3319) I Hear More Interesting Views From Average Armenians Than Intellectuals / Memory & Politics Of Construction Of Armenian Homeland

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Turkish PhD Student – “I hear more interesting views from average Armenians than the intellectuals”
Hrant Gadarigian

Sep 26, 2011
An interview with Turgut Kerem Tuncel, PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Trento (Italy).

Mr. Tuncel, native of Turkey, is in Armenia to do research for his thesis entitled “Mayr Hayastan, Im Hayrenik; The memory and politics of the construction of the Armenian homeland”.

What prompted you to do your thesis on the Armenian experience?

Well, it all came out of my initial interest in Jewish studies and anti-Semitism. Then I decided to make a comparative study of the survival strategies of the Jewish and Armenian communities in Turkey. Then, I started to focus on the Armenian community there and the concept of the “diaspora”
. .

It was how the Republic of Armenia was portraying itself as the homeland of all Armenians that intrigued me, given that most Armenians in the diaspora derive from eastern Anatolia. This construct of the current Armenian identity was of interest to me.

What did this comparative study between the Jewish and Armenian experiences show?

Briefly, the two tragedies experienced by these two people resulted in opposite realities. In the Jewish case, the Holocaust, in many ways, resulted in the consolidation of the Jewish state, while 1915 resulted in the diasporization of the Armenian people.

Have you looked at the repatriation issue in Armenia during your research? The differences between Israel and Armenia in this regard are glaring?

Actually, the repatriation issue is a major component of my research. It directly ties in to this concept of the Republic of Armenia (RoA) as the homeland for all Armenians.

I’d say that what is being done here in Armenia can be best described a “lip service”. And there are many underlying reasons for this.

Many Armenians from the RoA actually want to leave for socio-economic and other reasons. So how can the government invite Armenians from Paris or Los Angeles, living relatively comfortable lives, to relocate? What will these people do here?

The economic, political and social infrastructure in Armenia is not sufficient to sustain any serious repatriation.

Here, I’d like to remind you of Theodore Herzl’s work “The Jewish State”. The second part of the book gives a very detailed approach to the repatriation of Jews to the land of Israel. Herzl lay down a very rational outline.

I don’t see the same thing in Armenia or in the diaspora press. For example, there is talk of creating a Pan-Armenian National Council but you won’t find any details on the website of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. Then there was the idea of creating a two-chamber parliament in Armenia to get the diaspora represented. This too seemed to me less than serious

You include the word ‘memory’ in the title of your dissertation. The memory of the traditional diaspora is that of pre-1915 western Armenia. If this collective memory of the past is a major component of the current identity of so many diaspora Armenians, how can the RoA redirect this focus and serve as a rallying point today?

This is a problematic aspect of the diaspora – homeland issue. When you look at some segments of the diaspora, you can say they live in a strange mental world. They live in the present day but their minds are always returning to the pre-1915 period.

The diaspora could be a real asset for Armenia and the country really needs all the assets it can attract. But the traditional diaspora, or let’s say the leadership of the traditional diaspora, they cannot grasp the reality of current Armenia due to this focus on an idealized past.

Thus, I believe young diaspora Armenians must establish real relations and ties with this Armenia in 2011. They must reach out to the Armenia of today and not with that of their grandparents in order to help solve the myriad problems now facing the RoA.

So, can we say that there are two ‘homelands’ competing for the hearts and minds of the traditional Armenian diaspora?

Well, I am sure there are some Armenians who say they do not identify with current Armenia but I would also say that after the creation of the third republic in 1991, more and more diaspora Armenians and organizations have realized that, on a practical level at least, the RoA should be the focus of their energies.

In a way, those talking about a return to western Armenia may be a convenient excuse to not doing more, or even relocating, to the Armenia of today. It would be a challenge for them to leave what they know and are comfortable with in France or the U.S. and move to an Armenia that faces many problems.

This is understandable. We are all human beings. But they have to face reality and not overlook the fact that the Armenia of today needs a lot of help.

You talk about “the politics of the construction of the Armenian homeland”. Can we assume that the RoA government has a political agenda in mind – creating an image of an Armenia where the concept of “love it or leave it” holds sway?

Well let’s look at the official state discourse – the attempt to portray the RoA as the homeland for all Armenians. Of course it’s a political strategy to connect the diaspora to Yerevan and tap into its resources.

In this sense, it’s a very understandable strategy on the part of the RoA government.

This divide between the traditional diaspora and the RoA probably manifests itself most clearly on the Genocide issue. Many argue the Turkish government seeks to manipulate the issue and thus divide the hard-line diaspora with a more malleable RoA. What’s your view?

All I can say is that the general perception in Turkey is that the diaspora takes a more hard-line approach as compared to the RoA. Just look at the fallout resulting from the Protocol debate. But as to whether Ankara has adopted a policy to play one off the other, I can’t say.

What I would like to add is that the RoA government, in turn, has somehow manipulated the issue as well. By creating this bogeyman image of Turkey, it has made calls for national unity and greater support for Armenia. In a way, it has sought the “unquestioning” loyalty of the diaspora in the name of national unity. This too is a fact.

This is your third visit to Armenia and you’ve been here for two months now. Can you give me a few general impressions?

Well, I came here to do research for my thesis and have interviewed several diaspora Armenians who have relocated but I also wanted to get a feel for the country and the people.

On a personal level, I have had positive experiences and have encountered no hostility when people find out I am Turkish.

I find it interesting that the press in Armenia has daily articles on Turkey and developments there. Mostly the press focuses on the negative aspects and not on the recent changes for the positive. This isn’t to say that Turkey doesn’t have problems and that conditions for Armenians living there aren’t problematic. Not at all.

I rented an apartment here and would always go to the same small shop to get bread and some breakfast. The sales ladies would always smile and joke with me. One day they asked where I was from and I told them I was from Turkey. Then they asked if I was Armenian or Turkish. I said, Turkish .After that, their smiles faded.

Another time, I and a few friends were at a nightclub in Yerevan. I went out for a smoke and there was a security guard outside smoking as well. He asked me where I was from. I said, Turkey. He asked if I was an Armenian from Turkey in a kind of aggressive way. I figured I should answer that yes, I was. He then started to interrogate me. Was my father and mother Armenian? I guess he didn’t believe me. It was getting a bit heated. The guy then told me that “I have killed Turks in Karabakh” and repeated this. All I could say was “Ok” and then I left.

This was the only time I felt really uneasy in Armenia. I would like to say that I feel safer in Yerevan than I do in Istanbul. Armenians, I have found, are not an aggressive people.

You have met with repatriates and average citizens here. What about your meetings with officials and the academia? Did you encounter any problems in getting them to sit down and talk with you?

I tried to arrange interviews with the major political parties but only two agreed to talk with me – the Armenian National Congress and Heritage. The others declined but never told me why.

I also spoke to a number of intellectuals and university professors. To be honest, I heard more interesting views and ideas from ordinary people than from the intelligentsia in Armenia. I don’t want to sound over judgemental, but the role of intellectuals is to bring forth new approaches and concepts – in a way to make us angry and challenge us.

What I heard from most, not all, were the same old stories and prejudices regarding the Armenia-Turkish issue.

Maybe a majority of intellectuals in Armenia are too conformist or opportunist when it comes to opening new doors. It makes me somewhat less optimistic regarding the future.

What about preconceived notions of Armenians in Turkey, amongst average citizens?

Let me give you a concrete example. Several years ago there was a quantitative study conducted jointly in Armenia and Turkey about their views of the other.

What the research showed was that the average Turkish person knows very little about Armenians. But, recently, amongst university students and some intellectuals, there’s a growing interest in Armenia and the culture. Again, it’s a new process of learning.

Armenians, on the other hand, have a certain knowledge and understanding of Turkey. This is another asymmetry between the two peoples.

There’s less coverage in the mainstream Turkish press about Armenia than the other way around.

Armenia isn’t a top priority when it comes to Turkish foreign policy. In the end, though, relations between the two neighbouring states must be normalized and this will require more dialogue and understanding of the other.

Comments (12)
1. Armen_yan - 26 September, 2011
Sounds fair and unbiased.

2. Boghos N - 26 September, 2011
Many Diasporan Armenians continue to preserve their pre-1915 Western Armenian traditions and practice them in the present. This is not the same thing as "living in the past." And (especially) if one's endangered culture and civilization were raped, mutilated and dismantled, one has the right to retain them any way s/he pleases! Solidarity and support for present-day Armenia does not preclude a desire or intention to reclaim the Western Armenian homeland and traditions. Could Turgut Tuncel's intention be to help complete the genocidal process of conquering and confiscating the lands of the indigenous populations by doing his part to wean Diasporan Armenians away from their Western Armenian attachments? I suggest that Turgut Tuncel turn his attentions to the often ignored study of the Central Asian origins of the Turkish people rather than use his current academic research to pursue a Pan-Turkist, false "Turkish-Armenian reconciliation" agenda.

3. Dave - 26 September, 2011
The fact is that Turkey committed genocide from the 19th century to the 20th century against Armenians and stole our property and land. Actually, considering forced Islamization, rape, and abductions, the genocide started centuries before. We Armenian Diasporans know very well where and how to focus our energy, and we do not need this young Turkish man to tell us.

4. Hrant - 27 September, 2011
Mr. Tuncel: Why are you so concerned with a nano-state? There are way more important issues out there concerning Turkish foreign policy.

5. Levik - 27 September, 2011
"Western Armenian attachments????" What the heck are they? I'd say Turgut has put his finger on a very problemmatic sore spot for Armenians who trace their roots to pre-1915 Western Armenia. 100 years of fading memories is getting in the way of thinking and acting in the present day Armenian context. The fact that some have labeled him a pan-Turkist proves the point. At leat the guy has visited the Republic of Armenia 3x. Can that be said for 5% of the diaspora? Why don't more concerned Armenians in the diaspora, who have such "attachments" bring their energies to Armenia and make a practical contribution to the survival of it rather than "living in the past"?

6. Razmik - 27 September, 2011
@ Boghos - "Many Diasporan Armenians continue to preserve their pre-1915 Western Armenian traditions and practice them in the present." - Oh, please elucidate us as to how this is being done!! Shish kebab dinners at a Sunday picnic? People talk about reclaiming western Armenian lands from the bossom of the same western powers that stabbed Armenia in the back soon after 1915. What nonense? As Monte Melkonian stated - the road to Erzerum and Van starts from Artsakh. The least these diaspora patriots could do is start raising their voices for democracy and rule of law in Armenia, the only true basis for eventual return to western Armenia. This way they'd stop paying taxes to the U.S. and Europe who continue to fund the Turkish-occupation of their beloved western Armenia.

7. Berge Jololian- 27 September, 2011
Some Turks are ignorant, some Turks are arrogant, and yet some Turks are both ignorant and arrogant at the same time. Turgut Kerem Tuncel like many Turks, are the product of generations of Turks who are raised with ignorance and arrogance. In the case of Turgut, he deliberately refuses to acknowledge that the Armenian Diaspora was the result of centuries of persecution and massacres that culminated in the Armenian genocide. Genocide scholars note that the Armenian genocide is on-going and only ceases when the perpetrators, the Turkish government and its people stop their denial of the genocide of Armenians. Turgut deliberately does not acknowledge the fact that Turkey has maintained a militarized hostile border blockade on Armenia’s Western frontiers for two decades. According to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) Turkey’s hostile economic border blockade is costing Armenia US $1 billion loss in trade on an annual basis. That means loss of jobs and economic survival of Armenians in Armenia. The economic border blockade imposed by Turkey is an act of war under international law, and is an ongoing act of genocide. The Turks have not only murdered humans, destroyed an ancient culture, civilization and rewritten history, but 99.7% of Turks continue to legitimize the act as well as the racist ideology that led to the act. Denial is not just the simple negation of an act; it is much more the consequent continuation of the very act itself. Genocide should not only physically destroy a community; it should likewise dictate the prerogative of interpretation in regard to history, culture, territory and memory, as the victims Armenians never existed. The impact of the Turkish land blockade prevents Armenia from connecting to Europe and the Middle-east for trade, imports and exports across Turkey to Europe and the Middle-east. The Turkish blockade supports corruption and social imbalance. A nation cannot sustain a healthy economic survival without direct access to the outside world. Turkey is in violation of many international organizations that prohibits member states to have closed borders such as the WTO (World Trade Organization) and TRACERA (Trade Route Access). Armenians are forced to seek economic survival elsewhere outside their natural environment, language, culture, customs, etc. This is in fact genocide. Genocide does not have to be the actual act of killing. Genocide is a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. To bring about the disintegration of the political and social institutions, culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. A Turkish newspaper columnist, Mustafa Ozfatura, voiced an open threat of genocide, saying "we will make sure that the number of the Armenians in Armenia becomes as much as a museum statistic.

8. Talin- 27 September, 2011
Just because practitioners of W. Armenian traditions are not flaunting their activities does not mean that their activities do not exist.

9. Khoren- 27 September, 2011
@Berge - You write, "In the case of Turgut, he deliberately refuses to acknowledge that the Armenian Diaspora was the result of centuries of persecution and massacres that culminated in the Armenian genocide." Maybe I missed something but where in the above article does Turgut deny the reality of the 1915 Genocide. Was he asked outright or is this just your knne-jerk inference? What you state regarding Turkish official state policy is correct but to conclude that Turgut shares this view based on a 2 page interview underscores your lack of objectivity regarding the man without even meeting him. Maybe you are telepathic or just pathetic...

10. Razmik- 27 September, 2011
Oh I get it now Talin - they're closet 3rd generation western Armenians.

11. Berge Jololian- 27 September, 2011
In a typical arrogant Turkish mentality, Turgut said, "When you look at some segments of the diaspora, you can say they live in a strange mental world. They live in the present day but their minds are always returning to the pre-1915 period." Up until 1915, the population of Anatolia was one third 1/3 Christian; today's Christian population of Anatolia is less than 90 thousand in an ocean of 76 million Turks. The Turks brutally massacred the Christian populations of Anatolia, took away their lands, assets, property and wealth, not to mention the 2 million Armenian lives that were brutally taken away from us in the genocide. It is astonishing that Turgut describes Armenians (divisively) - that the Diaspora Armenians live in a "strange mental world", when it is the criminal foundation of the Turkish republic, the on-going lie they live in, and their own re-written version of history in that 99.7% of Turks live in a "strange mental world." Turkey - a nation built on the bones of its dead cannot, in fact should not stand. Turkey and every Turk are accountable for the crime of Genocide. Genocide Acknowledgment with Accountability: Land, Reparations and Restitution.

12. Rubik- 28 September, 2011
Do you ever notice how Turks demand an apology from everyone, but never offer any apologies? Do you ever notice how Turks demand that that they be treated with respect but never respect anyone? Do you ever notice how Turks complain about being discriminated for not being accepted in the European Union and yet they discriminate against everyone who is not a Turk? Do you notice how Turks accuse Turkey of being a "Christian Club" for not accepting it in the EU and yet Turkey continues to kill its Christian minority and discriminate against them? Do you ever notice how Turks expect Armenians to be understanding but never want to acknowledge their on-going genocide of Armenians? It is not the job of Armenians to reach out, educate, reform, and play psychiatrists for Turks. It is NOT the job of Armenians to "reform" Turkey, as desirable as that may be; we are not their psychiatrists or their nannies.

Source For The Interview Only: http://hetq.am/eng/interviews/4748/


University Of Medicine And Dentistry Of New Jersey (, New Jersey, USA said...

Even from moral point of view no Turk has right to criticize Armenian diaspora-Armenia relationship, I find that many of his statements are right.

The truth is that Armenia is struggling while diaspora is living a comfortable life, and fantasizing about Armenian’s future. They enthusiastically claim that Artsakh is ours but in reality it is local Armenians who serve in Army and get killed by shoot-outs.

However luckily we still have Monte Melkonians.

Many Diaspora Armenians have already been assimilated and do not care about Armenia at all. There are some who claim that that they are Western Armenian, have nothing to do with Eastern Armenia, and when Western Armenia will be liberated they will repatriate. This one astonishes me the most. As if someone is going to liberate Western Armenia and invite them to repatriate.

Even if that happens they will complain that life standards are not good there. Those who are able to invest complain about corruption.

You can complain about corruption as much as you can but that is the reality and we have to face it.

What about Tufenkian, Aznavour, Hovnannian, Eurnekian and many others? How do those people get by?
Sure, they complain but they also invest and donate. I have met Western Armenian descendants abroad and sadly many of them did not speak Armenian and did not know Armenian history, visited many countries but never Armenia. Anyways, I think that Diaspora Armenians are too critical when it comes to Armenia. Even those fake Armenians who fled Armenia by taking loans and never returning and buying fake passports 10-15 years ago when visit Armenia complain even louder abut life standards.

Let them be critical, we would rather focus on those who kept their Armenian routes and understand current Armenia's geopolitical struggle and show active participation in every aspect of Armenia’s issues.

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