- "Study The Armenian Genocide With Confidence" by Ara Sarafian
- Sarafian: Focus On The Diaspora
- "Ara Sarafian: The Darling Of Denialist Turkish Media" By Appo Jabarian
Study The Armenian Genocide With Confidence by Ara Sarafian, December 18, 2008
On November 26, 2008, Hurriyet Daily News published an article based on an interview titled, "Sarafian: Focus on the Diaspora." This interview followed a conference I participated in organized by the International Hrant Dink Foundation at Bosphorus University, Istanbul, on Adana in the late Ottoman period.
The Hurriyet Daily News article caused anxiety in some Armenian circles because of the apparent harshness of my statements as they had been rendered in the Turkish press. The most forceful response came from my detractors in Internet chat . . groups.
Given the interest created by the Hurriyet Daily News article in some Armenian circles, I would like to disclose the substance of my interview for your information. Below are the key points:
1. Context: Turkey today
Turkey is going through a period of change. It is true that many of the old anti-Armenian voices are still around, and one can still see restrictions on free speech in Turkey. However, there are also significant alternative voices being heard from academics, journalists, lawyers, diplomats, and ordinary people. This multiplicity of voices seems to be part of the democratization process of Turkey.
Twenty years ago Turkish state intellectuals were denying the Armenian Genocide by saying that nothing happened in 1915; if there were killings, they were Turks killed by Armenians; that Armenian Genocide allegations were the product of Armenian terrorism or a Soviet conspiracy to destabilize Turkey. The official Turkish thesis on the Armenian Genocide was prescribed by the state with no alternative voices or dissent allowed.
Today, the Armenian Genocide debate has already shifted inside Turkey. It is now quite normal to hear that "terrible things happened to Armenians in 1915", that Armenians were poorly treated, that there were massacres, etc. Turkish citizens are also more and more aware of the contribution of Armenians to Ottoman-Turkish identity and culture. Most of the protagonists making a case for the gradual rehabilitation of Armenians are Turkish liberal intellectuals. This change has been part of a process that is still in progress.
Armenian intellectuals can play a positive role in engaging Turkish-Armenian debates as they open up by setting the tone for better understanding of a shared past, including practical ways to address the legacy of 1915. A sensitive Armenian approach can foster a positive outcome in Turkey, while a coarse response will close minds and play into the hands of Turkish chauvinists.
2. Diaspora-Armenia scholarship
Over the past 25 years, practically all cutting-edge scholarship on the Armenian Genocide has taken place outside of Armenia. A good part of this work was done by diaspora Armenians, and many non-Armenians were nurtured or benefited by the efforts of diaspora Armenians. The diaspora is at the core of the Armenian Genocide debate. If Prime Minister Erdogan's government is looking for an engaging strategy to resolve the Armenian Genocide issue, it has to address the diaspora as much as the Armenian government.
3. Partisan scholarship, prosecutorial approach
Our understanding of the Armenian Genocide has been influenced by partisan scholarship because a number of academic institutions and political parties in Armenian communities, such as in the United States or Great Britain, have nurtured a prosecutorial approach to the subject. Consequently, some important elements of the events of 1915 have been distorted. The main thrust of the prosecutorial approach has been the assertion that the genocide of Armenians was executed with the thoroughness of the Nazi Holocaust, and that all Turks and Kurds were involved in the genocidal process. This approach is best exemplified by Vahakn Dadrian's The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus.
4. The Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust
The Armenian Genocide is not the same as the Holocaust. The Young Turks did not have the apparatus to carry out a genocide on par with the Holocaust. It is also a fact that many Ottoman officials, including governors, sub-governors, military personnel, police chiefs, and gendarmes saved thousands of Armenians during the Genocide. Most Armenians from the province of Adana, for example, were not killed. This very basic fact is elided in the works of prominent Armenian historians. There are other examples too. The "Holocaust model" of the Armenian Genocide is fundamentally flawed.
Key "Armenian archives" on the Armenian Genocide remain closed to critical scholars. This matter concerns all scholars and should be subject to scrutiny. The most important examples are the archives of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, which include materials from Ottoman Turkey related to the Genocide. Partisan scholars have used these archives in their work, though their assertions can not be checked. In the 1980s the Zoryan Institute collected the private papers of individuals in the diaspora, yet the materials have remained under lock and key. Such standards should not be acceptable within our communities. We should object to them as we object to any manipulation of Ottoman archives in Turkey today.
6. Diaspora and Turkey
As Turkey continues to examine various taboos, more and more Turks are discovering their human, material, and historical ties to Armenians. If Turkey continues to develop in this direction, with freedom of thought and expression, there is no reason why diaspora Armenians cannot be brought into public and academic debates in Turkey. The Armenian diaspora is historically rooted in Turkey.
7. Playing the victims of the Armenian Genocide
The present generation of Armenians cannot assume the victim role when discussing Turkish-Armenian relations. Given the seriousness of the subject, academics and community activists should be expected to be well informed about their subject matter and give fair consideration to all parties. The Genocide issue is not a simple question of justice for Armenians, but a case of justice for everyone. This attitude is essential for the peaceful resolution of past differences. There is no room for ignorance and bigotry.
8. Freedom of thought, freedom of expression in Armenia
Recent events have shown once more that freedom of expression is not something that is universally respected in Armenia. In the past weeks we have heard of the brutal beating of Edik Baghdasaryan, chief editor of Hetq and the president of the Investigative Journalists' Association of Armenia. His beating was preceded by attempts to harass and intimidate him with impunity. This is not the first time that people have been intimidated and beaten for their critical views in Armenia. In my opinion this lack of freedom has restricted critical research in Armenia on the Armenian Genocide.
9. Joint commission
Prime Minister Erdogan has suggested that a commission of historians should be formed by the Turkish and Armenian governments to examine the events of 1915. I would propose an alternative as follows: (1) Relevant archives in Turkey should be open to researchers, with special procedures to allow them ready access to records; (2) Independent groups of specialists from different disciplines should be funded to collaborate on specific projects related to 1915; (3) The work of such groups should be open to the scrutiny of third parties; (4) Academic excellence should be the governing criteria in putting research teams together, not ethnicity, citizenship, or horse-trading among Turkish and Armenian bureaucrats; (5) The examination of archival records should not be limited to Ottoman records but include other archives outside of Turkey.
Very truly yours,
(c) 2008 Armenian Reporter
Sarafian: Focus On The Diaspora By Vercihan Ziflioğlu
ISTANBUL - Multilateral efforts to improve relations between Armenia and Turkey is the wrong way to resolve the Armenian issue, says respected historian Ara Sarafian, arguing that the solution lies in the huge and influential diaspora.
Sarafian: Focus on the diaspora Sarafian, the head of the London-based Gomidas Institute, said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s offer to Armenia to establish a commission of historians to resolve the Armenian issue was positive, but Armenia was the wrong address.
Armenians argue that the death of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915 constituted genocide while Turkey says many Turks also died in the wartime circumstances and denies there was a state-enforced policy to kill Armenians.
Sarafian was invited to Turkey by the Boğaziçi, Bilkent and Sabancı Universities and the Hrant Dink Foundation to attend a history conference in the Mediterranean province of Adana.
Sarafian said there were two problems that would arise out of any effort to improve relations with Armenians through closer ties with Armenia. "Freedom of expression for historians in Armenia is limited and the genocide issue has become a political tool," he said.
He said Turkey should continue with its plan to form a commission of historians who would discuss the matter, but suggested Turkish historians to meet with moderate Armenian historians in the diaspora rather than Armenia. "The solution should start from the diaspora," he said.
"The members of the diaspora who still have Anatolia in their hearts should not be ignored," he said, adding that the diaspora was not part of Armenia but part of Anatolia. He also said Turkey needed to fund the commission of independent historians. "I believe Turkey is not how it used to be. It has a modern perception and wants solutions to the problems," said Sarafian.
Prime Minister Erdoğan’s suggestion to form a commission also involves the opening of the state archives of both Armenia and Turkey. Sarafian said the archives in Armenia were inadequate. "The real documents on the genocide are in the Zoryan archives in Boston and the Armenian Patriarchy archives in Jerusalem," he said.
He said the most important question was whether Armenians wanted to overcome this chronic problem. He asked, "Will we be able to free ourselves from this instinct of revenge and share our grief?" Armenians should stop seeing themselves as the victims, said the historian.
"We cannot compare the Armenian genocide with the Holocaust. Those who were banished from their land suffered a lot but survived," he said.
He also said Turkish society could not be blamed for what happened in the past. "No one can deny the genocide but the entire Turkish nation cannot be held responsible. Moreover, many Turks rescued Armenians from death," he said.
The lobbies had turned the issue into a political tool, said Sarafian. "They want to control everything and fear historians opening a brand new page," he said. He said a language of peace should be created between Turks and Armenians.
He still had to be careful when he undertook research in Turkey and added, "I, as a historian, try not to display a wrong stance and create tension. I know I need to be objective. Additionally, Turkey is being constructive and it would be wrong to miss this chance."
He said the restoration of the Armenian Akdamar Church in the recent past could have created an environment of dialogue but had become a missed chance. "Armenians did not want to take that chance because it did not suit their interests," he said.
The Armenian response, both from the diaspora and Armenia, to Turkish calls to work together was complete silence, he said. "The diaspora boycotted any cooperation with Turkey because it only wants to blame and lay accusations against Turkey. Unfortunately, radical groups within the diaspora have turned a sensitive issue, like genocide, into a political tool.
He said it was important for future generations to free themselves from the victim psychology, concluding his remarks by saying, "We need to ensure our children live in peace. The revenge instinct will do no one any good."
© Copyright 2008 Hürriyet
Ara Sarafian: The Darling Of Denialist Turkish Media By Appo Jabarian
Noyan Tapan, Dec 15, 2008
Ara Sarafian, the head of the London-based Gomidas Institute, has become the darling of the denialist Turkish media. The November 24 issue of Hurriyet ("Liberty"), a Turkish secular, conservative-nationalist broadsheet daily newspaper, and notorious for its Armenian genocide denialism, has made a headline of Mr. Sarafian's anti-Armenian comment: "We cannot compare the Armenian genocide with the Holocaust. Those who were banished from their land suffered a lot but survived."
Mr. Sarafian sounds more like a denialist than an Armenian that is devoted to the pursuit of justice for his people. In reality, the Armenian Genocide does differ from the Jewish Holocaust. While Jews were killed en masse in foreign lands -- Germany and Vichy France --Armenians were systematically annihilated in their ancestral lands in Western Armenia and Cilicia. But sadly, that's not what Mr. Sarafian is pointing out. He is effectively saying that no Genocide occured in Turkish-occupied Western Armenia and Cilicia.
If this is the result of his numerous Ankara-funded trips to the Turkish archives, one can tell what's in store for Armenians through the Turkish-promoted joint commission of Armenian and Turkish historians that Sarafian, a self-proclaimed reconciliator, so enthusiastically proposes in the Hurriyet article.
Mr. Sarrafian and his likes need to be reminded that Ankara has long been willing to recognize the Armenian Genocide provided that the Armenians in Armenia and the Diaspora do not demand the return of the Turkish-occupied Armenian territories.
By "offering" to form a "joint commission" of historians, Turkey is effectively plotting to undermine the political gains achieved in the Diaspora and to reduce the international recognition of the genocide to "he said, she said" type of political dead-end which can reverse all the achievements by the Diaspora to the benefit of denialist Ankara. And I am sorry to remark that Sarafian seems to be all too willing to become a tool in the hands of these denialists.
Sarafian also said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's offer to Armenia to establish a commission of historians to resolve the Armenian issue was positive, but Armenia was the wrong address. The solution should start from the diaspora.
Denialist Turkish Officialdom knew that, but what they didn't know and were pleasantly surprised to know that there is a member of that "huge and influential diaspora" who would be willing to sell out his people's Cause.
For some time, Ankara has been working diligently to recruit certain elements of the diaspora that are willing to trade their own lands for a 'horse.'
A few days ago, just before I left for France, I visited with an Armenian beef jerky ("abukhd" or "basturma") manufacturer in Hollywood, California.
The " abukhd" ("basturma") maker joyfully said how proud he was because the Consul General of Turkey in Los Angeles had visited his store and bought some beef jerkys and "kissed" his hand. I told him: "If things continue the way they've been evolving in the diaspora, and the Armenians continue to consolidate their political and economic power, he would one day kiss other parts of your body as well. "
It seems like Ara Sarafian has already become one of the few Diaspora recipients of these "kisses."
In contrast to Sarafian's and his denialist handlers' actions, just recently, notable Turkish conservative historians and other professors have publicly apologized for the Armenian genocide of 1915 but have fallen short of calling on the state to do the same.
Even then, righteous historian Ayse Hur said apologizing is the duty of those who were responsible for the act or for those who share their arguments. "It seems that a very elite group discussed that petition, because I learnt about this petition from the media and I was surprised, ...
I approach these types of events as a scientist, as a historian, not as a member of the Turkish nation. For me, all these events were the fault of Turkish nationalism flourishing at that time, and personally, I don't identify with it, so I do not feel the need to apologize personally." (Daily Zaman, Dec 9).
She also pointed out that the petitioners are concentrating only on 1915; however, she says there were events after and before. "There is a state tradition which legitimizes all these events and prevents any discussion about them. Firstly, the state has to ensure a suitable atmosphere to discuss all these things; then it has to apologize on behalf of the perpetrators and for itself, because it has legitimized their actions through the years."
That is why, first and foremost, Turkey needs to form a joint Turkish-Turkish commission formed by Turkish academicians who already recognize the genocide and by those that deny it. It is after the Turks come to a consensus on the genocide that an Armenian-Turkish joint commission becomes warranted in order to formulate various settlement options regarding the reparation for the immense real and personal losses inflicted on the victims and the return of the lands of Western Armenia by Turkey in compliance with the Treaty of Sevres.