Gamaghelyan: Akhtamar Reopening: Deficient but Powerful Seed

Dear Editor,

In 2007 I was invited to participate in the reopening of the Church of the Holy Cross on Akhtamar Island after its renovation by the Turkish government. I knew that a number of Armenian officials, diasporans, and clergy would attend the opening. But despite my initial plans to attend and despite my commitment to reconciliation work between the Armenians and the Turks, I eventually declined the invitation. The reason I declined was not because the church was opened not as a church but as a museum, and not because it had no cross on it. These were serious shortcomings, but the positives of the restoration of an Armenian monument after a century of destruction and denial would still be an important enough (half-)step that I would want to show solidarity with. The reason that I declined was the text of the invitation itself, which did not contain any reference to the Armenian origin of the church, and instead described it as a “monument of Central Asian architecture.” I declined the invitation because I believed the text of the invitation was in direct contradiction with the proclaimed intention of the organizers. What should have been a step away from destruction and denial was becoming instead a step back toward denial.

Three years later, I see a mix of progress and regression. Yes, the Church is still a museum, but the first liturgy was held by the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul on Sept. 19, 2010. A cross is also in the making, though its installation was delayed for political reasons internal to Turkey and the first liturgy was held without a cross on the church. The representatives of the Armenian government, diaspora, Etchmiadzin, and many others boycotted the ceremony calling it a “Turkish show.” Only a few hundred people attended; these were reportedly mostly Armenians living in Istanbul.

The failure to install the cross on time for the liturgy was cited as the main reason for the boycott. I am sure that for many, this was indeed the reason. For others this was a convenient excuse. For those who supported the process of normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations and the signing of the October 2009 protocols and were disillusioned, this was an opportunity to slap Turkey back for its failure to ratify the protocols in the parliament. For those who already had a harder line on Turkey, this was an opportunity to step up the anti-Turkish rhetoric and make calls for a nationwide anti-Turkish mobilization.

As an Armenian, and as a human, I am surely concerned about the consistent half-heartedness of this “good will gesture.” I respect the rights of everyone who decided to boycott the liturgy and who decided to write on the subject or otherwise express their concerns or disagreements. However, as an Armenian, and as a human, I am also concerned about the demonizing and extremely antagonistic tone that the Armenian media has taken in respect to the liturgy. The opening of the church has been turned into a target and a weapon of a propaganda war.

I understand that the Turkish government also used it for propaganda. It is likely that some of the enablers of the project were motivated by the desire to impress the West rather than by the considerations of reconciliation or justice. In an ideal world this would not be the case. At the same time, thousands of other groundbreaking developments and human rights legislation in every corner of the world also came as a result of outside pressure or are dictated by the development of a new normative regime.

We have witnessed a century of policies of systematic destruction and denial of Armenian heritage. Restoring Akhtamar alone is not going to make it right. But it is a step in the right direction and not the only step. Since the opening of the Akhtamar Church, hundreds of books and articles on the genocide have been written or translated into Turkish, the first commemorations of April 24 were held in Taksim Square and Ankara in 2010, and 30,000 people signed an apology in 2009. More importantly, each of these steps came with criticism of its shortcomings and suggestions for improvement, including from progressive or critical voices within Turkey. The process of restoration of Akhtamar is a good step mishandled. It can and should be criticized. But using it for anti-Turkish propaganda serves no other purpose but to incite intolerance and hatred.

Despite the missteps, despite the outright and ugly use of it for self-serving propaganda by both sides, the restoration of Akhtamar is a small and deficient but powerful seed that has the potential to turn the tide. The rest is up to us. Each of us has a choice to make.

Phil Gamaghelyan

Phil Gamaghelyan

Phil Gamaghelyan

Phil Gamaghelyan

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  1. What if Turkey renovates a small Armenian house in, say, Erzerum in 2011 as a museum and invites Armenians to its consecration? 

    Are we Armenians are supposed to drop what we’re doing and travel to Turkey for that dog and pony show too? 

    The Turks can renovate this or that Armenian structure, once per year, for the next 50 years.  Are we supposed to ooh and ah each time that happens?  

    Maybe this should be the next new program on PBS – instead of This Old House it would This Old Armenian Structure.  Turks would undertake to renovate a new Armenian structure once per television season, and get Shahan Arzruni to give a concert there when it opens?   Perhaps this would help Turkey get into the European Union?

    Maybe Armenians can renovate an old Azeri house or community structure.  Are we to expect that flocks of Azeris will travel to the opening in the hope that this means a peace agreement on Karabagh/Artsakh is around the corner?

    What next, Turkey renovates some Armenian structure in northern Cyprus, and I’m supposed to spend a few thousand dollars travelling there to watch it?

    When did renovation start to become such a big deal, and why are we supposed to go ga-ga over it? 

  2. Boyajain has used the correct terminology, Gamaghelyan absolutely has not. I have been to Aghtamar several times, but certainly not this last September. I live in a democracy; I don’t have to do what, and when, and how, the Turkish govt tells me they will allow me to. This is absolutely not a “restoration.” This is a renovation, and since the church will not even hold a cross on the roof, as claimed by the turks themselves, it is a poor renovation at that.
    A restoration would mean that our church was now in its former glory. It is not. There is no altar, no baptismal fountain, our pews are gone, all the gold, and jewels. Our priceless manuscripts have not been replaced. our treasures of hand made carpets are not there.  Our frescoes have not been restored. It is simply a turkish renovation and conversion. They have removed everything of value, everything that identifies it as Armenian and Christian, put their flag and their Talat posters on the wall, and converted it into a museum. The correct words to use are “Conversion,” and “Renovation.” It has absolutely nothing to do with “restoration.”
    and if you want to know the purity of their intent, read the recent Asbaraz article on what is happening to our peerless Ani cathedral.

  3. amazing how certain people/groups, turks and others alike, benefited from the armenian genocide and continue to do so to this very day…
    if the so called WEST, doesn’t restore justice for the armenian people, while still retaining some residual power leverage, it will only prove that justice is attained in the battle field, not through the rule of law and the court system,
    four generations of armenians have been born since the forced deportation from their ancestral lands… and what is really ours LEGALLY, is still under turkish occupation, according to an international law i keep hearing about now and then…
    is the west and russia blind to the facts or did this region really lose its strategic importance (one can only hope against all hope that the latter is true, so that once we get back what is ours, make no mistake, we will, the armenian tenacity is legendary, known the world over…) so that once and for all, the up and coming empire(s) will leave us alone.

  4. When will us Armenians understand that there is more hate in turks towards us the “gavurs”? Do not kid yourself,the 30,000 signatures in a population of 70,000,000 means nothing,and the flowers thrown on Dink’s coffin orchestrated by the government giving one flower each to the crowds means nothing.Wake up and get real,you are being used.

  5. nerses,
    you could not be more right,
    the traitors among-st us, who are promoting the peace idea, are only doing it to make their pockets fuller…not because they care for the welfare of our people or neighborly love…

  6. I would like to chime in here and also echo the sentiments of David, Perouz, Hayrenaser and Nerses Artan. It seems as though Mr. Gamaghelyan’s misinterpretation of current events and skewed semantics have led him to inaccurate conclusions that seem rather hysterical and obtuse.
    I strongly object to his unsubstantiated accusations against the Armenian media, accusing them of “demonizing” the Akhtamar liturgy in an “extremely antagonistic tone” and supposedly using the “restoration process” as “anti-Turkish propaganda” to “incite intolerance and hatred”. Where is the evidence supporting these absurd claims?
    The Turkish government’s provocative actions were by no means an act of flattery or redemption. The Armenian media reported the facts in its proper context of objective Turkish-Armenian history. The Armenian communities justified condemnation of Turkey’s offensive actions in converting our Church into a “museum” were in response to Turkey’s intolerant and hate filled policies NOT the Armenian media’s reporting of their policies. These Turkish policies are inherently hateful and intolerant. And the majority of our people picked up on Turkey’s deliberate intent to incite hatred against Armenians with their intolerant actions in forcefully deciding the fate of our religious property against the will of its parishioners. Don’t kill the messenger (i.e. the Armenian media) for merely reporting the intolerant and hateful actions of the Turkish government. If you have a problem with Turkey’s policies then say so and have the courage to direct your message to them specifically as the majority of our more courageous people have done. But don’t make ludicrous and irresponsible accusations void of any evidence.
    This Akhtamar ploy was indeed propaganda and its worked wonders on people like Mr. Gamaghelyan. The proof is in his own writing. He is convinced that our Akhtamar Church is “restored” when it isn’t. He perceives this Turkish ploy to be some sort of turning point in our relations with Turkey and laughably sees this as an opportunity for us to reciprocate the “goodwill gesture” in all of its demeaning rhetoric. He sadly perceives this offensive ploy to convert our Church into a “museum” as some grand opportunity worth showing “solidarity with” and seems all too eager to nurture this supposed “powerful seed” in what can only be described as a PR stunt that mercilessly mocks any hope of regaining the rights to our Holy Church.
    Did Mr. Gamaghelyan really expect that Armenians worldwide would see the forceful conversion of our Holy Akhtamar Church into a so called Turkish “museum” as a blessing or an act of tolerance by officials who to this very day take pride in destroying and desecrating our cultures ancient monuments on our occupied lands? Let me tell him this much, if our media and community leaders did not condemn Turkey’s extremely antagonistic actions to provoke Armenians with this so called “restoration”, each of them would have been complicit in Turkey’s vile showmanship and been tarred, feathered and hogtied to the backs of several flatbed 18 wheelers headed for Meh-he-co! …LOL, you get my point.
    Mr. Gamaghelyan’s repeated use of the following phrases was also troubling: “opening of the church” ; “reopening of the Church”, in addition to a claim in his second paragraph that “the first liturgy was held without a cross on the church”. With these words he assumes, and this is a HUGE assumption, that this liturgy was the first of many liturgy’s to come. Let me say this as clearly as I can. The Turkish government did NOT return Akhtamar Church back to Armenians. They are not giving our Church back to Armenians. We cannot do what we like with our property. We don’t have our rights over this property. The Turkish government did not hand back the keys to Akhtamar Church to the Armenians. Turkey is converting our Church into a “museum” to make money. In other words, this was the first and last half baked liturgy this church will see for another while. The Church is not open for prayer or choir practice and is certainly not open for Sunday mass! However, the AkhtamarmuseumIS open to tourists who would like to pay money to go inside. This money would only fill Turkish government coffers.
    In the same vein, I would like to hammer home the important point Perouz made earlier. The root word of the term restoration is “restore”. The verb to restore is defined as an act of bringing something back to an original condition (as in restoring stolen funds – thus regaining money that was stolen). The transformation or conversion of our Akhtamar Church into a “museum” requires renovation NOT restoration. To restore a Church would mean the Church would resume its primary purpose in its original form NOT an alternate purpose with a different agenda. If the Turkish government actually restored our Church, then there would have been no reason to convert it into a museum!
    How may I ask is the forced transformation of our sacred Church into a museum not an act of provocation against Armenians? Is this really a sign of “goodwill” and respect that ungrateful and insensible Armenians should “show solidarity with”? The forced transformation of our holy Church into a “museum” is not an act of civility or anything close to representing a “good will gesture”. Returning the Church to its rightful owners with no strings attached is a good will gesture.
    I would now like to offer my own observations in light of my comments here. As a human and as an Armenian, I find it very interesting how unbelievably compliant and obediently restrained the majority of Armenians have been towards most Turks over the past 95 years in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide. Armenian efforts to cater to Turkish sensitivities about their half baked history and their fragile self perceptions of Turkishness and their brittle egos have gone way above and beyond anything any vilified victim group to this day would do especially when faced with an unrepentant perpetrator of genocide who doggedly denies their ancestors barbaric attempts to annihilate our entire race.
    I find it horribly backwards and reckless at best how some Armenians like Mr. Gamaghelyan remain so emotionally engulfed in reaction to such petty offensive propaganda ploys, especially in light of government policy that has not changed its perceptions or actions in regards to our people, our culture and our history. It truly is mind boggling. A tougher political stance by Armenians with Turkey is needed. And I think this need for a tougher political stance may hit home with some Armenians after the 100th anniversary. God knows it’s long overdue.
    People like Mr. Gameghelyan need to wake up and understand that such propaganda ploys cannot and will not replace justice for the crime of genocide. They don’t lead to justice and they are NOT omens of better things to come either. If he hasn’t figured it out until now here’s some news for him, the Turkish government seeks to replace justice for a crime it knows it committed with hollow pseudo-“solidarity” gestures like this Akhtamar fiasco in order to lure unwary reconciliation obsessed Armenians like himself into a dreary happy go lucky world of love, peace and no accountability.
    Mr. Gameghelyan claims to be committed to “reconciliation work between the Armenians and the Turks”. I have some more news for him. His “commitment” is not being reciprocated. My advice to Mr. Gamaghelyan is this: In order for you to help advance Armenian – Turkey reconciliation he should recommit himself to the goals of first and foremost attaining JUSTICE for the Armenian Genocide. Reconciliation will follow after justice, not the reverse.

  7. Unlike Perouz, I don’t live in a democracy, but I strive for it and for improvement of living conditions in Armenia, so I view reconciliation with Turkey as one of mandatory steps.
    However, I did not give full support to the protocols signed in October 2009. If Armenian and Turkish governments were really prone to normalization of bilateral relations, a standard protocol about establishing diplomatic relations would work just fine. But Serzh Sargsyan just wanted to get Western support and thus legitimize his power, while the Turks wanted to get involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution process, with which they have nothing to do.
    So, as Phil Gamaghelyan justly noted, the opening of the church has been used in a propaganda war on both sides.
    @hayrenaser: “what is really ours LEGALLY, is still under turkish occupation, according to an international law i keep hearing about” – from whom you hear about it, former Armenian ambassador to Canada Ara Papyan and ‘pundits’ like him? Do you still believe the Treaty of Sevres can be inforced? Throw away your pink glasses, for heaven’s sake.
    And it’s really amazing how the bosses of some diaspora organizations (Hay dati handznakhumb and others) have benefited from the Armenian genocide. I wonder, how much money have they extorted from wealthy, middle-class and working-class Armenians for useless propaganda and lobbying activities?

  8. this debate makes me realize again how very out of touch we – turks and armenians – are. we talk among ourselves so much that connections to all other realities out there are lost. 

    In the last few years, many orthodox greek churches in anatolia ( some still in ruins)  have, for the first time since the 1920s, been opened for once a year religious services.  its even been coined the “church opening” by the media  -borrowing from the “kurdish opening” terminology.  in none other was there this kind of drama. for an ordinary turk, reading about this one as “a provocation” really comes as a suprise.

    Of course the renovation/restoration does not “lead to justice.” I didnt see any references in Gamaghelyan’s article to the contrary. Nobody argued that people have to leave their work and join the lithurgy, or blamed anyone else for boycotting. the event was meaningful for some turks and some armenians   — that in itself makes it worthwhile.

    and, on this front, its not like there are great examples in our neighborhood that Turkey is lagging behind of.

    If anything, the comments to the article can offend Turkish civilians who are working towards reconciliation, whose sincerity is questioned without offering grounds. It is offensive to suggest that the many Turks who wept at Hrant Dink’s wedding – and who have been working since then on furthering his legacy –  were merely throwing flowers the government asked them to. 

    And since reconciliation is assumed not to be the path to justice — what is? “international law” (which body?) is not going to open the pandora’s box of reinstating any nations historical lands in our neighborhood. every nation had “historical lands” which they are not in control of now. what choice is there besides reconciliation? war?

  9. I was surprised to see such radical and opposite comments under this quite balanced article! What’s going on, people? Have Armenians lost their clear state of mind? The main line I see in these commenets is the mistake that Armenians have been doing troughout cenuries: representing ourselves and speaking like victims! Stop complaining and blaming everyone as the only victims. Yes, it is us who suffered most, but repeating about that won’t take us somewhere any furthere. We’re gonna be the same old victim-losers untill we overcome this psychology of a victim. Turkey is playing, making self-PR in front of the world, trying to cheat everyone, well, why won’t Armenians make most of it all? Why wouldn’t Armenians make their own PR, why? Turkey is organizing a show? GO and be the Master of what belongs to YOU, be responsible for that because its yours and make a lot of PR of that! That’s the only way to be! Not sitting and crying that turks are cheating us all over again. That is it!

  10. How very sad that not one Armenian person has shown support with Phil!  Is there no one out there who is willing to break the old and tired Armenian versus Turkish discourse to say something about his efforts in seeing an opening no matter how small between Armenians and Turks?  Why do I, a Turkish person committed to dialogue, have to be the only one who has to come to his defense?  Aren’t there any Armenians out there who want to leave their children a world where certain steps (no matter how small or insufficient they may seem) on the part of one country to acknowledge historical realities will eventually transform this old dialogue of the deaf into one where two peoples can talk to each other without foaming at the mouth?

  11. Ashot:   If you think Armenians are making the same “mistake” of “representing ourselves and speaking like victims”, please consider that it is not “throughout centuries” that Armenians have been making it, as you lament. The victim complex originated after the genocide of 1915. Clearly, it’s not “centuries.” And I’d disagree that it’s a “mistake” per se. Rather, it’s a natural distrust and excessive vigilance toward an unrepentant murderer-state. The victim psychology is hard to overcome. To my mind, it’ll only be possible to overcome it when the murderer apologizes to the victim. We don’t see this happening with the Turks, thus utter suspicion, mistrust, and circumspection. As a matter of fact, consistency, which you call “repetition”, in advancing justice for Armenians have yielded positive results. It has brought many nations, organizations, groups, and scholars to the understanding and acceptance of the fact that genocide happened and the crime needs to be admitted by the Turks. I’m a strong advocate for continuing our efforts at international recognition because I believe Turks started showing insignificant PR stunts because of the pressure they’re facing, not because former nomads have now become more compassionate, xenophilic, and remorseful. I’d agree with you Armenians need to make the most of the Turkish buffoonery with opening a church for two hours, but not in the form and on the date designated by the Turks. I agree that Armenians need to make their counter-PR, but in a more clever way than the Turks. We must go and be masters of what belongs to us in large groups whenever WE want and in the format that WE choose. I suggested on these pages to organize on a permanent basis tours to our churches, monasteries, and edifices, go there, pray outside, sing hymns, show to the world who are the masters of our rich cultural heritage. What I oppose is picking a cheap Turkish crumb like several hundreds of mostly Constantinople Armenians did at Akhtamar. Turkish gestures must be substantial so we could start healing wounds. Transforming a Christian house of worship into a “museum,” mockingly opening it just for two hours to function as a church, and them closing it again for a museum is not such a step. Besides, aren’t museums supposed to enlighten visitors what value as a museum a structure represents? Is there any annotation outside the Holy Cross church as to who built it, when, what remnants of frescos effectively desecrated by “civilized” and “religiously tolerant” Turks tell, and, most importantly, what happened to the parishioners and worshipers of that church? I support the wound-healing but I oppose doing so by reducing ourselves before the unrepentant murderer. Just wanted to make myself clear.

  12. Bravo Phil for your balanced and broad view as to what is happening on the Armenian Turkish scene today.
    I was at Akhtamar and felt happy and proud to see the many Armenians, some Turks and Kurds from the area.
    While I would also like to see full rights restored to the Armenian community for many churches and monuments, this is but a small opening of the door. We should pursue the battle for human rights of in Turkey so that citizens there can talk about their past history which many of them have no knowledge of since they have not been taught in their schools. For most Turks, their history begins in 1923, ours ends in 1915.
    While there are many nationalists in Turkey, my relations with many have been with friends of Hrant Dink. Their lives are in constant danger and they voice their thoughts that Yes, Armenians were slaughtered in 1915.
    I am ready for dialog, restitution and more and will work with Turkish friends who promote the legacy of Hrant Dink.
    PS-Please support the restoration of the Surp Giragos Armenian church in Diyarbakir if you want to do something. I was just there and they need contributions. Google it for more info.

  13. Gonca Sonmez-Poole — It’s not an “old and tired Armenian versus Turkish discourse.” It’s Turkish genocide against almost entire Armenian nation. Why aren’t there many Armenians supporting Phil’s view? Simple. Because your government hasn’t admitted the guilt for wiping out one of the most ancient civilizations inhabiting the earth. It continues to deny the truth about the genocide that Turks have committed with indescribable barbarity against my people. Your government never apologized to us for this crime against humanity. That’s why. Mockery with transforming a church into a “museum” and then allowing it to function for just one day is clearly not enough as a starting point for a dialogue. To me, placement of all Armenian churches, monasteries, or whatever remaines of them as a result of “religiously tolerant” and “kindhearted” nature of the Turks under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Patriarchate will be such a step. Then we will talk, but mind you: NOTHING can substitute the official apology from your state.

  14. I thought that this article is very balanced but I do understand the reservations and skepticism among many concerning Turkey’s latest “good will” gesture. However, Gamaghelyan is making a broader point concerning the need to engage with Turkey. May be attending the Akhtamar was not a good idea, but in general, I am becoming increasingly more convinced for the need to indulge Turkey in its small steps of “good will” here and there. I agree with Gamaghelyan that human rights norms are often advanced and pushed through by international actors. The fact that Turkey is under pressure to resolve its border controls as a response to European Union is something that Armenia should capitalize on. This should not, and must not, come at the expense of the genocide recognition. If Turkey is engaged in a PR campaign, Armenia should try to use it, as one of the previous postings rightfully pointed out.
    It is important to recognize that although Turkey is considered a democracy by the West, it has a horrible record of human rights. The fact that Armenians have been wiped out physically and from the history textbooks, should be considered seriously. Generations after generations have been brainwashed and currently are in a state of mass amnesia. The fact that there is a liberal intelligentsia that is starting to speak against this amnesia is very important. If any changes happen in the attitudes among Turks, they will not be coming from the government, but from the intelligentsia. Armenians should support such groups, as opposed to undermining the limited work they are doing. More Turks are realizing that their “nation-building is not complete”, as one Turk pointed out in a recent talk I attended, and this is a good development for us.
    Lastly, I live with the legacy of the genocide on a daily basis, and as a mother of very young children, I do not want to pass down the trauma that I inherited. Using default positions of avoiding any engagement with Turkey and Turks is too simplistic.

  15. Gonca, I agree with David Z.  You cannot minimize the power of repentance.  A simple acknowledgment and apology will create unimaginable changes for good.  Tell your friends.

  16. I agree that Turkey should ultimately apologize, but then, so should all of its accomplices, such as the Germans and those who did nothing to stop it; the denialists, such as Guether Lewy, Justin McCarthy and Israel; as well as anyone else who conquered Armenia along the way. Everyone should apologize to everyone else for the vicissitudes of history, because if they don’t, I don’t think I can go on for another day. It’s just way to painful.
    The fact is, Gamaghelyan has made the point very eloquently. It may not be a popular position on this forum, but it certainly needs to be heard and at least considered. If you have not noticed, perfection does not exist anywhere in the world, neither in Turkey, nor in Armenia (where conscripts are regularly abused by officers), nor anywhere else.  I feel fortunate to have been raised in a family environment where rather than being discussed endlessly, the genocide was a footnote. A sad one yes, but it was not used to create an endlessly negative narrative about Turkey and Turks. Far from it…Turkish was used regularly, Turkish music was played at weddings, Turkish songs sung by the elderly, etc. in conjunction with Armenian.

  17. Karo, that article states at the end that the group that staged the prayers is a radical right wing nationalist party, currently in its campaign tour for 2011 Parliamentary elections. That incident does not prove anything. It is exactly such masses that are most susceptible to brainwashing by their state. Again, liberal elements in Turkish society must be supported. Genocide recognition is not an Armenian issue anymore. It is becoming a Turkish problem: Turkish “democracy” seems uncapable of addresing the past and embracing (or even tolerating) its minorities.

  18. Student – Your position is understood. But how technically do you, a nation of just 10 million, engage with Turks, a nation of 73 million to the extent that you can influence their policy-making or democratization process? I’d like to see substantial steps towards repentance to be able to engage with Turkey. I don’t think we’ve seen such steps as of yet. Akhtamar Mass was a mockery. The house of Christian worship continues to exist as a Turkish museum. How about thousands of other churches, monasteries, khatchkars, and other edifices throughout Western Armenia? I weep when I see what Turks have done to them. How about closed borders with Armenia, blockade of Armenia, support for Azerbaijan, international impediment of Armenian genocide resolutions? How do you envision engagement with such a fascist state? Also, is it my prerogative to advance and push human rights with the Turks? I don’t think so. Isn’t it too much to ask from a nation that’s been victimized to start advancing and pushing human rights in the murderer-state? What else are we expected to do? Serve them “Turkish Delights” with Turkish coffee in the mornings? I too live with the legacy of the genocide on a daily basis, and as a father of three children I too don’t want my children to suffer from the victim complex. Never did I plant seeds of hatred towards ordinary Turks in them, but, you know, I can see how my trauma, and the greater trauma of my parents and grandparents, has travelled through the genetic memory to my children. They’re interested to know what happened to their ancestors, browse in the Internet for answers, see those horrifying pictures of Turkish barbarism, and readily partake in protests in front of a Turkish consulate. I can’t stop them from engaging in these activities because as long as the Turks don’t admit the guilt and apologize to us the trauma, I’m afraid, will persist.

  19. Student,
    Sorry, why does it matter what political group in Turkey—radical or not radical—staged Muslim prayers at a Christian cathedral? The question is: Were they allowed by their government to stage such a blasphemous act? Period. How come a group of children from Armenia or a German priest were invited out of the “museum” while praying, and the group of Turkey’s own radical citizens was allowed to befoul a Christian holy site with Muslim prayers? What does this tell you, if anything?

  20. Yeah, Karekin, I can see how “Turkish language, Turkish music played at weddings, and Turkish songs sung by the elderly” left an indelible mark on your state of mind. In Armenia people like you are called “shur tvats” or “up-ended,” meaning not genuinely Armenian, overly xenophillic, excessively attached to the foreign culture and psyche, instead of their own.

  21. David Z. – Points well taken. Few clarifications though. First, regardless whether there is any engagement between Armenian and Turkish governments, the recognition of the genocide resolution should never be off the agenda. Second, I agree that Armenia should not, must not and cannot be the key actor in pressing human rights in Turkey. Of course not. However, if there are liberal elements in Turkish society, then at the very least, Armenians can support such groups and individuals. Yes, Turkey is a fascist state, but to the West it is a Muslim “democracy”, NATO member, “bridge to the Muslim world”, etc etc. On a very pragmatic level, I simply cannot imagine that going against such power structures will in any way help in advancing genocide recognition. This becomes a paintful reality each year on April 24th.  

  22. Student – Agreed, but on the other hand, had there not been going against power structures’ delusion about Turkey by advancing the Cause, we’d have achieved virtually nothing now. I don’t think that power centers are unaware of Turkey’s true face. It is their geopolitical and economic interests that make them close their eyes on Turkish fascism and call it Muslim “democracy”, NATO member, and “bridge to the Muslim world.” But I also see that this is waning and we should take advantage of this tendency to advance our demand for historical justice. I have no doubt in my mind that ultimately we will prevail.

  23. Gamaghelyan makes every point correctly and eloquently. I hope he has opened at least some minds to a new line of thinking.

  24. Gamaghelyan would be right had we all seen substantial, honest, and repentance-oriented steps by the Turkish government, and not a buffoonery like transforming one of the thousands of Armenian churches into a museum and then to a church for just two hours and then back to a museum. This is NOT a substantial step, and as such it could not “open at least some minds to a new line of thinking.” What new line? That a church continues to function as a Turkish museum? What’s essentially “new” about that? What would be a substantial step on the part of the Turkish government? Placing all Armenian religious heritage under the Constantinople Patriarchate’s jurisdiction and restoring their initial purpose as houses of worship.

  25. Dear all,
    thank you very much for an interesting discussion. I very much appreciate both the positive comments and the criticism.
    As I understand, the main criticism here is centered around the idea that this was only a singular gesture and second that this was first and foremost used as a publicity stunt by the Turkish government. I agree with the second, but disagree with the first. So will try to make my point again.
    Yes, the liturgy was used, and very much so, by the Turkish government for PR. Yet, the Turkish government is not the only actor here. This was also a result of efforts of many very well minded representatives of the Turkish civil society. And these are people whose efforts I very much appreciate and whose sincerity I have no reason to doubt.
    Moreover, I believe this was not an individual event and it very much fits into a larger pattern of changes that are happening in Turkey. It is hardly a coincidence that the first Akhtamar liturgy happened in the same year as the first ‘April 24 commemorations’ have been held in Istanbul and Ankara. As I mentioned above, today a big number of books on genocide is being published in Turkey, the subject discussed in media and universities. Perhaps an apology of 30,000 out of 70 millions is not enough, but it is hardly a coincidence that the first public apology is happening in the same time as the other events mentioned above.
    I believe in social change. But I also think that change does not happen on a whim. And I do not see this as a singular event. I see a pattern that can lead to a positive change (I am not even saying that we have that change yet).
    To ‘hayrenaser’: if you know where are they paying for this work, please let me know.  I have organised or participated in dozens of Armenian-Turkish initiatives, and only once received a small payment from a University for a consulting gig. So if you know who is paying, I will be happy to collect the payments and fill my pockets.
    I am not insisting that I hold the truth. I am expressing MY opinion. And I fully respect the opinion of everyone who disagrees with me. I do not insist that anyone SHOULD think as I do. Absolutely not. I would not even wish for that. The differences and the criticism is what makes us learn and grow. But in return, I need to ask those who disagree, also not to tell me how I should or should not think. I am happy to hear your criticism and I am always open to being challenged and convinced. But I would like to preserve my rights to define my views MYSELF and express them freely, whether self-proclaimed ‘hayrenasers’ agrees with them or not.
    Thank you
    Phil Gamaghelyan

  26. metzaharg u khaghaghaser baron gamaghelyan,
    while it is urgent to deprogram your misguided devotion to ??????????????? 
    we, the real hayrenasers have a bigger fish to fry, instead of bickering with the likes of you, we should not divert  our focus away from the real enemy… 
    i resent the sinister implication of “self-proclaimed hayrenaser” rebuttal …
    and yes, you (not just you personally, everyone that was and is playing a role in the public scene) are profiting from the demise of our people, and don’t you deny it,
    all the fundraisers, books, telethons, public discussions, forums, lectures, grass-root campaigns, protests and parades…donation request after donation request, give give give, for 95 years, the armenian people have been giving, and what did they get in return…NOTHING, nothing worth celebrating, we are still homeless on the brink of complete assimilation in our host countries…
    and now you want us to applaud turkey’s so called “good gesture”… i didn’t know that throwing stale/infested bread crumbs are a form of good gesture, unless you support the master/slave relationship,
    i will applaud them when they evacuate my ancestral lands and seal their borders with high walls, much like israel/west bank, out of sight out of mind
    and if you still want to play “nicy-nice-nice” with your turkish pals, well all power to you, regardless of how loathsome that will be, you are a free man in a free world,
    at least that’s what my government is teaching me…LOL

  27. Hayrenaser,
    thank you for clarifying your position. Well understood. I am not a supporter of walls, not in Israel, nor certainly in my backyard.
    But glad that we, at the very least, can agree to disagree

  28. bravo hayrenaser, Nerses, and Dikranagetzi.
    for those who think there is ANY good intent on the part of turkey – check out the  service they just held in our holy Ani Cathedral. If this isn’t a spitting in our faces, I don’t know what is. Imagine what would happen – even in a democracy – if we went into their mosque and put up our crucifex and held our service. Ani was built with the sweat, blood and sacrifice of our fathers. It is offensive for them to unroll their prayer rugs in it.
    and Gamaghelyan, what makes you feel this is not a “singular” occassion? At the very best, it will happen once a year during the dollars and cents tourist season. It costs $12 U.S. funds for an Armenian to go into Ani. What did they pay as they fell on their knees?

  29. Phil –
    First of all, the title of your article is absurd, I’m sorry to say. What essentially happened? Has the church been indeed “reopened”? Wait a minute, doesn’t it continue to function as a Turkish “museum”? An interesting “museum”, indeed. One that has no annotation or guidance inside as to what the museum represents from the historical perspective, who built it, what the effectively desecrated frescos tell the visitors, and, most importantly, what happened to the parishioners and worshipers, as well as the whole population of Van and other Armenian provinces? Tell me what essentially happened that we should appreciate the “gesture”? In essence, the Christian house of worship continues to function as a Turkish museum, albeit renovated on the outside. In the core of the issue lays Turkish cosmetic, unsubstantial gestures that, I’m sure, Turks make due to some external political pressure and internal motivation but not out of compassion, remorse, or repentance for wiping out almost entire Armenian people from the face of the Earth.
    But here’s what concerns me in general sense, irrespective of how the majority of us and the minority of people like you view the buffoonery on Akhtamar. I’m afraid that by means of people like you, the so-called “mind-tilters”, some manipulative forces acting from behind hope to soften Armenians’ stance on the Armenian Cause: recognition of the genocide. The Cause is hardly on their agendas: they could care less about Armenians and their Cause. They NEED open borders and cessation of hostilities in the broader region in order to advance their politico-military and economic interests. If Armenians pick these cheap Turkish crumbs and soften their voice and resentment, their demands for justice and recognition of the crime committed against them, these sinister forces would be able to push the sides again, as they tried last year with the humiliating protocols, so both Turks and Armenians ultimately back off from their respective positions thus clearing a space for some kind of a compromise that’d open the border. But here’s the thing. By such insignificant, inane gestures, like allowing a Mass for two hours in an Armenian church, Turks will effectively avoid addressing the issue of genocide recognition, whereas by buying this cheap Turkish stuff Armenians will be pressed to accept the “new reality” of Turkey’s now being tolerant, respectful, aimed at improving the bilateral relations but SHORT of the major issue.
    That’s why it is my firm belief that major issue needs to be pushed forward with little regard for unsubstantial steps taken by Turkey. You may say rapprochement ought to start at some point and you’ll probably be right. I don’t think that Turks will offer us an apology on a whim. But their steps towards rapprochement must be SUBSTANTIAL not superficial like “museum-turned to church-turned back to museum” dog & pony show. Let me name a few of such substantial steps that, if made one after another, could breathe trust into Armenians in that Turks are showing signs of possible repentance in the future.

    Placement of all Armenian churches and monasteries or whatever is left of them as a result of “religiously tolerant” Turkish policy under the jurisdiction of Patriarchate in Constantinople. Those that were transformed, as result of the same “religiously tolerant” Turkish policy, to mosques should be counted out for the time being to avoid religious tensions;
    Permission for Armenian houses of worship to function as houses of worship even if a pile of stones remains and even if, due to “human life-valuing” policies of the Ottoman Turks, there’s no Armenian in sight anywhere near those edifices. I think the Patriarchate should be able to dispatch clerics on a regular basis to take care of the remnants and have services on site;
    Creation of a joint Turkish-Armenian architectural and cultural heritage commission whose work will be aimed at preserving and, possibly, restoring or renovating all the remnants of Armenian cultural heritage eastern parts of Turkey.
    Extending governmental protection for all these sites so that further desecration and deliberate destruction are punishable by law.

  30. Ashot, you are barking up the wrong tree.  Turks have been funding their lies via varous nations and in theUSA, i.e., the Woodrow Wilson Center, for one… This American institution, representative of our President Wilson’s thoughts and American ideals, is controlled by Turks and Turkey lovers… their names now displayed and many more such ‘institutions’ et al. 
    Too Sibel Edmonds has come forth as well.
    On the other hand, you may not notice this, but each time the Turk ‘turns on another PLOY, (so many, ongoing – daily, weekly, to set up another).  Then such as when at Aghtamar  the Turk’s ONE DAY/ONCE A YEAR is ‘offered to the Armenians,  the Turks face their fiasco there – then Turks realizing their ‘goof’ and their absolute need to react… Now the Turks need  to  have a sit-in in at the Armenian cathedral in Ani – outside the site on rugs – in their Muslim prayers.  Howsomever, the picture of these men was interesting… there were only men at this ‘prayer’… Not any women – donot the Muslim women also pray… OR is there an undercurrent in a Turkey of the women of a Turkey – who have had enough of their leaderships misdirection, their leaderships not being able to join with the civilized nations of the world; their abhorance of the Genocides with which leaderships continue and are in denials.
    Perhaps the women stayed away, chose not to be participants in this latest PLOY of their leadership?  OR, are Turkish women not included when Turks pray, distort history, and dislike to be known to the world as the nation who today is commiting another Genocide – ongoing against humans – the Kurds.

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