24 April 2013

Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation

The Armenian Genocide took place in 1915 at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. It is generally held that there were between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenian deaths, implemented through massacres, deportations and forced death marches across deserts. It is a tragic moment in history.

Khor Virap Monastery, Armenia, in the Shadow of Mount Ararat (8 kilometres from the Turkish border).
I am Armenian and ever since I can remember, the memory of the Armenian Genocide has been ingrained in me – as I’m sure it is with every diaspora Armenian. The genocide is a big part of the cultural identity of many of the diaspora. Consequently, many people know of Armenia only because of this terrible event. And maybe Kim Kardashian - another terrible event.

I know many Armenians who blindly dislike all Turks. I think it's silly and racist to dislike individuals of a race due to the history of their ancestors. Ara Sarafian is a well-known British historian specializing in the late Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. He said, “It is also a fact that many Ottoman officials, including governors, sub-governors, military personnel, police chiefs, and gendarmes saved thousands of Armenians during the Genocide.” The only reason my ancestors survived is because Turks warned them about the genocide, and told them to flee immediately. I'm alive because of Turks.

It’s silly to dislike anyone because of geography. People have no control over where they are born, but they do have control of how they behave, and how they treat their fellow man. There are also many Turks who dislike Armenians, but nobody is born with hatred. We need to question where this comes from, for example, is it being taught. Many Armenians continue to harbour hatred because Turkey continues to deny the genocide - they fail to recognise that this is an issue of foreign policy, and well above the individual.

Every Turkish person I've met has been a wonderful human being. I even hitchhiked across Europe with an old Turkish truck driver for three days (above). He cared for me, fed me, protected me and treated me like a son. It was an amazing experience that many Armenians will never have because of prejudice that has been instilled in them.

I would love to see this issue resolved. I would love to see peace between Armenia and Turkey – whatever that involves. The borders could be opened between the two countries, we could trade, and we can embrace. This needs to come from both sides. Let us become strong, together, and thrive. Let Armenia become known for something more than: Oh yeah, I've heard of Armenia. Wasn't there a genocide there?

[Below] Drinking tea with my Turkish host in the cool district of Beşiktaş (Istanbul).

The Turkish government acknowledges that during World War I many Armenians died,[1] They object to the word genocide, which was coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent. The word was created almost 30 years after the Armenian genocide. Charles Aznavour is a famous French singer, of Armenian descent. In 2004 he received the title of "National Hero of Armenia" for his humanitarian work, Armenia's highest award. In an interview on a French TV talk show, Aznavour said, “If the Turks are sincere enough to say that the word ‘genocide’ prevents them from doing anything, then let us come up with another word; just as long as the border between Armenia and Turkey is opened and the Turkish government thinks about starting a dialog with us.”[2] He said, “Armenia faces a huge threat and all linger on the word ‘genocide.’ I don’t see how this helps the advancement of the country. Where is such logic taking us?”[3]

Hrant Dink was a Turkish journalist of Armenian descent. He was an advocate for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and human rights. Dink was strongly critical of the Armenian diaspora’s strategy of pressuring Western governments into official recognition of the "Genocide" label. He said, “There are Turks who don't admit that their ancestors committed genocide. If you look at it though, they seem to be nice people… So why don't they admit it? Because they think that genocide is a bad thing which they would never want to commit, and because they can't believe their ancestors would do such a thing either.”[4]

[Below] The Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide memorial (Yerevan). The 44 meter stele symbolizes the national rebirth of Armenians.

In 2007, Hrant Dink was assassinated in Istanbul by a 17-year old Turkish nationalist shortly after the premier of a genocide documentary in which Dink was interviewed. At his funeral, tens of thousands of Turkish citizens marched in solidarity with Dink. Many had placards reading "We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenians.”

Ara Sarafian said, “Today, the Armenian Genocide debate has already shifted inside Turkey. It is now quite normal to hear that "terrible things happened to Armenians in 1915", that Armenians were poorly treated, that there were massacres, etc. Turkish citizens are also more and more aware of the contribution of Armenians to Ottoman-Turkish identity and culture."[5]

Charles Aznavour, like Hrant Dink, criticized the attitude of the Armenian diaspora. He said, “What does it mean to be Armenian today? I would like to know. What does a diaspora Armenia mean? To eat and drink well? To own a store and rattle on about the genocide? Is that what being an Armenian is all about? It is just not enough.”[6] He said, “Even if they return those lands to us, who will go there and live? No one. Let’s get real.”[7]

In my opinion, the best thing we can do is learn from this horrible history. It's been almost 100 years since the genocide took place and none of the guilty parties involved are still alive. Hatred gives Armenia nothing, it only weakens the people and the country. It means that Armenia keeps its borders closed to Turkey, harming its own import and export. Who suffers?

Turks and Armenians are both really hospitable and great people. They have so much in common. ‘We have lived like enemies until now. From now on, we must work for peace,’ said Sarafian, adding that the only thing separating Turks from Armenians was religion.[8] Let us try to achieve peace before the 100-year anniversary of the genocide.

[Below] In the center of the Tsitsernakaberd there is an eternal flame dedicated to the lost lives.

And now a little story:

One day, when Buddha was walking through a village, a man approached and insulted him.
‘You have no right teaching others,’ shouted the man. ‘You are as stupid as everyone else. You are nothing but a fake.’
Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man, ‘Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?’
The man was surprised to be asked such a strange question. ‘It would belong to me, because I bought the gift,’ he said.
Buddha smiled. ‘That is correct,’ he said. ‘And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself. If you want to stop hurting yourself, you must get rid of your anger and become loving instead. When you hate others, you yourself become unhappy. But when you love others, everyone is happy.’

 Hatred breeds hatred. I believe it’s better to love. What do you think?


  1. Fabulous post! (And maybe someday there will need to be a disambiguation page on Wikipedia.) Loved all the quotations from both sides. I had no idea that Armenia and Turkey have closed borders. Seems rather silly in this day and age. Hopefully both countries will start diplomatic relations again -- whatever it takes.

    1. Thanks Theresa. =)
      Also, I forgot to mention that 24 April (today) is commemorated internationally as Genocide Remembrance Day.

    2. One more thing of interest just occurred to me, the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is also closed. They have had a few wars (1918-1921 and 1988-1994) and foreign relations are not so good (i.e. non-existent).

      I think the tension is summed up quite succinctly - as are all politics - by examining their relations during Eurovision. It even has its own wikipedia page. Check it out:

      The "Interrogation of voters" section is particularly interesting.

  2. Superb post done by you.

  3. Traveling and blogging are two of the most favorited works today. You got to enjoy the best of both worlds as well as able to share it to others.

  4. Anonymous23:31

    Hello, greetings from Turkey! I found your blog on Google and I want to thank you. I am Turkish, and lived in the US as a child in Florida. I remember my family being asked why we killed the Armenians, we also have met some Armenian Americans that refused to talk to us after we said we were Turkish, not all of them, but most of them, and as a child it would bother me because I was sure my family had nothing against Armenians, or any other nationality. I now live in Istanbul and go to high school, I have Armenian teachers and friends, we live in peace just like any normal human would, we don't reject each other for things done in the past. Yes, of course there are some nationalist groups that detest Armenians but trust me, they're a minority.

    There was a genocide, all Turks admit that more than half of the Armenian people were killed, in Elementary school books it says that Armenians were forced to leave Anatolia because of uprisings of some Armenian national groups, most of them dying because of famine. Of course this is no excuse to commit a genocide, after hearing horrible stories from my Armenian friends' relatives I find this explanation rather embarrassing to be honest.

    What most people don't understand is that Turks are ready to apologize, they are just against the word genocide. It's a touchy subject because they want the world to realize that Turks were killed in the war too. My next door neighbor who is from Ardahan, eastern Turkey, told me about the things her great grandparents lived during the war, their village was burned by some marginal Armenian extra nationalist groups, but she also says her great grandparents remember their Armenian neighbors being taken away by the army. My grandmother, who lived in Thrace, the western European land of Turkey, told us how her parents friends were killed by Greek soldiers invading Turkey during WW1. They want an apology from all western countries that tried to invade their country and colonize Anatolia during the war. The Turks don't want to be known as hostile people, they say that everyone around the world says it was the Nazis that killed the Jews, not the Germans. So they believe people should stop saying it was the Turks that killed Armenians, instead, the Ottoman Army should be used.

    I fully believe that Turkey should accept the Armenian genocide. What saddens me is that most of the Armenian diaspora, particularly in the USA, think that all the Turks hate them and that they were brainwashed to believe nothing about these mass massacres, this is totally wrong. We have lived together for hundreds of years in peace, we're practically the same people who happen to speak different languages and have different beliefs, our cultures are almost the same but we refuse to understand this! Even though there aren't many Armenians left in Turkey, the ones that are still here live with us peacefully. A couple of months ago there was news about an old Armenian lady being stabbed by someone on the street while she was coming back from church, many people protested the potential racist crime, visited her in the hospital and it was talked about for weeks. Weeks later the murderer was found, he wasn't Turkish like most people thought, he was actually Armenian, we still condemned it. I wish there were more Armenians in my country like before, here Armenians are known as wealthy, educated people who are especially good at architecture. It's not like what most people think it is. And trust me, I'm not a small percentage, a lot of people think like me about the genocide, more than anyone else thinks.

    I know this was kind of long, sorry! I just read your blog and felt very happy that some people are changing, just like the Turks have been changing this past decade. We need to get rid of our stereotypes and maybe just buy a plane ticket to Istanbul or Yerevan to see how wrong we were before. The first step will be Turkey accepting the genocide, after that I believe peace will come right away. :)

    1. Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your thoughts and stories. I found it very interesting to read and I agree with what you’ve said.

      Whenever I talk about the genocide, I also always say it was the Ottomans. I think this helps to acknowledge that it was not the present generations that were responsible for what happened.

      I'm really happy to hear of the positive, friendly attitude between Turks and Armenians. I agree that the Armenian diaspora are really not helping issues. Yes, it would be good if Turkey officially acknowledged what happened… so our countries can return to being the great neighbours they once were. We are all so, so similar… like family.

      Thanks again for your wonderful comment. =)

    2. Anonymous01:48

      Your welcome. It's weird because today is Peace day in Turkey, after reading our comments I'm sure this isn't just a coincidence, it's a sign that Turkey and Armenia will get rid of their problems very soon, I hope. Peace! And happy blogging!

    3. Thank you, my friend. And much peace, love and light to you too! =)

  5. In 2007, Hrant Dink was assassinated in Istanbul by a 17-year old Turkish nationalist shortly after the premier of a genocide documentary in which Dink was interviewed

    actually because somebody told him that hrant dink said that turkish blood was dirty, yeah i know stupid...

    i'm turkish-armenian from Kars and i deny the genocide, why ? because i've done enough research for myself and this is my oppinion, the thing i hate is that many turks deny it blindly or that its still a taboo in turkey, its also taboo in armenia because i know many armenians who sometimes make up bullshit stories or don't even know when the first world war started and talk about the armenian genocide/question

    but i've enjoyed reading this nice written !, and you're always welcome in turkey :)

    (sorry for my bad english)


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