Archive for September, 2008
Please fax a brief letter to Senate Indian Affairs Committee urging that a hearing be held on these issues as soon as possible. The Committee fax number is 202-228-2589.
Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites; Save the Peaks Coalition; Indigenous Environmental Network; International Indian Treaty Council; Seventh Generation Fund; Vallejo Inter-Tribal Council; Morning Star Institute
For Immediate Release: September 25, 2008
Tribal Nations, Native Rights Organizations, and Social/Environmenta l Justice Allies Call on Congress and Administration to Immediately Address Tribal Sacred Lands Protection
Senate Indian Affairs Committee & Other Congressional Committees Urged to Convene Hearings on Sacred Lands
Indian Country, USA— Tribal Nations, Native rights organizations, and social/environmenta l justice allies are calling on the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee and other Congressional Committees to conduct hearings concerning federal land management practices that threaten or destroy Tribal sacred lands. The Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites, The Save the Peaks Coalition, Indigenous Environmental Network, International Indian Treaty Council, Seventh Generation Fund, Vallejo Inter-Tribal Council, and Morning Star Institute have joined together to address the lack of federal government cooperation and consultation with Tribes in balancing destructive corporate development of Tribal ancestral lands an d honoring Tribal rights and needs. The groups are also calling on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to investigate federal government non-compliance with Tribal consultation requirements and to assist in immediately remedying the problems. ”Corporate development of federal lands that overlap sacred Tribal ancestral lands not only further the desecration and destruction of sacred places and areas which Indigenous Peoples have traditionally used and safeguarded, but harm longstanding and positive Tribal social and cultural structures, increase threats to endangered and threatened species, and cause environmental destruction,” stated Mark LeBeau, Co-Chair of the Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites. “The protection and preservation of sacred places are essential to the practice of Indigenous Peoples’ freedom of religions, a fundamental human right which is recognized by both federal and international law.”
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007. This Declaration represents the dynamic development of international legal norms and sets an important standard for the treatment of Indigenous Peoples by states. It is a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet’s 370 million Indigenous Peoples and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalization. Article 12 of the Declaration affirms that “Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies and the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites.”"Congress and the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation must intervene where the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other federal agencies have fallen short in their fiduciary responsibilities to federally-recognize d Tribes, including working cooperatively and constructively with Tribes to resolve disputes,” said Radley Davis, Co-Chair of the Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites.
On July 11, 2008, more than 1,000 Native rights and environmental justice advocates arrived in Washington, DC after walking across the US to raise awareness about key issues affecting Native peoples and the environment. The successful journey, known as the Longest Walk 2, delivered a 30-page manifesto and list of demands to Congress, which included the protection of sacred places and climate change mitigation.
House Judiciary Chair, US Representative John Conyers (D-MI) promised representatives from the Longest Walk 2 that their issues would be addressed but set no timetable. “The Committee on the Judiciary will hold hearings on each one of these items that you have outlined here,” stated Rep. Conyers.
Tribal Nations and Native rights organizations are aware of hundreds of threatened sacred places throughout the US and are highlighting two critical threatened sacred places as evidence for immediate political action: The Medicine Lake Highlands located in California and the San Francisco Peaks located in Northern Arizona.
The Medicine Lake Highlands, northeast of Mt. Shasta, are sacred to the Pit River, Wintu, Karuk, Modoc, Shasta, and other Tribal nations. The Pit River people believe that the Creator and his son bathed in the lake after creating the earth, and then the Creator placed healing medicine in the lake. In the 1980s the BLM gave energy development leases in the Highlands to developers, without first conducting adequate environmental review and consulting any of the Tribes that would be affected by the projects. Developers such as Calpine Energy Corporation have used any tactic that money could buy to try to achieve their goal of building massive power plants in the sacred Highlands to harness geothermal energy, including activating teams of20lawyers, lobbying state and federal representatives, buying-off some adversaries, and information spinning.
“The developers are attempting to move ahead in spite of the fact that project-drilling in the Highlands would likely release dangerous chemicals, including arsenic, chromium, and hydrogen sulfide, into the surface and ground waters that Californians and all other living things in this region rely upon,” stated James Hayward, Co-Chair of the Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites. “This proposed project must be stopped and the US government must assist in this effort.”
In November 2006, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal agencies neglected their fiduciary responsibilities to the Pit River Nation by violating the National Environmental Protection and the National Historic Preservation Acts and that the agencies never took the requisite “hard look” at whether th e Highlands should be developed for energy at all. As a result, the court rejected the extension of leases that would have allowed Calpine to build geothermal plants and ordered judgment in favor of Pit River. Now BLM and Calpine are at it again as they prepare to attempt to conduct geothermal resource exploration in the sacred Glass Mountain region of the Highlands. BLM contends that the ruling was not explicative enough and so it is moving forward with the exploration. The Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites strongly oppose BLM’s reinterpretation of the ruling and will stop the agency.
Louis Gustafson, Citizen of the Pit River Nation, says, ”The government has agreements not to bomb holy mosques when they’re at war, but we have to go through all these hoops just to protect our holy place.”
Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks are recognized internationally as a sacred place. The Peaks are a unique ecological island and are held holy by more than 13 Native American Nations. Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort, located on the holy Peaks, is attempting to expand development, clear-cut acres of old growth trees, and make fake snow from treated sewage effluent, which has been proven to have harmful contaminants. The US Forest Service manages the San Francisco Peaks as public land and has faced multiple lawsuits by the Navajo Nation, Hopi, White Mountain Apache, Yavapai Apache, Hualapai, and Havasupai tribes, as well as the Sierra Club, Flagstaff Activist Network, Center of Biological Diversity, and others after it initially approved the proposed ski area development in 2005.
On August 8, 2008 the 9th Circuit of Appeals overturned a previous court ruling stopping the proposed development. The case is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court.
“We have no guarantee for the protection for our religious freedom when it comes to government land use decisions,” stated Klee Benally of the Save the Peaks Coalition. “This case underscores the fact that we need legislative action to ensure protection for places held holy by Native American Tribes. Federal land management policies are inconsistent when addressing Native American religious practice relating to sacred places. From the San Francisco Peaks, Medicine Lake Highlands, Yucca Mountain, Bear Butte, Mt. Taylor, Mt. Graham and the hundreds of additional sacred places that are threatened or are currently being desecrated, we need consistent protective action now.”
“The corporate projects proposed in the Medicine Lake Highlands and on San Francisco Peaks must be stopped. Key federal lawmakers and administration officials must work more rigorously with Tribes to ensure adequate cooperation and consultation on proposed projects that overlap Tribal sacred lands,” stated Radley Davis. “Our call for hearings is a critical measure that must be taken seriously to ensure that balancing corporate and agency development of Tribal ancestral lands and the needs and rights of Indigenous Nations are honored.”
Please fax a brief letter to Senate Indian Affairs Committee urging that a hearing be held on these issues as soon as possible. The Committee fax number is 202-228-2589.
More and more Turks have been visiting the Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum, Tsitsernakaberd, in Armenia’s capital Yerevan. But one of them stands out. Turkish columnist Hasan Cemal, who is the grandson of one of the masterminds of the Armenian genocide, visited the Genocide Memorial in Yerevan this month. Now he has published an article about his visit. Below is the English translation of the Turkish article.
By Hasan Cemal
Alone with my dear Hrant at the Genocide Monument
Let’s first show respect to each other’s pain
I remember, Hrant Dink once said “let’s first show respect to each other’s pain and sorrow.”
Maybe these words of Hrant and the pain he experienced was what brought me, for the first time in my life, to Armenia , and made me experience at daybreak a hurricane of emotions in front of the Genocide Monument .
The Mount Ararat appears and disappears in the fog. It looks sorrowful. How noble, how delicate it looks with its peak in snow. You feel you can catch it if you reach out.
I am alone with Hrant in front of the Monument, thinking of the pain and sorrow.
I think of respecting the pain.
Understanding the other’s pain.
And I think of sharing the pain.
In the strange silence of the daybreak, I am alone with Hrant. And Rakel’s cry is in my ear…
The tragic pain experienced by the Armenian nation and by him had matured Hrant. Maybe this pain helped him to speak and write in the language of his conscience. One always learns something from others. So I learned from Hrant, in his life and in his death.
I learned that one can not escape history.
At the crystal clear silence of the morning, I thought once more, with Hrant in my mind, how meaningless it is to deny the history, and at the same time, how risky it is to be a slave of history and pains and sorrows.
My maternal uncle’s voice came from afar: “Roots don’t disappear, my son!”
He was a Circassian, of the Gabarday tribe.
But he didn’t mention his Circassian identity; he made clear he didn’t enjoyed talking of the “roots.”
This was our “fear of the state.”
When I insisted, he would say “don’t mention these things.” But near to his death he whispered in my ear: “Still, the roots won’t disappear, Hasan my son!”
People’s roots, the land they have their roots in, are very important. As it is a crime against humanity to separate people from their language and identity so it is an equally great crime to separate people from their roots and lands. And to find an excuse for these actions is an inseparable part of the crime.
Armenians experienced that great pain.
They experienced it when they were uprooted from Anatolia . They experienced it in 1915, in 1916. And the longing for Anatolia never stopped in their soul.
Turks had experienced the same pain, too.
They experienced pain when they were uprooted from the Balkans and the Caucasus, and at the time of war in Anatolia .
Kurds experienced the pain, too.
They experienced pain when their language and identity was denied, when they were expelled from their lands.
I don’t compare pain and sorrow.
That would be wrong.
Pain and sorrow can’t be compared.
Hrant’s voice is in my ear: “Let’s first show respect to each other’s pain.”
Hrant tells silently his own pain: “I know what happened to my ancestors. Some of you call it ‘a massacre,’ some ‘a genocide,’ some ‘forced evacuation’ and yet some ‘a tragedy.’ My ancestors had called it, in the Anatolian way of speaking, ‘a butchery.’
“If a state uproots its own citizens from their homes and lands, and without distinguishing even the most defenseless among them, the kids, women and elderly, expels them to unknown and endless roads, and if as a result of this, a great part of them disappear, how can we justify our deliberations to choose between words to characterize this event. Is there a human way of explaining this?
“If we keep juggling ‘do we call this genocide or evacuation’ if we can’t condemn both in an equal measure, how will choosing either genocide or evacuation help to save our honor.” (*)
Is it necessary to qualify the pain, to categorize it?
Of course, it is not unimportant, insignificant.
But I don’t think it’s a must. The genocide debate locks a lot of things, especially when it becomes a part of the equation among Turks and Armenians, Turkey and Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora.
History gets entangled.
Reason and common sense get entangled.
Dialogue gets locked.
And this entanglement helps “the fanatics.” It becomes easier to produce hate and enmity out of the pages of history.
Yet, what we need is to make the fanatics’ job more difficult. We have to find a way to walk down to road of love and peace without becoming a slave of history, without becoming a hostage of past pain and sorrow.
At a foggy morning, in front of the Genocide Monument , I listen to the voice of Hrant Dink. He asks: “Do we behave like the perpetrators of the great tragedy in the past, or are we going to write the new pages like civilized people by taking lessons from those mistakes?”
Let’s first understand each other’s pain, share it and show respect to it.
Things will follow.
Won’t it my dear Hrant?
You always said “not confession, nor denial, first understanding.” And you knew, as you knew your own name, that understanding was only possible through democracy and freedom.
My dear brother;
The sun rises like a red orange in Yerevan . In the beautiful silence of the morning, I lay white carnations at the monument. You and your pain and sorrow brought me to this part of the world.
Yes, let’s first show respect to each other’s pain and sorrow.
* Hrant Dink; “Two People Close, Two Neighbors Afar” International Hrant Dink Foundation, Istanbul , June 2008, p.75
Los Angeles, Calif.–A civil action against the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States was filed yesterday seeking documents as they relate to the Armenian Genocide (1914 to 1925). (Vartkes Yeghiayan v. National Archives and Records Administration of the United States of America, Case No. CV08-16248, U.S. District Court, Central District of Calif., Sept. 23, 2008).
“Repeated efforts have been made to procure these documents, but the National Archives has been non-responsive,” says Mark MacCarley, partner with Glendale, Calif.-based MacCarley & Rosen who is representing plaintiff Vartkes Yeghiayan. “Its actions are in violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).”
The initial request by Yeghiayan occurred in April 2006. “The National Archives acknowledged receipt of the request, but has not provided the information despite repeated inquires from my client,” says MacCarley. “The National Archives, without explanation, has exceeded the generally applicable 20-day deadline for processing FOIA requests. We simply want the requested documentation.”
Yeghiayan is an attorney who has successfully litigated lawsuits in State and Federal courts against U.S. and foreign businesses for Armenian Genocide asset restitution. More than 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the genocide with millions more deported from the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey). Yeghiayan filed the FOIA request because he believes documents are being held by the U.S. government that would identify countries having either direct complicity in the Armenian Genocide or profited by the Ottoman Turks actions against Armenians.
“This lawsuit is on behalf of Armenian-Americans who are seeking documentation and information that could shed light on what happened to their loved ones during the Armenian Genocide,” says Yeghiayan.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Contact: Obama Press Office; (312) 819-2423
On this day, September 21, Armenians and friends of Armenia everywhere celebrate the independence of the Republic of Armenia, and I extend my warmest and best wishes on this happy occasion. Throughout their long history, a spirit of independence, self-reliance, and survival defines the Armenian people. After centuries of living in the Persian, Russian, and Turkish empires, Armenians first achieved their modern independence in 1918 and regained it after 70 years of Soviet rule in 1991. Their struggle continues, but in the years of renewed independence they have been able to guide their own destiny through years of war and economic dislocation. Even in the face of genocide, the pain of the past has not defeated the Armenians, either in Armenia or the far-flung diaspora.
America has benefited tremendously from the vigor and talents of the Armenian people. Armenian-Americans have made enormous contributions to American life – to our arts and academia, to business, science, and politics – while still maintaining strong ties to their ancestral home.
Recent events in the Caucasus region remind us of both the importance of rededicating ourselves to peace, and the possibility of progress even where there is a long history of alienation. The conflict in Georgia shows the danger that lurks when rising tensions are ignored and the United States pursues a diplomatic strategy of neglect. But in recent days we have also seen the hopeful step – taken by the Presidents of Turkey and Armenia — to restart dialogue that could, in time, bring a welcome normalization of relations and offer Armenia more diversified opportunities for trade, transport, and energy supplies. American policy must build on this step, to ensure that Armenia enjoys a future not merely of independence but of partnership and cooperation with the U.S. and its allies.
While the only nation mentioned on the ancient Babylonian map that exists in 2008 is Armenia, believe it or not, today is the Republic of Armenia’s 17th birthday. That is the anniversary of independence that today’s tiny Armenia won in 1991. Experienced in civilization yet still a teenager in modern statecraft, Armenia has a history that can be summarized as a struggle for survival.
With all its current problems – institutionalized corruption, nationwide poverty and ignored pollution – Armenia can state it has had worse experiences. With the 1915 genocide by the Ottoman Turks and Kurdish irregulars as the ceiling, Armenians have been also invaded by Assyrians, Persians, Arabs, Greeks, Mongols, Turks, again Persians, and others. And while the Armenia that exists today is only a small portion of the land that Armenians continuously knew as their homeland for at least 2,500 years until World War I, its experience of continuous struggle for survival is a unique history of heroism.
Ironically, today is also the birthday of one of the worst oppressors of world history. Ottoman Empire’s Sultan Abdul Hamid II would be 166-years-old in 2008. Besides the 1915 genocide, Abdul Hamid’s massacre of over 200,000 Armenians in the 1890s is a tragedy never forgotten.
But is Armenia’s heartbreaking past an excuse for the institutionalized injustice in the Republic of Armenia today? Why can’t judges be independent and uncorrupt? Why can’t the government care about the environment? Why can’t oligarchs stop privatizing Armenia’s virgin forests? Why can’t the society start tolerating and respecting each other? Why can’t dehumanization against Bosha (Gypsies) stop?
As much rhetoric these questions may sound, injustice in Armenia may be the primary reason for the alarming emigration. In an overpopulated world, just 3-million-strong Armenia is one of the few – if not the only – country that has a vanishing population. Yet economy may be the compelling reason for leaving Armenia. Turkey’s blockade of Armenia keeps the country from developing, but is there more that we, Armenians, can do before blaming the rest of the world?
Of course there are many things Armenians can do. But perhaps before changing the country individual Armenians should work on self-improvement. Change is often an offensive concept in Armenia – suggesting outside influence or treachery of traditionalism.
I know what change is. I have changed a lot since I was 16, and I know I will change even more before I am 26. But change doesn’t mean fundamental destruction of core values and ideas. Change is an ongoing self-improvement, and opening one’s eyes even wider. Armenians have one of the biggest and most beautiful eyes on earth – I am sure we can make our eyes even wider.
Perhaps 17 is the age when people are capable of real change and real improvement. That’s also an age of giving up childhood romanticism and entering the real world. Yet it is at this age when people entering the real world shouldn’t take the world at it is for granted. Perhaps the only lesson of the real world is that it’s not what it should and could be.
So on the 17th birthday of old but young Armenia, let’s improve our relationships with fellow Armenians, let’s respect each other, and let’s work for a better Armenia today. Because next year Armenia will already be an adult, and excuses of immaturity will be ineffective.
But this Sunday we can have fun. After all, it’s a celebration.
Happy birthday, Armenia! And many more…
Private development is threatening the biodiversity of one of the largest national forests in the former Soviet Union, and an oligarchic lawmaker in Armenia is said to be the violator.
(See photos at Bnamard: Private development in Armenia’s largest reserve by a member of the ruling Republican party)
A Facebook message from a member of an Armenian environmental group informs that their group has confirmed an earlier report by Hetq.am that a large area of Armenia’s largest reserve, the Khosrov forest, is underway for private development.
Hetq, while writing about the uncertain state status of a neglected natural area next to the Khosrov reserve on September 8, 2008, also reported that a large acrage of the reserve has been allocated for development:
…տեղաբնակ ադրբեջանցիների կողմից ժամանակին թաղված եւ միայն վերջերս հայտնաբերված հրաշք եկեղեցու հարեւանությամբ, իրազեկ մարդկանց պնդմամբ, Աժ պատգամավոր Հովիկ Աբրահամյանը հսկա հյուրանոցային համալիրի շինարարություն է նախաձեռնել: Խոսրովի արգելոցի տնօրեն Ս. Շաբոյանը հաստատեց, որ այդ հատվածում 192 հա հող է տրվել վարձակալության, թե ու՞մ` «հստակ» չէր հիշում:…
[According to informed sources, National Parliament member Hovik Abrahamyan has organized construction for an enormous hotel [in the Khosrov resort] next to a newly-discovered church, which had been covered by soil by the former local Azeris [who left Armenia in the late 1980s due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan]. The director of the Khosrov reserve, S. Shaboyan, confirmed that 192 acres of land have been leased out, but couldn’t “precisely” remember to who…]
Hovik Abrahamyan is a member of Armenia’s ruling Republican party and a close friend of President Serzh Sargsyan. It is rumored that Mr. Abrahamyan may soon become the Speaker of Armenia’s Parliament.
That much about “change” in the Caucasus this week.
Below is Ara Arabyan’s translation of retired Turkish diplomat Volkan Vural’s interview with Taraf (Sep 8, 2008), where the former Ambassador says Turkey must apologize to Armenians.
“[Duzel] In response to an invitation by the president of Armenia, President Abdullah Gul went to Yerevan to watch the soccer game [between the Turkish and Armenian national teams]. We have a dispute with Armenia over historical events. Was not the Armenian president’s invitation to Gul before the resolution of this dispute a political risk for himself?
[Vural] Of course it was a risk. The decision to invite the Turkish president to the soccer game was not an easy decision for Armenia. We view the world solely through our own lens. We must also look at events from the perspective of others. There is a neurosis about Turkey in Armenia. Consequently, it is not easy to make any decision related to Turkey. Politicians may have to pay–indeed have paid–a high price for such decisions.
[Duzel] Who paid such a high price?
[Vural] Former President Levon Ter Petrosyan was ousted from office because he sought a solution to the Karabakh problem and to establish ties with Turkey. They made him pay the price of establishing ties with Turkey. Today, even though a major portion of the people of Armenia want relations [with Turkey] to develop and the borders [between the two countries] to open–the Turkey dossier is not so easy to handle as it is thought.
[Duzel] Is it easy to handle the Armenia dossier in Turkey?
[Vural] It is also difficult in Turkey. However, the reality is that the problem between us and Armenia is not something that can be resolved by historians alone. That is because this is psychological and political issue rather than a historical matter. There is a certain psychology, distrust, fear, and terror that the events of the past have created among people.
[Duzel] Do you not think that Armenian and Turkish historians can solve this problem if they discuss the events of the past freely and describe them objectively?
[Vural] A solution to this problem cannot be found via history alone, because a solution requires overcoming the psychological problems this issue has created among people. A solution requires the creation of a climate of trust in which the two peoples can draw closer with affection and respect and where they can talk to each other with ease. This is not a situation that historians can overcome. The Armenian question is a problem that needs to solved by politicians, not historians. History can only shed light on certain issues and play a role that facilitates a solution. That is all.
[Duzel] Do you think that any diplomatic steps will be taken in the aftermath of the [Turkish] president’s visit to Armenia?
[Vural] I expect and hope that they will be taken. This visit may serve as the foundation of a new beginning between Turkey and Armenia. Diplomatic relations between the two states must be established without delay.
[Duzel] What do you mean by “diplomatic relations”?
[Vural] “Diplomatic relations” means Turkish diplomats are resident in Yerevan and Armenian diplomats are resident in Ankara. This would mean a normal relationship between the two states, which would mean the opening of borders between them. The first step in the normalization of relations must be the exchange of representative missions in the two countries. We have to sign an agreement and say that “we will exchange embassies with each other.” The opening of the borders is not a necessity just for the Armenians. I have seen that border gate.
[Duzel] What did you see?
[Vural] I went to the Alican [Margara] border gate [from the Armenian side]. I waved to our soldiers from afar. This gate is 10 to 15 kilometers away from Yerevan. Look, we have been in contact with Armenia, which gained independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, since 1991.
[Duzel] How so?
[Vural] For example, I am the first Turkish ambassador who visited Armenia. At that time I was [Turkish] ambassador to Moscow. This was the time when Armenia was on its way to becoming independent. Shnork Kalustian, then the Armenian patriarch in Turkey, had died during his visit to Yerevan. I sent a message to the Armenian president. I wrote in my message that “taking an interest in the funeral of the patriarch, who is our citizen, and facilitating the return of his remains to Turkey is my duty” and that “I am prepared to contribute in every way, including attending any ceremonies that may be held.”
[Duzel] Did you do this in consultation with Ankara?
[Vural] No, I did it at my own initiative, because the patriarch was a Turkish citizen. He was the spiritual leader of one of our religious minorities. There was no relationship whatsoever between Armenia and Turkey. At that time, Armenia was one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union. As Turkish ambassador to Moscow, it fell within my purview like the other Soviet republics. [Kalustyan's] funeral rites were conducted in the Armenian church in Moscow. I attended that ceremony to the astonishment of the Armenians who were there. They were really taken aback by the presence of a Turkish ambassador at a funeral ceremony in an Armenian church. This was my first contact with Armenia as ambassador.
[Duzel] Did these contacts with Armenia continue? If they did, how did they go?
[Vural] The contacts continued. They invited me to Armenia on a winter day. Ter Petrosyan was president. Armenia was in dramatic conditions. It was suffering tremendous deprivations, including the lack of any electricity. I had a long and very useful meeting with President Ter Petrosyan about ways of developing Turkish-Armenian relations and dissipating hostility between the two nations. Ter Petrosyan shared my views.
[Duzel] What did Ter Petrosyan, who is the leader of the main opposition party today, tell you
[Vural] He said: “I cannot forget the agony of the past, but I do not want to be stuck in the past. As a responsible statesman, I have to think about the future of my grandchildren. I sincerely want the development of relations with Turkey.” At that time, Turkey was perturbed by developments such as Armenia’s new constitution and declaration of independence.
[Duzel] Do certain expressions in the Armenian constitution and its declaration of independence still annoy Turkey?
[Vural] They still annoy Turkey. However, Ter Petrosyan gave me the impression that these issues can be overcome and I conveyed this situation to Ankara in a lengthy report. Subsequently, republics seceding from the Soviet Union declared their independence. At that point, I returned to Ankara and all this information was evaluated.
[Vural] During those meetings, it was decided that Turkey should recognize the independence of all the republics and that it should establish diplomatic ties with all of them except Armenia. Unfortunately, Turkey did not establish diplomatic ties with Armenia. This is a period that I have always seen as “lost years” for Turkey and that I have found most regrettable. This is the year 1991 and immediately after that. By 1993, matters were completely out of control, and Armenia occupied Nagorno Karabakh.
[Duzel] Had diplomatic relations with Armenia been established then, what would be happening now? Would the Armenian question have been resolved?
[Vural] There would still be an Armenian question in Turkey, but Turkey would be a country that has normalized its relations with Armenia. Both sides would have benefited from this normalization. In other words, we would have had a different evolution and a different game, and this would have had an effect on the Diaspora Armenians. However, we could not create this equilibrium like a great power. I also think that this normalization would have helped to improve ties between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The occupation of Nagorno Karabakh could perhaps be prevented. However, we did not pay the necessary attention to Ter Petrosyan then; we failed to help him and to seize the moment. Later, Ter Petrosyan was ousted and [Robert] Kocharian became president. Kocharian pursued radical policies of Armenian nationalism. Had we helped Ter Petrosyan to alleviate the deprivations in his country, nationalism in Armenia might not have been so rabid.
[Duzel] At that time [Turgut] Ozal was president and [Suleyman] Demirel was prime minister of a True Path Party-Social Democratic People’s Party coalition. Who opposed the establishment of diplomatic ties with Armenia? Was it the bureaucrats or the politicians?
[Vural] Many people within the bureaucracy of the Foreign Ministry opposed this. Ozal was very upset that this opportunity was missed. The [Armenian] declaration of independence naturally made many references to western Armenia–that is Turkish soil–and pledged efforts to win recognition for the genocide. That gave the impression that Armenia has territorial claims on Turkey. All these could have been overcome with the establishment of diplomatic relations. I already had prepared some proposals to change the declaration of independence. However, there was opposition to this at the time.
[Duzel] Why was there opposition?
[Vural] I see that as a lack of courage. I reported my meeting with Ter Petrosyan but [ellipsis]. Had we established diplomatic relations, Turkey would not be in the tight corner it is now across the world over the Armenian question. It would not have been so easy to condemn a Turkey that maintains very good relations with Armenia. We should not be too preoccupied with the matter of genocide on this issue.
[Duzel] So what must we do?
[Vural] We are an important country of this region. Peace and stability in this region is to our advantage. From a wider perspective, the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia are very important in terms of the interests of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. When I say “we should not be too preoccupied with allegations of genocide,” I mean the following: Allegations of genocide have become a vehicle of survival for the Diaspora. The allegation of genocide has become an industry; it has created its own people, entrepreneurs, politicians, artists, and money mechanisms.
[Duzel] Has not Turkey become too obsessed with genocide by not establishing relations with Armenia?
[Vural] In effect, yes. The development of relations between Turkey and Armenia would not entirely push aside allegations of genocide but [ellipsis]. Ter Petrosyan once pointed at the Alican border gate and told me: “Look, if this gate is opened, people will see and know each other; they will commingle with each other. We will end up buying many things we need from you. This will help the resolution of the problems of the past.” However, we have a strange reticence. We are a country with too many red lines and taboos. We are told that “Armenia is hostile to us” and that “it has territorial claims on Turkey.” It is time to distinguish between rhetoric and the realities of life.
[Duzel] What are the realities of life?
[Vural] People may say, demand, and dream certain things rhetorically. They may dream about a very large Armenia. There is no limit to dreaming. However, the realities are evident. Can Armenia take any land from Turkey? Which sensible person can contemplate that? The number of soldiers in our armed forces is as big as the entire population of Armenia. We must have more confidence in ourselves.
[Duzel] The man in the street may harbor fears or may be made to harbor fears, but how do you explain the phobias and red lines of military and civilian bureaucrats who know the realities?
[Vural] This is Turkey. The Foreign Ministry is cautious, as expected. Acting with extreme caution is a rule of that profession, but no problem can be solved without taking any risks. This also partly reflects a desire to avoid the risk of being criticized by the Turkish public. The entire problem is this: There is a certain circumstance and you can either become the slave of that circumstance or find ways of changing it. We became a slave of the circumstances.
[Duzel] Turkey became a slave of the Armenian question.
[Vural] Yes. We should have sought another equation to solve this issue, but the risk was not taken out of fears of making mistakes and facing criticism at home. As a result, we reduced ourselves to the point of doing nothing.
[Duzel] As diplomatic relations develop with Armenia, will the events of the past be discussed?
[Vural] They will be discussed inevitably. In my opinion, this is not an impediment blocking the normalization of relations. The term “genocide” is a descriptor that was created long after our historic events. However, this descriptor has become largely banal today. Every inhuman act is termed “genocide” at some point. There is little doubt that the events we went through had very painful and tragic aspects. There is also little doubt that the Armenians see them as a tremendous act of injustice against them. It is fact that they think that they were forcefully uprooted from the places where they were born and raised. You cannot erase those sentiments. You cannot tell them not to think this way. Nonetheless, you can tell them: “Yes, these events occurred, but we cannot spend our lives on those events. We have another life ahead of us. Let us build that life together in friendship.”
[Duzel] Does Armenia really expect only this little from Turkey in connection with history? Is it enough to say these to them to establish peace?
[Vural] The Armenians will of course stir up the issue of genocide. They will seek ways of doing that. There will always be movements to make the entire world accept this position. In the meantime, the establishment of a “joint history commmission” between the two countries may, at first glance, be a good step forward, but I think that Armenia is not in a position to make a significant contribution with respect to history. In my opinion, the problem is not in history. I do not share the assumption that the historical facts are not known. The facts are known. Very many things are known. The whole problem is how these known facts are perceived, what marks they have left, and how those marks can affect the future.
[Duzel] I did not understand.
[Vural] An Armenian may sincerely think that what happened to his nation was genocide. We may think otherwise. If we get stuck on this, we cannot get anywhere. Arguing that “the historians should clarify this to us” means giving too much importance to historians. Every historian has a different interpretation of every event. The problem revolves around how the psychological problem will be overcome. Ter Petrosyan told me: “Let us put that issue to one side. Let us look at the future. It is obvious that we will not reach an agreement on this issue. We should allow the two peoples to commingle by other means. Let us bypass the genocide issue this way.” I also think that this is what needs to be done. There is no point in delving too much into this issue.
[Duzel] There is a very large Armenian Diaspora, mainly in the United States and France. Will they not insist on the recognition of the genocide?
[Vural] Of course they will. However, if relations between Turkey and Armenia improve, the Diaspora cannot have its present influence. This is because the people of Armenia will see the concrete benefits of good neighborly ties. When the borders open, trade will grow and they will become rich.
[Duzel] Could Turkey acknowledge that the Ittihadists perpetrated a great massacre of the Armenians?
[Vural] That would be hard. I think that we painted ourselves into a corner. Initially, we acted as if nothing like this happened. Now we are saying that “yes, some things happened but they were reciprocal.” I do not know where these discussions may go tomorrow, but I think certain psychological steps may be taken on this issue.
[Duzel] What can be done?
[Vural] What would I do if I was in a position of authority? I would say: “All Armenians and members other minorities who lived within the current borders of Turkey at the time of the Ottoman Empire and who were subjected to deportation in one way or another–even if this deportation was to other regions of the Empire–will be admitted to Turkish citizenship automatically if they request it.” I do not know how many people would take up this offer, but, at a minimum, people who were driven out of their villages, towns, or cities by force would have been told: “The republic is granting you and people of your ancestry the right to return and to become citizens of this country.” People who apply would be granted this right.
[Duzel] So what would happen to the properties and assets the Armenians left behind during the deportation?
[Vural] These can be discussed. A fund may be established. The return of the properties and providing a full accounting for them is now very difficult, but a symbolic reparation is possible. What matters is that we show that we are not insensitive in the face of a painful situation, that we empathize with the situation, and that we are considering certain ways of compensation as a humanitarian responsibility. I would actually apologize. It is quite debatable under what conditions but [ellipsis]. Regardless, if someone is forced to leave this country [ellipsis]. I do not mean this only for Armenians. I also mean it with respect to people who left after the 6-7 September  incidents. I mean it with respect to our Greek citizens.
[Duzel] When you say “apologize,” what form of apology do you have in mind?
[Vural] These events are unbecoming for Turkey. We do not approve them. The people who were forced to leave this country have our sympathy. We see them as our brothers. If they wish, we are prepared to admit them to Turkish citizenship.
[Duzel] And we apologize for the pain we have caused them.
[Vural] Yes. For the pain [ellipsis]. Yes. These are the best steps that can be taken. This is what a state like ours should do.”
Sixteen Seventeen Armenians, citizens of Iran, have been killed in a bus accident while visiting their historic homeland in Eastern Turkey.
Photo source: http://www.worldbulletin.net/news_detail.php?id=27914
- Harut Sassounian’s weekly commentary has an interesting account in the last paragraph.
Armenia Lost the Soccer Match, But Gained International Prestige
By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Sep 11, 2008
I witnessed history in the making last week when the Turkish President, at the invitation of the Armenian President, paid his first ever visit to Armenia to watch the soccer match between the national teams of their respective countries – a qualifying game for the 2010 World Cup finals.
Before the match, some Armenians had been predicting with great nationalistic fervor an outright victory for Armenia , while others were certain that the game would end in a draw, in keeping with the atmosphere of political reconciliation. Armenians frowned upon this writer when he suggested that the powerful Turkish team would most probably win and that the practice of state mandated outcomes for soccer games had ceased with the demise of the Soviet Union . As I had anticipated, the Armenian team lost 2-0 in a lackluster game against the more powerful, but overly cautious Turkish team.
When the Turkish President’s jet arrived at Yerevan ’s Zvartnots Airport last Saturday, he was greeted with proper state protocol and hundreds of protesters. Later on, as he arrived at the Presidential Palace for a meeting with the Armenian President, there were more protests, not against him or his visit, but the Turkish state’s denial of the Armenian Genocide. There were lengthy debates in both the Turkish and the Armenian press about the appropriateness of such protests.
I believe it would have been highly surprising if the head of the Turkish state that continues to deny the Armenian Genocide had visited Armenia without a single Armenian reminding him that there is an on-going injustice and unresolved issues between the two countries. In the absence of such protests, the Turkish President would have drawn the wrong conclusion that Armenians in Armenia had no problems with Turkey and that the Genocide issue is only raised by the Diaspora, particularly since it was reported that the Genocide was not discussed at all between the two presidents. To draw Pres. Gul’s attention to this important issue, ARF members unfurled a giant unsanctioned banner during the soccer match that called for: “Recognition and Reparations.”
Many Armenians were unhappy that the Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) had just decided to remove the sketch of Mount Ararat from the FFA logo on the Armenian soccer players’ uniforms. They viewed this removal as an undesirable attempt to appease Turkey . Some members of the Armenian Parliament were so irate that they pledged to raise their objection in Parliament and possibly take legal action against the FFA.
Nevertheless, the soccer match provided a unique opportunity for Pres. Sargsyan and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian to meet with their Turkish counterparts in Yerevan to discuss the Artsakh (Karabagh) conflict, possible diplomatic relations between the two countries, the blockade of Armenia by Turkey , and the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform – a new Turkish initiative. The two foreign ministers, after huddling long past midnight, decided to continue their discussions later this month while attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York City . Meanwhile, Pres. Gul invited his Armenian counterpart to come to Istanbul on Oct. 14, 2009 to watch with him the return match between the two national soccer teams.
It is not known how much progress was registered in last Saturday’s discussions. Both sides made optimistic statements at the conclusion of their meetings. Several observations could be made, however, regarding recent developments in the region:
– Both Armenia and Turkey have come under intense diplomatic pressure from the United States , Europe and Russia to resolve their long-standing problems which would enable these foreign powers to secure their energy supplies from the Caspian Sea region and engage in the transfer of goods by rail across now closed borders.
– The Georgian-Ossetian-Russian conflict has raised Armenia ’s geopolitical significance in the region at the expense of Georgia and Azerbaijan .
– Turkish officials no longer seem to be setting the resolution of the Artsakh conflict as a pre-condition to establishing relations with Armenia .
– Since Pres. Gul was strongly urged by his domestic opponents, hardliners within his own administration as well as Azerbaijani officials not to go to Armenia, imagine how much more pressure he would have to endure should he decide to establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan and open the closed border with Armenia in the near future!
Finally, one concrete attempt at historical reconciliation between a very special Turk and a very special Armenian already succeeded. Milliyet’s journalist Hasan Cemal, the grandson of one of the three masterminds of the Armenian Genocide, Jemal Pasha, had a very touching meeting earlier this week in Yerevan with the grandson of his grandfather’s Armenian assassin in Tbilisi in 1922. A few days ago, Hasan Cemal visited the Genocide Memorial in Yerevan and placed a wreath in memory of the Armenian victims!
At 12:00 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Time) or 9:00 p.m. (Armenia time) on Saturday, September 6, 2008
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