Archive for January, 2010

Turkey: Name Change

After repeated silence from municipal officials regarding a name change, a civil society group in Istanbul, Turkey has itself replaced the sign of a local street from that of a mythical toponym – used by a terrorist group – to the name of an Armenian journalist murdered three years ago this month by a ultra-nationalist youth.

The teenager who shot Hrant Dink – the editor of Agos newspaper and a promoter of reconciliation between Turks and Armenians – was allegedly recruited by Ergenekon, an elite military group which has failed its goal of toppling Turkey’s Islamic but moderate administration. Ergenekon, which is named after a mythical place and is revered by Turkish ultra-nationalists, supposedly had planned to kill other Armenians as well (prominent representatives of the handful of indigenous Christians who once numbered 20% of what is today’s Turkey).

Originally reported in Turkish by Bianet, the news is quite  interesting: in a nationalist country like Turkey (even in relatively liberal Istanbul), such action can be dangerous (no official or nationalist reactions have been reported so far). But it is also inspiring, and giving hope that maybe, just maybe, progressive Turks – and hopefully Turkey as a society – will one day rename streets honoring the perpetrators of the Armenian genocide as well.

In Istanbul alone, there are four avenues celebrating the main architect of the genocide – Talaat.

A grandson of the Ottoman “bloody sultan”

The late 19th century Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II banned the use of the scientific formula for water. He thought that H2O might be interpreted as he (Hamid the second) being equal to nothing (zero). The reverse, unfortunately, was the case: even during his rule Hamid became a world-famous figure nicknamed the “bloody sultan” – for massacring almost quarter a million Christian Armenians in the late 1890s in lieu of introducing sought reform. A decade after the Hamidian massacres, the next Ottoman regime that replaced the sultan brought about the end of what is now eastern Turkey’s indigenous Armenian population.

Over a century after the Hamidian massacres and half a decade short of the centennial of the genocide that followed, a grandson of the “bloody sultan” says he is “on the side side of the truth.” One reason why Beyzade Bülent Osman admits, even as indirectly so, his forefather’s massacres and the genocide that followed is because his family “owed their lives” to an Armenian family in France that helped Mr. Osman’s family when they escaped from the Ottoman Empire.

The Turkey-based Hurriyet has the story:


The world knows Sultan Abdülhamit II as a key name related to the Armenian issue and the events of 1915, recognized as genocide by many countries, a claim Turkey rejects. “I am on the side of truth,” Osman said on the issue. “The French and the Germans had also slaughtered each other, came into conflict but still managed to establish dialogue. We have to leave history behind us and look ahead.”

Osman also said his family “owed their lives” to French-Armenians after their exile from Turkey. “We were penniless,” he told the Daily News. “Our Armenian friends helped us. There was an Armenian lady who welcomed us to her chateau and we lived there for a long time. I cannot deny the good deeds Armenians have done for my family.”


Vandalism in Georgia

First he started a devastating war with Russia allegedly because of personal distaste for fellow autocrat Vladimir Putin and for bullying the latter as “Liliputin.”

The Glory Memorial, a Soviet-era monument by sculptor Merab Berdzenishvili

Now Georgian president Saakahsvili has finished the demolition of a WWII memorial honoring his countrymen (and countrywomen) who gave their lives in fighting the Nazis. Add two more people to that list of 300,000 people: a woman and her 8-year-old daughter were killed in the blast that brought down the war memorial – on the day of Saakashvili’s birthday – in Kutaisi, Georgia, supposedly to clear up space for a new parliament building.

The vandalism was not just an attempt to erase Georgia’s Soviet past. The creator of the prominent monument, a celebrated sculptor in Georgia, is Saakashvili’s critic.

Georgia’s president Saakashvili has (perhaps completely) lost his mind. It’s time for his dangerous adventure, initially seen as a democratic one, to end. It’s in Georgia’s national interest for her bipolar president – a democrat in rhetoric yet a dictator at heart – to resign.

And my blog, Ahmadinejad?

I would expect my blog to be banned in Turkey and in Azerbaijan, but not in Iran. Yet, according to a friend who lives in Tehran, Iran’s regime has blocked access to my blog (even though I have commended Iran’s treatment of minority Christian monuments). But then there is Ahmadinejad who doesn’t like, I assume, the following things I have written.

When the Yerevan State University in Armenia gave Ahmadinejad an honorary degree, I disagreed with the decision but admitted that “Iran’s president really needed a degree.”

But I was nicer to Ahmadinejad on another occasion:

“Of course a few would defend Ahmadinejad’s sinister denial of the Holocaust, but comparing him to Hitler and calling him “the evil” is pretty silly…. How is Ahmadinejad worse from Sudan’s president who is massacring millions of people? Why don’t we invade Sudan for committing a genocide?”

OK, I did have a post called “How to Screw Ahmadinejad on Videos.”

Whether my blog deserves to be banned in Iran or not, I don’t know. But I will take the ban as a compliment. Thank you for the honor, Mr. Dictator.