‘Turkey will eventually have to reconcile with its own history’

Buenos Aires Herald, Argentina
April 19 2015

‘Turkey will eventually have to reconcile with its own history’

Carlos Manoukian, Armenian Centre Culture Affairs Representative

Pope Francis sparked a diplomatic row with Turkey this past week when
he called the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians 100 years ago
“the first genocide of the 20th century.” They were words though that
were celebrated among Argentina’s 130,000-strong Armenian community
that is hosting a series of events to mark the 100th anniversary of
the mass killings. From his office on Armenia street in the heart of
Palermo, The Armenian Centre Cultural Affairs representative Carlos
Manoukian spoke passionately about the Armenian genocide, what he
described as efforts by the Turkish government to cover it up, and how
Armenian-Argentines have been able to hold on to their roots.

How was your family affected by the Armenian Genocide?

My paternal grandparents lost 70 percent of their family, my mother’s
side was able to flee Turkey. The genocide actually began before the
official 1915 date, which is when the killings became systematic, as
they seized and killed 250 Armenian intellectuals in one night and
then attacked the civilian population. However, the Turks claim it was
a civil war.

Why was the massacre carried out?

They wanted a Turkish state, for Turks. The Turks are Muslim, the
Armenians are Christian. A Christian enclave that was hated. They took
the Armenians out of their homes and occupied them

How many Armenians died in Turkey?

Three-quarters of the Armenian population was assassinated, 1.5
million killed and 500.000 exiled. Now there are only around 30,000
left. They wanted to make them disappear. All the documentation proves
this, diplomatic telegrams and newspaper articles throughout the

Although Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians died in clashes
with Ottoman soldiers, it continues to deny it amounted to a genocide.

One of these reasons is that, if it were to accept genocide, it would
launch legal claims to compensate for the Armenian property that was

But, they weren’t a state then…

Yes, but the land was occupied by Armenians that were part of the
Ottoman empire at the time. The Armenian Church lands were immense for
example. There were cities with more than a thousand churches. Imagine
what this would mean for Turkey to give back this land. In the long
term, they will have to give it back.

So do you think current Turkish leaders understand that genocide was
perpetrated but are doing this for political reasons?

Yes, to avoid paying and having to confront history. If they
recognized the truth they would have to realize, for example that the
Turkish founding father Mustafa Kemal was also one of the people who
organized this genocide. How do you reconcile this? It’d be like
acknowledging that José de San Martín was a mass murderer.

Are there Turks who support acknowledging the genocide?

Yes, many academics such as Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Prize winner in
literature, have acknowledged it but they are persecuted by the
Turkish government for their views.

Why isn’t there more international pressure on the Turkish government
to recognize the genocide?

Because it’s very important geopolitically–a key land mass connecting
Europe with Asia and the Middle East. It has an important and sizeable
army. It’s too important an ally to many states for them to risk their
relationship over this issue.

After Pope Francis publicly acknowledged the Armenian genocide, do you
think more countries will follow suit?

Yes, they eventually will be forced to do so. Israel and the US could
even change in the future. Israel uses it as a bargaining tool with
Turkey while Barack Obama promised before he was elected that he would
recognize it, although he has yet to do so. Turkey will eventually
have to reconcile with its own history.

Is there still racism against Armenians in Turkey?

Yes, absolutely.

How will the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide be commemorated here?

There are several activities planned. On April 24 there will be a
religious ceremony and the City Legislature will award a medal to the
community. On April 25 there will be a remembrance ceremony at the
Rural Society and there will also be a march to the Turkish
ambassador’s residence on the 28th. And on April 29 we will hold an
event at the Luna Park theatre. There will also be numerous events
throughout the year.

Is President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government supportive of
the Armenian community?

Yes, the president met with us (last week).

But isn’t it true that the state-run news agency Télam recently
removed an article from its system about the Armenian genocide because
of pressure from Azerbaijan?

Yes, this journalist wrote an investigative piece on how a
historically Armenian region was given to Azerbaijan by Joseph Stalin.
And the journalist visited the region, wrote an article and received
pressure from Turkey and Azerbaijan to remove it.

Doesn’t that concern you?

My views are one thing and the institutional views another. It’s a
mistake, but we must understand that Télam is the national news

But if the state recognizes the genocide but backs off from an
article, doesn’t that mean there is pressure…

It certainly isn’t a good thing but you can separate it into two
different issues. The land conflict with Azerbaijan is one thing and
the Armenian Genocide is another.

Do you think it was racist for the Volkan Bozkir, Turkey’s minister
for European affairs to say that “the Armenian diaspora controls the
media and business” in Argentina?

It was so disrespectful, they even threatened the Pope. They are just
brutish. They are completely wrong, I wouldn’t say they are fascists
but they can’t take criticisms.

The same minister said Argentina was a country that welcomed “Nazi
torturers with open arms.”

I didn’t really understand that statement because Turkey was allied to
Germany in both wars. Its significance is hard to understand, you
would have to ask them. But they wanted to insult the pope for being

A recent Turkish soap opera that has garnered huge ratings here has
been criticized by the Armenian community that said it was being aired
to cover up the anniversary of the genocide, do you see it that way?

I don’t criticize people for liking it but it’s too much of a coincidence.


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