Are the Kurds Our Allies?

An Interview with Dr. Henry Astarjian

6 October 2013

Dr. Henry Astarjian, a frequent contributor to "The Armenian Weekly", was born in Kirkuk, Iraq. Following his graduation from the Royal College of Medicine, he served as army medical officer in Iraqi Kurdistan. He continued his medical education in England and Scotland, emigrating to the United States in 1966. In the early '90s he was a New Hampshire delegate to the Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas. Over the years he has addressed Kurdish groups in the US and in Europe, always promoting friendship between Armenians and Kurds, and defending Armenian rights to Western Armenia. Dr. Astarjian is the author of "The Struggle for Kirkuk", published by Praeger and Praeger International Securities.

Keghart.com interviewed him earlier this month.

KEGHART: When you addressed the Kurdish Parliament, three years back to back, in Brussels and in Maryland, what did you say? What was their reaction? When did you address them?

Dr. HENRY ASTARJIAN: It was early 1990s when I had a chance to speak to the annual meetings of the Kurdish National Conference, here in the U.S.  Speeches to the Kurdish Parliament in Exile were in Brussels in 1994 and on.

An Interview with Dr. Henry Astarjian

6 October 2013

Dr. Henry Astarjian, a frequent contributor to "The Armenian Weekly", was born in Kirkuk, Iraq. Following his graduation from the Royal College of Medicine, he served as army medical officer in Iraqi Kurdistan. He continued his medical education in England and Scotland, emigrating to the United States in 1966. In the early '90s he was a New Hampshire delegate to the Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas. Over the years he has addressed Kurdish groups in the US and in Europe, always promoting friendship between Armenians and Kurds, and defending Armenian rights to Western Armenia. Dr. Astarjian is the author of "The Struggle for Kirkuk", published by Praeger and Praeger International Securities.

Keghart.com interviewed him earlier this month.

KEGHART: When you addressed the Kurdish Parliament, three years back to back, in Brussels and in Maryland, what did you say? What was their reaction? When did you address them?

Dr. HENRY ASTARJIAN: It was early 1990s when I had a chance to speak to the annual meetings of the Kurdish National Conference, here in the U.S.  Speeches to the Kurdish Parliament in Exile were in Brussels in 1994 and on.

The speeches were 30-minute long, though they did not limit the time. They were expansive and were published in "Kurdistan Times". In them I stressed that the Armenian and Kurdish causes are interrelated and that we are the legitimate owners of our 6 vilayets, and that our relationship was delineated by the Sevres Treaty, therefore our relationship is to be governed by mutual recognition of each other’s rights and mutual respect. That we have lived together for millennia, and we have no plans to abandon our Western Armenia. That we are ready to develop neighborly, friendly relations with Kurds and Kurdistan.

The speeches were televised, even by the Belgian TV, and were followed by a TV interview and by their Turkish-language "Ozgur Politika".

KEGHART: The core of your thesis is that eventually Kurds will control/rule Western Armenia. By aligning with them now Armenians can gain back some of the Western Armenian lands Turkey will have to cede to the Kurds. How can Armenians become credible allies to the Kurds?

HA: In surveying the geopolitical realities of the last two decades, it becomes obvious that some 30 million Kurds, who are sitting on two precious liquids, oil and water (Tigris and Euphrates), will sooner or later get full control of their land. This might be in form of independence or interdependence. Federation or confederation with present day Turkey are options. This land is designated to span entire Anatolia including our Western Armenia (See their maps). Which means loss of our fatherland for millennia. As to your question of “How can Armenians be credible to the Kurds” is the subject of a great mental and psychological transformation in our thinking. We do not have to kow-tow to the Kurds. The need of cooperation is delineated by mutual interests. They have great respect and admiration for Armenians, especially after military victories in Nagorno-Karabakh. They know that their way to prosperity and societal development passes through Armenians. It is our duty to demand their loyalty. In fact, it is an emotional issue to talk about such sentimental values in the political arena. In politics there are only interests, not feelings. We have to master this concept.

KEGHART: Are there obstacles to Armenians in the Diaspora which would prevent them from building political/social/cultural bridges with the Kurds?

HA: Yes, there are! For one, they look down upon the Kurds and belittle them. Two, they have bitter memories from the Genocide era inherited from the survivors. Third, Western Armenia is not of importance to them except in rhetoric. For many the concept has lost its importance because it demands sacrifices. People are not ready to give-up their physical and material comforts to go and toil the land of their ancestors. Visiting graves and khatchkars as tourists gives them solace and absolves them of guilt. People are comfortable where they are, and are not eager to roll-up their sleeves and do the job. Things will be different when one looks at the community’s situation in Syria now.

KEGHART: With Armenia back tightly in the Russian grip, do you think Armenia has the freedom to make foreign affairs decisions such as approaching the Kurds in Kurdistan or their politicians in Brussels?

HA:  Armenia is indeed in Russia’s lap. It is not capable of conducting a sound foreign policy which serves the interest of Eastern Armenia. They are corrupt to the core, and a major cause for emigration of the regular people, and the highly educated cadre of Armenian society. This gang of oligarchs have no interests in preserving Armenia, and fighting for its rights. See what they did with the signed protocol with Turkey. It is a joke! We are under a false impression that Armenia cares about the Diasporan Armenians. Armenia couldn’t care less about us, let alone adopt the struggle for Western Armenia. Even Echmiadzin has been infested with corruption. Spiritual and emotional attachment between us has eroded severely; we are left to ourselves.

No, I don’t think the Armenian government has the Kurds in mind, except their own Kurdish inhabitants. Having said that, I must also say that there is a strong people-to-people interaction, especially with Dersim (Tunceli) and Diyarbakir (Dikranagerd).

KEGHART: You've mentioned that Armenians, going back to the 1840s, have cooperated with the Kurds against the Ottomans. You mentioned Malkhas and Garo Sasouni who attempted to establish cooperative relations with the Kurds…and ARF's signing of the Khoyboon Treaty with the Kurds. These must be news to many Armenians. Can you please elaborate?

HA:   In 1927 a treaty of collaboration and military cooperation was signed between the warring factions of the Kurdish forces and ARF. The battleground was the Araratian Planes. The ARF also took the initiative to establish avenues of collaboration with the Kurds against Turkish central government. Malkhas was delegated to establish contact with a warring tribe, who demanded from the ARF to provide him with an ammunition factory.

Garo Sasouni, a prominent Tashnag, was the god of the Kurds, because of his interest in them and their cause. His book “Kurdish Nationalistic Movements and Armeno-Kurdish relations” is a classic study of the subject, and is translated into Turkish by Kurds. True, Armenians know little about these issues.

KEGHART: In recent years the Kurds have made friendly gestures…they've recognized the Genocide in their Manifesto, asked forgiveness from the Armenians, returned Sourp Giragos in Diyarbekir. Do you expect further friendly gestures or confidence-building measures from them?

HA:  Yes, I do. Their mindset and gestures are just the beginning of a large scale return of real state ownership to whomever can produce a written document of ownership. At least that is the situation in Diyarbakir. To have us there serves not only our, but also their interests. They want us there desperately!

KEGHART: The approach you advise Armenians should adopt is two-pronged. Become allies of the Kurds and revive the Sevres Treaty, President Woodrow Wilson's map. Should we combine our efforts re Sevres with the Kurds?

HA:  We have to stick to the provisions of articles 88-93 which deals with Armenia, and delineates our borders with Turkey. Articles 62-64 does the same for the Kurds. President Wilson drew a map accepted by the League of Nations. Why invent the wheel? We can start a consensual political love fest with the Kurds anytime, in fact it has already started in Dersim with song and dance festivals staged by ordinary folk from Armenia.

KEGHART: You've written that it's imperative to assemble an entity consisting of world-famous Armenian and non-Armenian lawyers and experts in international law, to revive the Sevres Treaty and President Wilson's map. The Europe-based National Congress of Western Armenians (NCWA) is doing just that. As well, senior members of the organization have made frequent trips to Western Armenia to meet "lost" or "hidden" Armenians and sympathetic Turks and Kurds. Are you aware of the NCWA. If  yes, do you see a role for them in the strategy you're advocating?

AH:  No, I am not aware of this organization. Bless be their efforts, if they have the same goal as Sevres. Of course I’ll work with them! We have to learn from our shameful fiasco of Aharonian-Nubar Pasha debacle in presenting Armenia before the League of Nations in 1920. Hopefully we have matured some.

KEGHART: Since Kurdish society is disunited, what should be the Armenian approach to various groups so no one is antagonized?

AH:  Exploitation through neutrality!

KEGHART: When you travel in Armenia and in Artsakh, you notice how depopulated  they are, meanwhile emigration from Armenia continues unabated. If Armenians are given lands west of Ararat, how would we populate them? Even if some Armenians settle there, wouldn't they be a minority governing a non-Armenian majority?

AH: This is a common question and a false argument constantly raised by post Genocidal Armenians who have finally settled in different parts of the world and are largely comfortable in their cantons, and have created their mini-dukedoms, as if it were their fatherland. In the immediate aftermath of the Genocide, Diasporan Armenians had no identity conflicts, they were Armenians in addition to being Marashtsi, Vanetsi, Ayntabtsi or Kharpertsi. Despite all the security, prosperity, and freedom which we enjoyed in certain countries, the fear of imminent danger and fear lingered in our souls, in less politically stable countries. We developed double-pronged personalities: one Armenian, and one that of the host country; a rather pathological reality. It is obvious, and doesn’t need explanations. We lost our national compass. The “White Massacre” set in and took its toll, which continues, as we speak. A hundred-year alienation from ones roots, alienates affection to the land, and that’s what has happened to us. Our commitment to our land is casual. We love our land by proxy. Don’t rock the boat is the order of the day.

The sorry situation in Armenia adds insult to injury. Emigration of Armenians from Eastern Armenia is not because of weak patriotism, but because of the actions and the inactions of the corrupt government which is sucking people’s blood; that of the poor and the average citizen.

Given the right circumstances Armenians will never leave their land for which their fathers have fought and died. Never underestimate people’s power. It is the leadership which is rotten. The vacuum created by the absence of decent leadership in Armenia and the Diaspora, has been filled by equally corrupt institutional church, which has nothing to offer the nation except illusive afterlife. It has not a thing to do with Christianity. Today’s demographic and sectarian realities indicate that religion does not dictate your race. Contrary to church's opposing view, the latter wins. For us it is the Hamshins, and the close to a million Islamized Armenians who form the nucleus. What is lacking is absence of leadership both here and Armenia. Armenia with both its sections is not on our radar screen. One wouldn’t reject ownership of his property because it stands empty. Let’s be realistic, there is no detailed road map to get us there, but if we don’t claim our rights, Western Armenia will be lost forever. We have yet to unleash the potential genius and the tremendous resources of the Armenian Empire of Diaspora (AED). We should stop negotiating against ourselves!

KEGHART: How can Armenians prevent the inevitable Turkish attempts to sabotage an Armeno-Kurdish friendship?

AH: This is a tactical problem. Circumstances and realities on the ground would dictate action. One of our mistakes is that we want to put everything in a neat tidy box. Politics could not be played that way!

KEGHART: What would stop Kurds from betraying Armenians once they have achieved their goals and created a political entity called Kurdistan in Western Armenia?

AH: That is a hypothetical question. We cannot have iron-clad guarantees of any kind. We are a smart people; we should be able to avoid the landmines.

KEGHART: There are no concrete and visible efforts by Armenian organizations or the RoA which demand from Turkey land return as compensation for the Genocide. Perhaps the lack of a national plan has encouraged individuals–Armenian filmmakers, writers, artists or musicians–to venture into Western Armenia and collaborate with Turks or representatives of the Turkish government. Whether instigated by TARC or not, would the latter approach backfire despite the good intentions of the Armenians?

AH: People-to-people contacts are always useful, even if they are orchestrated by governments. Ping-pong diplomacy worked with China, soccer diplomacy did not with Turkey.

8 comments
  1. Kurds and Future of Armenia

    Dear Dr.  Astarjian, 

    I was glad to read this article. I have spoken about cooperating with the Kurds with many people who seem to be very concerned about the future of Armenia, and particularly of Western Armenia. Most people fail to recognize the reality. They keep repeating that the Kurds participated in the murder of Armenians therefore they are our enemies. This is true, but because ordinary Germans participated in atrocities masterminded by the Nazis, does not mean the whole world should turn its back to the German nation. 

    The fact is that there are many more Kurds than Armenians. The Kurds live on the territories which some of our compatriots still naively consider ours. Kurds are armed and they are on the rise. They have already gained independence in Iraq; Syria is next. What will happen after that? Everyone knows…Turkey.

    The Kurds are on the rise, but they are not very strong; they need all types of support, international lobbying, education, and military training. We must think of ways of providing help and cooperation if we want to share a bit of the victory when they achieve it. Even if it is not in the form of territory, it would be very beneficial to have a friendly neighbor than an artificially-created enemy. They are not only numerous, and therefore powerful, they also possess gas and oil. The cooperation may need discretion in some issues and normal human friendship in others. But it should be done. Now.

    1. Senor GT de Mexico

      Senor GT of Mexico,

      I agree with Dr. Henry Astarjian. Your assumption as to what we should anticipate in making friends with the Kurds is a bit over-charged… so to say "No deberiamos adelantarnos". We should first feel their pulse. We ought not sit idle but neither should we run ahead of them extending our hand for friendship, the word you use.

      However, to establish rapport with them is essential. It will be beneficial to us in the long run. I´m certain Dr. Astarjian knows how to approach and handle them. I wish, though, that others would join  him, especially those who beat their breasts as our BBBs (Bishops, Benefactors, and Bosses).

      It's time to change this old (170- years-old) "Sahmanatrutyun" of ours which was created in Constantinople by our clergy and the amiras. We need a new statute for the Armenian Diaspora, in tandem with contemporary needs and attitudes. In the new "Sahmanatrutyun" we should elect people for their merits, and from all professional groups, rather than by lobbyists, read power-brokers.
      Then only can we obtain real leadership from all walks of life. These elected representatives would delegate the appropriate people not only to establish rapport with the Kurds but also negotiate with them re our preconditions/demands in reference to the ¨wrongs¨ they've committed against us.

      The re-organization of the whole Armenian Diaspora is therefore more urgent than taking steps individually or by this or that faction.

  2. Becoming Friends of Kurds

    Dr. Astarjian is an original thinker. His knowledge and commitment should be utilized by our organizations–especially political parties–in their efforts to build strong links with Kurdish political parties and liberation groups–in Western Armenia and Europe where there are strong Kurdish groups, especially in Germany. 

  3. Our hand

    Dear Gaytzag,

    I do not know what you mean by "our hand". There is no such thing as our hand. We are a complex and diverse nation separated by our place of residence, political leanings and personal identities. Neither are Kurds a homogeneous crowd; after all, the problems of Kurds for long time was that they fought one another and as a result missed good opportunities to establish their own country. So forget about a nice hand-shaking ceremony.

    I am not politician or political scientist. All I am saying is that a lot of people, who assume leadership in Diaspora and demand reparations from Turkey, do not recognize that Western Armenia is in the hands of the Kurds. These same Armenians like to write letters and make appeals to the presidents of USA or France for justice, but totally ignore the reality on the ground. Even if Turkey accepts the fact of the Genocide and decides to return "Armenian lands", she would not be able to do it. Or even if we theorize further and assume that it is done diplomatically, you would get a land populated by Kurds who exceeds in numbers the total population of Armenians around the world. None of these scenarios is going to take place but it is necessary to consider the realities when planning. I am not saying we should not ask Turkey to accept the Genocide or not seek reparations, but I would like to see a little bit more intelligent and pragmatic approach.

    Here is why we should establish friendly political and socio-economic relations with Kurds: The Republic of Armenia is totally dominated by Russia. While Russia is the master, Armenia will never become a normal and thriving state. The best hope is having a friendly country to the West with access to the sea and direct link to Europe and the Middle East. So far Turkey has proven that it will not be such a country. As I mentioned in my previous post, the probability of Kurdish uprising and establishing an independent state is quite high. It is a long, probably bloody process as a result of which a young, unprepared, undereducated country with a great economic potential MAY surface as a neighbor. It will be to our best benefit to have a partner than an enemy there. This is a totally hypothetical scenario but in my opinion one of the best possibilities existing  in the region.

     

  4. Kurds

    Many Kurds are coming forward and re-discovering their Armenian roots. I agree with the author that the first nation to adopt Christianity has no bearing on being an Armenian.

    The oligarchs running Armenia today are no better than the Beria or Himmler and their gangs.

  5. Kurds’ Interests

    When I was a young high school student in Lebanon I used to go to my father's shop to help out. One of his customers was an exiled Kurdish man who used to be the head of the Iraqi Intelligence in the Kingdom. He was in Beirut to recruit Armenian Medical doctors for Iraqi Kurdistan. I remember his comments to my father. He said, " Kevork, we the Kurds were jackasses, we believed the Turks because they were Muslims and we participated in the slaughter of Armenians. What a big mistake we did".

    I believe the current generation of Kurds knows where their interest lies.   

  6. The Armenian Question

    I believe the Armenian messeleh was more about properties and hidden gold than religious  jihad. The hungry and lazy Turks could not bear to see prosperous class of people well fed and housed. They could barely make a living to feed their extended clans; and of course the foreign missionaries gave them  more reason to associate us with foreigners.

  7. Kurds and Armenians

    The question was: "Could the Kurds and Armenians live side by side in harmony?"
    The answer? If we have no more to show off than them and live as backward and  mean tempered.
    One group is forward-looking; the other is backward.
    One believes in vengeance; the other in forgiveness.
    The pride of any Armenian is to have his/her children better educated and well off than they or their fathers. I can't say that of any Islamic group, and I have lived among them for a long time.

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