A Panel Presentation at Bilgi University, Istanbul. Organized by the Human Rights Association of Istanbul 24 April 2008
A first was accomplished in Turkey today when Ara Sarafian, the President of the Gomidas Institue in England (1) and the main speaker at the Panel, told the audience that he was making his presentation as a commemoration of the Armenian genocide day. There were around 150 in the auditorium, including several newspaper columnists, Human Rights Association members and university students. There were also many representatives of TV channels and the media.
According to a policeman that I spoke, there were around 250 policemen in front of the Dolapdere campus of Bilgi university present during the 4 hour panel. Including the members of the university security forces, it seems that there were 2 protectors to every attendee and panel participants. However, there were no demonstrations and disturbances.
The panel was opened by a young lady who introduced the speakers and stated that what happened on April 24, 1915 should be told openly, without hiding any facts. She complained that we were being forced to live with shame and truth should be told for the benefit of new generations. She also stated that we still live under a militarist regime and made references to Ecevit Kilic’s book which narrates Sabri Yirmisbesoglu’s confession on the Sept 6/7 disturbances in Istanbul, adding that it was the same mentality that created the Armenian tragedy.
The first speaker was Ms Eren Keskin from the HRA, who began her presentation by stating that the official version of the Armenian issue was forced upon us although the genocide was a fact. She said that for the memory of those who lost their lives, we owe them an apology, stating that the policy of the government at the time was being followed today. The aim of the newly established Turkish government in 1923 was to create a nation state of Turks and sunni Moslems only, which was also reflected in the 6/7 September 1953 action against the Rum of Istanbul. Mr. Keskin stressed that the nation state had “red spots” and that these are the Armenian Genocide and we should ask if there are “other truths”!
The second speaker was Erdogan Aydin who stated that the issue in Turkey is not confined to Armenian issue only and made references to the July 1993 Sivas event. He also complained that the archives in Turkey were closed and that the details of the cooperation of Enver and Talas Pasas with the Germans was the reason for the relocations, adding that the same State mentality was repeated in the Korean War. He suggested that the State should abandon believing that it is the shepherd and the people the sheep, adding, “unless the policy that created the Armenian tragedy disappears, the country will not be at peace. The Armenian issue is the start of a Project that is half way complete. Trying to solve the Kurdish issue, actually making it unsolvable, by force, is the logic, understanding and will of the State. The Turkish Historical Society is showing its double standard by supporting the establishment of the State of Kosova.”
Erdogan Aydin also made references to Prof. Dr. Turkkaya Ataov’s article in Cumhuriyet, “What Does it Mean to face History – Let us Face the History, but we have to know what we are talking about”, belittling his arguments and even attacking the Professor. (2) The impolite and arrogant address against Ataov (in his absentia and not knowing that Ataov was in Australia defending Turkey) could not be replied by Sukru Aya because the speaker left the meeting to attend the TV program “32’ci Gun on Turkluk ve Muslumanlik”, after his slanderink remarks, calling the Turkish nation “schizophrenic”.
The third speaker was Ragip Zarakolu, the head of a Publishing house that issued in 2005 “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story” in Turkish. Zarakoglu basically made references to a book that had caught the attention of Hrant Dink and read one of Hrant Dink’s 2001 article on the book and the Armenian issue, which had many references to the German involvement. Zarakolu sait that “Zohrab was arrested the same way he was arrested at 4 am and made a pitiful entrance, stating that Armenian issue was discussed by Armenians around the world except by the Turkish Armenians. He also mentioned that many years ago a monument was erected in 1919 honouring the massacred Armenians at Divan Hotel’s location but removed later. He stated that an exhibition on this was planned but not readied for this conference, but it will be presented soon. He commented that April 24 was the start of a systematic operation against the well educated Armenian intellectuals and outstanding personalities who were exiled and murdered. A Millet was made to disappear from Anatolia making the way to a new State.
By the time the guest speaker Ara Sarafian took the microphone, the groundwork for what happened on April 24 was laid, without a word on the disturbances created by the Armenian committee members and separatists. Sarafian spoke in English and translation was provided. He thanked Bilgi University only and stated that he was making this historic presentation as a commemoration of the Armenian genocide, which he made references to throughout his speech.
Sarafian first stated that during the late 189h century, the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire consisted of Gregorian, Catholic and Protestant Armenians, numbering close to 2 million, according to the records of the Armenian Patriarchate, with over 1996 Armenian schools, 173,000 students and 2,538 Armenian churches and monasteries, a proof of a vibrant and rooted presence in the Ottoman Empire. He presented a map of the Ottoman Empire circa 1913 showing the areas from where the Armenians were relocated, stating that most were not in the war zones.
Sarafian then presented another map showing the location of Armenian churches and monasteries, mostly on the Anatolian side, stating that all of these places were destructed together with the mass killing of Armenians. He spoke mainly about the Armenians who lived in Harput, numbering close to 40,000 in 50 towns and villages, stating that Harput was not in the war zone and that the population was passive. He referred to the Reports issued by the US Consul in Harput, Leslie Davis, who claimed that many Armenians from Harput were killed, typical of what happened in other places.
Sarafian made a detailed presentation on the arrest of 235 poets, artisans, deputies, leaders of Armenian organisations and important Armenians on April 24, without mentioning that these people were responsible for the disturbances in Istanbul and uprisings in Anatolia. The Armenians were taken to Ayas, near Ankara (70) and to Cankiri (150), where they were allowed to stay outside the prison with daily reporting to the police. Sarafian claimed that 81 of the 150 in Cankiri were deported and were not heard from again. A reporter, Andonian, later wrote that they were murdered. Some were released and returned to Istanbul.
After the break around 4:00 PM, the question and answer session was started. Sitting close to the front, I had the opportunity to ask the first question to Ara Sarafian, in English, with Prof. Selim Deringil providing the translation. I told Sarafian that I had attended the 50th-anniversary commemoration of the alleged Armenian genocide held at Riverside Church in NY city on April 24, 1965 by chance and that it was interesting that I was witnessing the first public commemoration in Turkey after 43 years. I stated that the main speaker at the 1965 commemoration service was the son of Ambassador Henry Morgenthau and that what he told the huge crowd was shocking which led me to read many books on this issue. This commemoration was the initiation of worldwide conferences on this subject, which was not embraced by very many people. After mentioning that I was a graduate of Talas and Tarsus American High Schools, where I had several Armenian friends like Kirkor, Migirdic, Apel Dido, and have been living in the US for 51 years, I told Sarafian that this was a one-sided panel and asked him how one could talk about the alleged genocide without mentioning the Armenian revolts that started in 1894. There were uprisings all over eastern Anatolia, including Zeytun, Sasoon and Sivas. I stated that a map similar to his being displayed now was also presented by Prof. Hikmet Ozdemir, showing the location of Armenian uprisings. Then I asked him about the Van rebellions and the formation of the Armenian Republic of Van after killing the Muslim inhabitants of the destroyed city.
Sarafian responded first by stating that he was aware of Ozdemir map but he had chosen Harput purposely since there were no uprisings there, accusing me of following the official state position, which I objected to.
Around eight individuals also spoke, most making statements supporting the speakers, some without asking questions. Sukru Aya thanked the HRS and Bilgi University for the conference, reminding Selim Deringil that he was not allowed to attend the Armenian conference at Bilgi University back in 2006. He made reference to his book, “Genocide of Truth”, written with information and references to only non-Turkish sources, and stated that he wished more emphasis would be given to uniting people rather than separating them. Aya told the public that the book was on the Free E-book library of Turkish Armenians and people are welcome to read and report their objections. He pointed out that the speeches were made with racial and discriminatory comments, which were listened “but” the people hesitated to “woe” or “applaud”!
Ara Sarafian’s distortion of Consul Leslie A. Davis book, could not be replied by Aya. At one point Sarafian said that US Consuls were appointed because of American people in the area. Sukru Aya commented later that anyone who has read the “Slaughterhouse Province” would immediately note that there is not a single line of what has been going on in the next-door Van Province, and his stressing that he was appointed “Commercial Consul” although there was not even one Commercial transaction in Harput. Davis was a missionary diplomat, he did not like Turks, but he had emphasized the “money love and tricks of Armenians, that they would turn in their friends, and that had no ethics”. Sarafian did not mention that about 3000 Armenians returned to Harput around November 1915, after the Catholics and Protestants were excluded from the deportation in late August.
Someone who mentioned that he was from Diyarbakir stated there were thousands of witnesses of the massacres, including the killings that took place in Kurdistan. He asked why the USA was bringing this subject up every year (meaning the Resolution). Sarafian declined to answer this question, simply stating that it was an apolitical question.
Another person, after thanking the presenters, requested to honour the killed Armenians with a one minute silence which was rejected by Ms Esen Keskin, stating that it was not the Association’s policy.
Evidently the young lady who opened the panel also made the closing remarks and replied to the comments of the man in the white shirt (Sukru Aya), stressing the necessity of settling these accounts first, opposing to Aya’s remarks for overall understanding and racist discriminations.
In addition to myself, Sukru Aya, Melih Berk also attended the panel. I had to leave before the session ended due to an earlier commitment and therefore did not get a chance to ask more questions, such as what Sarafian thought about Guenter Lewy’s book and his statement that there was no Armenian genocide. I had a chance to speak with Ara Sarafian prior to the Panel and also present to him Sukru Server Aya’s new book, “Genocide of Truth”, which he promised to read and respond to Sukru Aya. I plan to write to him and ask him additional questions and present information from earlier conferences later (firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Yuksel Oktay, PE
April 25, 2008
1. Gomidas was a musician who had nothing to do with the Armenian issue.
2. Prof. Turkkaya Ataov’s 2 part article was published on April 24 and 25.
3. At the beginning of the conference, a book was distributed, free, “Ermeni Sorunu Tartisilirken – While the Armenaina Issue is Being Debated”, pubished by “Heinrich Böll Stitftung”, the German branch of Protestanism and Turkish antagonism, where they have money and writers
3. I want to thank Sefa Kaplan, who wrote about the conference and Ara Safarian in Hurriyet on Monday, April 21, and Sukru Server Aya, Holdwater and Melih Berk who read the draft of this report on the conference and provided comments.