23 April 2006

579) Friends and foes, Turks and Armenians

My grandfather's father Ali Teymur Fenni Efendi was from Erzurum in eastern Turkey. According to the memoirs of his son Ali Kemali Pa�a, "He had a very good Armenian friend, Agop Efendi, who always stood by his side and lent him money when he needed it." This was at the beginning of the 19th century..

Armenian friends:
Both my grandfathers, Mehmet Necmettin Bey and Mehmet Cemal Bey, were friendly with Ottoman Armenians. Necmettin Bey, while an official in the Ottoman Public Works Ministry, worked under Armenian Director-General Mikail Efendi, with whom he was on friendly terms. Later he was employed at Ziraat Bankas� under another Armenian official, Berberyan Efendi. Apparently both his supervisors liked him, although he had an exceptionally difficult personality, and he ended up in Paris as a young Turk in the 1900s.

Amasya 1915:
My grandfather on my father's side Mehmet Cemal Bey's last position in the service of the Ottoman government was as the sub-governor (mutasarr�f) of Amasya, from where he was dismissed in 1915 with a brilliant carrier behind him; he was retired prematurely at the early age of 55. A French-speaking civil servant and a graduate of Galatasaray, he had many Armenian friends in Amasya, as told by my grandmother.

Koskeryan family:
My father Celal Bey was in Adana in 1925 as a junior employee at Ziraat Bankas� and as a young bachelor was befriended by and indeed adopted as a member of the Koskeryan family. Some 20 years later, when my father returned to Adana as the manager of Is Bankas�, I also made friends with the children of the Koskeryan family. They may be in Canada now.

I made friends with two Armenian brothers in the late 1940s in Istanbul while taking English lessons at Berlitz Language Center in Beyo�lu and remember them well, even being invited to their homes in Pangalt�.

I asked my diplomat son Timur if he had any Armenian friends, he unfortunately said no. I asked the same question to my documentary filmmaker daughter Belmin in Istanbul, she said yes. This is just one short story to be multiplied and magnified in the minds of millions over the past century.

Ottoman Empire days:
Turks and Armenians lived together for more than 600 years within the Ottoman commonwealth without much of a problem, with mutual respect, support, interaction and even love, but not hate, in spite of ethnic and religious differences. The primary and most important reason was a general tolerance and the sense of Ottoman togetherness.

A refined people:
The Armenian "millet" was divided into Catholic or Gregorian sects; they were not forced to adopt Islam or convert and practiced their own religion in their churches all over Anatolia. The Armenian minority was a refined people who excelled in trade, commerce, bureaucracy, crafts and arts, in music and in diplomacy, and served as the sultan's ambassadors abroad or dragomans in the Sublime Port, Babiali.

The Ottoman foreign service:
My great uncle from my mother's side, Galip Kemali Bey, was an Ottoman diplomat at the turn of the century. In his memoirs he recounts in detail the positions occupied by Armenian civil servants, from Undersecretary Sultan Abdülhamit's confidant Dadyan Pa�a on down. At nearly every level of the Ottoman foreign service, at its nucleus were educated Armenians, capable, with a good command of foreign languages, with no religious bias or ethnic segregation. My great uncle ended up as an Ottoman ambassador in Athens, Stockholm and Moscow, and in his memoirs the names Noradungjian, Mihridat, Hacik, Dikran, Hasun and Ciraci efendis are mentioned as among his colleagues and friends.

Most faithful millet:
The sultan, among his many "millets," called the Armenians "the most faithful millet" in an empire totaling some 35 million subjects. Yet it was Edward Jorris, an Armenian terrorist, who tried to assassinate him on April 13, 1909. Many people were killed at the scene, but Sultan Abdülhamit escaped death. Jorris was caught but then forgiven by the sultan for his crime and set free.

1915 tragedy:
What happened in 1915 under terrible war conditions and in the last hours of the empire is a truly tragic story in our common history, which fatally cuts and badly hurts both ways. There must be reconciliation, as Turks and Armenians cannot continue to live in the past. The Armenians slain and the Turks killed must be left alone for due reverence of their misfortune, and no amount of vindictiveness or sense of vengeance will bring them back. Who killed whom and how many is a redundant question; this tragedy was not a numbers game.

An 'act' to hurt and not heal:
France arbitrarily elevated itself to the position of supreme arbiter. In six historic words France misused its domestic politics at the expense of her relations with Turkey for none of her own history, willing to hurt rather than heal. Although there was no literal reference to Turks, Turkey or the Ottomans, this condemnation was designed to willfully poison relations among Turkey, France and Armenia, with obvious consequences.

In its first issue the center's quarterly included scholarly contributions by prominent Turkish and American writers. Armenian scholars should also be invited to contribute to the publication.

Armenian convictions:
American Professor Justin McCarthy, in his contribution to the quarterly, suggests, and quite rightly: "Let the historians decide, not the politicians. ... For the last 85 years or so, one-sided Armenian convictions and accusations prevailed without proper Turkish defense. Even historians may have political goals, which are not to be trusted." In my non-historian view, and at the expense of being unjust and unfair to historians, history is so important for the future that it cannot be entrusted to historians alone.

Yerevan University visit:
It was in February or March of 1999 that a Yerevan University delegation from Armenia visited our Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara. It was a rare visit that lasted many hours in a friendly and constructive atmosphere.

I suggested TV crew exchanges between the two countries as frequently as possible so that the two peoples can get to know each other better after a lapse of many decades. This suggestion was well received, but to date only one or two cases have served the intended purpose. I suggested more indirect trade through Georgia, which is happening, although still on a small scale. I suggested exchange visits between academics, journalists, writers, think tanks, private associations and trade unions on a people to people basis. Such contacts would bring down the artificial propaganda barriers and may exert a positive influence on the governments to think about, or better still, take into account. Not much has happened since, except more of the same vicious circle, mostly due to the radical change in government in Yerevan.

Armenian reconciliation:
A group of Turkish and Armenian former diplomats, academics and intellectuals met in Geneva on July 9, 2001 following two meetings in Vienna. They finally decided to establish a Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission to start the much-needed dialogue between the two sides at an informal civil society level.

From the Turkish side diplomat �lter Türkmen, retired Ambassador Gündüz Aktan, retired ambassador and now columnist Özdem Sanberk, retired Ambassador Sadi Ergüvenç, retired lieutenant general Professor Üstün Ergüder and former Bo�aziçi University Rector Vamik D.Volkan were the six original Turkish participants.

The four original members from the Armenian side were Alexander Arzoumanian, David Hovhanissian, Van Z. Krikorian and Andranik Migranian.

These 10 wise men met under the auspices of the Henry Dunnan Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, which gave the impression that it was probably the protagonist of this timely and worthy initiative. The idea for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation will hopefully prove to be practical, and hence useful by bringing the two sides together in their private capacity. They represent only themselves and their personal views, devoid of prejudice, with no propaganda purpose in mind, to act as and informal bridge in the absence of a dialogue between Ankara and Yerevan.

Terms of reference:
The Reconciliation Commission will act as an unofficial diplomatic channel with the sole intention of bringing the two sides together. They will try to pool all their resources and efforts to meet their aims as described by Ambassador Aktan in the Turkish Daily News of July 11, 2001. The working program has yet to be finalized, but it is underlined that "the joint projects will cover business, tourism, culture, education, the environment, the media and, most importantly, confidence-building measures between Turkey and Armenia."

Armenians divided:
Nearly all the public comments in the Turkish media about the formation of this Reconciliation Commission have been positive. But the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Armenian Dashnak Party on the other side condemned the initiative. Also the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) seems to be against it as well.

Superpower maneuver:
Armenian critics and opponents of the initiative see it as being of a superpower design, meaning the United States, to reconcile Turks and Armenians for their own benefit, to decrease the present Russian influence on Armenia. This view dismisses the important fact that such a rapprochement of Armenian-Turkish understanding and eventual cooperation will benefit all interested parties, primarily Armenia, Turkey, the United States and Russia. Therefore, the Henry Dunnan Center must be congratulated for the part they are playing.

Dialogue is a must:
Turkish-Armenian dialogue is already nearly a century late. Now it is a must and a priority. Both sides need it for their own and common advantage. To keep a sense of revenge alive for political purposes has led no one anywhere but down many a blind alley so far.

At the time of the Turkish national outcry and vehement protest against the French Parliament's infamous "act," during an unofficial hearing of the Foreign Policy Institute by its director and members of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Turkish Parliament, chaired by Parliament deputy and former diplomat Kamran �nan, the question of the Armenian allegations was hotly debated. I for my part loudly proposed Ankara-Yerevan rapprochement and indeed bilateral cooperation. Turkish Ambassador to Paris Sönmez Köksal was also present at the debate as well as many deputies. I also took the liberty of suggesting Turkish private sector investment in Armenia, better and direct trade, negotiations for the establishment of diplomatic relations, Turkish bank loans for businessmen and official aid and assistance to the authorities, among other things. All this I believe was not too far-fetched. It was not a dream but the reality of tomorrow to embark upon here and now.

Pilgrimage for conciliation:
A group of 150 Armenian-Americans arrived in Istanbul in June of 2001 for a pilgrimage to mark the 1,700th anniversary of Armenian Christianity and to improve communication between the Armenian diaspora and Turkey. "At a certain point we have to do some reconciliation," said Kevork Toroyan, a retired businessman from New Canaan, Connecticut, who was leading the group. "It is going to be difficult but eventually we have to face it," he said. He couldn't be more right.

Friends again:
History falsified by Armenian apologists in the heat of the past did a great disservice to their own people by creating a chronic Turkish neurosis. To keep alive the enmity, they hurt themselves from within for many a generation of Armenians. Many assertions have proven renewed enmity was destined to be counterproductive.

The Reconciliation Commission has nearly an impossible mission before it, but they will be blessed with the goodwill and good wishes of success of both the Turks and the Armenians who believe that they were friends before and they can become good friends again.

April 23, 2006



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