616) (Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey) MESROB II´s Speech at Erciyes University

Dear Rector,
Dear Participants,

I do not think that, as citizens of the Turkish Republic, our main reason for coming together here is to shower praise on the vast world empire of the Ottoman Dynasty. However, it is important to analyze the Ottoman system since it provided the possibility for people of different identities in the Ottoman Empire to live together and because in a shrinking world that requires people of increasingly different religions, languages, races, and nationalities to live together in the same cultural mosaic, crowded side by side, it will be no mistake to refer to the experience of the Ottomans..

I would like to share with you some of my personal thoughts about the event that is often called the “Armenian Issue” by some people and by the Turkish press.


The way we look at history is an ethical matter with universal consequences. Our way of presenting history to today’s generations is also an ethical matter. It often requires courage and freedom to convey the bare truth. If we are squeezed into a certain mold, if we are slaves to a certain ideology, and especially if we have a nationalist, racist, or militarist temperament, we will sometimes have difficulty in speaking the truth and communicating realities to the new generations. Our having a realistic historical viewpoint depends on whether we can be freed from the value judgements of the day and from subjective opinions.

It is not possible to idealize every phase in the history of Ottoman-Armenian relations and to say that Armenians never had any problems. However, we know that the first acquaintance between Turks and Armenians goes back at least 1300 years.[1] If the historian Elise actually did write his work on the Persian-Armenian War in the fifth century, then this mutual acquaintance has a 1500 year history.[2] In this long history of commercial and political interactions between neighbours, there are relatively few instances of exchanges of physical violence.

Just as the nationalist movement that started with the French Revolution in time affected all other governments, so all peoples connected to the Ottoman Empire came under its influence. Especially towards the end of the 19th century there was an increase in tension in relations, whether responsibility for this was due to the Ottoman Government, or the German, American, French, British and especially Russian governments, or Armenian political parties, or the Armenian Patriarchs of Istanbul of that period, who discharged their obligations under the close surveillance of the Temporal Affairs Council that then consisted of Armenian secularists in Turkey. Even if the various sides were not all equally responsible, it is not an moral approach in view of the painful aftereffects for any one of them to speak up and deny any accountability in the development of those events, or to place all responsibility on the other parties.


Both Turks and Armenians must leave aside their cliches such as, “We really used to love the loyal nation” and “We really did love the Turks”. In place of nostalgic expressions such as, “My grocer was an Armenian” and “My army officer was a really good Turk”, we must accelerate those historical and scholarly endeavours that offer concrete examples from the past of the fact that Turks and Armenians did coexist peacefully. Instead of wasting time and money in publishing books that only re-state in various ways the usual Turkish and Armenian claims that everyone has memorized by now, Armenian works that can make an important contribution to the history of Turkish-Armenian relations should increasingly be translated into Turkish and English for the consideration of academicians and the general public. What are fundamentally needed at this stage in the impasse are new primary sources, rather than new interpretations of what already exists. For instance, the minutes of the Armenian National Assembly which, according to the 1863 Constitution of the Armenian Millet, appeared in print with the approval of the Sublime Porte and were collected regularly from 1863 to the time of Sultan Abdulhamid are one of the black holes in Turkish history. These texts should be published urgently as a parallel text, with Armenian on one page and the corresponding Turkish translation on the opposite page. The writings of Patriarch Nerses II (1874-1884), the correspondence of Patriarch Madteos III (1894-1896 and 1908-1909), the three volumes of memoirs of Patriarch Magakya I (1896-1908), and the one-volume patriarchal memoirs of Patriarch Zaven I (1913-1915 and 1919-1922) should be available in Turkish. Instead of books about the Armenian Church and its culture, and books that are sometimes highly unscholarly, Patriarch Magakya’s three huge volumes of the history of the Armenian Church should be read in Turkish by university students. In addition, the archives of the Istanbul Patriarchate that were moved to Jerusalem in 1916-1918 must also be brought into academic circles by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In order to create the possibility of collegial work on a common platform by the next generation of Turkish and Armenian academicians, the teaching of the Ottoman, Armenian and Turkish languages and their literatures must begin without delay, whether in universities in Turkey or in Armenia.


To rescue today’s relations from a dead end, dialogue is inescapable, and for dialogue mutual respect is a must. It is difficult to bring together parties who belittle each other and engage in verbal assaults. Therefore activities between groups of academicians, young people, artists, and members of the press from Armenia and Turkey, in which they exchange visits, for acquaintance and mutual understanding, are very important.

Respect must also be shown to the other’s history. We have to change the mentality shown by some Armenian historians who still see Turks as uncultured barbarian emigrants from Central Asia and who belittle their ability to establish a Turkish state and ensure its continuity. We must likewise change the mentality of some Turkish historians who say, “Armenians never had a state, and they couldn’t found one,” and who even turn the Native American peoples into Turkish clans who crossed the Bering Strait. Both the Turks and the Armenians are peoples who, both in their own capacity, have made a significant historical mark in politics and culture. In the museums of Anatolian Civilizations, the mentality that sees the historical Armenian Kingdoms as only vassal states or completely non-existent, even neglecting the mutual pacts between Armenian Kingdoms and western governments, can only deceive its own citizens, since it cannot destroy the documents in western archives and libraries. However, when there is a mutually respectful approach to the histories of the two sides, where each other’s successes are praised, it will be possible to create mutual empathy.


Turks and Armenians are people of the same geographical area. Almighty God has put these people together. It will not be possible to change this, now or in the future. Turks and Armenians have to learn to live together, or side by side. Strategists sin by ignoring this reality and by turning the youth of the two countries against each other. People will either be enemies or friends. Is friendship not much better than enmity?


However, fanatical nationalism claims that its own country and race are chosen, that its language is perfect, and that its culture is unsurpassable, but this is nothing other than collective narcissism. These kinds of baseless claims serve no purpose other than to cause similar narcissism in others. To count the other as nothing, to see in the other a foreigner or enemy or potential saboteur not only creates a chaotic condition in the country but, because such an approach always needs to create windmills to fight, it also leads to uneasiness because it hatches speculation about which group of citizens will be the next victims. I think that the often-heard _expression, “Turks and Kurds are the original elements of this country”, is also a sort of discrimination. If our Turkish and Kurdish brothers and sisters are the original elements, then in even the rosiest of definitions that puts the Armenians and others into second place. But the Armenians have a written history in this land since the sixth century BCE, and the Syriacs and Jews have even older records.


Today in our country of 70 million people, the number of Christian Armenians who are citizens of the Republic of Turkey has fallen to 70 thousand. According to some government departments, there are about 30 thousand people with Armenian roots living in Turkey who have come from abroad. In this situation solutions are needed for religious, charitable and social issues pertaining to minority communities, including the local Armenian community, whose total population is probably less than one in a thousand. These are matters that arise from the regulations for religious foundations, and matters that lead to the struggle for existence in the face of massive problems generated by a changing world. This is one of the clearest areas where abstract concepts such as “tolerance,” “living together,” and “pluralism” can be concretized and can turn from word to deed. Otherwise we shall this country’s multi-hued character gradually fading away, becoming pale and monotonous.


The normalization of relations between Turkey, to which we Turkish Armenians are bound by citizenship and the dialogue of life, and Armenia, where we have common ethnic and religious roots, is the goal of the Armenians in Turkey, where we find ourselves between two countries, between two loved ones, if you will. But unless there is mutual sacrifice, it is evident that it will be difficult to make progress in these relations.


We must think of what binds us together as human beings beyond religion, race, nationality, and so on.

In this context, what we leave behind for our children, for the future, is important. Thus in addition to scientific and technical education we must also see the humanities as of utmost importance and give this area the necessary encouragement. We must accept that studies of language and literature are also a significant bonding element.

No matter how much the secular form of government guarantees freedom of religion and conscience, it can be said that the implementation of so-called Jacobin secularism in our country, which we sometimes encounter, prevents the richness of the spiritual meaning of Islam’s ethical dimensions from contributing to analyses, and consequently this is also sometimes true of approaches to history.

I wish, as is done successfully in some countries, that pre-Ottoman civilizations could be considered as part of our historical heritage and that we could be enriched by the contribution made to Turkey by Byzantine, Armenian, Syriac, and Jewish cultures. In this context I see the Ministry of Tourism and Culture’s project to restore the Armenian Church of the Holy Cross on the Aghtamar Island in Lake Van as a very positive step in the right direction.


Both Turks and Armenians must break out of the straitjacket of exclusive nationalism and racism. Otherwise it is clear what will happen. The harm and cost is evident wherever the practice of nationalism and racism predominates. The results are always bloody wars, tears, and hate campaigns that last for generations. I believe that for peace and well-being to obtain the upper hand, we must be able to escape from this straitjacket. Instead of nationalism and racism, it is much more in line with our religious and ethical values to practice a love and appreciation for our national cultures.


I congratulate the Rector of Erciyes University, Prof. Dr. Cengis UTAS; the Head of the Symposium Organizing Committee, Prof. Dr. M. Metin HULAGU; and Assistant Professors Dr. Sakir BATMAZ, Dr. Suleyman DEMIRCI and Dr. Gulbadi ALAN who worked to organize this symposium. It is my wish that this symposium, which is taking place in our historical city of Kayseri (Caesarea in Cappadocia) may set an important milestone on the road to peace and well-being, and I would express my deepest respect to all who are following the proceedings. I pray that peace and well-being may prevail in our country, for the happiness of all of our citizens, and for unity. Thank you.

[1] C.J.F. Dowsett tr., Movsés Dasxuranci, The History of the Caucasion Albanians. Oxford, 1961, Book Two, Chapter 12.

[2] Elise, “Vasn Vardana ew Hayoc Paterazmin”, Yerevan, 1957, p. 12, 141, 198. While some academicians state that this work is from the fifth century, others think it is from the 7th century.

First International Social Research Symposium (EUSAS)
The Art of Living Together in Ottoman Society:
The Example of Turkish-Armenian Relations
20-22 April 2006



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