ARE THE SAME TURKS AND ARMENIANS WHO WERE JUST YESTERDAY INSEPARABLE TODAY ENEMIES?

Today's Zaman
May 2 2011
Turkey

Turkey, which was made aware of the sensitivity surrounding the
Armenian issue throughout the world through attacks by the Armenian
Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), continues to be
caught unprepared every year as to how to shape its approach towards
the events of April 24.

Turkey, which is on the verge of losing this particular battle,
at least in the academic sense, has carried on with this struggle
mostly through closing its borders and engaging in verbal clashes
with the Armenian diaspora. And now it is quite clear that neither
of these tactics have gained much for Turkey. As for Turkey's efforts
with its neighboring countries and with the Armenian diaspora, these
have only resulted in the entrance of new genocide bills onto the
agenda as well as more pressure from various countries interested
in Turkey. In particular, the annual increase in curiosity and
expectations concerning what approach the US will embrace on the
issue is literally exhausting the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Another factor pushing Turkey into a dead end in the international
arena is its lack of public diplomacy efforts aimed at Armenia, as well
as the fact that it has not created alternative Turkish lobbying groups
in countries where the Armenian lobby is already strong. The fact that
April 24 fell on the same day as Easter this year gave Armenians a
great opportunity to show their religious and national feelings even
more strongly than usual. And in Turkey, the influential rallies that
have taken place with regard to this matter show that it is now time
to take up the issue with some prudence and level-headedness.

Can the healthy communication skills lacking between Turkey and Armenia
instead be formed between Turkey and the latter's diaspora population?

Mutual efforts

In countries where the Armenian lobby and diaspora are influential,
there are frequent Turkish efforts to hold joint festivals, programs
and other sorts of meetings with these Armenian groups. Even though it
is not constant, Turkey quite regularly tries to create an atmosphere
of dialogue with certain Armenian groups. And though political
efforts can only go so far, it is the wide network of civil society
organizations that can pick up the slack here, succeeding where states
are unable. In the very near future, civil society organizations look
set to show their influence in helping to find solutions to shared
problems. We, too, with our initiatives in the civil society branch
of things, are closely examining the Armenian community in the US
and working to help create a joint dialogue.

The shared thoughts of most Armenians, regardless of when they arrived
in the US, has to do with Turkish acceptance of its historic mistakes,
and opening up the way forward for regional cooperation. Lawyer and
writer Mark Mustian, whose forefathers came around 200 years ago
from Ottoman soil to the US, also thinks this way. The fact that
his ancestors, who came to the US to take advantage of the wealth of
opportunity there, preserved, at least to some extent, their Armenian
identities is what imbues Mustian today with a sense of responsibility
towards his fellow Armenians. Mustian, who practiced law for many
years in Florida, started writing a novel some years ago about the
breaking asunder of the Turkish and Armenian communities. The novel,
titled "The Gendarme," was finished in seven years and then published
in the US, France, Spain, Greece, Israel, Italy, Brazil and the UK.

Mustian, who says the reason he wrote this book was his own personal
sense of discomfort with how the Armenian community in the US lives
in ignorance regarding its own history and identity, notes 70 percent
of the Armenian diaspora constantly brings historical matters onto the
agenda, while another 10 percent live completely ignorant of what the
Armenian identity really is. He notes also that the other 20 percent
or so maintain moderate approaches to historical matters and identity
questions. Mustian, who says he has visited Turkey but has never had
the chance to go to Armenia, asserts that he loves Turkey very much
and when it comes to the question of relations with Armenia -- both
Ankara and Yerevan must act on their own accord. He also believes open
borders between Turkey and Armenia will improve cultural interactions
and that many problems would be solved faster than currently believed.

Vasken Hagopian and Zohrap Hovsapian are two Armenians who live in
Florida and embrace moderate approaches to the topic of relations
with Turkey. Hagopian, whose ancestors are from Adana, still works
as a professor at the Florida State University in the department of
physics and astronomy. During World War I, Hagopian's family lost many
of its members, and the family migrated from Turkey to Syria, Lebanon,
France and Greece. His father had worked in churches on Ottoman soil
and wrote many of his memories of this period in a book. Hagopian
characterizes the relations between Armenia and its diaspora as being
"ongoing based on assistance," and also notes he finds it unlikely
Turkey will be admitted to the European Union. Hagopian also says he
finds it unthinkable that these two ancient civilizations and peoples
could be living right next to one another but be unable to develop a
dialogue. He also asserts that it is simply not possible that Armenia
could politically make any demands for land from eastern Anatolia.

Not without dialogue

As for Hovsapian, his family comes from Silvan in the province of
Diyarbakır. The five people from his family that survived the war
era emigrated from Syria to France. The elders in his family not
only published their own memories of this period, but also changed
their surname from Keshishian, which they had used on Ottoman soil,
to Hovsapian. As Hovsapian sees it, today's world is impossible to
live in for anyone unwilling to enter into dialogue. Hovsapian, who
also asserts that the Soviet Union eliminated national consciousness,
says that for him Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points are very important.

These principles stress that for nations of people to offer up their
fates to states or to have their fates taken from their hands by these
same states is very unfair. Hovsapian, who we learn has many friends
in Turkey, believes that it is of vital importance that Turkey develop
its relations with Armenia in the near future, and that both countries
get involved in shared projects. He is quite sure that Turkey and
Armenia, working together, can achieve great success. In the end, both
of these men state that peace without dialogue is impossible and that
everyone must do their part in bringing about progress on this front.

Over time, these two communities of Turks and the Armenians, who have
been so closely linked -- as neighbors, countrymen, classroom friends,
in-laws and work colleagues -- have experienced a distancing from one
another as a result of a 100-year break, but this break has not managed
to erase the traces of 1,000 years of togetherness. The preconceptions
brought about by political approaches on both sides have invested
both sides with much hesitation as to which steps to take. On one
hand, you have nations of people unable to form dialogues, while on
the other hand you have diaspora groups that cannot seem to meet in
the middle; these factors are causing the whole matter to continue
as a sort of an incurable syndrome. To rid itself of this syndrome,
Turkey needs to increase its public diplomacy towards Armenia, as
well as take steps that will work for Armenians in both the East and
the West. Because what Armenia really needs these days are words
on the topic of possible cooperative efforts, not on conflict or
disagreement. In any case, it is quite clear to whom all this enmity
is really causing damage and to whom it is advantageous.

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* Mehmet Fatih Oztarsu is a writer for the Aravot newspaper in Armenia.




From: A. Papazian