Charlie Rose Drama Alert

December 10, 2009 at 10:36 pm (Armenian-Turkish relations, media) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Barely had my disappointment faded after the Armenia-lite Erdoğan talk when Charlie Rose stirred up some dark, rich diplomatic drama on December 8th – from an armchair, no less. 

Charlie Rose

The spicy soujuk of the interview is this bit:

CHARLIE ROSE:  …There is now an agreement between Turkey and Armenia.     What is necessary in order to — what more evidence does history need with respect to the genocide? 

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN:  Let me first of all say that you say of
genocide, speak of genocide.  I would be sorry to hear you say that.  I can
say very clearly that we do not accept genocide.  This is completely a lie. 

I invite people to prove it.  I wrote a letter in 2005, and I said
that this is not up to politicians.  It is up to historians to look into
this.  We have opened our archives.  We have all the documents there.  And
in our archives more than one million documents were already looked at. 
Today it’s even more than that.  And we have opened the archives of the

And I asked the Armenian side to open their archives and let third
countries have documents.  We made a call for that too so that people could
look into all of these documents and we could all decide and see what’s
going on.

But it’s — this is not about lobbying and going to politicians and
asking them to take certain decisions.  This is not really the way to go. 
Something like this is really not possible, and there is no truth to it. 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Did President Obama bring it up with you?  Has he
discussed it with you? 

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN:  I have spoken with him, yes.  Of course, this
most recent normalization process between Turkey and Armenia was important. 
This was the context in which we discussed these issues.

And let me say to the normalization process.  It was Turkey that
initiated the normalization process.  It was Turkey that took upon itself
the risk. 

We believe in ourselves.  What we would like to see is for this
normalization process to go forward.  And in that it’s important that we go
into that and the Karavak (sic) issue between Azerbaijan and Armenia be resolved. 
There is an occupation.  We have to solve that problem.

There are three countries involved — United States, the Russian
Federation, and France.  The Minsk (ph) group, why hasn’t it solved the
problem in the last 20 years?  The problem has to be solved.

And once that problem is solved then that region will be a region of
peace.  Why?  Because once the problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia is
solved, that hatred is going to dissipate.  There is the decision of the
United Nations Security Council which will be implemented.  And the
problems between Turkey and Armenia will definitely be resolved.  I believe
in it. 

But at the moment, you have the U.S. Congress here, and the U.S.
Congress doesn’t have direct relations with our region.  We are there in
that region.  We have direct relations.  We have direct issues.  And it’s
the Turkish parliament who has to make a decision on this agreement between
Turkey and Armenia.  They have to approve it. 

And of course, the Turkish parliament too is very sensitive about this
issue.  And if the positive developments that we would like to see do not
come about, then I do not believe that our parliament will have a positive
result as a result of its deliberations.  We will have a secret ballot, but
I don’t believe that without any other positive developments there will be
a positive outcome.  (Entire transcript here.)

BAM – Turkey inserts NK as an official precondition – in English – on prime time TV.  I didn’t know that Sargsyan watched Charlie, but he surely caught wind of Erdoğan’s flaunting their agreement, and issued the following statement on Thursday, December 10th:

Serzh Sargsyan

I am stating again that the Republic of Armenia is prepared to properly honor its international commitments.  Namely, to ratify the Turkish-Armenian protocols.  But you will recall that I have also stated before that if Turkey drags out the ratification of the protocols, then Armenia will immediately make use of possibilities stemming from international law

And so I am declaring now that I have instructed relevant state bodies to prepare amendments to those of our laws that pertain to the signing, ratification and abrogation of international agreements.

Turkey’s objective is to link Turkish-Armenian relations with the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.  I must once again repeat that those attempts are a priori doomed to failure.

Obviously, the deadline for ratifying these protocols is approaching.  While there is some leeway (the protocols need to be ratified in a “timely manner”) the window of opportunity to normalize that has eluded Turkey and Armenia for nearly twenty years may slowly be closing.


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Erdoğan in the Chocolate City

December 10, 2009 at 1:00 am (Turkish Diplomacy, Washington DC) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

On December 8th, the SETA Foundation hosted a talk by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC.  Held in the hotel’s grand, yet garish, ballroom – the event was open to the public and provided simultaneous translation in both English and Turkish through wireless equipment.  (neat!)  About two hundred people attended, including myself.

Erdoğan was introduced by former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel (R), who referred to Kurdistan during an anecdote about traveling in eastern Anatolia with Joe Biden.  I thought I heard a mild snicker ripple through the crowd when Hagel dropped the K-bomb, but maybe I am just overly sensitive to Turkey’s problematic relationship with their “mountain Turks.”

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Chuck Hagel

Erdoğan was a good speaker: frank and not afraid to give some meat along with the requisite political niceties.  He addressed many of Turkey’s current foreign policy issues, touching upon domestic issues (the economy, human rights, Kurds) only very lightly.    His remarks came off as slightly defensive; whether he was covering Turkey’s prolonged EU ascension process, his country’s relationship with Iran, or the Israel-Palestine conflict -Erdoğan was explaining, justifying, and/or defending his stance.  The PM mentioned something in defense of this defensiveness – to paraphrase his remarks very loosely: ‘Turkey has been a state in limbo for the past 50 years and it is still lingering in this limbo.  Turkey is improving, but Turkey is also patient.’

Treaty of Sèvres (click for larger image) Credit:

This is what I know as the “sèvres syndrome,” a term used to describe Turkey’s contemporary foreign policy paranoia because of the way the Ottoman Empire was butchered-up at the end of World War 2.  The “sèvres” of sèvres syndrome refers to the Treaty of Sèvres, which was one of many peace treaties drawn up during WW2 to give Ottoman land to the allies of the Triple Entente.  While never enacted, the treaty shows how much Ottoman land was up for grabs.  The resulting paranoia is evident in Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies today.

So when Erdoğan mentioned Turkey’s prolonged state of “limbo” – I thought of the “sèvres syndrome” and how Turkey is still fighting off the Ottoman Empire’s reputation as the “sick man of Europe.”   Erdoğan states that this limbo is fifty years-old, which covers the post-Ataturk & co. era of democracy building.  I think it is safe to say that this limbo dates back to the beginning of the Turkish Republic.  The Ottoman Empire is a tough specter to shake.

Erdoğan’s frankness did not carry over into his discussion of Armenian-Turkish rapprochement.  Firstly, this topic was not addressed during the talk proper – only during the short question and answer section that followed his presentation.  Secondly, he did not reveal any of his signature flair in response to the question, which was “How do you see the Armenian-Turkish protocol process proceeding?”  The PM has not shied away from critiquing the protocols.  In fact, despite being a member of the party that worked on the protocols with Armenia, Erdoğan was the first to start chipping away at them after they were signed.  Following the signing, Erdoğan voiced some common pre-conditions that have prevented normalization to date, namely, Nagorno-Karabagh.  Since the deadline for ratification is approaching, I thought the PM would have a forceful response to that question, but it was lack-luster.  He simple gave an overview of the ratification process (first signing, then commission, then parliament…) and said that progress between Armenia and Azerbaijan over NK would help.  The response short, civil, and totally predictable.

To date, I’ve attended talks by two high-ranking Turkish officials.  The other was Ali Babacan, who spoke at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2007.  If the two had a diplomat-off, Erdoğan would win – hands down.  His blend of staight-talk and suave disengagement from certain contentious issues explains why he is PM and why I wasn’t invited to the reception.

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Armenian Customer Service and the “Obizhnik”

December 5, 2009 at 6:35 pm (Armenia, media) (, , , , , , , , , )

My friends over at ruffled some serious, post-Soviet corporate feathers with a recent mock-news post about Armenia’s ArmenTel/Beeline mobile phone and internet service provider.  ArmenTel was Armenia’s first and only telecommunications provider until 2004 and was notorious for poor quality services at high prices.   ArmenTel was re-branded as Beeline in 2006 after being sold to Russia’s largest telecommunications provider.

ArmComedy specializes in satirical news stories (a-la Onion) that poke fun at politicians, corporations, political correctness, and Armenian society.   Recent posts include: Ukraine sends Winter Boots to European Subscribers of Russian GASPROM; Armenian Ministry of Education to Remove Phrase “Turkish Assholes” from School Manuals; Council of Europe Pushes Minorities into Armenian Parliament.  While ArmComedy takes some substantial risks by referring to politicians, oligarchs, and local celebrities by name, the premise of critiquing the society in which they live through satire is long over due.  Comedy is often at the front lines of breaking down social taboos and getting people acclimated to discussing real issues.  It this respect, ArmComedy has been very successful.

Case in point: their recent post entitled Armentel Director Commits Suicide Amid Orange Mobile Success attracted the attention of a Beeline employee.  The heated exchange that takes place in the post’s comments section gives readers insight into the still bellicose nature of Armenian customer service today.  From the Beeline rep we see some attempts at civility interspersed with low blows regarding IQ levels and consumer responsibility.  My favorite quote:

Your fault that you didn’t tell (our) company that you had interent (sic) only 15 days . of course . automated bill generation doesn’t have spiritual ability to understand your mental and in house problems.

Indeed.  Now, I am going to need some help from my Armenian/Russian friends to fully grasp the meaning of the word “obizhnik” but, from what I can gather from the ArmComedy-Beeline exchange, this is a term used for rude, apathetic customers who haven’t fully thrown off their Soviet mentality to embrace 21st century capitalism.  It also appears that labeling consumers “obizhnik” allows corporations to write off their more demanding customers as post-Soviet hicks and avoid fully satisfying their demands – or treating them with respect.

I am not sure that the ArmComedy team fits this label, but the duo have been invited to tour Beeline HQ and are planning to report on their experience.

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Georgian Sighting: Project Runway

December 1, 2009 at 3:07 am (Georgia, media) (, , , , , , , )

The sixth season of Project Runway, the reality show for fashion designers, is now over.  Until she was eliminated, I was rooting for Shirin Askari.

Shirin Askari Credit:

Not only was Askari’s work a cut above the rest, but I was convinced that she was Armenian.  Even after it came out on the show that she is Persian – I was and am still convinced that the girl is Armenian.  Look at those eyes – Hye aghcik e.

So it was a huge surprise for me (and perhaps only for me) to find out during the season finale that the true Caucasian was, in fact, Irina Shabayeva, born in the Republic of Georgia.

Irina Shabayeva Credit:

While her parents still have a post-Soviet chic look to them, Shabayeva was inspired by NYC, not Tbilisi, for her final collection.  To each her own.  Shabayeva’s aesthetic clearly served her well – she was, after all, the winner of season six.

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Armenian Sighting: Rear Window

December 1, 2009 at 3:07 am (diaspora, media, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, starring Jimmy Stewert, a half-dozen times, but only this weekend did I realize that it also stars…an Armenian.

Photo still from Rear Window Credit: Alfred Hitchcock

You might remember the piano-playing composer with the slanted floor to ceiling windows?  Turns out that this actor is Ross Bagdasarian in Rear Window  Credit: Alfred Hitchcocknot only a Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter, but he is also Armenian.  Rostom Sipan “Ross” Bagdasarian was born in 1919 in Fresno, California and is the cousin of that other Armenian Fresno native, William Saroyan.

The cousin connection launched Bagdasarian into the limelight – first with a role in Saroyan’s broadway debut, The Time of Your Life, and later with a cowritten song, Come on-a My House. Throughout the 1950s, Bagdasarian released songs and played minor roles on the silver screen before landing a number one hit with Witch Doctor in 1958.

Bagdasarian solidified his success with The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) which spun off into the animated, anthropomorphic musical group, Alvin and the Chipmunks.  Since Bagdasarian recorded all of the chipmunk’s voices, it is not too much of a stretch to claim Alvin, Simon, and Theodore as Armenians themselves – nationalism knows no bounds.

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The End of Oil at the Corcoran Gallery

November 9, 2009 at 12:41 am (art, Azerbaijan) (, , , , , )

In Edward Burtynsky’s exhibit Oil, Azerbaijan represents both the birthplace of the modern oil industry and the site of its demise.  Burtynsky: Oil is running until December 13th, 2009 at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC.

SOCAR Oil Fields #2 Baku, Azerbaijan, 2006 © Edward Burtynsky

SOCAR Oil Fields #2 Baku, Azerbaijan, 2006 © Edward Burtynsky

The stunning colors of these industrial landscapes, many of which are framed by nature in the perhaps unattainable distance, are grossly humbled by the computer screen; however, larger images are available on Burtynsky’s website.

SOCAR Oil Fields #3 Baku, Azerbaijan, 2006 © Edward Burtynsky

SOCAR Oil Fields #3 Baku, Azerbaijan, 2006 © Edward Burtynsky


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Confronting Memory through Art in Turkey

November 2, 2009 at 7:22 pm (Armenian-Turkish rapprochement, Armenian-Turkish relations) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

This fall, an Istanbul art exhibit at the BM SUMA Art Center is breaking the silence over a collective Turkish memory that some would like to forget and others find impossible to ignore.  The “Dirty Story” exhibit confronts the memory of Turkey’s 1980 military coup through art in hopes of coming to a modern understanding of the deaths, detentions, human rights abuses, and pain caused by that era of Turkey’s not-so-distant past.  The exhibit also challenges political and artistic censorship in Turkey, with photos of muzzled artists alongside a photographed tombstone, engraved with a gun.

Tarih-i Kadim (The Old History) artist unknown

Whenever grotesque and inhuman events tear the social fabric of a society, it takes strength and courage to initiate healing.  Leave it to Turkish artists to tackle this challenge.

In recent weeks and months, much of the global Armenian diaspora have mobilized in opposition to the Armenian-Turkish protocols.  At the core of their opposition is pain that results from Turkey’s ongoing denial of the Armenian genocide.  The protocols do not address this wound – they arguably make it worse by having both countries agree to a historic commission.

What is not being addressed within the diaspora, Armenia, or Turkey is the difference between rapprochement and reconciliation.  The diaspora’s response to the protocols demonstrates the difference between the two and the need for rapprochement not to preclude or prevent reconciliation.  In fact, the protocols have the potential to pave the way for more efforts, more courage, and more drive for understanding and peace between these groups.

The “Dirty Story” exhibit offers a model for initiating reconciliation that could be applied to the memory of the Armenian genocide.  Besides obliterating  Armenian society in eastern Anatolia, the genocide destroyed the social fabric of late Ottoman and early Turkish societies.  The ramifications of genocide denial reverberate in Turkey to the present day.  The timing is perfect for an artistic collaboration to explore this trauma and shock all sides into an atmosphere where reconciliation is possible.

[Thanks to Rob at Art Threat for bringing this exhibit to my attention.]

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Score for Democracy?

November 2, 2009 at 6:08 pm (media) (, , , , )

The BBC’s hilarious, yet adept, headline today heralds the end of Afghanistan’s two month-long election debate: Karzai Declared Elected President.


Photo Credit: Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images

Of course, it helps when your sole competition drops out.  However, this also makes it harder to call it an election in the first place.


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April 24th – an Anniversary to Remember

October 27, 2009 at 3:12 am (genocide recognition) (, , , , , )

Two of my wonderful, non-Armenian, activist friends are getting hitched this spring.  To be more specific, they are getting married on April 24th.  While I am sure they are hoping for a lovely spring Saturday, April 24th is also annual Armenian genocide remembrance day and a day that often coincides with a climax of genocide recognition activism.

So, much to my surprise, I returned home from a weekend out of town to find the couple’s “save-the-date” postcard affixed to my fridge (by my charming, non-Armenian boyfriend) with a ceramic pomegranate magnet, picked up at Vernissage in 2008.  I did a double take:

fridge pic

"save-the-date" on fridge with magnet

Close up:

fridge pic - close up

"save-the-date" - close up

The whole set up was too rich to keep to myself – so I just had to share.

As it turns out, the happy couple was asked to “disperse” by the police as the mother-of-the-bride was snapping the shot.  Note to self: no cuteness allowed at demonstrations in Washington, DC.

UPDATE: Because the couple share a love for human rights, history, and awareness, they are interested in incorporating a small Armenian something-or-other into their ceremony or reception out of respect.  Their diplomacy is beyond commendable.  Please offer up your ideas in the comments section.

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Signed – next up: Ratification

October 11, 2009 at 10:51 pm (Armenian-Turkish relations) (, , , , , , , , )

Edouard Nalbandian and Ahmet Davutoglu, signing  Credit: AFP

Eduard Nalbandian and Ahmet Davutoglu sign the protocols. Credit: Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

On Saturday October 10th, Armenian and Turkey took step two towards normalizing relations between their two countries. Reports of last-minute, pre-signing glitches and post-signing extra conditions are adding some drama to Armenian, Turkish, international, and regional media coverage of the highly anticipated and, to many, highly dreaded moment.

Eduard Nalbandian and Ahemt Davutoglu after signing the protocols   credit: Asbarez

Eduard Nalbandian and Ahemt Davutoglu after signing the protocols. Credit: Fotoloor/Asbarez

In short, although the protocols have been signed by both countries, both governments must now ratify the documents, which would open up diplomacy and the Armenian-Turkish border within two months. Turkish PM Erdogan is already standing up with a precondition: Armenia must pull out of its occupied NK territories. Meanwhile, members of the Armenian diaspora are continuing with their protests and demonstrations against the protocols, because the documents includes an agreement on a “dialogue on the historical dimension with the aim to restore mutual confidence.”

Perhaps my favorite coverage of the new precondition was anticipated by ArmComedy with the headline “Turkey’s New Precondition: Sargsyan must attend Gul’s Birthday Party.

To ratification and beyond, I will be watching the diplomacy unfold.

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