26 September 2006

1045) What Armenians Think of Our Common History and also of Turkish "raki" and Istanbul

New Neighbors - How long have you been writing for Hurriyet?
Sefa Kaplan- I have been writing for Hurriyet nearly five years. Before Hurriyet, I was working for Aktuel which was a weekly magazine.

NN - How do you estimate the role of your newspaper in Turkey? . .
S.K. - Hurriyet is the most powerful newspaper in Turkish press. His nickname has always been "admiral’s ship". If you ask me to bring examples - every headline which is published on Hurriyet, the same day will be discussed by all Turkish press and Ankara (I mean the Government). Somebody says that Hurriyet is a state newspaper; somebody says that Hurriyet is an enemy of state for supporting European Union.

When I was looking for answers of Turkish history’s big question "What Happened in 1915? /1915’te Ne Oldu?," somebody didn’t believe his/her eyes. During ten days I accepted a lot of congratulations and of course a lot of criticism. That is the Hurriyet.

NN - How do you estimate the role of the Turkish print media for the whole Turkish public - is it a powerful instrument?
S.K. - Yes, Turkish print media is a powerful instrument for Turkish people and Turkish government. But there were/are a big discussion in the Turkish press that how we can create most independent and Western newspaper. For this I wrote a book for Hurriyet staff called "Journalism of Hurriyet".

NN - What topics do you mostly write on?
S.K. - I know you won’t believe me but it is true. I write on every topic except football, for example history, literature, art, European Union, sociology, psychology, international relationship, religion, human rights and Armenian. Because of I am not just a journalist; I am a poet and writer too. I wrote 15 books, five of them were poems; one of them was a story and others were journalism matter. My last book was what I mentioned above - "What Happened in 1915".

NN - What topics in Armenia are you interested in, and do you ever read Armenian newspapers?
S.K. - If Agos is an Armenian newspaper, yes I read, if not, no, because of the language. What topics I am interested in Armenia: I think everything. Because nearly six centuries we have been living together, we go on living together. We know each other better than other people. Most of songs in my country are similar to those in your country. I and my Armenian friends are crying same songs. We all know that terrible things happened in our history. It was a big tragedy for everybody.

I am interested in what Armenian people think about Turkish people, our common history, songs, of course Turkish ‘raki’ and Istanbul. And how we can create new relationship between two countries, between Armenian and Turkish people. And I am interested in Armenian literature, Armenian cinema, Armenian art, Armenian press too.

Istanbul in 19th Century: a Western Look

The sons of the same land

When I was working on my last book, the name of which was “The Istanbul, From the View of Western Travelers”, I read a lot of books written by Western travelers, among which such names like Gerard de Nerval, Edmond de Amicis, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, etc.

I must confess that I have learnt amazing things from them about Ottomon Empire, about public life in Istanbul in 19th century, about Armenian, Jewish and Greek peoples who lived in Istanbul side by side at the same time. I want to give you some examples from their books.

The great French poet Gerard de Nerval came to Istanbul in 1843. He was shocked when he saw Istanbul for the first time like everybody else from abroad. But he was saying very interesting things that we really need to know nowadays:

“Konstantinopolis is an odd city. Four different peoples, (I think there was no word of ‘nations’ at that time S.K.) who are Turks, Armenians, Greeks and Jewish, are living side by side without hatred. Because they are sons of the same land.”

The American writer, author of “Moby Dick” and another famous novel, came to Istanbul for the first time in 1856 (so, it wasn’t long time ago, was it?). He was not quite happy for being in Istanbul, of course it can be so sometimes. Although he was amazed when he saw the signs of shops. Here is what he was saying:

“Because there were four different signs on every shops of four different languages: Turkish, French, Greek, Armenian. And there were three different religious holidays in Istanbul every week: Friday is for Turks, Saturday is for Jews and Sunday is for Armenians and Greeks.”

That was Istanbul 150 years ago. In 1913 Greeks were sent from Anatolia, in 1915 Armenians were sent from Anatolia, in 1941 the Jews were also sent from Anatolia. If yo ask me what was the main reason – I’ll say it’s the nationalism.

No, I am not telling you that the Ottomon Empire was great: no, but we were great, because we were sons of the same land.

And having lost this kind of things we have become really poorer now.

Sefa Kaplan


The journalist of Turkish "Hurriyet" Sefa Kaplan had made an interview with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanyan. Kaplan is also an author of "New Neighbors", and we have the opportunity of presenting the interview to our reader the same day with "Hurriyet". The Turkish newspaper has published the brief version, and here we provide you with the full interview. For the Turkish version please visit Hurriyet website.

S. K. - What will happen after the Armenian Constitutional Referendum? How will it affect Turkish-Armenian relationship?
V. O. - The Armenian Constitutional Referendum was a domestic process. It can have no effect, one way or another, on Armenian-Turkish relations. It brought about changes in government structure, checks and balances, and as a result, will strengthen Armenia’s democratic processes.

S. K. - There are some rumors in Turkey about double-citizenship. Your New Constitution doesn't prohibit the double-citizenship. What will happen if Diaspora becomes more influential on Armenian political life?
V. O. - Dual citizenship is an issue that will still be discussed and addressed in Armenia. The conditions and requirements of dual citizenship have yet to be defined. The degree and kind of engagement and responsibility of Diaspora Armenians must still be explored and agreed upon. It is clear however, that in Armenia, as in any sovereign country, our political life will be determined by the people who live in Armenia. In any case, those, too, are domestic issues.

However, your question is correct in that there are many rumors, misunderstandings and misperceptions about Armenia in Turkey. Part of the reason for this is that the Turkish government refuses to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia. If there were relations between our two countries, and our peoples were able to interact, then the obvious would become clear to the people of Turkey – that they have nothing to fear from Armenia.

S. K. - Most people in Turkey believe that Armenian and Turkish relationship would be better if Diaspora didn't exist. What do you think - is Diaspora the main barrier between Turkey and Armenia?
V. O. - I can’t help but to respond by saying that the Diaspora would not exist in this form if it were not for the events of 1915. Armenia and Diaspora both want recognition and condemnation of those events. Furthermore, I am convinced that closed borders, absence of relations simply exasperate and further deepen the abyss that exists between the two peoples today. Our peoples do not have the opportunity to share new experiences, to create new memories to replace old memories.

The Diaspora wants what is best for Armenia, and what is best for Armenia are normal relations with all its neighbors. We hope and expect that the people of Turkey, too, want good relations with their neighbors.

S. K. - Does Diaspora have the right of voting or being elected?
V. O. - It does not.

S. K. - Do Turkish Armenians have the same right with the rest of Diaspora in Armenia?
V. O. - All Armenians living outside Armenia have the same right, opportunity, and even the obligation to become part of life in Armenia, in any way that they choose. Armenia wants and needs all its compatriots everywhere in the world. But relationships between Turks and Armenians, between Armenians from Turkey and Armenians from Armenia, cannot and do not replace the need for official relations between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey.

The Turkish government cannot keep repeating that there are Armenian tourists in Turkey, or that there are Turkish flights to Armenia. That is lamentably insufficient. That is certainly not the same as having official relations, knowing that the country and people on the other side of the border can cooperate and interact when necessary so that both feel safer, prosper and live in peace and security with each other.

S. K. - Do you have perceptible offers for Turkish people for regional peace and credibility?
V. O. - Peace and stability anywhere can only exist when there are normal relations, when there is dialogue. Armenia’s President Robert Kocharian said that Prime Minister Erdogan’s suggestion of a historic commission can be considered as part of a larger intergovernmental dialogue which takes place under normal conditions – with diplomatic relations and open borders. Turkey has not responded to that offer.

The European Union has said that Turkey must have, as any normal country in the world today must have, normal relations with all its neighbors, even those with whom it has disagreements. Turkey has disagreements, some serious ones, with almost all its neighbors, yet it has relations with all of them. Why does it insist on pretending that Armenia and Armenians are not across the border?

Turkey, as a major power in the region, is obliged to enter into normal relations with its neighbors, not because the European Union demands it, but because that is what is good for its own citizens, and for the region. It is a political reality that both Turkey and Armenia exist today in the international community with their current borders.

It is a political reality that we are neighbors and we will live alongside each other. It is a political reality that Armenia is not a security threat to Turkey. And finally, it is a reality that it is today's Armenia that calls for the establishment of diplomatic relations with today's Turkey. That is our offer for regional peace and security.

The seriousness of our call is evidenced in our statement that the improvement of relations between our countries is so important that we are even willing not to benefit from those processes, just so they get started.

For example, because we know that European security, regional security, regional economic development would benefit from the functioning of the Kars-Gyumri-Tbilisi railroad that is currently closed, we have said, and I’ll say it again – Armenia is willing not to use or benefit from that railroad. Just let it begin to run.

Let’s begin to create some normalcy in this region. There is $120 million in trade between our countries, now, through third countries, with difficulty, at extra cost to all sides. Imagine if there could be direct trade. Imagine the benefit to Turkey’s eastern provinces and cities. We must imagine a normal neighborly existence together.

S. K. - Turkey is discussing Armenian problem and looking for real answers to what happened in 1915. What is your comment about this kind of discussions in Turkey? Do you follow them?
V. O. - We do follow the discussions in Turkey and we are encouraged that there is greater openness in recent months. We can only hope that there will be greater freedoms for speech and expression so that the Turkish people become familiar with the events of 1915, reject them for what they were and condemn them. Today's Turks do not bear the guilt of the perpetrators, unless they choose to defend and identify with them. Armenians are able to distinguish between the perpetrators and today's Turkey.

As with any nation, we hope that these internal discussions will lead to Turks coming to terms with their history, recognizing the good and denouncing the bad. That is what every modern state has had to do, after World War II, after the fall of the USSR, and Turkey, too, will have to go through that process.

S.K. - Thank you very much.

Sefa Kaplan



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