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An Insult to my Turkishness: Turning a Blind Eye to the Past

Special for the Armenian Weekly 

I met my future best friend in a history class at UCLA. She was a board member of the Armenian Students Association and she educated me on the Armenian Genocide and the powerful Turkish lobby. I was initially skeptical, as this was the first time I had heard of this. But when we both rallied in the annual March for Justice, my skepticism washed away, as Turkish counter-protesters aggressively shouted at us on the street that “Mount Ararat will always be part of Turkey” and that the “the genocide is a lie.”

A screenshot from a video of the attack, captured by Voice of America’s Turkish service (Photo: Voice of America)

As an American Muslim Iranian with Persian and Turkish heritage, it is my duty to help dispel myths and historical inaccuracies that exist in my communities. My passion for advocating for Armenian issues is rooted in the Islamic values of peace, compassion, and mercy. These principles have compelled me to speak out against historical injustices.

The brutal violence that erupted in Washington, D.C. a few days ago enraged me. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security guards savagely kicked and beat up peaceful American protesters. My Turkish friends on Facebook and Turkish media claimed that the protesters deserved to be beaten, since they were affiliated with “PKK terrorists.” In fact, these protesters were American citizens practicing their First Amendment rights in their own country.

As Aram Hamparian said, “It’s one thing for there to be this kind of violence in Turkey, that’s a terrible thing. It’s far worse for that violence to be exported to America.” If these men felt comfortable brutalizing American citizens on foreign soil despite the presence of our law enforcement, imagine the potential to commit acts of violence that these same people have when they are unrestrained back in their home country. I shudder to think about how they treat their own people when they do not have the attention of the international community.

Earlier that day, U.S. President Trump claimed that it was “a great honor to welcome the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House.” The silence from the administration is deafening. Where is the outrage in his tweets? Where is the angry press statement condemning the actions of these thugs? Is he really going to allow Turkish henchmen to attack our own people on American soil without any punishment?

While he cozies up to an oppressive authoritarian who is leading the way to dictatorship, Americans are assaulted and brutalized by Erdogan’s goons…

But we cannot allow for Turkey to go unpunished.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren is absolutely correct: these henchmen need to be arrested and have their diplomatic visas revoked. President Trump and the State Department must act on Senators John McCain and Claire McCaskill’s call to throw the Turkish Ambassador out of the country. Trump has a number of options at his disposal and it is his job to ensure that this does not happen again.

The tension between these communities cannot be alleviated without first addressing the elephant in the room—the Armenian Genocide. Considering Turkey’s dark history of mistreating its minorities, Turks have the moral responsibility to condemn this recent act of barbarism. We must create a broad coalition aimed to bridge the divide between the Turkish community and Armenian, Kurdish, Greek, and Assyrian communities.

And most of all, the Turkish community must come to terms with the fact that recognizing the Armenian Genocide is not a matter of insulting Turkishness, but a matter of objective, historical fact.

23 Comments on An Insult to my Turkishness: Turning a Blind Eye to the Past

  1. avatar Viken Krikorian // May 19, 2017 at 3:54 pm // Reply

    Wow, Ryan you’re one of a kind, a credit to your race, we need more Turks like you.

    • avatar Ryan Ahari // May 20, 2017 at 6:22 pm //

      Shnorhakalutyun, Viken jan! It is my dream that conscious Turks can work more closely with survivors of the genocide in order for the Turkish community to finally come to terms with its own history as dark as it may be. Turkey today is guilty, guilty, guilty. I hope we can all work together to finally bring justice to our communities.

    • “credit to your race”?! Can we please stop the stereotyping and generalizing of Turks? Not only is it morally wrong, but it confirms the Turkish narrative that the only thing holding the Armenian diaspora together is “hatred of Turks.”

      Judge every person as an individual. Don’t assume things based on his or her ethnicity.

  2. avatar Gina Ayvazian // May 19, 2017 at 4:08 pm // Reply

    It was Armenian Americans that were attacked.
    They looked and sounded Armenian and the brutal bodyguards forgot they were in America and responded as if they were in Turkey. Even Erdogan thought this would go unnoticed. He watched, did not call them off and walked away, with about a dozen of his other body guards nonchalantly .

    • avatar Anne Norris // May 19, 2017 at 6:00 pm //

      They were Kurdish protesters as well Armenian Americans and Yazidis. No matter who the peaceful protesters were, the Erdogan bodyguards were thugs and yes, those who beat people should be arrested and yes, the ambassador should be ordered to leave. Erdogan is a bully and he demonstrates that he is immune to decency. Thank you, Ryan Ahari for speaking up for justice and truth.

    • avatar Laurence Kueffer // May 19, 2017 at 7:26 pm //

      Yes, all to frequently, the protestors have been lumped together with the Kurdish faction there. Generally speaking, to many media representatives seem to be clueless about the significance of Armenians (or people with Armenian ancestry), among the protestors. One report identified an injured Armenian woman as a Kurdish protestor, despite that she has an Armenian last name. This is why Armenians in public commemorations, protests or rallies should bring at least a few Armenian flags to these kind of events. The Kurdish protestors did bring flags, as well as holding up Kurdish protest statements; on the other hand, I didn’t see any Armenian flags.

  3. avatar Jack Aliksanian // May 19, 2017 at 4:13 pm // Reply

    The government of Turkey will not recognize the Armenian Genocide not because they have doubts that it happened but because their history that is full of lies will have to be re-written. How would they justify to their children that what they learn in Turkish history is full of garbage. I took their history, I know. It is more than fiction, it is nothing but hogwash written by people to convince the children that Turks are good and victorious people. Add this fact to the compensations and territory demands, no wonder they keep repeating their non-sense.

  4. avatar Henry Theriault // May 19, 2017 at 4:26 pm // Reply

    This is a thoughtful and courageous statement. Its author deserves praise for his deep ethical commitment to historical truth and human rights. As we consider the violence against protesters practiced by Erdogan’s guards, we must not forget that those in the US, including in the Armenian community, have an obligation to show the same moral courage as Mr. Ahari regarding our own country’s history, starting with genocides of Native American peoples, and current treatment of vulnerable groups. It is unfortunately no coincidence that some in our national leadership have turned a blind eye to the violence practiced against these protesters in the same period as we are seeing anti-immigrant, anti-Black violence, and other violence all too regularly.

  5. avatar Eleanor Kas // May 19, 2017 at 4:30 pm // Reply

    Thank you, Ryan. My grandmother, a Greek who was born and raised in Smyrna, was helped to escape in 1922 when she was awoken in the middle of the night by three of my great grandfather’s former employees who were Turks, there to warn her and her family to hurry to get out to save their lives. This is why I know, despite everything, that there are good Turks in the world.

  6. avatar Marjorie K. Nanian // May 19, 2017 at 4:40 pm // Reply

    Well said.

  7. If the Turks are so proud of themselves, then having courage and speaking the truth will be honoring their Turkishness, not the other way around. But extreme nationalism and nepotism is the road to injustice.

  8. Gina, they were Kurdish Americans, but it’s irrelevant. They were American citizens, period. That is what he’s trying to say.
    Viken, he is not one of a kind… there are other Turks who speak the truth, even those in Turkey who risk harm to themselves.

  9. Erdogan had no reason to call off the attack on protesters, as he had personally ordered it himself sitting in hiding in his arrived at destination, parked limo minutes earlier. Classic Turkish cowardice and brutality played out yet again in plain sight for all to see and for the US authorities to again turn a blind eye to it and look the other way. History repeats!

  10. Ryan is great, but he is not one of a kind.
    If it wasn’t for the goodness of many decent Turks there would have been nothing left of Armenians after the genocide.
    Thank you Ryan.

  11. Gina, unfortunately my President Trump acted the same way as Erdogan!!!! I feel sorry for my America !!!!!!

  12. avatar Lee Reizian Holmes // May 19, 2017 at 9:15 pm // Reply

    You a credit not only to your family and multi-national background; but to all of humanity. Thank you for writing this piece as only someone with some shared history could have written it with such empathy and credibility. Here’s hoping your words are heard by those who need to hear them.

  13. Thank you Ryan for this very conscientious and heartfelt article. I’m reminded here of the many Turks during the Armenian Genocide and before, who helped Armenians, even to the point of risking their own lives. Very real heroes whose stories need to be told.

  14. Thank you dear, as an Armenian mother I would have been proud to have a son like you. God bless you

  15. Us should have acted the same way the Netherlands did a couple of months ago. Refusing turkish minister Kaya into Rotterdam and escorting her and her bodyguards out of the country. Local policeman had instruction to pull their guns if necessary. Apparently the dutch were better prepared..

  16. I give a huge thank you to you sir! You’re right, Islam does in fact have a lot of values very similar to Judaism and Christianity, since you all share the same God.

    What the Young Turks regime did to the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians was not a value of Islam. People who claim it was are either blind, or they don’t know the first thing about Islam.

    We need more people like you, you’re right being a Turk and recognizing the Armenian Genocide is not a sign of insult to Turkishness, its a sign or acknowledgement of the past.

    I know exactly how that feels believe it or not. Like for instance, I’m a white woman, I don’t think its an insult to acknowledge what happened to blacks and the Native American (make that all of Native America, South and Central for that matter) genocide. I accept it as historical truth, not to insult white people, but its just a fact.

    And it won’t be easy to tell other Turks about what happened to the Christians during WW1, but who knows maybe one day they will get their heads out of the sand, and realize that not everyone around the world is immune to a violent and cruel history.

    I think they need to wake up, and realize that the world is a very cruel place to live, and people to this day (like ISIS for instance) us Islam as an excuse to kill non-Muslims and fellow Muslims alike. Its pretty much the same thing when the Europeans spread Christianity into the Americas. Even in Myanmar Buddhists are attacking Muslims, and Buddhism is supposed to be a peaceful religion too. This means that any religion can be used as an excuse to kill innocent people, the fellow Turks need to understand this first and foremost because that’s what the Young Turks party did during WW1.

    They also need to understand why what happened was an act of genocide, and not a civil war or ethnic tension like some of them claim to be. They need to understand that the Armenians and Christians had no legal right to defend themselves because the government wouldn’t legally allow it. They also need to understand that murdering unarmed old people, women and children is not an act of civil war or ethnic tension, its an act of murder.

    I wish you the best of luck, it won’t be easy, but its necessary because I think that not just the Turks can learn from this, but the entire world.

  17. Ryan,

    I see viciously anti-Armenian propaganda throughout the official Turkish Diaspora, such as ATAA and its former President Kirlikovali, who uses the language Nazis used against Jews when describing Armenians.

    In one instance he described the Armenians deaths of 1915 as something which reminded him of a joke about the death of a fly. Here is what the then-future ATAA President said:

    “Armenian claims of genocide remind me of this joke I heard somewhere:

    Question: How do you kill a fly?

    Answer: Well, you tell the fly a great story and when it is not looking, you jump the fly. Quickly tie its hands and feet and turn it over belly up. Then you start tickling its stomach which causes the fly to laugh violently. Its stomach ruptues of laughters and it dies. Very very effective way to kill a fly, as you can see.” Comment 173, http://www.topix.com/forum/source/pasadena-star-news/TI08Q3OTUP9RS3N19/p9
    dated November 24, 2008

    Where is the liberal Turkish diaspora that denounces racism and Genocidal hatred? The idea of having a Diaspora organization which speaks like Goebbels did is shocking still, 9 years later.

  18. avatar Helen Arakelian cirrito // May 21, 2017 at 12:23 pm // Reply

    thanks you for your support!!! please continue to spread the word!

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