As We See It
By Prof. Osheen Keshishian

Will Turkish and Armenian Relations Improve?

Many developments are taking place in Turkey related to Armenian-Turkish affairs. Many people are aware that the priority related to the heinous act of the Genocide, are the three “Rs” —Recognition, Reparation, and Retribution. Historical evidence, proofs, photos, eye witness accounts, documents in Turkish, English, French, Italian, German and so many other languages is so replete that there is no room to question the issue. Some Turks are saying recognition should suffice, while other Turks support the three Rs. Needless to say, Armenians demand the three Rs.

The 100th anniversary of the Genocide is next year — 2015 –and efforts are being made by Turkey to counter historical facts.

A major action is the “master plan” of the Assembly of the Turkish American Association (ATAA) to respond to the historical facts, by organizing action committees in the United States and present various programs, seminars, meeting with US lawmakers to counteract against the Armenian lobbies. The ATAA is getting support of many wealthy Turkish Americans, like, for instance, the Coca Cola CEO Muhtar Kent. Within Turkey, a different development took place recently and it was the forced resignation of the Turkish Historical Society’s Head Metin Hulugu, for indirectly not agreeing with Prime Minister Erdogan’s attitude when he extended Condolences to the Armenian and other minorities living in Turkey for the deaths of their ancestors. As everyone is aware that Erdogan’s speech was delivered in several languages this past April 24, the Armenian Martyrs Day.

Erdogan is also trying to neutralize his former friend and now enemy, US exiled millionaire Fetullah Gulen, who is “working to overthrow Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government and seize control of the state by forcibly abolishing the constitutional order” according to Hurriyet newspaper of Istanbul. Erdogan ordered an investigation of Gulen’s Hizmet movement for organizing assassinations, including that of Hrant Dink.

From the Armenia side, President Serzh Sargsyan urged Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey. In his speech on the 99th anniversary of the Genocide, President Serzh Sargsyan delivered a powerful speech saying that the 100th anniversary of the Genocide “can afford Turkey a good chance to repent and to set aside this historical stigma, if they can make efforts to set free their state’s future from this heavy burden.” And as we reported, he invited Erdogan to come to Armenia on the 100th anniversary of the Genocide.

President Sargsyan has taken the initiative several times and he has been more open and straight on several occasions, making statements without mincing words, straight and to the point, opening doors for serious negotiations.

The Turkish-Armenian relations may not improve for the time being, and it is in a very difficult situation as Turkey adamantly repeats that Armenia should give up Karabakh so that both sides can start talking. There is a political impasse that is not easy to solve. The Armenian side rightfully states similarly that Karabakh has nothing to do with Turkish-Armenian relations and it has nothing to do with negotiations.

Are there international power mingling in these affairs? If there are, is for their benefit or for international and regional peace. Maybe and maybe not, as time may tell.

The ray of hope is that the official governments are talking, they are making statements, they are suggesting ways, and the communications are not in person, face to face, they are in public for everyone to hear and read.

There seems to be a willingness on both sides. Is there? Is this all real or is it only a cloud covering the main issues? At least, there is a very small light at the end of the tunnel.

Posted in Editorials

Will Erdogan Visit Armenia on April 24?

Unexpected things happen all the time in everyday life, in families, in work places, and in various spheres, particularly in politics and international relations.

Pope Francis invited Palestinian and Israeli leaders to Rome to discuss their relationships. They went and met, yet nothing happened.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, extended condolences to the Armenians and others who lost their family members during the 1915 Genocide. Of course he did not use these words, but referred to it as the events of 1915 during the Ottoman government.

Now another surprise came when President Serge Sarkisian of Armenian officially invited Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan and other Turkish leaders to visit Armenia on April 24, 2015, the 100th anniversary observances of the Turkish Genocide of the Armenians. He mentioned that if Erdogan does not get elected, the the next Prime Minister is invited, Sarkisian also sent invitations to other governmental leaders to attend the events in Armenia.

Sarkisian’s official announcement during the 100th anniversary organizing committee meeting in Yerevan was a big surprise and a very, very bold and brave step. Very few people expected this announcement except his very close advisers. The reaction was quick everywhere — from Armenia to Europe, from Turkey to the Middle East and the United States. Some in favor and some against the idea. Nevertheless, many articles were written, particularly by Turkish journalists.

There is some relaxation, albeit very small, in Turkish-Armenian relations, particularly in Turkey. As I had mentioned before, many books are bring written and published by Turkish historians and authors in Turkey without mincing words, that there was a Genocide, that Armenian properties were confiscated, that many Armenians were forcefully Islamized, etc. In fact some of the properties that were confiscated by the Turkish government in 1950s and 19601s are being returned to their rightful owners, the Armenians. Of course, the returned properties to Sourp Pergich Hospital or the Mekhitarist Brotherhood in Istanbul, are very, very small compared to the total numbers of land taken away from Armenians. And, the Turkish government is not forbidding the observances of the Armenian Genocide on April 24 in the streets of Istanbul or Diyarbakir with the participation of the Turkish people, intellectuals and even some public officials. And on television, many Armenians, particularly Archbishop Aram Atesyan, the locum tenens of the armenian Patriarchate of Turkey, speak of their past and their relatives’ forced Islamization or confiscation of properties. And people listen and learn. But again, these are very, very little signs indicating change.

Then, all of a sudden, it was a surprise to hear PM Erdogan in an interview on American television saying that there was no genocide, because there are Armenians still…alive, creating laughter around the world.

Will Erdogan respond and visit Armenia? Particularly on April 24? I am sure he will not, despite the fact that the ball is in his court now.

I hope I am wrong.

Posted in Editorials

Armenian Float in Rose Parade

For the first time in history an Armenian Float will participate in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena California, indicating the presence of Armenians. The Rose Parade, which is held every year on New Year’s Day, is a colorful and interesting event, which started in 1890. Next year, it will be the 126th Parade in Colorado Boulevard.

Many groups participate – schools, organizations, businesses, SeaWorld Wells Fargo Bank, Honda Harlem Globetrotters, the Marine Corps, Cowgirls Historical Foundation, Long Beach Mounted Police, Calvary Fort Hood Band, The Martinez Family, and many more – usually over 40 floats, as well as 20 marching bands and equestrian units. Marching bands from Pasadena City College, Los Angeles Unified School District All District High School Honor Band, and bands from around the country. The floats compete for 24 awards.

The Grand Marshall of the Parade is picked by the organization and many renowned people have served as Grand Marshalls – Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Earl Warren, Bob Hope, Vin Scully (this past year) and others.

Besides people watching live on Colorado Boulevard, the event is also shown on television, nationally and especially internationally. In the beginning, a few thousands used to watch – that was in 1890 or 1905. During the last 20 years , those who sit on chairs on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena for hours to watch the Rose Parade, numbers over half a million. In 2002 or 2009, an estimated crowd of 600,000 people watched the parade live.

Since television became part and parcel of our lives, many people watch it on television in different parts of the world. The first televised parade was in 1947 shown on KTLA. Catching the attention of the people all over the world, the Parade has become more professional and classier partly because it is shown in many countries. For instance, in 2010, the program was broadcast to 217 countries, one third live, and the rest late showings, including China. A few years ago, actually in 2011, some 47 million viewers followed the Parade in the US and abut 17 million internationally. And the Tournament of Roses website is hit 13 million times during and just after the Parade.

Another important issue is that following the Parade, the Floats are stationed on Sierra Madre Boulevard and Washington Boulevard, near Victory Park are displayed for two days, as thousands of people go tot watch the floats.

Considering all the above it will be an honor for Armenians to take part in this international and global event. We congratulate Chris Chahinian, chairman of the American Armenian Rose Float Association, Inc., for initiating the participation, after careful study and research. The community should extend a hand in this endeavor, because, after all, for a couple of days, in 130 countries the world “Armenia” will be heard by close to 50 million people learning a bit of history and culture as well. It sure is a great opportunity for public relations and making others aware of Armenians. Even if one-third of the viewers remember “Armenia” and part of its history while the commentators speak, then at least 15 million around the world will remember Armenia. Best wishes to the organization and I hope everything will go smoothly and the Armenian Float will distinguish itself.

Posted in Editorials

Depopulation of Armenia is a Major Issue

One of the major problems facing Armenia is its depopulation since independence.

The idea that an independent Armenia would draw Armenians to move there was not a slogan but also a fact, although very few people moved to Armenia to settle there. Some opened businesses while others worked for the government. However, as time went by, people started to leave the country for greener pastures — Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and other countries in the former Soviet Union, and quite a few people moved to other locations –United States, South America, Spain, Holland, France, and event to the island of Malta.

Government statistics indicate that people ARE leaving Armenain, in large numbers compared to the population, And, the natural population growth declined 2%, as families are having less children (the number of babies born decreased by 1.7%. in some villages the pictures is slightly brighter when it comes to childbirth.

Recently three scholars from Armenia spoke in Glendale, California, about his crucial issue to a packed audience. The speakers were from the Russia-Armenian (Slavonic) University Research Team funded by the Koloian Foundation of Toronto, Canada. The team had already spoken in Beirut, Lebanon, Ontario Canada, New york, New York and concluded their trip in Los Angeles. Their talk was on target and they provided statistical figures bravely. after all, it is about Armenia and they have to stand tall. Some in the audience could not believe what they were hearing, and at the end of the presentations many people started to think as to why there is no remedy to stop the trend out of the country.

Of course the depopulation of Armenia is not a new phenomenon, but during the last decade it turned into a national and social crisis with no bright light on the horizon.

Russia has become a safe have to thousands of Armenians -probably the largest migration.

The research was done over the past 12 months jointly by the Research and Business Center of the Faculty of Economics of Yerevan State University, Research group — Arshak Balayan, Armen Gahavian, and Avetik Meijlumyan, and the Hrayr Maoukhian Foundation.

The research about emigration from the fatherland points out to some unfortunate situations.

About 34% of the surveyed people want to emigrate permanently.

There we are time when the husbands would go to another country to find work to support their families. Now, entirely families are emigrating.

The basic reasons: political pressure, religious pressure, lack of justice, dim economic future, lack of jobs, corruption, etc.

There seems to be no effort to improve the situation by the authorities as cronyism is wide spread and no reforms are being planned and implemented. This trend should be reversed, otherwise it is a sad situation, indeed.

A major reform should be punishment to those who break the law, and there are so many who don’t get punished. Lack of accountability is another stumbling block to improve the country, and it goes on and on.

(For more details about the emigration from Armenia and depopulation of the country, check www.depop.am)

Posted in Editorials

New Year’s Day

The front page of this week’s newspaper may not be enjoyed by some readers, and some will like it. It is a matter of perception. Isn’t there anything else besides money, some people may say? They have the right to think that way. Of course, the headlines are not the total donations, and there is much more.

In the next issue, we will highlight other headlines: there are so many topics, including Turkish-Armenian political issues, the Genocide recognition, economic, social, educational, and health conditions in Armenia (in Gyumri and many villages where people live in shacks and children die), the important issue of self determination of Karabakh and its rebuilding and strengthening, emigration from Armenia, corruption, cronyism, and at the same time Armenians who have invented new things, have registered several IT patents and scientific discoveries, as well as Armenians who have moved up the political ladder in the countries they live in. Community affairs in the Diaspora – the first being the unimaginable conditions of the Armenians in Syria (and other groups also), in Lebanon and other parts of the world. Keeping, improving and solidifying the ethnicity of Armenians is an important aspect. Flourishing Armenian culture and spreading it among the new generation of Armenians is another bastion of survival. Generally speaking, the acculturation and in certain areas assimilation are major issues, sometimes avoidable, as there are several examples in history – India, Poland, etc.

Of course, the majority of the funds go to Armenia and Artsakh. Now, Syria needs more and more, because so far, there is no light in the tunnel indicating an improvement in the political situation.

Most of the Diasporan donations or funding are geared towards education, whether the Armenian Day Schools or Armenian Studies Programs at universities across the United States of America. And it is a good sign, because many people are supporting educational institutions and programs. Naturally, there are people who donate money to churches, otherwise the churches will not survive, particularly when the funds are going to the structures so that the spiritual life will endure. Cultural, athletic, social political organizations, as well as the Armenian media, are in the minds of people and they do support them.

We thank all those who make donations, small or large, wherever they wish, according to their budget and desire. Let’s really think about it and commit ourselves to help our community. We also thank all those who contribute to non-Armenian organizations – like medical and economic research, and so on. We wish everyone a healthy and prosperous New Year and peace to the world.

Posted in Editorials

Mr. Putin, Please Visit Gyumri Again!

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Gyumri was very productive not necessarily politically speaking, rather socially, economically and otherwise. Because of the Russian President’s visit, about $1.3 million was spent to rebuild and renovated Gyumri streets, the ones from where Putin’s motorcade would pass. And, of course the ones in very close viewing range, basically to impress the Russian President.

A large amount of asphalt was poured to cover the streets, and according to official reports, 127 light posts were erected on the streets and two of them at the airports.

Wow! What a nice gesture! And, I am not sure if Putin was impressed or even noticed the paved new streets. Directly or indirectly, the Gyumri population now has a few good streets and they are lit!

In Gyumri, there is a large Russian military base which guards the border with Turkey and Armenia, as well as Russia. Close to 50,000 soldiers are stationed there, according to reliable sources.

If Putin, did not visit the city, these renovations, most probably, were not going to be implemented. The end result is that the population of Gyumri will benefit from these reconstructions thanks to Putin’s visit. I wish that the Russian President will visit again, in a few months (!), so that the rest of the streets will be repaired and paved. However, he should tell his hosts that he would like to visit the “domiks” (the metal shacks, large containers used a s homes).

According to official statistics, the Shirak region, which includes Gyumri, Spitak and some villages, has the highest poverty rate in Armenia – 46%. The figure for the entire country is 35%. Statistics also indicate that half of the city’s population is poor, very poor. Two in three are poor. And…the living conditions have not improved enough since the devastating earthquake of December 7, 1988, which claimed the lives of more than 35,000 people and destroyed close to 60 villages, That was 25 years ago. It is true that many countries came to help Armenian . But it was not enough! The government promised several times that Gyumri will be rebuilt.

Some 25,000 houses were built. However, 4,000 families still live in shabby temporary shacks and f each family has 2 children, then there are least 16,000 people living under unhealthy and unlivable and inhumane conditions, and many will die because of the very cold winter, sub-zero temperatures.

During a recent visit it was obvious – private beautiful homes and hotels were built, across from dilapidated homes. Some city officials owned restaurants, even parks. What a shame! The population is constantly decreasing and the future looks very dim.

Government officials placed wreaths on monuments dedicated to the 1988 earthquake and paid their respects to the dead. Just a show!

Instead, the government should seriously concentrate on rebuilding this once beautiful cultural center so that people will not emigrate, so that people will want to live there and enjoy life as much as possible. 25 years have passed.

Posted in Editorials

A Daring Conference on “Hidden Armenians” in Turkey

Another light appeared in the tunnel in Turkey in the beginning of November when scholars in Turkey discussed an issue which very few people spoke about during the past decade and nobody spoke about the topic during previous decades. This time, the light was very powerful and bright. Scholars openly discussed issues concerning Armenians and Kurds whose ancestors were Armenian, but were forced to denounce their Armenian origin. A decade ago, nobody spoke about the Islamized Armenians and Kurds. Nobody dared to utter the word “Genocide” as it was legally forbidden to use the word in Turkey. Many of these Islamized persons were forced and coerced to renounce their Armenian ancestry and adopt the Islam religion under immense pressure and threat against their lives.

Yet, a few weeks ago, a conference was organized by the Hrant Dink Foundation to discuss the issue of “Hidden Armenians”. And indeed it was great, a very daring step forward as many scholars from Turkey, Germany, France, Armenia, the United States (three people from Los Angeles) were invited to participate in the Conference co-sponsored by the Boghazici University with the participation of Armenian Organization of Malatia. It was a great evolution and huge change (improvement?) in Turkey. More than 700 people attended the conference and the sessions were filled to capacity during the three days. Indeed, a groundbreaking event.

There were themes which were completely new to the audience. It was the 1938 killing of Armenians and Kurds in Dersim. There were questions and answer periods and questions were asked that no one dared to ask even once a decade ago and no one dared to give an answer to those vital questions.

It was difficult and dangerous for thousands to admit their Christian Armenian ancestry for fear of being killed or losing their jobs. One good, brave example was His Eminence Archbishop Aram Ateshian, head of the Armenian Church in Turkey. In an interview a few months ago on Turkish television, he clearly stated that he had recently discovered his sister in Diyarbakir, where she was forced to accept the Islam religion.

Many Armenian women were raped and forced to marry Turks. Many resisted by also many were brutally killed.

This conference had four-fold interpretations: There was no government interference during the conference; Armenian speakers were also invited from outside of Turkey, the public revelation of the “hidden Armenians” in an respected educational institution; and the wide coverage of the event in Turkish mass media press, radio and television. And now You Tube.

These are all important by products of the conference, particularly the coverage in the media, when thousands and thousands of Turks became aware for the first time about “hidden Armenians” and I am sure they were surprised. I am sure reading other reports and books written by renowed Turkish scholars about the Genocide will surprise many Turks and they will question as to why they never knew or never were taught about these atrocious events, and why the cover up?

Posted in Editorials

You Can’t Sweep It Under the Rug

Dr. Martin Deranian recently wrote a historical book – “President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug”, the story of a rug woven by over 400 orphan girls following the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman government. The book was to be presented by the Smithsonian Institution in December of this year. In 1925, the rug was sent to the President of the United States Calvin Coolidge as a “Thank You” gift for his assistance to the orphans following the Genocide. Indeed a good gesture. The President assured the orphans that the rug will have a ”
Place of Honor in the White House.” And it did, as it was displayed in the White House during President Coolidge’s term in office as US President.

He took the rug home after his term expired and his wife gave it back to the White House.

It was even on display during President Bill Clinton’s era.

But, on September 12 of this year, the Smithsonian scholar who helped organize the event for December 16, suddenly cancelled the exhibition, believe it or not, citing the White House’s decision not to loan the rug for the exhibit. The White House refused to loan the rug and gave a very vague and short answer explaining that the rug could not be loaned out at this time. No further explanation was given. Very irritating and astounding. Why not at this time? If not now, then when will it be the time and loan it to the renowned Smithsonian Institution, a reputable and world renowned American icon.

Paul Michael Taylor, director of the institution’s Asian Cultural History Program, gave no explanation for the White House’s refusal to allow the rug to be on display and said the efforts by the US Ambassador to Armenia, John Heffern, to intervene, had also been unavailing.

The request goes back nine months. In the beginning of January of this year, when Ambassador Heffern was asked to assist in securing the rug for display. Although Taylor, Heffern, and the White House Curator, William G. Allman, had discussed during the January meeting the possibility of an event that night include the rug it became clear that the rug wasn’t going to come out of deep hiding.

What’s wrong in exhibiting a rug to the public to the public especially when it is donated to a United States President who displayed it in the White House.

What’s wrong in exhibiting a piece of handicraft?

What’s wrong in exhibiting a hand-made historic work?

What’s wrong in exhibiting a sample of cultural heritage?

There has to be a reason as to why the White House, a symbol of freedom, is not explaining and giving reasons for not making the rug available to the public. Government secret? What else! Everyone thinks that there has to be a political reason behind it and most probably it is Turkey, and the US does not want to upset Turkey.

Congressman Brad Sherman of San Fernando Valley, California was not happy and wrote a letter to the White House and asked to have the rug permanently displayed. Thank you Congressman.

I also think that the grandchildren of President Coolidge should file a complaint, after all the rug was a gift to their grandfather and now it is being tossed around.

Many complaints have gone to the White House by important and well known individuals, Armenian and American. And I hope that the White House will respond to the many request positively.

The White House should know that you cannot sweep this Armenian rug under the rug.

Posted in Editorials

Peaceful Solution Should be Implemented

The Syrian government and the opposition are in a very dangerous situation and it does not seem it will abate. According to reports (UN and others) close to 100,000 people died during the past two years and about 1.5 million people left the country looking for safer havens –Jordan, Turkey, Armenia and other places. The recent news that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons to kill its citizens who are opposing the regins, created a difficult situation, almost a quagmire.

The United States plans to use military force to oust President Bashar El-Assad of Syria and restore, hopefully, peace. The United Nations sent a team to investigate the use of chemical weapons and has not reported about its findings yet. The US says that it has evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its won people and killed many. The U.S President stressed several times that there will not be any US forces on Syrian soil, like there were in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military action would be from Navy warships in the Mediterranean Sea. Russia is also sending warships in the regions to balance the situation.

Of course, the situation is very dangerous and it does not seem it will change for the better as time goes by. It needs a lot of discussions and planning to settle the political issues peacefully. It is interesting that many, many, countries are not supporting the US stance. The UN is holding any decision until the weapons inspection is over. Naturally, Russia supported Syria for many years and was adamant to take any action.

Now that surprisingly President Vladimir Putin changed his views a little but and announced that the Syrian chemical arsenal should be under the control of international bodies. President Barack Obama softened a little and sent the military issue to the Congress, after the British Parliament voted against attacking Syria. Obama now is contemplating alternative military force.

Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Syria surrendering its chemical arsenal to the international community would be an important step forward and doubted that if military intervention would solve the difficult situation in Syria, which has allies in the Arab and Iranian world.

Any military intervention from the U.S will create a worse situation, and most probably more dangerous that what it is now. It would not be surprising if the Arabs use the occasion and start all kinds of campaigns against the West particularly the U.S.

There has to be another way of settling this issue — a political one. There has to be negotiations, negotiations, and negotiations. A settlement plan should be studied and implemented with the participation of the United Nations, otherwise the situation will get worse.

Posted in Editorials

We Should Support Our Schools (conclusion from last week)

It is a heavy burden to keep our schools operating if we want to continue our heritage and ethnicity in the Diaspora at the same time educating our your and meet the requirements of everyday life. The issue is funding and only funding. There have been many supporters of the schools, and many of them, almost all of them, carry the names of the original benefactors. Their substantial contributions have made a difference and have served as examples to others. We thank all of them. We also thank philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian, who has been donating to ALL the Armenian schools in California for decades, now has established the Dream Fund at UCLA, so that every year finds will be allocated to the Armenian schools. Each school receives more than $100,000 annually. There are individuals who make donations regularly to specific schools of their choice. We also thank them.

There are many other projects also in the communities – churches, organizations, Armenian Study Centers, newspapers, political parties, athletic and cultural groups. Armenia Fund, Projects in Armenia and Artsakh, the Armenian community in Syria – and they all need our attention and support.

There are 16 Armenian schools in California, elementary, junior and senior high school levels and 13 of them are located in Los Angeles. Many of the students continue their education in the six high schools. The educational level of the Armenian schools is par with public schools, and some of them are higher. All the schools in California have to be certified by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), Armenian schools receive their certification all the time with flying colors. And all the graduates continue their education in colleges and universities, including Harvard, Yale, Caltech, all the the UC Universities, and Cal State Universities. One student from an Armenian high school was awarded $80,000 by UCLA.

Today, we have graduates of Armenian high schools in high professional positions, including a President of a University with over 18,000 students, California Superior Court Judge, District Attorneys, owner of a luxury hotel on Las Vegas, California Assemblyman, physicians, lawyers, dentists, nutritionist, neurophysiologists, and so on, indicating the high level of education in our Armenian schools.

If there is a will, the community can start a Central Educational Committee to raise funds and distribute them equitably to ALL schools according to the number of their student bodies.

We have about 125,000 families in Southern California, and if 20% of the families donate only $100 annually, the total would be $2.5 million and it could be distributed to the schools – each school would receive about $200,000 annually. Needless to say, it will not solve the budgetary problems, but at least it will help the schools. (Imagine if each family donates $200 a year, then the schools will receive $400,000 every year). Does it make sense? It does, if we get organized and at least give it a try.

Posted in Editorials