenian Assembly of America, are also gratefully acknowledged.

The project was overseen by the AGMA Online Museum Working Group consisting of Mark Malkasian, Richard H. Papalian, Van Z. Krikorian, and Rouben Adalian under the guidance of the AGMM Building and Operations Committee composed of Van Z. Krikorian, Chairman, Denise Darmanian, Edele Hovnanian, Richard H. Papalian, and Zaven Tachdjian.  The Board of Trustees of the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial, Inc. includes Hirair Hovnanian, Chairman; Anoush Mathevosian, Vice-Chair; and Van Z. Krikorian, Secretary.

The Armenian Genocide Museum of America is a joint effort by the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial Inc., the Armenian Assembly of America, and the Armenian National Institute. Its online museum offers a place for reflection and learning filled with hope, inspiration, and a commitment to eradicating the scourge of genocide through education and a focus on prevention.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

New article on Armenia in this month's National Geographic.

My guide, Murat Yazar, and I inch northward. We trek across yellowing steppes where wolves run before us, pausing to gaze back over their shoulders in silence, then trot on. We pass Mount Ararat. The 16,854-foot peak shines to the east, smeared white with snow. The Bible links the mountain to Noah’s high-altitude anchorage. The beautiful volcano is sacred to the Armenians. (A popular misconception has it that Armenian Apostolic priests even wear caps shaped like Ararat’s cone.) In August 1834 the Russian meteorologist Kozma Spassky-Avtonomov climbed to the mountain’s icy summit. Ararat towers so high that he thought he might see stars twinkling during the daytime. His expedition was the perfect Anatolian quest: He was trying to discern what is always there yet invisible. This is a landscape haunted by absences.
“Chosen trauma” is how the political psychologist Vamık Volkan describes an ideology—a worldview—by which grief becomes a core of identity. It applies to entire nations as well as individuals. Chosen trauma unifies societies brutalized by mass violence. But it also can stoke an inward-looking nationalism.
I slog across the Lesser Caucasus Mountains from Turkey into the republic of Georgia. I throw stones to knock frozen apples from bare trees. Pausing in Tbilisi, I ride a night train to Yerevan. It is April 24, the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
Billboards festoon the Armenian capital. One shows weapons—a scimitar, a rifle, a hatchet, a noose—arrayed to spell out “1915.” Another bluntly pairs an Ottoman fez and “Turkish” handlebar mustache with Adolf Hitler’s brush mustache and comb-over. The least combative symbol of mourning is the most poignant: forget-me-not flowers. Millions of violet petals brighten Yerevan’s parks and medians. The corollas are reproduced on banners, on stickers, on lapel pins: a blossom of genocide. “I remember and demand”—this is the slogan of the commemoration.
But demand what?
This is the key question that Armenians are asking themselves. Is the past a guide? Or is it a trap?
Apostolic Bishop Mikael Ajapahian, of the Armenian city of Gyumri: “In Armenia there is no enmity toward Turkey. We hold nothing against ordinary Turks. But Turkey must do everything—everything—to heal the wounds.”
Elvira Meliksetyan, women’s rights activist: “We don’t know what we want. If everything reminds us of our past burdens, then we lose the future, no? We have no strategy. All this victimization makes us beggars.”
Ruben Vardanyan, billionaire philanthropist: “A hundred years later we are the winners. We survived. We are strong. So saying thank you, giving back something to the people who saved us, including Turks, is the next step. A hundred years ago some of their grandparents saved our grandparents. We need to connect those stories.” (Vardanyan has funded an award, the Aurora Prize, to honor unsung heroes who rescue others from genocide.)
Picture of a chasm in Turkey that people say was a mass grave for Armenians during World War I
Picture of the ruins of an Armenian church in far eastern Turkey
Local people say the chasm in eastern Turkey known as Duden (previous) was a mass grave for Armenians pushed to their deaths during the ethnic cleansing in World War I. Here, the ruins of a hilltop Armenian church mark the site of an old Armenian village in far eastern Turkey, now home to ethnic Kurds. Though their ancestors participated in the mass killings and deportation of Armenians a century ago, many Kurds today long for reconciliation. 
There is a torchlight march. There are photo exhibits. There is a concert by an Armenian-diaspora rock band from Los Angeles. (“This is not a rock-and-roll concert! To our murderers, this is revenge!”) The Tsitsernakaberd with its eternal flame—the hilltop monument to the dead—is crowded with diplomats, academics, activists, ordinary people. At a genocide-prevention conference, an American historian dryly lays out the case for Turkish reparations. It is “not an absurd or immaterial proposition,” he suggests, for Turkey to cede the six traditionally Armenian provinces of the Ottomans to Armenia. (Germany has paid more than $70 billion in compensation to the victims of Nazi atrocities.)
The most wrenching story I hear on my Armenia side trip comes from a young man with eyes like open manholes.
“I was just a baby, maybe one year old. I was dying in the hospital. I had pneumonia—I think it was pneumonia. The doctors could do nothing. A Turkish woman in the maternity ward noticed my mother crying. She asked my mother if she could hold me. She unbuttoned her dress. She took me by my ankles and lowered me down the front of her body. It was like she was giving birth to me all over again. She did this seven times. She said prayers. She shouted, ‘Let this child live!’ ”
“I got better.” He shrugs. “The Turk saved my life.”
Ara Kemalyan, an ethnic Armenian soldier, tells me that story inside a frontline trench about 150 miles southeast of Yerevan. There are pocks of distant gunfire. A dusty white sun. Rusty cans hang on barbed wire—a primitive alarm system against infiltrators. For more than 20 of his 38 years Kemalyan, a fighter from the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, has been squared off against soldiers—his former friends and neighbors—from the central government of Azerbaijan, a secular Muslim state. Up to 30,000 people, mostly civilians on both sides, have died in the violence over Nagorno-Karabakh since the late 1980s, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. This poisonous little war, paralyzing the Caucasus, has virtually nothing to do with the older violence under the Ottomans. Yet Kemalyan still dubs the woman in the hospital, the Azerbaijani midwife who saved him with magic, an enemy “Turk.” The specters of 1915 have occupied his heart.
Picture of pastoralists in southeastern Turkey
Pastoralists in southeastern Turkey push sheep into pastures that have known the calls of Kurdish, Armenian, Arab, and Turkish shepherds. The Ottoman Empire, a patchwork of ethnicities and once a great cultural entrepôt, combusted during World War I in the flames of ultranationalism. Today tens of thousands of Armenians live openly in Turkey—a tiny number compared with the three million in Armenia and the estimated eight to ten million in the global diaspora.
Before walking out of these ghost lands, I revisit Ani. The medieval ruin in Turkey. The monument to denial. This time I see it from the Armenian side of the frontier.
The closed Armenia-Turkey border is one of the strangest boundaries in the world. Turkey shut its land crossings in 1993 out of sympathy with Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh war. The Armenian side also remains sealed, owing in part to pressure from the diaspora against normalizing relations with Turkey. The result: Roads traversing a storied intersection of the globe—a fulcrum point between Asia and Europe—go nowhere. A train station on the Armenian side has not seen a locomotive pass in 22 years. A sleepy clerk sweeps the station office once a day while the rails silently rot. (A ghost airline does fly direct between Armenia and Turkey; it operates from a nondescript office in Yerevan.) As a result, the economies of both countries suffer. People on both sides of the line are cut off, isolated, poorer.
The Russian Army guards the Armenian side of the border with Turkey as part of a mutual-defense pact. This is how Moscow maintains influence in the strategic region. The sight is surreal: Strands of Armenian barbed wire, Russian watchtowers, and checkpoints face open fields in Turkey, which demilitarized its side of the border many years ago. Russian and Armenian troops face off against Turkish shepherds. The shepherds wave.
“I always keep my kitchen fire lit,” says Vahandukht Vardanyan, a rosy-cheeked Armenian woman whose farmhouse sits across the barbed wire from Ani. “I want to show the Turks that we’re still here.”
I climb an overlook by her home where Armenian pilgrims disembark from buses. These tourists come to gaze longingly across a fence at their ancient capital in Anatolia. I look too. I see exactly where I stood months earlier in Turkey. A ghost of my earlier self roams those ruins. Nothing separates any of us except an immense gulf of loneliness.
Follow National Geographic Fellow  Paul Salopek on his seven-year walk around the world at, where he posts personal dispatches and photographs from his journey. And you can sign up to receive highlight from his walk here.
Picture of villagers picnicking at the border town of Bagaran, Armenia
Picnicking at night beneath apricot trees—and a giant cross shining defiantly into Turkey—villagers in the border town of Bagaran, Armenia, belt out songs of memory, cultural endurance, and survival. The bitter dispute between Armenia and Turkey dating back four generations has paralyzed economic, diplomatic, and political progress in the region. The ancient crossroads between Turkey’s eastern highlands and the Caucasus remains in the thrall of ghosts.