Oct 19 2006
If our Ambassador to Paris had been Armenian…
ALI H. ASLAN
10.19.2006 Thursday – ISTANBUL 20:41
The first Turkish novel, "Akabi Story" was written by Armenian Vartan
Pasha in the middle of the 19th century and printed in the Armenian
alphabet. What an interesting manifestation of fate is that the first
Nobel Prize for Turkish literature has an Armenian element as well.
Our successful novelist Orhan Pamuk, who was subjected to national
anger after referring to events experienced by Anatolian Armenians
during World War I in a way different than the ‘official history’
rhetoric, received this prestigious award.
Carefully followed by the world’s elite, the Nobel Prize’s presentation
to a Turk should normally be expected to make a positive impact
on Turkey’s image. However, the bestowal of the prize on an author
whose name has been identified with the Armenian question due to some
outdated legal practices, such as Article 301, that are contrary to
freedom of expression will most likely create some new hurdles for
There are many who tie the Nobel committee’s choice to political
reasons. We are also angry with the latest efforts of the French
parliament to outlaw views that deny the so-called Armenian
genocide with complete disregard to freedom of expression. However,
it is obvious that we have not been able to overcome the vengeful
Armenians. They increasingly gather the world intelligentsia behind
them and deal defeat after defeat to Turkey. Wherever we go in the
international community, an "Armenian genocide" ghost appears in front
of us. The attacks in the U.S. Congress have been warded off so far,
but actually the illness long ago infected that place as well.
It comes out of incubation during periods whenever the immune system
is weakened in Turkish-American relations. Sooner or later it will
eventually reach its goal.
As a grandchild of the Ottomans, who treated minorities in a much
more civilized way than its contemporaries did, I get upset when
controversial aspects of our history are highlighted in the West. On
the other hand, I believe that our neglect has also played a big role
in events coming to this point, and I bemoan this.
If only we had been able to take reasonable precautions against
the exploitation of some of our non-Muslim citizens by imperialists
during the final period of the Ottomans. If only we had been able to
realize our passage to the nation state model by better protecting our
multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnical structure. If only
we had kept Turkey’s ties alive through Armenian and Greek Ottoman
Diasporas especially, which formed after the disintegration of the
empire, instead of alienating them this much. If only we had kept the
door open to a return to their motherland and over time forgive even
those who tormented their Muslim brothers because they were fooled by
the land promises of the imperialists. Had we done so, perhaps many
hurdles that are now consuming Turkey’s energy and blocking its path
might have been buried before they were even born.
The Ottomans appointed our Armenian citizens as ambassadors to Belgium,
Italy and England. Here is what I think: If our current ambassador in
Paris was also an Armenian, could the French parliament insult us this
easily? During the 19th century in the Ottoman state, Armenian citizens
were appointed to the following upper-echelon posts: 29 generals,
22 ministers, 33 members of parliament, seven ambassadors, 11 consul
generals-consuls and 41 high-level bureaucrats. If as modern Turkey,
we had done even a small portion of this, who would have adopted the
Armenian genocide thesis?
But alas, Armenians and Greeks, whose century-old criminal records
we haven’t yet erased, even the Jews, whose positive image generally
persisted during the Republic period, still have difficulty today
in openly taking jobs in the Turkish bureaucracy. Recently an ugly
campaign was carried out against Chief of Staff General Yasar Buyukanit
with the claim that he is Jewish. I don’t know if the claim is true
or not. But assuming it is, why should the religious preferences and
ethnic roots of our statesmen be a problem, as long as they remain
loyal to this country, flag and nation?
Actually, it would be a great contribution to both our nation’s
internal harmony and international status if non-Muslim and non-Turkish
elements were comfortable enough to put forth their real cultural
identities in every aspect of life, including bureaucracy.
Those who openly say "I’m Jew, I’m Armenian, I’m Greek, I’m Alevi,
I’m Kurdish, or I’m a religious Sunni" can face serious obstacles,
especially in bureaucratic careers. Hence, most of them hide their
identity by survival instincts and trip up those they see as a
threat. At the root of the political fights that shows our country
as unstable to the world is this type of continuous quarreling. The
Republic of Turkey should be rescued from being a kind of "republic
of pretense" where different elements of the nation hesitate to put
forth their original identities. Instead of trying to deter and punish
those who would like to express themselves honestly, our legal system
should provide them more assurance.
Our ethnic and religious differences can be turned from being our
weak spot, particularly in foreign policy, into being an advantage.
For example, we’re sending troops to Lebanon. Why not put at the
top of our troops a commander who can, with no hesitation, express
his Arab roots and can speak Arabic? After all, the United States
is trying to utilize its ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity
in its global policies. In Iraq, their ambassador (Zalmay Khalilzad)
and number-one commander (General John Abizaid) are of Arab descent.
Turkey is a country which is a home for all cultural colors in the
region. If we know how to respect, protect and utilize our human
heritage, wouldn’t we have social and regional peace more easily?
Wouldn’t we reach our goal of contemporary civilization and EU
membership faster? Wouldn’t we be a more modern and stronger country?
Wouldn’t our enemies lose their biggest trump cards?