Saturday, August 18, 2007

Armenia’s Architectural Language: Getting Lost in Translation

Armenia’s Architectural Language: Getting Lost in Translation

An Interview with Jane Britt Greenwood, AIA

By Khatchig Mouradian and Jason Sohigian
(Joint Exclusive: Armenian Weekly/Hetq Online)
April 16, 2007

WATERTOWN, Mass.—Jane Britt Greenwood has seen some of Armenia's struggles first-hand. An associate dean at the College of Architecture, Art, and Design at Mississippi State University, Greenwood and her husband went to Armenia after the earthquake of 1988 to assist in the establishment of the American University of Armenia (AUA).

After leaving Armenia, Greenwood began looking for ways to be involved in the reconstruction of the country she had come to love. As an architect, the rebuilding of Armenia's infrastructure interested her, but she was disappointed to find that the new buildings generally lacked the traditional Armenian character.

Working with the environmental organization Earthwatch Institute, Greenwood is now organizing four 11-day architectural research expeditions that will take international volunteers to Gyumri in June and July 2007.

Volunteers will identify and document the historical architectural elements and patterns in the historic districts, which will contribute to a database of architectural information that can be accessed by planners, architects and designers in Armenia.

For more information about this project or to join as a volunteer, visit:

The following interview with Greenwood was conducted by phone on April 4.

Armenian Weekly/Hetq—How did Earthwatch Institute become interested in the Armenia expedition?

Jane Britt Greenwood—I proposed a project to Earthwatch a few years ago in Haiti related to vernacular architecture. They were interested in that project, but there was a coup in Haiti so it was put on hold. My program manager for that project knew about my interest in Armenia, and he asked me for another proposal that dealt with architecture.

Earthwatch gets a lot of proposals for projects that do things like work with endangered species like turtles and manatees, but they don't have many projects that deal with architecture. When Earthwatch tries to promote sustainability and the environment, they recognize that architecture is a part of the issue of sustainability, so they asked me to write another proposal that dealt with vernacular architecture. Since my interest has been in Armenia for so long, I wrote a proposal for this Armenia project.

AW/H—What specific observations do you have about Armenia's architecture? What are the traditional features and what is being built today?

J.G.—From a scholarly point of view, the information that is being been written has been mostly about churches. That is part of the cultural identity of Armenia, but there are other smaller structures that have just as much to do with establishing the identity of this country. People often don't see the value of smaller buildings such as houses and municipal buildings, but they have a lot to do with placing a country within a context of social and political issues.

In recent years there has been an economic boom in Armenia, especially in Yerevan, and I have seen a homogenization that is taking place within the architecture there. Near the Opera, the buildings are like a mini Times Square where you have billboards that are illuminated and you've got these modern office buildings going up with the horizontal ribbon windows. And when you take photographs of them they could be going up anywhere in the world.

My fear is that—and this is typical for many cultures that are trying to move forward from an economic point of view and trying to position themselves on the world stage—they look at what is being built in other parts of the world and they think, “We need to build glass boxes, we need to be like everybody else.” While that is certainly good, it causes people to not understand the value of their history and their architectural history and heritage.

From my point of view, a lot of that heritage in terms of housing has already been destroyed in Yerevan—you just don't find it anymore. In Gyumri, in the Kumayri Historic District and the old Alexandrapol area, there still are existing examples of Armenian architecture from the early 20th century. And I haven't seen anything like that in other parts of Armenia.

In the long term, I would like to see this project branch out into other areas, because I think Goris has great a vernacular cave typology, and Dilijan has a different type of housing typology. You start to see that the architectural structures are really specific to a location and the different regional influences of the community and the people. From an architectural point of view and a research and an academic point of view, that is information that needs to be documented and preserved.

It would be a terrible shame for Armenia to lose that part of their culture and history.

AW/H—In some historic parts of the U.S., you can't even paint your house a certain color. Yet in a place as old and historic as Armenia, it seems like you can build just about anything. What is going wrong with architecture in Armenia?

J.G.—There are a few factors, from a housing point of view, and at least in Gyumri. People fundamentally want shelter, and they want shelter that is safe, dry and comfortable. In Gyumri, a lot of people are still living in domiks, or in one or two rooms of a house because the rest of house was damaged in the 1988 earthquake. Many of these families don't have the resources to repair the houses, or when they do they are not as concerned with maintaining this sort of historic character. It's not a high priority—and I certainly understand that.

While there is the Ministry of Culture and there are some entities that deal with preservation, I don't know how well standards are enforced. It really has to occur at the local, municipal level, but a lot of people are still struggling with the day-to-day issues of living and surviving, so these issues really aren't in the forefront for them right now.

AW/H—What are you expecting to get out of this expedition? What could it lead to?

J.G.—It is fundamentally an educational process, it's a way to educate citizens of the value of historic structures. There is value in the long term. There can be tourism value, if it can be promoted so people will travel to Gyumri to look at the houses in this historic district.

But we also have to be careful. Through the development of a “pattern language,” I would like to be able to establish design guidelines and a strategy for growth. When people want to build in this area, it's not that everyone has to build like historic Alexandrapol. But there are qualities and components about these buildings—in the way windows are designed, for example—there are sustainability issues that need to be maintained. There is a lot that we can learn from these structures that will help the planning of the future of Gyumri.

If and when the border of Kars and Gyumri opens up, there is going to be a big economic boom in Gyumri. So, that historic district is at risk of being destroyed through this whole notion of economic development, and if we go through this process of education and documentation and look at restoring some of these structures, we can get a foothold in helping people recognize the value of what they have.

AW/H—What are the prospects of getting work done on the ground in terms of implementation? Is there a framework for future suggestions for approaching the government or municipalities?

J.G.—One of my long-term goals is to purchase one of these historic structures and actually go through a preservation/restoration process. This is a way to create jobs in the area, because there are a lot of skills in masonry and ironwork.

Gyumri has a rich history of artists, so there is an artistic culture and crafts culture that is being lost. It's a way to create jobs for people, to create a niche in the country for creating these kids of artifacts, returning to ironwork, stonework, masonry work, and educating the public and educating people with specific skills. Through that we can approach the government, if we can show that we are creating jobs and creating an environment that is becoming pleasing for people.

I think Gyumri is a welcome relief from the heat and smog of Yerevan in the summer. It is a matter of trying to sell the vision of what Gyumri could be. I'm just one architect with these ideas—all I can do is start with my project. And with awareness at the grassroots level people will become more interested in this and we can see where it goes.

The politics in Armenia are very complex and I'm not the person to get into that, but through this project and by raising awareness maybe someone can work from these ideas and help move the government, or at least the Gyumri government, toward these ideas. I know it is not going to happen overnight—it is a very complex problem from a political point of view—but as an architect all I can do right now is try to document, preserve and gather oral histories from people about their lives in these houses, what has been important to them about these houses, what is the social structure of family life as a result of these houses.

AW/H—There is pressure on people if they speak out about these matters and say, for example, that construction projects are destroying the heritage of Armenian cities. The atmosphere in Armenia is difficult in that respect. Do you have local partners in Armenia that are helping you with this work so you can be successful?

J.G.—I have been working in Gyumri with the City Research Center. Over the past 5-6 years, they have been developing a digital database of the buildings—they have been photographing and cataloguing the buildings, which has been great. But they have not been analyzing the buildings, looking at trends, and looking at it from a social behavioral point of view. So my research is trying to take that to the next step. But I have heard that it is difficult if people try to speak out, so all I can realistically do is document it.

AW/H—Are the construction projects in Armenia following any guidelines or do you think they maintain the heritage of the country?

J.G.—My impression is that there are some guidelines but they are not being followed. But it is the complexity of the political system and the building codes. And you find that in the U.S. as well, so it is not something that is specific to Armenia. Even developers in the U.S. know there are rules but they try to get around them, and it really depends on how strong the entity is that is trying to monitor it. If you don't have a strong municipal government or preservation group, you really don't have a way to find out if the preservation guidelines are being followed.

Quite often money speaks louder than anything, especially in a country that has been deprived of economic development for so many years. And it is hard to argue with that—I understand that. So it is a matter or trying to take one step at a time so we can document this. These buildings could be destroyed by earthquakes—and a lot of the buildings have been damaged by water over the years. There may be a point where someone says it is not financially responsible or feasible to maintain the buildings. Even in the U.S. when they look at restoring a structure there is a financial bottom line.

AW/H—You mentioned earthquakes—is it true that some of the new buildings going up begin to crumble before they are even finished? Is the new construction being built to withstand earthquakes?

J.G.—It is my understanding that things are supposed to be built to meet earthquake standards, but whether or not they are, I can't answer without speaking to architects and building inspectors there. But that's what I find interesting about these historic buildings. A lot of the buildings in the Kumayri Historic District have withstood two earthquakes, while those built after the Second World War didn't. There are a lot of things we can learn about the way those buildings were constructed—there are thermal qualities to those buildings, and there are a lot of lessons we can learn from that to help guide us in the future.

AW/H—How is this expedition being promoted in the international community? How are you trying to recruit volunteers for the trip?

J.G.—Earthwatch has an aggressive marketing strategy for all of their projects. They are contacting people like yourself and other Armenian media, promoting the expedition among their own volunteer networks internationally, and there is information about the expedition on their website, In Armenia, we are going to distribute material at hotels around Gyumri and Yerevan, and we are hoping to do a TV spot when we get there in the summer.

AW/H—If this trip is successful, is there potential for other Earthwatch expeditions in Armenia?

J.G.—Absolutely. There are plenty of archeological areas that could be investigated. Earthwatch has expeditions that document flora and fauna. From my point of view, Armenia has some beautiful flowers and wildflowers. There is a lot of opportunity for Earthwatch to be involved in Armenia—it is just a mater of finding other individuals like myself who are interested in trying to do something like this.

AW/H—How did you get interested in Armenia?

J.G.—My husband and I were living in Boston and he was teaching and saw an ad in the Chronicle of Higher Education about an American university [American University of Armenia] that was being initiated by the Diasporan community in California. His background is in business and engineering, and those are two areas in which they were starting programs, so we went over in 1992.

The Armenian government had given AUA some property in Abovian to build a new American style university, and they hired me to be the university architect. So I was the liason with architects from the University of California.

There were a lot of changes. The original site we looked at was a munitions storage area, and the site literally blew up the day after I went to look at it, so we spent a lot of time looking for another site. My final recommendation was that they stay in downtown Yerevan because transportation was an issue for people and no one knew what the future would look like.

Being there for a year and a half, I found the people to be very warm and everyone makes you a part of their family. It is a beautiful country, with so many different facets—it is so small with a varied landscape. I really fell in love with it and was fascinated with it, and I was looking for some way over the years to get involved architecturally with what was going on there.

I left in 1993 and I didn't return until five years ago, and I have been going back every summer since then to develop partnerships and look for projects. And I finally connected with the City Research Center in Gyumri ( I have a real passion for the country and the people and I am interested in learning about the culture that built this architecture.

AW/H—In the Earthwatch Institute's catalogue you say, “Join me on this exciting expedition to Armenia—it will truly be a life changing experience.” How do you think people's lives will change if they participate in this expedition?

J.G.—They will have a better appreciation of another country and they will learn a lot about themselves. Going to Armenia was a life changing experience for me at many levels—I realized I was stronger than I thought I was both emotionally and physically, and I think other people will find this as well. It is still a hard life in Armenia, and people will understand from a sustainability point of view that, for example, you don't need to take a shower for 15 minutes and use that much water.

Those sorts of life experiences are what I mean—and with architecture we talk about sustainability, green design and waste—but when you can experience another culture that really does so much with so little, then people will understand that you can do a lot with a little, and there are a lot of things we can cut back on in our lives in the U.S. or in the UK or Australia or wherever you are from, and you can still have a rich and fulfilling life.

Volunteers will learn about themselves from this experience, and they will learn about Armenia and architecture. It will make them look at their environment in a different way. It will make them realize they can make a difference in their own environment. Any time you have an educational process, if you can reach one or two of your students each semester, you have done a good job because they can go and reach other people. Whatever little progress we make will be a big step toward change somewhere down the line. I may never see it, but someone else might see the work we are doing and carry on from there.

You have to start somewhere, and I think this is that start.

Khatchig Mouradian is the editor of the Armenian Weekly (
Jason Sohigian is deputy director of Armenia Tree Project (

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

An Interview with Vahan Hovhannesian

Dual Citizenship: An Interview with Vahan Hovhannesian
By Khatchig Mouradian
The Armenian Weekly
August 11, 2007

On February 26, the Armenian National assembly passed a law allowing dual citizenship. In this interview, conducted in Washington on April 23, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Vahan Hovhannissian discusses the importance of that law.
Khatchig Mouradian—My first question goes beyond the legalities of the dual citizenship law. In a sense, the dual citizenship law could bring the two divided wings of the Armenian nation together. What are your thoughts on this matter?

Vahan Hovhannisian—First, I must say that the passage of the dual citizenship law will be considered one of the greatest victories of the ARF in this term of the National Assembly. As you know, the law wasn’t passed easily. But at the end, it passed more or less the way we wanted it to. In the beginning, constitutional obstacles to dual citizenship were removed, and then the law itself was passed. Now the third act remains: the implementation of the law on the ground and the coordination of details. How do people apply? What documents will they need to present? How will the applications be processed?

You are right to point out that the law has many different layers. On the one hand, it has a huge moral significance. As we all know, the Armenian diaspora was not the result of emigration, it was the result of the genocide when people were forced to leave their homeland. Thus, if the homeland, though not complete, has been able to achieve independence, then it is forced to give all of its children the right to citizenship. In our opinion this law should have been passed as early as 1991, as soon as Armenia became independent. Due to various political reasons, that was not accomplished. But at least now we have been able to bring this process to its end, and now any Armenian who would like to receive Armenian citizenship can do so, thus gaining the rights of any citizen, not limited to voting.

Here I must emphasize that I hope the number of applications will be plentiful and the number of Armenian citizens will grow. In the international theater, a country with a population of three million and another country with a population of five million carry different weight. The dual citizenship law must strengthen Armenian’s position.

Aside from that, the introduction of dual citizenship in Armenia will encourage investments. It is one thing to make investments in Armenia out of a feeling of moral obligation toward the homeland. It is an entirely different thing to be a citizen and a full participant of the civic life of the nation, whether in politics, in the social sphere, or in other spheres.

In one word, the law will create new waves of Armenians heading toward Armenia. Thus, the law will have far-reaching positive results.

K.M.—Perhaps this was more widely felt in the past, but there are some in Armenia who say that the diaspora did not go through the difficult times that Armenians in Armenia had to endure in the last decade, and claim that this should be taken into consideration when thinking about dual citizenship. What do you think?

V.H.—Such thinking easily crumbles in the face of criticism, since a large section of the Armenian population did not go through those difficult days either, and did not participate in the war. The Armenian authorities back then shielded their sons from military service, had electricity and heating, and did not share the people’s suffering. Can we take away their citizenship because of this? I think this line of thinking is madness, especially since there is a price to pay for becoming a dual citizen of Armenia—that is, a dual citizen cannot run for the presidency or for a seat in the National Assembly. I think from the point of view of fairness, this law is perfect.

K.M.—Naturally the passing of this law was welcomed by the diaspora. The question in the minds of diaporan Armenians is when and how will this law be implemented? Can applications only be filed in Armenia or will embassies also be accepting them?

V.H.—We didn’t get to discuss the concrete steps to implement the law because the elections are upon us and naturally the Assembly is on a hiatus. But I think this will be one of the first issues discussed after the elections. A committee has already been established that is dealing with the details, including how one applies, what documents are needed, how applicants will have to prove their Armenian origin, etc. There are some points that need to be fine-tuned, and some time will be needed, but I think it is a matter of weeks and that it will be resolved quickly after the elections.

In reality, there are no obstacles for applying now. Meaning, just like before, any individual who wants Armenian citizenship must apply to the President of the Republic. It is natural, of course, that under the circumstances a new process for the applications must be created. It is also not a secret that the security services will need to review applications, as some will attempt to abuse the system.

K.M.—What are the expectations from those who will benefit from the dual citizenship law? What are their duties and what will they gain?

V.H.—As far as the Armenian government is concerned, dual citizens are first and foremost citizens of Armenia. Where their other citizenship was issued is of no interest to us. As such, they have the same duties toward the Republic as any Armenian citizen would. That includes serving in the military and other duties. Of course, when an individual is a citizen of Armenia and another country, we cannot allow him or her to become an Assembly member or President. But that doesn’t mean dual citizens will never be able to serve in those posts. After living in Armenia for 10 years, they may give up their other citizenship and receive full rights. There is one problem: How are people to pay taxes? There are international tax agreements and Armenia has signed such agreements with many countries. These will ensure that the individual doesn’t pay the same tax twice in two separate countries. And of course, those who have served in another army for 12 months will not have to complete compulsory military service in Armenia. Also, those who are past the age of 27 will not have to serve in the military, Dual citizens are also completely under the jurisdiction of the Armenian government. For example—and this is a rather bad example—if an individual commits a crime, the Armenian authorities will consider him as an Armenian citizen, and the individual won’t be able to claim, say, that he is a citizen of the U.S., or Syria, or France, and that he would like to be tried in those countries under their penal codes. As far as the authorities are concerned, a dual citizen of Armenia is a citizen of Armenia, and so if you were to commit a crime in Armenia, the Armenian authorities would prosecute you based on the Armenian penal code. The Armenian government’s approach to dual citizens is identical to the approach used by the United States. The U.S., too, recognizes dual citizenships, but treats all of its citizens, including its dual citizens, the same way. Armenia will do the same.

K.M.—In your view, what will the future bring and are there concerns for possible obstacles? Is it possible that the law will be transformed into an internal political tool?

V.H.—I don’t think that’s a concern, because in essence no one was opposed to the concept of dual citizenship. People’s hesitance had much more to do with voting rights—that is, there was the impression among many that diasporan Armenians, by becoming citizens of Armenia, were mostly going to vote for the ARF. This view, by the way, is far from the truth. I don’t think that kind of vote will be large enough to have any effect on today’s political landscape. On the other hand, if we really want the diaspora to be a political presence in our country, if we really want to create one nation in one state, and if we truly want to attract Western Armenians—the diaspora—into our political life, we must allow for their political preferences. So yes, all of those political parties that have come alive in Armenia over the last few years should start taking into consideration the interests of the diasporans, so they can gain their votes. This is a very normal process and there shouldn’t be any problems, especially since in the future the flow towards Armenia should be large. But I don’t think there will be enough applications in the next few months or enough citizenships granted that there will be a political imbalance in Armenia. I don’t think it will happen and I think the fears that it will are not grounded in reality.

K.M.—You said that this law would allow the Diaspora to inch closer toward Armenia. As for the opposite effect—how will it move Armenia closer to the diaspora?

V.H.—Here the issue is dual. If citizens of Armenia today were to gain citizenship in another country, they would not be immune from their obligations, such as serving in the Armenian army. This is one serious problem. The second problem is the issue of the Armenian population in Russia, who have close ties to Armenia, yet value their ties with Russia. We must work with the Russian authorities and come to some kind of agreement regarding the status of the Armenian population there, since it is the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia.

As for the rapprochement between Armenia and the diaspora, I think that’s going to take some time because the division between Western and Eastern Armenians, which was forcefully and artificially created by our enemies, was performed a long time ago. The division has been made. In that rapprochement between Eastern and Western Armenians, whole mentalities have to be reconciled with each other. And the issue is not just economic, it’s not about investing in Armenia or buying a house in Armenia. It is about Armenian grammatical rules, the literary language of Western Armenians and Eastern Armenians—which Armenian children in both Armenia and the Diaspora should start studying in equal amounts. These are very serious and far-reaching issues that need to be resolved. This rapprochement won’t be easy. For example, Armenia can’t just move a magic wand and pass a law forcing classical orthographic rules down peoples’ throats, because that means whole libraries will have to be corrected and a whole generation that doesn’t know the rules will become illiterate. Instead, this change requires long-winded efforts as well as a government plan. We have had a few Armenia-Diaspora summits to find solutions to these issues. Unfortunately, the solutions have not yet been found. The Armenia-Diaspora rapprochement, unfortunately, has not yet occurred.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

An Interview with Hrag Yedalian

An Interview with Hrag Yedalian
The Director of ‘The People’s Advocate’ Talks about His Debut Film
By Khatchig Mouradian

The Armenian Weekly
August 4, 2007

Criminal defense and civil rights attorney Charles R. Garry is associated with numerous high profile cases in the ‘60s, making him one of the leading attorneys of the 20th century. In his career, which abruptly came to an end when one of his clients, Rev. Jim Jones, led 900 of his followers to mass suicide, Garry defended Black Panther Party chairman Bobby Seale and the anti-Vietnam war activists known as the Oakland 7, among others. He died in 1991, at the age of 82.

In his autobiography Seize the Time Bobby Seale wrote, “We don’t know every detail of Charles’ life, but we can see that he is a man who is dedicated to the survival and the existence of the right to self-determination of human beings. We need a lot more history on Charles R. Garry so we can understand what motivates a man to be such a defender of the people’s human rights.” In the documentary The People’s Advocate: The Life and Times of Charles R. Garry, director Hrag Yedalian attempts to find out what motivated the Armenian-born Garry (Garabedian) to embark on that road.

Yedalian studies film at the American Film Institute Conservatory. The people’s advocate is his first documentary. This phone-interview was conducted on July 30.

K.M.—Why did you decide to do a documentary on Charles Garry?
H.Y.—I was this young person trying to get involved with different causes and all of that was pretty much motivated by my origin, by the fact that my grandfather was a survivor of the genocide. I wanted to take that motivation and channel it in a positive way. And quite frankly, I was born in the U.S, I grew up in the U.S., I went to school here. It’s pretty important for me to get involved with what’s going on here. Charles Garry’s story was fascinating for a number of reasons. Despite the fact that he was probably one of the most sought after civil rights attorneys during the ‘60s, here was this guy of Armenian descent, and he was defending all these people who were seen as the poster boys and girls for the “Revolution.” I wanted to look into the story but most importantly, I want to use the story as an example.
As an AYF member, I used to interact with literally dozens if not hundreds of youth my age, and I wanted them to see that in addition to Genocide recognition, there are so many profound issues that affect us. I felt that Garry’s example would serve as a positive influence. Garry was an individual of Armenian descent who went out of his way, became an attorney and defended human rights.
I’m sure Garry has been criticized for changing his name, etc. I’m sure Armenians of the time felt that he wasn’t “Armenian enough.” But if you look into his trial transcripts of any of the Panther cases, or any of the anti-Vietnam war cases, his opening and closing statements often include reference to his own people. When defending the oppressed, his essential argument for the jury was: These people are being oppressed, segregated in this country today. Throughout history, we’ve seen what has happened to, for example, the Armenian people, and we can’t allow our government to be oppressive in the same ways that other governments have been in the past. And that was his main thrust, that was the central focus, and he understood it. So addition to being an Armenian who was discriminated against in the Fresno area, he lived through the Depression, he knew how difficult it is for the poor to get by in the U.S. So it was the dynamic of all this that attracted me to his story and I really wanted to present it to the public in general and people my age in particular.

K.M.—Talk about the sources you used.
H.Y.—At Berkley, I took this history class titled “Rethinking the Sixties.” The purpose of the class was to work on a substantial paper that dealt with any topic of the ‘60s. After the first class I was already thinking of Charles Garry. I approached the Professor and told him that I’m very interested in writing about Garry, but because there isn’t a lot of printed material I want to go and interview people. After she gave me the OK, I called Roxanne and asked for her advice. She e-mailed me the contact information of people she had spoken to and interacted with, and that’s where it started. I started talking to people.
Roxanne had the benefit of dealing directly with Garry. I never had that benefit because Gary passed away in 1991. So I had to tell a story about Gary without Gary, basically. Obviously the best way to do that was to interview the people who were closest to him. So if you see the interviewee list, it includes everyone from, let’s say, Bobby Seal, the co-founder of the Panthers, to his longtime girlfriend, to his two brothers, who both passed away since. So you have all this oral testimony that’s actually quite fascinating. I wanted to intentionally make a film that was not the duplicate of Roxanne’s film. At the end, I wanted for someone who was really interested in Garry to get different pieces from each of the movies. The only interviewee that appears in both is Bobby Seal.
In addition to that, the main sources come from the archival footage that I found from local television stations in San Francisco. That’s where the gold was. I think I’ve used archival footage from at least six or seven sources if not more. Also, an important part of the film was Garry’s legal documents; they are all at UC Berkley and I spent a few months going through them. There are copies of paperwork and legal files that I was fortunate enough to obtain and go over. So it’s really the mix of four or five different types of sources in the film.

K.M.—Can you tell us briefly about your background? You mentioned your work in the AYF, but give us a more general background, your education, etc.
H.Y.—Well I went to two Armenian private schools. After I graduated from high school, what I really wanted to do was get firmly involved in the political process. During high school and after, I was involved with local political campaigns here in Los Angeles to get people registered to vote. I was fortunate enough to be a part of that process. And as I got more and more immersed, I decided to sort of take a different route. I got interested in organizational work, in international human rights work, and I wanted to go to law school so that I could try to do similar things. Garry’s a good example of what civil rights/human rights attorneys can do with their careers. After graduating Berkley, I started law school. I registered at UCLA Law, but a few weeks into it, because I was so involved with this documentary, I decided that it wasn’t the route to go. So I left law school for film school, and that’s sort of the route that I’ve decided on at this point—making films and hopefully trying to influence a few people through that work.

K.M.—So you’re still studying?
H.Y.—I’m still studying, yes. I’m going to start my second year in September.

K.M.—Let’s talk about the people you interviewed. Can you tell us how you made the selection, and about your experiences with interviewees like Howard Zinn?
H.Y.—To be in my position and to talk to these people was sort of an unreal experience because most of them are people who have influenced history. To have the privilege to talk to these people was a big deal for me.
You mentioned Howard Zinn. I’ll start with him. I’ve always been fascinated with his work, and I called him and told him that I was looking for a narrator for a film on Garry and whether he would be interested. Immediately, without hesitation—and I was actually shocked by it—he said he would definitely be interested in doing that.
I caught him at a very busy time in his life. He was going across the country, and if he was to do the narration, he would have had to spend a lot of time writing it. So we agreed to take a different route: He would be in the film, and he would provide the historic context. So, for example, when we’re talking about the anti-communist hunts during the 1950’s or the Vietnam War, he provides a brief context. There are four Panthers in the movie. There’s Bobby Seal, who was an obvious choice, and the other three are very interesting and important choices. One has to realize that although Charles Garry was defending Bobby Seal or others in court, he wasn’t constantly interacting with them because these were men in prison. He would visit them but he wasn’t interacting with them on a constant basis. He was interacting with the other people involved in the party. In fact, he was probably closest to David Hilliard, who was the chief of staff of the Panther Party. David talks about this on the phone. He and Charles Garry, they were partners during the late ‘60s. They would go around college campuses and David would represent the party, and Garry would talk about the legal aspects. And they would literally go on tours and raise money for these causes and talk about these cases. And then there is Ericka Huggins, who is an extremely sensitive person and truly admired Garry. I also interviewed Kathleen Cleaver because she knew the party inside and out, and she was very active with the first Panther trial. In addition to knowing Garry pretty well, she provides the historic background to most of these cases. Most of the interviewees were incredibly generous in lending their time and support to the film.

K.M.—Talk about Garry’s brothers, Harvey and Haig Garabedian.
H.Y.—Actually, the first interview I conducted was with both of the brothers in 2003. They were living in Fresno and I called them up, and we basically developed this friendship, and they would talk literally for hours.
They definitely didn’t know the details about, let’s say, his involvement with the Panthers, or his decision to take on this case or that case. They didn’t know any of that. What they did know, was about their roots, what Garry was going through as a child growing up in Fresno... That was the most important part.
Unfortunately, the brothers never saw my film. In fact, I don’t think Garry ever saw the final cut of Roxanne’s film, so it’s pretty unfortunate actually.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

An Interview with Congressman Brad Sherman

An Interview with Brad Sherman
By Khatchig Mouradian
The Armenian Weekly
Volume 73, No. 30, July 28, 2007

WASHINGTON (A.W.)—Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) serves on the House Committee on International Relations. I talked to him on July 16 about the Armenian Genocide Resolution and the prospects of passing it in the Committee and later in the House of Representatives. To watch the video of the interview, visit

Khatchig Mouradian—Congressman, now that we have a majority in the House supporting the Armenian Genocide Resolution, where do we go from here?

Brad Sherman—Well, we got to go to Committee. There, my biggest fear is the weakening of the resolution. As you know, six of us introduced the resolution and I’m the only one who was on the relevant committee at the time. And my fear is some will say they would support the resolution but ask for amendments. There are some amendments we can support. I, for one, wouldn’t mind if this resolution, with all humility, pointed out that the United Stated has done some terrible things in its history, and that we’re not lecturing others without looking at ourselves. We’ve passed many other resolutions in this Congress talking about the terrible things the United States has done in its history. So [our next step is] getting it through the Committee, and having a Speaker who has the courage to deal with the president when they try to vilify her for bringing this bill up.

K.M.—And how is the situation in the Committee now?

B.S.—We have co-sponsors representing roughly half of the Committee. A number of people are not co-sponsors in the Committee but will vote for it. Timing is part of this. Do we get a chance to mark it up in July? Do we have to wait till September?

And the other part is: Can the other side come up with some sneaky amendment (and their goal would be to eliminate the word genocide)? I mean, this resolution has many words, but there’s one word that has to be in it. And I’ll be there fighting in Committee. We’ve gotten through the Committee before, and we have to do it again, because we have a speaker who has the courage to put it on the floor.

K.M.—You referred to the “other side.” Can you talk about this other side and how they’re mobilizing in recent years?

B.S.—The Turkish government has hired the most expensive lobbyists here in Washington. They are flying my colleagues to Turkey for trips and they are making a variety of claims as to how the resolution would affect U.S.-Turkish relations. They fail to talk about how Turkey reacted to the French Parliament when it passed a similar resolution. French exports to Turkey have almost tripled since then.

We’re up against two of the most powerful former members of Congress [Dick Gephardt and Bob Livingston] who have been hired for some of the largest fees.

K.M.—What are the chances of having the resolution put on the floor?

B.S.—Pelosi is dedicated, but the community has to remember that the attack will come to the White House, and that attack will be the questioning of the dedication of all of us to the national security of America.

They will say, “Aha! You are hurting our troops in Iraq.” They will go beyond that and will claim that this is somehow politically motivated and is simply catering to one particular community. The fact is that this resolution represents the truth, and we in our Committee just a few weeks ago voted to chastise Japan’s sexual enslavement of women during World War II. And if we can criticize Japan, we can criticize Turkey.

K.M.—Why is it important for the United States to stand up and recognize a genocide that took place 92 years ago in a different part of the world?

B.S.—First, recognition is important because of what it means to the Armenian community and to those who actually survived those terrible events. Secondly, genocide denial is the last step of genocide: You destroy the people, and then you destroy the memory. Genocide denial is also the first step of the next genocide. After the Rwandan genocide, others in Africa thought they could get away with genocide in Darfur.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

An Interview with Congressman Adam Schiff

An Interview with Congressman Adam Schiff
By Khatchig Mouradian
The Armenian Weekly
July 21, 2007

On July 16, I flew to Washington to interview Congressmen leading the charge for Armenian genocide recognition. Below is the first of these interviews, with Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), conducted on July 17.

Khatchig Mouradian—You’ve been at the forefront of the work for the recognition of the Armenian genocide in the U.S. We now have a majority in the House supporting the Genocide Resolution. Where do we go from here?

Adam Schiff—Well, we want to make sure that when we bring up the Genocide Resolution for a vote both in the House International Relations Committee and the Floor, we can win. We have almost the majority in the Committee and we have a bare majority in the House. We’d like to expand that. We’d like to get some measure of comfort both in the Committee and the House Floor. When the vote gets scheduled, you’re going to see the efforts of the Turkish lobby doubled, tripled, quadrupled, and what that will mean is that there will be a major push to get people to kill the resolution, to find some rationale for why they were co-sponsors but they don’t have to vote for it. In the committee, we have to anticipate attempts to amend the resolution in the way Turkey wants. So we have to make sure that the strength is going to persist in the wake of the onslaught that we can expect. Right now, we want to beef up those numbers even more, which also helps us make the case to the leadership and say, “We’re ready, let’s bring it up.”

K.M.—You mentioned the opposition, and we’ve been talking about the Turkish lobby and former Congressmen making millions of dollars campaigning against the resolution. What has been different in the way the Turkish lobby has operated this year?

A.S.—This year, their efforts are far more intense than ever before, and I think it’s because there’s a new leadership in the House. The old leadership, [former Speaker] Dennis Hastert, had promised to bring up the resolution, and then reneged on that promise. I think the Turkish lobby felt safe under his Speakership. They still lobbied against it. I had amendments that I could offer to committees and the House Floor that the Speaker couldn’t stop. So the Turkish lobby was still active and spending millions on Livingston and others. But now the campaign is far more intense because I think both sides realize that this is the key year. What gets done this year is likely to be repeated every year. If we succeed in recognizing the Armenian genocide this year, we’ll succeed next year and the year after. It will become matter-of-fact—every year it’s brought up and every year it passes. If we fail this year, then it’s going to be more difficult to succeed next year or the year after. Once a precedent is set, it’s very hard to change it. So I think all sides realize this is crunch time.

K.M.—The decision to move the resolution to a vote rests on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. How do you think the Armenian community can contribute to a positive decision by the Speaker?

A.S.—I’ve had a number of meetings with the Speaker on this—and I don’t speak for her, she speaks for herself—but she’s always been very supportive of the Genocide Resolution, and that support continues, so I’m optimistic. I don’t have a date to give you, and I can’t promise anything 100 percent, but I’m optimistic. We’re still working to show that the strength is there and that it will withstand the pressure when this is scheduled for a vote, but I think our leadership certainly recognizes the fact of the Armenian genocide. There is strong opposition from Turkey and from all the people that Turkey has hired. They are raining down on the leadership saying the world is going to come to an end if we recognize the murder of a million and a half people in the beginning of the last century. But I think the leadership can withstand that pressure. What can the community around the country do? You know, it can contact all the members of our leadership and thank them for their support of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, urge them to take it up for a vote soon. I think that kind of positive message is the best message because the leadership has always been supportive. And it’s important for them to hear from the proponents because they will certainly hear from the opponents.

K.M.—Why is it important for the United States to recognize a crime that took place in a different part of the world more than 90 years ago?

A.S.—I think there are two reasons. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel described it best when he said that denial is the final phase of genocide. And in that sense, the Armenian genocide continues. There is a victimization that continues to go on with the denial, and I think there’s a moral obligation to set the record straight and not deny the loss, the pain, the grief that tremendous numbers of people have suffered due to this tragedy.

Secondly, I think [failing to recognize it] undermines our credibility in America on some of the pivotal issues of the day, like the genocide going on in Darfur. How do we stand up and call the world’s attention to the genocide in Darfur and have the kind of moral leadership we need to bring that to an end? Some will argue, “Well, sure, you’ll recognize the genocide committed by the Sudanese government. They’re weak. But when it comes to the murder of the Armenians, because Turkey is strong, you won’t recognize the facts.” What does that say? I don’t think that’s a position of great morality. I don’t it’s a position of great leadership and I think it undermines our credibility.

K.M.—Tens of thousands watched the video of your debate with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on the Armenian genocide. Where do you think the administration really stands? Do you think there is the intention of finding some sort of resolution to this issue?

A.S.—At this point I’d have to say no. I think that the Administration has just sort of dug its heels to oppose the genocide recognition. And I thought Secretary Rice’s answers were deeply disappointing. I asked her a question about the facts, the historic facts, and she didn’t answer. She doesn’t have a question—no one can have a question about the historical facts. But the Administration has made a decision other administrations have made before: The expedient thing is not to offend an ally. And where they’re coming from is, we don’t have that many allies left, certainly not in the Muslim world. And I recognize that. I think it’s important that we maintain an alliance with Turkey, but that alliance should not be at the cost of not speaking the truth about one of the most savage crimes of the last century. And I don’t think it does much for our alliance, or our friendship, to stick our head in the sand.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

An Interview with Margaret Anderson

Germany and the Armenian Genocide
An Interview with Margaret Anderson

By Khatchig Mouradian

November 14, 2006

The issue of German responsibility in the Armenian Genocide has been researched by a number of scholars in the past decades. The Ottoman Empire was an ally of Germany during WWI, when up to a million and a half Armenians were uprooted from the Empire and perished in a state-sponsored campaign of mass annihilation.

On June 15, 2005, the German Parliament passed a motion honoring and commemorating “the victims of violence, murder and expulsion among the Armenian people before and during the First World War.” The Bundestag deplored “the deeds of the Young Turkish government in the Ottoman Empire which have resulted in the almost total annihilation of the Armenians in Anatolia.”

The Bundestag also acknowledged and deplored “the inglorious role played by the German Reich which, in spite of a wealth of information on the organized expulsion and annihilation of Armenians, has made no attempt to intervene and stop these atrocities.”

In this interview with Professor Margaret Anderson, conducted by phone from Beirut, we discuss issues related to Germany and the Armenian Genocide.

Margaret Anderson is a professor of history at the University of California in Berkeley. She received her Ph.D. from Brown University. She has researched electoral politics and political culture in Germany and in a comparative European perspective; democracy and democratic institutions; religion and politics; and religion and society, -especially Catholicism in the 19th century. She is the author of Windthorst: A Political Biography (Oxford University Press, 1981 and , Practicing Democracy: Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany (Princeton University Press, 2000). Her research has more recently revolved around Germany and the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian Genocide.

Khatchig Mouradian: How did you first become interested in the Armenian Genocide?

Margaret Anderson: It was quite an accident. When I finished my last book, I needed to do something different so that I didn’t get stale. A colleague of mine, who researched Italian history during the same period, said “You should work on the Armenians.” I told him that I can’t work on the Armenians, I don’t read Armenian, I don’t read Turkish. And he said, yes, but you read German and there is a lot of stuff to do on Germany.” He was right. There are 56 volumes in the German Foreign Office devoted to the Armenian persecutions, as well as many more under other titles—like the embassy in Constantinople—that are quite relevant to this horrible story.

I have a colleague, Stephan Astourian, a specialist in Armenian history, without whom I could never have begun this. He was immediately helpful in steering me to the proper Armenian sources and letting me understand the historiography.

K.M.: How thoroughly have these documents been researched?

M.A.: Vahakn N. Dadrian has used them, most notably in German Responsibility in The Armenian Genocide: A Review of the Historical Evidence of German Complicity (1996), and even before that several other people have done it. Ulrich Trumpener had an excellent chapter in his 1968 book, Germany and the Ottoman Empire 1914-1918. More recently, Rolf Hosfeld's Operation Nemesis: Die Türkei, Deutschland und der Völkermord an den Armeniern (2005); Isabel V. Hull, Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany (Cornell, Ithaca, 2005) and Donald Bloxham, The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Armenians (Oxford, 2005) employ these documents to good effect. As far as I know, scholars in Turkey haven’t published anything using these materials; though when I was in the German Foreign Office Archives in Berlin, it was clear that some Turkish scholars had seen them. When you work in German archives you have to sign a sheet saying you have used these documents. So sometimes you can see who has used them ahead of you. Now, the documents from the German Foreign Office published by Johannes Lepsius in 1919 (under the title Deutschland und Armenien), along with the parts that his edition left out (which are not as significant as some scholars have thought) can be found online, edited by Wolfgang Gust. Gust has inserted in italics the parts that Lepsius's Deutschland und Armenien left out. Gust was able to do this by comparing Lepsius’s collection with the original documents. These are available online [at].

K.M.: In German Responsibility in the Armenian Genocide, Dadrian argues that Lepsius left these sections out on purpose.

M.A.: I think Gust himself has now become a little more moderate on that issue. Most of the phrases and passages left out are completely insignificant from the standpoint of the question, Was there an Armenian Genocide and who was involved? They do not bear significantly on the question of the Genocide’s character. In some cases, Lepsius—if it was Lepsius who was responsible for the omissions—may have been protecting fellow Germans and Germany’s reputation, but in most of the cases, it seems to me, he was protecting Armenians. That is—and the national school of Turkish historians will be quick to jump on this—he would soften or leave out cases of Armenian revolutionary violence, and cover that up. Lepsius presents a picture of almost complete Armenian victimhood, of a people with no ability to strike back. Well, we know that is not true; the Armenians struck back when they could. But Lepsius was a churchman, and so disapproved of violence. And he was also trying to protect Armenians against what he had long known was the false charge of the German Turkophiles: that the Armenians were terrorists, that the “deportations” were a security measure against traitors, and that the CUP [Committee of Union and Progress] was only protecting the Ottoman state.

K.M.: Before we discuss Germany and the Ottoman Empire during WWI, can you put the pre-war German-Ottoman relations into perspective?

M.A.: Twenty years before the war and even right before the war, Germany didn’t have as many interests in the Ottoman Empire as, for example, the French and even the Austrians. It had less economic investment and fewer cultural institutions, but it certainly hoped to have a future there. Until the second Balkan war (1912-13), Germany worked very hard to keep the Ottoman Empire in operation because it was afraid, as many of the great powers were, that if the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, another European power would get it—probably Russia, and maybe even England or France. There was the fear that any country that annexed the Ottoman Empire, or parts of it, would grow too powerful, and the European equilibrium would grow dangerously unbalanced. Germany would suffer in particular, because unlike the others it had no foothold in the Mediterranean. This is why the Germans didn’t want the Ottoman Empire to dissolve.

After 1912, the Ottoman Empire began to look as if it were going to dissolve anyway, whatever Germany or the other European powers did. This feeling that it would soon go into “liquidation,” as the German Foreign Office called it, caused Germany to suddenly support the Armenians in 1913-14 in ways it had not done before. Germany in fact now so supported the reform deal in Eastern Anatolia that the powers finally forced the Ottomans to sign in February 1914, granting the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia a certain parity in public offices with the Muslim population there, and thus a kind of regional autonomy. Germany had not been in favor of insisting on reforms in the past, siding with the Ottoman government in resisting them. But in 1913 and the first half of 1914, seeing that the dissolution of the Empire might be near, it wanted to have friends in what would be the leftover pieces. These friends, they hoped, would be the Armenians.

K.M.: But this was far from materializing into something positive for the Armenians, wasn’t it? According to Hilmar Kaiser, from 1915-16 a uniform position toward the Ottoman Armenians did not exist.

M.A.: Well, yes. But by 1915-16, Germany was in the midst of a World War, which changed every calculation. And remember, the German government lacked a uniform position on many burning issues: about the future of the Ukraine, which the Germans were occupying in 1915, and the future of Belgium, which they had occupied since August 1914. There was no uniform German position on any of the central questions about the post-war settlement. Rather, there were huge conflicts within the German government itself during WWI as the right-wingers (much of the Army) and the moderates (mostly the Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, and the Foreign Office) struggled for control over future policy. So the absence of a uniform position on the Ottoman Armenians is not surprising. However, having said that, I think it is also true that at the higher reaches of the German government, the decision was that they had an ally—the Ottoman government—and they would not do anything that would jeopardize their alliance with it. Although there were many Germans in the Ottoman Empire itself—businessmen, bankers, engineers, diplomats—protesting the Ottoman policy, by the time the issue got to the top in Berlin, the Chancellor’s position was clear: Whatever the Turks may do, they are our allies and not the Armenians.

K.M.: So can we say that there was a policy of denying the extermination of the Armenians.

M.A.: Yes and no. Yes, it was denied to the public at large. This was a policy in which other sections of society were complicit. My work has been on German public opinion, and the elites knew what was going on. Top professors of oriental languages; some journalists; at least six superintendents (roughly bishops) in the Protestant church; certainly the lay leadership among German Catholics (such as the Center Party's leader in parliament Matthias Erzberger, who was assassinated by Right-wing thugs after the war); the pope; the head of the Deutsche Bank (as Hilmar Kaiser and Gerald D. Felman have shown); and other important members of the Reichstag, such as the later winner of the Nobel Peace Price, the liberal Gustav Stresemann, knew. Stresemann decided to keep silent about it. An Armenian-born graduate student in Berlin, Frau Elizabeth Khorikian, did a study of one of the largest circulation (and Left-wing) newspapers in Berlin during 1915, the Berliner Tageblatt. This paper issued sometimes three to four different editions a day, because every time there was war news, they brought another edition. And She looked at every single one. And in all of these issues, she found only five mentions of the Armenians during that whole period. Three were interviews with Talaat Pasha, Enver Pasha and Halil Pasha, and two were reproductions of Turkish news releases. That’s it. The newspapers knew very well what was going on. Both the Social Democratic and the Christian press knew it. Christian journals said the most, although they said it carefully and in guarded language. Lepsius gave an interview on the 5th of October, 1915, to a group of newspapermen in Berlin, to tell them what he had learned on his recent trip to Constantinople/Istanbul from late July to early August. An editor of a socialist newspaper wrote: “If one wanted to apply European concepts of morality and politics to Turkish relationships, one would arrive at a completely distorted judgment.” In general, the newspapers were willing to follow the view that, We are in a war and the government thinks this alliance is important to us, so we will continue this alliance.

K.M.: Are you saying that there was no direct censorship?

M.A.: There was also direct censorship. When Lepsius printed 20,500 copies of his documents, many of them were confiscated by the German General in charge of censorship for the Berlin area before the Turks had even protested. But I think that had the press wanted to break the story, they could have done it. There was so much self-censorship that the government didn’t have to intervene. We will never know what would have happened if the press had tried to distribute Lepsius’s material, but they didn’t try, because they believed that it was more important to have the Turks on their side. The Allied invasion of Gallipoli began in March 1915. The defense of Gallipoli, it was believed, was absolutely central to a German victory, which Germans equated with their survival. And remember: 1,303 German soldiers died, on average, every day between August 1914 and armistice in November 1918. Not surprisingly, Germans were preoccupied by what was happening in Belgium, France, Galicia and the eastern front. They were not thinking that much about Turkey.
For me, that is all the more reason to see Lepsius, for all his flaws, as a hero. He didn’t pay attention only to what was best for Germany. Five days after his son was killed on the eastern front, he arrived in Constantinople, and according to him interviewed not just Enver Pasha but also Talaat. In my view, nobody has looked into the genuine mysteries behind Lepsius’s trip to Constantinople/Istanbul enough: Why did the German Foreign Office give him permission to go? How was he able to get an interview with Enver, and if he was telling the truth, also with Talaat? An ordinary friend of the Armenians and an ordinary writer and journalist (he wasn’t a pastor anymore since he had been forced to give that up when he refused to stop agitating on behalf of the Armenians in 1896) certainly would not have been able to in wartime talk to the War Minister or the Interior Minister of his own country, much less a foreign one. I believe that he was only able to do that because the German Foreign Office put pressure on the Turks to receive him. Why do you think they would have done that? Isn’t that a question worth asking?

K.M.: Why do you think they did that?

M.A.: In my view, they did it because at that time Lepsius made the German Foreign Office believe that the Armenians were, in fact, militarily important. Lepsius was playing a very dangerous game. He tried to play up the military importance of the Armenians on the Russian side of the border, and argued that they could be rallied to the side of the Central Powers (Germany and Austria), and that if they weren’t rallied behind the German cause—and here was the dangerous corollary—that they could actually hurt the Germans and the Turks in the war. That is, of course, the very excuse the Turkish government uses to justify what happened. But I think that in fact Lepsius was trying to exaggerate the military danger of the Armenian revolutionary movement in order to get Germany to pressure the Turks to stop the deportations and massacres. But by the time he got to Constantinople, by late July or early August 1915, most Armenians had already been deported, and it was clear to the German government that they had nothing to offer the Germans and posed no military threat to the Turks.

K.M.: Are there any documents on this?

M.A.: Beginning in late May 1915, Lepsius began contacts with the German Foreign Office in connection with the Van massacres and offered himself as a mediator between the Turks and Armenians. He tried to impress the Foreign Office with how important the Armenians could be for Germany. “One cannot treat a nation of four million as a quantité négligeable,” he said. He described the Armenians as a rope stretching from Turkey to Russia, with one half of in Russia and the other in Turkey. “It cannot be to our advantage, if one half, the Russian half, is constantly courted and flattered, while the other, the Turkish half, faces only oppression.” Like a tug-of-war, the advantage would go to whichever side can pull that rope over to its side. “It is impossible to cut that rope. Language, Literature, Church, Customs are an unbreakable band. The extermination policy of Abdul Hamid only wove the rope even tighter.” In early June 1915, the Undersecretary of State at the German Foreign Office, Arthur Zimmermann, thought that it might be true and asked the German Ambassador to Constantinople, Hans vonWangemheim, to arrange an interview. Wangenheim said that the Turks don’t want to see Lepsius, and advised against any visit. But the Foreign Office insisted, I think, not out of any particular humanitarianism, but because Lepsius had managed to convince it that the Armenians would be helpful to them. Lepsius, of course, knew that they were being victimized. If Lepsius had been able to get to Constantinople right away, maybe in early June, he would not have been able to convince the CUP. But given his Foreign Office backing, he just might have been able to bring more German influence to bear on Turkish policy.

It is not only now that Turkey tries to deny what happened. Even then the CUP tried to keep everything absolutely secret in order to maintain “deniability” at all times. In my view, the major weapon against what was happening was publicity, and that is what the Turkish government, and later Lepsius, understood. But not everyone who supported the Armenians understood that. On the 16th of July, 1915, the U.S. Ambassador to Constantinople, Henry Morgenthau, wrote to the American State Department that “a campaign of race extermination is in progress,” yet he recommended against any protest, because he thought it would make the situation worse. Morgenthau is a hero among the Armenian-Americans (see, for example, Peter Balakian’s book, Black Dog of Fate), not only because of the efforts he made on behalf of the Armenians while he was in Turkey, but also, probably, because at the end of the war he writes memoirs in which he makes himself look brave and good—and the German diplomatic personnel look all bad. I don’t deny that Morgenthau helped the Armenians, and he gave information to Lepsius to publish. But he was also first and foremost an employee of the American government (just as German diplomats in Turkey were first and foremost employees of their governments). After he left Constantinople in the late winter of 1916, Morgenthau even went around making public appearances with the Turkish ambassador to the U.S. This infuriated an Armenian journal published in the United States. Pro-Armenians in America could not understand how Morgenthau would deign to appear on the same platform with a representative of the murderous Turkish government. They couldn’t understand why Morgenthau would do such a thing. He did it because he was an Ambassador of the USA and the USA was a neutral power interested in good relations with the Turks. In the summer of 1915, he reported everything to the American government, and privately did his best to help Armenians (as did German consuls on the spot). But he also advised his government that protests might only make matters worse, and suggested that it inform missionary groups to do the same, as well.

K.M.: What was the reason he did this?

M.A.: Well, don't forget that when diplomatic pressure was brought to bear upon Abdul Hamid in 1896, he responded by massacring the Armenians in Istanbul/Constantinople. People like Morgenthau did not think the Turks were civilized people, for good reason. I’m not saying there weren’t any civilized Turks in the Ottoman Empire, but Turks and Kurds had already behaved so horribly in the 1890s, that some people didn’t think the Ottoman government would respond to something like the pressure of European and American public opinion. Morgenthau didn’t. Noting that even men like Morgenthau believed this, I think, gives a little bit of respectability to other people—like the pope—who believed, however mistakenly, that you could get more accomplished for the Armenians by working behind the scenes to convince Turks to do this or that.

K.M.: Couldn’t the German government interfere in any way to stop the Genocide and the deportations?

M.A.: German soldiers in the Ottoman Empire were not part of the German Army but were all under Ottoman command—and that includes the worst of them, like the first assistant chief of staff of the Turkish General Staff, Colonel Bronsart von Schellendorf. There was no practical legal way that the German government could have ordered them to intervene. What the German government could have done was to have ordered them to withdraw from Ottoman service and come home. It is also sometimes asked, “Why didn’t the German government threaten to cut off their supplies to the Ottomans?” That is a good argument. I used to believe it myself before I read the interviews with Zimmermann in 1915—interviews that had nothing, by the way, to do with Armenians—which revealed that he was in constant anxiety because Germany was unable to get supplies to the Ottomans. It was not until mid-January 1916, after Serbia was conquered, that German trains could reach Istanbul. Before then, they could not ship supplies to Turkey (except for money, which was useless), so there were no supplies that they could cut off in 1915. Or at least, so Zimmermann said.

K.M.: What can you say about the Baghdad Railroad?

M.A.: I have seen documents from the company archives that show \ the company knew what went on. Representatives on the spot did in fact, as Kaiser said, try to hide Armenians and protect them; they also protested and reported to their home offices. However, the German officer delegated to be the liaison between the German army and the Baghdad railroad, Lt. Col. Böttrich, overrode the Baghdad (Anatolian) railway personnel and signed a deportation order for some of their Armenian workers himself. I’m not trying to say that there weren’t certain Germans in Turkey who clearly adopted the position of CUP.

K.M.: Reading the literature, I didn’t feel there was a concerted policy, and this could have been why some people behaved differently.

M.A.: I haven't done the kind of intensive research that I would like to on German military behavior; and most of Germany's military archives were destroyed by bombing in World War II, so we will never have the kind of certainty that we have with the diplomatic record. But there were two German officers, at least, who behaved differently. Field Marshall Liman von Sanders saved the Armenians in Edirne and Izmir. True, there weren’t many Armenians in those two towns, so they were less important to the CUP than the Armenians in Van or Urfa. In that sense, Liman probably faced less resistance from the Ottoman authorities than he would have had he attempted something similar in Eastern Anatolia. But he did meet resistance, and he absolutely refused to allow them to be deported. (Liman, however, had a personality that everyone disliked, and he disliked everyone, so you can almost predict that he would do the opposite of what other people wanted him to do. Had every German office and diplomatic official behaved like Liman, the results would probably have been terrible for Ottoman-German relations. On the other hand, the Ottoman Empire was by then so deeply involved in the war, and had so many enemies in the Entente powers already committed to gaining territory at its expense, that we have to ask, Would it really have left the German-Austrian alliance? Probably not. But if the Turks had made a separate peace with the Entente, it would have given them an even freer hand with the Armenians. The other German officer who behaved differently was Colonel (later General) Kress von Kressenstein, the chief of staff of Jemal Pasha. He apparently convinced Jemal not to deport 400 Armenian orphans.

In German-occupied territory in the Russian Empire, the German army prevented pogroms against the Jewsby local populations (Ukrainians and Russians, for example), which were incited by the retreating Tsarist armies. There was a very similar hysteria against ethnic minorities throughout Europe during World War I, and specifically Eastern Europe and encouraged by the Tsarist army. In some cases, it was the German minority that was the target; in others it was the Ukrainians or Poles or Baltic populations. But the targets almost always included the Jews. Wherever it went, the German army protected the Jews. But they had orders to do so from Berlin. And they were occupying territory they had conquered. Berlin couldn’t give orders to German officers who serve in the Ottoman army.

K.M.: Dadrian mentions that these German officers were misguided by information they received from Turkish subordinates. Was this a frequent occurrence?

M.A.: In some cases that may have been the case. It’s interesting that Wolffskeel von Reichenberg, a Major in Marash, was told that Armenians were massacring Turks. He was there and he saw that the story was not true and quashed that story. Later on, however, under the command of Fakhri pasha, he subdued Zeitun and the Armenians in Urfa, and was there at Mousa Dagh, so I don’t think that the best explanation for their behavior is that German officers were given false information, as much as they adapted and began to see things from the perspective of the people they worked for.

K.M.: Is the word “complicity” appropriate, in your opinion, in describing German involvement in the Armenian Genocide?

M.A.: In my view it gives a false impression. I think the German historians are harshest in judging the Germans (although Dadrian judges them harshly too), particularly Tessa Hoffman and Wolfgang Gust, as well as Swiss historian Christoph Dinkel. They tend to make these Germans look like early Nazis. That may be true of a few of these officers, but I think in general the Germans did what people in all countries do most of the time, which is to operate on what they think is best for their own country.

For example, the Jews in England were horrified at the treatment of the Jews in Russia before the war; yet just like the friends of Armenians in Germany with regard to Turkey, they didn’t want England to have an alliance with Russia. They really hated it when the Entente with Russia was established in 1907. Then came the war and England allied with Russia, even though the Russian army “evacuated” three million Jews. (You can call it deportation.) They didn’t usually massacre them, but they did forcibly evacuate them, as a “security measure,” and as a punitive measure, accusing them of collaborating with the Germans. In many cases, the evacuees lost everything they had: homes, furniture, businesses, everything. And the Tsarist armies were complicit in the pogroms that sometimes ensued. Jews in England protested, and they were allowed to protest. That is a difference. But did their protests against Russian treatment of the Jews affect the policy of the British government? No. And in fact, the British Ambassador to St. Petersburg, Sir George Buchanan, wrote back to his government saying that “There cannot be the slightest doubt that a very large number of Jews in German pay and have acted as spies during the campaigns in Poland.” That is, he believed and transmitted all those lies the Russian army was telling about the Jews. Well, I have to say that the German diplomats in the Ottoman Empire were more objective and honest than that. They carefully looked into the charges the CUP was making against the Armenians. They were convinced that the majority of the Armenians were innocent of the charges against them, that the mass of the Armenian people had not behaved as traitors. And they informed their own government of the truth. I think the term “complicity” sets up a false impression of the behavior of German officials. I don’t want to say the Germans were “good,” but they behaved the way officials of most countries would.

K.M.: What do you think about the view that the Armenian Genocide was a precursor to the Holocaust and that some officers who served in the Ottoman army were later high ranking Nazi officials?

M.A.: There are certainly some carry-overs, although the fact that men who later served the Nazis also spent time in Turkey is not surprising given the war and given the importance of the Constantinople post and the Ottoman Empire generally. Many of the same people also spent time in Belgium and France. One of the worst Germans, as far as being unwilling to help the Armenians, was Constantin von Neurath. He was chargé d’affairs in the German Embassy at Constantinople and later became the first Foreign Minister under Hitler, though he was not a member of the Nazi Party. He wrote Berlin, in the fall of 1915, that he hoped the friends of the Armenians in Germany [The German-Armenian Society founded by Lepsius] could be made to keep quiet, though he admitted that the German government couldn’t actually shut them down. He thought that the money they were collecting for Armenian relief would be better used for German relief. So he was clearly a heartless guy.

However, I should also mention one of the true ironies. Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter was the vice-consul of Erzerum and an officer in the Bavarian army. He had been sent out to eastern Anatolia to organize Muslim guerrillas behind the Russian lines, much like the way some people have argued the Russians were organizing Armenians. However, when he got there, the consul of Erzerum had just been captured by the Russians, and so Scheubner-Richter was made the vice-counsul in his place. This man constantly protested the treatment of the Armenians to his government. He was also extremely bold in protesting it to the Ottoman government. He got reprimanded by his own government for being too undiplomatic towards the Turks. He took out of his own money to feed some Armenian refugees going through Erzerum. At this stage, he is a true hero. After the war, he became a Nazi and in 1923 was shot down in Munich, marching next to Hitler in the Beer Hall Putsch. He was at that time Hitler’s main right-hand man for the party's finances. Hitler refers to him in letters from the period as “my delegate.” He served as the liaison between the early Nazi movement, the military interests, and the business interests.

The worst person in Germany, as far as the Armenians were concerned, was Ernst Jäckh, a journalist who also had some academic credentials. He founded an important pro-Turkish lobby in Germany, the German-Turkish Union, and advertised himself as close to Enver Pasha. His wartime activities were largely confined to propaganda, but he worked hard to see that a pro-Turkish message was constantly disseminated to the German public. He was practically an employee of the Turkish government, someone who joined the German-Armenian Society in order to spy on them. He also spied on Lepsius and reported on his activities to his government, and was always working to twist information in a pro-Turkish direction. After the war, he became a leading spokesman in Germany for the movement on behalf of the League of Nations. In 1933, he left Germany for New York, and became a professor in Columbia University and a big-time democrat and liberal. In fact, he had always been a liberal. So, I don’t think you can draw any straight line between the perpetrators in WWI and those later on in the Nazi regime.

K.M.: And what is the line that we can draw between the Armenian Genocide and German responsibility?

M.A.: In that regard, I think the connection is “ethnic cleansing.” The CUP was very influenced by integralist nationalism and—as Sukru Hanioglu has shown—social Darwinism and European racist thought as the basis of a powerful nation-state. German intellectuals were powerful contributors to these currents and German successes seemed to demonstrate the truth of the argument: homogeneous nation, powerful state.

K.M.: There is Marshal Colmar von der Goltz who has proposed something like ethnic cleansing.

M.A.: Some people say that but I haven’t seen the proof. They also say that about the publicist, Paul Rohrbach, which I doubt very much, at least in the sense attributed to him. Rohrbach was certainly a German nationalist and an imperialist—as were most men in the educated classes in those days—although he advocated “peaceful imperialism”: spreading German culture and “ideas” through development help, schools and cultural exchanges. He was actually a friend of Armenians, and on the board of directors of Lepsius’s Geman Armenian Society. People say Rohrbach thought it would be a good idea to remove the Armenians along the route of the prospective Berlin-Baghdad railway and plant Germans there, but I don’t think that can be true. When Rohrbach found out about the deportations he was devastated, and resigned his membership in Jäckh's German-Turkish Union. I don’t know about von der Goltz; I’d like to see the hard evidence on that.

The continuity between the two regimes—CUP and Nazi—is in their common desire to create an ethnically homogeneous state. The Young Turks got that idea from Europe, but the Nazis were the first European country to try hard to put it in effect in any consistent and rigorous way. I think the CUP were like the Nazis, but I don’t think they were that way because there were Germans who were allied with the Turks in WW1, and then these Germans did it themselves the second time around. Sukru Hanioglu, of Princeton, has shown in his two volumes on the CUP, that even before 1908 they had adopted Social Darwinist ideas. Rather, the both movements “drank from the same well” of integralist nationalism. I think the CUP was the Turkish version of what would later be called "Fascists."

A colleague of mine who teaches Turkish history in the United States (let us not give his name because I don’t think he could visit his family in Turkey if his name is published) told me that he has no doubt that there was a Genocide. For him, the only question is how far the responsibility goes within the CUP. How many people were involved in the decision? Because it was a dictatorship. An interesting difference between the CUP Genocide and the Nazi one is that in the Third Reich when the Jews are being killed, there are no protests from German officials ever! In Turkey, several valis and lower Ottoman officials did protest. And paid the price. In Turkey, also, some Kurds, Arabs and even some Turkish Muslims criticized the policy and rescued Armenians openly. In Germany, those few Germans who did rescue Jews did not do it openly. Unless you count the riot by the Christian wives at the Rosenstrasse Berlin railway station over the deportation of their husbands. And that was unique. Perhaps this difference with Turkey is because Germany was such an "organized" country and it was much harder to get away with behavior that was counter to official policy (or at least, so people may have thought) than it was in Turkey.

K.M.: What about Germany today? Does it have the moral responsibility to acknowledge the Genocide?

M.A.: Absolutely! As does Turkey. However, Turks have been raised on one view of history. If they are told by foreigners that they have to change their view of history, they may end up signing on the dotted line—if, for example, that is the price for entering the EU—but it won’t make them believe it. My hope comes from the fact that there are Turkish historians in Turkey today who absolutely know the truth and don’t dare to, right now, say what it is. But that is changing. As Turkey becomes more democratic and as the army becomes more and more discredited, there will be freedom of debate in Turkey. And I think then historians who want to be credible outside of Turkey will have to look at the evidence the same way we look at it.

An Interview with Elif Shafak II

A Storyteller's Quest
By Khatchig Mouradian

March 14, 2006

"Anatolia has always been a mosaic of flowers,
filling the world with flowers and light.
I want it to be the same today"
Yasar Kemal

The Anatolia Yasar Kemal, arguably the greatest Turkish author of the 20th century, wants to see and the Anatolia he can actually see today cannot possibly be considered the same region of Turkey. What was a century ago a mosaic of ethnic and religious groups (Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, Turks, Kurds, etc.) is now almost homogenized through blood and destruction, and the memory of many of the peoples that once dwelled in the region of Eastern Turkey is being negligently allowed to pass into oblivion.

A number of Turkish intellectuals are striving to push Turkey to face its past and recognize the "mosaic of flowers" that Anatolia once was. Will their vision one day become reality? Much depends on the changes currently taking place in Turkey. Novelist Elif Shafak, one of the courageous intellectuals struggling today for the preservation of memory and recognition of cultural diversity, spoke to me of Turkey today and the Turkey she would like to see tomorrow.

The Two Faces of Turkey

"I feel connected to so many things in Turkey, especially in Istanbul. The city, the people, the customs of women, the enchanting world of superstitions, my grandmother's almost magical cosmos, my mother's humanism, and the warmth, the sincerity of the people," Shafak tells me, speaking of her native country. "At the same time I feel no connection whatsoever to its main ideology, its state structure and army," she notes.

Turkey is the country of opposites which oftentimes, defying the laws of physics, repel one another. Eastern and Western, Islamic and secular at the same time, the country is torn between democracy and dictatorship, memory and amnesia. These dualities, bordering on schizophrenia, are unsettling for Shafak, an author of five published novels. "I think there are two undercurrents in Turkey, both very old. One is nationalist, exclusivist, xenophobic and reactionary. The other is cosmopolitan, Sufi, humanist, embracing. It is the second tide that I feel connected to," she says.

Not surprisingly, the first tide she mentions is not at all happy with her line of conduct. Hate-mail and accusations of being a traitor to her country have become commonplace for the young writer.

"The nationalist discourse in Turkey-- just like the Republicans in the USA-- is that if you are criticizing your government, you do not like your nation. This is a lie. Only and only if you care about something you will reflect upon it, give it further thought. I care about Turkey. It hurts me to be accused of hating my country," she explains.

However, Elif Shafak, who spent most of her childhood and adolescence in Europe and later moved to Turkey to pursue her studies, is anything but wrong when she points out that her country has come a long way in the last few years. "There are very important changes underway in Turkey. Sometimes, in the West, Turkey looks more black-and-white than it really is, but the fact remains that Turkey's civil society is multifaceted and very dynamic. Especially over the past two decades there have been fundamental transformations," she says.

"The bigger the change, the deeper the panic of those who want to preserve the status quo," she adds.

A cornered tiger is the fiercest, however, as an Eastern proverb says. This is why the prospect of membership to the European Union (EU) is deemed necessary by the country’s cosmopolitan undercurrent, which is struggling against the status quo. For decades, those, who have dared to challenge the official rhetoric on a wide spectrum of issues, have faced oppression, persecution, and imprisonment, and they know well that the only way not to take the country back in time is to keep it going in the direction of the EU. Shafak herself believes that Turkey's bid to join the EU "is an important process for progressive forces both within and outside the country". She adds: "Definitely the whole process will reinforce democracy, human rights and minority rights. It will diminish the role of the state apparatuses, and most importantly the shadow of the military in the political arena."

Dealing with the Turkish Society's 'Underbelly'

"For me, the recognition of 1915 is connected to my love for democracy and human rights," says Shafak. 1915 is the year when the Turkish government embarked on a genocidal campaign to exterminate the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. This topic remained the greatest of all taboos in Turkey until very recently.

Although the Armenian genocide is acknowledged by most genocide scholars and many parliaments around the world, the Turkish government's official stand maintains that the Armenians were not subjected to a state sponsored annihilation process that killed more than a million and a half people in 1915-16. The Armenians were, the Turkish official viewpoint argues, the victims of ethnic strife or war and starvation, just like many Muslims living in the Ottoman Empire during WWI. Moreover, according to the official historiography in Turkey, the number of the Armenians that died due to these "unfortunate events" is exaggerated.

Like a growing number of fellow Turkish intellectuals, it is against this policy of denial that Elif Shafak rages. "If we had been able to face the atrocities committed against the Armenians in Anatolia, it would have been more difficult for the Turkish state to commit atrocities against the Kurds," she argues.

"A society based on amnesia cannot have a mature democracy," she adds.

Why did she choose to tackle this very sensitive issue, knowing well that harassment and threats were inevitable? "I am a storyteller. If I cannot "feel" other people's pain and grief, I better quit what I am doing. So there is an emotional aspect for me in that I have always felt connected to those pushed to the margins and silenced rather than those at the center", she notes. "This is the pattern in each and every one of my novels; I deal with Turkish society's underbelly."

Her upcoming novel, "The Bastard of Istanbul", is no exception. The Turkish translation of the novel, titled “Baba ve Pic” was released in Turkey on March 8, 2006. The original novel in English will be released in the U.S. in January 2007 out of Penguin/Viking press. "The novel is highly critical of the sexist and nationalist fabric of Turkish society. It is the story of four generations of women in Istanbul. At some point their stories converge with the story of an Armenian woman and, thereby, an Armenian-American family. I have used this family in San Francisco and the family in Istanbul as mirrors," she explains. "Basically, the novel testifies to the struggle of amnesia and memory. It deals with painful pasts both at the individual and collective level," she adds.

The Turkey she would like to see in 2015, a century after the Armenian genocide, stands in deep contrast to the Turkey the world has known for the better part of the past century. It is "a Turkey that is part of EU, a Turkey where women do not get killed on the basis of "family honor", a Turkey where there is no gender discrimination, no violations against minorities; a Turkey which is not xenophobic, homophobic, where each and every individual is treated as valuably as the reflection of the Jamal side of God, its beauty."

It would be hard to disagree with Shafak that only in the Turkey she envisions can cosmopolitism overshadow nationalism and remembrance emerge victorious over denial.