Monday, December 26, 2016

Aliyev the Alligator: An Artsakh Allegory

Aliyev the Alligator: An Artsakh Allegory

This Christmas and New Year, as you gather with friends and family, consider sharing Armenian stories with young children in new, creative, and engaging ways. One suggestion would be to tell the tale of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh/NKR) as an alligator story, like the one below. (Another would be to share the adventures of David of Sassoun as an old-school Jedi knight).
Aliyev the Alligator: An Artsakh Allegory

Once upon a time, there was family that lived on an island.
Around the island swam an alligator. An angry reptile named Aliyev who was always trying to eat one of the family’s seven children.
The family spent a lot of time watching the water. Working together to keep Aliyev away whenever he tried to come ashore.
One day the alligator crawled close to the coast and said: “It’s not fair that you have so many children while I am so hungry.”
“Feed me a child. Just one child. And then we can all be friends. Then, we’ll finally have peace.”
Smiling, he added: “And you need not worry. I won’t just eat my meal and be back in a week asking for more. I promise.”
So that was the Alligator’s offer—A child right now in return for a promise of lasting friendship.
Now, the family—if it wasn’t much of a real family—could have said OK.
They could have just tossed the Alligator a son or daughter, hoping that he would accept their sacrifice and honor his word.
If they did, though, they knew Aliyev would keep coming back for more kids. The family would grow smaller and weaker and less able to defend itself against an Alligator growing more powerful and aggressive with each new meal.
But they didn’t. Didn’t consider it for a second!
Because they love their children and will always protect each member of their family.
The same reasons Artsakh won’t surrender its sovereign soil to Ilham Aliyev’s Azerbaijan.

Aram Hamparian is Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Beautiful Ruins

The Beautiful Ruins

by Sean Williams
Ani, a national emblems for Armenia, remains achingly out of reach to modern Armenians.
Ani, a national emblems for Armenia, remains achingly out of reach to modern Armenians. Photograph: Sean Williams for zenith
Located within binocular-viewing distance of the Armenian border, the Turkish historical ruin of Ani stands as a site of possible reconciliation between two bitter foes. But politicization and preservation suggest otherwise, discovers Sean Williams.
Vedat Akcayoz, smartly dressed and smiling, parked his white Ford pickup beside the ruins of Ani. It was early morning, around six-thirty, but there was no such thing as too early for his latest ambitious project, which involved rock dwellings, a surly assistant and around a dozen pigeons, which cooed and flapped in coops tied to the Ford’s dusty flatbed.

Vedat hopped out of the truck and shook my hand. He squinted under the already hot Anatolian sun. His mood was buoyant but the wrinkles that curled around his eyes hinted at a lifetime here, miles from anybody, researching and writing and pulling stunts like this.

Until now, they’d made little difference to the crumbling old city. But the birds would be different, he told me. In moments he’d drive off, release them among Ani’s caves and film their escape across the Armenian border for a documentary to be premiered a thousand miles away in Istanbul. Its showing would reignite interest in Ani and, he said, bring archaeologists flocking to save it.

“I hope this becomes a place of scientific research,” he added, scratching his salt-and-pepper moustache. “Then people will come here, and see my work.” He jumped back in the flatbed and spluttered off to grant the birds their freedom.

Another stunt. Lovingly crafted, perhaps, but a stunt nonetheless. Ani has been blighted by such follies throughout a difficult modern history – some innocent, some unimaginably dark. Less than a fortnight after my visit, it was inscribed on UNESCO’s prestigious World Heritage List. But even that move, momentous for many, may have added to its decline.

Amid tumultuous domestic politics, capped by the attempted coup in July, Turkey appears further than ever from making its mind up on Ani, one of the world’s most endangered and febrile heritage sites. For millions of Armenians that adds to a collective trauma stretching back centuries. “He has so much passion,” my guide, a student named Yilmaz, said of Vedat. “But it’s just one guy against so much.”

So much is an understatement.

The beginnings of the ruin

Ani is an ancient city on the easternmost edge of Turkey. Its first buildings appeared in the fifth century, but Ani’s renaissance began in the 10th century, when King Ashot the Merciful, of the Armenian Bagratid Dynasty, moved his capital 45 kilometres east from Kars. Under the Bagratids, Ani became a jewel of worship, trade and architecture. At its peak the city was home to around a hundred thousand people, making it one of the biggest cities in the Caucasus. It was known as the City of 1,001 Churches.

Sunrise over Ani. At its peak in the 10th century CE, it was one of the biggest cities in the Caucasus.
Sunrise over Ani. At its peak in the 10th century CE, it was one of the biggest cities in the Caucasus.Photograph: Sean Williams for zenith
Today Ani is a ruin, its rust-red monuments strewn across a rolling landscape like scattered chess pieces. To one side snakes the Akhurian River, which forms part of the border between Turkey and Armenia. In 1993, Turkey reacted to Armenia’s war with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region by closing the border. Now Ani’s edge is dotted with raised, black sentry posts – the Turkish Army still occupies its citadel. Conflict has rolled by throughout history. In 1045 Byzantines kicked the Bagratids out of Ani, themselves overrun by Seljuk Turks, a precursor to the Ottoman Empire, in 1064.

The following six centuries saw further death dealt by Kurds, Georgians, Mongols and Safavid Persians. A brutal earthquake in 1319 did little to help either, and by the middle of the 17th century the city was largely abandoned. Silk road traders stopped in other, bigger locations. Less than six hundred years after its heyday, Ani was a relic.

When I visited in July it was easy to see why Ani has remained largely untouched. To begin with, there is its isolation. It took me two days and three bus journeys to get there from northern Georgia, and almost as long to get out. Disneyland it most definitely is not. But as I, Yilmaz and a local taxi driver sped towards the site at 3:30am on day three of my adventure, the result was worth it: Kars Province, a land where Asia and Europe flirt, is spectacular. Its deep green land warps, whips and kinks like a badly-laid tablecloth. Scale is hard to fathom. Features are far and cloyingly close all at once.

Add Ani, and the view is breathtaking. Each surviving building is constructed with classic, multi-coloured stones that soak up the light and throw it back in deeper shades of red and brown. It takes about an hour to walk from one end to another, and monuments rise up from the scrubby, overgrown brush like oases. It reminded me of Egypt’s Valley of the Kings: hidden, and grander for it. Unlike Egypt, though, Turkey hasn’t been that thrilled to promote Ani. Perhaps that’s because it was built not by Turks but almost entirely by Armenians. And in modern Turkey, that’s still a problem.

I first met Vedat at his printing store in Kars, a city with its own history of conquest and trade along the Silk Road. It was once Armenian too, but like much of the region it was ceded to Turkey by the USSR in 1921, having been captured from the short-lived Republic of Armenia a year previously. Now there is little to indicate its Armenian heritage. Even Kars’ grey-bricked cathedral, built by Ashot the Merciful’s predecessor Abas I, was made a mosque in 1993. That, many believe, is part of a systematic effort to eradicate Armenian culture in Turkey, a century after the Armenian Genocide.

Vedat himself was warm and kindhearted towards Armenians, but even he expressed uncertainty about whether the genocide was committed, echoing the Turkish state line. There is still, Yilmaz told me, systemic hatred of Armenians in the region. “When someone does something bad here,” he said, “you call them an Armenian.”

“Turkish and Armenian people aren’t fighting,” insisted Vedat. “But the politicians are turning it into political rot. We must give our hearts to the Armenian people.” Good wishes are welcome, but Armenians would rather have Ani.

An Armenian icon

In Armenia, Ani is far more than a ruin. When I visited Yerevan, Armenia’s compact capital, shortly after my trip, I saw taxis named Ani, Ani sweet shops, restaurants and even Ani-branded gas repair services. The city’s largest hotel is the Ani Plaza. Not far away is the Rio Ani Beauty Salon. Ani has become one of two national emblems that remain achingly out of reach to modern Armenians. The other, Mount Ararat, hovers above Yerevan and is widely speculated to be the final resting place of Noah’s Ark. (Its name is everywhere too, from beer bottles to cigarettes and the national coat of arms; Armenia’s most popular football club is FC Ararat Yerevan.)

But Ararat, like Ani, is inside Turkey, an emblem of Armenian irredentism but also of power and pride lost, subjugation and, of course, the genocide. Last year the world commemorated a century since enormous numbers of Armenians (Armenia claims 1.5 million; Turkey says 300,000; most scholars agree on a figure around a million) were killed in massacres, famines and death marches orchestrated by the Young Turk movement, during the First World War.

Many of the structures at Ani are judged to need significant conservation work.
Many of the structures at Ani are judged to need significant conservation work. Photograph: Sean Williams for zenith
Turkey fiercely denies it committed the atrocities, saying the deaths occurred in the general chaos of war. It has committed to suppressing the issue ever since. “Our attitude on the Armenian issue is clear from the beginning,” Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this June. “We will never accept the accusations of genocide.”

The denial has extended to Ani. At its entrance, beside a ticket booth – unmanned when I visited – there is a timeline chronicling the city’s history. There is not one mention of Armenia. The Church of Saint Gregory, a small, well-preserved spot overlooking the Akhurian River, has an information board noting that its king “wore a Muslim turban”. 

“I don’t know why they did that,” Yilmaz said, shaking his head.

These microaggressions form part of what Peter Balakian, an Armenian American writer, academic and recipient of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for poetry, described to me as the “genocide mentality”. That, he added, “is not just about killing people. It’s about killing their history, their monuments and forms of expression, which are important for so many cultures. What has happened at Ani is a willful eradication of Armenian identity. And the disallowing of the word ‘Armenian’ on the signage is a primary example of the attack on Armenian identity.”

“It’s an Orwellian kind of situation. You’re being lied to about things that declare their truth in their very appearance. You see Christian churches and Armenian writing, but there are no signs telling the viewer what they are looking at.”

Trauma flows thick through the Armenian id. Horror, death and anger have migrated down family trees, among Armenia’s three million inhabitants and the roughly seven million in its far-flung diaspora, the spyurk (‘spread’). Ani has come to embody that anger and expropriation. It’s a crime scene; it’s a mental block. It is a crime “done with impunity”, Balakian told me.

To see that scene today, most Armenians must travel to their side of the border, take binoculars and hope for a clear day. They see a different Ani, some buildings barely visible, others hidden altogether. It is a poor substitute for being among the ruins on the Turkish side. Those who do make it there, which isn’t many, are often overwhelmed. The phenomenon of Jerusalem Syndrome, when people visiting the Holy City experience a religious mania, is well known. Throughout my visit I was told similar tales of Ani. 

The state of decay

Perhaps for that reason, it draws a wide array of protagonists. Some, like Vedat, are enthralled amateurs. Steven Sim is another Ani obsessive. A Scot and self-described outsider who has been visiting the city annually for 15 years, Sim has created VirtualAni, the largest online repository of knowledge about the ancient city. He told me in a phone conversation how disgusted he has grown with efforts to restore it.

Sim has railed against everything from an Armenian mine that operated nearby to shoddy restorations carried out by the Turkish state in the 90s and current work at the Church of the Redeemer, one of Ani’s most iconic structures. It has been sliced in half by earthquakes and ill repair, and is in the process of reconstruction by the Washington, DC-based World Monuments Fund (WMF).

To see Ani today most Armenians must travel to their side of the border, take binoculars and hope for a clear day.
To see Ani today most Armenians must travel to their side of the border, take binoculars and hope for a clear day.Photograph: Sean Williams for zenith
The WMF travelled to Ani in 2013 to hold a workshop in Kars, called Ani in Context. The trip aimed to assess the structural decay of the city’s most prominent buildings, and to extend archaeological focus beyond the city to other important sites in the region. Much of the report makes grim reading. Of the 28 sites the group examined, ten were placed in the Group 1 category, requiring immediate action. A further ten were evaluated as needing “possible eventual action”. 

“As in many parts of the world with rich and abundant cultural heritage, the challenges are considerable,” wrote team member Carsten Paludan-Müller. “Preservation and sustainable management are not easily extended to every object that one would wish to preserve, and much has already been damaged beyond affordable repair.”

Ani may elicit a religious experience among its admirers. It could require a miracle to survive deep into this century. I spoke to several members of the 2013 WMF team for this story. Their general mood was one of frustration – at the state of Ani, at poor restoration work and at politics, which is all but inescapable.

This wasn’t always expressed negatively. Stephen J. Kelley is an American architect and engineer who has worked on restoration jobs at Ani alongside the WMF, on and off for 20 years. He explained to me his hope that Ani would bring Armenians and Turks together. He said, “I felt like it had a bigger role than the conservation [alone].”

Kelley recently led an international team of archaeologists to the city. The first time he pulled them all together, he said, it was “fairly uncomfortable…all Armenians have the Armenian Genocide on their sleeve. And no Turks really know about it because it’s forbidden in schools. So the Armenians were hurt, and the Turks were like, ‘What’s the problem?’”

“Then as we talked, everyone became best friends,” Kelley added. “We went to Kars, drank some beer, had a dance. And they really started to like each other’s company. They share so many things.”

Rebuilding history?

As with most ancient sites, debate on whether to allow Ani to fall into disrepair, or to build it back up, have been fierce. Turkey has restored Armenian monuments before. In the years following the Armenian Genocide, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, on an island in Lake Van, 150 miles from Kars, was badly damaged and vandalised. The Turkish Ministry of Culture rebuilt it in 2006, but the results were contentious. Permission to build a cross on the cathedral was denied, the church became a museum rather than a place of worship, and the word ‘Armenian’ was rarely used. Many commentators called it little more than a publicity stunt.

Ani appears no different. Heghnar Watenpaugh was part of the 2013 WMF team and has studied the site for years. She witnessed first-hand, at a recent conference, what Turkish officials call “Ani diplomacy”. “The point of the conference was how to counter the Armenian diaspora allegations of genocide,” she told me.

Attempts to inscribe Ani on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, ongoing for years, finally paid off this June, just days after I visited, at a ceremony in Istanbul. Watenpaugh was there. After the listing was announced, “The Turkish state party gets five minutes to say thank you, and during these five minutes he talks about Ani as a means of reconciliation,” she said.

Before the area was cordoned off to locals the churches were a prime make-out spot.
Before the area was cordoned off to locals the churches were a prime make-out spot.Photograph: Sean Williams for zenith
“But he said that ‘other groups’ – unnamed – have shown much rancour, but Anatolia is home to many cultures,” she added. “I saw that as an allusion to deploying Ani as a site to counter accusations of genocide against Turkey. That’s my view. He didn’t use the word Armenian to describe anything, and this is something I find very difficult, that [for] the Ministry of Culture it’s very rare to use the word Armenian, even when speaking about the Armenian script.”

“Then afterwards it was all kumbaya, and the Armenian and Turkish ambassadors shook hands. This is Ani diplomacy put into practice.”

An uncertain future

“The historical integrity of Ani has been destroyed to such an extent that Ani should no longer fit the criteria for inclusion on the [UNESCO] World Heritage List,” Sim told me. “So the listing is political and it is not to do with preserving Ani or acknowledging its history. The twin purpose is to silence criticism of Turkey’s treatment of Armenian monuments and to peddle spurious claims that Ani was some sort of multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multicultural civilisation.”

The concept of the World Heritage Site, according to UNESCO, the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture, was adopted in 1972. It aims to catalogue locations that are “of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common culture and heritage of humanity”. To date, 994 sites have been inscribed on the list.

It is unclear for many what UNESCO status really does for a site other than raise its profile. Almost all of those I spoke to said it was a positive move in Ani’s case. A couple, however, were concerned that it would give the Turkish state carte blanche to do what it wishes, emboldened by the listing.

Neither is Turkey the only state playing politics with Ani: the US has pumped over $600,000 into the site as part of its Ambassador’s Fund, an effort in archaeological conservation and soft power. The US is home to almost 400,000 Armenians but has for decades been a close military ally of Turkey. It seems Washington sees Ani as a chance to please both.

Toward the end of my visit to Ani I met some shepherds from the adjoining village of Ocakli. The sun was fully risen and the clangs of the bells around their cows’ necks rang around the ruins. Up until the 1950s it was common for locals to build their homes from Ani’s ancient masonry. Others lived in the city’s hillside cave dwellings.

Back then the border was open and trade flourished. Now, with the border shut, hundreds of thousands of people have left the region. One of the shepherds, who would not tell me his name, didn’t care much about Armenia or the ruins. He told me, “We gave some opinion to them [the Armenians]. We said, ‘Please be Muslim.’ But they denied our religion. And our religion, one day, if you’re not Muslim it will be a crime. Then this city will suddenly be destroyed and our god, Allah, will rule.”

Yilmaz told me his reaction may have had more to do with the fact that, under the UNESCO proposal, Ocakli will probably be razed to build more tourist infrastructure. Sim says he even saw buildings being demolished during his latest visit, though I drove past the village and saw nothing.

Whether anything happens at all at Ani, given Turkey’s precarious state, is debatable. On July 15, the same day Ani was being inscribed on UNESCO’s list, Turkey’s government survived a coup d’état in which over 300 people died. Meanwhile, despite its World Heritage status, plenty of cash and the people fighting for its survival, Ani remains under threat and out of reach to Armenians. To them it is a paradise lost – stolen, they would suggest.

Vedat still thinks his film will change everything at Ani. But he admitted things will get tougher before progress is made. “There are two governments here,” he said, leaning on the Ford. “But first of all they are man. Ani is a perfect way for Armenians and Turks to speak to each other.”

Perhaps. As we left him, Yilmaz beckoned me inside the Church of Saint Gregory. Scrawled on its thousand-year-old coal-black walls were hundreds of hastily etched love notes. The church was cordoned off to locals, along with the entire site, by the Ministry of Culture in 2005. Before then it was a prime make-out spot.

Across the hills, Yilmaz added, there are rumours of gold, of buried Bagratid treasures that lure bounty hunters. And, he said, turning to point at the city’s ruined palace, there is a monster that stalks the city by night.

People will always search for wealth, love and legend. At Ani it is no different. But there, while people continue to fight, squabble and mistrust, the buildings themselves crumble and fall into the earth. For Armenians, Turks and the world, that will be a disaster. The biggest treasure the Bagratids ever left is in real danger of being driven into the ground.

Sean Williams is a British journalist living in Berlin. His work has appeared at newyorker.comEsquireThe GuardianVICE and many others. He has written about topics ranging from drug addiction in Somalia to corruption in Russian football.

Today Marks 11th Anniversary of Destruction of 2,000 Djulfa Khachkars

Today Marks 11th Anniversary of Destruction of 2,000 Djulfa Khachkars
December 16 marks the 11th anniversary of destruction of 2,000 Djulfa khachkars
On the 11th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s unpunished destruction of the world’s largest medieval Armenian cemetery, the Djulfa Virtual Memorial and Museum commends ongoing initiatives to rebuild the 2,000 sacred cross-stones (khachkars) of Djulfa and calls for measures to prevent similar acts of cultural genocide in Artsakh.
Armenian communities and their supporters around the world have responded to the December 2005 destruction of Djulfa by erecting dozens of replica khachkars in many corners of the world, including on the prominent grounds of the Colorado State Capitol in the United States of America.
A groundbreaking project to recreate the entire cemetery through holographic technology is being pursued by the Australian Catholic University, albeit it is scheduled to discontinue in 2017 due to unmet fundraiser goals.
Reactions to Djulfa’s destruction have also contributed to the development of satellite archaeology. The first American Association for the Advancement of Science remote investigation of a human rights violation case that concerned cultural monuments was that of Djulfa, conducted in late 2009. This approach is widely used today for preventive and documentary monitoring of cultural properties threatened by ISIL and other terrorist organizations.
The eleventh anniversary of Djulfa’s destruction is also a cause for grave concern regarding the vast medieval Armenian heritage in Artsakh – the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Its hundreds of medieval churches and other Christian monuments would likely be targeted for total destruction should Azerbaijan gain control – through force or negotiation – any of the Artsakh regions that were outside the Soviet boundaries of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast.
Azerbaijan’s April 2016 Four Day War against Artsakh, during which Azeri forces beheaded captured Armenian soldiers and mutilated elderly civilians in Talish, demonstrated yet again the oil-rich dictatorship’s determination to ethnically cleanse indigenous Christian communities in the Caucasus. Therefore, we call on the twin states of the Armenian homeland – Armenia and Artsakh, international bodies, as well as academic communities around the world to take proactive measures to protect the vast medieval Armenian heritage of Artsakh.
Founded in 2007, the Djulfa Virtual Memorial and Museum ( documents the intentional destruction of the largest medieval Armenian cemetery at Djulfa (Old Jugha, Culfa) in the exclave of Nakhichevan (Naxçıvan), Republic of Azerbaijan. For more information, visit and
The video compilation below are satellite images of a vandalized medieval cemetery at the Iranian-Azerbaijani border called “The New Tears of Araxes” and produced by Simon Maghakyan.

Swedish Court Fines Turkish Leader for Anti-Armenian Remarks

Barbaros Leylani during a demonstration on April 9, 2016 in Stockolm made anti-Armenian remarks (Photo:
Barbaros Leylani during a demonstration on April 9, 2016 in Stockolm made anti-Armenian remarks (Photo:
STOCKOLM, Sweden (—The Stockholm District Court made a formal judgement on the case of the former Deputy Chairman of the Turkish National Association of Sweden Barbaros Leylani, who made xenophobic, anti-Armenian statements containing clear expressions of incitement to violence, hatred and racial discrimination, website of the regional socio-political newspaper Sydsvenskan reports.
Besides, the court sentenced Leylani to fine in an amount equal to his 40-day income.
According to Arshak Gavafyan, Chairman of the Armenian National Committee of Sweden, the court’s decision was too lenient.
An anti-Armenian demonstration was organized by the Coordination Center of Azerbaijani Associations in Sweden in the square Sergels, Stockholm, on Saturday, April 9 where over 100 people participated. Representatives of local Azerbaijani and Turkish organizations were among the protesters. The Armenian embassy in Sweden reported in a statement that during the demonstration, the vice chairman of the Coordination Center of Turkish Associations in Sweden, Barbaros Leylani, made a speech in Turkish coming up with anti-Armenian and nationalistic statements.
“It is time for uniting the Turkish nation. The Turks will wake up putting an end to the Armenian dogs. Death to the Armenian dogs! Death! Death!” Barbaros Leylani stated. It was noted that the protesters chanted his remarks.
Leylani’s speech was widely spread throughout Sweden and as a result, the reaction of the central media followed.
Swedish MP Fredrik Malm and the chairman of the Coordination Center of Armenian Associations, Karlen Mansuryan, condemned such aggressive statements commenting the demonstration and Leylani’s statements on air.
Dagens Nyheter reported that according to Simon Sahakyan, the secretary of the Armenian Academic Association in Sweden, Leylani’s statements reflect the Turkish authorities’ position led by the president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He reminded the audience of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Turkey and highlighted that this historical fact has already been recognized by many states despite Turkey’s resistance.
On April 11, short after backlash about his remarks, Leylani resigned from his position of vice president of the Turkish National Association of Sweden.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Tech Leaders Cite Armenian Genocide in Rejecting Trump’s Muslim Registry

Donald Trump and Mike Pence met on Dec. 14 tech industry leaders, including, from left, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Alphabet Chief Executive Larry Page and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. (Photo: Evan Vucci/Associated Press)
Donald Trump and Mike Pence met on Dec. 14 tech industry leaders, including, from left, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Alphabet Chief Executive Larry Page and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. (Photo: Evan Vucci/Associated Press)
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (CNBC)—Engineers and employees from major tech companies — including Google, IBM, Slack, and Stripe — have pledged never to build a database of people based on their religious beliefs.
A group of employees at major tech companies have signed a pledge refusing to help build a Muslim registry. The pledge states that signatories will advocate within their companies to minimize collection and retention of data that could enable ethnic or religious targeting under the Trump administration, to fight any unethical or illegal misuse of data, and to resign from their positions rather than comply.
The group describes themselves as “engineers, designers, business executives, and others whose jobs include managing or processing data about people.”
“We, the undersigned, are employees of tech organizations and companies based in the United States. We are engineers, designers, business executives, and others whose jobs include managing or processing data about people. We are choosing to stand in solidarity with Muslim Americans, immigrants, and all people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the incoming administration’s proposed data collection policies. We refuse to build a database of people based on their Constitutionally-protected religious beliefs. We refuse to facilitate mass deportations of people the government believes to be undesirable,” the pledge reads.
“We have educated ourselves on the history of threats like these, and on the roles that technology and technologists played in carrying them out. We see how IBM collaborated to digitize and streamline the Holocaust, contributing to the deaths of six million Jews and millions of others. We recall the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. We recognize that mass deportations precipitated the very atrocity the word genocide was created to describe: the murder of 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey. We acknowledge that genocides are not merely a relic of the distant past—among others, Tutsi Rwandans and Bosnian Muslims have been victims in our lifetimes.”

Friday, December 9, 2016

Turkey: Racist Attacks Against Armenians Go Unpunished

Racist attacks against the bilingual Armenian weekly newspaper, Agos, as well as against Armenian schools, are increasingly widespread in Turkey.
On April 24 of last year—the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide—a black wreath was hung on the front door of the office of the newspaper Agos together with a sign stating that, “One night, we might come to visit you unexpectedly.” Agos filed a criminal complaint against this threat.
On April 24 of last year a black wreath was hung on the front door of the office of the newspaper Agos together with a sign stating that, ‘One night, we might come to visit you unexpectedly.’
Those accused of having threatened were tried on Nov. 18.  The chairman of the Nationalist Turkish Party of Istanbul, Bilal Gokceyurt, and the chairman of the “Turan Organization,” Ercan Ucar, were acquitted on the grounds that there was no evidence of an actual crime.
Speaking during the hearing, the newspaper’s editor Yetvart Danzikyan said: “They had hung up a black wreath while the office was closed. We found it in the morning. Then, we saw that they released a video about their action called, ‘One night, we might come to visit you unexpectedly.’ We filed a criminal complaint. There had been similar actions when Hrant Dink was working in Agos. You know what happened to Hrant Dink. We therefore considered this action to be a threat.”
Hrant Dink, the then editor-in-chief of the Agos, was murdered in 2007 in front of the office of his newspaper in Istanbul. He had received numerous death threats from Turkish nationalists and was prosecuted three times for “denigrating Turkishness” in his writings and remarks about the Armenian Genocide.
The Turkey Branch of Reporters without Borders (RSF) made a statement via Twitter on the court ruling: “That the threat against the newspaper Agos goes unpunished is dire and encourages similar attacks.”
Some have recently written racist graffiti on the Armenian Bomonti Mihitaryan High School. “One night, we will be in Karabagh unexpectedly,” read the graffiti, referring to Nagorno-Karabagh Republic (NKR/Artsakh), a historically Armenian land.
Armenian schools are regularly targeted by Turkish nationalist groups. Racist remarks were also written on the Surp Hac Tibrevank High School and the Kalfayan Armenian School in Istanbul in the last four months. The perpetrators have not yet been found. In one incident, the graffiti read: “Torture Armenians.”
‘One night, we suddenly will be in Karabagh,’ read the graffiti in Turkish. (Photo: Aykan Erdemir/Twitter)
“Threats against Armenians in Turkey are of many kinds,” Murad Mihci, an Istanbul-based activist with the Armenian Nor Zartonk Association, said.
“Racist graffiti on Armenian schools is only one aspect of aggression against Armenians. There is much more to it. For example, fewer people are getting married in churches in Turkey because they are scared that a terror attack could happen during the wedding ceremony. Many Armenians are planning to leave Turkey like they did in 1950’s and 1980’s in large numbers,” Mihci added.
In September, Sezgin Tanrikulu, a Member of Parliament from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), submitted a motion about the racist graffiti on Armenian schools in Istanbul to the Turkish parliament, requesting Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to answer it. The motion is stillunanswered.
Meanwhile, the editorial board of Agos has recently published an article about verbal attacks against Armenian schools:
“Such racist writings have been going on for the last year. Not only has there been no legal enforcement against the perpetrators who engage in hate-speech, but they cannot even be identified… It is not hard to guess what kind of impact such writings have on the children who go to these schools and their parents. But the perpetrators just get away with it.”
Hate-speech is a widespread phenomenon in Turkey that targets all religious and ethnic minorities. Armenians are one of the main victims but, they are not the only ones.
According to the latest report by “The Media Watch on Hate Speech Project,” which monitors Turkish local and national newspapers, the group most commonly exposed to hate speech in Turkey from January to April 2015 were the Armenians, with 103 news items.
Jews represented the second largest group targeted with 75 items, followed by Christians (in general) as the third with 73. They were followed by hate-speech against the British (21 items), Syrians (16 items), non-Muslims (14 items), Kurds (13 items), Anatolian Greeks (12 items), and atheists (11 items).
In another report, Media Watch concluded: “The fact that certain groups remain targeted for an extended period of time through great number of news items not only shows the vulnerability of these groups to hate speech, but also presents deep seated and persistent efforts to insult these groups. That these groups consist of people, beliefs, and ethnic groups living together in this part of the world enhances potential risks of hate speech and its particular role in preparing the ground for hate crimes.”
According to the Armenian National Institute, during the Armenian Genocide, “Up to a million and a half Armenians perished at the hands of Ottoman and Turkish military and paramilitary forces and through atrocities intentionally inflicted to eliminate the Armenian demographic presence in Turkey… In the process, the population of historic Armenia at the eastern extremity of Anatolia was wiped off the map. With their disappearance, an ancient people which had inhabited the Armenian highlands for three thousand years lost its historic homeland and was forced into exile and a new diaspora. The surviving refugees spread around the world and eventually settled in some two dozen countries on all continents of the globe.”
Despite much evidence to the contrary, Turkey still claims that the mass murders and forced deportations of Armenians in 1915 did not constitute genocide.
The current population of Armenians in Turkey is about 60,000. Even when there is today a tiny Armenian minority left in the country, Turkey continually threatens and insults its Armenian population, turning a blind eye to and even encouraging more attacks against Armenians.
A century after the genocide, the Armenians of Turkey are still under attack… and the attacks still go unpunished.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Turkey’s Crackdown Curiously Spares the Literary World

Signs showing the imprisoned Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan at a protest against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in November in Cologne, Germany. Ms. Erdogan is facing life in prison not for her books but for work with a Kurdish newspaper. CreditOliver Berg/European Pressphoto Agency
ISTANBUL — Some Turkish authors who are not in prison may well be wondering why not.
This country’s literary world has a proud tradition of enduring imprisonment and repression, but mainstream authors have enjoyed an odd, if partial, immunity to the crackdown by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after a failed coup attempt this summer.
It is not that no authors are jailed: A prominent novelist and human-rights advocate, Asli Erdogan, is facing life in prison. And the thousands of books put out by 29 publishers aligned with the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Mr. Erdogan blamed for orchestrating the failed coup, have been withdrawn from bookstores, universities and schools and reduced to pulp.
Ms. Erdogan, who is not related to the president, is not in prison for anything in her books, but for work with a beleaguered, and since suppressed, Kurdish newspaper, Ozgur Gundem. Another novelist, Ahmet Altan, and his brother Mehmet, an academic, were jailed for “subliminal messaging” in favor of the attempted coup — again, not in their books but during a TV appearance.
In bookstores, works by mainstream publishers, other than those deemed pro-Kurdish, have been untouched by the crackdown. Ms. Erdogan’s books continue to sell, and even better than before, according to book industry officials.
Compared with people in other intellectual fields, writers have gotten off easy. Since the coup attempt, some 120 journalists have been jailed, along with hundreds of academics and thousands of teachers. Only three authors are behind bars, none of them for their books.
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It is not clear why the literary world has been given a pass so far. Some think it reflects the book world’s status, which is higher than journalism’s, and suppression of authors has unpleasant associations with previous periods of authoritarian rule in Turkey. Others speculate that writers may be self-censoring, steering clear of issues that could prove troublesome. And many warn that this could just be a short-lived phase.
The Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk in 2014. “I had various troubles with the government and court cases not because of my novels but because of my interviews and random brief political essays,” he said.CreditAyman Oghanna for The New York Times
It is not that Turkey’s literary figures have not been outspoken about current events. “In the last three decades, novelists were not much in trouble for what they wrote in their fiction,” said Orhan Pamuk, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006 (the only Turk to be so honored).
But Mr. Pamuk has often run afoul of the Erdogan government. “I had various troubles with the government and court cases, not because of my novels but because of my interviews and random brief political essays,” he said. “Journalist political commentary is dangerous in Turkey, and after the failed coup, the situation of free speech got worse.”
Irfan Sanci, the owner of Sel Publishing, has been prosecuted 10 times over books he has published, and is free while he appeals a three-year prison term. But those prosecutions were all on obscenity charges and mostly involved foreign works, such as Beat novels by William S. Burroughs or erotic works by Guillaume Apollinaire.
Social and political criticism, especially of the current government, often gets writers jailed, but rarely when it appears between two covers.
That is, if the work has nothing to do with Mr. Gulen’s movement, and if it refrains from any sympathetic treatment of Kurdish issues — two big ifs in contemporary Turkey. But most Turks opposed the coup attempt, even if they detested Mr. Erdogan. And fresh in memories is a time, only a few years ago, when the Gulen movement was aligned with the president and Mr. Gulen’s followers were blamed for persecuting authors.
The Kurdish issue is murky, too, because Turkey’s military is in a shooting war with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the P.K.K.
Still, no one is taking heart from what may prove to be a temporary and limited immunity. “Yes, books seem more untouchable than newspapers, and they’re kind of scared of accusing the authors of books,” said Eray Ak, an editor for the book reviews at the Cumhuriyet newspaper, whose editor in chief, Turhan Gunay, has been jailed.
Hasan Cemal, a former editor in chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, in 2006. He faces criminal charges for a book he wrote about a Kurdish guerrilla and singer, although he has not been jailed.CreditCem Turkel/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Tora Pekin, a lawyer for Cumhuriyet, said the government had already done enough to raise concerns: “Arresting Asli Erdogan and Necmiye Alpay was crossing a threshold. After them, they can put anyone in jail.”
Ms. Alpay, who also faces life imprisonment, is a linguist and is often described as a living dictionary of the Turkish language.
Mr. Sanci, too, said no one should be complacent. “The fact that the journalists are in jail but not the authors yet doesn’t mean we won’t be in the future,” he said. “This is a period without law.”
Mr. Pamuk noted that prominent novelists were in jail because of ties to journalism.
“Asli Erdogan, whom I admire a lot, is emblematic, and her case is heartbreaking,” he said. “She only did a symbolic act of lending her name to a newspaper as an editor.”
“It is not easy to accept that a great literary critic, Necmiye Alpay, who educated the Turkish readership about the intricacies and glories of the Turkish language in her book columns, is in prison for being a ‘traitor,’” he continued. “It is also hard to believe the government newspapers’ claims that these writers whom the Turkish public are reading, discussing and enjoying at least for the last 20 years are ‘terrorists.’”
Most, Mr. Pamuk noted, are being held under pretrial detention under a state of emergency declared after the coup attempt. “If there is evidence against them, they should be tried,” he said, “but not put into prison before the verdict.”
Hasan Cemal, a former editor in chief of Cumhuriyet, has published a dozen books without incident — even some that are quite provocative, such as one challenging the subject of a deeply rooted taboo here, “1915: The Armenian Genocide.” But his book “Delila,” about a Kurdish guerrilla and singer, was banned last year, and he faces criminal charges over it, although he has not been jailed.
Ahmet Sik, an investigative journalist, in 2012. When Mr. Sik was arrested in 2011 and jailed for a book he had not yet published, Mr. Erdogan justified that by saying, “Sometimes a book is more dangerous than a bomb.”CreditDaniel Etter for The New York Times
Mr. Cemal said he thought a large part of the reason more authors had not been arrested over their books was that many were being careful about what they wrote. Thousands of people, after all, have been charged after insulting the president.
Senay Aydemir, the editor in chief of the Posta Kitap publishing house, said more time needed to go by for literary responses to the crackdown to begin to filter in.
“The tradition of literature in Turkey is strong in this sense,” he said. “Throughout the history of the republic, authors faced similar pressure, exile or prison, but found ways to resist. I think this tradition will continue.”
In the meantime, he said, the book business is doing well, because in unsettled times, more people read. He also sees signs that more people are writing books, including many journalists whose publications have been closed.
“Book publishing is still Turkey’s most free arena,” said Cem Erciyes, another publisher. “I see lots of journalists, lots of literary writers taking shelter in the world of books. The book is the oldest media — its wisdom, its accumulation of knowledge is thousands of years old.”
When an investigative journalist, Ahmet Sik, was arrested in 2011 and jailed over a book he had not yet published, Mr. Erdogan justified the arrest by saying, “Sometimes a book is more dangerous than a bomb.”
The book was seized in draft form and banned. It came out anyway in an edition listing 125 editors, a who’s who of Turkey’s literary, academic and journalistic world, under the title “000Book” to avoid the ban on the actual title, “The Imam’s Army.”
It turns out that Mr. Sik’s book was an investigation of the infiltration of Turkey’s security services by Mr. Gulen, the man Mr. Erdogan now accuses of trying to overthrow his government.