Bridges Hrant Dink Built: A Conversation With Jirair Libaridian

Liana Aghajanian

ianyan magazine
April 13 2010

After Professor Jirair Libaridian began questioning the Armenian
approach to the Armenian Genocide and Turkish relations, he formed
a friendship with Hrant Dink, now known as the courageous editor of
Agos newspaper who was killed at point blank range three years ago
because of his beliefs.

On Monday, April 12, Libaridian, who holds the Alex Manoogian Chair
in Modern Armenian History at the University of Michigan will
be presenting a lecture titled "Bridges that Hrant Dink Built &
Turkish/Armenian Relations" at the University of Chicago.

The first lecture in a series that the University of Chicago has
established in Dink’s name, it will focus on Dink’s place in Armenian
culture, politics and history over the last decade and it’s links to
Armenian/Turkish relations.

Professor Libaridian, who has served as an Adviser and Senior Adviser
for foreign and security policy to former president of Armenian,
Levon Ter-Petrossian and also as the First Deputy Minister of Foreign
Affairs, took some time out for a conversation about his lecture,
Dink and the current state of Armenian and Turkish relations.

Q: What importance does Hrant Dink in terms of Armenian and Turkish
relations? What type of bridges did he build?

A: He was a unique character, we don’t have many like him. My main
characterization of him is that we in general look at Turkish Armenian
relations as black and white, two items that oppose each other –
Armenian and Turkey – so it’s all black and white; the two shall
never meet and when they meet there are sparks.

I characterize him as someone who built bridges, broke down
conventional ways of how Armenians look at Turks.

He paid a very heavy price for it but he certainly challenged
these positions and he was very good at it and by the strength of
his personality and his very harmonious way of looking at things he
didn’t see a problem of being a citizen of Turkey and being ethnically

His personality was unique in that he was a very, very good man at
heart, you could scream at him, you could argue with him and he would
never get upset, by his simple humanity – it would put you to shame,
and make you feel bad about yourself, he had that kind of inner
strength in his personality. His personality was always troubled
because he knew that the peace that he found within himself was not
reflected outside. It was like a mission for him to ask people to
think and rethink and reconsider and he didn’t just appeal to the
heart but had had very well thought out argumentation, leading us to
question how we do things and why we do things.

Q: How did you meet and develop a relationship with Hrant Dink?

A: I heard about him when he started Agos and we were sending some
notes to each other. When I first started working as the president
adviser, he was one of the early supporters of early government
and independence, and was very encouraging of policies we adopted –
not making the Genocide the foundation of foreign policy.

When I heard about an Armenian paper in Turkish in Istanbul, it was
a little odd but then I said we have Armenian papers in English,
and Russian and where we live, it is normal and also from a personal
point of view, I had started to question our view of Turkey and Turks
and the role of genocide in our agenda – I started questioning in the
80s, I thought maybe we should question how we look at ourselves and
at Turkey.

We’ve had this campaign and we haven’t reached any place, I don’t care
whether Washington recognizes it or not, I don’t care if President
Obama uses the word genocide – we have become so paralyzed in our

But I care if a Turkish scholar recognizes the genocide.And very
quickly that others were starting to think the same way and here was
Hrant who was asking us to question how we do things.

When I left the government of Armenia – [our friendship] continued
and we invited him here for a couple of times, we run the Armenian
Turkish scholarship, for a couple of the meetings, I’d say that it was
a very well grounded friendship and association and at some point he
was here, I invited him to the house, he was with a Turkish journalist
also a good friend and we had great time with Turkish colleagues and
Armenian colleagues. We kept in touch and I tried to contribute to
Agos as much as I could, he as you know, within the community he had
a hard time. Once he was killed, people started being nice to him,
but before that he was criticized heavily for his speech.

Although he never harbored any grudges or hatred, it was still
difficult for him, that so many people refused to understand his
view point – unfortunately we have people who don’t want to discuss,
but want to orate and speechify and they alone know the truth and we
can go back and see who they are – he carried that burden. He’s also
very important in Turkey of course.

"Except for 1908 and briefly after, Armenian in the Ottoman Empire
were not treated as citizens; rather, they were seen as members of
a religious community. We had a large Armenian community living there.

In the Diaspora, we don’t talk about it and we don’t care about it,
in the hierarchy of the community, we have placed them at the lowest
level, and then next to them are the Armenians of Armenia and then
there’s us [the Diaspora] and we’re on top.

And so the Turkish-Armenian community was looked down upon and Hrant
refused to accept that and told the badriyark – you are the religious
sense, but we are not just a religious community, we are also citizens,
there are political parties, what happens to Turkey is our business
and we will participate as citizens, A democratic Turkey is important
for all of us, within which all of us will benefit.

His model is relevant not just for Turkey, but also anywhere. As a
Diaspora we appear as a single item agenda community. We will vote
for the congressman as long as he says its genocide even if he does
harm to the county.

I heard a story about the senator who took Ted Kennedy’s senate seat
[ Republican Scott Brown] was the choice for Armenians because they
wanted to punish Obama. To think that you want to punish Obama and
destroy the chances of health care, to say that we as Armenians were
destroyers of an opportunity for health care reform, it’s ridiculous,
I would never identify myself with that.

This one issue agenda is destructive on any kind of thinking, this
shuns all the other problems and we end up being enslaved by this
obsession and we depend on others. Whether Sweden, France passes
resolutions – to have a leash on my neck and in the hands of others
is not the way I imagine leadership. In this respect Hrant was very
strong and had an alternative way of looking things.

Editor’s Note: A comment on this Armenian Weekly article reads: "Why
did so many Massachusetts-Armenians including myself vote for the
Republican US Senate candidate Scott Brown? Because, we are primarily
frustrated with President Obama breaking his pledge to acknowledge the
Armenian genocide, and the White House decreasing US aid to Armenia.

Our votes will deprive Obama and his democratic party the critical
60 votes in the Senate for a filibuster." – Berge Jololian

Q:What do you think are the future of Turkish/Armenian relations?

A: In the long run it will go in the right direction of normalization
but I think both governments are too vulnerable and are going after
short term interests instead of long term ones. Long term says we
should normalize and open the border – this is important economically,
strategically, and politically in every way for both countries,
but what happened is two issues were raised – the first being the
linkage to Karabakh, which was raised when I was negotiating these
issues, and the second issue being, how do you end this international
campaign for genocide recognition, and in the end documents indicate
that they split the decision – technically did not mention Karabakh,
but they created a historical subcommission to address genocide.

They got stuck in the secondary issues, is it good for us to open to
this border and normalize relations? The answer is certainly yes, that
is the big strategic decision and somehow both of them mismanaged this.

Q: When the protocols were announced and protests began erupting in
Armenian communities, many of the people I spoke to at the large Los
Angeles protocol protest said to me that they do not want Armenia to
have relations with Turkey no matter what. What do you think about this
type of thinking and what would you say to people who think like this?

A: I think the Diaspora has changed, I don’t think these people
represent all Armenians, there’s quite a bit of concern about the
protocols, I’m concerned about the way it was formulated but still
I think things can be saved, but I don’t think they don’t represent

The question is that the noisier community gets more attention and
those who agree or are not in that camp, those are people who really
are in a different world, that’s what I would say to them. How can
Armenia be there and be a normal country and have no relations with
two of its four neighbors and two neighbors are much more important
than the others – in so many ways – Azerbaijan and Turkey are so much
more important than Iran and Georgia. The thing in Armenia’s foreign
policy is to create options. We cannot be dependent on Russia and
Iran forever on so many things.

What they’re imagining is Armenia as a theme park, an abstract place
where they don’t live.

I understand it on a reflexive level, but you cannot afford to govern a
county on basis of reflex. I think by and large the people of Armenia
would have supported those protocols, I wish they were written a
little better, but in terms of normalization, they have no problem.

What I’m saying is that for the most part that the people of Armenia
understand and have understood that without normalization and relations
with Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenia’s economy will always be limited
it will always require so much dependence and it will not have the

There are those who say that when the Turkey border opens, they will
overwhelm us – that means we don’t trust ourselves, or our businesses,
which means we don’t deserve to be a country.

WHAT: Bridges that Hrant Dink Built & Turkish/Armenian Relations –
a lecture by Professor Jirair Libaridian

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS