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An Armenian-Turkish-American friend

Yusuf KANLI

Coincidentally, days after we went through the Armenian conference excitement last month, I received a call from Kaan Soyak, chairman of the Turkish-Armenian Business Council. Kaan, an Armenian Turk, is, like me, one of the leading “traitors” of this country who has been trying hard to increase social contact between Turkey and Armenia in the hope that a better understanding among peoples will help in the creation of better relations between Turkey and Armenia. Over the past decade I have at times helped him in his efforts, but mostly he helped me in my drive to forge some communication between Turkish, Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists as well as other professional groups.

“Will you be in Ankara this week? I have a very important guest from the United States: A Turkish-Armenian-American man of religion. I will be accompanying him for some talks with some prominent people down there. Politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen… you know.” Kaan said. It would be great to meet with a Turkish-Armenian-American man of religion who traveled all the way to Turkey to meet with some prominent Turks.

It was great getting to know the Reverend Father Papken Anoushian from St. Thomas Church in New Jersey and listen to his views about the importance of social contact in promoting relations between the Turkish and Armenian peoples and trying to seek a common future together rather than letting what has happened or has not happened at a certain point in the common history of the two peoples bury us in a futile dead end.

Father Anoushian appeared delighted with the conversations he had in Ankara, though he was more convinced that it would take longer than anticipated for a normalization of relations between Ankara and Yerevan.

He listened silently to my explanations of how we came to the brink of opening the border and establishing a land and rail link between Turkey and Central Asia through Armenia but every time — either because of unfortunate Armenian resolutions in the French parliament and the European Parliament and elsewhere — all such efforts were dashed by Armenian extremists. We explained to him our conviction that unless the Armenian economy is revitalized by opening the border and converting that piece of land into a hub of transactions between the world and Central Asia, the impact of the extremist Armenian diaspora on policy-making in Yerevan will continue.

We underlined as well the need for some openings from Yerevan that would enable the government in Ankara to take some courageous steps towards Armenia. A declaration from the Armenian leadership that Yerevan has no territorial claims on Turkey, allowing a phased return of displaced Azerbaijanis to their land in Nagorno-Karabakh and the adjacent territory under Armenian occupation, without compromising on their version of the 1915-1923 events but with the preparedness to accept the outcome, allowing a team of historians to explore under UNESCO’s supervision what indeed happened at that time and similar moves would help open a new phase in ties.

Father Anoushian will be back in Turkey next year as well. Next time, he said, he hoped he would be accompanied by some 50 or more people from his community in New Jersey.

Dink sentencing:

A day after my meeting with Father Anoushian, I left for Luxembourg for the landmark start of accession talks. On my return, to my dismay, there was a report on the wire services: An Istanbul court convicted Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish journalist, of having insulted the Turkish national identity.

He was convicted of urging diaspora Armenians in a series of 2004 articles to get rid of the “poisoning effect” of their history in Turkey and focus on the welfare of Armenia, said Karin Karakasli, an editor at the newspaper. She said the court took the article out of context, saying it meant that Turkish blood is poison.

At a time when nationalists are crying in Turkey that the EU would be pushing us soon to “compromise” on the Armenia issue, isn’t it awkward to “misinterpret” and sentence a journalist under a law that is irrelevant, anyhow, to the road we have undertaken towards EU membership?

The sentencing of Dink is no different than the Orhan Pamuk case and underlines the pressing need to continue with democratization in this country. We have to change not only these laws, but the mindset as well.

We want a self-confident Turkey at peace with itself, at peace with its neighbors and which is democratic and secular and has supremacy of law, freedom of _expression and freedom of belief.

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