Monday, May 9, 2011

Torn Between Worlds

Hranuysh Hagopyan, Armenia’s diaspora minister, walks with acting Patriarch Aram Atesyan after an award ceremony in Istanbul on Sunday.  PHOTO by Hasan Altinisik / Hurriyet Daily News

A group of Turkish Armenians were recently honored in Istanbul in a ceremony involving Archbishop Aram Atesyan, and significantly, Armenia's minister responsible for dealing with the Armenian diaspora, Hranuysh Hagopyan. Many Turkish Armenian intellectuals, newspaper, and some of the honorees questioned whether the presence of the diaspora minister was desirable. From Hurriyet Daily News:
“I would prefer not to have a diaspora minister in Turkey,” author Mıgırdıç Margosyan told the Hürriyet Daily News before receiving his gold medal from Armenian minister Hranuysh Hagopyan.

“I’ve been living on the land that [we have] been living on for thousands of years. I am not in the diaspora. This is a terrible irony,” Margosyan said. The writer also directed his criticism toward the Turkish government, saying the lack of a Turkish state official at the ceremony was disappointing.

. . . .

After attending the Global Summit of Women in Istanbul, Hagopyan handed out medals to 15 Turkish Armenians, including Margosyan, composers Garo Mafyan and Cenk Taşkan and Alis Manukyan, the first Armenian female vocalist in Turkey’s State Opera and Ballet.

“We are living in the lands where we have to live. And we continue to pay our debt to these lands,” Mafyan, who is arguably the best-known popular music composer, told the Daily News. He added that he is ready to do everything he can to make sure dialogue continues between Turkey and Armenia.

“It is [still] very important to receive an award from Armenia for contributing to Turkish popular music,” he said.
Turks of Armenian descent or Turkish Armenians or Armenian Turks or however one would group them are a population of at least 60 million people. Most belong to the Armenian Orthodox Church, which has a Turkish Patriarchate in Istanbul apart from Yerevan. Some Turkish Armenians are Catholics, and there are yet others of Armenian descent that do not enjoy minority status under Turkish law and whose numbers are not counted in official government numbers. This "hidden" Armenian minority, consists of people, sometimes referred to as crypto-Armenians, who converted to Islam in the latter half of the nineteenth-century and early part of the twentieth-century when Armenians began to face sharp discrimination, and eventually, Ottoman state-engineered ethnic cleansing.

Under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, Armenians, along with Greek Orthodox Christians and Jews, enjoy "minority status" based on religion. The status granted these minorities rights certain rights vis-a-vis the new republican Turkish state, and essentially granted two separate legal regimes: one for ordinary Turkish citizens, and another for the minorities granted status under the Treaty of Lausanne. (Syriac Christians, Alevis, Caferis, as well as ethnic groups, such as the Kurds, were denied such rights.)

However, some Armenians, Greeks, and Jews complain of being treated as second-class citizens. These minorities are still sometimes accused of collaborating with foreign enemies, and even in the context of receiving EU accession monies designed to protect and promote minority rights, face criticism from some nationalist circles for seeking to undermine the Turkish state.Armenians, in particular, have long faced suspicion of being linked to Armenian terrorist groups and secretly desiring the dissolution of the Turkish state, which many Turks are taught has two main enemies: the external enemies of imperial Europe, and the internal enemies, i.e. minorities who see the disintegration of the country. To make matters worse, Turkish Armenians often get caught in the middle of Turkey's politics with Armenia and other countries, such as when Prime Minister Erdogan responded to a genocide resolution in Sweden by threatening to expel Armenian immigrants in radio interview last March. (This is not to say that the poor Armenian immigrants were not more caught.)

At the same time, Armenians also face criticism from Armenians in Armenia, as well as from the sizable Armenian diaspora. As a result, Turkish Armenians are torn between Turkish citizenship, their relation to the diaspora, of which they are not a part since, unlike even the vast majority of Armenians living in Armenia, they did not immigrate. The vast majority of Turkey's Armenian population are the descendents of Armenians who migrated to cosmopolitan Istanbul following the hard times of the 1890s and onward under the Ottoman Empire (and before 1915), and so escaped the massacres at the end of the Ottoman Empire and the mass dislocation into Syria, the Soviet Union, and scores of other countries that followed.

Vahe Sarukhanyan, writing for Heqt Online, has an interesting piece up discussing Istanbul Armenians as the "Diaspora's Outsiders." An excerpt:
Sociologist [Arus] Yumul says that for the worldwide Armenian diaspora, the Istanbul-Armenian community is akin to a "lost lamb", an "outsider". She says that other Armenians have taken them to task for being non-active in Armenian affairs and for cow-towing to the government in Ankara. Yumul says she agrees with these assessments when it comes to the Ottoman period, but that after Turkish independence Armenians not only didn’t get involved in Armenian politics but also Turkish affairs. It was kind of a survival strategy she noted.

Yumul added that the community is slowly integrating into the larger Turkish society and that mixed marriages are paving the way.

"At one time Armenian parents resisted but this too has faded. The next generation will be more like a hybrid, free to chose whether they are Armenian, Turk..."

She was quick to add that this doesn’t mean that Armenians will disappear in Turkey.

However, the use of Armenian as a daily language of communication is also on the decline; the number of Armenians who can’t speak the mother tongue is growing. Parents send their kids to Armenian elementary schools but afterwards many go to private or foreign high schools so that they won’t have problems with the Turkish language in college.

The 1990s were a turning point for the community in many ways. Armenians, like the other minority communities, began to voice their concerns, speak about the discrimination they faced, and even raise the taboo subject of the 1915 Armenian Genocide

Twenty years ago, all this was unthinkable. What the next twenty will bring for the community remains a big question mark.
More evidence that Lausanne is outdated, and that its continued legal character is becoming more and more anachronistic as Turkey opens up . . .

On another note, Kadir Has University has announced plans to start teaching courses in Armenian. The classes are offered in the context of improving regional relations with Armenia.

For more on the Treaty of Lausanne's lasting impact in Turkish politics, see my post from 2008, "Article 301: An Anti-Imperialist Discourse." For the treaty's misused application in relation to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, see this past post. For more on Turkey's Armenian minority, click here.

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