‘Yalanci Dolma’ Diplomacy


Henry Astrajian

Henry Astrajian


Yes, it was a meeting, but not a “historic meeting” as posted by the Friends of Hrant Dink, the organizers of an academic event entitled “Closing the Divide.”

The event was designed to build cultural bridges between the Armenian Diaspora on one side and the Turkish people on the other, to traverse a colossal gorge, not divide, created by centuries of slavery, abuse, colonization of Western Armenia, and pogroms, which peaked with the infamous genocide of 1915-23.

The meeting took place in, of all places, the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center (ACEC) in Watertown, Mass., a hub of the Armenian cultural activities.

The luminary in this event was the principle speaker, Hasan Cemal, who was to talk about his “recent trip to Yerevan and the memories about his grandfather [Jemal Pasha].” Additional reflections were to be articulated by two professors, Taner Akcam of Clark University and Asbed Kotchikian of Bentley University.

I am not sure what the organizers were trying to accomplish. Some 25 million of Turkey’s population, the Kurds, knew firsthand about the genocide because they witnessed it, actually committed the killings, or else kidnapped our daughters and later married them to their sons. Most Turks are aware of the genocide, and they rationalize it because, as Ataturk’s propaganda has it, the genocide was a necessary policy carried out to protect the Vatan (Fatherland) from Russian invasion (which was supposedly exploiting the rebellious Armenians to divide and defeat Turkey).

Yes, the people of Turkey—the Turk, the Kurd, the Lezgis, the Chechen, the Greek; the Sunnis, Shiites, and the Alevis—all know about the Armenian Genocide. Most importantly, the governments of Turkey have known about the genocide from the beginning, yet have refused to face the reality, and have muzzled the Turkish intelligentsia and people of conscience from discussing Turkey’s criminal past.

Inhabitants of Turkey know about the genocide. They all felt it on their skin when their doctors, pharmacists, professors, architects, the artisans and other skilled workers were no longer there, overnight. The same was felt in Iraq, when the Jews left to Israel in 1949.

I know a Turkish doctor from Elazig (Kharpert region, Mamourat el-Asiz) who swore to God he overheard this conversation between two elderly Turks, sitting outside a mosque chatting about old times. One of them said: “I asked Avedis to come to my house for protection. Me and my friend killed this giavour oghlu giavour (infidel, son of infidel). I took his jacket and my friend took his shalvar, and we dumped the body.”

It is accurate to say that the Armenian Diaspora knows Turkey better than Turkey knows the Diaspora. Armenians do not trust Turks and the Turkish government. Their so-called “Europeanization” is only a veneer; the real Turkey has been exposed in many ways, many times. In the early 90’s, they let the people of Armenia freeze to frost when they prevented oil from reaching the country. People cut trees to cook and get some warmth to avoid hypothermia. The Turks blockaded passage of international food aid to starving Armenia; and when they gave in to international pressure, they exchanged the donated good quality wheat with a cheaper one, before it got to Armenia.

Turgut Ozel, the president of Turkey at the time, contemplated “hitting Armenia with a couple of missiles, and claiming mistakes for doing it.” Two days later he died, and Armenian folklore considers that as God’s punishment.

These are only a fraction of the facts that paint Turkey’s portrait with us; there is much more. The Turkish government and people of Turkey must come clean; they must wash their hands of Armenian blood. People-to-people dialogue, though well intentioned, will not bridge the gorge, despite Cemal’s attempts to find common ground. Shared food recipes for dolma and chigkufta, make a weak bridge leading to a recipe for yalanci dolma (fake, meatless, stuffed grape leaves): It is a naive diplomacy. The message, which is noble in itself, is not practical because rapprochement between our two peoples, does not and will not change the policies of the Turkish government, which is driven by its own agenda of hegemony of the region, and by the big power’s designs over the Caucasus.

It is evident that the issue is political. The dynamics of this game will change in favor of understanding and friendship, if Turkey quits resisting the recognition of the genocide and acknowledges its reality, and if Turkey quits de-facto support of the Azeris on Karabagh. After that, we can talk about the borders.

Hasan Cemal, who has been badgered by Turkey because of his book The Kurds, is the wrong messenger for the message he is advocating. First, he is in the wrong place; he should sell his ideas in Turkey, not in the Armenian Diaspora. Second, intellectuals can never change policy; neither can he. Intellectuals rarely get to a governing power anywhere (an exception is Vaslav Haavel in Czechoslovakia). Similar writers and intellectuals in Turkey—like Yasar Kemal, Ayse Nur, and her husband Ragip Zarakolu, even the lighthearted Aziz Nesin, to name a few—suffered and still suffer the wrath of the reactionary governing establishment. Third, he carries a big chip on his shoulder. He is the grandson of a war criminal “Sakalli (Bearded) Jemal Pasha,” who as the third member of a criminal gang formed of Enver, and Talat, members of the Ittihad ve Tarraqi (CUP-Committee of Union and Progress), shared the responsibility of implementing the genocide. He also committed war crimes against the Arab intellectuals in Aleppo by holding kangaroo courts, then hanging 12 of them headed by Dr. Abdul-Rahman el-Khalil, within 24 hours of the lower court’s decision; he did not allow them appeal, as required by law, and did not wait to obtain the approval of Istanbul, as required. In the Arab annals, he is known as the saffah (blood-thirsty, indiscriminate executioner).

Now, I am not naive enough to saddle Hasan with his grandfather’s criminal past. I have no doubts about his decency and sincerity; however, that enigma will never disappear if he does not condemn his grandfather’s deeds, outright. That is a bitter pill to swallow, but that is the means to fortify his message. Otherwise this whole project could be construed as being Yalanci Dolma Diplomacy.


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  1. Alex Postallian said:

    Henry Astarjian: Very good article, I am glad someone has the –lls to tell it like it is. The truth of the matter is that 70% of the turks are illiterate,so what do you expect,endowed with their mongol heritage,militarially controlled,you can expect no less….I dont know why they should be feared,they are the greatest bluffers in history,and cry-babies.They are only effective against old men,women,and children…After their weapons been conficated….

  2. mustafa yavuz said:

    Henry Astarjian, from his surname I gueess his ancestors were once citizens of Ottoman empire, wrote very bad things. It is a very big lie that all Turks know about Armenian genocide. Anyway, diaspora will never win their fight against Turkey by thinking anda acting this way. I am Turk, there are millions like me, many of our ancestors did not kill any Armenian, many of us knows nothing about Armenians. There are thousands of people who never heard the word “Armenian”. I donot need dialog with you Mr. Astarjian, you have to repeat again and again that there are also many good Turks. I wont let you categorize all of us as bloodthursty mongols. I signed the apology and I am a very pro-armenian person, I acknowledge genocide, although my family never did anything bad to any Armenian. Look what Alex Postallian wrote, this is very cheap what you did. Nothing gives you the right to offend and insult me only because I am Turk. You should look at the mirror. It is very paradoxical that you are proud with your fedayis killing people who had nothing with genocide (driver of a Turkish diplomat, wife of a Turkish diplomat), it is very paradoxical that you are proud with your Antranig when they came back in 1916-1918 and killed innocent women and children (again who had nothing to do with genocide) in Erzeroum, Erzindjan, Kars. If you are proud with your revenges (so called resistances) then dont sell me that bs.

    • Alex Postallian said:

      yavuz:You are part of the 70%.Your own country has been LYING to you.DONT YOU GET IT.They altered their history.Let us start with basic 101.The ARMENIAN GENOCIDE is accepted by the majority of people,its a historical fact.IS THAT TO FAST FOR YOU.My MOTHER went thru the GENOCIDE.Study the true history,so you wont make a fool of yourself.In AMERICA we have no fear and freedom of speech,I served to protect.

      • Ergun Kirlikovali Fan Club said:

        Alex, do you hate the Turkish people who are supporting the AG thesis?

  3. Gaidzag Shahbazian said:

    This article should be read by our new generation in every Armenian home, to enable them to better understand their enemy, to make it clear what kind of inhuman neighbor Armenia has. This kind of article, straightforward, will inspire our kids to read our history in depth.

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  5. Siran Tateosian said:

    This is a terrible article. Are you kidding? ” Inhabitants of Turkey know about the genocide. They all felt it on their skin when their doctors, pharmacists, professors, architects, the artisans and other skilled workers were no longer there, overnight.” Who? The more than 70 million people in Turkey under 30 years old who were born no earlier than the 1970s?
    “It is accurate to say that the Armenian Diaspora knows Turkey better than Turkey knows the Diaspora.” On what basis can you make such a statement??
    Those divisive and ignorant statements are perfect examples of why the Friends of Hrant Dink organization is attempting to fulfil Hrant Dink’s mission – to build bridges and understanding. There is a lot to be learned from the experience of Bolsahyes like Hrant Dink – may his soul rest in peace – which unfortunately, few Armenians are actually ready to hear.
    Citizen diplomacy IS important and necessary to begin dialogue. This blind hatred for “all things Turkish” and the belief that all Turkish people are conspirators is entirely unfair, and to continue to propagate those perspectives is unhelpful in dealing with our collective past and present. Would it not be more effective, for Armenians to speak with, understand and ally themselves with real open-minded Turkish people like Mustafa who commented above, and build a counter-coalition to the official Turkish government line. Come on Armenians, please open your eyes, let’s think creatively and more progressively.
    “I challenge the accepted version of history because I do not write about things in black and white. People here are used to black and white; that’s why they are astonished that there are other shades, too.” – Hrant Dink. RIP.

    • Alex Postallian said:

      Siran Tateosoglu. I am eighty three years old,the scars of my forefathers are very apparent.When ever turkey quits lying about the Genocide,admits the truth,because it makes the people who expierenced these horrors like my Mother,so who would you believe your mother or some turk lying.I never knew my grand-parents.So if you are going to extend the olive branch to the turkies. Its up to them to take the first step of reconcilation,not us,they were the butchers.So speak for your self oglu.

  6. Lusik said:

    Turks know about Armenian genocide. See the ocean of Turkish people on pictures taken during Ding’s funeral. The big noise about protocol is only one purpose – to make forget the main issue. The main issue is the renewal of all treaties signed by Soviet Union and abolished after it has collapsed. So, Turks hide the truth. And an Armenian says: “Again?”.  /// Truth is one for everyone. If Turks want to be in peace with their past, the path is one – to acknowledge the genocide committed. If Turks want to be in harmony with a neighbor, the path is one – to agree to put fence which both sides believe is fair. This is the rule put in all people book.

  7. manooshag said:

    Hye, it is the Turkish leaderships, who have misled, lied, and educated their youths over the years –  thus  continue t0 delay, detour, deny the justice to be addressed for the  Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Turk.  The leaderships denials and deliberate lies to their generations following the Armenian Genocide, in their convoluted thinking, blaming the victims for their own Genocide… To this day, that is the Ottoman mentality of the governments of Turkey.  There are many in Turkey who have the honesty and the intelligence to recognize what their own government keeps trying to hide from their own citizens… For the leaderships cannot, and will not admit to the truths.  If Turkey had been brought to face justice in their guilt for slaughtering, raping, kidnapping and more of the Christian Armenians – it is very possible that none of all the Genocides that followed the Turkish Genocide into the 20th century and followed into the 21st century,Darfur, Kurds, shall not have been…   Such vile treatment of humans – by humans!
    Turkey ‘bullies’ its way in spending millions upon millions in their denials of the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian nation – which Turkey ‘stole’ via a planned Genocide, which Turkey claims  to be as their own lands, and too,  took the  Armenian culture as Turks’ own.  Lying…
    In the history of mankind, the Turkish inhumanity to the Armenians are written for posterity…
    from the Genocide  years into all the years of denials – 1890s-2009.     Manooshag