Archive for January, 2009

Davos: An Opportunity Missed

Turkey’s Prime Minister’s January 29, 2009 World Economic Forum confrontation with Israel’s President over Gaza offensive seems to have excited many Armenians, giving the latter hope for long-waited Tel Aviv and Washington D.C. recognition of the Armenian genocide. My friend Harut Sassounian, for instance, writes enthusiastically on the Huffington Post that “Israel May Retaliate Against Turkey by Recognizing the Armenian Genocide.” His post appeared even before Prime Minister Erdogan’s angry remarks at Davos, Switzerland. So, perhaps, there is a chance for genocide recognition.

But should Armenians celebrate a short-term conflict between conservative Turkish and Israeli forces – both up for reelection and, thus, appealing to their respective nationalist voters – just because it may result in Armenian genocide recognition?

My answer is no. My answer is no because Erdogan brought up a valid point – Israel’s actions in Gaza were disproportionate and left many civilians dead. My answer is no because the Armenian argument for genocide recognition has been on moral grounds – and should stay so. My answer is no because even if Israel recognizes the Armenian genocide out of anger, realpolitik will dictate Israel and Turkey to come back together – especially after the elections. Even if there is short-term recognition of the Armenian genocide under these circumstances, it won’t be a sustainable one. My answer is no because an unrelated genocide shouldn’t be recognized as a result of dispute over Palestinian and Israeli blood.

If you ask me, the Davos panel had an opportunity for real genocide talk. But that opportunity is not what many Armenians think. The Washington Post journalist who moderated the panel that Erdogan angrily left is of Armenian origin. Instead of not allowing Turkey’s Erdogan to react to Israel’s Shimon Peres, moderator David Ignatius should have asked the Turkish Prime Minister, “You bring up the death of Palestinian civilians, but why is your government so unwilling to recognize oppression against Kurds and admit the systematic destruction of indigenous Armenians during WWI?”

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 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.

Turkey: One Story Two Tones

An e-mail I received invites attention to a news items in Turkey’s largest-circulating newspaper with two different versions. While the English translation talks about monentum in Armenian-Turkish relations, the original Turkish has qutite a different tome. Ara Arabyan’s e-mail to a list of Armenian and Turkish scholars/activists, published by his permission, below:

I wrote earlier that I found the Hurriyet story (in English) about Turkey and Armenia being “very close”  to normalizing relations interesting because I had not seen that story elsewhere. When I checked the Turkish version of the same paper for similar news I found only the following in its 22 January 2009 edition (translation/summary follows in green).

The two reports (one in English and the other in Turkish) about the same story are very different in tone. The English one underscores  that the two countries are “very close” to normalizing relations (with no problems mentioned), while the Turkish one emphasizes that Armenia is not backing down on the recognition of the genocide.  Hurriyet is Turkey’s largest mass-circulation daily and is read by tens of millions of people each day. It’s curious why the paper would choose to promote the same story in a more negative tone inside Turkey and in an upbeat tone to English readers.  It is understandable that the politicians of both sides would wish to appear tough on the other side when addressing their home audiences but take a softer and more reasonable stand when talking to each other in private. It is less understandable for mass-circulation media to echo that dichotomy in their reporting.

Regardless, real negotiations are evidently under way and some breakthrough is quite likely in the near future (barring some unexpected development that may bring down the current government in Turkey).

And here is the translation of the Turkish version by Ara:


Speaking at a press conference, [Armenia’s foreign minister] Nalbandyan said that Armenia will accept the formation of an intergovernmental commission [on the events 1915] only if Turkey opens its borders and establishes diplomatic relations with Armenia without any preconditions.

According to the Armenian press, Nalbandyan said at the press conference that ““Turkey is not doing us any favors by normalizing our relations.” He also said at the same press conference: “Yerevan will not make any sacrifices to normalize relations with Ankara.” Nalbandyan continued:

“Armenia will never renounce its policy of seeking recognition for the Armenian Genocide by the international community. The dark pages of history must be turned over but the lessons of the past must never be forgotten. Armenia will never question the reality of the Armenian Genocide.”

‘Agree With Babacan’

The Armenian foreign minister also said that he agrees with his Turkish counterpart, Ali Babacan, that the two countries are nearing reconciliation. He added however: “The problems can be solved only if Turkey agrees to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey unconditionally.”

Nalbandyan also said that he will attend the planned meeting of the Turkish-sponsored Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform.

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.

Turkey’s “Martin Luther King Jr.” Commemorated

(an edited version of this appears on Global Voices Online)

The Biblical flood left Mount Ararat still, but a murdered journalist’s legacy has been moving mountains between Armenia and Turkey, two states separated by holy Ararat and an unholy history. After Hrant Dink’s January 19, 2007 assassination in front of his Istanbul office of Agos, an Armenian weekly he edited, thousands of Turkish citizens came to his funeral chanting, “We are all Hrant Dink; we are all Armenians.” The killing of one of Turkey’s few surviving indigenous Armenian Christian voices by a Turkish ultranationalist has shocked the world, but equally mesmerizing is the ignited hope for peace that lives on two years after Dink’s murder.

Setting the tone of Hrant Dink’s worldwide prominence, Gordon Taylor writes on his blog:

Today is not only Martin Luther King Day, and the day before Barack Obama’s inauguration. It is also the second anniversary of another murder.

With Hrant Dink commemorations around the world, Turkey gets the lion’s share of them. Among many events listed at Blog Kurdistan, one stands out:

18 Ocak’ta saat 15.00’te Galatasaray Meydanı’nda ‘O gün Biz de vurulduk’ temalı bir flashmob etkinliği yapılacak.

There will be a flash mob demonstration with the theme “On that day we were also shot” at 3 p.m. on January 18 in [Istanbul’s] Galatasaray square. (translated by Amy Grupp).

Some photos from the flash mob demonstration are available at a Turkish site.

Cyber commemorations are also taking place. Over 1,700 members of the networking Facebook site, for instance, have posted Hrant Dink’s photo as their profile picture and updated their status to “We are all Hrant Dink,” an event hosted by my blog. Dozens of Turkish blogs have posts commemorating Dink.

Writing in Russian, Armenian journalist-blogger Mark Grigorian remembers Hrant Dink.

Он был одним из тех, кто пытался найти пути и способы примирить армян и турок…”Армяне — врачи турок, — продолжал он, — а турки — врачи армян. Нет других докторов. Диалог — вот единственный рецепт”.

He tried to find ways of reconciling Armenians and Turks… “Armenians are Turks’ doctors,” he continued, “and Turks, Armenians’ doctors. There are no other doctors. Dialogue is the only recipe.”

Himself in exile in London, Grigorian says that Dink’s murder was followed with unparalleled progress in Armenian-Turkish relations: the first visit of the Turkish president to Armenia and an online apology by thousands of Turks to Armenians for their WWI extermination in the Ottoman Empire. Yet:

…проблема так велика, а пропасть между двумя народами так глубока, что сдвиги в сторону сближения вызывают у националистов негативную реакцию, а то и отторжение. Примером этого можно считать опубликованную в одной из турецких газет фотографию, на которой группа мужчин держит плакаты с надписями: “Собакам вход разрешен, евреям и армянам вход воспрещен “.

…the problem is so great, and the division between the two nations so deep, that steps toward coming closer [to each other] bring about negative reactions among nationalists. One example is a [recent] photo published in a Turkish newspaper showing a group of men holding signs reading, “Dogs are allowed; Jews and Armenians are not allowed.”

While nationalism in Turkey is prominent, one Turk has made an unprecedented step toward reconciliation. His letter, posted on my Blogian, explains what he’s done:

When I found out that the properties that I and my brothers inherited from our father wasn’t our own, but properties taken from the murdered Assyrians in 1915 I felt an indescribable feeling of guilt and shame… I have personally apologized to every Assyrian and Armenian I’ve met. But this does not get rid of the crime our ancestors committed. Even if I am personally not responsible for what happened in 1915, I felt as I had to do more than just to apologize. Finally, I came to the decision to give back all properties that I inherited from my forefathers to [an Assyrian organization].

In death, Dink has also opened Armenian eyes. Armenian-American Mark Gavoor, while pondering Dink and Armenian-Turkish relations, says:

I, my family, we… were led to believe that Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] was both a communist and a womanizer.

…It strikes me very odd that many Armenians I knew growing up had a dislike for blacks. When I look back at both the Armenian Genocide and the life work of Martin Luther King, I am struck with one thing. Armenians for the most part focus on our own tragedy, almost exclusively. We can live in this great country and see little irony that we as disposed people live on the lands of disposed American Indians….

Incidentally, the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday in the United States in 2009, celebrated the second Monday of January, coincides with Dink’s second anniversary. Two years ago, right after Dink’s murder, Canada-based Armenian blogger Vahe Balabanian compared the two:

On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King was shot… In 1986, Martin Luther King Day was established as a United States holiday.

Hrant Dink’s story still remains to be written in Turkey…his unwavering trust that we all would manage to live together in peace one day.

It is now Turkey’s turn to demonstrate its greatness by making Hrant Dink Turkey’s Martin Luther King.

“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.”

Oldest Armenia Brain Found in a Cave?

via Science News:

In a cave overlooking southeastern Armenia’s Arpa River, just across the border from Iran, scientists have uncovered what may be the oldest preserved human brain from an ancient society. The cave also offers surprising new insights into the origins of modern civilizations, such as evidence of a winemaking enterprise and an array of culturally diverse pottery.

Excavations in and just outside of Areni-1 cave during 2007 and 2008 yielded an extensive array of Copper Age artifacts dating to between 6,200 and 5,900 years ago, reported Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles, January 11 at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. In eastern Europe and the Near East, an area that encompasses much of southwest Asia, the Copper Age ran from approximately 6,500 to 5,500 years ago.

The finds show that major cultural developments occurred during the Copper Age in areas outside southern Iraq, which is traditionally regarded as the cradle of civilization, Areshian noted. The new cave discoveries move cultural activity in what’s now Armenia back by about 800 years.


Remarkably, one skull contained a shriveled but well-preserved brain. “This is the oldest known human brain from the Old World,” Areshian said. The Old World comprises Europe, Asia, Africa and surrounding islands.

Scientists now studying the brain have noted preserved blood vessels on its surface. Surviving red blood cells have been extracted from those hardy vessels for analysis.


Turk Gives Away Family Land as Genocide Reparation

Encouraged by the recent apology to Armenians by thousands of Turkish intelectuals and disissidents, a Turkish citizen has done the unprecedented: Berzan Boti (not his real name) of Siirt is giving all the land he inherited to an Assyrian organization. Along with Armenians, indigenous Assyrians were also victims of the WWI genocide at the hands of Ottoman Empire’s government during WWI:

Boti’s letter to Sabri Atman,  founder and director of the Assyrian Seyfo Center in Europe who will now be responsible for the returned land (south of the Lake Van), states:

“When I found out that the properties that I and my brothers inherited from our father wasn’t our own, but properties taken from the murdered Assyrians in 1915 I felt an indescribable feeling of guilt and shame. I’ve been thinking long and hard before I have come to this decision. I tried to put myself in their position. I have personally apologized to every Assyrian and Armenian I’ve met. But this does not get rid of the crime our ancestors committed. Even if I am personally not responsible for what happened in 1915, I felt as I had to do more than just to apologize. Finally, I came to the decision to give back all properties that I inherited from my forefathers to Seyfo Center, which works for the recognition of the Seyfo (Assyrian) genocide in 1915” (slightly edited – Blogian).