By Rachel Goshgarian, PhD Canididate September 17, 2007
I read with great interest your interview of Monday, September 17, 2007 in Today’s Zaman. I would like to thank you for being so candid in your responses.
I am an Armenian, a Diasporan Armenian. I am one of those you place in that monolithic block you call “Diaspora.” Having lived in Turkey, I know that there are many misconceptions about this “Diaspora.” My introduction to the Diasporan construct came when I was taking a Turkish language class at Bogazici University several years ago. During one of our conversation lessons, my classmates were asked questions like, “What is your favorite color?” or “Where do you like to vacation in the summer?” I was asked, “Why is the Armenian Diaspora so powerful?” I gulped. I really didn’t know how to respond. I don’t remember even how I answered – or if I did — I was so shocked by the question. But the question stuck in my mind, like a piece of gum that sticks to your shoe. I had never before considered the “Diaspora” powerful, let alone during that first summer I lived in Turkey, when Armenians seemed so small and where the word “Armenian” seemed to annoy people somehow. But the power of the word “Diaspora” chilled the classroom. And I recognized then that it carried a heavier meaning there, in that overheated room on the shores of the Bosphorous, than it ever had in my own mind
Several years later my Turkish had improved and I was back and living in Istanbul. I remember speaking with my grocer in Beyoglu. He was confused by my Turkish accent. Finally I admitted to him that I was Armenian from America. He was shocked. “You are from the Diaspora?” he asked me. “Yes,” I replied. “I thought you all hated us,” he answered. I smiled and told him he listened to the news too much. That he should try and listen to some Armenian music or read an Armenian author. That he should try to learn more before making assumptions.
A few months after that, as spring was turning to summer, the owner of the internet café I frequented called out to me, “We are with you, Rakel Hanim. On the 24th of April we support the entire Armenian Diaspora.” I was shocked, even though I knew he was a leftist. As he brought me my tea, he cocked his head and asked, “Abla, what is Diaspora?”
In my life as an Armenian-American who has spent significant amounts of time in Turkey, I can say that from my own experiences I have become quite aware of this monolithic notion that exists in Turkey regarding what seems to be considered a super-powerful, anti-Turkish, hate-filled Diaspora with no regard
for the average Turkish citizen. And I have learned that in many respects it is this construction of “Diaspora” in Turkey that stands as a roadblock in terms of the relations between Armenians and Turks, between Armenia and Turkey.
I have seen this and I accept it as a product of a complicated situation. Not everyone has time to read academic articles, watch movies, or enjoy novels dealing with this “Diaspora.” Not everyone has the means to try and understand what propels Armenians around the world to engage in such an enthusiastic encouragement of genocide recognition. Not everyone has the possibility to communicate with the “Other.”
But you do.
Your Beatitude, I gather from your interview that you do not consider the Armenians living in Turkey as part of the “Diaspora.” And yet, you come to the United States this week to involve yourself in the affairs of this “Diaspora” of which you are, ostensibly, not a part. The Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople was founded during the reign of Mehmet the Conqueror as a center of religious/secular power for the Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. The Patriarchate exists until today. The constituency that you serve is the Armenian community of Turkey and Crete. As you stated in your interview, there are three other Patriarchates – those of Holy Etchmiadzin, Jerusalem and Antilias (Lebanon). As you mentioned in your interview, each of these Patriarchates is meant to look over its respective constituencies, while the
Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians remains he who holds the See of Holy Etchmiadzin. You mentioned in your interview that the four Patriarchs don’t get involved in each other’s affairs.
And, yet, the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America lies under the Patriarchal jurisdiction of the Catholicos of All Armenians — not under yours — unless, of course, you would like to claim the constituency of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America as your own since the majority of its members are children and grandchildren of Armenians who survived whatever Your Beatitude prefers to call the deportations and massacres of Armenians from Amasya, Diyarbakir, Harput, Malatya, Sivas, Van, etc.. If you don’t claim authority over these descendents of Armenians from Anatolia, and if the four patriarchs “don’t meddle in each other’s affairs much,” then I can only speculate about what it is you are doing in Washington this week. Why travel across the Atlantic to give a speech and eat some food? It would seem that with this visit, this sharing in the celebration of the iftar, this speaking at Georgetown University, your aim is quite simply to insert yourself into the very center of the “political issue” you pretend to disdain so.
So be it. Let another voice be heard in this already complicated discussion. But let that voice be a strong voice. Let it not be a voice mitigated by fear. Let that voice be a realistic voice. Let it not be a voice informed by a growing intolerance, of the type recently witnessed in the offensive song composed by
Ozan Arif and sung by Ismail Turut. Let that voice understand the weight of its resonance. Let that voice take into consideration not only the 70,000 Armenians living in Istanbul and in Anatolia (whom we all know live under a great deal of pressure, particularly in the paralyzing aftermath of the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink). Let that voice also take into account the voices of the over 7 million Armenians living outside of Turkey. If you come here as an international Armenian voice, let your voice be supranational and wise. If you come here as one of the four patriarchs of the Armenian people, if you come here not only as Patriarch of the Armenians of Istanbul but as a representative of all Armenians, and, yes, of the Diaspora, then let your statements reflect your mandate as a leader of the Armenian people.
I write this letter and I call on you. I call on you to speak to the Armenians of the Diaspora. I call on you to visit the communities of Armenians living in New York, in D.C., in Los Angeles and in Detroit. I call on you to inform the communities of the United States when you next plan a visit here, so that we may invite you into our churches and homes, rather than learn of your imminent arrival to discuss a “political issue” in DC without any plans to meet with any of the over one million Armenians here.
I call on you to recognize that you are, in fact, a part of the Armenian “Diaspora.” And to recognize that you are a part of the “Diaspora” for the same reason the “Diaspora” exists everywhere in the world.
So long as intellectually powerful individuals like yourself, with a real knowledge of the Armenians living both inside and outside of Turkey, continue to refer to – and treat — the “Diaspora” as one, great, negative entity, there will be no future for the relations between two peoples who deserve a more honest and dignified future than the past that they have lived for the last 100 years. So long as Your Beatitude, leader of the Armenians of Turkey, continues to act without engaging in discussion of your thoughts and positions with Armenian leaders and people outside of Turkey, there will be no end to this. There will be no real discussion. There will be no solution to this political situation.
I call on you, Mesrob Patriarch, to remember your position as one of four whose jurisdiction lies under the first amongst equals. I call on you to become a translator, to become a light, to become a way.
PhD Candidate in History and Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University,