By Garen Yegparian
We haven’t had this much Turkish fun in the LA basin for a while. I suppose the Turkish government had forgotten where the victims of its genocidal policies reside in large numbers.
We of course demonstrated outside the Beverly Hills Hilton where Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul was addressing the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. But other than observing that participation seemed low–I can’t speak to how well it went since I was inside being amused by the ‘turkey-du-jour’ Gonul.
He is presumably intelligent and competent at what he does–but it was not in evidence that day. His English seemed reasonably solid–but slow in coming forth. His speech was prepared and he read it– in a painfully obvious–tedious way–with an occasional live joke thrown in. He wasn’t even able to get through the whole of it. Besides omitting portions of his commen’s about Iraq–he conveniently consumed the allotted time and left Caucasus and Artsakh issues out along with Central Asia. Nothing about Armenia of any substance was part of his presentation. You’d think we didn’t exist (in his wishful thinking).
So what did he say? Much of it seemed somewhat general–though he did cite statistics about Turkey’s expenditures in the realm of defense–with specifics focusing on purchases from the US and Israel. He emphasized Turkey’s "even-handedness" in dealing with Israel-Palestine issues. Turkey’s role in NATO was trumpeted to such a degree that the casual listener might think it founded the defense pact and single-handedly kept it alive. He took cheap shots at Syria and other neighbors–pointing out that of 18 current conflicts 13 are in Turkey’s neighborhood.
This brings us to items of greater specific interest to Armenia’s. If so many conflicts are in its neighborhood–doesn’t that suggest that Turkey is a cause of instability? Not according to good ole Vecdi. You see Turkey is a net "exporter" of security since 6149 personnel from 58 countries have participated in programs at the NATO Partnership for Peace Center established 1998 in Ankara. Translation: Turkey gets to wine and dine these folks in an attempt to win itself friends–and much of it at others’ expense. Isn’t that a great deal? In addition–"peace at home–peace in the world" is paradigmatic in Turkey (and for Gonul personally–sniffle–I am so touched) as stated by Ataturk–the magnificent peacemaker.
Terrorism–the catchall word for the Bush regime and its cohort of cronies and fawners–was prominently on display. Turkey (imagine violins playing) really understands what the US is going through after the September 11 attacks since it’s been at war with terrorists (sic: Kurds justly seeking statehood) for 20 years at the cost of 32,000 lives.
Gonul ended his presentation with inane niceties and remarks clearly intended to kiss-up to American powers that be–an overabundance of the standard–fatuous fluff that attends such presentations by representatives of countries groveling to be in Washington’s good graces.
It only got more ridiculous during the question and answer session–but more revealing. In the context of a response to a question about Iran–Gonul referred to Iraq as having been "part of our country." The only time that applied was during the Ottoman Empire (OE). So he clearly admits that the OE and Turkey are integral from the perspective of statehood–in this case successively. So much for argumen’s that the Genocide was committed by a "different" country.
Two questions of direct Armenian interest were posed. An elderly woman asked–in the kindest–most non-aggressive way imaginable–why Turkey refused to simply acknowledge the history of 1915. His response–"We are thinking there is nothing to acknowledge." Then he told of being from "Eastern Turkey" and half his father’s family being massacred by Armenia’s. He also tried without ever making a clear point–to play divide-and-conquer by claiming there exist three types of Armenia’s: "our Armenia’s–Armenia’s in Ermen’stan–and Armenia’s living all over the world." He then proceeded to describe how Armenia’s and Turks lived happily side-by-side until 1878 when part of the OE was lost to the Russian Empire. In this remark–he built on an earlier theme about how Turkey–continuing the policies of the OE–practiced multiculturalism–just as in the US (please hold your laughter ’til later). Then–the Russia’s trained young Armenia’s to hate Turks. When WWI commenced–these ‘Turk-hating’ Armenia’s returned to the OE and starting killing Turks. In response–the Turkish Army killed Armenia’s. Again–it’s interesting that the Defense Minister confesses it was the army–an organ of the state–which did the killing. I told you it got more ridiculous. Can you picture a bunch of 50-60 year old Armenia’s running around in Turkish occupied Armenia–during WWI–mass-murdering Turks? This guy and his ilk ought to try their hand at stand-up comedy! Here–a fed-up outburst from the audience pointed out Gonul’s lies. The participant was even threatened with removal.
The second Armenian question asked the minister what happened–in 1915–to the Armenian part of the mosaic of cultures and religions he’d claimed during his presentation constituted the OE. Here–the dangers of reading a speech prepared by someone else manifested. Gonul was clueless as to what "mosaic" meant. The question was repeated. Then the MC repeated it as he did with all the questions. Yet Gonul continued his fumbling. He asked what a "museum" had to do with the discussion. Finally–a man approached and clarified it for him–presumably in Turkish. He looked like a complete fool. It was pleasing. When he finally did respond–he claimed 152 nationalities and religious groups lived happily together until the West attacked and awoke the Christian population. Not that he claimed there were no killings–you see. Then he described having an Armenian "aunt"–I guess it’s all the rage these days in Turkey to claim an Armenian relative–which in straight talk would be known as a Genocide survivor. And many Armenian boys were orphaned–and went to military schools and now live happily in the mosaic. Yup–believe it or not–his response was as disjointed as the last few sentences.
Throughout Minister Gonul’s presentation–I was taking notes. One of the Turks at my table kept eyeing me nervously–wondering why. It was a great pleasure to observe his uneasiness. Meanwhile–his friend was busy regaling the woman’sitting beside him with the glories of Turkish tourism. Isn’t it great to usurp others’ legacies–use it to make money and cover up your crimes against those very same people? When all is taken into account–we can only say "Thank you Mr. Gonul–thank you Turkey. Please send him to visit us more often." He’s one of the best things for Armenia’s and others with grievances against Turkey–reminiscent of former Ambassador Sukru Elekdag–the boxer turned diplomat and his "masterful" mouthings.