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The Armenians of the Middle East and Turkey


Standpoint of Armenian Diaspora


The Armenians of the Middle East and Turkey

Vahakn Keshishian


Vahan Keshishian

Lebanese-Armenian journalist, holds a weekly column in Agos.

The case of accession of Turkey to the European Union is of interest not only for all the Europeans and the Turks, but for all the people of the Middle East and the Armenians as well, and especially, the Armenians of the Middle East. Though the Armenians differ in their outlooks concerning the cause, they carefully follow the development of the whole procedure being concerned about measures taken by Turkey in regards to joining the EU, whether they could have a beneficial or harmful turning point related to the Armenian Cause. The created image of Turkey in regard to foreign relations has a great role, and at this level the Armenians are mostly interested in the policy and standings aiming at truthful and long term peace-making with the Armenians.

The Image of Turkey in the Middle East

Turkey being an important power in the region has an influential competency on almost all the political activities of the Middle East. Its standings are basically grounded on the moderate policy including both economical and touristic factors, side by side with its cultural attractions, namely the folk and the political portray. The state of being a successful economical sample on one hand, and a unique Islamic democratic country on the other hand, makes a special balance for Turkey to become an attraction site in the Middle East. The reality is that all the mentioned factors serve as determiners for the “western” identity of Turkey.

Within a decade, Turkey has been capable to create a completely different image from the historically bloody Ottoman Turkey, changing for a promising prosperous one. Though the results based on the political and economic stability, and smart presentable portray in the world are actual, this turning point, anyway, is aimed at entering Europe. In the whole course of the events Turkey expects to arouse envy and the desire to make the peoples of the Middle East follow the same routine. The very fact that Turkey does the whole thing not with the help of former authorities, but with the support of the present government of Islamic origin, sounds more promising for other Muslim peoples. On the whole, Turkey serves an example of Islam and that does not contradict to its reality.

Above all, the policy of Turkey has been a ‘torch bearer’ for the peoples around, especially joining the Palestinian struggle, not supporting Iran against the western pressure, and in the end orienting themselves in Syria and amongst the peoples around. Turkey should have considered and prioritized all these if there weren’t the European relations.  That is to say, being an anti-Israeli in the Middle East, or swearing Europe is easy, but the most striking is the fact that Turkey being part of Europe, will keep on doing all that. And that is the very reason that Turkey could neither set its links loose, nor lose the membership opportunities, as the East itself would not accept the fact of not having European contacts.

Thus, Turkey appeared to be in a puzzling state: being rejected by the EU and the discourse being ceased on one hand, on the other hand, it is based on the Middle East oriented policy.

The Armenians and the Access of Turks to the Middle East

Since 2004 Turkey has entered a new present-day era and started the policy of accessibility to the Middle East. The major event was the commercial contract with Syria, the outcome of which was the unbelievable growth in the economies of the two countries. The picture of this cooperation and peace is completely different compared with those of 90s. In the period of 1989 – 1999, Turkey and Syria were in a hot struggle, and it was in those years that the Syrian-Armenians found fertile grounds to start their anti-Turkish strategy, and even more built monuments to the victims of the Der-Zor Genocide. Anyway, in 1999 both sides came to an agreement, and the first years of the millennium the relationships were in the process of improvements, leaving the Armenian community in hard conditions. The situation became more complicated when Turkey –Syria – Lebanon – Jordan established non-visa travelling open space; therefore, the Armenians were practically left in quite opposite sides. The interested parties that enjoyed travelling, discovering Turkey and commerce found new opportunities whereas others foresaw challenges in the accessibilities that could bring about offense against the Armenian Cause. By the time the opposing parties would blame each other, publish articles, have talks how to behave with common Turks, or whether abandon Turkey or not, the other side naturally regulated procedures, and in some decades, the Armenians and the Turks reappeared in the streets of Aleppo, Damask, Beirut, even in Polis, and almost everywhere.

It does not matter how moderate the communications are, all kinds of relationships in the Armenians’ minds in terms of Turkey and the Turks are connected with Europe. Naturally, if Turkey remained the one of 90s i.e. nationalistic one, there could not been established any kinds of interactions.  Therefore, the access of Turkey indirectly arouses the awareness and consciousness of the Turk communities, and consequently this procedure became more visible for the Armenians, since they had more adverse behavioral attitude towards the Turks.

In spite of the fact that official standings still kept to be controversial, in the forms of demonstrations against State visits, at conferences on Economy, and even more at Film Festivals, on the other hand, the Armenians got used to the presence of Turks. These adaptations tend to challenge the Turks, change them for switching to more democratic outlooks, in other words, to make them become Europeans. In fact, the Armenians like the Arabs, acknowledged the fact that Turkey is close to Europe, hence hoping that someday it could become part of Europe, thus expecting to have the Armenian Cause resolved. The relations with Turkey has still been unacceptable for the vast majority of people. The reality was conditioned by certain misfortunes, actually, the assassination of Hrant Dink, the tragic event restating the belief that; “the Turk remained a Turk, regardless the fact of becoming a European”.

Yet relations between Turkey and Europe, similarly with the Armenians have kept stormy since friendly and hostile activities flowed in sequence. The absence of significant measures that should be taken, like breaking the blockade of Armenia, or recognition of the Massacre, still bound to keep the feeling of disappointment among the Armenians of the Middle East.

EU Member Turkey and the Armenians

It is worth to mention that the Armenians will undoubtedly keep focused on the two goals mentioned above, and the social routines could definitely affect on the Armenians of the Middle East. Travels, commerce, further perspectives to settle in Turkey, strategies and policies of Turkey will become crucially essential for the Armenians including the issue of Turkey to become the EU member. An Aleppo-Armenian could hardly believe himself that he is close to the boarder of the European Union; likewise, a Beirut- Armenian could not feel being so far. It goes without saying that the fact of becoming an EU member will make great difference for the Armenians of the Middle East. The kind of powerful revolution could make possible to reflect on the relationships not only at the interpersonal level, but at the level of larger scales (unions and organizations) as well. Only then, Turkey could most probably tend to become more democratic, review the domestic and foreign Armenians at different perspectives, and develop a mentality that will result in accessibility to join the European Union.

The Armenians will most probably remain to feel suspicious. Every measure taken by Turkey, will be evaluated as distractions, like “dust on Europe’s eye”, such as reconstructions of Akhtamar’s Surb Khach (St. Cross) Church, or St. Kirakos in Tigranakert. These measures tend to mislead that Turkey is fair, and that they defend the rights of minorities, and moreover they have positive views and think highly of the Armenian diaspora.

The Turkish and The European

It is not a secret that the Armenians of the Middle East have special interaction with the Turkish. The local Turkish Armenians, being isolated from the Turks, lead a Turkish life: they watch Turkish films and TV programs, use Turkish in their everyday speech, and also wear and use goods of production. Missionary activities done in this field for decades seem to be insufficient.  But the portray of Turkey still remained hostile: the Armenians keep on singing revolutionary songs, the history of Genocide is studied, and every time they meet a Turk, it is most probable to make them something heard and wait for a reply. And very recently, an argument that “Turkey is a European or an Asian one” is of no importance for the Aleppo Armenian colony, a community, that Turkey had a decisive impact on its destiny.

On the other hand, the European will certainly be of high quality standards, besides the contacts with Europe sound more beneficial and promising,  the pleasure to visit Europe seems more admirable. Europe will support the Armenian Cause, and certain European countries will promote the worldwide recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

To sum up I should mention that it is hard to admit that the enemy is in favorable conditions, and is able to have accessibility to Europe. The Armenian community of the Middle East having realistic world outlook, is a party full of theoretical conspiracies. Joining the EU, Turkey should become less aggressive and more humane, and in case it could approve to make part of the European, then could become more acceptable especially for the Armenians of the Middle East.