Inching towards the g-word

This post by a Turkish blogger I’ve been following all semester comes closer to acknowledging the Armenian genocide than any other Turk I’ve read about. The post praises Obama’s use of the phrase meds yeghern to refer to the genocide. Meds yeghern means “Great Catastrophe” in Armenian and is the phrase Armenians use to describe the genocide. The blogger liked Obama’s use of the phrase because it doesn’t carry any legal baggage, but it doesn’t contradict Obama’s previously expressed view of the events of 1915 as genocide.

The blogger says that there is no reason for Obama to deny something he sees as a historical fact. This is quite a radical position in Turkey, even if the blogger goes on to say that Turks view an entirely different set of historical facts and that the Turkish interpretation of history is equally valid. Surprisingly, he recognizes that the Armenians’ pain is legitimate, although he also rehashes standard Turkish arguments that Armenian “terrorists” committed atrocities of at least an equal scale against Turks. Overall, I was incredibly surprised to see a Turkish blogger embrace the term meds yeghern. The refusal to use the word “genocide,” though, displays the power of the word. Even though it is basically a synonym for meds yeghern, it carries much more legal and moral weight in the international community.

Published in: on April 30, 2009 at 10:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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‘New’ and ‘Old’ Media in Armenia

A sign of the influence bloggers can have on the public sphere, even on people who don’t read blogs:

This is a blog post, about a daily Armenian newspaper that wrote about (in Armenian), the views of an Armenian blogger (also in Armenian).

Clearly, the views of bloggers are making inroads into the Armenian public sphere if a ‘traditional’ media outlet is referencing them. It’s pretty incredible that the opinions of bloggers are being heard by people who don’t even have an internet connection. Also, considering all the debate about the impending death of the newspaper, it’s interesting to see sort of a symbiotic relationship between ‘new’ and ‘old’ media here. The blogger benefits by having his audience increased substantially, and the newspaper benefits by being able to publish new and interesting content. This sort of relationship, though, is probably uniquely suited to a developing country like Armenia where most people have limited internet access or none at all. In the U.S., almost everyone has access to the internet, so publishing a blogger’s views in a newspaper would be redundant.

Published in: on April 4, 2009 at 6:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Language and Genocide

I came across this Turkish newspaper article that talks about the possibility of normalizing Turkey’s relations with Armenia. Throughout the article, the author refers to “allegations of genocide” “made by the diaspora” as an obstacle to normalization. Of course, it would be impossible to ever write about “genocide” in a Turkish newspaper, so the use of the word “allegations” isn’t surprising. What’s more interesting is that the writer makes a point of distinguishing between the citizens of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora, and goes on to blame most of the problems on the diaspora. My first reaction was that this was just a way to justify normalizing relations without having to acknowledge the genocide; Turkey effectively saying thatĀ  the problem’s not Armenia, just those deluded and annoying members of the diaspora. However, there is some validity here.

I’m sure that genocide recognition is something all Armenians would like to see. However, insistance on symbolic recognition of something that happened almost a century ago, while incredibly important, is a luxury of Armenians living in the U.S. and Europe. Armenians in Armenia have more pressing needs resulting from living in a developing country. If better economic relations with Turkey help alleviate some day-to-day concerns, then that might be more important to Armenians than diplomatic acknowledgement of the genocide.

Published in: on April 1, 2009 at 9:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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Recognizing “A Problem from Hell”

My Ethics and World Politics class is reading Samantha Power’s book “A Problem from Hell” about America’s reaction (or lack thereof) to genocide. It’s a fascinating read, but I was especially intrigued because the first few chapters deal with the Armenian genocide, which occurred before the word ‘genocide’ even existed. At the time, there was a large-scale and highly visible grass roots movement in Europe and America to provide aid to Armenian refugees. However, while this helped the few Armenians who survived, it did nothing to stop more from dying. States were the only entities with any power to actually stop the Turks from killing Armenians, and not a single government stepped in. The U.S. refused to even symbolically condemn Turkey’s actions. When World War I ended, none of the perpetrators of the genocide, from the officials who crafted the policy to the soldiers who carried it out, were punished or even condemned.

One passage that particularly stuck in my mind is when Power quotes Hitler as saying, “Who remembers the Armenians?” before the Holocaust even began. The Armenian genocide taught Hitler a clear lesson; not only would states look the other way while genocide was occurring, they would not seek justice or retribution afterwards. This lesson had far-reaching effects, not only for Hitler’s victims but for the victims of future tyrants, the Milosevics and Pol Pots of the world. I believe that even a superficial acknowledgement that a state is committing genocide (ideally but not necessarily combined with concrete actions to stop it) canĀ  have important consequences. At the very least, perpetrators of genocide would know that the world saw what they were doing and found it unacceptable and abhorrent.

This leads me to my current disgust over the U.S. government’s continued refusal, almost 100 years later, to recognize the Armenian genocide. Yes, I recognize that there are important geopolitical implications and that it is in the U.S.’s interests not to offend Turkey. Turkey is a key ally in a volatile region, a relatively secular and democratic state in the Middle East, etc, etc. Yet on a purely human level, I cannot help but feel that genocides will continue to occur until governments decide that there are more important things than “offending” allies.

Published in: on March 26, 2009 at 2:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Corrupt Professors

I’ve mostly been following corruption as it pertains to the media and politicians, but I found this post on an Armenian blog about corruption at Yerevan State University to be even more disturbing in many ways. According to the blog post, the majority of YSU professors accept bribes from students, and some even refuse to give passing grades without first recieving a bribe. American students often joke about bribing professors, but the jokes are only funny because academic integrity is so firmly established. It would be almost unthinkable for a professor to actually accept a bribe. The societal repercussions, especially in a developing country, of such widespread academic corruption are quite serious.

First of all, bribery completely undermines the value of a YSU degree, because a diploma doesn’t say anything about a student’s academic achievemnt but only the quality of grades he was able to buy. Additionally, it widens the gap between the haves and have nots. Students who are already more privileged can better afford their grades. Students with less financial resources have a difficult time completing their education if a bribe is required for even a passing grade. If Armenia is to advance as a society, academic corruption is a serious obstacle that must be addressed.

A side note on press intimidation: the blogger notes that YSU students recently protested by hanging poster-size photos of corrupt professors on a busy street. A reporter who covered the story was beaten.

Published in: on March 23, 2009 at 1:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bloggers’ perceptions of Armenian exchange rates

As I was checking the blogs that I regularly follow this morning, I immediately noticed that both the Armenian blogs I follow had posted items about the sudden sharp increase in the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Armenian dram. As of today, 1 USD is now worth 380 AMD, up 20% from yesterday’s exchange rate of 1 USD/308 AMD. The immediate effects of this are high levels of inflation in Armenia.

The post on The Armenian Observer blog pretty much stuck to the facts and made reasonable speculations about what this would mean for Armenians in the future, along with a not terribly excessive tone of righteous indignation.

The post on The Yerevan Journal blog, on the other hand took the opportunity to espouse a conspiracy theory about the timing of the exchange rate change. On March 1, there was a huge rally in Yerevan to commemorate the one-year anniversary of violent protests in the capital in which several citizens died. The blogger reported the street opinion that “they” had intentionally waited until after the rally to change the exchange rate in order to avoid trouble from angry citizens. Who “they” are and what their motives are, besides the ambiguous “to make a killing” is not explained.

The two different responses to what is obviously a very important event in the lives of ordinary Armenians got me thinking about the relative freedom the internet provides to bloggers, for better and for worse. In countries like Armenia, where censorship is a significant obstacle to media freedom, the internet allows bloggers the opportunity to report stories and perspectives that might not otherwise be hear. They also allow any angry citizen with a conspiracy theory to publish his thoughts to the world. Even this may not be entirely negative, though. As is the case with The Yerevan Journal, there probably are at least a fair number of Armenians who feel like the exchange rate increase was some kind of conspiracy. The validity of the argument itself isn’t as important as the fact that it has at least some credence amongst Armenians.

Published in: on March 3, 2009 at 5:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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Turkish-Armenian communication in the blogosphere

This is an interesting post by a Turkish blogger written as an open letter to the global Armenian community. The comments are where things get really fascinating, as there are many in-depth and insightful comments by both Turks and Armenians.

I’ve been searching for evidence of interaction between Turks and Armenians on the internet (preferably interaction that goes beyond angry rants) and have had a tough time fining anything. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that many Turkish bloggers have temporarily stopped posting as a form of protest against an increased crackdown on blogs by the Turkish government, so this post is especially encouraging.

The post itself as well as the comments also bring up some interesting notions of identity, especially with regards to nationalism. Turkish and Armenian narratives are discussed, along with how the Armenian genocide fits into both these narratives in vastly different ways. One of the reasons it is so difficult for Turkey and Armenia (as well as individual citizens of those countries) to reconcile is that each country has very distinct and established narratives about what happened in 1915, and every citizen is indoctrinated into his country’s respective narrative from birth. The accuracy of the narrative is not what’s important, but rather the fact that the narrative is so firmly entrenched in notions of national identity.

Published in: on February 12, 2009 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Basic Turkey/Armenia background

This article provides a very brief overview of the historical and current tensions between Turkey and Armenia (

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 29 (Reuters) – Talks between Turkey and Armenia could yield a roadmap for relations between the two countries if Yerevan shows a ‘sincere’ attitude, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.

Turkey and Armenia have no formal diplomatic relations but officials from the two sides have expressed hopes of restoring full diplomatic relations as a result of recent tentative discussions between the two sides.

“If Armenia displays a sincere behaviour in the low-level work, after our talks last night, today’s talks may somehow set out a roadmap,” Erdogan said in Davos in comments to reporters broadcast on Turkish television channels.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan has held talks at the World Economic Forum with his Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian and Erdogan was set to hold talks with Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan on Thursday evening.

Relations between the two countries have been haunted by the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One, which ex-Soviet Armenia says amounted to genocide. Ankara denies there was genocide.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan, a Turkic-speaking ally which was fighting Armenian-backed separatists over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Armenia should show the necessary understanding,” Erdogan said.

“On the subject of Nagorno-Karabakh, we can never leave Azerbaijan on its own. Our subject is linked to Azerbaijan,” he added.

For full coverage, blogs and TV from Davos go to (Writing by Daren Butler)

I’ve done some extremely preliminary research about the extent to which ordinary Turks and Armenians communicate using new media. I’ve not yet found much evidence of communication between bloggers or between commenters on blogs, but there is a degree of communication amongst Facebook users. There is a Facebook group called “Peace For Armenia and Turkey” that currently has about 1,400 members and some fairly lively discussion boards. Group members appear to be mostly Turks and Armenians, or members of those countries’ diasporas. Of course, there is another group called “Recognize Armenia as the Liar” with about 1,100 members. Memers are mostly Turkish or of Turkish descent, and all are dedicated to denying that the Armenian genocide occurred. On the other side is a group called simply “Armenia” (about 2,700 members) that is dedicated to getting offical recognition of the genocide.

I definitely plan on doing more research and following more blogs, so hopefully I’ll be able to find more evidence of communication and dialogue between Turks and Armenians who use the relative freedom of the internet as a tool for discussion. Although I have no evidence to back this up, I would imagine that the internet would be incredibly useful, especially given the restrictions on ordinary media in both countries.

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 5:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Turkish and Armenian blogs

I’m tentatively thinking about following bloggers in both Turkey and Armenia. The two countries have, to say the least, an antagonistic history I think it will be interesting to see the political perspectives of bloggers living in Turkey vs. bloggers living in Armenia. The two blogs I am following for the moment (although I hope to add more) are Yerevan Journal and Turkish Diary. Despite the two countries’ differences, they face similar obstacles to press freedom
For example, in Turkey “insulting Turkishness” is a serious but vaguely defined crime, and is often used to punish those who acknowledge the Armenian genocide. However, intimidation is also a problem in Armenia and comes from both the government and local thugs. The author of Yerevan Journal refers to a “certain oligarch” who frequently uses threats and intimidation. It is telling that even though this man’s identity is probably widely known to anyone living in Yerevan, the blogger will not name him.
I have initially gravitated towards this subject because I’ve lived my whole life in Fresno, CA which has a large Armenian community. There is actually a part of downtown referred to as “Armenia Town” and you can minor in Armenian studies at Fresno State. William Saroyan (the Armenian-American author and playwright) is a local hero with tons of things named after him. Basically, I’ve always been exposed to Armenian culture and viewpoints, but never to Turkish ones. So, I’d like to educate myself about both countries by researching the viewpoints of ordinary bloggers.

Published in: on January 28, 2009 at 8:42 pm  Comments (1)  
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