BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
The organizers of the Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival put on their fourth show two weeks ago in Orange County. These seem to be occurring roughly once every year-and-a-half. You may recall I’d written about this in “Occupation, Liberation.” The organizers still don’t seem to have learned geography since then.
While the “cultures” represented cover all of Asia Minor, Anatolia is only part of that area. The eastern part is the “Armenian Plateau” or “Armenian highlands” which I suppose is inconvenient for the organizers since using such a term means they’d have to account for the absence of Armenians on the land, and for the most part, in their festival, too, though their website refers to “The Urartu State (Armenians),” in the information provided about the festival.
The set-up was much as in October of 2011. A few cities were added and some removed. But Akhtamar was showcased again, complete with its name being rendered as “Akdamar” as well. Armenians had rented booths and were present as participants as well (based on overhearing conversation in Armenian).
The main reason I went this year was to observe what the reaction would be to the lecture titled “Roadmap to a Meaningful Armeno-Turkish Reconciliation” being presented by Levon Marashlian. I knew that he wouldn’t be pulling punches, and he didn’t.
The audience was very mixed. Perhaps a dozen Armenians were present, but the remainder of the 100 or so listeners were not overwhelmingly Turkish. Quite surprisingly, the questions were not antagonistic. In fact, only one was somewhat so. A young Turkish man asked why the Ottomans would all of a sudden kill their subjects. I spoke to him afterwards, and he did seem to be sincerely looking into figuring out for himself what really happened. The sense I got is that he, as we hear about many Turks, is having difficulty believing his ancestors could have committed such a heinous crime. Interestingly, he was also not offended when I told him his origins were probably Armenian, given his appearance. He looked like some Armenian friends of mine. I also checked with the person (who was also there), whose lecture on an Armenian topic was featured at the previous event, about attendance and learned that the numbers were similar, but a little lower.
Afterwards, I took a quick tour of the festival grounds and met some of the organizers. The lead person was a Kurd. Another gentleman whom I met was from Marash. I even exchanged contact information with a reporter from Turkey, though what will become of that contact, I really can’t say. Everyone was very polite and conversations were calm with references to the Genocide not engendering harsh responses.
What makes all this particularly intriguing is that the festival is organized by the Pacifica Institute, one of the Gulen organizations in the U.S. You’ll remember Gulen is the very prolific Turkish cleric who is holed up in a huge estate in the Poconos (mountains in Pennsylvania) whose following is quite large and at least tenuously associated with the current Islam-based party that governs Turkey. I’ve heard it argued that the path to Genocide recognition by Turkish society and government may be found in this segment of Turkey’s population. Conversely, these are also the people who, through various non-profit entities, have succeeded in establishing some 120 charter schools throughout the U.S. (and many more schools of respectable caliber throughout the world, especially in developing countries) that serve, among other things, the cause of Turkish propaganda. This makes for an interesting dilemma as Armenians proceed in our struggle for justice.
Be alert to such powerful image-building events organized by the growing Turkish community in the U.S. They constitute one of the arenas we will be vying in over the coming decades, and may provide an avenue to just resolution of the long-standing Armenian Question in its current form.