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Articles > Armenian-Turkish Relations > About unspeakable meetings and the lack of respect


By Jaklin Chatschadorian

In only three years we will commemorate one of the greatest human tragedies for the hundredth time. This crime against humanity causes grief not only because of those who lost their lives and their relatives. The pain is compounded by the fact that the genocide of the Armenian people still has not been condemned internationally adequate to its dimension. Future prospects are depressing.

Regarding the imputed regional importance of Turkey the Armenian efforts to recognize the systematic extinction by organized mass murder, in accordance to the UN Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide and Punishment, of 9th December 1948, resemble David's fight against Goliath. So, if Armenians do not succeed with a significant breakthrough, equivalent to a slingshot, our grandchildren will still be calling for something along the same lines.

Whereas Armenia, because of international pressure as well as the pressure to boost its economy, is trying to achieve harmony with Turkey, the Armenian Diaspora is pulling out all the stops to fight unconditional reconciliation. These Armenians stand up for their right of justice defined by recognition and condemnation. They call for regret and excuse. Besides they dream of reparation.

For this reason alone, the Armenian Diaspora is considered to be irreconcilable and hostile. Although various groups, associations and non-government organizations all over the world are described as good-natured and authorized stakeholders, struggling descendants of Armenian genocide victims are deemed to have a negative connotation, as if they were lobbying barracudas. In order to take away their voice, they are declared to a radical western Armenian minority – not only by Turks. That the fact of this nine-million-people compared with the 3.3 million – population of the Armenian state refutes the character of being in a minority, seems to be invisible.

In order to provide a basis for such a disrepute along with the Turkish revision of history, the Turkish Government has developed a specific plan of campaign, which covers every conceivable spheres of public life.

Among others it calls for

- contacting the active Armenian Diaspora, their moderate members the same as those who are anti-Turkish; for example with invitations to Turkey or to the embassy at the respective country or region.

- connecting with universities, civilian organizations and specially with academics, due to take every chance to give public statements according to the official Turkish version.

- stressing the importance of Turkish-Armenian relations, markedly with having the stability of the Caucasus and a prosperous Turkish-Armenian future in their minds and on their tongues.

At this point there is no need for detailed interpretation. Die perfidious way of dealing with the darkest chapter of own history and the vilification of around 2,5 million Christians (including the Syriac, Pontian and Greek) victims speaks for itself.

And yet, in view of the geopolitical and regional strategic importance of today's Turkey the international community overlook such little things just as readily as the crime of genocide itself. Fundamental standards, based on human values and the dignity of every individual, is only demanded, if it occurs in sufficient distance and complaining does not include the risk of getting into trouble. At this point Turkey, Azerbaijan and emirate of Qatar are on the sunny side of western touchstones in contrast to Ukraine, Russia or China.

Whereas the calls of the Armenian Diaspora fall on deaf ears, Armenian leading sheperds betray their own flock.

A truly bitter pill, made of power games, was served on 31st May 2012 to the Armenians of Germany. Two men met in the garden of Cologne's Armenian church to raise the glas to a conciliatory shared future: The Ambassador of The Republic of Turkey, Hüseyin Avni Karslioglu, and the Primate of the Apostolic Armenia Church for Germany, Archbishop Karekin Bekjian.

They first visited the church building, then sat in the garden and finally it was some time for the fancy signing of the guest book of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Germany. The Chairwoman of the (secular) Armenian Community, Minu Nikpay, and the members of the diocesan advisory board, inter alia, Dr. Sarkis Kehyayan, Meline Pohlmann, the local preacher. Turkish media journalists and an employee of church, Sayad Boyaciyan, took pictures of the event. The farewell was sweetened with kisses.

A video, published in Turkish mass media, shows, that Archbishop Karekin Bekjian thanks the Ambassador for his visit and the chairwoman of the Armenian Community, Minu Nikpay, remarks, that this visit is the first of its kind. A statement of the Ambassador follows: He, the Ambassador would not discriminate. In his point of view, all of his (!) citizens would belong to him (!), believers and non-believers, Allevites, Sunnites and Christians. He continues, that each of those two communities (the Turkish and the Armenian) have their own messages and pains. But it would be more important to peer into the future.

So far, there is no official position by the Diocese. Appropriately and usually the Diocese and the community board inform or rather invite their people ahead of major events. This time around, it seems that they intend to communicate this affair about third parties or just sit all out.

A member of that public, who insists to stay in the background, revealed that the Armenian Church does not declare itself against Armenian efforts, but consider the path of dialogue.

Samvel Lulukyan, board member of the Armenian Community assured that the Diocese would classify this encounter as "merely religious". First and foremost there would be no context to politics, nor to an Armenian-Turkish policy dialogue. Finally the Diocese would not intend to interfere in political matters. In any case the (secular) Armenian Community Board would clearly dissociate itself from this meeting and decline all responsibility. Last but not least, one should admit that this event has been rated as "unpleasant" and it wouldn't be useful, if Armenians argue among themselves. The people were expressly asked to stop the discussions.

It is underlined apologetically that the idea and initiative for this happy circle came from the Ambassador who was interested in his (!) citizens (*) and as do-gooders we should know that politeness demands to open if someone raps at the door. Is there anybody trying to wash his hands á la Pontius Pilatus?

The Turkish "Hürriyet" reported the encounter was due to the candidacy of the Archbishop for Patriarchate in Istanbul. In line with the explanation, the encounter should be classified as merely religious the tabloid tells us, both actors did not talk about political questions, thus consequently the appointment should not be interpreted as a political step.

We all recall the visit of Turkish president Abdullah Gül in 2008 and his exclusive interest in soccer tournaments.

It remains to be seen which party took the initiative for the unbearably merits of this case.

Both versions are plausible. The Archbishop tries to befriend the Ambassador in order to take seat in Istanbul. Regarding Bekjian's visit in Istanbul to days after all this, I guess we are allowed to assume, that this "merely religious" step was paved with success.

The Ambassador acted probably because of his interest in the candidate, but also implementing the campaign, above mentioned, due to avoid any further international recognition of the ottoman-made genocide.

It will have to be assessed how the Catholicos of All Armenians,Karekin II. Nersissian, based in Etschmiadzin, the seat of the Armenian-apostolic church, will react. In the light of the statement, the appointment should be characterized as merely religious, it appears likely that Bekjian could be granted, while the clergy puts its trust on the weak memory of the people. But things can also turn entirely differently.

This intention seems also imaginable: In view of the fact that the Armenian Republic is under economic and international pressure to reconcile with Turkey, it is not incongruous to marginalize the opposing Armenian Diaspora, in continuation to the Turkey-Armenia-Protocols of 2009 using the clergy.

At least you can cast doubt on the credibility of the Diaspora with such peaceful resp. appeasing rendezvous: Look! Actually, there are no problems between Armenians and Turks. Only a few radicals are yelling and grouching. The way would be open for the desired unconditional reconciliation. The economies of both states would reach the required upgrade, international interests in oil and gas as well as the stability in the Caucasus would be ensured. The Turkish government's strategic agenda would enjoy the glory of realization.

However, the argumentation with "merely religious" is not able to calm the silliest sheep. Archbishop Bekjian did not meet the Imam of an Islamic community, but a representative of the Turkish state. I admit, the laicist Turkey means laicism would include the interference in church affairs of Christians who live in Turkey. Consistently the appointment, subsumed under the topic surrounding the Primate's candidacy, is indeed – at least from a Turkish point of view, a merely religious issue. So, who would like to see any paradoxes?

Nevertheless, this does not mean, that there is no matter of politics and no step towards Turkey. The encounter is a crossing-point between religion and politics. I am well aware that this gathering round the table is a form of dialogue in the Turkish-Armenian political arena and none can seriously claim, Armenian issues, except for the candidacy, were not affected: A Turkish statesman is sitting next to an Armenian spiritual leader and pointing to "own" pains of the past. Does anybody realize that the Ambassador is talking down the genocide to an ordinary war? Does anybody catch that this man is denying the genocide of "my" ancestors in "my" house?

At this point – and hence at the beginning of this great shame – there was the urgent need to put an end on all the politeness. He, who does not honor my dead, has to be blown out on the shortest way.

In reply to the message, that this step would be not against Armenian efforts, it has to be noted that there is nothing that gives indication, both (the Armenian church and the Armenian Diaspora of Germany) would aim for the same goal. Giving a stage for denial should not be reinterpreted to a "dialogue" (a misnomer!). An even less one should underestimate the intelligence of the parishioners.

Equally , the absolving of the secular Armenian community board by disclaiming any responsibility must be rejected firmly. Chairwoman Minu Nikpay has been present. She served the statesman and his followers coffee and praised the uniqueness of this visit by saying "this is the first time". Once again for the record: There's still no official statement by the Armenian community board.

One may also ask why this meeting was dressed solemnly. Especially if one party claims the displeasing character of the event, why did they repress the possibility of refusing that – so called - "unasked self – invitation"? The church building finds itself on German soil. The owner holds the domestic authority. Nothing more and nothing less.

Why is this man, who advocates on behalf of his government against a recognition to the victims and their sufferance, given the chance to spread media effectively his "Let’s sell those and forget it" mentalities?

Why do they offer him Armenian cognac, which is normally offered highly esteemed guests?

Why do Armenians take pictures of this event and why is he asked to sign the guest book?

Insofar as necessary from an Armenian point of view, why this get-together did not take place in a clean and objective atmosphere; for example in the office rooms of the Primate?

Why is it necessary to substantiate the courtesy with a subservient body language while visiting the interior of the church, and hence, upgrade the Ambassador to Pope?

Why do they decorate their farewell with kisses? Why is it not enough to reach hands just as we do in the West?

The answers to these questions belie the unpleasantness of the encounter. At best such an expression is a bungled attempt to confront a feared Tsunami.

And as if this destruction were not unduly serious, associates of the Archbishop give themselves the power to call the objective criticism a campaign of harassment against the Primate. More than once people were recommended to show more respect. In order to reinforce the claim they postulate such quarrels would harm the Armenian community. In an appeal to a patriotic sense of honor it is emphasized that there would be no point in fighting against each other.

Indeed, the capability of taking criticism might be one of the greatest of Armenian foibles. But is it necessary to go as far as they went on this occasion, by shutting up the people’s mouth and imposing responsibility for dividing the Armenian society?

It is like a sad marriage. While hitting her, the husband is warning his wife not to destroy the family by police and divorce. Objective criticism is recast as lack of respect – of course avoiding the impiety washed down with cognac.

A shepherd concerned about the welfare of his flock, should act in its favour.

The one who feels affection and responsibility for his people should not fear the political battle and fear the complaint. Otherwise he's is not able to learn from own mistakes. Anyone who shuts the crowd's mouth, inhibits progress of society. The one who pushes silence referring to authorities and construing radicals, is not cherishing his fellow-men. The one who appeals the "dialog-demand" in only one direction attempts, at most, to edge the matter painlessly into past while misjudging the invaluable support of the exchange of views, under ignoring the freedom of speech.

Finally, we have to recognize that a good argumentative culture and a constructive handling of conflicts is a chance to improve the society and leads to better performance. We have to countenance our critical faculties.

Our priests and bishops are only human. This attitude is characteristic of secular communities in democratic structures. The officials did not merely slip-up. They decided knowingly and deliberately for this meeting between post ottoman Turkey and Armenian Church. The officials knew about the explosive nature of this hurtful step towards Turkey and they feared the headwind, wherefore they have withdrawn into silence. To criticize this act must be allowed. If you want to be heard, you must express your concern.

* For the sake of completeness and the accuracy of the information, it should be mentioned that Armenians who immigrated from Turkey are, except for an unsubstantial minority, are naturalised in Germany. They see themselves as "Germans by choice of Armenian descent". If it is necessary to use possessive terms, it needs to be emphasized that these Armenians are not the citizens of Recep T. Erdogan or Hüseyin A. Karslioglu, but the citizens of a liberal democracy of Angelika Merkel and Joachim Gauck.

Source: Jaklin Chatschadorian's blog, 14 June 2012


Added: Saturday, June 16, 2012
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