The AGBU’s Middle East Young Professionals Forum was supposed to take place in Amman, Jordan from June 3-6. However, the meeting was quietly canceled by the Jordanian authorities just the night before.
Agos was invited to the forum, and I was to attend on behalf of the newspaper. My topic was the “Legacy of Hrant Dink” and the Armenian community in Turkey. Vahakn Keshishyan, another colleague and friend from Beirut, was going to share his impressions from his visits to Anatolia. Other sessions were titled “Psychology of Success,” “Becoming the Next Armenian Leaders,” “Regional Economy,” “State of Armenian Communities: How Do We Embrace Change, How Can We Benefit from Assimilation?” etc. The participants—150 in all—were to come from various countries—from Argentina to Armenia.
But some problems started to occur just 10 days before. The organizers said there were reservations about the forum. At the beginning, it was difficult to understand why a meeting entitled “Young Professionals” would be bothersome. Yet, the real cause of disturbance slowly became apparent: The reason was Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy.
Jordan, clearly, was preparing to sign some kind of agreement with Turkey (Editor’s note: there was, in fact, an agreement that was going to be signed. Read more here.), and that is why they were concerned with hosting 150 “Young Professional Armenians” in Amman. Among all the sessions, ours was regarded as being most problematic; talking about the legacy of Hrant Dink in the Middle East was especially troublesome since literally everything about Armenians is regarded as potentially harming relations with Turkey. (I say everything, because last month in Lebanon, the broadcast of a video clip by an Armenian pop singer was banned from TV for fear that it might “offend Turkey.” Read about it here.) I should add that the organizers resisted against all pressures until the very last moment.
Debate with the Jordanian officials on the program of the forum lasted several days, and at the end, we received an email saying that “everything was fine.” Nonetheless, there was palpable pressure in the air and we had to be especially careful with our presentations. Yet the “tolerance limit” of the Jordanian authorities wasn’t clear to me.
Bad news, however, followed the good news later that day. When our organizers attempted to check into the Amman Marriott Hotel, on Wednesday evening, the staff told them that “because of reasons beyond our control, we cannot host the event and the visitors.” And when I asked whether the event could take place in another venue, the answer was clear: “The order was given from above.” To make a long story short, as of that evening the message was a definitive: “The meeting has been cancelled.”
As a result of this incident, one of the most important reasons behind Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy has become equally clear. It was the ‘disturbance’ created by the Armenians living in the neighboring countries which had to be zeroed.
During those same days in Turkey, the brutal killing of nine people in the Freedom Flotilla created an atmosphere of fierce reaction. The subject matter was not violence employed by the state, but rather Israel and even Jews as a whole. There was no attention paid to the language and symbols used. And, as we’ve read on these pages, there was a general amnesia in Turkey regarding its own historical background and current problems.
Would it be possible for Jordan to remain neutral in such a situation? One party to the conflict was its neighbor Israel; the other was Turkey. Was it not the same Jordan that made a deal with Ben Gurion in 1948, sharing the territories and leaving no place to Palestinians to live*? In this very “fragile” situation, the last thing Jordan needed was a gathering of Armenian Young Professionals! Of course, the forum was cancelled immediately.
Why doesn’t Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy apply to Armenia? On the one hand, Armenia continues to be isolated. The “Get out of Karabagh and then we can talk” argument remains in place, and the message of “Stop the genocide recognition campaigns” persists. On the other hand, the voice of Armenian survivors who fled to Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan after 1915 is silenced. And all this happen by saying “zero problems with neighbors.”
Communicating and meeting with Armenian organizations in the U.S. is an easier task for Turkey, since that community has gone through an assimilation process for generations. The communities in the Middle East are different; they’re closely knit, very little interference is possible, and there is no ground for Turkey to communicate with them. These communities have built structures consciously and therefore after 95 years, it is still the Middle East, providing the human resources for Armenians all over the world. Looking at the active Armenians in Europe and in the U.S. would prove this argument. This means that the communities in the Middle East are still living communities. Now the aim is to silence these communities. And if the simplest meeting of “Young Professionals” was not allowed to take place in Amman, doesn’t this mean that the Armenians in the Middle East have become a “zero problem”?
* Akiva Orr, www.bianet.org/bianet/insan-haklari/82474-israil-pazarlik-istemiyor