Tag Archives: Turkish-Armenian relations

Some Thoughts on the Anniversary of Hrant Dink’s Death

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

January 21, 2011

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Four years have passed since the assassination of the Armenian Turkish journalist Hrant Dink. Those who ordered his death have not been caught yet.

One of the most important reasons why the real culprits remain at large is the lack of public sensitivity over Dink’s death. Many people in Turkey still believe that Dink had called Turkish blood “poisonous and dirty.” Some others still question why those who are so sensitive about Dink’s death are indifferent (!) to the death of Turkish diplomats at the hands of Armenian terrorists in the 1970s and 1980s or to the Turkish soldiers martyred at the hands of the PKK.

People in Turkey need to keep several things in mind. First and foremost, Hrant Dink never said anything to the order of “Turkish blood is poisonous and dirty.” In his article of February 13, 2004, Dink had called upon Armenians all around the world to rid themselves from the poisonous notion of “The Turk” and rebuild Armenian identity in a constructive way.

Another point that needs to be borne in mind is how mistaken it would be to compare Dink’s murder with those of fallen Turkish diplomats and soldiers. Hrant Dink, who loved Turkey as much as anyone and was killed for trying to restore peace and understanding between Turks and Armenians, is not the opposite of the slain diplomats and soldiers. On the contrary, he will go down to the pages of history together with those heroes – and for the same reason: Diplomats work to protect the interests of their countries. Soldiers defend their countries. Intellectuals such as Hrant Dink strive to improve their countries and humanity in general.

And we should remember the most important point about Dink’s death: If we, as the people of Turkey, fail to bring to account those who stole from us as fond and peace-loving public intellectual as Hrant Dink (as we failed to bring to account those responsible for the deaths of Uğur Mumcu, Musa Anter, Çetin Emeç, İlhan Erdost, Ahmet Taner Kışlalı, Abdi İpekçi and countless others), we’re doomed to lose a lot more of our thinkers. That will turn cultural life in Turkey into a shallow and colorless desert. That will sever one of Turkey’s main lifelines.

If we don't catch the killers, new faces will join these.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

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“Fresh Blood” for Turks and Armenians in the Aftermath of the U.S. House of Representatives (Non-)Resolution

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

December 25, 2010

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“The fresh blood to replace the poisonous blood emptied from the Turk exists in the great vein that will connect the Armenian with Armenia.”

With those words in 2004, the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink had called upon Armenians throughout the world to rebuild their national identity free from the trauma of “The Turk.” With those words, Mr. Dink had told his fellow Armenians to dissociate 1915 from the more important task of making Armenia a better country.

But because of those words, which weren’t really about Turks, Hrant Dink was prosecuted for “insulting Turkish identity” under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code. And because of those words, a 17-year-old boy, who thought Hrant Dink had insulted Turkish people, killed him in 2007.

Together with the 2004 quote, I recalled the following lines after reading how the U.S. House of Representatives did not put the “Armenian genocide resolution” – Resolution 252 – to vote on December 22, yet again:

“I resent the use of my past history and present problems as a pretext in Europe and America. I feel a harassment; a rape beneath those kisses. I no longer accept that despicable imperialism as a referee because it tries to choke my future with my past. The real referees are the peoples and their conscience.” (Quote from Tuba Çandar’s biography of Hrant Dink, p. 446)

Following in Hrant Dink’s footsteps, we can get rid of the “poisonous” blood between Turks and Armenians only by addressing their hearts and minds.

First, Turks and Armenians should stop contesting their respective interpretations of 1915 at political bodies. All politics involves some cynicism but some more than others. For example, I don’t think Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s efforts to have the U.S. House of Representatives pass Resolution 252 had nothing to do with her desire to score points with Armenian constituents in her home state of California. Nor do I think she was oblivious to Turkey’s geostrategic importance as she swept 252 under the rug in order not to offend a critical U.S. partner in the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

An alternative scenario can help to illustrate how meaningless it is to race historical interpretations at parliaments: Today, an overwhelming majority of Turks who study in the United States tend to stay and become U.S. citizens. Thus, it won’t be surprising to see Turkish Americans and Armenian Americans becoming numerically equal within the next two decades. Now, how would Armenians feel if those Turks got their representatives in the U.S. Congress to pass resolutions refuting Armenian allegations that the events of 1915 constituted genocide? Or worse, that Armenians had deserved to be deported from their homes? Are we sure that such resolutions wouldn’t pass under “the right circumstances”? The lesson for the Armenian side is to take a hard look at its lobbying efforts in Washington and think whether those efforts are serving Armenian interests.

In a similar manner, the Turkish side should stop treating the defeat of Congressional resolutions as a defeat of Armenian claims or a validation of Turkish arguments with respect to 1915. History cannot be legislated; it must be studied rigorously. As an historian who has read both sides of the argument (yet one who does not claim expertise), I do not accept the label of “genocide” for the forced deportation of nearly 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians in 1915. Furthermore, I am at a loss why the massacre of Turks and Kurds by Armenian gangs in Eastern Anatolia are never mentioned in the West.

But I also find the justification for the deportations – Armenian guerilla attacks in Eastern Anatolia in the run-up to and during World War I – as an inadequate explanation. Nor do I accept the death of nearly 600,000 Armenian civilians (as the historian Justin McCarthy, whose works have a pro-Turkish perspective, estimates) for troubles not of their making.

So, where do we go from here? How do we get some “fresh blood”?

Opening the physical borders between Turkey and Armenia could help to bring down the psychological barriers between Turks and Armenians. To that end, Armenia should move more boldly on the issue of Nagorno-Karabagh with Azerbaijan. Since 1993, the Turkish-Armenian border has remained closed because of Armenia’s occupation of Azeri territory. The closure of the Turkish border has neither contributed to Armenia’s less-than-impressive economic performance since it became independent in 1991 nor has it helped those Turks who would otherwise benefit from open borders.

But with nearly 1.5 million barrels of Azeri oil flowing to international markets through Turkey every single day, Azerbaijan is simply too important to overlook. Thus, if Yerevan can resolve its differences with Baku, Ankara can find it easier to ratify last year’s Turkish-Armenian protocols and open the border.

Opening the borders, of course, won’t solve the problem by itself: alleviating Turkish and Armenian fears will be another challenge. To that end, NGOs from Turkey, Armenia, and the Turkish and Armenian Diasporas should gather youth conferences to nurture understanding and tolerance between Turks and Armenians. Not only would such meetings cost Turks and Armenians a lot less money than what they pay for lobbyists in Washington and other Western capitals; moreover, they can help Turkish and Armenian youths to break free from the clutches of hatred that has poisoned their parents and grandparents since 1915.

Down the road, when those young men and women become adults free from the poisonous past, they can build a fresh and more peaceful future for Turkey and Armenia.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

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