Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Naming a Vatican courtyard after Armenia’s patron saint

February 23, 2008
Catholic News Service

Under a beautifully sunny sky Friday, Pope Benedict XVI presided over the formal naming of the St. Gregory the Illuminator Courtyard on the north side of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The courtyard, between the basilica’s exterior wall and a booth selling tickets to reach St. Peter’s famous dome, is named after the patron saint of Armenia, the evangelizer who brought Christianity to the country in 301.

St. Gregory is no stranger to the courtyard now named after him. In January 2005, Pope John Paul II presided over the unveiling of a statue of the bearded and mitered saint in a niche of the basilica facing the courtyard.

Unveiling the stone tablet with the courtyard’s new name on it, Pope Benedict was joined by officials from St. Peter’s Basilica, from Vatican City’s central government and Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni of Cilicia.

The pope told the group, “More than 17 centuries ago, this great saint made the Armenians a Christian people,” the first nation to declare itself officially Christian.

By calling the saint “the illuminator,” Pope Benedict said, Armenians recognize that he led the people from darkness to the light of Christ, but also that through his teaching and preaching he shed light on the truth about human life.

PHOTO: Pope John Paul II blesses the statue of St. Gregory the Illuminator which was placed in a niche on the northern exterior wall of St. Peter’s Basilica in this January 2005 file photo. Pope Benedict XVI officially named the little courtyard which the statue faces after the saint Feb. 22. (CNS/Catholic Press Photo)

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.


Knesset panel to consider recognition of Armenian genocide

By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz Correspondent

The Knesset decided Wednesday that a parliamentary committee will hold an unprecedented hearing on whether to recognize the World War I-era mass murder of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.

The decision to hold a hearing, which was proposed by Meretz Chairman Haim Oron, was approved by a 12-MK margin. The government did not oppose the motion.

The Knesset House Committee will decide whether the issue will be handed over to the Knesset Education Committee, as Oron wants, or to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, as requested by Yisrael Beiteinu MK Yosef Shagal. The latter generally holds hearings behind closed doors.

Oron wants the committee to recognize the Armenian genocide, pointing out that similar recognition has been afforded recently by the French parliament and the United States Congress. "It is appropriate that the Israeli Knesset, which represents the Jewish people, recognize the Armenian genocide," said Oron. "It is unacceptable that the Jewish people is not making itself heard."

The Meretz MK added that he raises the proposal every year ahead of Armenian Genocide Day, which falls on April 24.

Minister Shalom Simhon, who represented the government in the Knesset debate, did not object to sending the issue to committee. Simhon said the Jewish people have a special sensitivity to the issue and a moral obligation to remember tragic episodes in human history, including the mass murder of the Armenians.

Nonetheless, Simhon added that, "in the course of time this has become a politically charged issue between Armenians and Turks ? and Israel is not interested in taking a side."

Shagal warned that recognizing the killings as a genocide could have repercussions for Israel's diplomatic relations with Turkey, as well as the fate of tens of thousands of Jews who live in Azerbaijan.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008


Friday, March 21, 2008
Eurasia Daily Monitor, DC
By Gareth Jenkins

On March 20, two members of the Turkish Gendarmerie admitted receiving detailed intelligence regarding a plot to assassinate Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and then, after Dink’s murder, trying to cover up their knowledge by lying to investigators.

The confessions came as two Gendarmerie officers, known by their initials as O. S. and V. S., went on trial for dereliction of duty after evidence emerged that the security forces in the eastern Black Sea city of Trabzon had been informed of the plot to assassinate Dink months in advance but had failed either to apprehend the plotters or attempt to protect Dink (Anadolu Ajans, CNNTurk, NTV, March 20).

On January 19, 2007, the 52 year-old Dink was shot dead outside the Istanbul office of the Agos newspaper where he worked as editor-in-chief and which serves Turkey’s dwindling Armenian community. Dink was killed by Ogun Samast, an unemployed, poorly-educated 17 year-old who had traveled from Trabzon to carry out the assassination. Minors are often used to carry out murders in Turkey as, under Turkish law, anyone under 18 they can only be sentenced to a maximum of a few years in jail. It later emerged that Samast had been a member of a ultranationalist gang with strong Islamist sympathies led by the then 24 year-old Yasin Hayal. Hayal and his associates were well known to the security forces in Trabzon and some of them worked as police informants. On March 20, the gendarmerie officers admitted that, in August 2006, one of Hayal’s relatives had warned them that Hayal was planning to kill Dink and had given him YTL 500 (around $400) to buy a gun for the assassination. The officers were also told that someone linked to the gang had carried out surveillance of Dink in Istanbul and even drawn up diagrams showing the route taken by Dink as he traveled from his home to the Agos office (Radikal, Milliyet, Sabah, Hurriyet, Cumhuriyet, March 21).

A soft-spoken advocate of reconciliation between Turks and Armenians, in February 2004 Dink wrote a series of articles in Agos calling for dialogue without any preconditions. He maintained that an insistence that Turkey should first recognize the tragic events of 1915 as a genocide was an obstacle to reconciliation. In an article he wrote in Agos, Dink called on Armenians to “cleanse their blood of the poison of genocide” and engage in dialogue with Turks.

However, the mere mention of the word genocide resulted in Dink being prosecuted under the notorious Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which makes it a criminal offence to denigrate the concept of “Turkishness.” In October 2005, Dink was convicted and given a suspended prison sentence of six months. Even though he never served time in jail, the publicity surrounding his trial made Dink a hated figure for many Turkish ultranationalists. Extraordinarily, given the numerous calls for him to be killed in the Turkish ultranationalist press and Internet chat rooms and the telephoned death threats that Dink himself reported to the Istanbul police, and unlike almost any prominent Turkish Muslim who receives similar threats from extremists, Dink was not given police protection. When he was killed by Samast as he left the Agos office to pay some bills at his local bank, Dink was completely alone.

In their statements to the court, both O. S. and V. S. insisted that they had forwarded the intelligence of the plot to kill Dink to their commanding officer, Colonel Ali Oz, the head of the Gendarmerie in Trabzon. They claimed that Oz had not only failed to take action but, during the investigation that followed Dink’s murder, had instructed them to deny any prior knowledge of the plot to kill Dink.

When taken in isolation, it would be possible to attribute the cover-up simply as an attempt to hide incompetence. But, when combined with other evidence that has emerged since Dink’s murder, the conclusions are more disturbing. When Samast was captured, some of the arresting officers took photographs of him posed heroically in front of the Turkish flag. Ultranationalist publications and chat rooms buzzed with praise for the killing. There were even songs written in Samast’s honor and posted on YouTube.

There is little doubt that the majority of Turks, even many Turkish nationalists, were appalled by Dink’s murder. Indeed, one of the most moving tributes to him appeared in Yeni Cag, the main ultranationalist daily newspaper. On the evening of January 19, 2007, thousands of Muslim Turks joined with Armenians to march through the center of Istanbul chanting “We are all Dink” and “We are all Armenians.” On January 19, 2008, Muslim Turks also dominated the numerous ceremonies held to remember Dink on the first anniversary of his murder.

Nevertheless, the confessions by the two gendarmerie officers will reinforce suspicions that racial and religious prejudice remains a serious problem both in Turkish society as a whole and in the country’s security forces. Earlier this year, it emerged that, at the time of his death, Andrea Santoro, a Roman Catholic priest who was shot by Oguzhan Akdin, a 16 year-old youth with ultranationalist and Islamist sympathies, was under surveillance by the police on the ludicrous suspicion that he was plotting to facilitate the annexation of Turkey’s eastern Black Sea coast by Greece. On April 18, 2007, three Christian missionaries in the southeastern city of Mardin were tortured and then had their throats cut by a group of students from a hostel run by an Islamic foundation. During their trial, evidence has emerged that these students too were in contact with members of the local security forces. Lawyers acting for the families of the victims claim that they have been receiving numerous death threats, are being harassed by security officials and that key evidence – such as tape recordings of confessions detailing links between the accused and security officials – that was present at the beginning of the trial, has now disappeared.

There is no suggestion that any high-ranking members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were involved either in any of the killings or in the subsequent cover-ups. But neither does the government appear to understand the extent of religious and racial prejudice in Turkey or the need to amend legislation that fuels it. The effective protection of minorities is a prerequisite for Turkish accession to the EU, which has long pressed for the abolition of legislation such as Article 301 of the Penal Code (see EDM, January 8). However, since the beginning of the year, the AKP has preferred to focus almost exclusively on trying to push through legislation to lift the headscarf ban that prevents pious Sunni women from attending university (see EDM, February 11, February 25) and, most recently, on legislative changes to circumvent the party itself being outlawed following the public prosecutor’s application for its closure on March 14 (see EDM, March 17).

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Photographs unravel Turkey's ethnic tapestry

March 10, 2008
International Herald Tribune, France
By Sabrina Tavernise Published:

SAMSUN, Turkey: They were suspected to be missionaries. Then fugitives. But when the motley band of Turkish intellectuals finally arrived in this Black Sea city last month, people seemed to understand that they really only wanted to tell stories.

The group - a Kurdish feminist, an Armenian writer, and an academic and a photographer, both Turkish - were presenting a book of photographs of people from Turkey.

The book counted 44 different ethnicities and sects across Turkey, and captured them in pictures dancing, eating, praying, laughing and playing music. If it sounds innocuous, it was not. Turkey, a country that has had four military coups in its 85-year history, has a very specific line on cultural diversity: Anyone who lives in Turkey is a Turk. Period.

Attila Durak, a New York trained photographer, compiled the book, traveling around Turkey for seven consecutive summers, living with families and taking their portraits.

His intent was to show that Turkey is a constantly changing kaleidoscope of different cultures, not a hard piece of marble monoculture as the Turkish state says, and that acknowledging those differences is an important step toward a healthier society.

People see themselves in the photographs, and they realize they are no different," said Durak, whose book, "Ebru: Reflections of Cultural Diversity in Turkey," was published in 2006. "Those Kurdish people have kids who play together like ours," he said, referring to viewers' reactions. "Look, they dance the same kind of wedding dance."

Ever since Turkey became a state in 1923, it has been scrubbing its citizens of identities other than Turkish. In some ways, that was necessary as a glue to hold the young country together. European powers were intent on carving up its territory, a patchwork of remains from the collapsed Ottoman Empire, and Muslim Turkishness was a unifying ideology.

But it forced families from different backgrounds, who spoke different languages, such as Armenian, Kurdish, Greek, Georgian, Macedonian, Bosnian, to hide their identities. Family histories, such as the crushing events of Turkey's genocide against Armenians in 1915, were never spoken of, and children grew up not knowing their own past or identity.

"Memories like that were whispered into ears behind closed doors," said Fethiye Cetin, a lawyer who learned only in her 20s that her grandmother was Armenian. "There was a big fear involved in this, so the community itself perpetuated the silence."

It is that locked past Durak and his colleagues seek to open. Their method is telling their own stories to audiences across Turkey as an accompaniment to exhibits of Durak's photographs to open a conversation about the past and chip away at stereotypes.

The academic, Ayse Gul Altinay, an anthropology professor from Sabanci University in Istanbul, is a kind of national psychiatrist, identifying the most painful points from the country's past and offering a way to think about them that is most direct route to healing.

She uses the Turkish art form, Ebru, the process of paper marbling that produces constantly changing interwoven patterns, as a metaphor for multiculturalism.

"We're not a mosaic, different from one another and fixed in glass," said Altinay, who earned her doctorate from Duke University. "Ebru is done on water. It is impossible to have clear lines or distinct borders."

In Samsun, a bustling city with a nationalist reputation, the fifth in Turkey to see the exhibition, the audience was small but interested. The Armenian writer, Takuhi Tovmasyan, talked about how she was gruffly banished from a piano recital hall after winning a competition, when teachers learned her last name, which is overtly Armenian.

"I hid this feeling for a long time," said Tovmasyan, who has published a book of family recipes and stories as way to open up a conversation about the past. "But when I saw these photographs, I decided I needed to talk about it."

The discussions have hit a nerve. At a presentation in Kars, an eastern Turkish city, a man in his 50s wearing a suit spoke through tears about discovering that his family had been Molokan, Russian Old Believers. It was the first time he was speaking publicly about it, he said. Others have apologized to Tovmasyan in emotional outpourings.

In Samsun, a young man in a white sweatshirt said, "I personally apologize for 'Get out,' on behalf of all my friends," eliciting applause. "It's really a terrible thing."

Durak's subjects look into his camera with a directness that is startling. A Jewish man sits in a chair in Istanbul. A gypsy in a flower print shirt plays the saxophone. A woman from the Black Sea stands in a doorway, her fingers touching her collarbone.

Each one is labeled for ethnicity and sect, a method of categorization that initially struck the local authorities in Samsun as something close to a seditious act.

"They said, 'we have to investigate, maybe they are wanted by the police,' " said Ozlem Yalcinkaya, an organizer from a student group, Community Volunteers Foundation, who arranged the exhibit. "I said, 'If they are fugitives, why would they be putting their names on the exhibition posters?' "

Another one of their questions went to the heart of what the group is trying to change. When it was revealed that Tovmasyan was Armenian, police officials were stumped.

"What do you mean Armenian," Yalcinkaya recalled an officer saying. "A Turkish citizen, or from Armenia?"

The answer was both - a Turkish citizen of Armenian descent - but because the Turkish state does not recognize mixed identities, the concept was foreign and baffling to the police.

In the end, the authorities relented, and the municipality even allowed use of its lecture hall.

"The genie is out of the bottle," Altinay said. "Too many people are interested in looking into who we are, who lived on this land before us," for the healing process to be stopped.

A young woman in the audience echoed that thought, as she apologized to Tovmasyan. For as gloomy as the past was, the future was more hopeful, she said, because young people are much more flexible and accepting than the older generations.

"In a few years time, a lot of people will be doing a lot of apologizing," she said.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.


Turkey Blocks EU Funds over Bulgaria's Burgas Recognition of Armenian Genocide

10 March 2008, Monday
Sofia News Agency, Bulgaria

Turkey's government declined to sign a EU-funded cooperation agreement with Bulgaria because of the decision of the city council in the Black Sea city of Burgas to recognize the genocide of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1922.

The funds blocked by Turkey under the PHARE Trans-border Cooperation Program amount to EUR 32 M, the Bulgarian private TV channel BTV reported. EUR 12 M of these are for the 2007-2009 period.

The agreement was supposed to be signed on March 6 by the district governors of the Bulgarian Burgas District, and the Turkish Edirne District but the meeting was canceled by the Turkish side.

"It is not within the authority of the Burgas City Council to take decisions on political matters, especially with regard to this issue as there is no consensus between Turkey and Armenia over it, and the interference by a third party will not be of any help", declared Turkey's General Consul in the city of Burgas on Sunday, March 9.

The Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov also received Saturday a letter from the Edirne District Governor regarding Burgas City Council's decision to recognize the Armenian genocide stating: "This decision is offensive and we denounce it. Until it is canceled we will discontinue all social, cultural, and economic contracts with your district."

Mayor Nikolov, who is from the Sofia Mayor Boyko Borisov's GERB party, expressed his surprise over Turkey's sharp reaction. He said the City Council was going to discuss the matter during its next session.

The Burgas City Council is dominated by members of the extreme right Ataka Party, and of the GERB party. On February 28 it voted to recognize the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, and declared April 24 Day of Remembrance.

Last week members of the rightist Democrats for Strong Bulgaria party of the former PM Ivan Kostov tabled a proposal for recognizing the Armenian Genocide to the city council in Bulgaria's capital Sofia.

Bulgaria's parliament has rejected similar motions by the rightist opposition several times, allegedly because of the ethnic Turkish part Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which is a junior partner in the governing three-way coalition.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Armenian poll challenge rejected

19 March 2008
BBC News, UK

The constitutional court in Armenia has rejected opposition claims that the presidential election was rigged.

The court accepted opposition claims there were some violations but said this could not call into question the entire poll.

The original announcement that Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian had won sparked days of protests.

The government declared a 20-day state of emergency on 1 March as eight protestors died in clashes with police.

Public gatherings have been banned and restrictions placed on the media.

Official election results in Armenia gave Serzh Sarkisian 53% of the vote, and the main opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian 21.5%.

Mr Ter-Petrosian had alleged there was widespread fraud at the poll, but his legal appeal was rejected.

The outgoing President, Robert Kocharian, has warned that the authorities will not tolerate any more mass demonstrations even after the state of emergency is over.

The BBC's Matthew Collin says a small group of female opposition supporters defied the measures on Saturday when they dressed in black and laid flowers where the clashes had taken place, in memory of those who died.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

'Turkish taboos' and freedom of expression

Saturday, March 8, 2008
Turkish Daily News
Robert ELLIS

A fortnight ago the Danish section of PEN, the worldwide association of writers, held a panel discussion in Copenhagen on Turkish taboos, freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey. There was general agreement among the four Turkish panelists, a journalist, a novelist, a poet and the president of Turkish PEN, that the four main taboos were the Armenian genocide claims, the Kurdish question, the military and Atatürk.Two of the panelists pointed out that these taboos are characteristic of Kemalist orthodoxy, but that the advent of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government was accompanied by a freer discussion of these issues. Prime Minister Erdoğan's landmark speech in Diyarbakır in 2005, when he became the first Turkish leader openly to admit there was a Kurdish problem, was also mentioned.

The Armenian issue:

Nevertheless, the first taboo, that surrounding the Armenian "genocide," still remains on both sides of the political divide. For example, three years ago in a party address Tayyip Erdoğan said, “Turkey has never committed genocide throughout its history,” and two weeks ago he added, “the character of this nation does not let it commit such crimes.”Therefore, Orhan Pamuk must have behaved like a bull in a china shop when he claimed in an interview with the Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger three years ago, “30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it.” The official Turkish reaction was not long in coming, as Pamuk was prosecuted according to Article 301 of the Penal Code for “the public denigration of Turkishness,” but the charge was dropped on a technicality.The recent arrest of the ultra-nationalist Ergenekon gang revealed their plan to assassinate Pamuk and linked them to the murder of the Turkish-Armenian publisher Hrant Dink and the three Christians in Malatya. Indeed, these murders, as well as that of Father Andrea Santoro in Trabzon, can be linked to the virulent strain of ethnic nationalism that arose 100 years earlier during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid from 1876 until 1909.

That period was characterized by extensive massacres of Armenians from 1894-96 and again in 1909. As historian Donald Bloxham said in “The Great Game of Genocide,” the perpetrators believed they were acting in accordance with the true interests of the state.This period was also characterized by a rise of Armenian nationalism and the founding of the two leading revolutionary groups, the Hunchaks and the Dashnaks, in 1887 and 1890. In 1913 the Committee of Union and Progress (“the Young Turks”) came to power through a coup d'état, but it was the outbreak of World War I the following year, and Turkey's alliance with Germany, that sealed the fate of the Armenian people.Turkey's defeat at the hands of the Russian army, aided by Armenian volunteer battalions, on the eastern front in January 1915 was widely blamed on the Armenians, but the turning point came with the Armenian uprising in Van in eastern Turkey on April 20 and the Allied landings at Gallipoli on April 25. On April 24 more than 200 prominent Armenians were arrested in Istanbul and sent to the interior, where most were later executed.On May 27, 1915 the Deportation Law (the tehcir law) was passed to provide for the deportation of the Armenian population for reasons of national security.

This is where the facts are hotly disputed, ranging from Ambassador Morgenthau's telegram to Secretary of State Lansing in July 1915, which spoke of “a campaign of race extermination…under a pretext of reprisal against rebellion,” to Professor Özay Mehmet from Carleton University in Canada, who recently claimed, “the Ottoman Armenians committed treason and were relocated out of the war zone.”So far 22 countries have officially recognized the tragic events of 1915-16 as "genocide" and Barack Obama has pledged recognition as a plank of his campaign.

However, the crux of the issue is not international recognition but that the topic is not open to free debate in Turkey.

'Stab in the back' :

On an academic level, scholars who organized a conference at Boğaziçi University in May 2005 on the Armenian question during the Ottoman Empire were accused by government spokesman, Minister of Justice Cemil Çiçek, of “stabbing the Turkish nation in the back.” The conference was postponed, but after an international outcry it reconvened at Bilgi University four months later.The main Turkish fear is that a discussion of the Armenian and Kurdish issues could once again lead to a partition of Turkey. This view was confirmed by a prominent member of the Armenian community in the United States, Harut Sasunian, who stated in December that the ultimate goal of the Armenians was recognition of their claims and getting amends and land from Turkey.As noted, the main obstacle to freedom of expression in Turkey is Article 301 of the Penal Code, which has resulted in the prosecution of a large number of authors, publishers and journalists. In yet another cosmetic change, the government plans to change the wording from “denigration of Turkishness” to “denigration of the Turkish nation,” which brings us back to square one. But as long as Turkish people are denied a full understanding of their past they will be unable to build a firm foundation for the future.


The views expressed by commentator Robert Ellis are the author's own and reflect neither endorsement nor editorial policy of the Turkish Daily News. Mr. Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish press (

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Armenia: The United States is Muted on the Armenian Political Crisis

Wednesday, March 5, 2008
By Joshua Kucera

The continuing political crisis Armenia stemming from the March 1 violence in Yerevan has unfolded with little comment from the United States, either from the US government or from influential Armenian-American lobbying groups.

The root cause of the crisis is found in the disputed presidential election on February 19, in which Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian was declared the winner. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Asserting that widespread fraud enabled Sarkisian’s victory, the main challenger Levon Ter-Petrossian mounted a permanent protest in Yerevan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. A government attempt to disperse the demonstrators during the pre-dawn hours of March 1 sparked an escalating confrontation that culminated in armed clashes. Officially, eight people died in the clashes, but witnesses believe the death toll could be substantially higher. Under state of emergency regulations imposed on March 1, the government enjoys broad powers to restrict press freedom, making verification of competing claims next to impossible. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

A statement by Karekin II, the spiritual leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, urged that both sides compromise. "Let us practice wisdom and reasoning, refraining from fraternal hostility and actions that deepen the discord. All problems and issues which trouble us, shall be solved through peaceful means, respect for the law and the safe paths of dialogue,” Karekin II said in a statement issued March 3. "Each of us must answer for our actions before history and our generations. Let us not risk the stability of our country with further unwise actions.”

Kocharian on March 5 vigorously defended his decision to impose a state of emergency, which in addition to restricting the flow on information, also allows for the limitation of non-governmental organization activity and the roll-back of civil liberties, including freedom of assembly. The president appeared to place all blame for developments on his political opponents, and vowed to “to track down all inciters, masterminds and executors of the unrest,” according to comments distributed by the official Armenpress news agency. Kocharian also stated that he had no intention of extending the state of emergency, which is due to expire on March 20.

The government’s media blackout has silenced at least five Armenian news outlets. And in a move that is sure to create difficulties for US-Armenian relations, President Robert Kocharian’s adminsitration has also suspended broadcasts of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and has blocked the RFE/RL website in Armenia.

There are several reasons for the relative US silence on recent developments in Armenia, analysts say. On a geopolitical level, Armenia is not deemed of vital strategic importance by Washington, as the Caucasus country lies outside the Caspian Basin energy corridor that passes through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.

In addition, the Armenian crisis is not viewed in Washington as a struggle pitting democratic forces against an authoritarian regime. It is more of an internecine struggle, in which a dispute among an entrenched political elite over the division of spoils has escalated to the point where it got out of control. Ter-Petrosian and his supporters are generally not seen as being any more democratically oriented than the incumbent Kocharian-Sarkisian team. To substantiate that point, some observers point to the fact that in the 1996 presidential election, Ter-Petroisian, who was running then as an incumbent, was accused of many of the same electoral abuses that he now assails the Kocharian administration for.

Finally, Armenian-American diaspora groups, which wield significant power in Washington’s policy towards Armenia, have chosen not to call attention to the crisis there.

The State Department issued a mildly worded statement on March 1, condemning the violence. The statement implied equal responsibility for both the government and the protesters. “Any unlawful actions such as violence and looting worsen the situation and must stop. We hope that the State of Emergency declared today will be lifted promptly and that political dialogue resumes,” the statement said.

But that is not enough, said Cory Welt, associate director of the Eurasian Strategy Project at Georgetown University. “The United States and the Europeans should certainly do one thing – stop pretending there is democratic progress where there is none. It’s one thing to shy away from giving the street false cause for optimism; it is another to be so patronizing about ‘baby steps’ toward democracy when there are none.”

“What makes the Armenian case so unusual is the willingness of the United States and Europe to move forward with business as usual when there is no business to be done - Armenia is neither a security nor an energy partner for the West,” Welt said.

Given the recent developments, Welt suggested that Washington should suspend aid from the Millennium Challenge Account, which is supposed to encourage Armenia to build democratic institutions. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The flow of Millennium Challenge assistance should not resume until there is a full, independent accounting for the violence on March 1 and 2, Welt added.

There has also been a relatively muted response from Congress, including from the members who are active in pro-Armenian issues. Armenian lobby groups have not pressed Congress to get involved in the crisis in Armenia, according to one Congressional staff member, speaking on condition of anonymity. That is partly because the lobby groups have political ties with the parties in power in Armenia, but partly because they feel that focusing on Armenia’s negatives is bad public relations.

“Frankly, in terms of the Armenian-American lobby, they get really ginned up and energized about the Armenian genocide resolution, but they don't really want to look at corruption, because that doesn't put them in a very favorable light,” the staffer said. “This doesn't help them with their agenda.” [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

The Armenian National Committee of America did not release any statement on the crisis, and as of the morning of March 5 its website carried no mention of the situation unfolding in Armenia. The Armenian Assembly of America did post a statement on its website, calling on all sides to “adhere to the rule of law and to refrain from violence, as well as to ensure that the media will cover the events as they take place with fairness and balance.” Neither organization returned calls and emails by a EurasiaNet correspondent seeking comment.

“Without energy or particular strategic importance, Armenia is left in the United States with the politically quite strong Armenian diaspora,” Welt said. “In the end, it is not the lobbies that should be held responsible, but their representatives in Congress who have far greater reason to be troubled by the hypocrisy of avoiding discussion or comparison of the internal state of Armenia when shaping US policy in its confrontations with Azerbaijan and Turkey.”

Part of the diaspora groups’ ambivalence can be explained by the fact that the main opposition candidate, Ter-Petrossian, strove to weaken the political strength of the Armenian diaspora when he was in office. In addition, his willingness to negotiate with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh angered members of the diaspora groups. Ultimately, Ter-Petrosian’s willingness to negotiate on the Karabakh issue initiated a chain of events that led to his resignation in 1998. He was replaced by Kocharian.

The Karabakh contact line dividing Armenian and Azerbaijani troops was the scene of heavy fighting on March 4-5. Azerbaijani officials on March 5 claimed that Armenian forces launched an attack, in part out of a desire to distract attention from events in Yerevan. Armenian officials countered that Azerbaijani forces initiated the clash. The death toll was placed at between eight and 16. Kocharian, in commenting on the fighting, stated that officials in Baku were trying to take advantage of Armenia’s domestic difficulties. "In all likelihood Azerbaijani leaders thought that because of recent events in Yerevan, the army of Nagorno-Karabakh has lost its vigilance or communication,” Kocharian told Armenpress

In addition, the Armenian diaspora groups tend to disengage from Armenian political issues because the corruption and authoritarianism conflict with the American values that they have acquired, said Yossi Shain, a political scientist at Georgetown University who studies the politics of diaspora groups.

“One can argue that in the mind of the diaspora, Armenia as a homeland has served more as a notion, perhaps a mythical vision than as a concrete sovereign state,” Shain said. “If the [Armenian] state represents something hostile to their ideology, they will remove themselves. They will be more keen to identify with Armenia as a whole than to identify with one regime, if it violates what they consider to be the values of America.”

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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Street theater scares children, shocks nation

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Celebrations in Aşkale, Erzurum, include workers dressed up as Armenians acting out hanging an imam and murdering a family before being killed themselves by high school students playing the Turkish militia. While the mayor defends the event as educational, experts, commentators and newspapers call for an end to such displays of animosity

ANKARA – TDN with wire dispatches

The 90th anniversary of the liberation of the eastern province of Erzurum's Aşkale region was celebrated there Monday, with municipality workers – in a staged event – dressed as members of an Armenian gang sending the imam to the gallows, torching the mosque and bayoneting a doll in a crib, to the alarm of many locals.

The daily Sabah described the story as “shocking” on its front page yesterday, and Hürriyet's headline read, “The mentality in this day and age.”

The daily Radikal's front page headline was, “This disgrace should end.”

The celebrations began with town administrator (kaymakam) Zeyit Şener, Mayor Ahmet Yaptırmış and Regional Commander Captain Ertuğrul Yavuz laying a wreath at the Atatürk statue in the town square.

Just like in previous years, celebrations continued with municipality workers dressing up as Armenians and playing out a massacre committed by Armenians over 90 years ago. The workers first sat around a table and drank alcohol – actually cold tea – before acting out torching the local mosque. Murat Billur, a barber who played the imam in the play, was hung from the makeshift gallows in the town square as he recited the call to prayer.

The workers then acted out the murder of a family and bayoneted a doll in a crib to screams from the town's children.

The play ended with Aşkale High School students, who played the Turkish militia that freed the town from occupation, attacking and “killing” the workers.

Yaptırmış, of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), defended the play. They repeat the event every year, he said, so children will always remember what happened. “Keeping these sentiments alive will give us an honorable future,” he said.

“There are no bans. I don't think children will be affected adversely,” he said.

‘We are ashamed'

Municipality workers who played the Armenians said the mayor issued orders and they obeyed.

One worker, Celal Akar, said his family, friends and neighbors criticized him for playing an Armenian. “Sometimes they even make fun of us. We don't want to be part of the play, but when the mayor says it we can't object. We have been doing this for at least 20 years,” he said. The municipality is responsible for the organizing the event, but Şener was upset when he saw the play. “Next year's celebrations will be without Armenians,” he said.

Media, experts criticize the event:

Burning and stabbing people in front of children is very harmful for young and impressionable kids, said psychologist Alanur Özalp, speaking to Hürriyet. “We all saw teenagers being exploited in the murder of Hrant Dink and priest (Andrea) Santoro. When asked, these teenage murderers said, ‘He was Turkey's enemy. They told me to go and kill him.' Such scenes should not be repeated when we are trying to rid ourselves of the image of barbarian Turks,” she said.

Celebrations portraying Turkey's neighbors as enemies have ended in many regions in Turkey, said Erdun Babahan, editor-in-chief at Sabah, in his column yesterday. “As long as your children grow up watching things like this, it will never be hard to find teenage triggermen to do bad jobs,” Babahan said.

There is a difference between teaching history to children and becoming ugly and rude while doing so, said Hürriyet's Oktay Ekşi in his column yesterday. “Isn't there a more civilized way of teaching history to children? Which is right? Teaching civilization and peace, or animosity to future generations?”

Ekşi asked how teachers and parents could make their children, who were obviously shocked and scared, watch such scenes. “Now do you see how those who murdered Dink and Santoro grow up? Now do you understand what Rakel Dink meant when she said, ‘Nothing can be done without questioning how a baby can become a murderer,'” he said.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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Writer Demirer on Trial for "Armenian Genocide"

Bıa news centre
I salute all Turks who have shown heroism both during the Armenian genocide and up to now and into the future. For these are the ones who deserve to be honoured. It surpasses human comprehension why the present government sticks to honouring the likes of Talat, Enver and Jemal as their ancestors and NOT those Turks who risked and even gave their lives to save Armenians. Because of this the offer of the government for a historical panel on the Genocide sounds hollow, so does the restoration of the Holy Cross church at Aghtamar island to a museum with no cross on top. The world has eyes to see and ears to hear.
In protest at Hrant Dink's murder, writer Demirer had called on others to commit the same "crime" as Dink had done, i.e. to recognise the factuality of an "Armenian genocide." He is now facing a trial under Articles 301 and 216.

A day after journalist Hrant Dink’s murder on 19 January 2007, writer Temel Demirer read a press statement in central Ankara, saying that the journalist had not only been killed for being Armenian, but also because he had spoken of an “Armenian genocide.”

Trial under Articles 301 and 216
Around a year later, Demirer has been taken to court under Article 301 and 216 for “denigrating the Turkish Republic” and “inciting to hatred and hostility.” The case will be heard at the Ankara 2nd Penal Court tomorrow (6 March).

Temel Demirer and the Solidarity Initiative had said, “We owe something to those being tried for their thoughts and actions, those being obstructed, tortured, imprisoned and killed.”

In a previous statement Demirer said that he believed that there was a genocide carried out against the Armenians in the Ottoman period, that the state was then the “customs of the the Committee of Union of Process”, and that these customs had been continued up to cases like the Susurluk scandal (which revealed connections between the state and contract killings).

Calling on others to commit "crimes" in protest
The indictment prepared by Chief Public Prosecutor Levent Savas on 24 December 2007 is based on police reports and police recordings. According to the indictment, Demirer said the following at the protest meeting:

“We live in a country where murders and silencing the truth are partners. Hrant was murdered not only because he was Armenian but because he said expressed the reality that a genocide took place in this country. If the Turkish intellectuals do not commit 301 crimes under Article 301, then they will be guilty of Hrant’s murder, too."

"There is a genocide in our history, it is called the Armenian genocide. At the cost of his life, Hrant told us all about this reality. Those who do not commit a crime against the murderous state are part of the murder. Those who killed the Armenians yesterday are today attacking our Kurdish brothers and sisters. Those who want the brotherhood of peoples need to face up to this history. We have to commit crimes to avoid that what happened to the Armenians happens to the Kurds. I call on all of you to commit crimes. Yes, there was an Armenian genocide in this country."

The statement was signed by the following:

Fikret Başkaya, İsmail Beşikçi, Yüksel Akkaya, Mehmet Özer, Necmettin Salaz, Ahmet Telli, Ruşen Sümbüloğlu, Tayfun İşçi, Mahmut Konuk, İbrahim Akyol, Abdullah Aydın, Oktay Etiman, Sait Çetinoğlu, Halil İbrahim Vargün, Özgen Seçkin, Zişan Kürüm, Mete Kaan Kaynar, Hakkı Atıl, Mustafa Kahya, Anıl Aslan, Hüseyin Ontaş, Erol Bıyıklı, Cennet Bilek, Serpil Köksal, Selçuk Kozağaçlı, H. İbrahim Vargün, Evrim Kılıç, Yılmaz Erdoğan, Pınar Dursun, Samet Erdemir, Özer Akkuş, Özgür Doğan, Mehmet Toğan, Ramazan Gezgin, Metin Uzunöz, Onur Işık, Hüseyin Gevher, Ülkü Çevik, Hüseyin Güngör, Muzaffer Çelikkol, Rıza Karaman, Metin Ayhan, İrfan Kaygısız, Çağdaş Küpeli, Devrim Kahraman, Tülay Koçak, Ali Ersin Gür, Muharrem Demirkıran, Haldun Açıksözlü, Adil Okay, Confederation of Europe Workers from Turkey (ATIK) (EÖ/GG)

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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