By Mitch Kehetian
DETROIT — While some courageous Turkish scholars have expressed a need to address the Armenian genocide of 1915–the vast majority of Turkey’s intellectual community remains silent.
That silence could place further obstacles on Ankara’s bid to join the European Union–and it should until the present Turkish government condemns its nation’s past crimes against humanity and offers to heal the wounds of 1915.
For those who question why Armenian writers and film producers still focus on a human tragedy that nearly eradicated the Armenian race more than 90 years ago–it must be repeated that the call for justice must remain on target until modern day Turkey publicly exposes its nation’s haunting past.
Then–and only then–should Turkey be allowed to join the European Union.
As a newspaper journalist for the last 52 years–I’ve leaned on the research works of some of our ranking Armenian scholars when writing about the forgotten genocide of the Armenian people.
But as time progressed–my growing concern began to focus on who would perpetuate the academic research required to write about the crimes of 1915 and in such a manner that it would awaken humankind in the 21st century and anchor the Armenian Question on the podiums of justice.
Peter Balakian–the young prize-winning poet and scholar from Colgate University–a champion for justice of the Armenian people–has answered that call and writes in a style that captures one’s dedication to help further the cause for the victims of the 1915 genocide that took the lives of 1.5 million Armenia’s. Balakian’s latest book–"The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response," has been a success since its publication several years ago.
Last November at an awards ceremony in New York–the Institute for the Study of Genocide–presented Balakian its 2005 Raphael Lemkin Prize for his book on the "Burning Tigris" as the best book in the English language on the subject of genocide. Balakian’s "Burning Tigris," now in soft cover–is a must for every Armenian to read and share with a friend. It represents Balakian’s latest writing skill in fueling the call for justice for the victims of 1915.
The inspiring book also touches on how the Armenian genocide motivated the human rights movement in America to speak out for the oppressed peoples of the world. Balakian’s work was also recognized by the New York Times best selling book list–a troubling note for Turkish apologists in America.
For Turkey’s continuing denial that the genocide was carried out by government decree–the works of writers like Balakian and films produced by Canadian and American producers–the cause for justice remains on target.
In a recent issue of Turkish Weekly–Dr. Sedat Laciner–chairman of the International Strategic Research Organization–an Ankara-based Turkish think-tank front–warns his fellow Turks about the "Armenian propaganda network and its motivations through the movie industry."
While Turkish apologists attempt to deflate the writings of Balakian–along with the published works of Professors Richard Hovannisian–Ronald Suny–Dennis Papazian–Vahakn Dadrian and a handful of courageous truth-seeking Turkish scholars–who told a UCLA audience last November that Turkey must foster a dialogue on the 1915 genocide–Turkish apologists such as Dr. Laciner–a University of London doctorate degree graduate–have ripped into film producers Atom Egoyan and his production of "Ararat," and Hrayr Toukhanian’s "Assignment Berlin."
In a scathing attack on the "Armenian Media in Diaspora," Laciner writes that the "Armenian media plays a very important role in using the Armenian movies to reach their political objectives. The first stage of the strategy concocted by the Armenian media is to mention the so-called Armenian genocide."
Though Egoyan’s movie "Ararat" is a recent production–and shown worldwide–Laciner also expressed hostile anger at Toukhanian’s full-length movie that recreated the March 15–1921 assassination of Talaat Pasha–the Turkish interior minister who plotted the final solution of the Armenian people in eastern Turkey.
A German jury acquitted the assassin Soghomon Tehlirian of homicide charges in the shooting death–a decision that Turkish officials and scholars still denounce.
When contacted that his 1982 movie–produced in Detroit–was still viewed as a thorn to the Turks–Toukhanian said: "’Assignment Berlin’ was first shown 22 years ago. I’m glad to hear the Turks remain upset that the movie helped expose Turkey’s crimes against humanity."
Toukhanian’s wife–Sona–who died in 1997–wrote the script for "Assignment Berlin."
Laciner also reiterated that Egoyan’s wife–actress Arisinee Khanjian–like Sona Toukhanian–a Syracuse University graduate–played key roles in the productions of her husband’s movies.
The Turkish "think-tank chairman," while recognizing Toukhanian’s movie dates back to its worldwide premiere in 1982–lamen’s that "the movie is still being sold all around the world in DVD and videocassette forms and over the Internet."
Other Armenian movies Laciner warned readers of the "Turkish News" as hurting the public mage of Turkey–include "Mayrig,"The Armenian Genocide,"An Armenian Journey,"The Armenian Case,"A Wall of Silence,"The Forgotten Genocide,"From Bitlis to Fresno,"The Hidden Holocaust,"Cilicia,"Komitas,"Avetik,"The Armenian American,"Where are My People,"Back to Ararat," and Michael Hagopian’s "California Armenia’s: The First Generation," and "Ararat Beckons."
Overall–I find it rewarding that Laciner–a widely-known spokesperson for the Turkish right-wing thought process–is willing to suggest that Armenian scholars like Balakian and movie producers Egoyan–Toukhanian and Hagopian have achieved success in telling the story of the forgotten genocide.
Concluding his focus on the threats from the Armenian media–Laciner claims that "this network has developed beyond a worst nightmare for Turkish politicians–and has caused considerable harm to Turkey."
Isn’t it time for Turkey to seek truth as its ally?
In reviewing the growing list of Armenian movies–Laciner contends that "this section showed that movies like "Ararat" couldn’t be judged individually. These movies are a part of a wider network and should be judged in context of this network."
Though Turkish spokespersons–like Laciner–are expressing some deep concerns over the expanding success of Armenian print and film enterprising–it should not impede Armenian support for helping to educate the general public that the first genocide of the 20th century took the lives of 1.5 million Armenia’s.
After journeying through the barren lands of my ancestors in 1969–I was repeatedly asked to describe the drive through the homeland of my family roots.
For me historical Turkish-occupied Armenia was a vast–chilling graveyard without grave markers to identify the victims of 1915.
That’s why we need to raise our voices this April 24 and repeat to the world that until justice is served–we will remind humanity that Turkey does not warrant admission into the European Union.