Erbal and Suciyan: One Hundred Years of Abandonment

click for more

By Ayda Erbal and Talin Suciyan

The Armenian Weekly
April 2011 Magazine 

The history of the Ottoman Armenians in the 19th century[1] is a history of great promises but also of greater abandonment. More than 200 Ottoman-Armenian intellectuals who were arrested the night of April 24, 1915 and the two weeks that followed possessed the damning knowledge that they were left alone. Zohrab’s Unionist friends, with whom he had dined and played cards, would choose not to stop his assassination. But abandonment will not abandon the Armenians. The survivors in the camps of Mesopotamia were alone, as were those hiding in the secluded mountains or villages of Anatolia. And those who survived through conversion or forced concubinage were left alone not only in the summer of 1915, but also in the hundred years that have followed.

Istanbul Armenian community leaders laying a wreath on Republican Statue in 1965.

The surviving Istanbul-Armenians who staged a book-burning ceremony were on their own too.[2] Compelled to imitate the Nazi party’s book-burning campaigns, they would gather in the backyard of Pangalti Armenian Church, build a book-burning altar, put Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, along with his picture on the altar, and burn it to the ground. As a last act of symbolic perversion forced upon them, they would not only denounce the author, but also denounce the book’s content, hence denouncing themselves and denying their own history.

Hayganus Mark, Hagop Mintzuri, Aram Pehlivanyan, Zaven Biberyan, Vartan and Jak Ihmalyan, and the less famous all shared a similar fate, which happened to be that of Hrant Dink too: abandonment.[3]

Likewise, when Armenians around the world gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the genocide, the Istanbul Armenians found themselves in the middle of Taksim Square delivering wreaths to the Republican Statue in protest. The continuous and almost non-changing price of their survival would be their compulsory self-alienation from all other Armenians.[4]

Indeed, the community in Istanbul was attempting to distance itself from the diasporan communities. Moreover, there was hardly any communication between the communities of Anatolia and of Istanbul at the time. Soon the mythical Anatolia, which is vainly romanticized and widely hailed today in Turkey,[5] would become an open-air prison of leftover Armenians during the Republican years. For, a handful of communities scattered around the country would not be able to perpetuate their identity as Armenians and would leave their birthplaces yet another time. Their offspring would become Istanbul Armenians.

Meanwhile in Istanbul, the remnants of a fading intellectual life Armenian journalists and writers, along with schools, churches, and foundations, would all be left to struggle alone against a myriad of verbal, physical, and legal attacks from both the government and Turkish intellectuals of their time.[6] The price levied on the Armenians was extremely high and included not only a clear disengagement from a quest of justice for themselves, but also a clear—albeit forced—disengagement from their relatives in the diaspora. The never-spoken cost for Istanbul Armenians was the complete negation of their political identity and history.

One can argue that this survival strategy was the direct result of Republican nationalist policies regarding Turkey’s minorities. Thus the contemporary Turkish practice of demonizing the assertive and politically demanding segments of the Armenian Diaspora falls squarely within the same Republican nationalist framework that Istanbul Armenians historically embraced as a survival strategy. It’s rather puzzling to see why otherwise completely equal non-Armenian Turkish citizens would appropriate this predominantly Turkish-Armenian strategy without questioning it. Additionally, the recent privileging of certain Diasporan Armenians as legitimate interlocutors in the Turkish-Armenian divide is a continuity of the same Republican nationalist mentality, because more often than not these privileged diaspora Armenians happen to be the ones who have chosen not to articulate any political demands.[7] A subtle, premeditated silencing of Armenians’ legal and political demands, therefore, permeates both relations and the discourse, and leads to a further evasion from the issue that is, in essence, political.[8] Today, 103 years after 1908, the Armenian “Question” revolves around the same problem of legal, political, and social equality before the law, and equality also means that those involved in this quest should not be ostracized or demonized as a fifth column. Unfortunately, even the progressive segments of the Turkish society feel more comfortable when they are able to establish relationships with Armenians from a position of power, that is, when the Armenian interlocutor is speaking from a position of structural weakness.[9] Even though nowhere can diaspora Armenians match the kind of international power intellectuals from Turkey or the Turkish state can muster, these Armenians are perceived and represented as powerful. Furthermore, they are demonized as radicals and nationalists, and not necessarily represented as a people enjoying equal political rights in the polities to which they belong. To a great extent, then, solitude, although experienced differently, remains the most prominent characteristic of Armenian society both in Turkey and in the diaspora.

In this light, the contemporary discourse among intellectuals from Turkey is far from being able to fully confront the institutional and societal history of hostility and discrimination against both domestic and Diasporan Armenians.[10] Although the scholarship over the past 15 years, stemming from a critical need to face recent history, is a welcome addition to the literature, it mostly concentrates on crystallized instances of institutional discrimination, such as the 1942 wealth tax, compulsory second military service for minorities (20 kura askerlik),[11] the events of Sept. 6-7, 1955, or the Dersim Massacres.[12] These discussions have often fallen short of grasping the issue of normalized discourses of essentialist patriotism and racism in their day-to-day representations.[13] To a certain extent, approaching these issues as isolated cases, as opposed to a deeply embedded systemic and ideological problem, contributed to the practices of discourse normalization.[14] Indeed, until the assassination of Hrant Dink, racism was a taboo word in Turkey. If anything, racism was either an American or European problem; certainly not one that intellectuals from Turkey should take seriously. Thus, conscious efforts to keep racism far away from public awareness resulted in the domestication and cherry picking of issues, and the creation of pseudo-rival discourses—their nationalists vs. our nationalists[15] (a false parity)—in dealing with the dark history of racism in Turkey.

In a similar vein, the complete avoidance of the Holocaust in public discourse, for example, or in rare instances its use to refute the Armenian case among leftist circles, is indicative of a political culture of either obscurantist or viciously pragmatic nature. For example, the year 2011 marked the first Holocaust commemoration in Turkey during which the state message oscillated between emphasizing the uniqueness of the Jewish case and highlighting the Ottoman Imperial, and then Turkish Republican, tolerance and acceptance of Iberian, then European, Jews, instead of engaging in serious soul searching on the meaning of the Holocaust or the dark chapters of minority history in Turkey, including several waves of hostility against Turkish-Jews.


The debate over the term racism has come a long way since the Holocaust and the American civil rights movement. Theoretically speaking, American, continental, and Australian approaches to racism are not as much interested in dominative (old-fashioned) racism as they are in modern, normalized, ambivalent, aversive, laissez-faire, differential, and institutional forms of racism operating through linguistic discursive tools of othering or subordinating within an asymmetrical relationship of power.[16] Yet, it’s hard to claim these academic and/or popular debates with all their contextual and non-contextual theoretical subtleties had any profound effect on intellectual life in Turkey.

Of relevance to this discussion in Turkey is the lack of proper problematization and of consciousness regarding everyday normalized racism[17] as the root cause of attitudes when dealing with Armenians in general, and minority history and personalities in particular. This general problem is exacerbated by the wide-scale ignorance of majority Ottoman Armenians’ living conditions during the long 19th century and 1915 itself, and Turkish-Armenians’ living conditions and survival strategies during Republican history. There has been neither an institutional nor societal acknowledgement of the racism[18] ingrained in the mainstream mindset, nor any wide-scale institutional measures to combat everyday racism manifesting itself in all its different sub-types. Yet, somehow, the intellectuals from the majority think they are, by definition, devoid of such bias.[19] Even if they admit the existence of racism in Turkey, they conceive it to be a problem of the right and centrist ideologies and not theirs.[20]

These everyday attitudes manifest themselves in four major distinguishable forms of majority entitlement. The first concerns the screening, choosing, and separating of the “good Armenians” (Turkish Armenians plus a small number of Diasporan Armenians who don’t prioritize genocide recognition) from the “bad Armenians” (who push for keeping the recognition issue on the international agenda). In other words, interlocutors from Turkey still think that dialogue as such is a matter of finding either the apolitical or non-organized Armenians, or those Armenians who operate only from a position of weakness—either stemming from being a minority in Turkey or from a position of geographic dependency, such as Armenians from Armenia. Besides being an imperial practice akin to choosing to deal with the “house negroes,” so to speak—a post-modern loyal millet, a reincarnated millet-i sadika—its regressive character is not limited to this. Implicit in this approach is the perception of politically assertive Armenians as the problem. Also it implies a wishful thinking that if all politically assertive Armenians were gotten rid of, then the political problem of institutional discrimination and inequality that is still haunting Turkey would evaporate on its own. Yet, even if there were no significant Armenian political activity for recognition, the overall institutional commitment problem in post-1915 Turkey would have been the same.[21] It’s highly improbable that such mock deliberation geared towards avoiding the legal and political nature of the issue could deliver the sorely needed institutional outcomes in transitional political settings. As a matter of fact, aside from their non-identical religious characteristics, Turkey’s Kurdish Question and Armenian Question have had similar trajectories because of Turkey’s Turkish “Question,” which either does not understand or does not care to solve the institutional problem of equality that has existed for over 200 years now. What Armenians think of other Armenians is completely irrelevant to the issue of Turkish state’s much needed institutional commitments. Moreover, this practice reproduces a divide-and-rule colonial/imperial mindset, antithetical to the legal frameworks of human rights and equality. Trying to build a politics based on the instrumentalization of the inter-Armenian differences to delay justice cannot solve Turkey’s problem of 1915. With or without the presence of these inter-Armenian differences, the necessity of implementing institutional changes and complying with human rights standards will remain the same. If anything, Kurdish political trajectory should be a grim reminder for those avoiding the core issues at hand.

The second problematic entitlement concerns the blurring of the difference between the perpetrator and the victim in order to water down the majority state and societal responsibility. This is done with two different, but interconnected, arguments: one concerning the past, the other concerning the present. The first is reminiscent of the late 1980’s Historikerstreit discussion in Germany,[22] although the depth of the argument and counter-argument does not compare. A number of intellectuals, including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, emphasize that Turks also suffered greatly in World War I, in general, and in 1915, in particular, especially in the case of the Gallipoli campaign. No one trained in comparative history denies the fact that the Ottoman Army and non-Armenian Ottoman citizens experienced tremendous losses during World War I; however, the argument misses the point by establishing a false parity, equating war to a state-sponsored campaign of killing its own citizens, and a false causality as if Ottoman Armenian citizens were responsible either for the war itself or a major episodic campaign. The second argument, again mostly originating in conservative quarters in Turkey, but not limited to them alone, blurs the distinction between the victim and the perpetrator, and the subsequent generations’ responsibilities by resorting to an “our common pain” argument—as in you suffered but we suffered, too, because of your suffering. Apart from being a recent creation, this discourse of common pain reduces the perpetrators’, bystanders’, deniers’ and their institutions’ responsibility to “feel the pain.” A symbolically violent appropriation of pain of an unimaginable magnitude, which even survivor generations are reluctant to own, the “feeling the pain”[23] discourse more often than not becomes a tool to absolve the institutional and societal inheritors from ethical and political consequences. We should recall Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which he writes: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are surely caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one, affects all indirectly.” Nowhere does King argue that one is entitled to own the other’s pain as a substitute for, or as a means of diluting, political responsibility.

Thirdly, in rare cases where the victims’ historical suffering is granted, a rather obscene sense of entitlement surfaces. The victims’ interlocutor, itself the institutional and social inheritor of a generation of perpetrators, bystanders, or deniers, expects the descendants of the victims to speak in a way that will not make them feel bad. Despite placing an emphasis on empathy (itself a problematic term) and openness, the willingness to listen to Armenians is mostly conditional and carries the implied threat of “If you don’t speak properly we won’t listen to you.” The burden of responsibility, thus, rather perversely falls on the shoulders of the historically victimized and structurally powerless; and the interlocutor, whose power and posture is the opposite result of the same history of gross human rights violations, comes to the discussion not as a truly interested party but as if doing a favor to the Armenians.

There is an additional relative silencing effect in the sense that the victim has to temper its discursive tone to suit and prioritize the emotional needs of its interlocutor at large—in this case, the emotional needs of the majority Turkish citizens, as decided upon by these same intellectuals. The entire discussion surrounding the usage of the term genocide, or the avoidance thereof, is a prime example. The mentality behind this “dialogue” is where the unequal and sometimes supremacist thrust of the equation becomes the most visible in the conditionality of the listening and the absolute power to shut down the dialogue if Armenians fail to find a proper language (and tone) to explain their pain. This power dynamic is not unique to the intellectuals’ relationship to Armenians, as it also applies to their relationship with others, including their historically ambivalent relationship with the Kurdish citizens of Turkey.[24]

Finally, as a further frame of entitlement, a discourse of sameness is imposed upon Turkey’s minorities.[25] By discourse of sameness, we mean a reductionist tendency whereby a supposed cultural similarity between Turks and Armenians, via food and music, is assumed and presented as a better alternative to rights and equality before law. This particular discourse, which may have a phenotypic (we look alike), cultural (our food and music are similar), and geographic (Anatolia) similarity argument, has a dangerous tint to it. It involves a pseudo-inclusion of Armenians in an imagined community in Anatolia where the dominant trait is a potentially exclusionary narcissism, which is able to love and respect only that which is similar to itself, and glorifies cultural similarity as a political solution. The regressive quality of the argument is more evident when turned upside down, since it’s not very clear how it will treat difference, or what it will do if the minority party does not take the offer of similarity, or if it simply wants to insist on its difference. After all, during those limited times when conversion was an option between 1895 and 1915, the majority of Armenians did not want to convert, and the whole history leading to 1915, and 1915 itself, can also be read as a history in which Ottoman authorities did not want to deal seriously with the issue of difference and inferiority stemming from a dual legal framework of Sharia and Dhimmi Law. In a similar vein, the sameness argument indirectly hints at the suppression of differences for the sake of social harmony.[26]

All in all, especially the 19th century land romanticism of the sameness argument that takes Anatolia[27] as a common mythic location with ahistorical references to a peaceful, equal co-existence is totally outdated, and cannot provide a solution to serious political issues. It can only be a conversation starter where it belongs—at the raki/arak/dolma table. Rarely does one encounter such problematic self-orientalization[28] elsewhere. Hummus, as far as we know, does not have problem-solving powers nor does it have a place in serious academic or journalistic discussions within the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian divide. If the same cuisine and music has not been able to provide any tangible solution to the much lesser Kurdish-Turkish divide, one wonders how this untenable discourse of sameness will solve anything among Armenians and Turks. If one is to take this sameness argument seriously then one has to also explain how sameness was able to kill sameness.


To a certain extent, the history of Ottoman and Ottoman Armenian, and Turkish – Armenian and Turkish – Turkish-Armenian is trapped in the same pre-1908 conundrum of difference and equality before the law. On one side of the equation are those who are, still in this day and age, either totally unwilling or reluctant to accept that Armenians have a right to political agency and equality before the law (then domestic Ottoman, now several international polities).[29] On the other side of the equation are those who understand what political equality and political action mean in order to secure justice and equality. Neither side is made solely of Turks or solely of Armenians. Although the latter is mostly made of Armenians, there are a few scholars and human rights activists from Turkey, both in the U.S., Europe, and Turkey, who do not shy away from politics of recognition. These people know recognition is not just a onetime deal, some sort of ticket to oblivion, but only the first step in a long struggle of institutional commitments affecting the human rights and history curricula in all countries where there is a substantial political debate on recognitions and denials.

The inability to get out of the circularity of a pre-1908 mentality sets the boundaries of Turkish-Armenian citizens as well, unfortunately. Since there is not any real coming to terms with the past, Turkish-Armenian citizens are still perceived as a fifth column in general, and still have to distance themselves from the diaspora in order to be heard. Instead of dealing with institutional barriers, there is a novel but archaic tendency where the state looks mostly concerned with window-dressing solutions. Efforts are being made to appoint Turkish-Armenian citizens to state positions in order to partially counter the critics of structural inequality. At this point, one has to remember that there were more than two-dozen Armenians who worked as high-level Ottoman officials before the genocide; that alone was not indicative of a commitment to equality and human rights. If anything, the same pre-1908 mentality conditioned, and still to a certain extent conditions, the set of political choices for Turkish-Armenians briefly touched upon at the beginning of this article. So coming to terms with history is the only way for Turkish-Armenians to cease to be perceived as a fifth column and to become fully equal citizens.

In light of the discussion above, the fact that Hrant Dink was assassinated for, among other things, calling a spade a spade, and that he continued to be tried in absentia even after his assassination for daring to describe his experience, shows that it’s impossible to be a Turkish-Armenian freely able to describe his/her experience publicly. The victim has been further victimized while trying to qualify the legal and political magnitude of his victimhood. The intellectuals from Turkey cannot pretend that January 19, 2007 does not signify a major rupture. This rupture requires a reevaluation and deeper understanding of the Republican history of Turkish-Armenian strategies of survival.

If ever Turkey could approach the issue of 1915 from the perspective of justice, a justice frame that also includes calling a spade a spade just as Hrant did, on that day, justice will prevail in the case of assassination of Hrant Dink as well. Further, by doing so, Turkey would be able to approach and perhaps even lighten the heavy burden of loneliness of Armenians in her own country and in the diaspora.

[1] For an elaborate and foretelling socio-political analysis written during the 19th century and recently translated to English, see Raffi (Hagop Melik Hagopian)’s Tajkahayk: The Armenian Question (Taderon Press, 2007).

[2] See Bali, Rifat (2001), Musa’s Children, The Republic’s Citizens, p. 133, for the burning of The Forty Day of Musa Dagh. Not surprisingly as an author Franz Werfel was also on the Nazi book-burning list.

[3] Armenian writers and intellectuals were obstructed some way or another during the republican period; they either had to leave the country and/or their newspapers were closed down. Hayganuş Mark’s Hay Gin (Armenian Woman), which was published  for 14 years, was closed by the state. The reasons remain unknown. Avedis Aleksanyan, S.K. Zanku (Sarkis Keçyan), Aram Pehlivanyan (Şavarş), Zaven Biberyan, Ihmalyan Brothers who were publishing Nor Or faced various assaults. Pehlivanyan was jailed because of his articles in Nor Or and his membership of Turkish Communist Party (TKP). After getting out of prison, he left Turkey. Hagop Demirciyan (Mıntzuri) who came to Istanbul for a tonsillectomy, could not go back and remained in Istanbul until the end of his life as an exile. He lost all his family, back in Armıdan, Erzincan in 1915.

[4] Aharonyan, Kersam (1966), Khoher Hisnamyagi Avardin (“Thoughts on the 50th Commemoration”), p. 149.

[5] Most writers and journalists from Turkey refer to an imagined idyllic Anatolia when addressing diaspora Armenians to emphasize their supposedly shared background. This imagined Anatolia is a mostly Republican-leftist ideological construct that does not even correspond to the contemporary Anatolia that predominantly votes to the right and far-right of the political spectrum. If anything, in domestic discourse not involving Armenians, this same Anatolia is loathed by the proponents of the heavenly Anatolia construct. They romanticize an Anatolia populated by Armenian artists, musicians, and architects, whom they would prefer over what they perceive as the current primitive inhabitants. However historically speaking, neither all Armenian life was artistic and modern (see Matossian and Villa’s Armenian Village Life before 1914), nor Anatolia has ever been an idyllic place of peaceful “co-existence” in the century and a half preceding 1915.

[6] The history of the Turkish press in the Republican era is full of such episodic outbursts against Armenians in general and prominent intellectual figures in particular.

[7] Before 2006, the only good Armenians were Turkish-Armenians. Later, a number of mostly European diaspora Armenians were embraced as legitimate interlocutors. This attempt at game changing through instrumentalizing ethnic identity is a textbook example of colonial/imperial regressive policy. Nonetheless, it is embraced by a number of progressives in Turkey.

[8] We do not deny nor neglect that the equation has other dimensions as well; however, those dimensions are framed by politics and even in the case of supposedly non-political arguments, a politics of either denial or negation or complete avoidance continues to permeate the discourse.

[9] Or when the Armenian interlocutor is ready to equally criticize Armenians seeking genocide recognition, or in some cases even treat them as sick and obsessed people. Even if it’s politically incorrect, indeed racist, to frame justice-seeking people as psychologically disturbed, somehow it has so far been acceptable by some Turkish intellectuals, especially if the maker of the sickness claim is Armenian. One needs to think seriously what all this means from a politico-philosophical and social psychological perspective. What does it mean to see the ethnicity before the argument, to validatean otherwise very problematic argument just because an Armenian is making it. How seeing ethnicity before the argument is different than seeing like a perpetrator state that reduced human being to their ethnic identity?

[10] Although one may be inclined to think so, the ASALA attacks are not the starting point for open hostility against Diasporan Armenians. Also, the earlier indifference towards Diasporan Armenians is rather strange given the fact that Kemal Tahir was a widely read novelist in the early 1970’s; Tahir published not one but two novels dealing with 1915, neither of which has been translated into Armenian or English. So the rather common argument “We did not know” does not hold, at least for anybody who was above 18 and reading novels in the early 1970’s. 

[11] 20 Kura Askerlik was the compulsory second or third time military conscription of non-Muslim citizens of Turkey during World War II.  Non-Muslim citizens  between the ages of 25 and 45 were kept away from workforce for over 14 months and the subsequent wealth tax levied on the minorities with outrageous rates (232 percent for Armenians, 179 percent for Jews, 156 percent for Greeks and 10 percent for the Donme (converts)) impoverished them further.

[12] In February 2011, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) submitted a petition to the Turkish Parliament to recognize the massacres and deportations that took place between 1937-38 as genocide.

[13] Seyhan Bayraktar’s Politik und Erinnerung: Der Diskurs über den Armeniermord in der Türkei zwischen Nationalismus und Europäisierung, published in 2010, is the only exception. She vigilantly examines how discourse frames of the state and intellectuals can sometimes partially overlap or serve to reproduce nationalist discourse frames.

[14] By discourse normalization we mean all those discursive practices that unproblematically reproduce bias against politically active diaspora Armenians. The leftist/liberal discourse is where demonization of political activity is overtly normalized.

[15] The fact that there are also Armenian nationalists within the recognition camp does not make the entire recognition endeavor nationalist. This issue can be thought of more as a larger class action lawsuit in which individuals (including Turkish citizens and others) who are for universal human rights standards and for a form of justice can take part in the same class. In that sense the issue of genocide recognition per se is much larger than narrow parochial agendas.

[16] For an extended debate on the evolution of the term racism/ethnicism and comparative contexts, see Martha Augoustinos and Katherine J. Reynolds (2001), Understanding Prejudice, Racism, and Social Conflict; Jennifer Lynn Eberhardt and Susan T. Fiske (1998), Confronting Racism: the Problem and the Response; Arthur P. Brief (2008), Diversity at Work; John Nagle (2009), Multiculturalism’s Double Bind: Creating Inclusivity, Cosmopolitanism and Difference; Robert Miles and Malcolm Brown (2003), Racism (2nd edition); Martin Bulmer and John Solomos (2004), Researching Race and Racism;Pierre-Andre Taguieff and Hassan Melehy (2001), Force of Prejudice: On Racism and its Doubles; Ruth Wodak and Martin Reisigl (2000), Discourse & Discrimination: Rhetorics of Racism and Antisemitism.

[17] According to Wodak and Reisgl, racist, anti-Semitic, and ethnicist discrimination as a social practice, and as an ideology, manifests itself discursively and is orientated to five simple questions revolving around referential strategies (how are persons named and referred to linguistically?), predicational strategies (what traits, characteristics, qualities and features are attributed to them?), argumentation strategies (by means of what arguments and argumentation schemes do specific persons or social groups try to justify and legitimate the exclusion, discrimination, suppression, and exploitation of others?), perspectivation and framing strategies (from what perspective or point of view are these attributions and arguments expressed?), mitigation and intensification strategies (are the respective discriminating utterances articulated overtly, are they even intensified or are they mitigated?), Discourse and Discrimination: Rhetorics of Racism and Antisemitism, p. xiii.

[18] “The concept of ‘everyday racism’ is intended to integrate, by definition, macro and microsociological dimensions of racism (Essed 1991: 16). After having criticised the dichotomic distinction between ‘institutional’ and ‘individual racism’ as erroneously placing the individual outside the institutional (even though ‘structures of racism do not exist external to agents—they are made by agents—but specific practices are by definition racist only when they activate existing structural racial inequality in the system’ [36]), Essed explains her understanding of the term ‘everyday’: [...] the ‘everyday’ can be tentatively defined as socialised meanings making practices immediately definable and uncontested so that, in principle, these practices can be managed according to (sub)cultural norms and expectations. These practices and meanings belong to our familiar world and usually involve routine or repetitive practices (48-9).” Essed in Wodak and Reisgl, p.  7.

[19] This is not to say that minorities are devoid of such bias against the majority themselves; yet these biases are structurally and causally not identical and need a separate discussion.

[20] It should not surprise us that several websites and reports on discriminatory and essentialist speech only deal with mainstream right/conservative press while completely neglecting the faux pas of those columnists who are self-avowedly liberals or leftists.

[21] Institutions do not become post-genocidal on their own, especially when denial persists. The Armenian and the Kurdish issues are deeply related because of the lack of institutional commitment on the part of the Turkish state and the society to a post-genocidal normative order. However, institutional commitments are not an end in themselves, as anti-Muslim sentiment and persisting anti-semitism in Europe show. The struggle against all forms of open and subtle racism is a day-to-day pedagogical problem that can’t be resolved only on paper.

[22] Historikerstreit was a debate central to the late 1980’s intellectual scene in Germany revolving around left-wing and right-wing interpretations of the Holocaust, particularly about its centrality in modern German history. The right-wingers tried to downplay the long trajectory of anti-semitism embedded in German society and institutions in the century leading to the Holocaust.

[23] Not surprisingly, the discourse of “feeling the pain” as an end in itself is reserved for Armenians and in no way is central to the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, because Kurds present Turkey with a real political challenge that Turkish intellectuals cannot evade anymore.

[24] For years majority Turkish intellectuals demanded the complete denunciation of the armed struggle first before engaging Kurdish intellectuals. This changed only very recently.

[25] This discourse has been also echoed from both Turkish-Armenian and a few Diasporan Armenian quarters.

[26] In domestic politics, AKP proponents and secularists are not “all the same,” but somehow when it comes to essentialist categories of Turks and Armenians, they “become” the “same.”

[27] This 19th-century land romanticism is what ties some mainstream leftist Turks to the mainstream Armenian perceptions of land. However, what is perceived as bad for Armenians (as a “nationalist” longing for a mythical Anatolia) is good and desirable for Turkish “patriots.” At their core, Turkish “patriotic” and Armenian “nationalist” Anatolia/ Western Armenia are non-identical but equally nationalistic-romantic mythical constructions. No Anatolianist Turkish leftist lives in Anatolia or has ever spent a considerable amount of time actually living in this mythical Anatolia. As for the Kurds, they do not refer to the partially overlapping geography as Anatolia and have practically lived in dire conditions of armed conflict and internal displacement.

[28] Orientalism is not just about what the West thought of the East and how it constructed representations of the East. It also has several self-orientalizing dimensions in which the East tends to perfectly reflect the stereotype of being “Eastern”–hence lesser. So, westerners have institutions and law, and there is always raki and dolma for Turks and Armenians.

[29] One major emphasis when talking about 1915 revolves around the “but the Armenians revolted” argument. Historically speaking, this is true, although its magnitude and prevalence is grossly exaggerated. However, framing the history of violence starting from the Armenian revolts misses several important points: The terrible living conditions of Armenians in the 19th century, the episodic violence that Armenians experienced, the fact that they also tried parallel tracks of petitioning but their appeals fell on deaf ears, and finally, the fact that the Ittihadists themselves were trying to get rid of the same absolutist regime. In a way, those Turkish intellectuals who are themselves active in domestic politics but who are not happy with Armenian political activity challenging the status-quo are still arguing in the same utterly discriminatory way: “We can do it, but you cannot.”

Ayda Erbal is writing her dissertation in the department of politics at New York University. She teaches two advanced undergraduate classes, “International Politics of the Middle East” and “Democracy and Dictatorship,” as adjunct professor of politics.  Her work focuses on the politics of changing historiographies in Turkey and Israel. She is interested in democratic theory, democratic deliberation, the politics of “post-nationalist” historiographies in transitional settings, and the politics of apology. She is a published short-story writer and worked as a columnist for the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos from 2000-03.

Talin Suciyan is an Istanbul Armenian journalist who lived in Armenia from 2007-09. She is currently based in Munich, Germany, where she is pursuing her graduate studies. She was a contributor to Agos (from 2007-2010) and writes regularly for newspapers in Turkey.

20 Comments on Erbal and Suciyan: One Hundred Years of Abandonment

  1. avatar Reject of the Sword // April 29, 2011 at 11:07 am // Reply

    Maybe one of the best articles that I have ever read. Tremendous political and historical insight. Somehow we must become power possesing instead of power dispossing.

  2. avatar gregg dourgarian // April 29, 2011 at 11:37 am // Reply

    wow…that article was so good i had to stop everything and read the whole thing including the footnotes.  thanks!

  3. avatar Krikor Sarkisian // April 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm // Reply

    Awesome article.
    My thanks to the informed authors.

  4. avatar Hagop Varoujian // April 29, 2011 at 5:14 pm // Reply

    here are two ladies who obviously are well versed in their subject, namely the Turkish psychie. I bow down with respect for the tremendous amount of thought and effort they have put into producing such an interesting and thought provoking article.
    Thank you ladies.

  5. avatar Doctor Strangelove // April 29, 2011 at 6:39 pm // Reply

    We should ask ourselves why this government caters to a terrorist organization called “Ergenekon” [aka Mukahadeen aka Taliban aka Al Qeuada]?

    This president is supposed to be the leader of the free world; however, he can’t bring himself to say the word “Genocide” on the HOLIEST EASTER SUNDAYS IN ARMENIAN HISTORY.

    There have been thousands of Americans of Armenian Heritage who sacrificed their lives and blood for this country in WWI, WWII and the Korean conflict and earned numerous distinctions. Yet he cannot utter the simplest words to honor their memories and their devoted martyrdom.

    This president is indeed a coward and this government continues to coddle terrorist organizations in order to enrich their bottom lines. It violates the constitution and I believe it should be grounds for inquiry.

  6. Great article and insight – thanks – will share widely! As for Obama and Genocide recognition, it can be summed up in one word: AIPAC… when the gordian knot of Palestine/Israel is resolved, the US will recognize The Armenian Genocide. (Yes, i AM Armenian – the “bad” kind as described above!)

  7. avatar Hamazasp // May 1, 2011 at 2:43 pm // Reply

    I want to thank the authors for this excellent article. If it is not, I think it must be translated into Armenian as many Armenians just won’t be able to get the depth. I am ready to try to draft Armenian (Eastern) translation and submit to others for improvements.

  8. avatar gaytzag palandjian // May 1, 2011 at 10:28 pm // Reply

    Contrary to those above ,who have hurriedly approved all that  is written  in the impeccably correct English-not so mine-there are ERRORS to be recrtified.And  mind  you I have no time to scrutinize  paragraph  by paragraph all above. No. 
    25.Speaks of similitudes as regards  Dolma8as example,but greeks and even Balkan,further aaway in spain they have same with less species  in it) and their folk music similar to ours or any oriental one for that  matter.The authors conveniently overlook THE CLASSIC ARMENIAN MUSIC(komitas)  OR DANIEL  VAROUJAN, SIAMANTO, MEDZARENTS  LIKE WRITERS  PAPAZIAN LIKE ACTORS ETC., to which there is  NO SIMILARITY AT ALL WITH THE SELJUK TURKISH (I don´t  even deign to say culture)music or litterature.True lately only  lately they have come  up with very rare casses  such as Orhan Pamuk…
    One more important correction in Galipoli  ,actually  it was the Ottoam or Ataturk army  that won over the British(mainly aussies though) and latter suffered immense  losses, for which they mourn and hold anniversaries  from England to Australia…
    I write what  is true.Then again, the Istanbulla Armenians  who have under  harsh ottoman , or republican turkish rule become  NOBODIES…in order to save their skin,unfortunately  have passed  on this trait to others in the Western Free democracies,which again can be attributed  to mainly THOSE  WHO HAVE LEFT  RELATIVES  BEHIND. In this the writers  have  ascertained  how even tthe recently come Armenians from Armenia  have undergone same trend  .that  is to save  their skin and abide  with present turkishness…
    In all, I reject accepting this article as beneficiary for Armenians  living in Free states.
    it is good for  those  still  trying to somehow make up with their  obedient stance and even interject  that  into some of the Armenian fabric.Last word  is  indicative  of thiose  who even a few days ago  were rejpoicing  that  the church  in Diarbakir  ihas been allowed to be repairted(after Akhtamar,which did  not probably render  much $$$ from few tourists,whereas they were expecting  ten fold so. Now this churtch,contrary to Akhtamar  will not be  repaired at the expense  of the Turkish Govt.  but  some above mentioned  like Armenians  who are the Istanbulla type(bred  under  that  regime,living in Europe and America) that have in fact  undertaken to pay for the repairs..
    These Armenians  are  not politically educated and do not ,will not grasp the fact  that Diarbakir(Tigranakert)  is the future capital  of Autonomous  Kurdistan or independent  one.this is what  the kurds  are decided  upon,whether in coop  with present Govt. of Turkey or independently thinking Kurds..
    Alas, I don´t  have  time to delve further into above  article and pick  more  such flaws  in it…
    best to my compatriots,who do not wish to take turks  again as friends…
    We can be neighbours  ,but  like <pakistan/India.Follow  what  ´m saying…

  9. This is a fantastic article that needs to be fleshed out and published as a book. The title “One Hundred Years of Abandonment” is perfect. Some concepts discussed that are less understood outside academia need to be explained, for the general public, perhaps in the footnotes. This is a real gem.

  10. To Hamazasp: A Western Armenian translation of this excellent article is already ready for publication.

  11. avatar Laurent Leylekian // May 5, 2011 at 2:04 pm // Reply

    Probably one of the best in-depth analysis I read on this topic. The psychological walls are still jailing the mind of these “left behind” in dereliction.

  12. avatar Vartan Matiossian // May 5, 2011 at 4:39 pm // Reply

    Please bear in mind that the examples about similarities (food, music, etc.) come from the Turkish authors that speak about Armenian/Turkish “brotherhood,” not from the authors of the article.
    The one who speaks about Turkish losses in Gallipoli is Turkish FM Davutoglu, among others, not the authors.
    Therefore, if you are going to pick up flaws, you may address them to the people the authors are criticizing.
    This article is actually beneficial to anyone living anywhere in the world since: 1) it comes from insiders (they’re not in the skin of Istanbul Armenians, they are Istanbul Armenians, 2) it makes a critique of both Istanbul Armenians and Turkish intelligentsia left (particularly the one we sometimes open our mouth as example of “change”) and right, 3) it gives food for thought about the hundred years we have spent under the weight of the catastrophe, even if we have taken notice.

  13. avatar gaytzag palandjian // May 7, 2011 at 8:43 am // Reply

    Yours  is a wrong Assumption Arsen, The authors  SHOULD  have composed  their- otherwise very good writ-critique direct to the FM,Davoutoglu and others,indeed for the general public to read.Thus conveying their refusal to them. Whereas in the manner  that  above  is exposed,at best it leaves it open to critique such as  mine  that all our efforts ought to be ,rather should be to make the public aware  of what the other party-namely great Turkey diplomacy- is working at. To Misinform mythinorm as one compatriot put  ir and above all to show  how the oppressed Istanbul Armenians are ¨¨supposed¨ to react to harsh ¨turkishness¨.Be their obedient servantg  and say write what they dictate.And to add that it was  exactly for what I am hereby declaring that Hrant Dink was  martyrd by them the present great Turkey, inheritor of the Ottoman Empire.

  14. avatar gaytzag palandjian // May 7, 2011 at 9:35 am // Reply

    Errata!, My above post  should  read:- addressed to Vartan Martirossian

  15. avatar gaytzag palandjian // May 7, 2011 at 9:50 am // Reply

    ADDENDUM, iF  YOU READ  VERY CAREFULLY THE ABOVE ARTICLE YOU WILL NOTE THAT THAT AUTHORS,do hint at how some of our diaspora(Istanbul Armenian minded,nay bred-educated,under present rule) act, similar  to those  IN can well be surmised that long  years  of oppression -plus friedns/relatives still there-definitely UNDER FEAR. They also ask why the Mainstream Diaspora-assume,living in Free Democfracies-have  not ARTICULATED OR are articulating ,ONE WOULD SUPPOSE,ouright DEMAND. Well……this is being done both in FRANCE,right now, after the French higher cahmber, the senate, has voted against criminalization of Denying the Genocide against Armenians. Likewise  in L.A. there were  huge crowds protesting to President Obama, for his refusal to Acknowledge  the CRIME  by its  real  name. It  seems  ,book and essay writing  is becoming more  of the past, since DAILY TOP  NEWS, AS  IT  IS DUBBED  occurs  quite  fast and only way to keep abreast  of it is this medium the INTERNET,ALSO T.V./radio, RATHER  THAN THE pRESS

  16. avatar Vartan Matiossian // May 10, 2011 at 11:16 pm // Reply

    To Mr. Palandjian: This article is the work of two Ph.D. candidates in political science decided to write an analytical essay on Turkish-Armenian politics and policies, and give us some insights into the lessons of yesterday and today. They wrote it for a special magazine that allowed them to write an article of lasting value, instead of an op-ed piece to be forgotten the next day. If what they wrote is not for the “general public,” it’s the latter’s loss. Our general public should start to become a little more sophisticated and abandon its fondness for anachronistic sentimental chit-chat to replace it with seasoned critiques like this, which may open the eyes of many people about what is the real background of the “we share your pain,” “we are brothers” rhetoric.
    If you don’t like the way they wrote it, it’s your choice. You may prefer to write an open letter to Davutoglu. Fine. But nobody may tell the authors what they SHOULD have written.

  17. Dear VM,

    I don’t have your email, so I’m using this comment area to ask you my question: Is there any plan of publishing the Western Armenian? 

    I rather you reply to me privately to


  18. Vartan, well said, you speak for so many… Thanks to our authors, Aydin and Talin.

  19. I understood, in the last three (3) lines this article (written for Turks to read) mentions the authors Ayda and Talin’s article… evidently usingTurkish language for Turks… incapable of written in English – but yet capable ‘mailing’ via the English language!  (Must be ONLY for Turkeys – but why not in their own Turkish media?? – OH! Actually, Turkeys must be reading, pursuing Armenian medias…
    GREAT, now the Turks will learn of their Ottoman and all their subsequent leaderships complicity in elimination of the Christian Armenian peoples to accommodate Turks need for a ready-made ancient and a truly advanced nation for these hordes from Asia to ‘steal’- to use as their own – calling it a Turkey. These readers shall learn the truths, will learn that world history has recorded the Turkey’s crimes/inhumanity to eliminate the existence of the Armenian peoples from their lands of nearly 4,000 years!! (NOT as the Turks interpret their own history – denying slaughtering, raping, kidnappings, tortures Turkish style to pursue their goals – the Turkish Genocide of the Christian Armenians.  Now, via our Armenian media, Turks shall learn what the civilized nations of the world know of the Genocides perpetrated by the Turks against the Armenians, the Greeks, the Pontians, the Assyrians – and more.  Since Turks can not learn the truths via their own mis-directed education of their youth… Turks shall learn from medias outside Turkey. Now via USA.

  20. Very cogent ideas and arguments. I can only urge a more direct and less cluttered rhetoric, as the potency of these arguments are diluted by a “proliferation of torturous Latinate polysyllabic obfuscations.” Unless it’s a thesis, in which case the reader expects such baroque expository.
    Very powerful thinking,

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.