Gunaysu: Akhtamar: A Lost Paradise

My Akhtamar visit was a huge pile of mixed thoughts and feelings, mainly that of despair and indignation from being in physical contact with evidence of the painful truth.

A lost paradise (Photo by Ayse Gunaysu)

Images are engraved in my mind… Of the solemn and dignified faces of Armenians praying, some touching and caressing the age-old stones of the Sourp Khatch Church, some crying…The exquisite stonework responding to my touch like a living being at the nearby thousand-year-old cemetery, totally left to destruction by the forces of nature… A land that lost its children without a trace… The official sign informing visitors about the church without a single reference to “Armenians”… The ragged mountainous landscape, once the homeland of Armenians, now welcoming people with a gigantic crescent and star of the Turkish flag, accompanied by the words “Gendarmerie–Commando”… The Kurdish people of Van expressing an almost shy, warm hospitality and a visibly apologetic way of displaying a readiness to help… But also the treasure hunters, seeing this “historical” gathering as a good opportunity to find Armenians from abroad for help in uncovering the gold that their grandparents may have buried before being massacred or taken on their death march… And a gathering in a bookstore on one of the busiest streets of Van where Ara Sarafian, an Armenian historian and the director of the Gomidas Institute from London, and Osman Koker, the founder of Birzamanlar Yayincclik from Istanbul, are presenting the book Aghtamar: A Jewel of Medieval Armenian Architecture, which they jointly published for the Akhtamar church service on Sept. 19.

My visit to Van allowed for extraordinary encounters. I met people on my way to Van, at Van, and on my way back to Istanbul, all leaving unforgettable memories in my mind.

I met an Istanbul Armenian who had lost three quarters of his lungs at the hands of his torturers in 1979 in Adana because of his leftists activities, and who years later found an entire tribe in the southeast Turkey whose members told him they were Armenian, their ancestors having converted to Islam in 1915.

I met two friends, ordinary Turkish Sunni housewives on Akhtamar Island a day before the church service, totally unpoliticized, who had bought their plane tickets months before just to be there on Sept. 19, leaving behind their husbands whom, they said, would not even dare to object, just to share the feelings of Armenians as a personal apology for their sufferings.

I met a French Armenian journalist and photographer who showed me the thousand-year-old gravestones on the island. He said the stones carved by a real master of stonemasonry would talk to you. He said he found all that happened around him in Van “strange, very strange.” His beloved grandfather had died with his secrets; whenever he’d attempted to talk of the past, he’d start to cry, and was never able to tell what happened to his family. And for the love of his grandfather, the French Armenian had decided to come to Van, and trace his grandfather’s past in his old homeland.

I met Kurds who were ready to do anything to make their Armenian guests comfortable there. Yet, also met Kurds in charge of a restaurant who refused to serve tea to a group of elderly Armenians from Istanbul because the group’s tourism agency had arranged a lunch at another restaurant, and not theirs.

In yesterday's Vostan, (today's Gevash), the mountain slope facing the Aghtamar island greets the Turkish military. (Photo by Ayse Gunaysu)

On Sept. 19, the day of the church service, I saw civil servants in charge of healthcare services, members of the press, and locals from Van, all in greater numbers than the Armenians who had come to pray. Looking at the people praying and watching the liturgy on the huge screens installed in the churchyard, I saw a visible fulfillment on their faces, a satisfaction from just being on Akhtamar Island, so close to the Holy Cross Church standing majestically as a witness of the history of the Armenians. I also saw that, instead of the privacy they needed, they were constantly surrounded by not only the press but ordinary people who were wandering around them, taking photographs, trying to capture the image of praying Armenians. The churchyard was like a carnival, in total contrast to the historical setting and the meaning of the day. There was almost an environment created of disrespect—not only because of disrespectful individuals, but because of the circumstances, because of what was going on: Nobody, after all, except a few tourists, would walk around a praying Muslim in a mosque to take his photograph. A praying Armenian, though, was “newsworthy,” an interesting scene to capture–and where? In the very heart of old Armenian land, in Van!

But of all these human stories and experiences during my visit to Van, there was one that summarized the whole truth. I met a woman, a Diyarbakir Armenian still living in Diyarbakir, who told the story of an old Armenian lady from Yerevan. At the hotel in Van, just before leaving for the concert organized on the occasion of the church service at Akhtamar, a decent looking Turkish gentleman had kindly asked the group whether anyone was from a certain old Armenian village in Van; he said he wanted to hear about that village. When it was understood that the elderly lady from Yerevan was the granddaughter of a woman from that village, the man told them that he was an academic and presented his identity card. The elderly lady was moved by this stranger who wanted to know more about the village and her grandmother’s story, so she said she wanted to talk. The Armenian woman from Diyarbakir accepted to act as the interpreter between them. At the cost of missing the first half of the concert, the elderly lady started to tell her grandmother’s story, which was heart-rending. So much so that at one point, the woman from Diyarbakir suggested they discontinue the conversation. The elderly lady had become lost in sad memories and the details made her ill. The last words of the man, the last thing he asked, was if she knew of any buried gold in the village; if there was any, he said he could help in recovering it, and would share what they found! The woman from Diyarbakir, didn’t translate the last question for the elderly lady who had believed the man was sincerely interested in her story and shared her feelings.

This was in paralleled to what is happening in Akthamar: One of the few Armenian monuments that had survived to date was taken away from its owners and given to the government of the state founded at the expense of their annihilation. A treasure above the ground was taken away from the people it belonged to. Meanwhile, the remains of old Armenian buildings are still being destroyed not by the government but by the members of the “governed” in search of a treasure thought to be under the ground, of valuables left by the victims.

There’s the “Old Van” beneath the towering ancient castle. The Armenian quarter where, in 1915, the siege and resistance took place. A bare land surrounded by a fence with a sign that reads: “PROTECTED AREA.” There are the remains of walls here and there, but two perfectly renovated mosques. The rest of the area feels surreal because of the strangely undulating topography, one tumulus rolling after another, like the waves of the sea, the remains of houses covered in the course of time by the ground and grass. I say surreal because in many places, the old neighborhoods are populated with new inhabitants, constructing new–and ugly–buildings. But the Old City of Van has strangely been left untouched, like a haunted place nobody could dare go to or make any use of. It is there, keeping the memory alive. And nearby, in fact side by side, there is another world, another life going on, another reality that is totally disconnected with this one. There, in the Old City, you can physically touch the existence of a lost world, side by side with a living one, and you lose your perception of reality.

So I ask myself, how can “permission”—given to Armenians to visit their ancient and sacred land in Akhtamar after nearly a century—serve as a real effort toward reconciliation if there is no mention of Armenians in the sign welcoming the guests to the island?

Yes, it is good to see the Akhtamar Sourp Khatch Church renovated and not left to dilapidation. I appreciate that. But there is still a lot to do for real change in Turkey, even for a government who finds it impossible to recognize the Armenian and Assyrian Genocide for political, strategic, social, cultural, etc., etc. reasons. For example: changing school textbooks and the official material on the Armenian historical and cultural heritage in this country; removing from office governors who use the word Armenian as an insult (recently, the governor of Batman accused Kurds of being “servants of Armenians” because they boycotted the education system by not sending their children to school at the start of the school year); dismissing members of cabinet who use hostile language to describe Armenians (again recently, the state minister and vice-premier said the dead bodies of PKK guerillas who were found to be uncircumcised were an indication of the bond between “Armenian terrorism” and the PKK); removing the foreign minister in whose office that shameful ECHR defense was drawn up; passing laws penalizing racist and discriminatory language against those other than Sunni Muslim Turks; giving back the seized properties of non-Muslim foundations; and of course many more.

But is there a collective will in the Turkish society—amongst the “governed”—strong enough to urge the government to take such steps? I don’t think so. Not yet. But there are signs that it is slowly yet erratically emerging. One sign was the two Turkish housewives on Akhtamar Island, who said they wanted to be there at all costs to share the Armenian visitors’ feelings.

A sign much more meaningful than the half-hearted, poorly designed gesture by the Turkish government.

Ayse Gunaysu

Ayse Gunaysu

Ayse Gunaysu is a professional translator, human rights advocate, and feminist. She has been a member of the Committee Against Racism and Discrimination of the Human Rights Association of Turkey (Istanbul branch) since 1995, and is a columnist for Ozgur Gundem. Since 2008, she writes a column titled "Letters from Istanbul," for the Armenian Weekly.


  1. God Bless you Ayse, those two Turkish housewives, the Armenian woman from Diyarbekir and the old woman from Yerevan.  Power to the peace-makers!

  2. Dear Ayse,
    Reading your above short biography; in between lines I can tell you still reside in Turkey; and that is free and most importantly alive; which I really thank God for, But what I can’t comprehend is being in that environment which is well known for not being on the Democratic side at all; how can you manage to do so when you openly write moving “Anti Turkish-Ness” articles like this?
    With Regards and hopping that you won’t find any “sarcastic” tone in my comment.

  3. Very straitforward, informatic and touchy, you brought me my grandfathers city, Van and thre memories of my orphan father. 

    Thank you

  4. Davutoglu, Erdogan and Gül should kiss your shoe soles for saving what is left of Turkish honor and humanity. But while you embody what is best in Turkey and even mankind at large,  they and their cronies worship what is worst. One day, maybe???? For the moment, a huge thank you. You certainly made many readers cry.

  5. Bravo brave lady.
    This is an excellent article. We have a very long way to go. One day thw truth, the whole of it will shine. The policy of denial of Turkey is bancrupt and it can not go on very long.
    Until then, peole like you may show the way to recognition of the past attrocities.
    This problem has to find its complete and just solution. 
    May God bless and protect you, very dear Ayshe lady.  

  6. Ayşe hanım, I was very glad to meet you in Van.
    And Thank you for this wonderful piece. Priceless thoughts, indeed.

  7. Dear Ayse !
    I did read a few books of Taner Akcam and second time reading article written by You .
    I just wanted to ask : what should be the outcome in the case if Turkish people will , one day , recognize the crime committed ?
    Please , do not take it as a offense but propose  even , to leave together once again is not seems as a serious proposition to me , in particular .
    Do the Turks really have choice but not recognizing ?
    I could not find the answer in Mr. Akcams books

  8. It is people like Ayse and the two Turkish women and the rest of the Turkish heros that we are greateful and thankful for..

    God gave them to us to tell us that even though our road will be bumpy, dangerous and full of traps, we have people like Ayse and alike to show us a way, to open eyes and hearts… and I thank you for it…May God bless you..

    Osik, please read and share this with your friends… instead of asking how she can do this, you should ask.. WHY should not she do this?


  9. Gayane,

    You sound like a teacher but your question is really confusing because if some one is already doing something then why should I ask her  “WHY should not she do this?”

  10. You can see they are acting like animals in 2010 before the eyes of the world and at a time when they are trying to become part of Europe.  Is there any doubt how they acted in 1915 when they could do anything they wanted under the cover of war?  The only thing missing from the videos of this circus mob of morons was a few gavurs to torture.  Oh what fun they could have had if there were just a few gavurs on hand!
    Thank you Ayse for bravely writing about this ugliness.

  11. Osik…

    You asked as to how Ayse managed to write such an article…and my question was why should not she write such article?

    Did you say Turkey is free and alive?? Are you sure you are living in the same Turkey that we know of?  Alive may be.. why would not it be? It occupies most of the Armenian lands, wealth and when you have a huge territory and lots of stolen wealth and money you can make the country as lively and profitable as possible.. Free?????  Now that is something I never heard of…. what type of freedom does Turkey offer to her people? her entire population and not just to Turks.. so please explain..


  12. Gayane, for some reason, you seem to think that everyone in Turkey is in chains, unable to talk, learn, think or act normally.  Maybe you should go there, meet the people, including the Armenians who live there, and learn for yourself what it is like. The way you talk about it, there is no worse hell hole on earth, which is just not the case at all.  Travel the world. See for yourself.  Armenians and others in Turkey have a fairly high standard of living. The eat good food, have clean streets and virtually no crime. All indications are that they are poised for a very positive future. Their current government, while perhaps not perfect, has handled Armenian issues much better than any previous government. This is a good thing. It should be encouraged, not maligned. And, while it is legitimate to expect more historical truth and openness, you have to be realistic….these things can’t be delivered or changed overnight. But, things are changing. Pandora’s box has opened, and it will be very hard if not impossible to push things back in at this point because there is alot of momentum moving things in the right direction. As they say, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

  13. Karekin.. I dont’ think but i know…

    Also we don’t need to be in Turkey to know how things are … we hear it, read it and learn about it from different sources.. we are not saying that EVERYONE in Turkey is in chains.. that would be absurd.. of course there are groups of people who have all the priviledges.. but not the Armenians… get off your dream carriage please… you may know of few who live well but majority of the population does not have the luxury to be treated as first class citizens……

    Du qo eshnes qshum.. it seems like you have ignored or dismissed all our comments where we specifically and in detail explained to you about everything you are referring right now…. we have already addressed all your concerns … please go read them and stop repeating the same things over and over…I personally do not forget what you wrote in other forums so you dont’ have to keep repeating matters here or any other new forums hoping your old comments will be forgotten……

    Anyway.. i am done.. as I said before.. you go do your thing and lets see how successful you are.. if the outcome is better than what we have accomplished so far, then we will give a minute to hear about it.. …


  14. Yes Gayane, you do need to go to Turkey to see how things are. You will find a sophisticated, cosmpolitan society that, unlike your characterization, welcomes Armenians. I must ask though, why would you expect Turkey to be perfect?  Why do you demand it of Turkey?  No place on earth is perfect…neither the US, nor Europe, nor even Armenia. Yes, Armenians are a minority in Turkey, but compared with minorities elsewhere in the world or the tiny Greek community (maybe 2500 people), the community is doing quite well and growing, almost on a daily basis. Give the Turkish Armenian community some credit…they are still there, they are alive, they are vibrant and creative.  You should visit Kinalada, the Armenian island; the gold and silver markets in the grand bazaar; the streets of Galata and Kum Kapi (where the patriarchate is housed) or one of the 30+ Armenian churches in the city. You will find a lively, exciting city. Even with the political issues, I seriously doubt that many of the Armenians living there would want to trade their lives for one in Yerevan.

  15. Karekin, you do realize that Turkey is more than Istanbul, don’t you?  The majority of the residual pain and loss that Armenians have inherited from their ancestors didn’t happen in Istanbul.  You have me wondering just how broad your experiences and observations are.

  16. Karekin: With such an unreserved Turkophilia, excessive affinity to everything Turkish and not your own Armenian, why won’t you go live in Turkey and relieve us from this subservient, obsequious, self-deprecating mantra of yours? Also, isn’t it understood that people tend to adjust to the environment they live in? Some 60,000 Constantinople Armenians are not an exception. But I imagine a pain to be an Armenian in a country that wiped out our race and where the word “Ermeni” is used as an insult. Interesting, isn’t it? Turks who mass murdered, mutilated and starved to death my almost entire nation are using the name of it as derogation. As if it were the Armenians who had done so against Turks. What a grotesque cynicism and total disregard for the lives, memories, honor and civilizational input of other, nobler and more civilized ancient people!

  17. Look, I know where all the atrocities took place quite well.  I have seen and visited plenty of places outside of Istanbul and you may be surprised, but there are successful pockets of Armenians all over the place. I have been welcomed by Turks all over Turkey with incredible, warm hospitality – as an Armenian. How could that be?  They hate us, they really, really hate us. Well, just imagine the pain of being an African-American, living in the US, a country that kept their people in slavery and chains for hundreds of years, and that denied them the vote until 1963.  Imagine being a native American, where Europeans have completely obliterated any evidence of your heritage.  How can Tibetans live under Chinese rule?  What about Armenians in Moscow, where it seems that an Armenian is murdered almost weekly?  How can any of them live where they are?  It seems impossible.  How can Americans live in a country where more than 83,000 people were murdered in cold blood last year?  How is it possible???  You seem to be oblivious to the basic day-to-day aspects of life, that are not ruled by micro-managers who watch every, single move you make. The 100,000 Armenians from Armenia who have moved to Turkey for work, whether it is in Istanbul, Antalya, Mersin or other cities, have found an atmosphere where they can thrive. I suspect, other than a holiday vacation, they’ll probably never move back. If you’ve not been there to visit, you should consider it.  It is a very eye opening experience, and yes, a very surprising and enjoyable one.  In that it is the number one vacation destination for Armenians from Armenia, with great hotels, resorts and food, you must think something odd is going on….but no. They just know something good when they see it.

  18. Karekin, you are really blurring things with your talk of victimized groups that have found ways to go on despite the wrong done to them and the universality of injustice around the world.  Just because it was done before, to others, and just because it happens every day, and just because “life isn’t fair” is no justification for telling Armenians that they should stop ‘whining.’  Did it ever occur to you that the Armenian ‘whiners’ may have a noble cause that is intended to change this world, rather than succumb to the status quo of passive resignation to evil?  You are a very cynical pragmatist, aren’t you?  How many oriental rugs does it take to become so disconnected from justified indignation and the will to repel evil?

  19. Listen, Karekin:  I meet Constantinople Armenians at church, I read their stories in the discussion forums, and I don’t get the feeling that they’re “successful.” However, I don’t rule out that you might have seen “successful” pockets (indeed! Out of 2-2,5 mln Ottoman Armenians) of Armenians in Turkey. Do they thrive? Maybe, but I believe even if they do, it’s happening as a result of Armenians’ ability to survive in inhospitable environments, their perseverance, natural wit and industriousness. Mainly.
    How could that be that you’ve been “welcomed by Turks all over Turkey with incredible, warm hospitality – as an Armenian”? Simple. First, their unrivaled ability to pillow up others, flatter and butter up and then hit behind the back. Typically Turkish trait. Second, I have no clue what old wives’ tales you might have told them to make them hospitable, maybe pulpiteered the same crap about the need for Armenians to extend hand to unrepentant Turks, embrace them for committing genocide and denying the crime, chant praises for desecrating our cultural heritage or for turning a house of worship into museum-then to a church for two hours-then back to museum, etc. Third, by offering “incredible, warm hospitality” they tend to show off what good people they are and what bad people the Armenians are when they demand apology from Turkey and deplore Turkish dog & pony shows. Fourth, I don’t rule out that there are good people in Turkey, but you tend to forget that our righteous indignation is aimed at their STATE, not ordinary people.
    Afro-Americans have suffered, but guess what: at least their suffering has been recognized and their rights have been restored to the fullest in this society. Do not compare the plight of people who were not originally indigenous inhabitants of this country with the plight of ancient, sedentary inhabitants of Asia Minor.
    The plight of native Americans, too, has been recognized and their rights have been restored to the fullest. Do not mix up the colonization case, with all its dire consequences for American Indians, with that of state policy of genocide: the deliberate extermination of a particular ethnic, national, racial, and religious group within the same society.
    Tibetans live under Chinese rule under unbearable, discriminatory conditions. But guess what: at least they physically LIVE, and not being subjected to the government policy of extermination, as Armenians were.
    Armenians in Moscow actually flourish. As for Armenians, as well other non-Russians, non-Slavs, being occasionally murdered by criminals, again, do not mix up isolated chauvinistic molestations with the government-premeditated and executed policy of annihilation of a particular race.
    Americans live in a country where 83,000 people were murdered last year knowing that the state is obliged to defend their right to live and pursue happiness, not relocate them to sunny Syrian deserts to starve them to death and massacre them en route. Do not mix up isolated criminal cases with the state policy of genocide.
    Lastly, I don’t have micro-managers who watch every single move I make, but had I wished to have them I’d choose them to be Armenians not Turks as it may be in your case. The 100,000 Armenians from Armenia who have moved to Turkey for work are no different from 5 million Turks who moved to Germany to do the same. Their going back to Armenia, I presume, depends on improved conditions in their home country and not on their willingness to work as babysitters for the Turks for the rest of their lives. By the way, might you know why Turkish immigrants in Germany are not returning home if it’s so sweet and enjoyable?
    The only time I’d consider going to the lands of my ancestors in Western Armenia would be when Turks will repent for their crime.
    P.S. Turkey is one of vacation destinations for Armenians from Armenia because it’s the cheapest one, in case you don’t know. Again, no one can advise people not to choose the cheapest deal or to get to “know something good when they see” the country. People-to-people contacts have nothing to do with the demands for apology from their state. Why is it so hard to understand?

  20. Vay Astvat jan..

    Karekin.. WHY IN THE HECK are you bringing others in our cause.. their situation is different than Armenians… in many levels…heriqa qo esha qshes… do you know how to stop????  de vor etqan sirum es Turqerin.. then go to Turkey and start your benevolent work in Turkey.. el inch es mer gluxa hartukum?

    Osik you said
    Hell no Gayane, I asked her how she managed to stay free and alive after writing such articles in Turkey.

    if you said that.. then i did not get that from your first post..but i am glad you did though.. now do you mind telling us why you would ask that?  please explain…. because if what you are going to write is what I think you are going to write, i want Karekin to read it as well..

    Thank you

  21. Dear Karekin,
    In these days & time being under microscope where EU and entire world is watching them; of course they will do nice things; and as long as you say nothing or just say things that they like to hear (like you do) then you will be fine that’s what they want; you just shut your mouth and live like bunch of lambs then we once in a while we will kill just one or two of your vocal ones as need be; and if more of you start deviating from that rule then we’ll kill you all like what they did to Armenians then and are doing to Kurds now. 

    Let me tell you something Karekin; going somewhere as tourist or any other nonpermanent way is always fun; like if you go to Turkey (which you did and I’ve been there too), China, Egypt, and hundreds of other countries like that these days;  you will be amazed of their ancient and modern beauties including people; but that doesn’t mean anything until you go there and try to live a politically free life permanently in there; something that we all are taking as granted.

    If just having a family and friends; job; place to live; and of course CAR(s), going to church, educating your kids, and once in a while going to vacation then talking about it until next vacation is your imagination of good life then you are all set and everywhere in the world can become your Motherland.


  22. Karekin,

    how about Hrant Dink and Sevan Nisanyan, two Armenians in Turkey? Aren’t their stories a reality check for you?  
    Anybody with a bit of common sense welcomes tourists because they bring much needed cash. And, yes, going to Turkey is much cheaper for Armenians, which is why they go there.

  23. Again, some people here seem to have a mindset that is resistant to change, and I find that unbending attitude unnecessary and unfair. And, you have made this judgement without even experiencing what I’ve mentioned to you. You’re citing valid news reports, but to arrive at a comprehensive judgement based on those just isn’t valid. It’s like the blind man feeling the leg of the elephant and announcing it to be a tree trunk.  I’ve been to many places in the world, often more than once, and spend as much time as possible, not just as a tourist who doesn’t interact with locals, but as someone who does quite a bit of interaction. Suffice to say, I am not the tour group type. I’m sorry that you find the concept of visiting Turkey unpleasant or that it jars your thinking, but I suspect it is you who might need to adjust a bit.  I’ve talked w/ many local Armenians in Turkey as well as recent arrivals from Armenia….and oddly, have never heard a complaint. The only complaint I heard was that there were no jobs for them in Armenia…so they had to leave. Frankly, I found those stories to be incredibly sad, because they were not isolated cases…there are Armenians all over Russia, Turkey and other places who have left for the same reason. That should be our concern, not our own personal fears or preconceptions about Turkey, which are often based on long held biases, instead of reality.  There is a huge amount of commerce between Armenia and Turkey and thousands of people cross the border regularly. They live to talk about it and they usually return. Perhaps all of them are crazy?  I don’t think so.   If it was such a nightmarish place, I don’t think that would happen. Look, more people are murdered in NY or LA on a yearly basis than in all of Turkey in a year.  That alone should make one pause about visiting NY or LA, but people still come and brag about having a good time in the US.  As I said, no place on earth is perfect…and for you to expect perfection from a place you already see as deeply flawed, is a bit unrealistic. I have a feeling no place could live up to your standards.  Armenia isn’t perfect either… there are more sad stories there than many other places, but we love it because it’s Armenia… yet still can criticize it.   

  24. Karekin,
    I  think you and “Robert the Turk” Murat and Ahmet came from same have learn well about penal code 301, and you behave like a “loyal Milet” in the land of Ottomans…

  25. Look, the only way minorities in the US have been able to advance their cause, their positions and their people as a whole has been by curbing their angry tendencies. Needless to say, minorities in the US and native Americans have many legitimate gripes, but their people would live in much worse misery if their leaders did not decide to lower the volume and work to participate in the larger society, rather than to fight it at every turn. Someone realized that an eye for eye approach just creates many blind people.  There is alot to be learned from this.  American society is still largely racist, yet we have evolved to the point that white people in very large numbers voted for a black man to be president. This could not have happened just a short generation ago. The rise of minorities in the US is a very recent phenomenon, yet the minorities of Turkey have had exaulted positions in that society for hundreds of years, despite the official designation as second class citizens.  Again, why do you expect perfection?  Things evolve over time and hopefully will improve for all, as a rising tide raises all boats.  The new govt in Turkey is making an effort, in ways not seen for eons, and Armenians are benefiting. It is truly sad that Hrant Dink has not been here to see these changes, but many of them can be attributed to his legacy. Hopefully, they will continue in sincerity and good faith.  

  26. Karekin,
    One can really get exhausted from remarks and analogies that you bring up. When reading your comments I get a feeling as if a 7-year old kid mumbles. OK, you presented your opinion here, it’s not widely supported as you can see, but I guess Turks would love to hear such perverted remarks from an “Armenian” like you. Since you preach brotherly love between a victim and an unrepentant murderer, the need for Armenians to engage with “democratic”, “human life-valuing”, “religiously tolerant”, and utterly “Armenophilic” Turks, why won’t you post in Turkish forums for a change?
    P.S. “There is a huge amount of commerce between Armenia and Turkey and thousands of people cross the border regularly.” Where the h*** did you get this? The amount of commerce between Armenia and Turkey is miniscule and is mostly done by means of re-import and re-export via the third countries, such as Georgia. Besides, how can “thousands of people cross the border regularly” if the border is closed, and it’s closed because your brotherly nation of Turkey chose to stage such as hostile act against Armenia?

  27. Ay lav asetsir Paul jan.. apres…I dont’ know who is worst Ragnar or Karekin with their confusing, enigma and self fulfillment comments…

    I don’t know where Karekin gets his information from.. i really do want to know..

    Also, as Paul addressed it and as I asked few times… do you post on Turkish forums Karekin? and if so, where?  We would like to observe your tactics and maybe learn how you deal with this matter with them… and maybe you will get your wish if we have more exposure of your agenda and steps to accomplish that…what do you think?

    Thank you

  28. Karekin,
    Hrant Kink did not see the change because there is no change in TUrkey.. hellooooooooooooooooooooooooo… the little steps Turkey does is because the world and EU closely watching every step.. They HAVE to do baby steps (the steps that are all masterminded to benefit Turkey and not Armenians..).. Please get off your dream coach and realize that whatever Turkey is doing is calculated and a very set agenda in mind..

    Until TUrkey comes with grips of her own history and start acting as a true democratic and civilized country, without any pre-conditions or demands, then I will say ok.. it is time to sit and have a normal disucssions.. until then don’t hold your breath….


  29. Have you been to Armenia recently?  The amount of goods on sale from Turkey is immense, along with products from Iran, Russia and other places.  The problem is that you want an entire country to own up to their history according to you. As justified as that is (and I’m not arguing that), I wonder if you realize how difficult that is or would be?  The bottom line is that change has to come from inside, not from outside, if it is going to have any longevity or legitimacy. You cannot impose it, no matter what you say or do. That is the problem.

  30. Karekin,
    I’m sorry but I have to say this. After reading your comments I’d prefer you to be a Turk than an Armenian. At least knowing you’re a Turk would make me going easy on you in a way that I’d know that you’re just another brainwashed Turk.
    Where, in what book did you read that “the minorities of Turkey have had exalted positions in that society for hundreds of years, despite the official designation as second class citizens”? Where did this BS come from? Refer me to the author, please! How could Christian minorities have “exalted positions” in the Ottoman prison of nations if they were barred from elementary civil rights, such as the right to elect and run for office? Identify any one Armenian or a Greek or an Assyrian who held a high governmental or other “exalted position” in the Ottoman empire. Who? Who was that singular Ottoman Christian that all of us here have no idea about? I mean, how cynical a person should be to give us a whole-cloth lie?
    And remember. We’re not entertaining “an eye for eye approach”. As Christians, we cannot massacre innocent people and do so in the most barbarous forms. We’re taught exactly the opposite: love your enemies. We’re Armenians, not Turks for whom killing a “gavour” is kudos. All we want is acknowledgment of crime, repentance, and apology. Where do you see anything close to an “eye for eye” approach in this?
    Again, could you now preachify in some Turkish forums? Get back here in a year or so, the longer the better, and share the results of your “brotherly love” approach with unrepentant murderers.

  31. “Karekin”,  if this is your real name,
    I have been watching the discussion between you and a number of readers.
    I personally have nothing against friendship between Armenians and Turks or sections of Turkish and Armenian societies, even before the acknowledgment of the crime of Genocide by Turkish government. Besides, already parts of Turkish society have offered or beginning to offer apology. One may safely assume that this trend will continue and grow. Even, let’s say, ten years ago, publication of such an article would be unimaginable.
    Also, there is no denial that there are nice things to encounter in Turkey as well, just as almost in every other country and that one should not expect perfection from them while most of the places in the world, including our own Armenia, are flawed.
    Furthermore, the concern over unprotected, jobless, Armenian families who migrate to, among others, Turkey, a concern which you seem to share, is a real one. That was in fact one important reason for the Armenian government to agree to a process of normalizing relations with her neighbour, to help reduce tension in the  region and to create favourable conditions for the  growth of Armenian economy, so that people would stay in their own land and not seek their fortune elsewhere. This process failed, as we know, because of backtracking of Turkey under pressure from Azerbaijan. In spite of that, I  believe it will very probably come forward again in future, perhaps in some other form. After all, the two countries cannot afford to live side by side as enemies forever. And the closed border is going to open some day, whether we like it or not.
    But, at this point, when you say: “The problem is that you want an entire country to own up to their history according to you”, I sense an accentuated denialist line in your argument. As I see,  this is the gist of what you have been trying to achieve all through your arguments. I am sorry to say that this is a bankrupt policy pursued persistently by the successive Turkish governments. You should know well that this is the main impediment to any rapprochement between the two countries. It is not an answer to the charge of Genocide, the real, historical issue between the two peoples, but rather an evasionist method intended to derange the discussion, to marginalize and to let forget the real problem.  
    It may be a highly painful process for the Turkish society to come to grips with his own history. As we see, parts of that society is beginning to own up to its past. Witness this and many similar articles in the Turkish media. The writers, with great courage and insight, help realize this process, lessen the pain and break the psychological barriers between the two peoples. We are deeply grateful to them.
    To “Karekin” I will just say, if we can’t help lessen the pain, we should stop deepening it on both sides.

  32. Paul, please check your history books….no one either ran or was elected to public office in the Ottoman Empire, or any other empire for that matter. Those were appointed positions and yes, many Armenians were in the Ottoman government, many were in important positions…the Balyans for instance were the royal architects to the sultans. Also, you might want to check this list, which is not comprehensive, but gives you some idea:

  33. Yes, I have been to Armenia recently.  The amount of goods on sale from Turkey is not “immense”, and those that are on sale are the result of routine re-import. Actually, I was delighted to see local entrepreneurs striving to fill the market with local products (foodstuff, etc.) that are of much better quality that cheap, low-quality Turkish products. There is ONE history for ALL of Armenian nation most of which was subjected to genocide by Turks. This doesn’t exclude having people-to-people or even commercial relationship with Turkey, but isn’t it Turkey that keeps borders closed and blockade of Armenian imposed? So, I’m a bit at a loss as to why you’re addressing these questions to Armenians? Let them open the border without any preconditions and I trust no one in Armenia or Diaspora would be against having relationship with Turks. Under no circumstances, however, could this ever lessen or otherwise alter our 95-year old struggle to receive justice for barbarous crime. For the change to come from inside it MUST be induced from outside, and this is exactly what’s happening in Turkey. Otherwise they wouldn’t lift a finger to start reacting to the international pressure. There’s no doubt in my mind that all insignificant dog & pony shows that the Turks are staging are the result of such outside pressure, not internal repentance, admittance of guilt, or genuine sense of remorse.

  34. Karekin, I think the problem is not so much whether the change comes from inside versus outside.  Obviously, it needs to come from both directions. ( Outside pressure creates internal awareness which leads to internal pressure.)  But I think the bigger issue is a lack of courage in Turkish leaders to be honest about the truth and to lead their country out of shame to reconciliation along that short journey from “Turks could never…” to “Turks did and are sorry.”  Do you really think they don’t know the truth?  Do you think Erdogan doesn’t know the truth?  They are afraid of the ultra-nationalist retaliation and also are saying and doing what is necessary to maintain position and power.  I don’t believe Turkey will ever come to the decision to apologize from internal pressure alone.  I truly believe external pressure is forcing Turkey to face reality.  Of course there will be a backlash; a resistance to seeing the truth and anger at the messenger.  But that doesn’t mean the pressure is wrong; on the contrary, it is working!

    You seem to have decided that we can circumvent the apology and go directly to normalization of trade, travel, etc., putting the past behind us and behaving as if things have been settled.  Dolma diplomacy to the rescue.  I don’t agree with this.  The world’s nations have agreed in the UN Genocide Convention that Genocide is a crime with no statue of limitation, no immunity and no right to refuse extradition.  The world’s nations have recognized it as a heinous crime that must be punished and not tolerated.  Turkey as a UN member must admit to this crime and make reparations or stand accused of snubbing its nose at the rest of us.  You and I don’t have to let them.

  35. Karekin, I am not sure how you developed your ideas about Armenians and their cause but I can see that little anyone says here really impacts you.  You are very wedded to your views.  So since you don’t seriously consider input from others, I have to imagine that you are here primarily to change others points of view.  Perhaps you believe you are trying to help by instructing others from your unique perspective.  However, I think if you join a ‘discussion,’ you should be willing to consider others views openly, not just preach to the ‘ignorant masses of angry Armenians.’

    Several comments back Paul made this comment which I don’t think you give fair consideration to:  “People-to-people contacts have nothing to do with the demands for apology from their state. Why is it so hard to understand?” 
    Here I thought Paul made a valid point regarding the idea that Armenians and Turks, as people, can (and should) pursue improved relations with one another, but that does not eliminate the necessity for Turkey, as a state, to apologize for the AG to the Armenian nation and the world.  Turkey, as a state, has participated in the elimination of a people from their homeland and, for 95 years, actively participated in the destruction of the remnants of those people from the land.  This is an offense to all humanity. 

    Also, the renovation of Holy Cross church, while being a small step in the right direction which I hope will continue, actually illuminates all that was irrevocably lost from history.  And for Armenians, Akhtamar’s beauty resonates with a deep sense of loss in our souls.  I wish that just because you don’t experience this as pain, you wouldn’t callously disregard it in others and treat their feelings with so much disdain.

    Also, Karekin, in your comment above you include a wikipedia link to a list of Turkish Armenians, many of which died either during the genocide or soon after due to trauma experienced during it.  What is your point? 

  36. Karekin, you go check your history books or give your own definition for “exalted positions.” YES, those were appointed positions and Turks chose to appoint representatives of their majoritarian ethnos and keep the discriminatory millet status for all others. And NO, many Armenians were NOT in the Ottoman government, actually NO Armenian or other Christian was in the government. Stop spreading lies, will you? NO, many Armenians were not in important positions. As architects, the Balyans were servants of the sultan, not decision-makers or members of the central or provincial governments. Armenians were largely peasants living in miserable conditions, subjected to constant pillages and massacres by the Muslims. Only some Constantinople and Smirna Armenians were able to elevate their social status and maintained it primarily due to their sagacity, natural talents, and industriousness. The same Balyans would have never served as architects had they not possessed those qualities. After all, if you consider an architect as belonging to “exalted positions,” what impact even in modern times an architect can possibly have on the management of the state or a decision-making process? Give me a break…

  37. Arsen,
    I agree, friendship between sections of Turkish and Armenian societies even before the acknowledgment of the crime of Genocide by Turkish government has nothing to do with our continuing demand for apology from their State and can be pursued separately.
    I disagree, however, with your assessment that “the Armenian government agreed to a process of normalizing relations with her neighbour to help reduce tension in the  region and to create favourable conditions for the  growth of Armenian economy, so that people would stay in their own land and not seek their fortune elsewhere.” Arsen, the Armenian government had nothing to do with the Protocol process. Serge and Abdulla dispatched their foreign ministers to sign an idiotic document in Switzerland as a result of unavoidable pressure from those who stood behind their backs at the signing ceremony. It’s crystal clear. Their rapprochement is needed first and foremost for advancing geopolitical and economic interests of those power centers who were watching the signing behind their backs. I was against those Protocols in the “spirit and letter” that they were offered for signing. No such memorandums of understanding contain provisions on “the creation of historical subcommissions” or “recognizing the existing borders” or “recognizing all past treaties and agreements” between the states. In fact, many countries of the world have relations without recognizing the contentious issues that exist between them. Russia and Japan are a vivid example: the countries are formally still at war! I think Armenians should only support such a document, if it comes forward again in future, if it simply states that the Parties agree to establish diplomatic relations and open the border. PERIOD.
    I’d also humbly alter your statement about “the closed border that’s going to open some day, whether we like it or not.” I’d support opening of the border, after all it’s the only closed border in Europe, but how well the Armenian side has calculated the ramifications? If you like the idea, as you seem you do, how well did you personally contemplate the extent of threats to Armenia’s national security as a result of open border and the inflow of millions of Turks and possibly the Azeries from or via Turkey? Can you say for sure that there will be no threats to Armenia from demographic, economic, national security, cultural, and ideological perspectives? I don’t think our unprofessional and self-centered government is at all capable of creating an effective shield against these threats. I tend to believe that full-scope bilateral relations will be hard (not impossible, though) to establish short of an apology from the Turks. It is psychologically hard to have unrestricted relations with an unrepentant neighbor. Suspicion, distrust, and excessive wariness will always be there until Armenians receive an official apology. It’s a must.

  38. Paul,
    One common misunderstanding on the idea of open border, in this special case, between Armenia and Turkey, is that it will be a wide open door through which everybody could freely enter anytime he wishes. Everybody knows about the adverse consequences of such an “open border” for Armenia. Therefore, any opening of border between Armenia and Turkey would have to be phased, controlled and tentative in character pending the ramifications for Armenia, the Armenian economy and especially for the Armenian society. But, it has to start from somewhere, someday. No responsible government in Yerevan can avoid addressing this issue if it is really concerned with the well-being, the security and the future of his people.
    I do not agree with your statement that the Armenian government had nothing to do with the protocols and that it was only a decision by Serge Sarkisian. Though, I do not consider (yet) the Armenian government as a model, caretaker government, the issue of protocols was debated and approved in the Parliament and later also in the Constitutional Court. The latter emphasized correctly that the implementation of Protocols will never be conditioned on the issue of Karabakh. Nor the protocols in fact contained any reference to Karabakh. The only weak point in the agreement was perhaps the provision on creation of a historical subcommittee, which I believe could have been better formulated not to give a point for misuse by the Turks.
    Also, I can remember that the “Football diplomacy”, which is now dubbed as ”bankrupt”, was widely debated in Armenia and no major political party or force opposed it. There was even some amusement about it on the part of the ordinary people which looked for a change in relations with their unfriendly neighbour.
    As I said though, Azerbaijan could not accept any rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey. It thus brought all pressure it could on Turkey to destroy the agreement. Finally, together with the Turkish nationalist right-wing circles it managed to force the Turkish government to retract on its promises. Remember, the Turkish society and/or the government is not politically uniform and is susceptible to outside pressure, especially on the part of Azerbaijan. Also, the moves that Armenia makes have their ramifications in Turkish society. The intellectuals who started the “Petition of Apology” were inspired by the groundbreaking move of the two presidents to watch their football teams in their respective countries.
    Finally, I agree with you that without recognition of the Genocide by Turkey the creation of truly good-neighbourly, stable and mutually beneficial relations between the two countries would be very difficult, if not impossible.
    However, we should not be indifferent to, or underestimate those gradual, albeit slow, changes that are taking place in the Turkish society, changes which can help build up pressure from inside on the government. As I said, Armenia too should make calculated moves to facilitate this process.

  39. Arsen,

    Whatever starts from somewhere, someday—in this particular case, the idea of open border between Armenia and Turkey—needs to be addressed, contemplated, and given tentative solution sets BEFORE it starts being implemented, not in the process. Yes, an open border is generally understood as a “wide open door through which everybody could freely enter anytime he wishes”. Then, what’s the point of having the border open? I have serious doubts that the current irresponsible, self-centered government has done thorough research and outlined the solution sets for the issues and their ramifications that it knows will inevitably arise once the border is open. Are Armenia’s trade laws, that were brought to conformity with the WTO norms and regulations, compatible with the Turkish laws that contain dozens of amendments safeguarding Turkish domestic products and compatibility of their products? They’re not. Is our counterintelligence as sophisticated as to detect spies, influence agents, provocateurs, and persons who will, no doubt, engage in subversive activities? Will our counterintelligence be able to distinguish between Turks and Turkic-speaking Azeries who’d love to infiltrate the country for sabotage and subversion purposes? I don’t believe so. Is our state capable of confronting the demographic threat given the sharply disproportional ratio of Armenia and Turkey’s populations, possible intermarriages of Armenians with Muslim Turks, their impact on our distinct 4000 year-old culture and almost 2000 year-long Christian tradition? Are we prepared to confront ideological ramifications of an open border, inevitable mind-tilting attempts by Turkish influence agents aimed at weaning the Armenians off the pursuit of the Cause of genocide recognition and subsequent reparations? I don’t believe so. These issues must have been addressed BEFORE agreeing to sign the defeatist protocols.
    Nowhere in my comment did I say that “the Armenian government had nothing to do with the protocols and that it was only a decision by Serge Sarkisian.” I said the first part of it, but not the second. No. neither was it Serge’s decision. The whole thing was fobbed off on both Sarkisian and Gul by those who stood behind their foreign ministers’ backs at signing. If you don’t consider the Armenian government as a “model, caretaker government”, than you should understand that the Parliament and the Constitutional Court that such a government has in the country are no different. They are the government’s puppets. If you take a look at how the whole protocol process unfolded, you’ll see that the issue was hastily—and deliberately—introduced just months before signing as fete accompli, implicitly suggesting to the public and the Parliament that however disagreeable these protocols might be, they couldn’t but be signed. There was a substantial opposition in the Republic and almost total opposition in the Diaspora for the protocols. Any document to be signed with an enemy-state must have been given lengthier time, wider public consideration, if not all-national referendum. Because the protocols also referred to issues that are of concern to the Diasporan Armenians, their voice should have been taken into account as well.
    I’d like to avoid opening another debate on these dead-born protocols. And, Arsen, creation of a “historical subcommittee” was not the only weak point in them. The protocols did not explicitly contain any reference to Karabakh, but a provision to recognize the existing borders of all states in the region, without doubt, implicitly referred to the borders of Azerbaijan (Karabakh included) and Turkey. Another provision, although no specific treaties were explicitly mentioned in it, urged to recognize all previous treaties between the signatories, a contentious issue given the ongoing process of international recognition of the Armenian genocide and possible land restitution.

    Also, the “football diplomacy” was not fiercely opposed by major political party or force in Armenia’s political establishment because at the time no one knew that a Western-style initiative—crude and frivolous—would evolve into a defeatist, humiliating document. At a certain point, may I remind you, the “Roadmap” idea was in fact opposed by Dashnaktsutyun.
    It is not only that Azerbaijan could not accept any rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey and thus brought all pressure it could on Turkey to destroy the document. It is primarily because any rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey, objectively, cannot happen without addressing the core issue: recognition of genocide and reparations, or not addressing it at all at a particular point in time, as we’d expect these protocols would reflect upon. Again, if a plain and simple memorandum of understanding were signed on establishing of diplomatic relations and opening borders, without known idiotic provisions, I think it’d be acceptable for all.

  40. All I am asking is that someone try to think hypothetically and outside of the standard Armenian diaspora box.  Maybe, just maybe, a normalization with Turkey would be good for Armenia. And, maybe it will lead to 1) an apology and 2) something more substantial.  We don’t know because it’s not been tried, has it?  Let’s face it, the other approach that we have witnessed for many years has not delivered the desired results, so it’s time for a change in direction and time for results. There are many routes to the same goal…so, why not try a new one (s)?  I’ve said it before, and some people don’t like to hear it, but at least one definition of insanity states that this condition is exemplified by doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. You don’t seem to like that I advance even the idea of doing something different regarding Turkey, yet in reality, that is exactly what is happening whether you like it or not. Organizations of all types, governmental and non-govtl are engaging in all kinds of activities together. Business people are engaging in commerce. Little by little, the ice is breaking. Yes, there is a long way to go and many hurdles to overcome, so this is not unlike the tip of the iceberg, but the thaw has started.  It is out of your hands.

  41. Have to agree with Paul 100%

    Before we jump into anything with Turkey, our govt needs and shold think long and hard before taking necessary steps.. however as Paul said and I agree with him 100%, our govt is not capable of acting like a true govt so expecting great and smart results is very far fetched…

    Karekin… you are singing the same tune again… so not worth commenting …


  42. To Kerekin,
    You are utterly wrong in saying that normalization has not been tried. It was tried in the form of the failed Protocols in which the government of Armenia even agreed not to make the recognition of Genocide by Turkey a precondition for normalization. Still we saw that it was the other side that reneged on the agreement. As you see, we have no problem in trying good neighbourly relations. But, as it is said, “the ball is now on the Turkish side”. So, go and preach to them a bit what you have been repeating here over and over.
    To Paul,
    I am not answering all the issues you have brought forth, as I don’t want to make it too long. So, I will address only a couple of essential ones here.
    You would surely know that there are degrees of open and closed borders. Borders between two (or more) friendly countries are real open borders, like the ones in the European Union, where the citizens of the member states do not even need a visa to travel to the other side. Others are a bit less open. There, you need a visa which you can obtain at the border crossing, like, for example, the one between Iran and Armenia. Still, in the case of others you have to apply in advance and depending on the degree of bilateral relations there may be easy or strict conditions for obtaining a permission for entry. I’m sure, you would have yourself many different experiences in this regard depending on which country you travelled to.
    But, an open border or controlled open border, or even a more or less strictly-controlled open border (which would perhaps be the better option initially for Armenia and Turkey), would have many advantages than a totally closed one as it is now. It would be a sign of reduced tension between the two neighbors, and in the region as well, would mean elimination of the probability of war (as closed border is a virtual state of war), opening of trade routes, enhancement of Armenia’s economic and political clout in the region etc. On the failed protocols you say: “if a plain and simple memorandum of understanding were signed on the establishing of diplomatic relations and opening borders … I think it’d be acceptable for all”. In fact, you are criticizing the form and the way in which it was carried out, not the idea itself. Perhaps in future if any attempt is made in this direction your suggestion should be tried. But, I believe any normalization between Armenia and Turkey would be a painful and strenuous process for obvious reasons, which we have discussed sufficiently.
    So, it should not have been totally unexpected that the first attempt in this direction failed. If and when it is tried again, let’s hope that the parties will act wiser. If there were those in Armenia who expected speedy, real or imagined, benefits from the opening, they have hopefully been disillusioned and have become a bit more realistic. And if the Turks expected that by agreeing to open the border, Armenians would dilute or put aside their demand for recognition, they must have learned a good lesson now.

  43. Arsen,
    Yes, I think I made myself clear: I am criticizing the form and the way in which the protocol process was carried out, not the idea of establishing relations itself. Again, had these documents contained a single clause, as widely accepted in diplomatic practice, on the willingness of the Parties to establish relations and open common border, I don’t think protocols would have gotten such a fierce negative reaction from Armenians in Armenia and Diaspora. I’d disagree, however, that “it should not have been totally unexpected that the first attempt in this direction failed.” First, protocols were not the first attempt at rapprochement, TARC was. Second, there’s no way the Armenian leadership wouldn’t know that inclusion of potentially hazardous provisions on historical subcommission, recognition of existing borders, and signed treaties, could have produced hysteria among Armenians in the Republic and all over the world. So, I’m afraid I won’t buy your suggestion that the outcome was “totally unexpected.”
    Of course, there are degrees of open and closed borders. But, notwithstanding, I don’t believe that contemplation of various degrees of open borders has been done by our pocket-oriented, narrow-minded government. I still think that the government was tacitly invited to start negotiations with the Turks that produced ill-conceived document on the initiative of outside forces. Hence, no need to use brains, however small they are.
    I’d also add that we need to avoid juxtaposition when talking about normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations and border-opening issue. You’re well aware that it is not Armenia that keeps the border closed, nor was it Armenia that refused to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey. How long Turks can avoid responsibility for getting away with mass murder and consequent hostile acts against Armenians?
    Those who hope that with opening of the border and establishing diplomatic relations Armenian will gradually forget the Cause, are GRAVELY mistaken. It will never happen.

  44. Paul
    I didn’t “suggest that the outcome was totally unexpected”. If you read carefully, I said:
    “it should not have been totally unexpected that the first attempt in this direction failed”.

  45. Arsen, I didn’t say you “suggested that the outcome was totally unexpected”. Here’s what I said: “I’d disagree, however, that ‘it should not have been totally unexpected that the first attempt in this direction failed’.” I repeated your remark word in word. Cheers.

  46. Thank you so much for your honesty in this great article, Ms. Gumaysu.. We are learning it in our Armenian class at school and it really had a profound effect on me. You are a role model to the world…

  47. Paul,
    This has become an article by itself, but I felt obliged to respond to your arguments as I find this a debate between concerned Armenians and because it relates to vital issues facing Armenia and the Armenians today.
    First of all, TARC was not the first attempt at government level at rapprochement. TARC was an initiative by “prominent” Armenians and Turks who had no mandate by their respective governments. At least, this was so on the Armenian side.

    As of the second attempt, that is, the protocols, yes I repeat, it was not totally unexpected that the agreement would fail. At least to me, it sounded too good to be true. And yes, I definitely agree with you that it was called to life somewhat hastily and the government did not consult, or consult sufficiently, with its political partners. I’ll come to this point later again.
    Still, as I see, the fact that it didn’t go through was not the “hysteria” and the opposition in Armenia and Diaspora, as you describe it. There was some opposition in Armenia, but not massive enough to make the government to change course. And the opposition in Diaspora, though understandable, was emotional in character rather than based on a realistic answer how Armenia as a country should come out of its present isolation. A six day war between Armenia’s neighbours, I mean the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, caused Armenia’s economy to suffer 6 to 7 million dollars. It was a near-fatal blow which coupled with the international crises drove the economy back to a state of stagnation. Before the war, as I can remember, the statistics said that the emigration had almost stopped. And there were more positive changes to notice when I visited the country in that period after some years. Now, I hear and see that the outflow has resumed. The war episode showed the strategic vulnerability of Armenia with its severe limitation for stability and economic progress.
    The main reason for the failure, or actually freezing, of the agreement was in fact the breach of agreement by Turkey. As I stated before, I believe it was the work of Azerbaijan, strengthened by the disappointment of the Turks that the attempt at normalization did not lead to the softening of Armenians’ stand on the issue of Genocide.
    However, the probability that the issue might come on table again sooner or later is not minimal at all. Neither party has declared the protocols dead. The Armenian side has “frozen” it and the Turkish side has given mixed signals. Mr. Erdogan, the Turkish president, has made it conditional on the solution of the Karabakh issue, which is totally irrelevant. His foreign minister, though, has declared it alive and going!
    Though, I have my criticism on the form and manner it was carried out by the government, I find your categorical denouncement of the provisions as “defeatist, idiotic provisions” unwarranted and smacking of party politics or at best emotionally inspired.

    A tightly closed border as it is now, is no alternative for the two countries. This I am saying without making “juxtapositions”. You don’t have to remind me that it was the Turkish side who closed it. But, the fact is now the two sides, for their own good reasons, find that this cannot go forever. So, Turkey for its own reason is ready to lift the blockade (now with preconditions). However, as I discussed before, even if Turkey agrees to wide open the border without condition, it is the Armenian side who should avoid that kind of opening. It should negotiate instead for an “open border” with visa regime and restrictions to suit its security, demographic, social and other concerns, which you have rightly mentioned. But, making an end to the present situation is an eventuality that the most critical forces to the agreement will eventually face and I will wait to see how they will handle the issue if and when they are on power. Let’s not forget that it is easy to criticize and condemn when you are in opposition or in minority, but we see often what happens when opposition forces come to power. In most cases, they forget their pledges and find that they have no choice but to negotiate and make give-and-take deals with the enemy, sometimes worse than their predecessors. A very well-known, non-Armenian, example is the case of Mr. Obama and the Genocide issue. 

    Then, there is the concern on the sub-commission on common historical issues. Given the precedent of misuse of the provision by the Turks, Armenia should reformulate the clause to make sure that it will never be used whatsoever for denialist purposes.

    But, a positive aspect of the agreement for the Armenian side, I believe was the absence of any reference to Karabakh issue. That should not be underestimated. And the fact that now Erdogan makes it a precondition shows the importance of the absence. It is a thorn in the eye of Azarbaijan and Turkish extremist forces.
    On the other provision/s, which you reject out of hand, mainly, the recognition of existing borders, your argument sounds a knee-jerk reaction without consideration of the realities on the ground.
    First of all, Armenia as a member of the United Nations, is already committed to the recognition of existing borders. So, if we call it an “idiotic” provision, we actually call into question a normal, established practice among all countries of the world.
    No coalition or political party which may come to power in Yerevan, even the most critical one, can afford to avoid reaffirming its commitment, directly or indirectly, to keep and maintain the existing borders with the country it is going to normalize relations. Or else, it has to lead the country to war with Turkey. In the case of Azerbaijan the matter is different, to which I’ll come later. While nothing prevents us to continue and even intensify the information campaign to enlighten the world public opinion on the historical facts, the Genocide issue and reparations –as we see increasing number of Turkish friends are helping us in this effort-, laying open claim to the lands under your neighbour’s control and jurisdiction can be a suicidal policy for our much suffered people.
    Secondly, the principle of inviolability of borders works also to the benefit of Armenia. The main purpose of this universal principle is to prevent the countries from attacking each other and to maintain world peace. Though, we may not be happy with the existing borders, we wouldn’t like Turkey to attack the present Armenian territory and seize it, would we?
    Thirdly, the inviolability of borders does not mean unchangeability of borders. There are many cases when this principle gives way to other internationally established principles, such as the right of self-determination, or circumstances where the threat of genocide or ethnic cleansing exists, which clearly applies to the case of Artsakh. Another, well-known case is the creation of the state of Bangladesh in 1971, when its population, striving for independence, came under threat of large scale massacres and genocide by the Pakistani Army. About one million people were slaughtered. At the time, India intervened to protect the population under threat of genocide. In the process, East Pakistan declared itself an independent state under the name of Bangladesh. There was no international uproar or condemnation, apart from those of Pakistan and its few allies, of India’s action and Pakistan had to accept the fact of partition.
    Fourthly, when the parties concerned should wish at any juncture to make border adjustments peacefully and without war, nothing prevents that. There is nowhere any mention in international law that present borders in the world are permanent and should remain unchanged forever. That would be a ridiculous conclusion to draw from the principle of territorial integrity. We see borders changing almost every year in different parts of the world, the most recent example being Kosovo.
    Fifthly, international agreements – and thus borders- are a result of the existing balance of forces between the parties concerned. When that balance changes, those agreements become just a piece of useless paper. In the case of Azerbaijan, we proved to be militarily stronger and the overall balance of forces was to our favour. We were thus able to beat the aggressor to its bitter defeat. As discussed earlier, Turkey is a different case and needs a different approach.
    Finally, on the question of the manner in which the Armenian government has dealt with the issue, I will say this. I know well the shortcomings of the Armenian government vis-a-vis its people, I agree that some government officials are “pocket-oriented”, that there is still a lot of corruption in the state apparatus inherited from the Soviet era, etc. etc. Still, when I compare Armenia with its neighbours, I see that Armenia is not doing badly after all in an area of the world where violation of basic human rights is the order of the day. And despite all shortcomings, I don’t condemn it for its attempts at normalization of relations with her neighbor. Many more undemocratic governments take decisions on external issues for their respective peoples which prove to be valid later. As a Diaspora Armenian, I hope, though the Armenian government, and indeed all parties concerned, including the opposition, will have learned a lesson from the “protocol experience”. I hope also, that the people of Armenia will realize their decisive role in shaping the future of their country an indeed the future of the region.
    May the Force be with Armenia.

  48. Arsen,
    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Some of them make a perfect sense to me, others not so much. So many people, so many viewpoints… Let me elaborate on the ones I disagree or agree in part.
    To start off, I didn’t say TARC was the “first attempt at government level” at rapprochement. I said TARC was the first attempt at rapprochement without going to detail of what level the initiative was carried out. Please read my comments carefully. If the level on which the attempt was made is so important to you, then you should know that the State Department, that is a government agency in the US, has actually initiated it.
    As of the second attempt, that is, the protocols, I still believe that the atmosphere of secrecy, hastiness, and anxiety in which the whole process was conducted testify to the fact that the Armenian government knew too well that in such form and context it could have expected a harsh reaction from its own citizens, as well as from the world Armenian diaspora. A quick glance at what happened after the protocols surfaced should give you an idea that failure was in a way expected, if not predetermined.

    I’m still unconvinced that a minor factor of Azerbaijan was the main reason for the failure. Whenever a political development serves Turkish interests, I tend to believe the official Ankara would consider it with lesser regard for Azerbaijan’s concerns. I’d agree that the disappointment of the Turks that the attempt did not lead to the softening of Armenians’ stand on the issue of genocide was one of the reasons. However, I believe that the documents were expected to suffer a fiasco because, as I see, the format and substance of such memorandums of understanding were not viable per se. No enemy-states sign documents with, yes, idiotic provisions that I consider being defeatist for the Armenian side. A host of countries have unresolved territorial, border, legal, and historical issues. Can you show me just one memorandum on the establishment of bilateral relations where any of such issues is mentioned? Don’t even try, you won’t find any. This is the reason I called them idiotic, because countries willing to establish mutual relations will skip concentrating their attention on mutual problems. They were defeatist for Armenia because of the three known provisions that were put on the paper and signed by Armenia’s foreign minister. We can argue till the cows come home as to what these provisions actually contain, but I’m afraid you don’t get the true meaning of my argument. These provisions, whether they referred—openly or covertly—to the reassertion of the fact of genocide, acknowledgment of the borders, or recognition of the past treaties, SHOULD NOT have been put on paper AT ALL. One phrase, one single phrase should have been read in the document, roughly: “The governments of Turkey and Armenia hereby intend to establish good-neighborly relations and open the common border, based on UN, OSCE Charters, and so on.” PERIOD. There is no need to “reformulate” these provisions, they need to be taken out. Have I made myself correctly understood this time?
    Regarding “some” opposition in Armenia, but “not massive enough to make the government to change course.” Arsen, when was the last time that a “massive opposition” to the government course could, in fact, make such a government change its course? Come on. In 2008 there was massive opposition to Serge’s fraud election, what has essentially changed? I appreciate that impoverished, disgruntled people showed even “some” opposition. And remember how brutally the government responded to their peaceful marches, pickets, and demonstration? People are so tired and so apathetic toward the 20 years of rule of self-centered, inherently corrupt, narrow-minded, and unpopular repressive governments, that their “some” manifestation of disagreement on the protocols was, actually, amazing to me! As for the opposition in Diaspora, it wasn’t just emotional in character. Many intellectuals came up with a realistic answer how Armenia as a country should come out of its present isolation, namely: strengthening of domestic reforms, fighting corruption, betterment of life of the ordinary people, utilization of the remaining internal resources, human capital, and the diasporan capabilities. Externally, signing of a memorandum of understanding with Turkey based on a widely-accepted in international practice clause that I bought up above. No one appeared to be against the establishment of relations had they contained no sensitive and, at best, dubious, provisions.

    As for not forgetting that “it is easy to criticize and condemn when you are in opposition or in minority,” we often forget that in order to criticize one need not necessarily be “in opposition or in minority”. Such statement shows an effect of the absence of state mentality due to stateless condition Armenian lived for hundreds of years. To criticize I can merely be the CITIZEN of a country.
    On the recognition of existing borders, my argument is no “knee-jerk reaction.” It just shows that you may not so well be familiar with the international law. First, recognition of territorial integrity and recognition of the existing borders are divergently different notions. Second, you don’t have to remind me about Armenia’s being a member of the United Nations that is already committed to the recognition of existing borders, because it only strengthens my argument that if Armenia is already internationally committed to the recognition of existing borders, then why the h*** was there a need to include the provision in a bilateral agreement?! Don’t those who orchestrated the whole process know the trivial international law-based truth that international commitments have prevalence over bilateral agreements? This is just another reason why I denounced the protocols as idiotic.
    I’ll save myself from going into the issue of current regime in Armenia as compared to other, uglier regimes elsewhere. I outrightly denounce such cheap talk, I’m sorry to say. How about comparing the current regime in Armenia with other, more public-spirited ones, for a change?
    P.S. Arsen, Erdogan is the prime-minster, not the president of Turkey. Also, I couldn’t be further from any “party politics” which I despise collectively. And lastly, may GOD be with Armenia, as He alone is the Force and source of salvation for us.

  49. Paul,
    Thank you for correcting my oversight on Erdogan’s function! Also the figures “6 to 7 million dollars” in my comment should  have been “6 to 7 hundred million dollars loss”.

    At this point I think we’d better stop. If I have understood correctly, the main issue on which we had general agreement was that it was time for Armenia and Turkey to open up to each other. On some other related issues we could agree and on some others which we couldn’t, we can just agree to disagree. I have no intention of getting drawn into discussion of the charges you are bringing to the Armenian government, because that is far too away from our main topic of discussion and has no relation with the issues Ayse Gunaysu has addressed in her brilliant article.
    One more thing, Paul. You may like to wish well for Armenia the way you choose according to your own beliefs and I am free to wish well the way I like.
    Good luck.

  50. Paul brought up very good and strong points… and you are correct.. It is God who is the Force and Salvation for us, The Armenian people…. the first people who accepted Christianity as their national religion..

    Arsen.. i understand your state as well…and you touched on many factors that cause us to think…we are all concerned Armenians…

    I just pray to God that our govt will shape up for once and start to act as a govt and not bunch of crooks who are selling our country little by little..

    Thank you

  51. Arsen,
    As you wish. But you still understood the main issue on which we had general agreement incorrectly, I’m afraid. It wasn’t about the time for both Armenia and Turkey to open up to each other. It was about the time for Turkey alone to open up to Armenia. Please avoid juxtaposition. Armenia never refused establishing diplomatic relations with Turkey. Armenia never imposed blockade of Turkey. Armenia never threatened to drop a couple of bombs on the other side of the border. Armenia never supported a third country and made resolution of a conflict with that country a prerequisite for establishment of relations with Turkey. Most importantly, Armenians never slaughtered Turks en masse and then went on denying the truth and admitting the guilt.
    I, too, had no intention of getting drawn into discussion of the panegyrics you are bringing to the Armenian government. I just concur what ordinary Armenians in Armenia know and experience first-hand as a result of the actions of unelected, unrepresentative, and unpopular governments that they suffer under for 20 years. Nothing new on my part, but if you wish to wear rose-colored glasses, you’re free to do so.

    I agree that each of us wish well for Armenia the way we choose according to our own beliefs. I just wish that all of us be strong and resilient in our beliefs, not self-deprecating and overly romanticizing about who we know the Turks and their true intentions are.
    May God be with us.

  52. I loved this article.  I wrote one indenpendently of Ayse’s and another because of this article: <== because of
    I admire the AW for getting columnists like Ayse Gunaysu and Eren Keskin.  Just a few years ago this would not have been possible.  We should have probably given Nâzım Hikmet a column.  He was the Turkish Commuinist Poet who boldly advocated that the Turks should own up to the Genocide.
    All the best.

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