Archive for the 'Personal' Category

Thousands of Turks Apologize to Armenians

While I have received a number of personal letters from individual Turks apologizing for the Genocide, this one is addressed to all Armenians: “My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers and sisters. I apologize to them.”


The thousands of Turkish signatories of the apology statement are not saying sorry for the genocide itself (which they call “the Great Catastrophe,” translating from the Armenian Metz Yeghern). The apology is for the convenient “ignorance” and “denial” about the WWI extermination of Ottoman Empire’s indigenous Armenians for about nine decades. The message, as I see it, is not recognizing a historical fact but recognizing humanity. To recognize genocide means to recognize a victim group’s humanity. The reverse can, apparently, be true as well.


What is also true is that there are thousands of Turks who are willing to risk their lives and comfort in order to break an ancient silence. As one Turkish friend told me, “[i]t’s a bit like putting your name on a ‘wanted’ list.” The “wanted list” is pretty big: over 22,000 signatures on the main website,, by December 24, 2008, and over 3,400 on Facebook  (as of Dec 20) with their real names and photographs (the Facebook event list seems to have since become a private one).


On the other hand, all that Armenians have received for losing a homeland and memory through genocide is a 90-year-late “apology” by a group of people some of whose signatories don’t hide its strategy. One initiator, for instance, has been quoted as suggesting in one Turkish-language newspaper that the apology is a service to the Republic of Turkey in the sense that it will kill genocide recognition by other countries.  Furthermore, earlier this year, in my indigenous politics class, the professor and many students were not satisfied with Australia’s and Canada’s official apology to their indigenous peoples for genocidal policies. So in general, an “apology” is not well received by victim groups.


What is undeniable, nonetheless, is that this apology has full of potential. One would not even imagine such an apology five years ago. One would not imagine that Turkish parliamentarians would discuss the matter, even some of them using the Kurdish term “genocide” to refer to the Armenian extermination.


The apology has also brought out the paradoxical Turkish society. Turkey’s ceremonial president Abdullah Gul has defended the signatories (unlike the “real” Turkish leader, vice president Erdogan). At the same time, though, Gul is suing a nationalist Turkish parliamentarian for saying the president has Armenian roots and that’s why he defends the apology.  This is also the same Gul who has attended a ceremonial killing of Armenian soldiers in Turkey. But this is also the same Gul who visited Armenia this year and wanted to improve relations.


Nevertheless, Turkish media are openly calling Canan Arıtman, the female member of a social-democratic party who suggested Gul is a traitor because of his alleged Armenian origin, a “fascist” and a “racist.” Suggesting that the politician be expelled from her party, one Turkish columnist writing for Sabah says, “Arıtman is racist. What place can racism and questioning ethnic origins have in social democracy, an ideology that has freedom, equality and brotherhood as its fundamental tenets?”


Writing even harsher, a liberal Turkish columnist asks what if all Turks have Armenian origin:


“Arıtman and those like her are the strongest reason we have to apologize to the Armenian community. If these people can readily put into circulation statements that are racist, low and self-aggrandizing, the entire community is responsible for that. We all have a share in this crime. I have questions to ask people who approach this issue reluctantly and who think that it is unnecessary as an agenda item. Have you ever thought about this? Maybe we are all really Armenians. We may all have people in our lineage who were forced to act like Muslim Turks.”


A Zaman columnist says Turks “should thank the racist CHP deputy” for reminding the history of her political party. Apparently that political party is the hereditary of the chauvinist “Union and Progress” that committed the Genocide in 1915.  


Furthermore, some of Arıtman’s colleagues in the parliament have compared her to Hitler: “”It was a similar stance that led German dictator Adolf Hitler to burn thousands of people of Jewish origin. Arıtman sees Armenians as enemies.”  


When was the last time when any media in Turkey was outraged against insulting Armenians? Indeed this is unprecedented and demonstrates the power of the apology – no matte how vague and not-enough it may be.  This maybe the reason why there is so much ultranationalist outrage in Turkey against the apology (even if some self-perceived progressives silently suggest the apology serves Turkey’s national interests). The website of the apology, for instance, was “suspended” according to a message which appeared on it around 1:30 AM standard US eastern time on December 23, 2008. Days ago it was also hacked. Furthermore, a group of nationalists have opened their own website called “I don’t apologize.” Almost 50,000 nationalists have signed it as of December 24. Another counter campaign claims twice as many supporters, although neither websites have received much – if any coverage – in Turkish or other media.


Hated by Turkish ultranationalists, the apology initiative has inspired similar (though low-profile) campaigns in the region. I have received a text that is being circulated among Cypriot Turks and Greeks asking both communities to apologize to each other:


“Initiative for Apologizing for the atrocities committed by ones’ own community

1.     This is an initiative to collect signatures on a document apologizing for the atrocities committed by ones’ own community against the other. Following the initiative of 200 Turkish intellectuals, who found the courage to apologize for the Armenian genocide, we believe it is time for Cypriots to assume responsibility for the crimes allegedly committed in their name and to express regret and condemnation.

2.     The initiative also aims at putting an end to the decades- long practice of concealing the truth about the events, of denying that they ever took place or attempt to justify them. This amounts to a crime of massacre denial which can no longer be tolerated. At the same time each one of us must assume responsibility for the actions we can take as parents, teachers, activists, journalists, politicians to put an end to the decades-long conspiracy of silence about our regrettable past.

3.     We call on all interested persons and organizations to engage in a process of consultation on how best to promote this initiative and to formulate the text to be signed.”


Full of more potential for good than for bad, the Turkish apology is one that surprises many. In fact, it might not have been possible without one person. According to the Irish Times:




Others attribute the initiative to the shock that followed the murder of the Armenian-Turkish editor Hrant Dink. A leading advocate of a more humane debate on the Armenian issue, Dink was gunned down by a nationalist teenager in January 2007.


“When he died, it was as if a veil had been torn from the eyes of the democratic-minded citizens of this country,” says Nil Mutluer, a feminist activist who signed the letter. “People realised there was no time to be lost.”


The road ahead looks hard. The chief organisers of the 1915 massacres continue to be commemorated in street names across the country….”


The road is a hard one, but not unprecedented. Around the globe, there is a global recognition of indigenous rights which have often been repressed through genocidal policies. One such injustice was recently corrected by the country of Nicaragua when it gave title of traditional land to a native nation. A simple apology seems to please many Armenians, though, even it comes froma group of liberal Turks who are ashamed of a 90-year-old campaign to silence and rewrite history.


When I gave my father a print-out of the apology in western Armenian, his initial reaction was: “They took all of our land and memory and all they give us is an apology by a group of small people who don’t even use the word genocide?” To my surprise, he then added, “I accept their apology.”


And earlier this April, when a group of Turkish lobbyists and community organizers denied the Armenian genocide during a commemorative lecture at University of Denver, an Armenian friend of mine (who openly calls himself a nationalist), said to the audience that if a Turk told him “sorry” for the Genocide he would give that Turk a “big, Armenian hug.”


My friend owes 20,000 Turks big, Armenian hugs. Let’s hope the number grows so big that he will never be able to give so many hugs in 90 years.


Blogian may not be updated until after August 5.


I have finally opened a personal facebook account. Please send me an e-mail to [email protected], then I will send you an invitation from my personal account. This is one of the few instances that I will discriminate against people.  I know a lot of friends read my blog – so I hope to connect especially with those who I haven’t had enough chance to talk to. Perhaps I will open a Blogian group in facebook in the future.

My Cousin Arman

My cousin Arman from Souterhn California is visiting me and I am giving him a tour of Blogian at this minute. We’ve been exploring the secret pockets of Denver and still are not too drunk. My graduation is on Saturday!

Obama Out of the Game

Last Thursday, on our way to an after-work bowling party, one of my coworkers said she was the worst player when it came to bowling. I proudly told her that she had never met me before then! I was right – I lost the game to everyone.

My score of 37 is apparently not a record. Presidential candidate Barack Obama shares with me the title of worst player. Although generally I am not happy about sharing titles (I will have to do so during my upcoming graduation where, along with another student, I will be the Outstanding Undergraduate Student of my class), this one is indeed promising.  

Via Yahoo:

[Barack Obama’s] weekend of campaigning [in Pensylvania] also included a comical trip to the lanes at a bowling alley in Altoona, where he was, by his own admission, terrible.

“My economic plan is better than my bowling,” Obama told fellow bowlers Saturday evening at the Pleasant Valley Recreation Center.

“It has to be,” one man called out.

As he laced up his bowling shoes, Obama let everyone know he hadn’t bowled since Jimmy Carter was president.

He shared a lane with Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr., who endorsed him Friday and joined him on the bus tour, and local homemaker Roxanne Hart. As the game went on, several small children bowled with Obama as well.

Obama’s first ball flew well off his hand but ended up in the gutter. On his second try, he knocked down four pins.

About five lanes over, a young man in a T-shirt that said “Beer Hunter” fell on his backside while bowling and still recorded a strike.

The crowd of regulars pressed in to take pictures, get autographs and rib him on his poor skills.

Obama did improve, nearly getting a strike in one frame, and in the seventh, picking up a spare, giving him a score of 37. Casey had a score of 71 after getting a strike, and Hart, with one less frame, racked up a score of 82.

“I was terrible,” Obama laughed as he shook hands with people in a crowd that gathered outside once word spread he was there.

Political Correctness and Cultural Preservation

The current issue of The Armenian Reporter (January 5, 2008), a newspaper in the United States, has my latest article on the destruction of the Djulfa cemetery discussing the politically safe “both sides are guilty” argument and its effectiveness.

The article, with a front page preview, also features a satellite image from the Djulfa cemetery before its final destruction showing marks of pre-2003 destruction.  To see the satellite image and the article in the actual paper format, download the January 5, 2008 issue of The Armenian Reporter from

The full article is also available at the Djulfa blog.


While on a one-day visit to Nakhichevan last November, the U.S. Ambassador in AzerbaijanAnne Derse was confronted by angry Azeri students who were unhappy that an exhibit at Harvard Universityfeatured photographs of Armenian cultural heritage – today completely vanished – in Nakhichevan. During Mrs. Derse’s visit, the Nakhichevani branch of Azerbaijan’s National Academy of Sciences issued an official statement proclaiming that “there is no Armenian historical or cultural monument among those registered” in the region.

In fact, these Armenian monuments no longer exist. One of the largest – the medieval cemetery of Djulfa – was wiped off the face of the earth two years ago, in December 2005, in a well-documented case of vandalism that was condemned by the European Union.

And according to what Jonathan Henick, Public Affairs Officer at the American Embassy in Baku, told this writer, “[t]he Ambassador and others at the Embassy have raised the issue of the Djulfa cemetery with Azerbaijani officials.”

But during her short visit to Nakhichevan, Mr. Henick said, “The Ambassador did not have the opportunity to travel outside of the capital city. She did visit a number of interesting cultural monuments in Nakhichivan city, but our understanding is that none of those monuments were of Armenian origin.”

Perhaps the Ambassador missed a chance to visit the site where the world’s largest Armenian cemetery existed not too long ago. Instead, the American Embassy, as articulated by Mr. Henick, offered an important message to Armenia and Azerbaijan that “joint efforts to preserve monuments in both countries would serve the interests of safeguarding the shared cultural heritage of this fascinating region and might also be a valuable confidence- building measure in the ongoing efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.”

The well-intentioned statement of the Embassy resonates with a popular Western sentiment that “both sides are to blame” for the cultural destruction that is happening. This argument is in a way a form of political correctness and seeks not to dehumanize any ethnic group.

Yet this approach avoids analysis of specific cases and unintentionally supports the prejudiced “barbarian” argument – “Azeris are barbarians they have always destroyed Armenian monuments,” and vice versa. It suggests that if we accept that a certain aspect of an ethnic conflict – such as destroying the other’s culture – may be an official policy or a norm among one side and not necessarily and equally among the other then this one side is more “civilized” than the other.

In reality, cultural destruction during ethnic conflict and who destroys how much and how it goes about destroying is not a reflection of “clash of civilizations,” but a representation of a slew of historical and social circumstances. These do not demonstrate the “humanity” of one people or another but whether one or the other perceives the opposite side as much human.


Armenia’s leaders have no such reasons to rewrite history and instead try to contrast their policies to what Azerbaijanhas done to Armenian monuments. The restoration of two mosques in Karabakh with government funding is the most recent such example.

A more realistic picture of Azeri monuments in Armeniais one of neglect and ignorance, as Vanadzor-based journalist Naira Bulgadarian reported for the IWPR Caucasus Report in September 2007. There is also an effort to present Muslim monuments on Armenian territory as belonging only to the Persians, and not the Azeris – while both groups, as well as Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs, can lay claims to these monuments.

Yet, as Ms. Bulgadarian reported, the Armenian government has also allocated funds to catalogue and to safeguard Azeri cemeteries. An exhibit in Stepanakert late last year featured photographs of about 30 Muslim monuments in Karabakh.

Azerbaijani officials and activists, on the other hand, have to a large degree ridiculed the discussion of monuments in the South Caucasus. Last October and November, as part of the effort to thwart the Nakhichevan exhibit at Harvard, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry distributed letters and statements claiming that “Armenians destroyed over 100,000 cultural monuments, hundreds of cemeteries and 1,000-2,000-year-old archaeological monuments in the occupied Azerbaijani territory.”[…]


Everyone is asking me what I will be drinking this Sunday. In America, you may know, 21 is the drinking age.

For some reason I am bad with drinking. While in Armenia, for example, I got sick two weeks ago just from drinking two small glasses of wine. Beer is out of question; “Sex on the beach” is tolerable.

So yes, I will be 21 this Sunday. But what worries me is not the fact that I won’t be able to drink much, but the simple reason of having a birthday that I don’t want to have.

It’s not that I am getting old. I guess I am afraid from the question, “what did you do for your birthday?” Because quite simply I may not have an answer to that.

Friends? I have many in America. But I don’t really know the definition of a “friend” here. In Armenia, for example, I don’t need to tell my friends that it’s my birthday or invite them. They will be there on that day no matter if I am doing anything or not. They will be at the airport to meet me even if I tell them I don’t like being welcomed like a president. 

Actually at my work I was treated like a president today. They had organized a surprise party for me attended by about 45 employees! I entered a committee room and voila – lights are turned on and people start singing Happy Birthday, Simon! Even the House Speaker, whose actual birthday is today, had to delay his own small birthday gathering to attend mine. So, yes, I felt more than special and especially loved the dozens of happy birthday cards. One of the cards congratulated my 92nd birthday, with a note from a senior millionaire friend stating, “Simon you know I am cheap. So I decided you can use this card for 71 more times and I won’t have to buy you another one.”

And again, everyone asked what I was going to do on Sunday! And I was quite speechless, because I didn’t want to say that I don’t think I am going to have anything at all, not at least with the people that I would like to be there, which would include my sister in Armenia and her little daughter, my brother who got me a nice surprize by getting himself into a little trouble and won’t be with me this Sunday, my High School friends in Armenia and of course a girl that I am not sure if she is still my girlfriend or not.

And yeah, I wear glasses now. I guess that upsets me the most. Happy Birthday to me.

p.s. after posting the above, I scrolled down the page and saw the photo of Kim Kardashian. Kim, maybe you could prepare a surprize party for me this Sunday? I guess she doesn’t remember me! lol

Armenia, I Coming!

Today I received my tickets to Armenia from July 27 – August 15, 2007.

This is the first time I am going home after I moved to America in 2003, interestingly on July 27.  So I am visiting home exactly four years after I left.

I can’t describe how happy I am.  I will be very busy but if there is a blogger conference or something around that time I would like to meet some of our pen pals.

I will post about buying cheapest tickets to Armenia later.

The Genocide and I

A story about my family (written for my Turkish friend)

Photo: Genocide survivor Takuhi holding her great-grandchild (me) in 1986

I will start telling the story of my family by saying
that I know very little about it. I know very little,
because my grandparents are now gone, and my father
doesn’t know whole a lot about yeghern because it had
been a taboo in my family for a long time. I know
very little, because there are no written documents
and written accounts about my family. But I know one
thing – I may never be able to trace my family’s
history before 1895. I always tell my girlfriend she is lucky. Her family,
who are Iranian-Armenian, have a tree, and I have a
copy, that dates back to the 1600s. 1600s, because
this was the time when Persia’s Shah Abbas forced
Djulfa’s residents to leave and establish in what is
now New Djulfa, Isfahan. Although I am jealous, she,
too, cannot trace her family’s history before 1604,
and will never be able to do so, especially when the
Azerbaijani authorities flattened to the ground the
ancient Armenian cross stones in Djulfa cemetery in 2005.
The cross stones might have included the key to her
family’s ancient history.

My own paternal family was from Urfa, now Sanliurfa in Turkey. We were known as “Magak Oglonts” (Maghakyan men), and there was a street with that name next to
Urfa’s St. Astvadzadzin (St. Mary) church. I found
the street on the 1915 self-defense map. My father
says our extensive family was very big. When his
grandfather, Hakop Maghakyan, would visit his families
in their street for holidays, it would take him the
entire day. Now, I can’t tell whether it was because
there were hundreds of Maghakyans or because they
would keep my great-grandfather in their homes for

Hakob’s father, my grandfather’s grandfather, was
Gevork Maghakyan. I know this because Hakop
Maghakyan’s gravestone says so. My father says Gevork
was shot on his head in the Armenian church of
Urfa by the Turkish militia. I suspect Gevork was one of the
3,000 Armenians who were burnt in the church in the
late 1890s.

Gevork had many sons. Some were killed, but my direct
ancestor, Hakop Maghakyan, survived. Hakop had served
in Algeria as a Turkish soldier – perhaps this would
make it easier to find out more about him – and after
participating in the self-defense, had fled to Syria
dressed up as a girl. He lost track most of his
relatives. Some had escaped and disappeared earlier
than him.

In Syria, Hakop met Sarah Ghasapyan – the mother of
his future wife. Sarah told him that she had given her
young daughter, Takuhi, to their Turkish neighbor in
an Urfan suburb village during the massacres. Sarah
thought she would never survive the deportation, and
knew that young Takuhi was safe with their friends.

When the Allies occupied Urfa after WWI, Hakob
returned to look for Takuhi, instead, she found a
Turkish child who did not recognize Sarah or anybody
from her family. The child, I think in her early
teens, did not want to leave her mother and go to
Syria. I don’t know the exact details, but she ended
up remembering her family, and agreed to go to Syria.

In couple of years, Hakop and Takuhi married. Their
first child was Sarkis, I think named after Hakob’s
murdered relative. Gevork (George) was the second one
named after Hakob’s murdered father. I don’t know who
the later brothers, Gaspar and Zaven, were named

In 1948, Hakob, Takuhi and their four sons decided to
immigrate to Soviet Armenia. In the 1970s, they were
among the ones to establish New Yedesia (Yedesia was
one of Urfa’s names) village in Soviet Armenia.

The first son of the emigrated family was Hakop
Maghakyan, my father. Before he was born, the story
says, Hakop Maghakyan Sr. woke her wife up and said,
“A king to Syria is going to be born.” I was Hakop
Jr.’s third child and second son, born in 1986.

In 2005, I went to Canada for the International
Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies
course. The president of the school, Greg
Soghomonian, said his mother was Maghakyan too. “FromUrfa?” I said. “Yes,” shockingly answered Greg. “Do you know Gevork Maghakyan?” I said. “No,” said Greg.

After a long conversation, we could not find the part
of the tree that connected us. Here we were – two
descendants of Urfa’s Maghak oghlonts who could not
connect their families. The warmness went away, and
the Genocide that had torn our stories apart was the
only thing that brought us together again. I was
there to learn genocide, and he was there to organize
genocide education. But we were not relatives any