Winning Turkish Hearts and Minds

Keghart.com Team Editorial, 21 July 2010

The anguish of the survivors of the Genocide of Armenians and that of their descendants are many, obvious and well publicized. Among the long list of Armenian wounds is Turkey’s denial of its mass crime. Official Turkey’s refusal drives Armenians to the wall.

Keghart.com Team Editorial, 21 July 2010

The anguish of the survivors of the Genocide of Armenians and that of their descendants are many, obvious and well publicized. Among the long list of Armenian wounds is Turkey’s denial of its mass crime. Official Turkey’s refusal drives Armenians to the wall.

In a 1991 interview with David Barsamian, the late champion of the Palestinian cause Edward Said said, “Because what has killed us [Palestinians] in the last 30 or 40 years is the denial of the fact that they [Israelis] are not responsible [for the destruction of Palestine].” Nearly two decades ago, Prof. Said pointed out, “So we appear as if we are orphans, as if we have no origins, no narrative, no genealogy as a people. Our genealogy is only comprehensible, in my opinion, if Israeli action in it directly upon us is acknowledged… the denial and the silence… has been very, very bad for us.”

Unlike Palestinians, Armenians do have an acknowledged history, solid national narrative, and genealogy going back 4,300 years. Nevertheless, the silence Said talked about has also been very, very bad for us. Turkey’s silence has added fuel to Armenian frustration; it near-monopolized Diaspora Armenian political activities; and in the ‘80s helped impel some Armenian young men to terrorist acts.

Said’s observations about Israel and Palestinians are seconded by Ece Temelkuran, a Turkish author and journalist, when she talks about Armenian/Turkish relations. During a recent interview with Talin Babayan, the author of “Deep Mountain: Across the Turkish-Armenian Divide”—said of Armenians she had interviewed in Armenia, Russia, France, and the US, “Although they [Diaspora Armenians] expressed it in completely different ways, the main question that was eating them was this: ‘Why don’t Turks feel anything?’”

The Turkish commentator continued, "…But the one [Turks] he [Armenian] wants to tell his story to doesn’t want to listen…I think although the Armenian community is extremely mature, they have this wounded child in them whatever their ages are.”

Temelkuran criticized Genocide-acknowledging Turkish intellectuals “who are trying to push and slap this issue into people’s faces. They expect people to feel guilty, rather than remember.” Temelkuran says that she took a different and successful tack in her book. She focused on making Turks remember and then “leave it to them to figure out what they feel about it.”

“Deep Mountain” has so far sold 70,000 copies in Turkey—a runaway bestseller in that country. Its English version, with a cover depicting Ararat and Yerevan, is available in North American bookstores. Talking about her Turkish readers, Temelkuran says most of them felt something, not necessarily guilty, but touched for the first time. “They were eager to understand the human side of the history,” said Temelkuran. “They admitted that they have feelings about Armenians which Turks are taught not to have, I guess for the first time.”

Perhaps Temelkuran is on to something.

Perhaps we should re-set our Genocide-recognition efforts.

Perhaps we should by-pass official Turkey and try to reach ordinary Turks.

Rather than focusing only on international resolutions and condemnation, we should try to touch Turkish hearts, before reaching for their minds.

So far our efforts to reach Turkish citizens have been unsuccessful because they live in Fortress Turkey. The Big Lie Denial Machine of Ankara has effectively shut out the truth from its citizens. Denial has become rooted in Turkish society because of blanket propaganda by Ankara and the Turkish establishment.

So how do we reach the ordinary Turkish citizen?

Here are some ideas:

Since we can’t send printed material to Turkey, why not establish a Turkish language TV station in Armenia? The station would telecast news and analysis (mostly about Armenian/Turkish affairs), music, soap operas, and talk about the past millennia of Armenian/Turkish history. Turkish experts would be interviewed or invited to present their take on current affairs, our mutual history and cultural relations. This type of environment would allow us to talk about the Genocide, our four-millennia plus presence in Anatolia, and our empire-building contributions to Turkey.

Another idea to reach Turkish civilians is to establish several websites, which would look at issues of common interest. These websites would offer Turks and Armenians to exchange ideas and engage in civil debate, without resorting to insults and offensive language. "The Workshop of Armenian and Turkish scholars" (WATS) may serve as a model to expand communication beyond the scholarly community. "Friends of Hrant Dink" is another example of forums where mutual concerns are discussed in a civil manner.

Another approach would be to organize Armenian/Turkish cultural events–in Turkey, in Armenia, and in the Diaspora. Joint film festivals, musical events, art exhibitions, book fairs, performance arts would be part of this approach. These projects could provide a "soft" stage for Armenians and Turks to exchange views and compare attitudes.

Maybe it is premature or far-fetched to ask, but why don’t Armenian organizations in the Diaspora set shop in Turkey, registering as NGOs within the laws permitting such initiatives? Of course, there are dangers associated with such an endeavour, but who said things would be easy?

Perhaps in this manner we can penetrate Fortress Turkey and reach the hearts—and then the minds—of the average Turk.

28 comments
  1. Another way

    Another way of reaching the Turkish public is by commenting on Turkish newspaper (Hurriyet for example) articles concerning Armenia/Armenians/Turkey published daily on the web. There are many Armenians who diligently read, comment and exchange ideas with Turkish readers who are mainly of the extreme right and deniers of the Genocide.

    Regards

  2. Reaching to the Turkish people directly

    I support the strategy of reaching to the Turkish people directly bypassing their denialist government bodies.

    Another venue would be the leadership and membership of the diaspora Turkish communities who are in regular contact with their kin in Turkey.

    Even though we expect them to be more enlightened and "westernsized" my own experience has not been positive.

    As members of Canadian ethnocultural organisations I have had discussions with some Turkish community leaders who while admitting that "yes many armenians were killed but your gangs killed also thousands of Turks."

    It may be that the younger diaspora Turks will be more conscious and accepting of the overwhelming historical facts and support   recognition and justice for the Armenian genocide.  

  3. In this current digitized

    In this current digitized world where information knows no limits, the Turkish people are no longer trapped in what their country wants to feed them. Reaching the Turkish public is very easy nowadays through the internet. They are now learning the true history, as well as about what Armenians have felt since 1915, and it is only a matter of time until Turkey will be forced to admit and pay for its past crimes.
  4. Not the job of Armenians to “reform” Turks.

     
    It is NOT the job of Armenians to "reform" Turkey, as desirable as that may be.  We are not their psychiatrists or their nannies. 

    We are not related to Turks; and we are not even from the same family.  So, what is there to "reconcile"? 

    For Armenians who cling to every word uttered by a Turk or for an artificial gesture by a Turk to exhibit reform: it is not your job.   We have our own country – Armenia – to reform.

     
    1. Dear Berge,Yes we are not
      Dear Berge,
      Yes we are not the Turks’ psychiatrists nor their nannies.  But I am an angry and have always been an angry homeless born in somebody else’s land Armenian.  For obvious reasons and only Armenians can understand me.
      There is hardly a day when I have not explained to non-Armenians who Armenians are and what they’ve been through. Can I stop myself? I do not think so…The same virus, I’ve passed it to my children and I can very clearly see that this virus will pass to my grandchildren and until when? Until Turkey accepts it…

    2. Reconciliation is the first step

      You may not care to reconcile but then what do you say to those in South Africa?  Reconciliation had to occur not only between whites and blacks but also between all of the myriad tribes and sub-groups who also consider one another as the "other".  So whatever it may be – unless you want to live in a world walled-out by hatred and misery, it is high time we reconcile or else the same sort of things like genocides and massacres will continue to happen.
  5. We, “Friends of Hrant Dink”,

    We, "Friends of Hrant Dink", have on numerous occasions hosted Turkish jounalists, authors, academicians and political figures who have come to Harvard and other institutions in Boston. Aside from meeting with many local Turks, we have been able to open a dialog of respect and understanding. Many Turks have not been exposed to their history thus know nothing of the genocide. One prominent Turkish academician and journalist said he knew nothing of the Armenian Genocide until he was forty five years old. He, along with many other Turks, travels with a bodyguard provided by the government, for their acknowledgement of the genocide. Positive articles were written in prominent Turkish newspapers when they were introduced to the few remaining Armenian survivors, to whom they gave great respect. We look forward to having conferences and seminars to promote the legacy of Hrant Dink with those Turks who recognize the genocide. They in turn can reach out and educate those Turks who know nothing of the Armenian Genocide except what their government sponsored history expouses.
  6. Turks in the US have access to genocide info but don’t care

    I do not go in for this sort of touchy-feely stuff, and I do not think it will work anyway.

    Consider the fact that Turks in the US have plenty of access to genocide information but do not care, aside from a few intellectuals and historians.  So what good will an Armenian TV station beamed into Turkey do?  Do you think that a Turkish station beamed into Armenia will make Armenians like Turks?

    The Armenian Cause is about reparations and land, not genocide acknowledgment alone. Hence, genocide information by itself is of little importance.  The genocide was a goal of Turkey to get rid of Armenians because they were in the way.  Turkey has not stopped pursuing this goal. Turks want to destroy Kurds too.

    The Turks have an urge for destruction and you can see this in their treatment of their citizens and in Cyprus too.

    Do you think that an Armenian TV station beamed into Azerbaijan will make it more likely that Azerbaijan will come to an agreement over Artsakh?

    Nice ideas, but these things will not work.

    1. Annie wrote  ” The Turks…”

      Annie wrote  " The Turks have an urge for destruction and you can see this in their treatment of their citizens and in Cyprus too."

      This sentence takes me back several decades when I was a teenager. We had a Turkish neighbour who was in the army during the Korean war. One of the few who came back in one piece. According to him there was a very old bombed out building in Seoul . The United Nation decides that they  should demolish that huge building for whatever reason. They bring in bulldozers, winches , etc…whatever is needed. However, it takes longer than they thought it would take and the job dragged on and on…..Somebody (with knowledge it seems) says, " Bring in Turks, they know how to demolish" …and indeed they bring a contingent of Turkish soldiers with nothing but picks and axes. Guess what…the whole building is flattened in 48 hours.

      Such is the nature of the beast.

    2. Actually – we do care

      We do care and there are lots of us out there trying to turn the tide. We are spreading the info in every way we can.

      Do we want reconciliation or do we want a world full of walls and hatred?  There is no longer any choice here and it is time we realize this as a single unified human race with many colors and fragrances.

      Please do not generalize – it is hurtful and offensive.

      1. To Umurhan, Umr or Han or

        To Umurhan, Umr or Han or whatever your name is. You are nothing but a cheap propagandist working for imperial Turkey. You can run but you can not hide. If you are hurt by these words, how would you feel if someone killed all your family? Or, worst, killed half your nation? That’s what your ancestors did to the Armenians. So stop your cheap propaganda.
        1. On being a cheap propagandist

          I am afraid you have parsed my words incorrectly, and unfortunately, with the intent of misrepresenting my position. All I say to you, sir, is that if you insist on generalizing an entire culture by a handful of pithy, hurtful, debasing comments then you are contributing to the perpetuation of hatred in this world –pure and simple. I wonder what you think about Turks in general? Do you see them subhuman as a whole? Do you feel that they ought to be sent back to the Altai Moutains, or better yet, be totally eradicated? Because if you feel this way (and I suspect you do deep down in your wounded heart) then I wonder if you think the Germans ever deserve redemption for what they did? 

          As for being a propagandist, I can assure to you I am not. Nowhere in my comments to you (or to others) did I imply anything other than asking for civility and respect for people that are not your own. If you can detail for me the logical sequence of arguments that link this position with being a "cheap" propagandist then I will shut up and back down and yield to you, sir.

          And since you are prying for my position, genocide did happen as far as I am concered. A nation, this nation, must step out of its denial and come to terms with what happened. Japan is another example in this regard as far as their misdeeds during their occupation of Manchuria is concerned. I believe the time is right for this to happen across the board and the events of 1915 top the list of matters to address.

          So come to think of it, if I am a "cheap propagandist", as you so assiduosly stated then I will have to say that "yes" I am one, but I work for global love and reconciliation and not for any nation or state.

          Get with it, man. It’s a pure simple fact: hate begets hate.

  7. This is wishfull thinking. 

     

    This is wishfull thinking.  In order to have a dialogue with anybody, they have to have that mental/intellectual capacity.  At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Armenians in Turkey (who represented about 15% of the population) had ten times more schools than the Turks, and the Kurds had none.  This has not changed much.  Still large majority of the Turks are illeterate.  Also, majority of the Turks beleive that the Armenians massacred the Turks and not the other way around.  Anybody that beleives this, certainly lacks the mental capacity of a normal human being. 

    We can probably have some kind of dialogue with their intellectuals.  Not long ago, I had a conversation with a lady from Istambul who had a degree in Chemistry.  She asked me where I learned to speak Turkish and I told her that my father was born in Urfa.  She asked me if I had been to Urfa, and I said no.  She said Urfa is a beautiful town and that I should go there.  I told her, I could not go there because it would bring me bad memories.  She said, what kind of bad memories?  I told her that all of my father’s family were killed and that he was left orphan at the age of ten.  She asked, Who killed them?"  And I told her that the Turks did it.  She said "olamaz",  that’s impossible.  Then I said ok, how do you explain the fact that there were over 3 million Armenians in eastern Turkey before 1915 and now there are no Armenians there.  Did they all decide to pack there bags and leave their ancestral home of over 3000 years?  She thought for a minute and said "maybe you are right".  And this lady had a college education.  How do you plan on convincing the mobs?

    1. I take issue with this

      I take issue with this statement of yours, Mr John Keusseyan,

      "In order to have a dialogue with anybody, they have to have that mental/intellectual capacity."

      To suggest by implication that Turks who grow up in Turkey lack the intellectual capacity to participate in self-reflective and critical dialogue is incredibly offensive and, I am sorry to say, racist.  With an attitude like that of an angry child, you can never expect to make progress.  If you are so willing to cast away an entire society with such simplistic generalizations then you should realize that you are participating in creating exactly the type of poisonous atmosphere that leads to groups killing groups.

      Shame on you.  And shame on you to say that the majority of the Turkish electorate are illiterate.  This is a lie and hurtful.

      The problems in Turkey are wide and deep and quite profound.  These are being addressed one-by-one.  Unless you believe in democracy-by-the-sword type of cultural "rehabilitation" then you and we must take on a patient strategy of education.  The "Deep Mountain" approach is exactly the sort of thing that ought to be done.

      Bravo.

      1. I rest my case

        I rest my case.  I take back what I said about intellectuals. Obviously we can not have a dialogue with intellectuals either (Mr. or Ms. Umurham is proof of that). I was just stating the fact that the majority of the Turks were illiterate and he or she started making racist remarks.

        What would he/she do if somone killed all of his/her family? Or, worse, wiped out half of the Turkish population? That’s what happened to my grandparents and great uncles, and my only aunt was burned alive in a church. She was only 4-years-old. Your ancestors raped and killed my people and you have the indecency to call me racist? What would you call the people who murdered a whole nation?  Humanitarians?

    2. At least, she said “Maybe you

      At least, she said "Maybe you are right" and didn’t start kicking and screaming, like many Armenians would imagine based on their demonised stereotypes of Turks. There are tons of evidence (both physical and academic) of massacres that Armenians committed against Muslims in the course and aftermath of WWI, but not a single Armenian would even consider the possibility of that being true and say "Maybe the massacres were indeed mutual."
      1. Questions for Laleh
        Mr.(?) Laleh,
        Your comment is so pethatic that it does not even deserve a response, but I will respond just to educate you. Obviously your government has succeeded to brainwash you with lies. The "tons of physical evidence" you are talking about, are actually Armenian mass graves. But don’t take my word for it; just do a DNA check. If Armenians massacred Turks, why didn’t they stay? If they had, half of Turkey would be populated by Armenians today.  Furthermore, the Young Turks first drafted all young Armenian men (ages 16 to 60), a total of 300,000 men. They assigned these men what was called the "amala capu" (labor camps) and made them dig their own graves and buried them alive. Then they confiscated all weapons including kitchen knives from Armenians and drove the elderly, women and children to the Syrian desert to perish. So if all the young men were drafted and killed and the government confiscated all the weapons, how did the Armenians massacre the Turks? 

  8. Much Like Salt Mine Scene in the Movie “Ghandi”

    The movie “Ghandi” is one of my favorite movies and I have watched it several times. In the salt mine scene, in the movie, scores of Indians along a long line, few on a row at a time walked steadily towards the salt mine gate to claim what is rightfully their own but were savagely beaten, row after row. But the procession went on and on and on. The American reporter witnessing the scene sent a dispatch over the phone and dictated what he saw. He concluded his dispatch saying: “Whatever moral ascendency west had, was lost. India is free!”

    The Indians were following Ghandi’s philosophy of non-violence but that did not mean being passive. Its aim was to make the pain of colonial occupation of India evident to the mightiest force on earth then on whose realm the
    sun never set. More than our being right, I believe, the average and every day working Turk should be aware of our genuine pain. Genocide is a burden on us which we wished we never were burdened with. My father and paternal
    uncle grew up without uncles, aunts, grandparents or alike. Their father and their mother were the only orphaned genocide survivors of their immediate and extended families. The pain of my paternal grandparents must have been
    so much that they internalized it and avoided the subject altogether and evaded my teenage inquisitiveness.

    Genocide pained those who were forcefully uprooted, it pained the survivors, and it pains the descendents of the survivors. To me Genocide is not forcing acceptance of historical reality on the average and everyday working Turk burdened with his or her own problems to make ends meet. Genocide is foremost genuinely conveying the devastating human dimension of its ugly reality. Should we able to succeed in that with the Turkish masses, the historical reality, I believe, will unfold along.

    Incidentally I recommend those who have not watched the movie “Ghandi” to watch it. To me it’s one of the best
    movies ever produced.
     

  9. Armenian Genocide recognition

    As over half the countries of Europe, over half the States of America and all reputable historians have fully acknowledged the Armenian Genocide it is time to take the Armenian Genocide as a ‘given’ and act accordingly.

    Ruth Barnett

  10. Reading Turkish newspapers

    Hurriyet is a bit too pro military and pro Ataturk conservative for my taste.
    I prefer Zaman and it is easy to click through their pages. They have some
    excellent correspondents with rather liberal views – and you can comment
    on the articles as well.
  11. Reform Wreckage


    Some Armenians on this blog just don’t get it.  We see yet another collection of Armenians who are hell bent on reaching out and reforming Turks.

    You have nothing to reconcile with Turks.  The Armenian state can and did reach out for normalization of relations with Turkey; it is not the job of Armenians to reach out, educate, reform, and play psychiatrists for Turks.

    The last time Armenians reached out to the Turks in 1908, they went dancing in the streets of Adana, hugging Turks; only one year later they were all massacred.

    Armenians can better spend their time reaching out to Armenians and help develop and reform Armenia.

    " Serious reforms were first attempted during Ottoman Turkey’s Tanzimat (Reorganization) period of 1839 to 1876. Pushed by Europe, Turkey declared measures, quickly proven ineffective, to safeguard the rights of its subjects, including Armenians.
     

    A Turkish constitution was then declared in 1876 but suspended, along with parliament, just two years later.
     
    Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin, signed in 1878 by the European powers, Turkey, and Russia, guaranteed the safety of Ottoman Armenians but was dead before the ink dried.
     
    Turkish "reforms" reached new levels in the 1890s with massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians.
     
    In 1908 came the "reformist" Young Turk party. Inspired by European ideals, it pledged liberty, equality, and fraternity. "Reform" culminated in the cataclysm of 1915.
     
    Turkey’s next European-inspired "reformer" was Kemal Ataturk, who all but finished off the country’s remaining Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian Christians, not to mention thousands of Muslim Kurds.
     
    He seized historical western Armenia, which Europe had promised to Armenians, and attacked the just-reborn Armenian Republic while Europe looked on.
     
    Ataturk’s "reformist" legacy endures to this day: Genocide denial, the blockade of Armenia, and 80 years of military coups, human rights abuses galore, and even massacres, all tolerated by Europe.
     
    Today comes yet another collection of Turks pledging European-approved "reform." This too will end in disaster if history is any guide.  Given Europe’s wretched record regarding Armenians, there is little evidence that the EU will ever restrain Turkey against Armenia." – Quoted excerpt from the article Ship of Fools:  Turkey and the European Union
  12. Hey Guys, You do your thing
    Hey Guys,

    You do your thing and I’ll do mine and may they both benefit all mankind.

  13. Winning Turkish hearts and

     
    Winning Turkish hearts and minds? I used to be that naïve. Anti-Armenian propaganda starts at a very young age in Turkey and even though there are a  few Turks who dissent and are brave enough to speak up (and eventually end up in exile) the rest see Armenians as insects that must be crushed. Kemalist, Islamist, Gray Wolf of all ages and intellectual levels I have come across all lose it when challenged by an Armenian.
     
    There should be only two main reasons to push Turkey on the Armenian Genocide issue: to avenge and bring peace to the spirits of the victims of the Genocide of Armenians; to put as much international pressure on the criminal Turkish government as possible.
     
    The Turkish government knows that the recognation of the Genocide would tear the fabric of their society apart. I don’t care what Turkey or racist Turks recognize……too late for that. 
     
    Turkey commits race extermination against Armenians; occupies Cyprus and now massacres Kurds…Turkey is a murderer state.
     
    Wolf Hunter
  14. Genocide acknowledgment only?

    How did the Armenian cause come to be downgraded to only genocide acknowledgment?  Armenians after WW 1 and for a long time after asked for much more, as difficult as that has been to obtain.

    Now all we want is a lousy acknowledgment of genocide?  We Armenians are cheap dates.

  15. Reparation NOT Reconciliation

    I have nothing to reconcile with Turks — they are not my intimates that have somehow become estranged.

    Armenians expect the return of their patrimony and to be compensated for their losses.

    Even then it would not be enough.

  16. The message behind the editorial

    Perhaps the message behind this editorial is that Armenians want to learn how to win friends and influence people. If little success is to be found on Turkish streets or in the halls of Turkish or American governments, perhaps more success in this area might be found on the air waves or in cyberspace.  But as very real and undeniable as the pain, anger and calls for repatriation are, how useful could these things be in addressing the matter at hand? Should we not be open to suggestions?
    1. How does this sound?
      Let me come over and murder some of your family; take away your property and blockade whatever is left of your house, and deny that it all ever happened. Let me see how open-minded you would be then. AND, of course, you should also reach out and make every effort to forget, forgive and not ask for the return of your house, property, and never mind your dead family–it was all in the past.

    2. Winning friends and influencing people

      PS  –  What’s the opposite of winning friends and influencing people?  …being ignored.  Haven’t we seen enough of that?  But, why should there be only vile misinformation or silence about Armenians in Turkey today?  

      Why do Armenians think that Turkey or the US Congress deserve the final word about Armenia and the Armenians?   Shouldn’t the first Christian nation on earth be scripting her own identity and future and broadcasting it wherever she sees fit? 

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