AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. HENRY ASTARJIAN
6 October 2013
Dr. Henry Astarjian, a frequent contributor to “The Armenian Weekly”,
was born in Kirkuk, Iraq. Following his graduation from the Royal
College of Medicine, he served as army medical officer in Iraqi
Kurdistan. He continued his medical education in England and Scotland,
emigrating to the United States in 1966. In the early ’90s he was a New
Hampshire delegate to the Republican National Convention in Houston,
Texas. Over the years he has addressed Kurdish groups in the US and
in Europe, always promoting friendship between Armenians and Kurds,
and defending Armenian rights to Western Armenia. Dr. Astarjian is
the author of “The Struggle for Kirkuk”, published by Praeger and
Praeger International Securities.
Keghart.com interviewed him earlier this month.
KEGHART: When you addressed the Kurdish Parliament, three years back
to back, in Brussels and in Maryland, what did you say? What was
their reaction? When did you address them?
Dr. HENRY ASTARJIAN: It was early 1990s when I had a chance to speak
to the annual meetings of the Kurdish National Conference, here in
the U.S. Speeches to the Kurdish Parliament in Exile were in Brussels
in 1994 and on.
The speeches were 30-minute long, though they did not limit the time.
They were expansive and were published in “Kurdistan Times”. In them
I stressed that the Armenian and Kurdish causes are interrelated
and that we are the legitimate owners of our 6 vilayets, and that
our relationship was delineated by the Sevres Treaty, therefore our
relationship is to be governed by mutual recognition of each other’s
rights and mutual respect. That we have lived together for millennia,
and we have no plans to abandon our Western Armenia. That we are ready
to develop neighborly, friendly relations with Kurds and Kurdistan.
The speeches were televised, even by the Belgian TV, and were followed
by a TV interview and by their Turkish-language “Ozgur Politika”.
KEGHART: The core of your thesis is that eventually Kurds will
control/rule Western Armenia. By aligning with them now Armenians can
gain back some of the Western Armenian lands Turkey will have to cede
to the Kurds. How can Armenians become credible allies to the Kurds?
HA: In surveying the geopolitical realities of the last two decades,
it becomes obvious that some 30 million Kurds, who are sitting on two
precious liquids, oil and water (Tigris and Euphrates), will sooner
or later get full control of their land. This might be in form of
independence or interdependence. Federation or confederation with
present day Turkey are options. This land is designated to span entire
Anatolia including our Western Armenia (See their maps). Which means
loss of our fatherland for millennia. As to your question of “How can
Armenians be credible to the Kurds” is the subject of a great mental
and psychological transformation in our thinking. We do not have to
kow-tow to the Kurds. The need of cooperation is delineated by mutual
interests. They have great respect and admiration for Armenians,
especially after military victories in Nagorno-Karabakh. They know
that their way to prosperity and societal development passes through
Armenians. It is our duty to demand their loyalty. In fact, it is an
emotional issue to talk about such sentimental values in the political
arena. In politics there are only interests, not feelings. We have
to master this concept.
KEGHART: Are there obstacles to Armenians in the Diaspora which would
prevent them from building political/social/cultural bridges with
HA: Yes, there are! For one, they look down upon the Kurds and
belittle them. Two, they have bitter memories from the Genocide
era inherited from the survivors. Third, Western Armenia is not of
importance to them except in rhetoric. For many the concept has lost
its importance because it demands sacrifices. People are not ready to
give-up their physical and material comforts to go and toil the land
of their ancestors. Visiting graves and khatchkars as tourists gives
them solace and absolves them of guilt. People are comfortable where
they are, and are not eager to roll-up their sleeves and do the job.
Things will be different when one looks at the community’s situation
in Syria now.
KEGHART: With Armenia back tightly in the Russian grip, do you think
Armenia has the freedom to make foreign affairs decisions such as
approaching the Kurds in Kurdistan or their politicians in Brussels?
HA: Armenia is indeed in Russia’s lap. It is not capable of
conducting a sound foreign policy which serves the interest of
Eastern Armenia. They are corrupt to the core, and a major cause for
emigration of the regular people, and the highly educated cadre of
Armenian society. This gang of oligarchs have no interests inpreserving
Armenia, and fighting for its rights. See what they did with the signed
protocol with Turkey. It is a joke! We are under a false impression
that Armenia cares about the Diasporan Armenians.
Armenia couldn’t care less about us, let alone adopt the struggle
for Western Armenia. Even Echmiadzin has been infested with corruption.
Spiritual and emotional attachment between us has eroded severely;
we are left to ourselves.
No, I don’t think the Armenian government has the Kurds in mind,
except their own Kurdish inhabitants. Having said that, I must also
say that there is a strong people-to-people interaction, especially
with Dersim (Tunceli) and Diyarbakir (Dikranagerd).
KEGHART: You’ve mentioned that Armenians, going back to the 1840s, have
cooperated with the Kurds against the Ottomans. You mentioned Malkhas
and Garo Sasouni who attempted to establish cooperative relations
with the Kurds…and ARF’s signing of the Khoyboon Treaty with the
Kurds. These must be news to many Armenians. Can you please elaborate?
HA: In 1927 a treaty of collaboration and military cooperation was
signed between the warring factions of the Kurdish forces and ARF. The
battleground was the Araratian Planes. The ARF also took the initiative
to establish avenues of collaboration with the Kurds against Turkish
central government. Malkhas was delegated to establish contact with
a warring tribe, who demanded from the ARF to provide him with an
Garo Sasouni, a prominent Tashnag, was the god of the Kurds, because of
his interest in them and their cause. His book “Kurdish Nationalistic
Movements and Armeno-Kurdish relations” is a classic study of the
subject, and is translated into Turkish by Kurds. True, Armenians
know little about these issues.
KEGHART: In recent years the Kurds have made friendly
gestures…they’ve recognized the Genocide in their Manifesto, asked
forgiveness from the Armenians, returned Sourp Giragos in Diyarbekir.
Do you expect further friendly gestures or confidence-building measures
HA: Yes, I do. Their mindset and gestures are just the beginning of
a large scale return of real state ownership to whomever can produce
a written document of ownership. At least that is the situation in
Diyarbakir. To have us there serves not only our, but also their
interests. They want us there desperately!
KEGHART: The approach you advise Armenians should adopt is
two-pronged. Become allies of the Kurds and revive the Sevres Treaty,
President Woodrow Wilson’s map. Should we combine our efforts re
Sevres with the Kurds?
HA: We have to stick to the provisions of articles 88-93 which deals
with Armenia, and delineates our borders with Turkey. Articles 62-64
does the same for the Kurds. President Wilson drew a map accepted by
the League of Nations. Why invent the wheel? We can start a consensual
political love fest with the Kurds anytime, in fact it has already
started in Dersim with song and dance festivals staged by ordinary
folk from Armenia.
KEGHART: You’ve written that it’s imperative to assemble an entity
of consisting of world-famous Armenian and non-Armenian lawyers
and experts in international law, to revive the Sevres Treaty and
President Wilson’s map. The Europe-based National Congress of Western
Armenians (NCWA) is doing just that. As well, senior members of the
organization have made frequent trips to Western Armenia to meet
“lost” or “hidden” Armenians and sympathetic Turks and Kurds. Are you
aware of the NCWA. If yes, do you see a role for them in the strategy
AH: No, I am not aware of this organization. Bless be their efforts,
if they have the same goal as Sevres. Of course I’ll work with them!
We have to learn from our shameful fiasco of Aharonian-Nubar Pasha
debacle in presenting Armenia before the League of Nations in 1920.
Hopefully we have matured some.
KEGHART: Since Kurdish society is disunited, what should be the
Armenian approach to various groups so no one is antagonized?
AH: Exploitation through neutrality!
KEGHART: When you travel in Armenia and in Artsakh, you notice how
depopulated they are, meanwhile emigration from Armenia continues
unabated. If Armenians are given lands west of Ararat, how would we
populate them? Even if some Armenians settle there, wouldn’t they be
a minority governing a non-Armenian majority?
AH: This is a common question and a false argument constantly raised
by post Genocidal Armenians who have finally settled in different
parts of the world and are largely comfortable in their cantons, and
have created their mini-dukedoms, as if it were their fatherland. In
the immediate aftermath of the Genocide, Diasporan Armenians had
no identity conflicts, they were Armenians in addition to being
Marashtsi, Vanetsi, Ayntabtsi or Kharpertsi. Despite all the security,
prosperity, and freedom which we enjoyed in certain countries, the fear
of imminent danger and fear lingered in our souls, in less politically
stable countries. We developed double-pronged personalities: one
Armenian, and one that of the host country; a rather pathological
reality. It is obvious, and doesn’t need explanations. We lost our
national compass. The “White Massacre” set in and took its toll,
which continues, as we speak. A hundred-year alienation from ones
roots, alienates affection to the land, and that’s what has happened
to us. Our commitment to our land is casual.
We love our land by proxy. Don’t rock the boat is the order of the day.
The sorry situation in Armenia adds insult to injury. Emigration of
Armenians from Eastern Armenia is not because of weak patriotism, but
because of the actions and the inactions of the corrupt government
which is sucking people’s blood; that of the poor and the average
Given the right circumstances Armenians will never leave their land
for which their fathers have fought and died. Never underestimate
people’s power. It is the leadership which is rotten. The vacuum
created by the absence of decent leadership in Armenia and the
Diaspora, has been filled by equally corrupt institutional church,
which has nothing to offer the nation except illusive afterlife. It
has not a thing to do with Christianity. Today’s demographic and
sectarian realities indicate that religion does not dictate your race.
Contrary to church’s opposing view, the latter wins. For us it is
the Hamshins, and the close to a million Islamized Armenians who form
the nucleus. What is lacking is absence of leadership both here and
Armenia. Armenia with both its sections is not on our radar screen.
One wouldn’t reject ownership of his property because it stands empty.
Let’s be realistic, there is no detailed road map to get us there, but
if we don’t claim our rights, Western Armenia will be lost forever. We
have yet to unleash the potential genius and the tremendous resources
of the Armenian Empire of Diaspora (AED). We should stop negotiating
KEGHART: How can Armenians prevent the inevitable Turkish attempts
to sabotage an Armeno-Kurdish friendship?
AH: This is a tactical problem. Circumstances and realities on the
ground would dictate action. One of our mistakes is that we want to put
everything in a neat tidy box. Politics could not be played that way!
KEGHART: What would stop Kurds from betraying Armenians once they have
achieved their goals and created a political entity called Kurdistan
in Western Armenia?
AH: That is a hypothetical question. We cannot have iron-clad
guarantees of any kind. We are a smart people; we should be able to
avoid the landmines.
KEGHART: There are no concrete and visible efforts by Armenian
organizations or the RoA which demand from Turkey land return as
compensation for the Genocide. Perhaps the lack of a national plan
has encouraged individuals–Armenian filmmakers, writers, artists
or musicians–to venture into Western Armenia and collaborate with
Turks or representatives of the Turkish government. Whether instigated
by TARC or not, would the latter approach backfire despite the good
intentions of the Armenians?
AH: People-to-people contacts are always useful, even if they are
orchestrated by governments. Ping-pong diplomacy worked with China,
soccer diplomacy did not with Turkey.