LEXINGTON, Mass.—After years of failed attempts, several young members of the Armenian community finally delivered an important message to Turkish Consul General Ceylan Özen Erişen. Erişen had been invited to the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, Massachusetts on Monday evening for the opening of its Turkish collection of fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books.
Moments before Erişen’s scheduled remarks, 21-year-old Meghri Dervartanian of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) approached her at the podium and introduced herself as an Armenian. In a video posted on the AYF Greater Boston “Nejdeh” Chapter’s Facebook page, Erişen seemed surprised by Dervartanian’s heritage. “Oh, you look Turkish,” she said. She barely looked at the letter before discreetly folding it up. “Whether or not the Turkish Consul General Ceylan Özen Erişen chooses to read the letter that was handed to her, we made it clear that although 103 years have passed, we will continue to fight against injustice at any cost,” Dervartanian told the Weekly.
She and others in the Armenian youth group have tried numerous times to get this letter into the hands of the Turkish Consul, but to no avail. Over the years, different variations of this letter have been refused by a number of Turkish Consul Generals in Boston, especially during annual demonstrations hosted by the Greater Boston Armenian community outside the Turkish Consulate building on St. James Avenue every year on April 24—Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
In part, the letter objects to the Turkish government’s attempt to “import the suppression of free speech and repression of human rights.” The local Armenian Diaspora is also demanding an end to the Turkish government’s multi-million dollar propaganda campaign and a firm acknowledgment of the historical accuracy of the Armenian Genocide including the return of stolen Armenian lands.
But in her remarks, Erişen made clear that the evening was designed to celebrate Turkey. “This is about the Turkish community contributing in a very positive way to the society in which it’s living,” she said about the addition of over 100 Turkish titles in the Lexington library’s growing World Language Collection, as reported by the Weekly’s Karine Vann. “We will make the world a better place to live in. Our doors are open.”
“Since this is a Turkish collection,” said Jennifer Webb, Bibliographic Services Manager for Cary Memorial Library, “there are a lot of potentially sensitive issues that could come up. I’m sure over time we are going to need to provide books to add more balance and more viewpoints…different versions of history that reflect the community’s values.”
But for Armenians, there is only one, indisputable version of history. That version includes the mass killings and forced deportation of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire back in 1915. The absence of a formal international recognition of that historical event, the relentless denial by the current administration under Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the presence of these young Armenian demonstrators distributing flyers contributed to a palpable tension in the room. As she cut the red ribbon to mark the opening of the Turkish Collection, Consul General Erişen quietly said, “Protect me from the negative energy.”
But Dervartanian and her group of AYF-ers say they were not looking for any type of confrontation. Ani Khachatourian told the Weekly she has no qualms about the readily available collection of Turkish books. “That’s good for them,” she said. Khachatourian and her friends say they just saw a long-awaited opportunity to come face-to-face with a representative of the Republic of Turkey, and they used that opportunity to send a message. That is to acknowledge the “abundantly documented historical record of the Armenian Genocide and make reparations and restitution to the Armenian people.”
At a table displaying Turkish goods and photographs of Turkey’s landscapes, a Turkish gentleman asked Saro Sakaian and Nina Vosbigian nearby, “Do you guys want to come visit? Have you seen a more beautiful country?” To which Sakaian replied, “Yeah, it used to be Armenia.” The man then uttered an expletive and sought the attention of law enforcement nearby. In another instance, that same Turkish man went toe to toe with Varant Chiloyan and took a video of him holding a flyer with side-by-side images of Adolf Hitler and Talaat Pasha. The man referred to a ‘beautiful Turkish library,’ and off-camera, you can hear Dervartanian say, “Excuse me, this is not a Turkish library. This is all our library.”
“Our work is nowhere near done,” said Dervartanian to the Weekly. “This is just the beginning.”