2825) Interviews: Göksel & Knaus - Egoyan - Hovannisian - Nichanian - Esayan - Laciner

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  1. ‘Turkey, Armenia Should No Longer Be Hostage To History’ Göksel & Knaus
  2. Atom Egoyan: His New Film, Adoration
  3. Hovannisian: "Joint Historians' Commission Is Dangerous Trap"
  4. Nichanian Armenian Professor Invited To Teach In Istanbul
  5. Esayan Turkish-Armenian Writer And Journalist
  6. Laciner: "Armenia Is Not The Victim, It Is An Occupying Country"

‘Turkey, Armenia Should No Longer Be Hostage To History’ Göksel & Knaus
European Stability Initiative experts Diba Nigar Göksel and Gerald Knaus
Diba Nigar Göksel and Gerald Knaus from the European Stability Initiative (ESI), a nonprofit research and policy institute, have said both Turkey and Armenia have a chance to marginalize extremist voices and enable a more reasonable debate to go forward, as the border between them remains closed but signs of a rapprochement have appeared.

In their recent report “Noah’s Dove Returns: Armenia, Turkey and the Debate on Genocide,” they explore the issue of “genocide,” which, they said, is the single topic that poisons relations between Turks and Armenians. “There are hardly any reputable scholars in the field of genocide studies who doubt that what happened to the Armenians in 1915 constitutes genocide.

However, it is also clear that modern-day Turkey is not legally responsible for genocidal acts committed nearly a century ago, and that acknowledging the genocide would not bring into question the established Turkish-Armenian border,” the report stated.

The report went on: “Armenians today face a choice: either treat Turkey as an eternal enemy or re-engage with its western neighbor in the hope of one day sharing a border with the European Union. … For their part, Armenians must accept that the recognition of the genocide will never pave the way for challenging a territorial settlement that has stood for nearly a century.”

For Sunday’s Zaman, Göksel and Knaus gave more details about the issue and the outlook of Turkish-Armenian relations.

You went to Armenia several times, lived there and talked with people from every strata of Armenian society for the report. What was the most striking part for you?

Göksel: Before traveling to Armenia, I had assumed that the descendants of the Ottoman Armenians were all in the diaspora and that the Armenians in Armenia had always been there. As a Turk, what surprised me most was how high a proportion of the Armenians I met in Armenia had come from different places in Turkey. Probably 80 percent of the people I met in Armenian villages in the middle of nowhere would be from [the eastern Turkish provinces of] Muş, Diyarbakır, etc. that made me see the magnitude of the problem.

You also talked with people with extreme views -- those who would defend such ideas as defining the current border between Turkey and Armenia illegal. Do you think this idea has a chance of survival in Armenia?

Göksel: The people in Armenia who expressed rather radical positions were quite polite to me. These were the same people who gave presentations in town meetings in Armenia about having claims in Anatolian land. But this is not the most important thing for most ordinary people in Armenia.

What is the most important thing to them?

Göksel: For most of them, meeting a Turk for the first time and being able to talk to her freely is more important. Just 10 minutes of conversation changes the entire atmosphere, and we see that more dialogue is really the only way to melt the ice -- except for the people who come up with theories about land claims and reparations. Ordinary people would not go out and demonstrate for land.

But do you think some of the opinion leaders could influence the public in a way to make that happen?

Göksel: As for land claims, no. As for 1915, Armenians believe that it was genocide and that they should be able to tell the world about it. This is a strong feeling. Expecting Armenians to give up their beliefs or their agenda in that regard is not realistic.

So they support opening the border mostly because of economic concerns?

Göksel: We found a great deal of fear in Armenia toward Turkey; a suspicion about Turkey’s intentions. This is also a result of being isolated from each other for so long. There is also extreme curiosity about what is happening in Turkey.

Are they questioning why Turkey wants to open the border?

Göksel: They question everything, from why Turkey restores the Church of the Holy Cross, the Akdamar Church, on the island of Akdamar [in the Turkish province of Van] to the real intentions of the Turkish intellectuals who launched the “apology campaign.” There is general skepticism about Turkey’s efforts to reach out to Armenia -- so Armenians wonder if it is a public relations act, a way to prevent third countries’ parliaments from passing genocide resolutions. A great amount of change has also taken place since the early 2000s, particularly as a result of increased contacts. More Turks go to Armenia, and there are more civil society contacts. So the Armenian view of a monolithic Turkey that is out to destroy Armenia is definitely cracking.

Is the economy part of the debate?

Göksel: Part of Armenian society seems to think that an open border with Turkey will solve Armenia’s economic problems. Other segments of society have started to see that maybe border closure isn’t the only problem and that the economy has some structural problems, too. There is also another dimension, like being able to go and visit the lands of their grandmothers, to see the places that their grandmothers told them about. That’s very high on the agenda. I once told a waiter that “you can just fly to İstanbul and do that,” and he said, “Look, I have a family to feed, and I cannot afford a plane ticket and then drive or travel to the east of Turkey.”
‘Any Armenian politician would like to preside over the opening of the border’

Would a border opening be a victory for the Armenian politicians?

Göksel: It has an economic and a symbolic meaning, as well as a psychological and a political meaning. It would be a victory for any Armenian politician to preside over the opening of the border.

Is there a chance that the current government of Armenia could be toppled depending on the result of the upcoming mayoral election in Yerevan?

Göksel: Former President Levon Ter-Petrossian will run for mayor as a candidate of the Armenian National Congress. It will largely be a symbolic act to demonstrate or challenge the election. It could increase the pressure but not topple the government per se.

The Dashnak Party recently decided to leave the government. Do you attach any significance to that?

Göksel: They are one of the four coalition partners. The government can keep on functioning. Numbers don't prohibit that. It is a blow in terms of legitimacy. It is thus all the more important that the talks with Turkey yield results without much delay. It is too early to say that the stability of the government has been threatened, but it is a warning sign and shows the red lines when it comes to the issue of genocide. It creates a politically fragile situation in Armenia.

Knaus: One good thing is that you have the government and the opposition united on the Turkey issue for the first time. The Dashnaks had less than 14 percent in the last election, which was the best result they ever had. It is important to realize that the two big blocs, both Sarksyan and Ter-Petrossian, want to improve relations with Turkey.

Do you think supporters of Robert Kocharyan [former leader of the break-away republic of Nagorno-Karabakh and the former president of Armenia] are a bigger threat to the stability of the government?

Knaus: If this dialogue [the Turkey-Armenia rapprochement] delivers anything, [Armenian President Serzh] Sarksyan and Ter-Petrossian will be vindicated. Even though the political tension in Armenia has been high in recent years, they have both been constructive. If this delivers something in the next few months, it’s really going to isolate the hard-liners. It will also isolate those who, like Kocharyan, did not believe anything would come out of the invitation to [Turkish President Abdullah] Gül last year.

So do you think something needs to happen in the near future in this process of rapprochement?

Knaus: The worst that could happen to this process is if Sarksyan and others come out and say that they were naïve, that the Turks were just playing a game because of Washington and that whatever the Turks were saying was never genuine. If the process fails, it would make the government vulnerable to attack. It would harm those in Armenia in favor of opening the border. On the other hand, if the border opens in a gradual way, if something concrete is achieved, it would really isolate the hard-liners. Ter-Petrossian favored rapprochement in the early ’90s, but nothing happened. This then allowed Kocharyan to say, “Look at what he did, and he got nothing in return.”

There is a vision, interestingly best expressed by Ter-Petrossian in a speech two years ago that Armenia as a society can only win if Turkey continues on the road to EU membership, becoming more democratic and prosperous. This would allow Armenia to move closer to the West. Indeed, it would be good if the Armenian diaspora in France sees that helping Turkey move towards the EU would be the best way to help Armenia become a Western democracy. These are the kinds of arguments that would be helpful for both sides. And as far as history is concerned, the more people talk about what happened to the Armenians, the more attention can be drawn to what happened to the Turks in the late 19th and early 20th century. Then the Turkish argument about the killings of Turks and the expulsions from the Balkans and Caucasus will be discussed more openly as well. And nobody is any longer a hostage to history.
‘Turkey’s extreme sensitivity on genocide surprising’

In the report, it seems like you are trying to make a case about the issue of genocide in regards to perceptions about it in Turkey, right?

Knaus: We were surprised by the extreme sensitivity and nervousness around this issue. Every year on the 23rd or 24th of April, all of Turkey holds its breath and waits for what happens in Washington. You get the feeling that depending on what words are being used in Washington, there will either be a huge crisis with an ally or everything will go back to normal -- until the situation repeats itself the following year.

Why do you think that is the case?

Knaus: We asked this question and found three answers. One is that the Turkish policymakers think that there was no genocide. They also say that genocide recognition is a huge insult to Turkish honor and that is anti-Turkish. But the paradox is that the countries that have passed resolutions in the last few years are actually some of Turkey’s best allies. The German Parliament that passed a resolution in 2005 was the most pro-Turkish German Parliament in history. It was the time of Fischer and Schroeder, who strongly backed Turkish accession to the EU. Or take US President Barack Obama. He is very supportive of Turkey, but still sticks to his beliefs.

So do you think there is a misconception on the side of Turkish government about this?

Knaus: Turks see the radical Armenian forces and the Armenian diaspora behind all of this. They also fear that this might single them out. That is an argument we heard a lot in Turkey --that calling 1915 “genocide” would make the world equate Turks with Nazi Germany. That isn’t true. [The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] ICTY called what happened in Srebrenica genocide, and that’s the prism through which the world looks at genocide today. “Genocide” doesn’t have to translate to “Holocaust.” If you look at history and the current debate on genocide, you’ll see that a huge number of events in the 20th century alone are now considered genocide. What German colonialists did in Africa in 1904, for example -- in modern day Namibia -- is now being called the first genocide of the 20th century. But Germany today, in all surveys, is one of the most respected countries of the world. Acknowledging something that happened a hundred years ago is neither a matter of singling out Turkey or of damaging its honor.

What is the third argument?

Knaus: It’s the fear of material repercussions. We understand why the Turkish government thinks this way. Some of the Armenian organizations pushing for recognition are doing so in order to achieve something practical. But nobody -- not the German Parliament, not the French Parliament, not the European Parliament, not America -- actually believes that Armenian genocide recognition will lead to restitution, compensation or territorial claims. There is no legal basis for assuming this. In 2001, the French Parliament decided to call 1915 “genocide.” It’s a law. But where are the court cases in France? If recognition is meant to have practical consequences, why haven’t there been any? Some Armenian diaspora organizations are disappointed by this.

There is a UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Does it have any implications for Turkey?

Knaus: No. There is one thing the Turkish public hasn’t heard enough about, and that is the opinion by the International Center for Transitional Justice commissioned by the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission in 2003. These were leading legal experts among nongovernmental organizations in New York. They said clearly that the convention cannot be applied retroactively, that no claims whatsoever can arise from Armenian genocide recognition. So it’s not a legal issue. The convention does not apply to events that took place prior to 1948; it is not retroactive.

10 May 2009, YONCA POYRAZ DOĞAN Zaman

Atom Egoyan Talks About His New Film, Adoration Paul Chaderjian www.reporter.am/ May 02, 2009
Auteur's 12th feature stars wife Arsinee Khanjian and Scott Speedman

Beverly Hills, Calif. - Atom Egoyan's 12th feature film, Adoration, opened in Los Angeles and New York on May 1.The film will open in other cities across the United States in the weeks ahead.

The Canadian-Armenian director-writer-producer was born in Egypt in 1960 and grew up on the western edge of British Columbia, Canada. His films are familiar to audiences around the globe. He has scored nearly 50 top prizes for his films, received two Oscar nominations, and won multiple Canadian Academy Awards. His movies have premiered and competed at Cannes.

Adoration, in classic Egoyan style, explores how individuals connect to one another. The film is about an orphaned Toronto teen named Simon (played by Devon Bostick) who reads an actual news story of terrorism to his class and pretends that he is a key part of it. The story - concerning a 1986 incident in which a Jordanian man put a bomb in the luggage of his pregnant girlfriend - is also posted on the Internet. The intriguing reactions and dialogue that ensue help Egoyan explore how humans connect with one another, technology, and the world. (See Vincent Lima's review in the Armenian Reporter.)

Armenian Reporter: Why Adoration and why now?

Atom Egoyan: Because I've been thinking a lot about when I started writing plays. Our son, Arshile, is at the age now when I started writing plays, and it became this really huge revolution for me that I could actually dramatize things in my life, and I put on these plays for my friends, and parents, and school, and, of course, if I was doing that now it wouldn't be enough. I'd want more people to see it, and I would presume that I could get more people to see it because of this strange invention called the Internet, which allows anyone to post and find a global audience if people are paying attention.

Creating drama around loss

So I started to write about a boy who is orphaned and wanted access to his parents, and the only way he could find that access is through creating drama around it. And that wasn't quite working the way I wanted to. It wasn't developing properly, and I reacquainted myself with this story that I remember happening in 86, where this Jordanian man put his lover, his pregnant girlfriend, onto an El Al flight. She was pregnant with his child, and, unbeknownst to her, he had put a bomb in her handbag. And I remember thinking that was the most evil, unimaginable act that any person could do to an unborn child.

Then I thought, What if this character, whose father has been demonized, suddenly imagines that he is that child, and uses that as a way of exploring his own lineage? And where the mother has been completely transformed into an angel, and where the father has been transformed into an absolute demon? And then a teacher, who gives him the story, seeing the reaction, encourages him. And why would she encourage him? Then questions begin to arise, and you find yourself suddenly in the midst of it, and that's what happens.

You start to explore something, and suddenly it raises other issues - much like my previous works. Ararat, for instance, started to be written as a conventional historic drama, and then that raised certain issues and then you explore that, and you try to always ask yourself, Why is this fascinating to you? Is that relevant? Is that story worth being told? You make those decisions and then decisions about at what scale you tell it. How many people are you expecting to watch it? -because it is business, you have to be aware of that. You have to be responsible to that.

So it's a series of considerations that are both intuitive and also rational. The intuitive side of you, as an artist, is trying to have your antenna, feelings, your culture, and compel you to determine the issues that are most important and pressing. But then there's this whole other side, which is quite rational, which is based on the business of filmmaking.

AR: So what started as the idea of this one character, and his truth, gave birth to a couple of themes you're talking about in Adoration, including how this character embellishes the truth, and how as humans we present ourselves as something other than our true selves. Talk about those themes.

Constructing a personality

AE: Those themes are the themes of surrogates, the themes of, actually, how you get access to places that you're not supposed to be in. I think some of that comes from my experience as an immigrant. I remember being in Victoria, and wanting to fit in. There wasn't an Armenian community to speak of, and so I really wanted to assimilate, yet I was different than most of the other people in that very homogenous, Anglo-WASP society.

So that process of constructing yourself and taking up certain manners and learning another character so well that it became your own was part of my upbringing, and I think it's part of a lot of immigrants' upbringing. A lot of them have the assurance of a community to situate themselves in. But once you have that experience, you become aware of the possibility that our characters and our personalities are constructions. It's a way you begin to see things. Sometimes I wish I didn't respond that way, but it's a natural process for me to ask that question which Christopher Plummer asks Raffi in Ararat: "What has brought you to this place?"

There's a multitude of different narratives that we bring to a moment, where we interact with someone else.

Some will remain mysterious. Others will become really obvious, and I'm fascinated by the mystery of a meeting between any two people. It's loaded with so many different possibilities and ways it can go. And in many of these dramas it doesn't go the way you think it might or it should. And that can seem really troubling or disturbing. And things don't resolve the way they should. They don't have the desired affect, and that is true and warped as well.

I remember, when I was making Ararat, I just assumed that this would provoke an incredible exchange with younger Turkish kids who would relate. Now I wonder, What was I thinking? I mean, of course, the film is a provocation, but I didn't make it as a provocation. Then I had to understand the waters I was swimming in, and realized that the people who were reacting were people who would never even see the film necessarily. They were people who were just provoked by the title.

So how something can be taken out of context is also fascinating to me. And that's what Adoration is about, maybe: these objects that are taken out of context or interpreted in ways they weren't designed to be interpreted.

Religious systems have lost their value. Or indicators or markers or sacred objects have lost their meaning. And this kid has to reorganize them, has to go back to the original scrolls, if you will, has to go back to his grandmother's place, has to go back to his father's ancient scroll of the violin and understand what it was intended to be and reformat that in the real world, and stop just receiving this wisdom from other people.

Because some of that wisdom is false. The grandfather's intentions are so malicious, ultimately, so all that is very stirring and it's the stuff of drama for me.

AR: You were always fascinated with the dynamics between any two individuals. Now, with Adoration, you're exploring individual identities in the new information age, within the context of the Internet. Has this new medium, and the information age as a whole, changed the psychological forces that drive how we identify ourselves to others?

AE: It's accelerated it. That's what's happened. I think that there's a velocity to this interchange, and - especially when it becomes communal - there's this sense that people are clamoring for attention. So they're embellishing and creating ways of presenting themselves, which are misrepresentative, yet that's something that we absorb as a new natural, if you will.

Igniting memories

I think it comes to a peak in Adoration. When this boy resorts to saying his father was responsible for this terrorist attack that never happens, he suddenly ignites the memories of the people who were on that plane, who suddenly form this very emotionally rooted group of people mourning over this tragedy. And we forget that the group is somehow fundamentally absurd. It would not exit in real space. These people would not go into a car to go to a clubhouse to meet. Because the moment they got in the car, they would realize this is absurd.

But because the Internet provokes immediate response, there's an emotional tenor which is, which feels, very real, but it's the result of washing into something without the normal physical boundaries that would tame or perhaps even withhold behavioral responses, which are now completely present and urgent.

When that man, for example, is saying, "I represent the dead," what's he saying? But it seems very real. The most touching scene is the one with the Holocaust denier, and there's this girl who takes her great grandmother and brings her to a medium that she doesn't even understand. But she uses the tattoo as this transformation of a physical world, physical proof, into a place where it becomes somehow trivialized.

AR: Why do you think humans need these objects: the tattoo with the number, the tail of the violin? Why do they need those things to identify themselves and their role in other people's lives?

AE: It's because we're engineered to need physical totems. We live in a material world. And these material objects and our fascination with them, and our devotion to them, hold the key. We are concerned and quite upset about the instability of any reference that we can't control ourselves. It's about the ability to communicate a history.

Look at the example of Raffi and Ararat: he's watching this Genocide epic being made and something about this feels fake to him. That it's hard to communicate what he has understood that experience to be, and this crazy journey he goes on to somehow record it digitally or find plates for digital effects. This anxiety of it being misunderstood. This anxiety of something not representing who we are. Then he's concentrated on certain objects which are understood to be codes. And things we can pass down, and things that can be read in the way they're intended. And that, of course, presupposes that there are people who still know how to read those codes.

That's why, I think, Simon, in Adoration, empowers himself that he can still read that code of his grandmother's design or the father's design of the violin. He can read that and he can now interpret it in terms of who he is at that moment, and that is a liberating thing. Even the fact that the grandfather's recorded statement, which he now decides is false, he doesn't delete it. He has to burn it. There has to be something ceremonial about it, because that's who we are as well. This is like human beings burying their dead. This is what makes us different.

AR: What stood out for me watching the film was how surprised I was at the various turns of the story. What do you hope audiences will be thinking and examining when they find themselves reflecting on these story turns and twists?

Pushing the envelope

AE: The audience will have to trust the film, that it will come together. The most challenging character is that of Sabine [played by Arsinee Khanjian], because the complexity of what she's doing, and why she is doing it, will not be revealed for a long time [during the movie], and the risk is that it may not be revealed until you're long past any hope of it making actual sense. And that's always the risk with these films, because I'm pushing them as far as they can go. I think for the people who understand the language of what I'm doing and trust it, the film has real rewards, but it's probably one of the riskiest and most extreme films I've done, because there are things which you think are supposed to be signifying something quite clearly, and characters say this is what they signify, but it's not so. And you really don't have any understanding as to it being other than that, except for a certain energy in the scene which doesn't quite feel right.

AR: This whole story is more than just entertainment in itself, because it makes demands of its viewer. Is it your hope that someone comes to this film and walks away trying to think as to where they belong in this film? What are your expectations?

AE: My expectations of the viewer are to be exploratory, curious, trusting, and self-aware. So they're trying to situate themselves, but that's not to deny that there is a pleasure in that. That can be very entertaining, but you just have to understand that there is responsibility on your part, and you can at one level just let it glide, wash over you, and interpret it later on. But if you're trying to come to terms with it on a moment-to-moment basis, it's going to be very challenging.

AR: As the filmmaker, are you expressing a certain point of view about media, and our relationship to media technologies?

AE: I think, and I hope, the predominant thing it's expressing is that these media are with us, and they are an incredible means of getting information and access to other people's stories, but we also have to understand what their limitations are. This is really important. The Internet is an incredible tool, but it is not the place to find catharsis. It's not designed to be cathartic. It cannot resolve itself. It, by nature, is open, and that's the beauty of it, and that's the wonder of the Internet. And if you're expecting that you're going to end your journey through the Internet, that's just wrong-headed. But you can certainly initiate and use it as a resource, and also, like any technology, be aware of its limitations. The more we understand the limitations of what we're dealing with, the more we are able to use it to our best advantage.

In Family Viewing, for instance, Van finds these tapes of his family, with his grandmother and his mother, and his whole identity is awakened to him by the tapes. The tapes are in the process of being erased by the father. Nevertheless, even though the feeling in that film is that the video is a device that oppresses people, [there's also the realization that] it's through it that Van liberates himself and is able to join his own history.

It's actually interesting to think about that, because when we compare Van in that film and Simon in Adoration, they're both young men who are using the technology that's available to them today to come to terms with who they are.

AR: One is using the tapes as memory to identify himself, and the other one is using the Internet to identify himself in the present.

AE: And what's very interesting too is that, at that time, the whole idea of generational loss was something I was involved in, using it as a metaphor in that film, but that's irrelevant now. With digital technology, there's no generational loss. But at that point, all the different video textures of the film were very much a product of that time, and the idea of the physical aspect of the time -the fact that Van would need to retrieve those objects - goes back to your issue of these things as being sacred, as things you hold in your hand. Tape is held in your hand - digital information is not. So there's a move away. You know, this is very interesting, even with videotape. We were still in the biblical zone of an engraved image, where there was a physical displacement of properties to communicate information. So there was something, magnetic oxide, that was being displaced, and we were still dealing with the engraved image up until the end of dialogue. And suddenly we have shed that biblical code and its terms of reference, and something major has evolved within us, in terms of how we deal with the trading of images. It's been unleashed. There's no limit to it.

AR: And there is no control.

AE: And there's absolutely no control. And so the old rules don't apply at all.

AR: So is the digital-information age even a more difficult time and place for humans to maneuver than the 80s?

AE: It's less ominous in a weird sort of way, because it's less hierarchical with respect to control. Control is easier to wrest in the physical world. You can control tapes. You can control scrolls, but once something is on the Internet, it's absolutely available to anyone, so the real danger is not about who has control but rather how we limit our own ability to be diverted by this endless amount of information to process, and how we ascertain our own physicality.

AR: In our last minute, let's talk about the actors in this film. Obviously Arsinee is a very important part of your body of work.

AE: She's a hugely important part. I wouldn't have done any of this work if we hadn't met in our early 20s and had this dream of doing this together. And we've had this incredible, very rare, path we've gone on, where we had this common dream, and it took us to some remarkable places. It started with a trip to Paris, where we saw these amazing films being shown in funky cinemas on the Left Bank and dreaming that one day we'd make something like the films we've made. We met on the set of Next of Kin, and we fell in love, and that took us all over the world, took us back to Armenia in the early 90s, and I think Adoration is one of the most remarkable and genuinely daring performances she's given, because it's uncharted territory. There's no other character ever created that's remotely like her.

AR: She's trying to set the world right.

AE: And she's kind of misguided about it, but she does it at the end. And Scott Speedman [who plays Simon's uncle] does something incredibly generous at the end too. After understanding that this woman is potentially unstable, and certainly traumatized, but ultimately the only person who can provide a direct history or an eyewitness account of who Sammy was, he realizes that it's imperative that he bring Simon back to her apartment and see this shrine that she's created, and have him understand as best possible who this man was.

Richard Hovannisian: "A Joint Historians' Commission Is A Dangerous Trap" Tatul Hakobyan, www.reporter.am/ May 02, 2009
He would refuse to take part in an Armenian-Turkey commission

Yerevan - Historian Richard Hovannisian of the University of California, Los Angeles, met with Tatul Hakobyan of the Armenian Reporter on April 24 in Yerevan at the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), a think tank established by Armenia's first foreign minister, Raffi Hovannisian.

Tatul Hakobyan: Professor, in the early morning hours of April 23, Armenia and Turkey, through Swiss mediation, issued an optimistic joint statement announcing that they had charted a roadmap toward normalized relations, and even though we don't know the content of the roadmap, it has caused serious criticism, especially in the diaspora. The reality is that it was signed on the eve of April 24. How would you assess this?

Richard Hovannisian: It would have been good if the Armenian side had found a way to wait until Sunday, April 26. Issuing the joint statement on April 22, can clearly be tied with U.S. President Barack Obama's address on April 24. It occurs to me that the sides, especially the Armenian side, were under extreme pressure to give their consent to that document, the road map. I don't know how the Armenian side was forced or gave itself the right to sign, knowing full well that that would have a negative impact on President Obama's statement.

Now, I can no longer hope that President Obama will clearly use the word genocide. [This interview took place on April 24, but before the president's statement was released.] President Obama could possibly get close to the Genocide word, but it will be just as important for him to say how many victims there were, that the Armenians and Turks must find a dialogue, at the same time praise the Armenian people, American-Armenians. A few days before April 24, Turkey's prime minister once again stated that Armenian-Turkish relations could not be successful as long as the Karabakh issue has not been resolved. I must admit, that Erdogan's statements did not affect me adversely. I believe that this can be a good incentive so that President Obama will no longer have an excuse not to use the Genocide word.

We don't know the inside story; we don't know what role and influence the United States and Russia had on the signing of the April 22 document. I can only assume that there was pressure both on Armenia and Turkey - if you don't come to an agreement, then we are going to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Otherwise I cannot understand why Foreign Minister Nalbandian and President Sargsian agreed to sign such a document on the evening of April 22.

TH: Can we say that Armenia knew that the date of issue was indeed April 22, on the eve of April 24, and they went ahead and agreed to the document?

RH: Certainly. He wasn't naïve, he knew. The question now is the following - what will Armenia get in return? We don't know. If you are really going to concede, then you better get something in return. I do not know what Armenia will receive. We know that Turkish diplomacy has always been flexible and shrewd; today they might come to an agreement but then find an excuse by saying that the Armenians are not willing to adopt a policy where they agree to concessions, we are not guilty, the Armenians are guilty. The Turks are so flexible, that while their prime minister will sign an agreement, their parliament will not ratify it, and in this way prolong the issue.

TH: When the April 22 document was issued, many analysts expressed the opinion that Armenian-Turkish dialogue had entered a stalemate. What do you think?

RH: Israel and Palestine, in the past, have signed such documents. But where are they now? Today, their relations are in much worse shape than before. Signing any kind of document doesn't mean that you have reached a certain level or that the borders will be opened tomorrow. Perhaps the opening of the borders will bring more benefits to Turkey than Armenia. Of course, open borders will also be beneficial for Armenia, because we need access to the sea, toward the Western world; we will then have an alternative to the Georgian routes. Open borders is also good for Turkey, because its eastern regions will develop. It is also good for the Turks because they will have access to expand to the east; this pull will become easier. The Turks have always had their eye on the east. In 1991, Turkey's politically and economically motivated expansion into Central Asia, believing that they could be the "godfather" in those countries, wasn't so easy. Realizing that Turkey pulled out.

TH: In June 2008, President Serge Sargsian announced in Moscow that if Turkey opens the border with Turkey, then the Armenian side would not be opposed to the creation of a historians' commission, which Turkey's prime minister had proposed to President Kocharian in 2005. Is this proposal acceptable to you?

RH: It is acceptable only under certain conditions. First of all, the Genocide must be accepted as a fact, then we can study as to why the Genocide happened, what were the factors, etc. The Turks are relying upon the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide, where it states that genocides must be premeditated. The Turks will stress that, yes, there were Armenian victims - 200 thousand, 300 thousand, but you cannot prove that this was premeditated.

Second of all, in their archives and at that time it was already planned, to send telegrams from the villayets, where supposedly Armenian revolts and desertion from the Ottoman army were recorded. Turkish historians can come with these arguments and try, at least in part, to place the blame on the Armenians. The Turkish side will never accept that what happened was genocide. The creation of such a commission is very dangerous.

TH: If they asked you to be on that commission, would you refuse?

RH: Yes, I would refuse, I wouldn't be part of that commission. What is the Turkish side saying? It is saying let's form a commission, let's see if the Genocide happened or not. We know that what happened was genocide; the world accepts that it happened; the International Association of Genocide Scholars accepts that it happened. In other words, if we agree to the creation of a commission, then that will be a step backward and will create doubt. I consider the commission to be a dangerous trap, which I will not be a part of. For example when they created Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission, I was opposed to it.

TH: But that committee had unexpected results.

RH: Yes, unexpected mixed achievements happened. The International Center for Transitional Justice, to which TARC had applied, passed a decision that what happened at the beginning of the century was a genocide, but that the 1948 Convention on Genocide was not retroactive. After that TARC fell apart. The historians representing the Turkish side were putting forward a denialist approach within TARC. The same will happen with this commission.

Marc Nichanian: "For me, the horizon of reconciliation is blocked" 4 May 2009, By Laure Marchand
First meeting with the Armenian professor invited to teach in Istanbul. A philosopher ambivalent symbol of reconciliation to which he does not believe.

It is in education that will play fighting historiographic. And when an Armenian is invited to the University of Istanbul, the event is to mark a milestone. Marc Nichanian, a professor of philosophy and literature at Columbia University (USA) and then in Beirut, flew in February to Turkey. This Armenian Paris offers a course in philosophy and a seminar on the literature of genocide: Invitation controlled, to avoid clashes.

Being a historian of literature in a culture so fragile, do not be a missionary?

No missionary, although the Armenian community suffers from dispersion. When I write in Armenian, I do read that country, the language is lost. Moreover, universities teach as a dead language. Only the press and maintain family ties between the communities of France, the United States, Lebanon and Armenia. As for the reconstruction of the Armenian culture, I do not believe it after that blow to the head that is genocide.

However, things are moving. Your invitation to Istanbul is a first. Who initiated? The idea came from a group of liberal intellectuals in Turkey who have known my publications in English. Themselves have difficulty expressing themselves in their country, they are all on trial. For them, I am an ally, called for reconciliation.

What do you think of the petition "I apologize," launched in December 2008 in Turkey, the Armenians asking forgiveness for the massacres of 1915?

It comes from the same intellectuals. But it is not up to them to ask for forgiveness! For me, the horizon of reconciliation is blocked: in one week, the petition received 27,000 signatures, then it has progressed. The truth is there are a handful of earth on Armenians and the Turks are obsessed by them.

In your work "Le Roman de la Catastrophe", the writer Oshagan you expose bullying suffered before the genocide, including pedophilia against Turkish Armenian boys. Little known facts.

We can still talk about the disaster, but not of domination! This is the great merit of Oshagan novels. Debt sex, like other aspects, founded the relationship between dominant and dominated. The disaster was complete. But after - if we put aside the Kurdish question - the Turks have had more people to dominate. So they have about themselves: the state nationalism, domination of oneself by oneself. That is why the criminal offenses to the State continue the State feels attacked and defends itself.

Dare you address these issues in Turkey?

In the specialized seminar, yes. But it is impossible for the course audience.

Tasha Rumley - L'Hebdo - Lausanne, Switzerland www.hebdo.ch

Interview: Markar Esayan Turkish-Armenian Writer And Journalist
Turkish-Armenian writer says Obama's words should not worry Turkey and US President Barack Obama’s choice of words regarding the World War I-era killings of Anatolian Armenians should not be worrisome for Turkey, as “Meds Yeghern” (Armenian for “Great Catastrophe”) is a humanitarian term “beyond political debate.”

“The Turkish public started to talk about the topic only recently, so people are not familiar with the terminology used regarding the issue, and every new development on the subject causes unnecessary concern and indignation,” he explained.

He said those who opposed an apology campaign initiated by Turkish intellectuals in December of last year, which also used “great catastrophe” to refer to the killings, misinformed the public by claiming that the signatories of the campaign accepted the Armenian position that the events constituted “genocide.”

Obama’s decision not to use the word “genocide” to describe the historical events, but instead “Meds Yeghern” and “one of the great atrocities of the 20th century,” was a result of Obama’s desire to avoid hindering efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize relations.

‘Meds Yeghern’ is not linguistically identical with the word “genocide.” Obama’s choice of words was intended to avoid disturbing Turkey and, at the same time, to respond to his electorate. The Turkish public started to talk about the topic only recently, so people are not familiar with the terminology, and every new development on the subject causes unnecessary concern and indignation’

Esayan talked about the response of Turkish-Armenians and the Armenian diaspora to Obama’s statement.

Did Obama’s use of the Armenian phrase “Meds Yeghern” surprise you?

I knew that he was not going to use the same language employed by his predecessors. We could read this from his remark following his election that he had not changed his position on the issue. During his visit to Turkey, he had said his views on the killings of Armenians, which he has previously referred to as genocide, have not changed. He also called on Turkey to address the killings of Armenians, but gave clear signs that he would stay out of the debate, saying it is up to Turkey and Armenia to deal with history. He was briefed in his visit to Turkey that Armenia and Turkey are going through an important and courageous process that should not be harmed. It was luck that Obama was in Turkey prior to April 24. So on April 24 he was careful, yet principled. “Meds Yeghern” is the wording used by Armenians themselves. It is not linguistically identical with the word “genocide.” His choice of words was intended to avoid disturbing Turkey and, at the same time, to respond to his electorate.

Why then was Turkey so disturbed?

Turkey hasn’t been discussing this issue for a long time. The Turkish public started to talk about the topic only recently, so people are not familiar with the terminology used regarding the issue, and every new development on the subject causes unnecessary concern and indignation.

Markar Esayan, Turkish-Armenian writer and journalist

He was born in İstanbul to an Armenian father and a Muslim mother. After being educated in the schools of the Armenian community, he graduated from Anadolu University's school of business. He had a column in the Turkish-Armenian community newspaper Agos until he became general publishing coordinator and a regular columnist at the Taraf daily. He made major contributions to the restructuring of Agos following the murder of Editor-in-Chief Hrant Dink. Esayan's award-winning first novel, "Şimdinin Dar Odası" (The Narrow Room of Now), was released in 2005. His second novel, "Karşılaşma" (Encounter), was published in 2007.

The same terminology was used in the apology campaign.

Yes, it is the term used by Armenians to describe the catastrophe. It is a humanitarian term beyond political debate. Those who opposed the apology campaign misinformed the public by saying that the signatories of the campaign accepted “genocide” even though they did not use the term “genocide” and referred to the events as “Great Catastrophe.” Turkey found Obama’s words harsh. But what Obama did was not “fooling” Turkey, as the prime minister [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] put it, because there are no words in his message regarding Turkey. He refers to the events experienced in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. He has certain beliefs regarding these events and he had promised his electorate, so he was doing what was expected of him. We should respect this.

‘Turkish democracy to be consolidated if Dink murder unraveled'

Do you believe the Dink case could be merged with the Ergenekon case?

Most of the people widely known in the public for their opposing views and open threats against Hrant Dink are now being tried in relation to the Ergenekon case. This relation makes us think that the Ergenekon and Dink cases are connected. In the first Ergenekon indictment, there was only a small reference to the Dink case. In the indictment we see that the prosecutor thinks there could be a relationship, but he could not find conclusive evidence. However, in the second Ergenekon indictment, which was released recently, there are more serious references to the Dink case.

Like what?

The lawyers in the Dink case are closely examining the second indictment, but as far as I have seen, in the murder of Christians at the Zirve publishing house, there was a person, Metin Doğan, whose testimony was included in the second indictment. He says he came to İstanbul and spoke with Veli Küçük and Muzaffer Tekin, and he heard them talking about eliminating such persons as Hrant Dink and Orhan Pamuk. According to the indictment, he also said Küçük and Tekin talked about the people who would be able to commit such acts, and they said it was more difficult to kill Pamuk but that Dink was an easy target.

The Council of State shooting in 2006 was recently merged with the Ergenekon case.

This happened based on the testimony of Osman Yıldırım [another suspect in the shooting]. Yıldırım’s testimony was found quite valuable. We will see if Metin Doğan’s testimony carries such importance. Apart from its ties to the Ergenekon case, we are worried about many other deficiencies.

Such as?

The fact that there were plans to assassinate Dink was apparent to the security forces even one-and-a-half years before the murder. There are intelligence reports showing this. The intelligence flow regarding plans to kill Dink started in November 2005, and these reached security circles, including the Trabzon gendarmerie, Trabzon police forces and the head of the intelligence services and security forces in İstanbul. The person who bought the murder weapon was Coşkun İğci, who is the brother-in-law of Yasin Hayal, a prime suspect in the Dink case, and İğci himself informed security forces that Hayal would kill Dink. The dates of the reports proving such connections were changed. So their hard evidence has been eliminated in the Dink case. This could be a result of negligence on the part of the officials. But this is the most disturbing part. The lawyers in the Dink case asked the court in the most recent hearing that the heads of these intelligence units be called to give their testimony, but the court rejected the request.

Why do you think the court acted that way?

They said their testimony “would not contribute to the case.” The inspection report by the Prime Ministry pointed out the importance of pursuing the issue, even though the report was only advisory. On the other hand, we genuinely need to trust the court and the legal system. The Dink case is such a symbolic case, revealing the truth there would be beneficial to Turkish democracy.

Could you tell us more about this idea?

The Dink murder intensely demonstrates how some people used the state’s potential -- call it the deep state, Gladio, Ergenekon -- to commit a murder. It is the most concentrated, solid case in that regard. If these relations are revealed, Turkish democracy could have a chance to develop more because it will go through a cleansing process.

But the Armenian-Americans do not seem pleased, either.

We are sometimes forced to make generalizations, but I would like to emphasize that the Armenian-Americans are not homogenous in that regard. The Armenian diaspora is made up of several different pieces not identical to each other. The Turkish public often thinks that the diaspora is a unified movement that can be mobilized anywhere and at any time and that their main unifying themes are anti-Turkishness and the issue of genocide. This viewpoint is not correct. It is true that some Armenian-Americans were disappointed by Obama’s choice of words in his message. However, there are also Armenian-Americans who have common sense and who genuinely support the rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia. They think this process of rapprochement is more important than Obama’s use of the term “genocide.”

Do you think the reaction in Armenia is diverse, as well?

They are not all homogenous on the issue. The Armenian opposition to the opening of the border with Turkey has been weakening compared to the past. There was not much indignation in Armenia following Obama’s message. Their agenda is more in line with the reality that they want to do trade with Turkey, visit Turkish lands that they once lived in and have a better standard of living. They have a different point of view from the diaspora. In the diaspora’s view, Turkish-Armenian relations were frozen in 1915. They attach more importance to symbolic words. ‘Turkish-Armenians have most balanced views’

Were the Turkish-Armenians eagerly waiting to see what words Obama would use in his message?

They were. Turkish-Armenians, as a bloc, support the rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia, and they want the borders to be opened. Actually, they want a disassociation between the words “problem” and “Armenians.” I am about 40 years old now, and since I came into this world, there has always been the phrase “Armenian problem,” which carries only negative connotations.

Do Turkish-Armenians have ties with Armenians in Armenia? Do you visit Armenia?

I have never visited Armenia. Turkish-Armenians do not have many ties with the Armenians living there. We have established our lives here as Turkish-Armenians. We feel like we belong to Turkey. Our emotional ties with the Armenians are not very different from the ties of the Turkish people to the Azerbaijanis living in Azerbaijan. If the border opens between Turkey and Armenia, there will be more human contact between the communities. In Turkey there are about 30,000 Armenians working, and they already have a big function, since they go back to Armenia and tell their friends and family about the Turkish people. So the perceptions of Turks in Armenia have been renewed and have become more realistic. Old fears that “Turks are horrible” are fading.

Your father is a Turkish-Armenian and your mother is a Muslim. Is this a usual combination?

These types of combinations are not uncommon, and there are so many of these partnerships that it worries the Armenian community. Out of every three young Armenians, one marries a non-Armenian. The Armenian community is quite tolerant in that regard, but it is also a double-edged sword. Since the Armenian community is so small in Turkey, they don’t want to get even smaller.

What do the numbers show?

We entered the republican period with 300,000 Armenians in Turkey, 130,000 of them in Anatolia. Now we are about 50,000. If Armenians living in Turkey did not have to immigrate as a result of the alienating policies of the Turkish state, we would be at least a few million today.

What kind of difficulties did you face as an Armenian child living in Turkey?

We had stressful times during ASALA’s [Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, a terrorist organization that targeted Turkish diplomats in Europe during the 1970s and 1980s] assassinations. We were not insulted by our Turkish neighbors, but relations were difficult at times and we felt the stress. We became more aware of our Armenian identity as a result. We have had feelings of guilt.

Is the issue of “genocide” a unifying theme for the Armenians of Turkey?

The state’s pressure on minorities has created reservations among Turkish-Armenians about discussing the events of 1915. We don’t even talk about it among ourselves. Another reason for not discussing the issue is to look to the future rather than the past because we live in this country and we want a future for our children here. There is another simple reason for Turkish-Armenians not to discuss the issues of 1915, and that is fear. You cannot talk about it or write about it and you cannot speak about your pain. I know it very well from my family. On the other hand, Turkish-Armenians, more than any other Armenian community in the world, realize the difference between the Turkish public and Turkish state policies.

Why do you think the Turkish-Armenians are different?

Because they conduct business in Turkish society and marry Turkish people. They have all kinds of people-to-people relationships in the society. So they have the most objective, balanced point of view, especially expressed by the Turkish-Armenian intellectuals such as Hrant Dink.

Laciner: Armenia is Not The Victim, It is An Occupying Country, 4 May 2009 Interview by Gulay KILIC
* Laçiner: "Due to the lack of criticism and punishment by the international community, Armenia has continued to make the same mistakes."

Assoc. Prof. Sedat Laciner evaluated Turkey's crucial relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia's role in this triangle was also examined. He explained some important points about Azerbaijan and Armenia.

- The issue of improving Turkey-Armenia relations came to the agenda especially during Obama's visit to Turkey. What could be Obama's contribution to the process of improving relations?

SL: "First of all, I would like to say that the issue of improving Turkey-Armenia relations and the problems between Turkey and Azerbaijan on this topic did not begin with Obama's term and Obama's visit to Turkey. The dialog between Turkey and Armenia started a long time before Obama's presidency. It has been almost 7-8 months since Turkey's President, Abdullah Gul, visited Yerevan. Negotiations began at the ministerial level before the President's visit. Turkey and Armenia tried to increase visits to each other; one of the Armenian ministers came to Turkey, and one of the Turkish ministers went to Armenia. During these visits and negotiations, both parties tried to identify the tasks that they have to do in order to open the borders. Nothing at all started with Obama; however, he will accelerate the process of negotiations."

- Armenia has not taken a positive step until today. Do you think that Armenia will change its hard line? And how will it be possible to change this attitude?

SL: "The world has blamed Turkey for the closed land borders until today. Armenia claimed that Turkey and Azerbaijan, as two Muslim countries, enclosed and tried to annihilate Armenia. The U.S., Canada, France, and Russia have especially strong Armenian Diasporas, including influential people in the media, universities, and politics. At every turn, these people have looked at Armenia as if it were the victim. However, Armenia is not the victim; on the contrary, it is an occupying country. Armenia has been holding a larger region than the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Karabakh is only one part of the Armenian-occupied territories. Only Azerbaijani people live in the rest of the Armenian-occupied territories. On the other hand, the international community did not react to Armenia as they reacted to Israel and Serbia. Due to this lack of criticism and punishment by the international community, Armenia has continued to make the same mistakes. If the U.S. and EU had put at least half as much pressure on Armenia as they did Turkey, the land border would already be opened today."

- Is it possible for Russia to break up the improved relations in the region for its own sake? And what policies will Russia follow?

SL: "Russia considers the Caucasus as its backyard and regards the region as Russian territory. Thus, Russia does not view Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan as independent states, but believes they will one day come under Russian jurisdiction. In this sense, Russia has divided Georgia in three parts: Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Georgia. It is claimed that Russia has plans to divide Cevahiti, where the majority of the Armenian people live. Armenia could never get rid of Russia's influence. The Armenian occupation of Karabakh was possible due to Russia's military support. It is obvious that Russia influenced the victory of Kocharyan over Levon Ter-Petrossian in the Armenian elections. Moreover, Russia already has captured the Armenian economy; in particular, almost the entire energy sector is in Russian hands.

Azerbaijan is one of the countries attracting Russia's influence in the region. Azerbaijan is intensely hostile toward Russia for its support of Armenia on the Karabakh issue. On the other hand, Azerbaijan is one of the countries in which Turkish nationalism is very strong. The languages of the two countries are so similar that people don't need a translator. Russia could not block the positive environment between these two countries because of their close historical, cultural, and social ties.

However, Baku became frightened when the Georgia-Russia war broke out because there were some disruptions in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Baku saw that Turkey and the U.S. could not protect Georgia against Russia. Moreover, Azerbaijan realized that it was too risky to only depend on the Turkey-Georgia line and that improved relations with Russia were necessary.

Russia also took advantage of this environment, using pro-Russian bureaucrats in Azerbaijan to propagandize against Turkey. Unfortunately, Turkey could not read this process accurately enough. When the process to normalize Armenia and Turkey relations began, the anti-Turkish lobby appeared in Azerbaijan. In the last 6-7 months the lobby has become more outspoken in Azerbaijan, loudly expressing that Turkey had agreed with Armenia and stabbed Azerbaijan in the back. Pro-Russian groups in Azerbaijan decided to close all Turkish enterprises, civil society organizations, and schools in Azerbaijan a few months ago; some Azerbaijani government officials and governors were also involved in this plot. These secret decisions will be applied, and Turkish institutions and organizations will be expelled from Azerbaijan. Moreover, these pro-Russian groups declared war against the Turkish language of Turkey. They try to limit Turkish TV series, instead promoting Russian TV programs. Recently, most of the discomfort emerging in Azerbaijan is based on Russia. In my opinion, Aliev is in desperate straits because of pressure from the Russian lobby."

- Do you think that if the relationship between Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora is breaking off, the process will normalize? Or is breaking off the relationship a fantasy?

SL: "Armenia is an economically poor country with a population of less than 3 million. The population of the Armenian Diaspora, however, is about twice the population of Armenia. Moreover, Diaspora Armenians are wealthier than the Armenian government. There is an imbalance. We can say that if Turkey had 140 million abroad in the Turkish Diaspora, and if they were more economically and intellectually more powerful than the Turks in Turkey, then Turkish politics would be controlled by the Turkish Diaspora. Armenia Armenians want to open the land borders and normalize relations with Turkey as soon as possible. However, Diaspora Armenians struggle to continue the problems between Turks and Armenians forever, since the identity of Diaspora Armenians is built on problems with Turkey. They think that if the problems are removed, their identity will be assimilated. If the dependence between Armenia and Diaspora can be broken, problems could be solved quickly, but this is very difficult. Diaspora Armenians are even able to vote in Armenian elections. There is an emotional and an irrational dimension in Armenian politics that is the most difficult point for Turkey. The emotional dimension depends on Diaspora Armenians. Because of this, the negotiations between the two countries have been carried out in secret. If open negotiations continue, the Armenian government might collapse. Tashnaks especially think that even establishing dialogue with Turkey is a betrayal to Armenia."

Turkish Weekly


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