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Obama: Turkey Performance Satisfying

Barack Obama didn’t pronounce “Armenian Genocide” in Turkey, but he said the following in front of the Turkish parliament:

…An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens.

I say this as the President of a country that not too long ago made it hard for someone who looks like me to vote. But it is precisely that capacity to change that enriches our countries…

Another issue that confronts all democracies as they move to the future is how we deal with the past…our country still struggles with the legacy of our past treatment of Native Americans.

Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there are strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. While there has been a good deal of commentary about my views, this is really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive…

Earlier in Turkey, during a press conference, Obama had the following Q&A with his hometown newspaper Chicago Tribune’s Christy Parsons:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. As a U.S. senator you stood with the Armenian-American community in calling for Turkey’s acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide and you also supported the passage of the Armenian genocide resolution. You said, as President you would recognize the genocide. And my question for you is, have you changed your view, and did you ask President Gul to recognize the genocide by name?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, my views are on the record and I have not changed views. What I have been very encouraged by is news that under President Gul’s leadership, you are seeing a series of negotiations, a process, in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a whole host of longstanding issues, including this one.

I want to be as encouraging as possible around those negotiations which are moving forward and could bear fruit very quickly very soon. And so as a consequence, what I want to do is not focus on my views right now but focus on the views of the Turkish and the Armenian people. If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage them.
And so what I told the President was I want to be as constructive as possible in moving these issues forward quickly. And my sense is, is that they are moving quickly. I don’t want to, as the President of the United States, preempt any possible arrangements or announcements that might be made in the near future. I just want to say that we are going to be a partner in working through these issues in such a way that the most important parties, the Turks and the Armenians, are finally coming to terms in a constructive way.

Q So if I understand you correctly, your view hasn’t changed, but you’ll put in abeyance the issue of whether to use that word in the future?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I’d like to do is to encourage President Gul to move forward with what have been some very fruitful negotiations. And I’m not interested in the United States in any way tilting these negotiations one way or another while they are having useful discussions.

While some Armenians seem unhappy with Obama’s statement – there is now a SHAME ON YOU OBAMA Facebook group – I find Obama’s words tactfully affirmative. He indirectly said that genocide took place but that he won’t use the word “genocide” in Ankara as far as Turkey can demonstrate that there are fruitful negotiations for “full” normalization with Armenia which will itself, hopefully, result in genocide recognition. Specifically, he stated that 1) You know that I think Turkey committed genocide but I won’t use the word genocide since 2) there seems to be real hope for normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations, 3) but Turkey needs to demonstrate that the normalization is process is real and that the normalization is a “full normalization”, and (4) the latter should automatically include genocide recognition by Turkey. In Turkish professor Taner Akcam’s words, “[Obama] really pushed the borders, in a very positive and very smart way.”

Moreover, his comparison of the Native American experience – which is clearly an experience of genocide in the eyes of Turks – was also to the point (not mentioning that it was exactly what I had suggested to do in an earlier post :D).

There can be a lot more said about Obama’s handling of the situation. I am personally satisfied with the way he handled the issue given the place and time restrictions.

First Anniversary…

Today marks the the first anniversary of post-election violence in Armenia that left 10 people dead…
May the victims rest in peace.
Some of our last year’s coverage:

http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/15/armenia-catholicos-rejection-rumor-confirmed/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/14/european-parliament-resolution-on-armenia-unrest/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/13/armenia-youtubecom-ban-lifted/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/10/armenia-youtubecom-blocked/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/10/armenia-video-shows-servicemen-shooting-on-protesters/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/08/armenia-online-mourning-the-dead/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/07/official-report-by-republic-of-armenia-ombudsman-human-rights-defender/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/07/new-york-times-editorial-on-armenias-post-election-unrest/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/05/armenia-opposition-leader-publishes-column-in-washington-post/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/05/armenia-reflections-on-unrest/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/04/russia-pravda-column-suggests-us-role-in-armenian-unrest/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/04/armenia-rumors-says-deaths-underreported-police-blame-opposition/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/04/armenia-soldiers-shave-on-streets/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/04/uk-response-to-post-election-unrest-in-armenia/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/03/armenia-information-blockade-continues-amid-state-of-emergency/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/03/armenia-opposition-conference-attended-by-foreign-media-only/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/03/armenia-public-tv-video-on-march-1-2008-post-election-protest/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/03/human-rights-watch-police-beat-peaceful-protesters-in-yerevan/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/03/banned-in-armenia-election-protests-continue-in-southern-california/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/02/armenia-four-dead-identified/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/02/armenia-police-confirm-eight-deaths/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/02/in-pictures-armenia-protests/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/02/armenia-opposition-blames-government-agents-for-looting-and-riots/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/02/armenia-unrests-the-good-end/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/02/us-state-department-statement-on-political-unrest-in-armenia/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/02/los-angeles-armenian-americans-urged-to-call-congress/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/02/armenia-media-stop-reporting-protests-after-state-of-emergency/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/02/armenia-opposition-media-comply-with-censorship/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/01/armenia-the-state-of-emergency-text/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/01/armenia-situation-getting-worse/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/01/armenia-authorities-deny-deaths/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/01/armenia-protest-deaths-rise/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/01/armenia-there-will-be-blood/
http://blogian.hayastan.com/2008/03/01/armenia-reports-of-ongoing-police-brutality/

Remembering the Victims – All of Them

Today marks the anniversary of the Armenian takeover of the city of Khojalu in 1992, as a result of which several hundred Azerbaijani civilians were killed.

Caught in the war of words between Armenia and Azerbaijan (one side blaming the other for the massacre), the memory of the killed Azeris in Khojalu has been reduced to a political tool.

Everyone is writing about the “truth about the Khojalu,” whether Armenian or Azeri bloggers.

I don’t know what other’s “truth” is, but innocent people were killed in Khojalu – and whether Azerbaijan’s army had a role in it is not important when it comes to commemorating children who died in a war.

So on the anniversary of Khojalu, I commemorate the victims of all massacres and pogroms during the Nagorno-Karabak war – whether Armenian or Azeri.

May the killed in Sumgayit, Baku, Maraga, Khojalu and many others that we may never hear about, rest in peace. These massacres are not the shame of the “enemy.” These massacres are the shame and loss of all us. May dead Azeris and Armenians rest in peace.

And in commemorating Khojalu, I also would like to remember Azerbaijan’s most famous journalist, Eynulla Fatullayev, who is in prison in Azerbaijan for having visited the town of Khojalu (after the war) and suggesting that Azerbaijan’s army, along with Armenian militias, also had a role in the massacre.

Fatullayev is also a victim of Khojalu – one caught in the war of words and one who has tried to bring Armenians and Azeris together. He is the true hero in the unholy propaganda between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Khojalu and other pogroms/massacres during the Nagorno-Karabakh war.

Turkey: Oldest Assyrian Church under Threat

Assyrians around the world are protesting what they consider to be Turkey’s attempt to oppress and eventually close the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox church on Earth.

Mor Gabriel Monastery, founded in 397, has survived centuries of oppression, including the World War I genocide against indigenous Assyrians and Armenians by Ottoman Turkey. Its remote location, perhaps, is one reason.

But with rising Turkish nationalism – and increasing Assyrian demands for recognition of their genocide – Mor Gabriel Monastery is facing challenges. In the words of a Turkish newspaper:

[…]

A local prosecutor in August 2008 initiated a separate court case against the monastery after mayors of three villages complained the monks were engaged in “anti-Turkish activities” and alleged they were illegally converting children to the Christian faith. Monks say the mayors are instigating anti-Christian feelings by accusing Mor Gabriel of being against Islam. Villagers in neighboring Çandarlı, a settlement of 12 humble houses with no paved roads, said they had nothing against Christians and accused the monastery of taking land they need for cattle.

“There is a continued campaign to destroy the backbone of the Syriac people and close down the monastery,” said Daniel Gabriel, director of the human rights division of the Syriac Universal Alliance, a leading Syriac group based in Sweden. “These proceedings cannot take place without the sanction of the Turkish government. If the government wanted to protect the Syriac Christian community, it would stop this case,” he said.

Many churches and monasteries in southeast Turkey — known to Syriac Christians as Turabdin or “the mountain of worshippers” — are now abandoned and in ruins. “You need people to have a church. Without the community, the church is only a building,” said Saliba Özmen, the metropolitan, or bishop, of the nearby city of Mardin.

[…]

Photos from a recent demonstration in Europe are available at a Germany-based website.

Turkey: Web Propaganda Busted

Talk about internet wars.

The ongoing investigation of an ultra-nationalist gang in Turkey, Ergenekon, has made some remarkable findings. In addition to killings and more planned assassinations – with the aim to destabilize Turkey and establish a fascist regime – the group has apparently organized nationalist propaganda on the web.

In the words of Todays Zaman, a Turkish newspaper:

A large number of professional Web sites offering nationalist content and pseudo-scientific research about Armenian genocide allegations, Turkey’s Kurdish population and Greece and Turkey’s religious citizens that have been on the Internet for a long time have been found to be operated by Ergenekon, a clandestine terrorist organization charged with attempting to overthrow the government.

These Web sites, which are updated frequently in both Turkish and English, feature extremely nationalist propaganda against Greeks, Kurds and Armenians, as well as Turkey’s own Muslim segments. They have been around for some time, standing out with their professional-looking content and design; however, these sites, rich with information, videos, photographs and documents, have never offered any contact information.

The investigation has revealed that a hub of retired and on-duty military personnel are behind a network of dozens of ultra-nationalist websites.

[…]

The Ergenekon investigation recently revealed that 35 Internet domains with similar content and design were registered with the same company.

The sites seem to have been trying to foment public opinion in line with the goals of the Ergenekon organization. The sites include www.abdullahocalanakademisi.info, apopkk.com, armenianreality.com, cameria.org, gencizbiz.net, genclik.info, gnkur.net, greekmurderers.net, irtica.net, irtica.org, naksilik.com, nursi.info, pkkapo.com, pkkgercegi.com, terorveguvenlik.net, turkatak.com and turkeyturks.com.

[…]

Despite the discovery, many of the websites are active and frequently updated. Perhaps the most famous one, http://www.armenianreality.com/, is still active. In addition to denying the Armenian Genocide, the website commonly refers to Armenians as “terrorists,” just like in the case of anti-Greek and anti-Kurdish websites operated by Ergenekon.

What is most interesting, though, is the fate of other nationalist Turkish websites who have heavily relied on Ergenekon’s internet content. One such website is Murad “Holdwater” Gumen’s http://www.tallarmeniantale.com/, where “Holdwater” says “Two Turkish sites I have borrowed material from [is] ataa.org and amenianreality.com.”

Incidentally, a Summer 2008 Intelligence Report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a U.S.-based Civil Rights organization, exposed both tallarmeniantale.com and armenianreality.com in addition to two other sites:

[…]

TALL ARMENIAN TALE
www.tallarmeniantale.com
Claiming to present “the other side of the falsified genocide,” this website describes Armenians as lemmings and makes the argument that Armenians are inherently traitorous. Murad “Holdwater” Gumen, a Turkish-American illustrator best known for his work on Disney and Warner Bros. cartoon characters, is the webmaster for this site. “Armenians have clung to the tragic events of so long ago as a form of ethnic identity, and have considered it their duty to perpetuate this myth,” he writes. “As descendants of the merchant class from the Ottoman Empire, Armenians have been successful in acquiring the wealth and power to make their voices heard … and they have made good use of the ‘Christian’ connection to gain the sympathies of Westerners who share their religion and prejudices.”

[…]

ARMENIAN REALITY
www.armenianreality.com
Armenian Reality details a comprehensive alternative universe in which Muslim Turks were the victim of an Armenian-perpetrated genocide during World War I, not the other way around. The site also repeatedly characterizes Armenians as terrorists, making the outlandish claim that “Armenian crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Ottoman Turkish … have been forgotten amidst congressional preoccupation with placating the vocal and richly financed Armenian lobby.”

Another Turkish site, operated by Ergenekon members, writes about “Turkish genocides committed by Greeks.”

Georgia: Armenian Activists Arrested

Five months after the war with Russia over South Ossetia, Georgian authorities have reportedly arrested two members of its Armenian minority on suspicion of espionage and forming an armed gang. Underrepresented in the local government of a region where they make up the majority, some Armenian demands for autonomy of Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region (map) are once again being heard.

Realarmenia posts an announcement by an Armenian organization in Georgia, detailing the charges:

On January 22, 2009 the special forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia detained Grigor Minasyan, the director of the Akhaltskha Armenian Youth Center of Samtskhe-Javakheti Region of Georgia and Sargis Hakobjanyan, the chairman of “Charles Aznavour” charitable organization. They were charged with “preparation of crime”, according to Article 18 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, and “formation or leading of a paramilitary unit” (Part 1 of Article 223) and “espionage” (Part 1 of Article 314).

The announcement also reads:

The «Yerkir» Union considers these arrests as a deliberate provocation by the Georgian authorities, aimed at deterioration of the situation in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region and worsening the Armenian-Georgian relations…Only a democratic Georgia, respecting its ethnic diversity, can avoid further disruption and guarantee the sustainable development of the country.

While XUSSR NEWS reminds of earlier arrests of ethnic Armenians in Georgia, there is little information in the conventional media about the new development and limited discussion in the blogosphere.

Nevertheless, The Caucasian Knot is concerned by the latest developments, and particularly by what is considers nationalist statements made by some in Armenia suggesting for Javakheti’s independence from Georgia.

[Think-tank] Mitq […] continues to play the nationalist card by warning of a second Armenian Genocide [in Georgia]. The same news site carries a report quoting a former Armenian Ambassador who not only lays claim to the region, but potentially risks encouraging a new armed conflict.

[…]

And as Armenian nationalists openly boast that “after Karabakh, Javakhk is next,” more diplomatic initiatives and sensitive handling by both Yerevan and Tbilisi seems more necessary than ever.

The blog, nonetheless, acknowledges problems in the region and especially with Council of Europe demands to repatriate Meskhetian Turks deported from the region by Stalin in 1944. Other bloggers in Armenia staged a mock funeral in 2008 outside the Georgian Embassy in protest at an ongoing dispute over church property in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

As an indication of some concerns that Armenians have about the level of cultural rights in Georgia, smbatgogyan [AM] has detailed an Armenian textbook published in Georgia with countless typos and grammatical errors.

Գնացել էի գյուղ, որը գտնվում է Վրաստանում` Ջավախքում: Այնտեղ արդեն մի-քանի տարի է, ինչ դպրոցներում փորձում են վերացնել հայերենը: Սակայն նրանց մոտ ոչինչ չստացվեց` ծնողները հրաժարվեցին իրենց երեխաներին քիմիա, աշխարհագրություն և համաշխարհային պատմություն սովորեցնել վրացերենով: …Վրաստանի կրթության նախարարությունը սկսել է հայերեն լեզվով դասագրքեր տպել Վրաստանի հայկական դպրոցների համար և պարտադրում է ուսանել այդ գրքերով: Ահա այդ գրքերից մեկը…:

…I went to a village in Georgia’s Javakhk [region]. [The Georgian authorities] have been trying to eliminate the Armenian language at schools there. But they were unsuccessful: parents refused to let their children learn chemistry, geography and world history in Georgian…. Georgia’s ministry of education has started to print textbooks in Armenian and requires to use them at school [as opposed to textbooks published in Armenia]. Here is one of those books…

The blog posts the cover of a mathematics textbook for second-grade students with the large title containing two typos in the word “mathematics.”

Interestingly, an earlier post dealt with translating textbooks into minority languages in Georgia. Writing for TOL Chalkboard, Swiss-Armenian journalist and regional analyst Vicken Cheterian detailed the project.

When we […] carried out bilingual education studies in Georgia […] we wondered how the images of minorities were reflected in the pages of Georgian history textbooks[…].

Their report […] found something startling: Armenians and Azeris in Georgia were by and large absent from Georgian history books. When they were noted, it was in a negative sense.

[…]

A workshop held in November [2008] […] concluded that the Georgian Education Ministry is moving forward in its efforts to change the way history is taught. At the event […] Georgian educators presented their ongoing project to develop new textbooks with the aim of giving more space to minorities in the official version of history presented to youngsters from majority and minority linguistic communities.

These new texts should begin appearing soon in Armenian and Azeri schools, and be in use in all history classes in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo-Kartli by 2011.

[…]Georgian history teachers and authors are moving from a position of negation of ethnic minorities to one of recognition. But important obstacles remain in the path toward an integrated narrative of history in which minorities move from being the “other” coexisting with “us” into being part of society.

…[I]n a turbulent political climate following the catastrophic August war [with Russia], Georgian education authorities and many educators continue to press for change.

Will the process of “change” include enough Armenians and Azeris so that relations, let alone words, are not lost in translation?

My post on the New York Times website

New York Times’ Topics Blog has re-posted my recent Global Voices Online article on the online apology by thousands of Turks to Armenians.

The goal of posting such articles:

To better inform readers of the story behind each story, Times Topics blog provides access to the contents of NYTimes.com and the most informative sources on the Web on hundreds of subjects. This blog provides a place for informed discussion about the events and circumstances that shape the news and lets readers in on those conversations.

Welcome, Mr. President

My mother Susanna’s reaction to Obama’s win (written on Election Night, Nov 4, 2008)

Democracy won, I felt so blessed and happy this morning. I’m so proud of you, American nation. Yes, Democracy won. This triumph of democracy justly belong to the US . This triumph made the entire world proud and happy. The nation of United States approved that USA truly the first democratic country in the world, that people of this country has privilege be announced the first democratic nation in the world. I’m so proud that I live in USA. I don’t regret that I and my son emigrated from Armenia to USA and lived here. In this morning when I woke up with happiness tears in my eyes, the first thing what was in my mind I whished my daughter’s family come to USA too. Honestly I didn’t have these thoughts before. I want my grandchildren live, study, create, and work here.

“We Are All Hrant Dink”

January 19, 2009, marks the second anniversary of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink’s assassination. To commemorate the peace activist’s death, I created a Facebook event where participants will use Dink’s photo as their profile picture and update their status to “We Are All Hrant Dink.”

Over 1,400 people (as of 6:00 PM Standard Eastern US time/Jan 17) have confirmed their participation. If you are a Facebook member, look up “We Are All Hrant Dink.”

US: Armenian Newspaper Gets New Website

The Armenian Reporter has a new website. So far, this seems to be the only well-designed website for any of the U.S.-based Armenian newspapers. Hopefully, this website will start a competition and we will see improvements among other newspapers.

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