Bedrosyan: A Series of Firsts in Armenian-Turkish Relations

During the third week of October several firsts were accomplished in Turkey, with respect to the future of Turkish-Armenian relations, the significance of which will be more apparent in the coming months and years. Naturally, every precedent-setting event is the result of many years of hard work and determination in overcoming equally hard circumstances and mindsets.

The largest Armenian church in the Middle East, Surp Giragos of Dikranagerd/Diyarbakir, became the first Armenian church in Anatolia to go through a complete reconstruction after willful destruction and neglect since 1915. This was the first “first.”

The consecration of the restored church took place on Sat., Oct. 22, and the first Mass was conducted on Sun., Oct. 23, in the presence of nearly 3,000 Armenian worshippers from Europe, North America, Armenia, and from within Turkey. The moving ceremonies were attended not only by Armenians but also Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin, who are the majority population in southeastern Turkey, as well as several prominent Turkish intellectuals who traveled from Istanbul. Together, they prayed for dialogue, peace, and empathy—spiritual commodities usually absent among the three peoples. This was another first.

Due to this absence of precious spiritual commodities, untold numbers of Armenian individuals and families have stayed hidden among Turks and Kurds since 1915. Recently, however, many have started “coming out,” declaring themselves Armenian. Some decide to be identified as Muslim Armenians, some go one step further and become Christian Armenians. A few of them even became baptized in the newly consecrated Surp Giragos, which has already become a beacon for all Armenians within Turkey. This was also a first.

More than 200 deeds were recently discovered, showing church ownership of many properties around Diyarbakir prior to 1915. And legal processes and negotiations have started to recover these properties, which is another first.

A group of around 25 Armenians traveled from North America to Turkey to witness these historic events, led by two prominent religious leaders, Archbishop Khajag Barsamyan, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, and Archbisop Vigen Aykazian, President of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S. The group—which included doctors, lawyers, engineers, businessmen, and retirees—shared the recognition that the reconstruction of Surp Giragos was significant for all Armenians worldwide, serving as a reminder of Armenians’ historic presence in Anatolia, as well as a future pilgrimage site.

These individuals had also recognized that financing its reconstruction would be much more meaningful than any church reconstruction in the United States, and even in Armenia. And so they donated generously for a far-away church in southeastern Turkey, travel there to see it come to fruition, and also promised to act as fundraisers toward shortfalls in the project budget. This was also a first for Diaspora Armenians.

In the spirit of cooperation, the local Diyarbakir municipal leaders decided to participate in the church reconstruction project and financed one third of the project costs. They acknowledged the role their forefathers played in the Armenian Genocide, and assisted the reconstruction effort to “make up for the past events.” They greeted the visitors with signs in Armenian welcoming them “to their home”—another first.

Back in Istanbul, in a similar spirit of cooperation, the mayor of Istanbul welcomed the American Armenian group and the two Archbishops, and provided a snapshot of the accomplishments and challenges of running one of the biggest cities of the world. He was asked what steps he is taking to promote the Armenian-built and -owned buildings sprinkled all over Istanbul, and he responded very positively, saying they’re correcting all guidebooks, inserting plaques, and audio messages at prominent Armenian buildings, and describing the significant contribution and legacy of Armenians in Istanbul architecture, arts, and theatre. This was another first.

In another meeting in Istanbul, the group met with one of the most influential corporate leaders of Turkey, with interests in media, energy, transport, mining, construction, and banking. Members of his corporate team and a member of the Turkish Parliament representing Istanbul accompanied him. The group discussed opening the Turkey-Armenia border, and increasing trade, jobs, and investments on both sides of the border. “We are ready to cooperate with the Armenians, once the politicians resolve their differences,” said the corporate leader, and the group suggested that since “people vote in the politicians, especially influential people like him can sway politicians.” The member of parliament present also responded favorably to the questions from the group regarding issues facing the Istanbul Armenian community and the impact of the current task of rewriting the Constitution on the minorities. This dialogue was another first.

And yet, despite all these positive firsts and precedent-setting events, we also experienced multiple negative—more usual—events in October. The undeclared civil war between the Turks and Kurds intensified. Kurdish militants murdered 24 Turkish soldiers, and the Turkish army responded by killing several Kurdish militants. Turkish jets flying from the Diyarbakir military base bombed several Kurdish targets within Turkey and in northern Iraq.

Then the earthquake struck Van and prevented our group from traveling to Van and Akhtamar. The predominantly Kurdish-populated region complained about the Turkish state not helping them, while ultra-nationalist factions of the Turkish media rejoiced that the earthquake was a “divine punishment” meted by God upon the Kurds. These were not firsts, unfortunately; simply a continuation of decades-old practices.

On the other hand, in some Armenian circles, any communication with the Turks is still frowned upon as treasonous. It is thought that any dialogue with the Turks about culture, academic cooperation, economy, or trade is merely following Ankara’s narrative, which requires that Armenians set aside their quest for truth, justice, and security.

The time has come to realize that it is essential to engage in direct dialogue with the Turks. My late friend Hrant Dink’s statement is a timely reminder. He said: “Both Armenians and Turks are clinical cases. Armenians are suffering from trauma (of the 1915 events); Turks are suffering from paranoia (of the consequences of accepting the 1915 events). Who will cure them? What is the prescription? The Armenian will be the Turk’s doctor, the Turk will be the Armenian’s doctor. The prescription will be dialogue.”

Although still few in numbers, there is an increasing number of Armenians and Turks engaged in dialogue, in academia, the media, arts, sciences, law, business, and other professions, which has started to produce real results in improving Turkish-Armenian relations.

Without dialogue, the Surp Giragos Church could not have been achieved.

Without dialogue, none of the firsts described above could have been achieved.

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Raffi Bedrosyan

Raffi Bedrosyan is a civil engineer, writer and a concert pianist, living in Toronto. Proceeds from his concerts and CDs have been donated to the construction of school, highways, and water and gas distribution projects in Armenia and Karabakh—projects in which he has also participated as a voluntary engineer. Bedrosyan was involved in organizing the Surp Giragos Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd Church reconstruction project. His many articles in English, Armenian and Turkish media deal with Turkish-Armenian issues, Islamized hidden Armenians and the history of thousands of Armenian churches left behind in Turkey after 1915. He gave the first Armenian piano concert in the Surp Giragos Church since 1915, most recently at the 2015 Genocide Centenary Commemoration. He is the founder of Project Rebirth, which helps Islamized Armenians return to their original Armenian roots, language and culture. He has appeared as a keynote speaker at numerous international conferences related to human rights, genocide studies and Armenian issues.

18 Comments

  1. This all sounds wonderful, but there is still a lot of animosity against Armenians by the Turkish nationalists and Turkish government.  How are they going to undo the years of negative propaganda and Armenian bashing by the Turks.  It is funny, as soon as the Turks throw a bone everyone sits on their hind legs and starts waging their tails.  Stand up and face the Turks like a man and demand to be treated as equals with the Muslims.

  2. Checklist

    Dialogue
    Books
    Movies
    International pressure 
    Genocide recognition 
    Assassinations 
    Memorials
    Demonstrations

    zzzzzzz…

    Ninety six years.
    One church museum.
    One candle-lit church.
    Earth quakes.
    Heart aches.
    Land of hate 
    Heaven’s gate.
    1.5 million souls wait. 
     

  3. Dialogue not based on fear nor victimhood but based on commonolity of Truth, Justice, Mutual well being and not an inch less.

  4. Armenians are traumatized enough to “pass” on the generous invitation to play psychoanalyst to Turks who stand by their “narrative.” Serious mental health professionals advise against that sort of dialogue. Note to the “reconciliation psychoanalysts”: “never counsel the abuser and victim together. It puts the victim in more danger and gives the abuser more power.” Read THE ANATOMY OF ABUSE by George Rolf.

  5. “Much ado about nothing” would say Shakespeare.The problem in this case is that that a bunch of people with self proclaimed roles to promote “dialogue” with Turkey have gone on a “good will” trip believing that their initiative is good for Armenian-Turkish relations. If these people represent Turkish-Armenians with concerns of or interests in Armenian issues in Turkey, I do not have a problem with that.It is their right and duty as citizens of Turkey to do so and I am glad that they are able to connect with people ib authority there . However, to extend their action to Armenian-Turkish relations in general, that is a tall order. Unfortunately from time to time we seem to have people in the diaspora who spring to action on matters of pan-national issues that go beyond their competence and  capability to bring transformational change in any relationship and do long term damage because they can not deliver. 

  6. The attrocities did happen we need to bow to the memory of the dead, not forget the past BUT move to the future and build a greater communities and greater Armenia that can be bigger than its neighbours!

  7. I absolutely understand the reluctance, pessimism, and anger of many in our community, including myself.  I clearly remember the fear my family felt growing up in bolis not being able to speak armenian on the streets, not able to wear your crucifix in public for fear of retaliation and violence were real fears 4o years ago as they may be today.  these small but significant steps are real and we should embrace them. only turks can heal themselves of the hatred and xenophobia but we can be the catalysts to that healing. Hrant Dink words are for humanity and was murdered for them. we should honor him by carrying on his legacy of understanding.
    Turks or Kurds admiting what happened would not even be concievable when we lived there. this is a big F…n deal in my book. 

  8. Fully agree with Arek. As for Hamasdegh, this is the 21st century and the age of social media where any citizen is in the centre of global, national policy making. An individual does NOT need a collective mandate to express his/her view, and act upon his/her beliefs. Armenian diaspora suffers from ‘tyranny of majority’. I would have joined these Turkish Armenians myself. Lets get on with life and build the future.

    During my business trip I do see serious liberal shift in Turkish mentality, driven by a healthy intellectual cadre who are not always in sinc with the right wing nationalists. They are our partners in dialogue and reform.

  9. Yes, this is all positive and a huge change of direction, which can only be appreciated in a big way. As the good doctor says, heal thyself. I think Turkey is finally getting around to taking those steps. More than anything, I have to think the collective guilt felt in Turkey in the period after Hrant Dink’s assassination provided a great amount of momentum for reflection and self- examination across the country. Armenians need and should be on good terms with Turks and Turkey, and vice versa. The synergy of a thousand years was pushed off course in 1915, but can be restored, much like Surp Giragos.  

  10. “synergy of a thousand years”? Give me a break. Occupation, oppressive taxation, lack of rights (forbidden to testify in courts, serve in the army, etc.), subject to systematic looting by Kurds and Circassians with willful negligence by the state, massacres after massacres….some “synergy” indeed.

    This is a dangerous and false talking point. It leads many neural observers to wonder “hmm…if Armenians and Turks lived so well together for centuries, it doesn’t seem plausible that Turks would suddenly want to exterminate their neighbors, whom they had treated as co-equals for all that time. Probably the Armenians rebelled.”

    Armenians were viewed as a problem population for centuries. For centuries. Please be a little bit strategic here, Karekin. 

  11. Give me a break Karekin.  What synergy?  What is synergistic about ethnic cleansing? Today Zarakolu sits in a Turkish prison and the mayor of Diyarbekir faces charges that could result in many years in prison because Turks still do not know how to govern synergistically.   

    Synthesize this:  We would be foolish to believe that those who waved the “We are Hrant Dink” posters are really ready to embrace the dark truth of Turkish history and make restitution to the Armenians.  Changes are happening slowly, but with every step forward another vile Turkish nationalist slips behind a corner, cocks his rifle and waits to derail the progress.  Be on guard.

  12. Some people believe that Armenians are stuck in the past,with the memories of 1915 and that they should get over it and move on… They keep telling us that Turkey has changed and that they have met people there who are different than the ones we care to visualize.
    As far as I am concerned the people who think so are free to move on , as others have done so before them in our past . Either they don’t understand what happened or are unwilling to understand the cost that the Armenian nation paid for the murderous and villainous actions of those who were acting on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. Recently,newspapers reported that the case of Natalie Wood ,an American  actress, was re-opened 30 years after her death because  justice thought there were new elements to consider in her accidental death. Just imagine the death of one person makes the headlines in the US while her family and sister rightly continue to seek justice. So go and tell Natalie Woods’ sister to move on… One death is too many so imagine the one and half million who perished and who have not gotten their day in court.So asking Armenians to move on and forget that one and half million Armenians suffered a horrendous death at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915 without getting justice, is tantamount to committing that murder again.Ignorance of facts is not permissible , and denial of facts does not make you a better person .Such people do not have the right to write off the national loss because for some reason or the other they think they are above the fray or that the past does not affect them the way it has affected the rest of us.For those who sympathize with Turkey because they were born there, that is their problem. For those  who think official Turkey has changed, I have got news for them. I wonder whether they have dealt with them in official capacity.Some of us have done so in official capacity and we know better.

  13. what is dialogue? If it simply means that flows of utterances goes between people, any kind of exchange of insults may be called dialogue. This is not dialogue. Then one may decide to listen to each others and not insult each others.  This may be termed the first stage of dialogue. But why should it lead to any result? Then one may focus on the psychological and humanist aspect. We should se the other as a human being, respect each others, and so on, in addition to beling polite. Yes, this may be called the second stage. But if Turks go on believing that the deportations and massacres of Armenians during WWl were unfortunate happenings despite the will of the government, and Armenians go on believing that there existed a scheme of extermination that was put into operation, they may respect each others, not insult each others, but still not arrive at any common understanding. Is there another stage? Yes, if both parties actually relate honestly to the arguments of the other, referring to them in an exact way, and moreover explicitly adopt the standard procedures of fact finding and explanation goven  in textbooks on methodology. But it is to my mind easy to show that neither party does this today. both parties are eager to engage in “truth rhetorics” aiming at creating and upholding consensus within one’s own camp. So where is the dialogue? Is it taking place anywhere? —-Possibly the positive developments are not found in the words spoken in the dialogue, but in the gradual convergence of the points of view. And there has been a gradual convergence in the course of the last 20 years. Convergence even if the parties do not concede that they changed their assertions over the years. Slow, but it is there.

  14. “the gradual convergence of the points of view.”       anyone expects the Armenians to drop a hint of doubt over the existence of a Turkish state extermination scheme that was put into operation?!  Only knuckleheads can go on believing that 2 million people were forcefully deported from several provinces of a country and summarily executed, burnt, buried alive, mutilated, tortured, and left die in deserts, while statesmen were sipping Turkish coffee on the Bosphorus shore.  Only knuckleheads or Turkish sympathizers or unimpressive mind-tilters can do so.

  15. A legislative bill criminalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide is ratified today by the National Council of Slovakia. Anyone in Slovakia or a Slovak citizen in any country who denies the Armenian Genocide will be punished with imprisonment of up to 5 years.
     
    After rejection to adopt a legislative bill criminalizing the Armenian Genocide denial in May of 2011, the French Senate has returned the bill back to its agenda this Monday.

  16. One  thing  that  I have learnt from my activism in Europe,conferences ,Congresses,Armenian professional groups,etc.,alsoparticipating as  presenting my  ¨paper¨ and …(plesae forgive me..) being elected by some 378  people to temporary executive  Board  of World armenian Congress  that  convened  Sept.3/6,1979.is:-
    Turkish so called  journalist  did always show up at these and closely surveyed, eyed us as an (then)emerging Armenian Awakening.Later by and by to become a movement(s).
    This, plus what  has recently transpired,shall we say as  of Hrant Dink murder in Bolis,goes to show  that great Turkey is becoming conscious that  BOTH  Armenian and Kurdish (curses) so to say, pursue  them, their memories,if  they are either intellectuals and/or from the deep state(Gov.t officials).They have come to realize  that by.-as  an exmple now calling the  k u r d s   as  ¨mountain turks¨ for over 60 years DID  NOT BEAR FRUIT.Nor their arresting Ocalan  and keeping  him jailed.By the by  now  they have  just  done same with Diarbekir  Mayor.
    So one can surmise  that  they are playing hide  and seek ,or  if you wish tighten then loosen  a  bit. A game  they are very good at. What  should be  our response/attitude to this new  Turkish ¨changes¨ ..I ´d add , Camaleon like changes.Simple,there  is no other:-
    Those  who are from Istanbulla(Bolis) or the interior  of Turkey can indeed play along,since  they know much better  the  Turkish raison détre, manner  of being.
    After all , like the soviet Armenians  who lived  alongside  the ¨Yeghbayracac  Azeris¨turned  Armenian killers in Sumgait and Baku,proving  that  their gnes  after those many yrs  had  not undergone shaping  up …
    Same  might be true for their kin to the West  of R.of Armenia. Howeverthey play along their tune8no any other way out) I mean the Bolsahyes  whether in Turkey or like someonme above said  uncalled  for Diaspora ´Leaders¨¨to that  effect. let them!!!
    But  have  in view  please  THAT  THE CORE  OF ARMENITY IN DIASPORA   ARE THE HEIRS OF THE REMNANTS OF THE  G E N O C I D  E ..
    These/us  we  ahve a Different agenda, whether Tashnag,hnchag.Ramgavar or any other or  non partisan.We  DEMAND AND WISH FOR JUSTICE TO PREVAIL UPON  US.We cannot asi por asi,just  like  this let  go  of the Legacy of  our  MARTYRS …..
    Thence, we shall be  observers and await  to see what  other such tighten and loosen games  great Turkey  has  in store  for  us and the World  at  large to see.
    Personally I think they have EXHAUSTED  THEIR REAL DESIRES  NOT GIVING FRUIT EITHER  IN THE ISSUE  OF EU ENTRY NOR  BOSSING  OVER THE ARAB WORLD ,OR IRAN AND ARE NOW TACKLING  THE INTERIOR.That  of Armenian kurdish issues,which by the by are also VERY BOTHERSOME TO THEM .As  much as the oil alongside the Cyprus,that  they hav e eyes  on, or even mosul oil  etc.Knowing full well that  those  are real tough ones  to be dealt  with easily.
    We diasporan  , have  also our own problems  that  of :In order  that  we  have  ONE  VOICE one Supreme Council, ought to get a move  on. Thus:-
    Our Bishiops,Bosses and bnmefactors  the BBB´s(as Ara Baliozian  ,Canadian writer refers to) should by and by give  way to new blood  new activists and above all people  with networking capacity and THINK  OF BOTH  HUMAN  RESOURCES AND ECONOMIC POWER.Without  whcih a  few  here there people acting INDEPENDENTLY, bodes BAD.
     

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