If our Ambassador to Paris had been Armenian…


By Ali h. Aslan

The first Turkish novel, ?Akabi Story? was written by Armenian Vartan Pasha in the middle of the 19th century and printed in the Armenian alphabet. What an interesting manifestation of fate is that the first Nobel Prize for Turkish literature has an Armenian element as well. Our successful novelist Orhan Pamuk, who was subjected to national anger after referring to events experienced by Anatolian Armenians during World War I in a way different than the ?official history? rhetoric, received this prestigious award.

Carefully followed by the world?s elite, the Nobel Prize?s presentation to a Turk should normally be expected to make a positive impact on Turkey?s image. However, the bestowal of the prize on an author whose name has been identified with the Armenian question due to some outdated legal practices, such as Article 301, that are contrary to freedom of expression will most likely create some new hurdles for Turkish diplomacy.

There are many who tie the Nobel committee?s choice to political reasons. We are also angry with the latest efforts of the French parliament to outlaw views that deny the so-called Armenian genocide with complete disregard to freedom of expression. However, it is obvious that we have not been able to overcome the vengeful Armenians. They increasingly gather the world intelligentsia behind them and deal defeat after defeat to Turkey. Wherever we go in the international community, an ?Armenian genocide? ghost appears in front of us. The attacks in the U.S. Congress have been warded off so far, but actually the illness long ago infected that place as well. It comes out of incubation during periods whenever the immune system is weakened in Turkish-American relations. Sooner or later it will eventually reach its goal.

As a grandchild of the Ottomans, who treated minorities in a much more civilized way than its contemporaries did, I get upset when controversial aspects of our history are highlighted in the West. On the other hand, I believe that our neglect has also played a big role in events coming to this point, and I bemoan this.

If only we had been able to take reasonable precautions against the exploitation of some of our non-Muslim citizens by imperialists during the final period of the Ottomans. If only we had been able to realize our passage to the nation state model by better protecting our multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnical structure. If only we had kept Turkey?s ties alive through Armenian and Greek Ottoman Diasporas especially, which formed after the disintegration of the empire, instead of alienating them this much. If only we had kept the door open to a return to their motherland and over time forgive even those who tormented their Muslim brothers because they were fooled by the land promises of the imperialists. Had we done so, perhaps many hurdles that are now consuming Turkey?s energy and blocking its path might have been buried before they were even born.

The Ottomans appointed our Armenian citizens as ambassadors to Belgium, Italy and England. Here is what I think: If our current ambassador in Paris was also an Armenian, could the French parliament insult us this easily? During the 19th century in the Ottoman state, Armenian citizens were appointed to the following upper-echelon posts: 29 generals, 22 ministers, 33 members of parliament, seven ambassadors, 11 consul generals-consuls and 41 high-level bureaucrats. If as modern Turkey, we had done even a small portion of this, who would have adopted the Armenian genocide thesis?

But alas, Armenians and Greeks, whose century-old criminal records we haven?t yet erased, even the Jews, whose positive image generally persisted during the Republic period, still have difficulty today in openly taking jobs in the Turkish bureaucracy. Recently an ugly campaign was carried out against Chief of Staff General Yasar Buyukanit with the claim that he is Jewish. I don?t know if the claim is true or not. But assuming it is, why should the religious preferences and ethnic roots of our statesmen be a problem, as long as they remain loyal to this country, flag and nation?

Actually, it would be a great contribution to both our nation?s internal harmony and international status if non-Muslim and non-Turkish elements were comfortable enough to put forth their real cultural identities in every aspect of life, including bureaucracy. Those who openly say ?I?m Jew, I?m Armenian, I?m Greek, I?m Alevi, I?m Kurdish, or I?m a religious Sunni? can face serious obstacles, especially in bureaucratic careers. Hence, most of them hide their identity by survival instincts and trip up those they see as a threat. At the root of the political fights that shows our country as unstable to the world is this type of continuous quarreling. The Republic of Turkey should be rescued from being a kind of ?republic of pretense? where different elements of the nation hesitate to put forth their original identities. Instead of trying to deter and punish those who would like to express themselves honestly, our legal system should provide them more assurance.

Our ethnic and religious differences can be turned from being our weak spot, particularly in foreign policy, into being an advantage. For example, we?re sending troops to Lebanon. Why not put at the top of our troops a commander who can, with no hesitation, express his Arab roots and can speak Arabic? After all, the United States is trying to utilize its ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity in its global policies. In Iraq, their ambassador (Zalmay Khalilzad) and number-one commander (General John Abizaid) are of Arab descent.

Turkey is a country which is a home for all cultural colors in the region. If we know how to respect, protect and utilize our human heritage, wouldn?t we have social and regional peace more easily? Wouldn?t we reach our goal of contemporary civilization and EU membership faster? Wouldn?t we be a more modern and stronger country? Wouldn?t our enemies lose their biggest trump cards?

Washington, 19 October 2006

Source: ?Zaman Online?, 22 October 2006