Willful Disregard of Reality

Editorial, June 2013

“Oh, Armenian people, your only solution is in your united force.” Yeghshe Charents.

  • “Turkey Offers Nuclear Partnership to France if Paris Reviews its Stance on Armenian Genocide”
  • “Ankara Angry at Recognition of Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Genocides by New South Wales”
  • “Obama Tells Insurance Companies Not to Recognize Armenian Property Rights”.

The above related headlines appeared in Armenian publications in the same week in May.

Editorial, June 2013

“Oh, Armenian people, your only solution is in your united force.” Yeghshe Charents.

  • “Turkey Offers Nuclear Partnership to France if Paris Reviews its Stance on Armenian Genocide”
  • “Ankara Angry at Recognition of Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Genocides by New South Wales”
  • “Obama Tells Insurance Companies Not to Recognize Armenian Property Rights”.

The above related headlines appeared in Armenian publications in the same week in May.

The first headline is about a nuclear business agreement between Ankara and Paris. France expects to earn billions in the deal which will see the French construct Turkey’s second nuclear plant. In these hard times (French general unemployment is 10 %; for young people it’s 25%), President Francoise Hollande knows French-Armenians will not complain too vociferously if he breaks his word to the Armenian community and forgets the bill which would have penalized Genocide denial.

The second headline is about Ankara’s anger at New South Wales in Australia because that state has recognized the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Genocides. Armenians, although few in number in Australia, received recognition because they formed an alliance with the 400,000- strong Greek-Australian community and the well-organized 65,000-strong Assyrian-Australians.

The third headline is about President Barak Obama’s attempt to sabotage American-Armenian efforts to recover, from Turkey some of what that country owes Armenians. Why is Obama working against us? Because we know that Turkey is more important to him than the million-plus Armenian-Americans.

The often-difficult circumstances Armenians have lived for nearly two millennia have made most of us realists, if not hard-nosed, in our personal affairs. The realism has helped us survive in our ancestral, but occupied homeland, and even prosper in foreign shores. We know—in the words of Euclid—“there’s no royal road in life”, especially for Armenians. Most of us are taught, from early age, that we have to earn our success. So why do we abandon our hard-earned realism when it comes to international affairs impacting us as a nation? Why do we suddenly become naïf?

When François Hollande of France shilly-shallies about his promise to Armenians, when US presidential candidates promise to recognize the Genocide but “change their minds” after they take office, and when the majority of the countries at the UN dismiss our just case… why are we surprised and indignant?

When injustice takes place around the world we shrug and say “the big fish always eat the small fish”   or “states are not moral entities”. We know these as bitter realities, but forget them when it pertains to our national interests and out the window goes “Yeghoonk oonees kloukht kereh” Armenian proverb.

We choose to forget the nature of politics. To re-word an Armenian phrase, certain American politicians support us not for “our brown eyes” but because we have a considerable number of votes in their districts or because Turkish votes are negligible or non-existent. It’s rare—as in the case of Canada—where a government acknowledges the Genocide because it believes in doing the right thing, despite blackmail and threats by Turkey.

It’s no accident that Uruguay was the first (1965) to recognize the Genocide. It did so mostly because the Armenian community in Uruguay was well organized and the country had no relations with remote Turkey. France was also a pioneer in Genocide recognition because there are 400,000 French-Armenians. Although the various governments of Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt know that Turkey committed genocide against the Armenians, they will not acknowledge the fact because Turkey is a friend.

Another stark example of the determining role of self-interest in international politics is the case of Mahatma Gandhi, the much-honored leader of India’s independence movement. “Saintly” Gandhi refused to condemn the Turks in 1915 because he didn’t want to alienate the Muslim faction in his movement. And he had the nerve to accuse the British Raj of hypocrisy.

Our willful disregard of historic facts goes back millennia. Although the Crusaders repeatedly betrayed us, we maintained our alliances with them. We also continued to believe the “Christian” West would save us from the Ottoman sultans, although Britain, Germany and Austria sided with the vicious Sublime Porte.

We bemoan that we desperately need unity of vision and action in our national and local affairs but turn around and boast about our own individualism. We blame Armenians for being “all chiefs and no Indians” and then act like single-minded, prescient pundits.

We pride ourselves that we are an industrious and peaceful people who have not coveted their neighbors’ lands. In the same breath we express pride in Medzn Dikran who had six kings chained to his victory chariot and who conquered most of Asia Minor and the Middle East. A psychiatrist or neurologist might diagnose that perhaps various parts of our brains have delinked from one another.

Throughout history conquerors have habitually changed the toponyms (place names) of the lands they have conquered and introduced names of their own liking to underline their ownership of the land. Due to historic vicissitudes in ancient Armenia Minor (“Pokr Hayk”), towns and regions called Sber, Nicopolis, Aghuyn, Taranghi, Mouzour, Tasdarag, Gohombeneh, Khorsapia, Posatourn, Kuntusa had disappeared long before the Seljuks drowned the land in blood. Over the centuries Urfa (now Sanliurfa) has been called Urhoy, Urha, Urhai, Riha, Justinopolis, and Edessa. Adana was Adaniya, Edene, Batana, Ezene, Erdene, Ta Adana, Azzana… Marash (now Kahramanmarash) was Germanicia Caesaria, Kermanig. Aintab (now Gaziaintab) was called Hantab/Hatab by Crusaders, Khantap by Hittites, as well as Ayintaba. What Armenians now call Lake Van was Pzounyah or Dosba Dzov in ancient times while Lake Sevan was Gaboudan, Kegharkouni, Keghama Dzov. But despite the universal custom of toponym changing, Armenians continue to get irate when they hear Turkey has replaced Armenian place names with Turkish ones. One Armenian author has even published a book on the dastardly deed of the Turk.

We have every right to remind the world of the toponym changes, but we also have to admit that since Turkey occupies our mountains, rivers, lakes and cities fulminating about what Turkey has done and is doing is waste of our energies.

We have to tackle our national challenges the way we face our personal problems. We have to be realistic and remember how diplomacy has always operated. We should discard our delusions about ourselves and others. We should look into the mirror—blemishes and all. And we should not lead ourselves down the garden path—there are odar volunteers on standby for that job.

  1. Turkey’s Toponymic Policy

    "But despite the universal custom of toponym changing, Armenians continue to get irate when they hear Turkey has replaced Armenian place names with Turkish ones. One Armenian author has even published a book on the dastardly deed of the Turk."

    This is a surprisingly shallow analysis of the matter. Whereas the historic name-changes were the administrative results of shifting dominions, Turkey's toponymic policy is the methodical continuation of genocidal eradication. Recognizing the process of post-genocide is in fact an expression of realism in the foreign context.A

    1. Mr. Alaverdian, Pray tell

      Mr. Alaverdian,
      Was it "administrative results of shifting dominions" which gave birth to the names Spain, France, Germany…at a Barbarian-induced disintegration of the Roman Empire? Were the names U.S. and Canada a result of shifting dominions? Were the names Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, etc. created after administrative consultation with the native Jivaros, the Incas, et al of South America? These place names were coined to assert the conquest, rule, occupation, dominion of the new powers. Turkey is doing the same thing but more methodically for the reason you cited.

      1. Generals and Specifics

        Mr. Tutunjian,

        Forgive me for not phrasing it more coherently, since there is in fact no need for compromises where names change. I refer precisely to the function of toponyms as the mechanism of asserting power by the conquering faction, naturally without the consent of the conquered. However, the historical cases were not systematically organized with the intent of denying the very existence of the extant population. The Barbarian toppling of the Rome did not result in the sudden disappearance of all Latin place names, Native American designations still abound in North America, and despite being products of Spanish imperialism, the names of Uruguay, Chile and Peru all stem from Pre-Columbian languages. The occupiers may not have "consulted" with the natives, but they did not necessarily devise official policy to eradicate all evidence of an autochthonous historical presence. On the other hand, Turkey is methodical to the point of maintaining an old toponym like Ardahan, simply because it has an artificial Altaic resonance. Such premeditated meticulousness is not the mere expression of dominion. The comparison is valid up to a certain point, beyond which the complexities of an ongoing genocidal process are neglected.

        1. Mr. Alaverdian

          Mr. Alaverdian,
          If I understand you correctly, you're saying that toponym changes elsewhere (the Americas, the Roman Empire, etc.) were not done systematically to deny the existence of extant populations while Turkey's have been systematic so as to deny the presence of Armenians in Asia Minor/Anatolia/the Armenian Highlands.
          The editorial didn't say that Turkey's toponym changes in historic Armenia were/are not systematic. The point the editorial was that toponym changes are universal. They are also often systematic. St. Petersburg had its name changed twice within a century because of systematic political campaign; likewise Stalingrad. In India Benares, Bombay, Calcutta, Chinoi… became Varanasi, Mumbai, Kolkatta, Madras because of India's willful, systematic, and justified policy of reverting to native names. Tripolitania and Cyrainica became Libya for the same reason, just as numerous newly-independent African countries gave themselves indigenous names to assert their rule and independence. Arabia became Saudi Arabia to signal the conquering tribe's reign. In doing so, the Saudis wanted to erase the names of Hijas and Hashemite. Romans changed Lusitania to Portugal to assert their dominance. Gaul became France, Britannia became mostly England… because Frankish barbarians of Germany and the Angles/Saxons of North Germany wished to assert that the land now belonged to them. Most of the changes I have cited were systematic. There are numerous others.
          You would be incorrect if you believed that we are indifferent to the malicious and systematic toponym-change campaign of Turkey. What the editorial said is that what Turkey is doing is commonplace. If you want to add the words "unfortunate, regrettable, distorting" to the practice, be our guest. 

    2. Turkish Campaign

      Considering their limited resources, the huge challenges Armenians face in Armenia and in the Diaspora, they should invest their resources where they can accomplish something concrete re Armenian rights, rather than waste their time in fruitless rage about Turkey's nasty and systematic toponym-change campaign.

      The eyes of non-Armenians would probably wander or glaze when we tell them about Turkey's foul campaign. They would probably tell you that what else is new… specially after slaying 1.5-million Armenians and deporting 500,000?

  2. One of the problems in

    One of the problems in America is that when the (few) Armenians get into government or near government, they act as "Americans," but when others with an ethnic background get into or near government they remember their ethnic background and act (and influence) accordingly.  It is almost as if they were afraid of being accused of being "Armenian."

    Avedis Kevorkian
    Philadelphia, PA  USA

  3. Mr. Tutunjian
    That is correct. While all name changes are implemented systematically by ruling powers, they do not always function as an essential stage in eradicating all evidence of the autochthonous ethnic element. In the broad historical perspective, Turkey toponymic policy is yet another commonplace transition, and I am in agreement with the editorial in that respect. However, considering the pertinence of the genocidal process and its consequences for Armenian statehood, the active policy of annihilation should not be treated passively as yet another dissociated phenomenon of history. If anything, Turkey's calculated revisionist stance can serve as an impetus towards formulating a more pragmatic expression of Armenian interests.

    1. Edging Toward Agreement

      I believe we are–step-be-step–coming to a relative consensus. Of course Turkey's toponym-changing campaign is deliberate. But it shouldn't surprise us or drive us into self-harming rage. After all, it's the same country and the same people who attempted to annihilate us but failed, despite killing most Armenians. Rather than be shocked, we should calmly continue our campaign of pressuring Turkey to recognize its barbarous act. Toponym change is petty crime compared to genocide. Let's focus on the core crime. 

  4. Economic Interests & the Genocide of Armenians

    I question the claim that the French recognition of the Genocide of Armenians was mainly because of the 400,000 Armenians in France. France and Germany want to keep Turkey out of the European Union and are using our issue as a factor against it. 

    Also it is easy to blame others about putting economic and military interests ahead of human rights (Israel, Egypt, etc). We are not much different. A few years ago I attended–as a Canadian government delegate–to a U.N. meeting in Geneva on racism and discrimination. When there was a vote on human rights violations in Thailand Armenia voted with the European Union. When the issue of the Tibetan problem with China came up Armenia voted against the resolution for Tibetan rights. Later when I queried the Armenian ambassador about it, his response was "We do not have much relations with Thailand but China is important to Armenia". Enough said.  

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