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.

An Interview with Eren Keskin

Against All Odds
Human Rights Activism in Turkey
by Khatchig Mouradian

April 05, 2006

“I refuse to buy my freedom of speech by paying money,” said Eren Keskin, the Head of the Istanbul Branch of the Human Rights Association of Turkey, during a press conference in Istanbul on the 22nd of March. A few days earlier, a Turkish court had sentenced her to 10 months’ imprisonment for insulting the country’s military. The sentence was then converted to a fine of 6000 New Turkish Liras, which Keskin is refusing to pay, however, saying that she will go to prison instead. Moreover, she asserts: “I will continue to express both verbally and in writing my thoughts, which are banned unlawfully by the ruling powers, because we are not the ones who should change; they are.”

“The case will be heard by the Court of Appeals. It will take several months before it reaches a verdict. In the meantime campaigns in support of freedom of speech in Turkey both at home and abroad will help a lot to influence the general climate in Turkey for greater democracy,” told me Ayse Gunaysu, an activist in the organization headed by Keskin.

The court sentence against Keskin was based on the notorious Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which states that public denigration of Turkishness, the Grand National Assembly (Turkey’s legislature) or the Government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the state, as well as the military and security structures are punishable by imprisonment of between six months and three years. In recent months, dozens of Turkish activists and intellectuals, including the world-renowned author Orhan Pamuk, have been charged under this article.

Keskin, who is also the founder of the Project for Legal Aid to Victims of Rape and Sexual Assault Under Custody, had been accused of “insulting” the Turkish military big time in 2002, after giving a speech in Köln, Germany about cases of sexual assault against women inmates by the state security forces in Turkey. Keskin explains: “In my presentation under the topic “Sexual Violence Perpetrated by the State,” I shared with the audience certain findings of our project, which had been going since 1997. I said that sexual torture was used as a systematic method of psychological warfare and that victims of such torture were afraid to file complaints against the security forces.”

I discussed with Eren Keskin issues related to human rights violations in Turkey in late March, a few days after the recent court ruling. Taking into account the oft-repeated assertions that Turkey had made great strides towards respect for human rights in the last few years in its quest for EU membership, I asked her whether these changes were radical or cosmetic. “I don't believe that the changes that have been made or are being made in this process are radical,” she replied. “I don't think that the state has any intention to change, because the changes introduced have no power to transform the essence of the system. Yet we have to admit that they have at least provided an atmosphere where certain issues are being discussed.”

Thou Shalt not Insult the Army

The generals in Turkey consider themselves the guardians of the country’s secular constitution and they have an established tradition of directly intervening in politics, including a number of direct and indirect military coups since 1960. In Keskin’s opinion, all legislative, executive and judicial powers in Turkey are still under their control. “The military in Turkey not only determines both domestic and foreign policy, but also enjoys huge economic power through one of Turkey's biggest business groups, OYAK, which operates literally in all sectors of the economy, from banking to tourism. Moreover, all OYAK companies are exempt from any tax liability,” explained Keskin. Hence, she believes that the main impediment to improving Turkey’s human rights record is the military.

“Today, even those who define themselves as being part of the left in Turkey do not question the taboos determined by the “red lines,” which the military has set,” she said, noting that overcoming the military’s domination of the state is extremely difficult in Turkey.

“Domestic Enemies”

As this article is being written, thousands of protesters, mostly Kurds, are clashing with the Turkish police in the southeast of the country. For decades, Turkey has failed to find a decent solution to its Kurdish problem. Ankara is reluctant to grant the most basic of cultural and political rights to the millions of Kurds, who live mainly in the country’s southeast, where the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, unleashed an armed struggle against the Turkish state in the 1980s.

“Kurds are one of the “domestic enemies” that this system, controlled by the military, needs to create in order to sustain its domination,” asserted Keskin. “Failure in providing any solution to this issue makes the military all the more powerful. Even the minor progress made lately in this field – achieved at enormous cost and partly the outcome of the EU accession process – does not change the fact that “the policy of ‘non-solution’ still dominates the government’s approach to the Kurdish issue.”

State of Denial

For decades, the greatest of all taboos in Turkey has been the Armenian genocide of 1915. In recent years, a number of intellectuals in the country have started to speak up about this issue, calling upon Turkey to face its past, oftentimes at the cost of being persecuted or sued under Article 301. “The Turkish official thesis regarding the Armenian genocide is still very influential in the street and in academia, although there are efforts to overcome this domination,” said Keskin, when asked about Ankara’s policy of denial towards the annihilation by the ruling Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) and under the cover of World War I of an estimated a million and a half Armenians in the dying years of the Ottoman Empire.

The overwhelming majority of genocide scholars and many parliaments around the world recognize this instance of mass slaughter as a classic case of genocide. The descendents of the genocide victims, in turn, continue to demand that Turkey, too, recognize the genocidal intent behind the decimation of the Armenians, who lived on their ancestral land. The Turkish government vehemently denies, however, that there was a planned destruction of an entire ethnic group. It also argues that the number of victims is vastly exaggerated.

According to Keskin, “there is no real break with the ideology of the CUP not only among the extremists but also among those who consider themselves part of the democratic opposition in Turkey. The ideology that led to the Armenian genocide was a very important element of the founding ideology of the Republic of Turkey.”

Keskin has little faith that Turkey will come to terms with its past in the near future. “The general mindset of the majority of Turkish society, including a significant part of the left, has been shaped under the influence of this ideology. It is for this reason that I don't believe much progress can be made in the short run,” she said. “However, I believe recognition of the genocide is crucial. Turkish people should acknowledge the sufferings of the Armenians, empathize with them and apologize for what happened in 1915.”

* * *

Eren Keskin and many of her colleagues in Turkey operate in an environment of intimidation and threats. “We, the human rights activists, have learned, throughout these years, how to live with fear and to go on despite its persistence,” she said. “Up till now 14 executives and members of our Human Rights Association have been killed by what we call the counter-guerilla units. I myself have been the target of two armed attacks. I still receive death threats. Of course all these generate some fear in me, but if there is one thing, which we have learned by now, is to continue with our struggle despite fear. I guess we owe this to our faith in what we do.”

Indeed, it is on this faith that many people are counting.

An Interview with Jeffrey Tufenkian

‘For Current and Future Generations’
An Interview with Jeffrey Tufenkian
By Khatchig Mouradian

The Armenian Weekly
March 10, 2007

Jeffrey Tufenkian is co-founder and president of Armenian Forests NGO (, which focuses on restoring and protecting Armenia’s forests for the current and future generations. According to the website, “Armenian Forests NGO is the outgrowth of his concern and determination to do what is needed to protect and restore Armenia’s threatened forests while helping to create jobs and build the economy.”

Tufenkian is also co-founder of the Kanach Foundation, publisher of the book Adventure Armenia: Hiking and Rock Climbing (

In this interview, conducted on March 7, Tufenkian talks about the challenges facing the environment in Armenia today, be they deforestation, illegal logging or the absence of sufficient support for environmental NGOs.

Armenian Weekly—How is the Armenian government dealing with the problem of deforestation? Does it provide support to NGO’s like Armenian Forests NGO?

Jeffrey Tufenkian—The government voices concern about the deforestation problems and pledges to plant millions of trees and thousands of hectares of forests, but very little actually happens. Unfortunately given the current situation of powerful people involved in the cutting, there is not the political will to really stop deforestation from the highest levels of government. Having said that, we have decent relationships with the key ministries and there has been some progress. In recent years, there has been a small amount of money from the state budget put into reforestation and some reduction of cutting, but much more needs to be done.

A.W.—Talk about the problem of illegal logging.

J.T.—Of much greater importance than reforestation—as critical and difficult as that is—is stopping the mass deforestation. Armenia’s forests are being systematically destroyed; unless drastic improvements are made soon, Armenia’s forests won’t have a future. And with the loss of the forests comes the downfall of the fragile ecosystem of which it is the cornerstone—loss of springs, streams and rivers, loss of habitat for endangered animals, loss of biodiversity, increasingly severe weather, landslides, erosion and desertification.

Once covering 35 percent of Armenia’s current territory, forest coverage is at a historical low, covering only 7-8 percent. It has already lost many springs and even rivers due to deforestation, and according to the government, over 80 percent of the land is under some level of desertification.

Despite this bleak and worsening situation, oligarchs and other powerful people in Armenia cut trees not only to sell in Yerevan and elsewhere as fuel and other internal uses (construction, furniture, etc.), but actually export wood to countries including Spain, Italy, Iran and even Turkey. This is an outrage that should not be tolerated. In fact, there is still no process for legal productive cutting of forest trees in Armenia. Trees being cut now are done by permission as “sanitary” or other cutting aimed at protecting the health of the forests. Under the guise of this, they are taking many times more trees and healthy ones rather than getting the sick trees out of the forests. Almost by definition, any valuable wood cut in Armenia is illegal.

Export of wood from Armenia is something that would have been unthinkable in Soviet times. In the last half of the Soviet period, there was mass reforestation (up to 7,000 hectares per year) and proper care of the forests as they imported wood for domestic use and would never have cut for export. The limited forest territory Armenia had was recognized as critically important and therefore given a “protected” status.

Although Armenia needs to import wood and does not have supplies internally to justify export, there are both customs fees and taxes to import wood, but to export it there are neither. Armenia should immediately stop exporting wood and change the laws to provide incentives for import of wood such as at least eliminating the fees and taxes charged to bring it in.

A.W.—How does Armenian Forests NGO coordinate with other environmental NGOs. Is duplication a problem?

J.T.—I must say that one of our priority approaches—one we put a lot of time and effort into—is cooperating with and forming coalitions with others including local NGOs—and it has been paying off. When we arrived on the scene in 2002, it was difficult to get more than two NGOs in a room at the same time and have constructive results working together, but there has been a real shift, and I think that the environmental sector is now a place where such cooperation among NGOs is really working and bringing good results. It is not surprising that in this individual-oriented society where everyone has his own organization rather than join someone else’s and there is fierce competition for limited funding, NGOs would be suspicious and fearful about cooperating. In this context, our first attempts at establishing a coalition was nearly a complete failure. But we and others kept at it and things really shifted in 2005 when the local WWF organization sounded the alarm about Shikahogh. We jumped in with about 40 local organizations to help lead a successful campaign to stop the government’s decision to put a major highway through the flagship nature reserve called Shikahogh—the last unspoiled forest of Armenia. This was not only a great win for the environment of Armenia, but an unprecedented win for civil society as these groups really set aside their individual egos and cooperated in an excellent way to bring this success.

We have been monitoring another situation and just this month publicly launched a new campaign—with many of the same NGOs from Shikahogh—to attempt to get a proposed mining operation at Teghut near Aleverdi in Lori Marz to stop until it complies with national laws and international conventions, and does not pose an undue danger to the environment and people. The current exploration violates 11 national laws and 7 international conventions; if approved, it would poison the water basin for this whole area, and destroy over 1,200 hectares (2,964 acres) of forests and its natural ecosystem as they would remove an entire small mountain and fill a valley with the unused rock and soil. Increased pollution from the smelter would further impact the already toxic zone of Aleverdi where birth defects and respiratory diseases are rampant.

A.W.—The mining issue has attracted a lot of attention in the past year. Mining also provides a lot of jobs. How are the environment NGOs planning to deal with that? Are there models providing a better alternative?

J.T.—Yes, there’s been lots of attention on mining in Armenia and lots of mining activity recently. I personally am still in a learning curve to get a grasp on the details of this industry and what alternatives are possible to allow for this industry without poisoning the water, air and devastating the natural environment for decades to come. Armenia is a small country with limited, threatened natural resources. Any major mining operation can potentially have a huge negative impact on current and future generations.

Armenia clearly needs more jobs and opportunities for income generation, and of course, the mining interests like other industries are promising lots of jobs. Unfortunately, as with much hype, the picture may not be as rosy as they try to paint it. The high paying jobs will likely be filled by people from Yerevan or from out of the country, the majority of the jobs will be low-paid, and many of the local villagers will have to gamble by sacrificing their land—which now provides consistent income and food—for a chance of a low-paying job. Unfortunately, even if they get one, it may not make up for the loss of productive fruit trees and land, and they’ll have less money, polluted water and a devastated environment, as well.

I personally am hoping that a couple of the more responsible international mining outfits can be models of an environmentally and socially responsible approach. Unfortunately, the current prevailing mode here is a “least common denominator” approach of paying off officials, paying lip service to health and environmental concerns, grabbing as much as possible and getting out, leaving destruction and little if any remaining benefit for the country and its people.

A.W.—What do you say to those in the Diaspora who ask: What can I do to help?

J.T.—There are things Diasporans can do. I believe starting and investing in businesses—especially those that pay off not only in profits and improved social wellbeing through more jobs, but have a positive payoff for the environment—could be the most important and helpful approach for Armenia now. Armenians are smart and creative, and they can use their expertise and financial investment to take advantage of business opportunities. It’s also great to donate to a good organization, and I realize easier for most than starting or running a business in Armenia. To that end, I can say we are happy to accept contributions. Armenian Forests NGO is doing outreach in the U.S. this spring with the other Tufenkian Foundation branches to raise support for some of our key projects aimed at protecting forests of the homeland.

An Interview with Congressman Frank Pallone

An Interview with Frank Pallone
By Khatchig Mouradian

The following interview with Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) was
conducted on March 23 in Washington. He is co-chair of the Congressional
Caucus on Armenian Issues.

Armenian Weekly-On March 9, together with 16 colleagues, you introduced a
bill allowing Cypriot-Americans to seek compensation for their property in
Turkish occupied Northern Cyprus. What is the importance of this bill?

Frank Pallone-We don't recognize the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus.
Those who occupied Northern Cyprus took the property of Green Cypriots
without permission and appropriated it for their own purposes. The people
who own the land should either be able to go back or get compensation, and
the Turkish government has done nothing to provide compensation.

A.W.-Whenever Cyprus, the Kurds or the Armenian Genocide resolution come up,
one of the most common arguments heard is that Turkey is changing and that
we should wait until it comes to terms with its past rather than pressuring
it and potentially causing a backlash.

F.P.-I would differentiate between the government and the people. I think
that increasingly the public, particularly the intellectuals and educated
people, would like to see Turkey become a member of the EU, recognize the
Armenian Genocide, get out of Cyprus, and not treat the Kurds as lesser
citizens. I, too, believe that the Turkish people are moving towards a
democratic society, respect for human rights, but the leadership, the
government, doesn't share that. They continue to have a hard line on almost
every one of the issues I mentioned. I hope that at some point the
leadership catches up with the public. But that's not happening now. I don't
know when that will happen, but I just think at some point it will and we
just have to keep agitating and keep saying that the government policies in
Cyprus, and against the Armenians, against the Kurds are not acceptable.

A.W.-There is constant talk that Turkey and the Bush Administration are
putting enormous pressure on Congress so that it drops the Genocide
resolution. Can you talk about the specific actions taken by Turkey and the

F.P.-Every time Congressmen and elected officials go to Ankara or Istanbul,
they are lectured for hours about how the Genocide didn't occur. And they
receive threats about how if the Genocide resolution is passed, the soldiers
in Iraq are not going to be safe and that they are not going to provide any
help in the U.S. efforts in Iraq (not that they have done much anyway).
There's a combination of genocide denial and threats against American
soldiers and American policies. Congressmen have to hear about how genocide
never occurred, how we should have a commission that looks into what
happened, how Turks always treated the Armenians so well, and there were
even Armenians in the government in 1915.

They are doing the same thing here. They go around to the Members [of
Congress] and lobby them. In some cases, they have even had soldiers in Iraq
call Members of Congress and say, "I'm afraid the Turks are going to punish
us in some way if you pass the Genocide resolution."
And the administration goes along with it and does the same thing. They call
the Members, they meet with the Members, they say this is going to threaten
American soldiers, or they suggest that there was no genocide. It's

I don't think the threats have any impact. They have increasingly moved from
threats toward more denial, because I think the threats have backfired. And
I believe denial never ceases. You still have the denial of the Holocaust.
The German government put up monuments commemorating the Holocaust and Iran
is having conferences saying the Nazi Holocaust never occurred. Even some
Americans say it never happened.

There will always be people out there denying the Genocide. If the people
accused of committing genocide are one's ancestors or friends or somebody
they respect, one doesn't believe or doesn't want to believe that they are
capable of it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An Interview with Raffi Hovannisian

An Interview with Raffi Hovannisian
By Khatchig Mouradian
The Armenian Weekly
March 31, 2007

The following interview was conducted at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., on March 15.

Armenian Weekly-Rooting out corruption is one of the main challenges facing Armenia today. How do you perceive the solution to this issue?

Raffi Hovannisian-Important in the challenge to root out the disease of corruption is giving legitimacy to the government. A legitimacy earned by election. So far in Armenia, authority has never been transferred. It has always been reproduced.

I have not seen in any of the administrations the willingness to apply the law from the president to the last citizen in the Republic of Armenia. It is the administration’s responsibility to provide options and alternatives to the nation, and any president, past or president, acting or incumbent, legitimate or illegitimate, is not entitled to say, “There’s no alternative to me. L’etat c’est moi.”

Diplomacy and the ability to realize foreign policy objectives are directly related to our domestic demeanor, our conduct in our house. Armenia’s democratic integrity, human rights credentials, respect of the rights of each and every individual is critical. And if we knock on the world’s door demanding justice for our collective and historic rights, we have to live up to the very same standards in our country. For there to be justice in the world there must be justice at home.

Let no one speak to us of “haygagan mentalitet,” Armenian mentality. Our benchmarks and traditions are the opposite of that and there is no reason for us to demand any less from our own republic. When people, whether in government or the opposition, confuse national interests with less than national concerns or interests, you have a major catastrophe. I draw a parallel between each and every tree and the forest at large. We can run into a very respectable debate on the forest and the trees. We can argue that Armenia is newly democratic, it has only been independent for 15 years and that the western democratic nations took centuries to achieve their level. That’s no consolation to me as an Armenian, because we both know what potential we have.

A.W.-What difficulties is your party facing during this pre-election period?

R.H.- Sometimes we have to run the marathon alone. Despite all the difficulties and tribulations and the unnecessary treatments to which I have been subjected, the Heritage movement will take part in the parliamentary elections.

First, there is the campaign finance issue. Obviously there are those who spend millions of dollars in their campaigns. There are parties whose sole offices are closed down, and only when we come close to elections and I give a press conference and there is some interest by ambassadors of foreign countries do they come and open the door. Also, when we try to rent halls in the public domain, we are being told that all the halls are taken, while other political parties are using those halls all the time. I have to note that my access to Armenian sources of information has been limited not only in Armenia but also in the Diaspora. This is the first time that the son of the Diaspora is participating in the democratic process in Armenia. I think that this is something that might be of interest to those who are interested in the mustering of our worldwide resources in the strengthening and democratization and perpetuity of our homeland.

In Armenia, what I say is not covered. We are now entering the election cycle and I have not been shown on TV for two years now. The coverage, or rather the lack of coverage, by [Diasporan] newspapers of my activities speaks to a lack of strategic vision and a lack of a grasp of what’s necessary to run any legitimate broad based medium of information, even partisan. This is one of the challenges of your generation of Armenian analysts and writers.

A.W.-The opposition is extremely weak, disunited and unorganized, and many of its leaders suffer from their own problems of credibility. There have been attempts by some to receive support from Western governments and create a colored revolution in Armenia. Others speak of unfathomable concessions in Karabakh and Turkish-Armenian issues to garner foreign support. How do you explain the failure of the opposition?
R.H.-First and foremost, it is the government coalition that bears the responsibility for the policies. There are different takes on why this particular coalition is together. I was hoping that at least one of the parties represented [in the coalition] would have long ago turned to the conscience of the nation as opposed to being in a situation where one might read complicity into their position. I think the future is before us, and we might see certain-I will not say unexpected-developments in that respect in the months and years to come.

On the other hand, the opposition should accept its own share of accountability and responsibility. But as you know very well, the conditions in Armenia are very uneven. The opposition has failed be come together and become a viable democratic alternative to the powers that be. The people in the opposition have not done enough to deliver to the Armenian constituents a viable ethical response to the challenges.
A democratic systemic change is important, not only in model but in application. It is clear that evolution as understood by the West will not transform Armenia. On the other hand, I think it is pretty clear to everyone concerned that xeroxing a revolution from another state or situation and circumstances is not ipso facto an alternative for Armenia. There needs to be a paradigm shift in the relations between the state and its citizens. The Armenian national machine, based on national interest, national debate and a critical discussion of options, has to keep working regardless of who wins and who loses in the elections. That has not happened so far. We are in a very dangerous situation. The average Armenian citizen is apathetic, and is only open to a situational solution: taking a vote bribe, whether it is money, free fertilizer, potatoes or whatever. This constitutes a disdain of the Armenian citizen. That is not what the Armenian citizen is all about, and that is what your generations has to work on. Armenia is a small nation, landlocked, long on culture, and short on statecraft, and the role of international actors is important, but clearly it is the role of any sovereign government to pursue national interests.

A.W.-You blamed the presidency and the governing coalition for the state of affairs in Armenia. But do you think the current situation in Armenia supports something else?

R.H.-You raise an issue of strategic and existential importance: Can the system as it is support something else? As I said, on the one hand straight revolution and on the other hand xeroxed resolutions are not the answers to Armenia’s national democratic transformation. There has to be some other intersection of circumstances and values to bring Armenia to graduate beyond this parochialism and regionalism and become a viable nation-state that has a strategic role in the region.

I have to criticize the Armenian administration for their very weak policy vis-a-vis deals with Russia that have given them part of our energy system-industry pockets of Armenian sovereignty. I would say that is dangerous for Armenia. While I would want our strategic partner to have acted differently, I don’t blame Russia. I blame ourselves. There is no way that a self confident government would approve the ceding of such sovereignty in any direction, and this myopic, parochial approach jeopardizes the future of the country. And whatever government comes into power, it is going to inherit major problems.

There is a very rational progression of these values and we should not expose our compatriots, our fellow citizens, to a situation where they have to choose between supporting our national interest and being a proponent of democracy and the rule of law.

A.W.-How do you view Armenia’s relations with its neighbors and its regional foreign policy?

R.H.-I think there is little change in our foreign policy from 1992 until today. The delivery or presentation might have changed in accent or hue, but the policy has undergone very little qualitative change. Everything is based on the strategic relationship or the lack thereof in the Turkish-Armenian relationship. All other issues-including Karabakh’s self determination and ultimate recognition of the sovereign republic and the entire peace process connected with it-are derivates of the Turkish-Armenian relationship. This might not be a majority view, but I think that Turkish-Armenian relations are key, if the dividing lines in the Caucasus are ever to be overcome.

If Turkey and Armenia are to ever find themselves on the same security page in a larger partnership of values, they have to find a way to resolve the entire breadth and depth of the relationship through a diplomatic agenda that takes on all issues, contemporary and historic, and comes forth with a normalization of relations. It requires political courage and ethical fortitude on both sides of the frontier. In their history, the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey have not signed agreements of any kind. There are different previous formulations of agreements between previous republics and the Ottoman Empire, the Bolshevik republic and nationalist Turks, but never between two sovereign republics. I think that Turkey’s desire for European integration is an important development and Armenia stands to gain from a truly European Turkey-a new and transformed Turkey that not only faces its history, but also knows how to respect historic heritage and provide for the right of return, which have to be negotiated with Armenia. There are all kinds of issues that must be resolved there.

Turkey should enter the EU only after having fully normalized relations with Armenia. It should not be able to enter the EU with an unregulated relationship with Armenia. I’ll go further and say that if Armenia gets its democratic act together, there is no reason for Armenia to be the odd man out. It could become a member of the EU if not before then at least in synchronization with Turkey, if Turkey ever gets in. European leaders who will be deciding on Turkey’s entry in 10 years are now in schools and universities. We’ll see how that plays out, but I think European integration offers great opportunities.

Regarding Karabakh, I believe there will be no solution to the issue without the participation of the Karabakh Republic. Karabakh should be part of the peace process and the exclusion from that process is not a positive trend.

Raffi K. Hovannisian is the founding director of the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), and was the first foreign minister of Armenia.
Hovannisian was born in Fresno, Calif., in 1959. He studied at the Georgetown University Law Center (JD awarded in 1985); the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University (MALD awarded in 1982; fields of specialization included international law, diplomatic history and foreign policies of communist countries, civilization and world affairs); University of California, Berkeley and Los Angeles (BA, summa cum laude, awarded in 1980 in history and Near Eastern studies; Justin Turner Prize for Outstanding Honors Thesis).
Hovannisian held the position of executive chairman of the “Hayastan” All-Armenian Fund (1998); chief of the department of information and publications, Republic of Armenia (March-April 1998); minister of foreign affairs, Republic of Armenia (1991-1992); project director of the Armenian Assembly of America Earthquake Relief (1990-1991); founder and director of the Armenian Bar Association (1989-1990); international lawyer and civil litigator in the firms of Hill, Farrer and Burrill, Whitman & Ransom, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, and Coudert Brothers (1985-1989); lecturer of Armenian history, Tufts University (1981-1982). His treatises, monographs, essays and articles have appeared extensively in Armenian, Russian, American, European and Middle Eastern publications. He is married and has five children.

An Interview with Congressman James McGovern

From Armenia to Darfur: Genocide, Politics and Advocacy
An Interview with Congressman McGovern
The Armenian Weekly
April 21, 2007

WORCESTER, Mass. (A.W.)—Congressman James P. McGovern (D-Mass.) recently returned from a trip to Africa, where he witnessed the plight of the people of Darfur living in refugee camps in Chad. In an interview conducted by Weekly editor Khatchig Mouradian in Worcester on April 13, McGovern discussed the current situation in Darfur, what needs to be done to stop the genocide there, and the importance of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

When asked what he witnessed on the ground, McGovern responded, “I tried to get into Sudan and they refused to give me a visa to go in. Apparently because I had gotten arrested in front of the Sudanese embassy a year ago in protest of the genocide in Darfur.”

He continued, “So I instead flew into Chad, which is the neighboring country, and went to the border of Darfur and visited the refugee camps filled with Sudanese refugees along the eastern border of Chad.”

Speaking in awe of the people he saw there, he commented, “It was an experience, the likes of which I’ve never had before in my life. I visited two Sudanese refugee camps and visited dozens and dozens of refugees. Every one of them had a horror story.”

McGovern was then asked why the U.S. appeared to be so lead-footed when it came to taking decisive action to stop the genocide in Darfur. He asserted derisively, “I think the United States is not reacting for a number of reasons. First, we’re still bogged down in Iraq right now. Which is viewed by some in the Bush administration as, ‘We can’t do much more than we’re doing right now.’ Two, we have this tight relationship with China, and yet China is sending helicopters and weapons to the Sudanese government, which are being used against the people of Darfur.”

McGovern suggested the U.S. lead the charge in the world community by boycotting the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. “China isn’t concerned with human rights,” he added, “but it is concerned with how it’s viewed around the world.”

He quashed any support for U.S. intelligence services taking a blind eye to genocide in Darfur on account of Sudan being an anti-terrorism ally by stating,
“Some have told me that because the government of Sudan kicked Osama Bin Laden out of that country, that their may be some kind of intelligence cooperation that we [the U.S.] don’t want to upset, under the ‘War on Terror.’ Forgive me, but what do you call a genocide if not terror?”

McGovern called for an immediate UN Security Council Resolution to safeguard the Darfur region, but in the meantime rallied, “We need to start talking about things like a ‘no-fly zone’ that a combination of France and some other countries can enforce. There’s a French military base in Chad that could be placed to keep the planes to enforce a no-fly zone over Sudan.”

When queried whether he thought U.S. troops being a part of any peacekeeping missions would be well received in a post-Iraq world, McGovern admitted, “A UN peacekeeping force probably won’t consist of U.S. troops. Because quite frankly our credibility around the world is so diminished that having U.S. troops there would probably add fuel to the fire. Further, you want people who speak the language and are sensitive to the issues of Darfur.”

McGovern pragmatically outlined what he thought the U.S. role should be. “Seventy-three percent of the American people believe we should take action in Darfur. And we can provide the funding, or some of the funding, for a UN peacekeeping force. That’s what our role can be, to provide logistic support where it’s appropriate.”

He chided of the nation’s current efforts, “I am ashamed as a Congressman, a citizen of the United States and a citizen of the world that we’re not doing more.”

McGovern praised the Armenian community for its solidarity with the Darfur intervention activists, saying, “One of the things I think the Armenian community has been out front on is that issue of ending the genocide in Darfur. Because of the unique history of the Armenian people, I think they have a special understanding, a painful understanding of what a genocide is and what it feels like to be ignored.”

Promoting a resolute and motivated campaign of activism and letter writing, he said. “I tell people they need to raise hell with their Congressmen and Senators. Tell them, this is an issue I expect you, as my Senator, to take a leadership role on. Don’t tell me you’re sympathetic with the situation. Don’t send me back a letter saying you too believe it’s genocide. What I want is a letter back from you that you’re pushing the Bush administration and the international community.”

McGovern spoke about the Armenian Genocide Resolution in the U.S. Congress and the Turkish lobby’s attempts to prevent its passage. He was adamant in saying, “I’m tired of excuses. We need to do what’s right. We need to do what’s truthful. That means acknowledging that there was a genocide committed against the Armenians early in the last century. I’m sorry that Turkey doesn’t want to acknowledge the truth, but that’s the truth.”

Commenting on the importance of this bill, he said, “It says a lot about who you are today, when you acknowledge the past. If Turkey wants to have a fit over this, let them have a fit over this. If they want to remove their embassy from the United States, let them do it.”

He added, “I want the House to run the bill. I want the Senate to run the bill. Send it to the President.”

McGovern ended by emphasizing that it is our civic duty as Americans to honor those victims and survivors who came to this country by acknowledging the Genocide. “They’re our people. They’re our citizens. If for no other reason than to pay our proper respects to our citizens, we should do it.”

To watch the entire interview online, visit

Friday, June 22, 2007

An Interview with Arsinee Khanjian

An Interview with Arsinee Khanjian
By Khatchig Mouradian

The Armenian Weekly
March 17, 2007

Arsinee Khanjian was born in Lebanon in 1958. Her family moved to Montreal
when the Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975. While a graduate student at
Concordia University, she met her future husband, Atom Egoyan, when
auditioning for his debut film, "Next of Kin" (1984). Khanjian has appeared
in most of Egoyan's films, and has gradually made a name for herself as an
accomplished actress. She has also appeared on the Canadian stage and
television shows. In 2002, Khanjian won the Genie Award for best actress in
"Ararat" and was nominated for the same award in 2005 for her role in

Her most recent role is in "Lark Farm," the ambitious project of the Taviani
brothers, the titans of Italian cinema, which brings the Armenian Genocide
to the big screen. "Lark Farm" premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in Feb.
2007 and was highly acclaimed in the German media.

In this interview with Khanjian, conducted by phone on March 7, we discuss
her experiences with "Lark Farm," with flashbacks to "Ararat."

Armenian Weekly-How did you become involved in "Lark Farm"?

Arsinee Khanjian-A friend of the casting agent for the Taviani brothers was
on the jury of the second Golden Apricot Festival in Yerevan. I met her and
she told me that the agent was looking for my contact information because
the Taviani brothers wanted me to be a part of their next project, which is
about an Armenian family during WWI.
To hear that the Taviani brothers were searching for me was quite strange,
because I am quite easy to find through my agent. Then I figured out this
was the Italian way of having things done: Everything has to be complicated
so that it is simplified afterwards! I said I would be more than thrilled to
have a look at the project. The Tavianis, of course, are inescapable masters
of Italian cinema along with [Michelangelo] Antonioni, [Federico] Fellini,
[Bernado] Bertolucci. They are part of the foundation of Italian cinema.
A month later, I received a phone call from the agent saying that they would
send me the English translation of the script. And that's what I read. I
haven't read Antonia Arslan's book Skylark Farm, which was published in
Italian and recently translated to English. I suppose the script is a loose
adaptation of the book. I have no idea what the differences are between the
novel and the script of the movie.

A.W.-Talk about the script and how you felt about it on your first reading.

A.K.-Reading the script, I asked myself why the Tavianis would be interested
in this particular story of this particular history. How can people who have
not been part of this history understand with so much astuteness and
sensitivity the predicament of this culture, and also the individual lives
and experiences of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during that period?

In the actual script, they never locate the town or the city. But we can
deduce from the family's social status that this is a bourgeois family,
quite well off, educated, involved in business. They do not live in a
village. However, there are also interesting encounters in the film with
other Armenian families who are not necessarily of the same social status.
Reading the script was a very powerful, explosive experience for me, similar
to reading [Franz Werfel's] The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. As a culture, we
have been ignored for so long that when we see someone who is really
attentive to us, we are really taken aback. And I really was.

I had to deal with my own demons in the love story issue [in the story, an
Armenian girl and a Turkish officer fall in love]. However, this does give a
perspective of not demonizing every Turkish person in the history of the
Armenian Genocide. I was initially reticent towards the love story, but in
the end I must say that it was masterfully contextualized.

I was surprised that I was the only Armenian in the project apart from
Antonia Arslan. In a way, I was very curious to know how this would work. I
wasn't sure how all these actors would approach the historic background. Not
that it is always necessary for the artists to come from a certain culture
to be able to act; not only the British can play Shakespeare. But again
there was a hidden suspicion of mine, probably a cultural suspicion.

As the shooting of the film began, I realized that I had not been in a
multicultural project like this in my entire acting career. Young Spanish
star Paz Vega plays the role of Nounik. French actor Tcheky Karyo, who was
born in Istanbul and is of Jewish background, plays the role of my (Armine's)
husband. French actor Andre Dussollier plays the Turkish general. The
officer is an Italian star Alessandro Preziosi. Palestinian actor Mohammed
Bakri [who plays the role of a heroic beggar] is in it as well. The young
zabtiyye is played by German actor Moritz Bleibtreu. And then we had all the
Bulgarian actors with smaller parts. [The movie was a co-production of
France, Spain, Bulgaria and Italy, and was shot in Bulgaria].

There was a scene where one actor was speaking in English, others in
Spanish, French, Italian and Bulgarian. And the marvel is that when I
watched the film, I did not see even the slightest sign of disarray. It was
very harmonious and makes complete sense in terms of performances.

I guess the multicultural aspect of the project itself was a very
interesting backdrop to the interest of the Tavianis in this subject, which
is now of universal curiosity. The film has a very strong statement to make,
beyond its artistic quality, and it is done in a very tactful, considerate
and committed way. The music is also beautiful and evocative to the story.

A.W.-In an interview with Berliner Zeitung, Vittorio Taviani said, "As we
read Arslan's book, it became clear to us that we could tie the past with
the present together. As we were shooting the film, the entire team had the
impression that this was the most newsworthy and up-to-date film that anyone
could ever make" (Armenian Weekly, March 3). What do you have to say about
the "newsworthiness" of this film?

A.K.-It was great that the movie premiered [at the Berlin Festival] in
Germany. The country has a great Turkish population, but beyond that, it has
a lot of relationship with this history, because Germany was Turkey's ally
during WWI. There are a lot of things of interest for today's Germans,
because this is also their history. I am not sure how much the German press
pushed the debate in that direction and asked those questions looking at the
film. I think the general attitude was more in relation of where Turkey
stands today and what the possibility is of facing its past as a country
with European aspirations.
Yes, it is a timely subject because we aren't finished with this kind of
behavior in our societies. The history of the Armenian Genocide is very much
alive partly because it is a very archetypical example of what is currently

A.W.-Some German reviewers noted that there was too much violence in the
movie. What's your take on that?

A.K.-What am I supposed to say when critics make that kind of comment? Don't
we see a lot of violence in "Pulp Fiction" and in all the video games our
children play? Didn't we see on TV what has happened in Darfur, Rwanda,
Sarajevo? Didn't we see the hanging of Saddam Hussein? Why are they talking
about violence? Are they insinuating that the topic is being manipulated? Is
this why they are raising this question? As far as I am concerned, there
wasn't particularly shocking violence and the violence was absolutely
minimal compared to what the historical record on the Armenian Genocide
tells us.

I want to add that I think the violence is minimal but what the scenes with
violence suggest is very powerful indeed.

A.W.-What was the general reaction of the public in Berlin to "Lark Farm"?

A.K.-The press and theatre screenings of the film were packed, and people
were taken by this experience. A lot of people were very surprised and
undignified because they didn't know about the history. The film has not
opened anywhere else yet.

A.W.-It will open in France next.

A.K.-In France, it will open in June. I am in close contact with the French
producer and he really wants this to work. The French Armenian community
didn't go and see "Ararat." It is unacceptable and shameful. When there are
films made about these stories, it is our responsibility to be curious and
engage ourselves. It doesn't mean that we have to like it or defend it, but
we really have to know about it by going and seeing. I am hoping that the
Armenian community will do that this time around. The rest is going to be in
the hands of French critics and the French audience. We can only provide
curiosity through our own excitement.

I certainly hope that our intelligentsia will stop having ambivalent
commitment to the subject matter, because a lot of us still haven't sorted
out the impact of our identity. Our writers and social commentators should
put themselves outside of these experiences whether these are films or other
forms of artistic expression, and they should try to contextualize, in a
generous way, the meaning of a work of art on this history. This film or any
other film is the individual's connection with the subject matter and
therefore it will always be presented through the individual's perspective.
The job of any writer, especially an Armenian one, is to understand that
there is more than one perspective around the question of Armenian identity,
and that there is no right one.

A.W.-I can't help but think that you are referring to the critics of

A.K.-Yes, you are absolutely right in saying that a lot of my comments are
based on my experience with "Ararat." Honestly it's not that it affected in
any way the success of "Ararat" in terms of where its sits in the history of
international cinema, but it was a great disappointment to me to see how
limited our community was in terms of its ability to open up to the reality
of what our identities are today.

The regressive kind of attention was not an issue for the filmmaker or
myself, but when generations to come decide to read about how the Armenian
intelligentsia dealt with these issues, it is unfortunate that we don't have
anything more intelligently and less subjectively vested. I would have liked
the coming generation to see how much multiplicity there is in our seeing
and understanding almost 100 years later the trauma of this identity. That
is what's going identity survival for the young generation. They ought to
see an exchange of ideas and experiences, and not just defensive criticism.

A.W.-Compare your experience with "Ararat" to that of "Lark Farm."

A.K.-[Laughs] Thank you for these questions. I would never have thought of
making a parallel between the two and I certainly did not make that parallel
when I read the script because the sensibilities of filmmakers as well as
the stories that they are choosing to tell are very different. But when I
saw the film, I said to myself: This is unbelievable. What "Lark Farm"
happens to be is what people expected "Ararat" to be.

In a way "Ararat" did deal with the history but not as a whole; the onus of
the film was not in the past, because "Ararat" wanted to be a film in today's
reality. It asked questions like: What does the Genocide do to us, the
children of the survivors? "Ararat" wanted to be a contemporary story about
our dilemma and trauma with this history. However, the film within the film
was where we saw flashbacks connecting us with the history. In some ways,
"Lark Farm" is the film within the film that Edward Saroyan was making in

I didn't realize it until I saw the film, its texture, its story. I thought,
yes, many Armenians often need this kind of story, because so little of the
Genocide story has been told on the big screen. In a way, "Ararat" was ahead
of its time and "Lark Farm" should have been made 30 years ago.

A.W.-Many Armenians were expecting "Ararat" to be an epic movie telling the
history of the Armenian Genocide.

A.K.-We have to ask ourselves why weren't these epic films made? Why should
it have been Atom who made it when he goes way beyond this style of
We keep saying that there are so many films about the Holocaust. Who made
those films? The Jews themselves made them. And did we not have that much
presence in the film community? Did we not have the money? Why didn't we do

We didn't make these films because we don't invest enough-financially,
intellectually and artistically-in this issue. Isn't it unbelievable that
ultimately "Ararat" was made by a Canadian Jewish producer? Not even one
penny was provided by Armenians. We have to ask the right question before we
jump to criticism.

An Interview with Ambassador John Evans

It's History, But It Does Matter
An Interview with Ambassador John Evans
By Khatchig Mouradian
The Armenian Weekly
May 5, 2007

WASHINGTON (A.W.)- Former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans defied U.S.
State Department policy by using the word genocide in reference to the
destruction of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. He was soon after
dismissed from his post. In this interview, conducted in Washington on April
23, Evans talks about why he went against the policy, what changes that
policy has since undergone, and why and how it needs to change.

Khatchig Mouradian-Why would a distinguished ambassador like yourself speak
out on an issue that guarantees criticism and intervention from the State

John Evans-It came down to an ethical question, and I came to the conclusion
that I had no choice. I have to say that it is not something that any
diplomat does lightly. It goes against every grain of our being. It goes
against every teaching that we've ever had as diplomats, so it was not an
easy decision. But I did a lot of thinking and a lot of reading beforehand,
and you have to wait for my book to get the full story.

K.M.-Of all U.S. foreign policy issues, why did you choose to speak out on
the Armenian genocide?

J.E.-You have to remember that I was the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia. Had I
been the U.S. ambassador somewhere else, there would have been no sense in
this. My having been assigned to Armenia meant that I did a lot of reading
and studying. And it wasn't the first time, because I had studied Ottoman
history before, during the sabbatical year. So this was not totally foreign
historical territory for me. But it was a combination of factors, and I do
ask your patience. Wait until I finish my book and I hope to answer these
questions for everybody.

K.M.-Talk about your book.

J.E.-Since I left the State Department last fall, I have been working on a
book which traces my own intellectual journey from knowing very little about
Armenia and Armenians to knowing a little bit more-still not all that much
but quite a bit in the end-and I'm hoping that I will appeal to everyday
American readers who don't know very much and are even puzzled afraid of the
issue. I hope I can bring them with me on this intellectual journey and then
try to explain why it is important to deal with it and suggest some things
that should be done. That's the purpose of my book. It's with an editor now
and I hope it would be done with a publisher soon.

K.M.-When you consciously decided to make that statement, to say genocide,
what did you expect to happen? Is it what's actually unfolding now?

J.E.-No one ever knows exactly what is going to happen as a consequence of
one's actions. I did have a pretty good idea that it was going to cause some
controversy. And if you see the tape that was recently discovered of what I
said in Fresno, I didn't simply blurb out the word genocide to make an
effect. It was embedded in a deep context of lots and lots of other factors
that I was trying to discuss as honestly and sensitively as I could with my
audiences. And my audiences were not only Armenian-American, but also
university audiences. There were Turks and Azeris in some. I felt that the
impossibility under current situations of dealing with the issues frankly
was an impediment to everybody's understanding and to everybody's getting to
a better place on this issue.

K.M.-How did people you interacted with in Armenia deal with the genocide

J.E.-The issue of the Armenian genocide was never raised with me in Armenia
and I never raised it there. I talked about it during my trip through the
U.S. in February 2005. I did not raise it at my post of assignment. I know
there are polling data which reveal that the recognition of the genocide is
not on top of the list for most citizens of the Republic of Armenia. And I
certainly found that people I have talked to in Armenia are very sensible
about this issue, they are also deeply passionate about it, but there are so
many other things to deal with-questions of economy, politics, daily living.
Certainly U.S. programs there are focused primarily on these issues and that's
what we mainly dealt with.

K.M.-Why is it important for the U.S. to recognize an atrocity that took
place 92 years ago in another part of the world?

J.E.-The U.S. has all through its history prided itself on standing up for
historical truth, human rights, justice, and on trying to make the world a
better place. Although the foreign policy of every state is a combination of
factors, it's never based simply on ethics or simply on the truth as we may
perceive it; it's always a mixture of things. And honest men and women can
differ about the ingredients. On one side, there are those who would
practice realpolitik; on the other end of the spectrum you may have the
Wilsonian bent of mind. Somewhere between those two poles is a happy medium
and I personally think that on this issue, we have gone too far in one
direction and the balance needs to be redressed.

Obviously lots of other people are speaking out on this. We have 40 of the
50 U.S., which have in some way or the other recognized the historical
reality of the Armenian genocide. By latest count, there are now 191
co-sponsors of the bill currently in the House. So it's not by any means
just me. There are many other people who have spoken out about this issue
and written about it-the New York Times very recently in its editorial, the
L.A. Times, and many other of the media voices in this country.

K.M.-Many diplomats serving around the world may have problems with the
different aspects of U.S. foreign policy, but do not publicly speak against
it. What was the difference in your case?

J.E.-In 35 years of my diplomatic career, I never once found myself in
serious disagreement with U.S. foreign policy in an area on which I was
working or had responsibility. That's the difference. This is the first time
in my diplomatic career that I ran up into a policy and a situation. This
was not a case where one could simply call a staff meeting or interagency
group meeting and solve the problem or tweak the policy. It is much more
profound than that. I don't think all ambassadors are sitting on historical

K.M.-Yes, I wanted to know why you considered it important in the case of
the Armenian genocide.

J.E.-I do think it's important because history is important. History
matters. Unfortunately in the U.S., too often when you say it's history, we
mean it doesn't matter. But history does matter and if the questions left
over from history are not addressed, they tend to come back and back again
and again, and this is one of those questions. I also think this is very
much linked to security for all the countries in that region. It's an issue
that has not been fully addressed, and needs to be fully addressed. And all
the countries I am talking about Anatolia and the Caucasus, they need to
deal with the demons of the past, put them to rest, and create a better,
healthier and safer future for their people.

K.M.-What about the argument that Turkey is an important ally?

J.E.-I think we are good friends with the Turks and I think we should be
good friends with the Turks. And I think what we've been doing is not what a
good friend necessarily does. I bare today's Turks no ill will. I have
Turkish friends, my stokebroker is a Turk, and the people of present-day
Turkey are not culpable for the crimes that took place in 1915. But our
friendship cannot be based on the denial on historical truth.

K.M.-How do you see Turkey coming to grips with the past?

J.E.-I am not a great expert on the internal dynamics of Turkey. I do follow
them as every well-informed citizen should. It's a very important country.
We do see signs of change in Turkey, we see signs that ice is cracking a
little bit, and I think we need to encourage those voices who are speaking
for a better, more democratic Turkey in the future, which will be for us a
better ally.

K.M.-How do you think the State Department's policy regarding the Armenian
genocide will change?

J.E.-I think change is happening. A lot of changes have already happened,
and the recent testimony of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried on
March 15 marked an important milestone, when he used a new term "ethnic
cleansing." I also think there are other things that can be done. In my
book, I plan to suggest a number of these things-not just prescribe what
must happen, but throw out some ideas that could be done and in my view
should be done, and we will see then where we will go. Because I don't think
simply using the word genocide-which is a very powerful word, and it does
describe in my view what happened in 1915-will deal with the issue fully.
There's a great deal more that needs to be done in the future and we all
need to think about what some of those things could be.