Tuesday, March 02, 2010

We'll have to keep score ourselves 

Everyone in the Armenian community that I know was abuzz late last week on word that 60 Minutes would show a segment on the Armenian genocide. The teaser for it had Peter Balakian, whom I've written about before, visiting a mass grave at Deir El Zor. Below is the segment they showed Sunday night:

As I would have expected, my family was ambivalent about the documentary. There is of course joy that our ancestors' history is being told on American TV -- and I don't think we've ever had a prime time showing quite like this, at least in my memory -- and we encourage each other and send this clip to all our friends, Twitter it and Facebook it. But soon comes the pessimism that nothing will happen. I got those letters from my family over the last 36 hours. Last night I sent an answer back to them. I've edited it to share with you, removing references to particular things my parents or aunts said while I think retaining what I wanted to say:

We all seem to believe politicians promise things they don't believe and will not follow through on, yet we believe them when they promise us something we really want. And when they disappoint us -- as they invariably do -- we somehow act surprised. When we want to sound smart we call this cognitive dissonance. But in our private moments, we realize we've just been snookered, that we're the saps. And four years later, we do it all over again. It's just us being human.

Nobody ever won an election for upholding someone ELSE'S history. They don't have skin in the game. The only way this ever happens is to run an Armenian for president, have them win. And won't THAT be a glorious day!

But the last guy wasn't Bushian, and this guy isn't Obamaian. So let's get real. I don't think even Dole would have signed a recognition law. He'd do the same calculation every other president has done, and he'd arrive at the same conclusion. He's the president of the USA, not of Armenia.

The reason the Turkish government will never admit it is, whomever does so will be killed by Islamist fanatics. Their leaders aren't going to die for our history, either. We'll have to do the remembering ourselves and don't trust anyone else to do it for us.

And if you find this email depressing, well, it is and I am.
The reference to Bob Dole is to his long support for the Armenian community after an Armenian doctor, Dr. Hampar Kelikian, healed Dole's broken body after his plane crashed in WW2.

Because we have to keep score ourselves, we continue to have debates about that history that approaches 100 years ago. We have to somehow agree to a panel to decide if our history qualifies as a genocide, as if someone owns that word and decides whether we get to use it. That's the reality that the video won't change. So we'll have to keep our own score.


Monday, November 02, 2009

One crisis, many stories 

I greatly enjoyed my visit last Friday to the Minnesota Economics Association. I had gone a few times years ago and thought it was a bit too erudite and the format like a set of seminars. This year had two panels and two papers.

I was on one of the panels, discussing fiscal policy. Those who know me and the other economists on the panel probably expected a few sparks based on politics, but there was very little disagreement. In short, the fiscal policy stance of the current administration is untenable. I didn't use but wanted to "Stein's Law": things that can't go on forever, don't. (That's Krugman's version, and I like it.) What I was speaking about was the effect internationally, and I played off two countries, China and Armenia, that I visited in the last six months.

The effects are very different. While China continues to grow with a very small pause earlier this year, the Armenian economy is getting whacked hard. There may be perhaps a 17% decline in GDP, and jobs are scarce. Some of it is brought on themselves by a construction boom, but it's not like they had subprime mortgages there. And as the U.S. fiscal policy stance pushes interest rates higher elsewhere in the world, what happens to their capital formation rates?

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Negotiating bloody history 

I have watched the signing of the protocols between the governments of Armenia and Turkey with very mixed emotions. Part of it is fascination. I note that I co-authored a paper at an early conference on opening the border between the two countries, a paper that got more attention in policy circles than academic ones. The issue, as I said when I gave the paper, is that the issue is political. So what I've written (and many of my Armenian economist friends have written) -- that there are economic benefits to border opening is really quite irrelevant. I've been fascinated therefore by what appears to be the decision by the Armenian government to embrace the economic benefits. That strikes me as both rational and naive -- rational insofar as I think it will help, naive insofar as it ignores the political.

And what a political event it has been! Even the signing turned out to be a political nightmare, with challenges from each side over what the other would say in the signing ceremony. I can imagine "don't mention the Genocide!" being said with the same humorous panic that John Cleese instructs the staff at Fawlty Towers not to mention the war to the German guests. And for the others, don't mention the piece of land and conflict that closed the border in the first place, because they're not to be tied together (as many in the Armenian diaspora fear.) Of course the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has now proven those folks right.

So I see that part as the other emotion, one of complete dread. I have wanted to respect the rights of Armenians in Armenia to live their own lives, and if they want to trade with Turkey it's none of my business (just as my desire to trade with anyone else is none of theirs.) Yet the decision to create a joint panel to decide what happened in 1915 is inappropriate. There is no decision; the history has been written by those who saw it. It's already been heard by a jury once. What I dread is that history is about to be written by an intergovernmental committee. As Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust scholar, wrote in 1996
Those who deny genocide always dismiss the abundance of documents and testimony as contrived or coerced, or as forgeries and falsehoods. Free speech does not guarantee the deniers the right to be treated as the 'other' side of a legitimate debate when there is no credible 'other side'; nor does it guarantee the deniers space in the classroom or curriculum, or in any other forum. Genocide denial is an insidious form of intellectual and moral degradation...
I dread that the international community would decide that, to remove impediments to bringing Turkey into the European Union, the history of the first ethnic cleansing of the 20th Century would become a pawn. (My own reflection on being a pawn here.)


Friday, July 10, 2009


In case you wanted to see what I was doing, here's a link to the conference, and to a short writeup from the Groong network. During the early 1990s when I was first developing an interest in post-Soviet Armenia, Groong was one of those news mailing lists that were all the rage at the time. Most are gone, but Groong keeps keeping on. Better than this website, which actually used a picture of one of my colleagues.

Readers of the write-up might wonder why I'd support household income supports as a free-marketer. I'm much more political economy oriented than a more pure economic line of thought. The difficult election last spring in Armenia (I discussed here) in my view left scars, and it would be unwise to risk the current political peace that has given a pretty good-looking government under PM Sargsyan some space to guide through the crisis. The amount of shock to the system from the Russian collapse can't be overstated; it's like the relationship between the USA and Puerto Rico.

The followup article on the person discussing my remarks, Central Bank of Armenia deputy governor Vache Gabrielyan, would make it seem like we disagree. Actually we don't. My remarks included a statement that it would be wise for Armenia to think about diversifying the circle of countries with whom it trades. There's little doubt in my mind that Vache is right that the relationship between Armenia and Russia will always be special, and unlikely they would soon cease to be Armenia's #1 trade partner. But that's not a reason to not to try to diversify -- a point I think he said as well.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Time out in Armenia 

We have finished the conference, and now I have a short time to pack before heading back to the airport. There is a Swedish soccer club in the hotel, and seeing all of them kind of makes me feel like I'm still in Minnesota, and it makes me a bit homesick (which is weird, because I love being in Armenia very much.) At any rate, I may post something more after this, but after about 3pm Minnesota time you won't hear from me again this week. When I get home, Mrs. S and I celebrate our anniversary. Thanks for reading.

UPDATE: At the airport, and the soccer team is here. I now realize what else was odd about this. I don't think I'd ever seen Africans in Armenia before. This team must be a youth team. I think we have parents with some of them.

Also got to see the archaeological site at Dvin -- Armenia's medieval capital -- last night on a chance run-in with some people I know. So packing was fast and sleeping was none. Someone else took the pictures, so I will have to wait for her to send them to me.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The U.S. press is bad, until you hear all the others 

If you think the press is bad in the US, you should watch an Armenian press conference. I just did at the end of the formal part of this conference. Almost everyone in this conference has said pretty much the same thing: we're in a deep recession, led by a collapse in construction that was the product largely of private money. The government is getting help from foreign aid to deal with the collapse in budget receipts thanks to a 9.5% forecasted decline in GDP according to the IMF.

You then hear all the plans from the government on what to do next. The Prime Minister yesterday was supposed to give a ten minute welcoming statement to us and instead lays out a 45 minute policy speech (as a member of the organization that developed the conference, I have to say we all were tickled.) So what gets covered? "We expect the recession to get worse." (Which is twisting his words, actually.)

A minister presents a paper discussing three scenarios -- bad, worse, awful. All that the press covers is "awful".

The press conference begins with a question to the IMF representative "How bad will it be?" It ends with a question "how can we afford to get out of this recession?" A focus on the negative, a lack of depth. I was standing with an American journalist and asked for an impression. "You hear what they are doing. They can only lead with bad news."

I've been at my share of American press conferences. I've had bad things to say about them, too. But it was many times better than this one. And according to an Armenian businessman, these negative reports are "hurting our economy." Where have I heard that before?

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The dangers of conference collaboration 

It's the same in academics as in politics. When you decide to write up a conference, you mostly need money. Whomever gives you money usually wants to control the program, either by picking your speakers or putting themselves somehow into the conference.

So sure enough, when I saw on the program this morning that the conference has six cosponsors, I predicted the conference would be long. And indeed it was. If you were affiliated with a sponsoring group, you had a half hour to make your presentations and nobody interrupted you with a card for "time remaining" (a common thing at these conferences, if you're not familiar -- "5 minutes"; "2 minutes"; "time's up"; "for the love of God STOP!!!") On the other hand if you are not with one, you get the cards. A friend of mine from Macedonia presented a very interesting piece of work on the similarities between the countries, but off he went.

One of the organizers told me that a sponsor brought a flag to display. Flags at an economics conference. You'd be right to think that unusual. Now three sponsors were the IMF, the World Bank and the UN. I'd see one of them with a flag, sure. But it was not them. It was a bank. I'll guess they didn't get TARP money.

He who pays the piper waves the flag.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Debt-free: good for you, but for the economy? 

While having dinner at the Marriott across the parking lot from Ruzyne airport (nice hotel, by the way, including meeting a group of Canadian Armenians on their way to mission in Armenia and a Czech hotel worker who studied at UM-Duluth) I read this article in the Atlantic on Moldova.

Earlier this year, The Banker, a respected British financial journal, ranked Moldova fifth out of 184 countries for economic stability in recession times, according to the 25 indicators used to compile its World Financial Health Index for 2009. Moldovans complained to me about corruption, the ruling Communists, and the president, but the kreezis ("financial crisis" - kb) did not come up in conversation unless I mentioned it.

Moldova lacks not only the energy reserves that characterize three of the four countries ahead of it on the index (Norway, Russia, and Kuwait), but also most of the attributes now associated with developed (read: leveraged) economies: among others, the prevalence of credit, state debt and debt interest payments, and domestic bank loans. The Moldovan government largely lives within its (admittedly limited) means; Moldovan banks, on the whole, exhibit what a year ago would have been diagnosed as risible, out-of-touch conservatism, lending modestly (35 percent of GDP, as compared with 230 percent in the United States) and maintaining a high capital-to-assets ratio. In fact, the country hardly has a banking or financial sector at all.

�We never think of going to the bank for a loan or using a credit card,� Roman told me. �We operate on a cash-only system here.�
I'm on my way to a conference about the "kreezis" in Armenia, which has had a rougher time in the last six months. Yet it is also characterized by relatively low lending. If anything, the government has basically force-fed a mortgage market on the banking system, but it's not much more than Moldova's. And in comparison to the rest of the CIS, Moldova has low GDP per capita. It's unclear to me why the author wants to make Moldova out to be some great place just because it lives on a cash-only economy.

It's hard to build capital when debt is taboo. And it's hard to build an economy when capital is relatively scarce. It'll be a good question to ask: Would Armenians rather be in Moldova?

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Quick add on Armenia 

Let me note with pleasure Eric Black's criticism of President Obama's non-declaration on the Armenian genocide.

I want to be mature and reasonable about such matters. Turkey is an important U.S. ally of long-standing, borders on Iraq and Iran and Syria (and the independent state of Armenia) and has one of the most developed democracies in the Muslim world. The argument is fundamentally historical, and not everyone cares as much about history as I do. Pissing off Turkey is not something to be done lightly.

But all of those reasons were well-known before Obama made his commitment to recognize the Armenian genocide. Like many Americans, I want to believe Obama represents an important break from the politics of lies and fancy spin, a break that has to do with honesty, integrity and promise-keeping. I still do believe that, but not on this matter.

If he wasn't going to keep the promise, he shouldn't have made it.

I don't see Obama the way Eric does, so perhaps I'm less disappointed than he is, even though I am half-Armenian. But you can hardly be surprised any politician, when faced with a group of voters who say "do anything else, but just promise me X," from making that promise. I guess Eric's surprise is that Obama turns out to be a politician.

I was unaware that Eric had interviewed Vahakn Dadrian; I attended Dadrian's talk here at SCSU during that trip in 2000. If he has a copy of that interview still, I will want to read it.

Thanks as well to the mention on Hot Air from my good friend Ed Morrissey.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

A martyrs' day special 

They came for him
before the birds were up�
he left without shoes
or tie, shirt or suspenders.
It was quiet.
The birds, the birds
were still sleeping.
Peter Balakian, The History of Armenia, 1980. (See more.)

Many Armenians refer to April 24 as Genocide Remembrance (Recognition) Day, but Martyr's Day is the most often used term, and this year has a special flavor for two reasons. First, the diaspora community is excited at the possibility that President Obama may fulfill a pledge he made during the campaign (that I talked about last month.) And now we have news that after 94 years we may begin to see a relationship between Turkey and Armenia as nations.
Turkey and Armenia said they agreed on a "road map" to restoring relations, shortly before U.S. President Barack Obama is to make a closely watched statement Friday on the 1915 mass murder of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

The road map, worked out in marathon talks with U.S. and Swiss mediation that lasted late into Wednesday night, sets out a "sequence of steps" that the historical foes must take toward restoring diplomatic relations and reopening Europe's only closed international border, according to people familiar with the matter.

The statement was a breakthrough, these people said, because for the first time both sides have gone on the record saying they had agreed to a framework for reconciliation. No time frame has been agreed upon.

It is a breakthrough, but it has been worked at for some time. We have had meetings on this for years, many mentioned on this blog. (Example.) The resistance to this is not one-sided. The Turks would like re-opening, and so would Armenians, but both

There is suspicion among some Armenians that the Turks have made this agreement to forestall recognition by the U.S. Maybe it will, but for the people in Armenia what matters more, Obama's statement or increased trade? That's a question that will be heatedly debated among them.

So I sit here waiting for the Obama announcement (I'm going to go to lunch then see what he says when I get home -- so far, nothing) I wonder how those who pinned their hopes for recognition on The One's election will feel if they don't get what they thought they would. Update forthcoming...

He says it, just not in English. Instead, he says it in Armenian: meds yeghern.

Ninety four years ago, one of the great atrocities of the 20th century began. Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The Meds Yeghern must live on in our memories, just as it lives on in the hearts of the Armenian people.

History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Just as the terrible events of 1915 remind us of the dark prospect of man�s inhumanity to man, reckoning with the past holds out the powerful promise of reconciliation. I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.

Do I wish he had said "genocide" in English? Yes. Let's be clear that calling it The Great Catastrophe (or Calamity) he's borrowed a term Armenians use instead, one that Pope John Paul II used in 2001. Bush used this same term in English in 2005. The Armenian National Institute keeps a collection of presidential proclamations. Maybe Obama wanted to show off his language skills, but he's certainly not pressed the reset button with this little trick. The Armenian National Committee of America's chairman Ken Hachikian is pretty miffed:
�I join with all Armenian Americans in voicing our sharp disappointment with President Obama�s failure to honor his solemn pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide.�

�In falling short of his repeated and crystal clear promises, which reflected a thorough knowledge of the facts, the practical implications, and the profound moral dimension of Armenian Genocide recognition, the President chose, as a matter of policy, to allow our nation�s stand against genocide to remain a hostage to Turkey's threats.�

�The President�s statement today represents a retreat from his pledge and a setback to the vital change he promised to bring about in how America confronts the crime of genocide.�
ANCA tracks Obama's campaign promises and other statements here. To ANCA I say, you were warned.

POSTSCRIPT: From Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan's interview with the Wall Street Journal published this morning:

WSJ: On April 24, President Barack Obama is due to make a statement on Armenian memorial day. The focus is on whether he uses the term genocide or doesn't. Right or wrong, it seems clear that if the U.S. recognizes the genocide that will make the Turks less willing to engage with Armenia. Which is more important to you? The U.S. genocide recognition now, or success in these reopening talks with Turkey?

Mr. Sargsyan: I think already now the motivation of Turkey has decreased, because as you said Prime Minister Erdogan is now offering preconditions. I believe it is not us Armenians who push the U.S. to recognize the genocide. The U.S. had its diplomats, missionaries and businesses in the Ottoman Empire, as well as its insurance companies, on the ground at the time of the genocide. The amount of evidence, the amount of factual materials the U.S. possesses on the matter of genocide is excessive and is as convincing today as it was years ago. Therefore the moment the U.S. finds it necessary to recognize the genocide they will do it�I don't believe we are pushing people into a dilemma between national interest and moral standing.

WSJ: So your preference, the preference of the Armenian government, would be for Mr. Obama to recognize the Armenian genocide, even if that puts the last nail in the coffin of any deal with Turkey to open the border any time soon?

Mr. Sargsyan: I would not like to see this process in a coffin. I would like us to be more open and broad-minded when watching this issue. That is why we want this issue of genocide not to be an obstacle to our relations with Turkey. After all, by recognizing the genocide neither we nor other countries that recognize it want to harm Turkey. I think this matter is very straightforward, restoration of justice and prevention of genocide in the future. Because if we try to tie relations between Armenia and Turkey to recognition of the genocide by one country or another �Armenian-Turkish relations will always be the footballs of other countries. If some countries decide to create difficulties in those relations, they would just announce a recognition of genocide and so would compromise relations between Armenia and Turkey. Once again, it is not we who are pushing the U.S. to recognize the genocide.

As I've said repeatedly, the issue of genocide recognition is a diasporan issue, not an Armenian issue. Sargsyan will take a good amount of abuse for this statement among the diaspora (it matters in Armenia too, but you get a different flavor there).


Friday, April 10, 2009


We're going to replay last week's Final Word tomorrow to permit me Easter weekend with the family up here (with some time taken to finish my taxes and a conference paper) and so that the crew can get home to their families a little sooner. With such a small number in our house we don't usually prepare the Armenian Easter eggs, but I'm lobbying to take them to Easter dinner with friends and to make them with onion peels. (The latter would be a first for me.)

Happy Passover to our Jewish readers, and Happy Easter to our Christian ones. See you Monday.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Is this a promise broken? 

PolitiFact is rating as a "promise broken" the Obama performance regarding recognition of the Armenian genocide while he was in Turkey. I don't know as I'd agree. Before the Turkish Parliament President Obama said:
Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. History is often tragic, but unresolved, it can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there's strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. And while there's been a good deal of commentary about my views, it's really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.
The St. Petersburg Times says that Obama is trying to have it both ways. After criticizing the Bush Administration's decision to fire John Evans, former ambassador to Armenia who dared use the g-word in public, you might want him to say the word. But in Turkey? It calls for a level of courage that no previous president has shown. The phrase "terrible events of 1915" are unmistakeable in their reference, and to include "the Turkish people" in its reference does much more than any of President Bush's lame Armenian Rememberence Day proclamations made safely from Washington. Most of us would have preferred he'd've just skipped it.

I would not view the promise as kept, but I think Obama deserves an "incomplete" rather than calling this a failure. He gets another chance on April 24.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Candidate versus president, Armenian edition 

Presidential candidate Barack Obama shared with the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) a strongly worded statement today calling for Congressional passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 & S.Res.106), and pledging that, as president, he will recognize the Armenian Genocide.

In his statement, the Presidential hopeful reaffirmed his support for a strong �U.S.-Armenian relationship that advances our common security and strengthens Armenian democracy.� He also pledged to �promote Armenian security by seeking an end to the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades, and by working for a lasting and durable settlement of the Nagorno Karabagh conflict that is agreeable to all parties, and based upon America�s founding commitment to the principles of democracy and self determination.�
From the Obama campaign site:
I will promote Armenian security by seeking an end to the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades, and by working for a lasting and durable settlement of the Nagorno Karabagh conflict that is agreeable to all parties, and based upon America's founding commitment to the principles of democracy and self determination. And my Administration will help foster Armenia's growth and development through expanded trade and targeted aid, and by strengthening the commercial, political, military, developmental, and cultural relationships between the U.S. and Armenian governments.

I also share with Armenian Americans � so many of whom are descended from genocide survivors - a principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide. That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history. As a U.S. Senator, I have stood with the Armenian American community in calling for Turkey's acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide. Two years ago, I criticized the Secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term "genocide" to describe Turkey's slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915.

...America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that President.


Seeking to avert tensions during President Barack Obama's visit to Turkey, both sides are playing down potential fallout from a renewed attempt by some U.S. lawmakers to declare the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks genocide.

Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign policy advisor to Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters on Thursday the issue, which caused U.S.-Turkish relations to plummet in 2007, would not "hijack" Obama's visit early next month.

"Nothing can shadow the success of this visit," Davutoglu told reporters after meeting Obama's national security advisor Jim Jones at the White House. ...

Asked whether Obama's views might have changed, Davutoglu was noncommittal.

"I did not say yes or no," he said. "Of course, I cannot speak on behalf of General Jones, but we went through all these issues in a very friendly and cooperative manner."

Recognizing how sensitive the issue could become in U.S.-Turkish relations, the State Department has avoided comment on the resolution or what the Obama administration's policy is on labeling what happened as genocide.

"I don't want to go any further on it until we have had a chance to take a closer look at it and discuss it within the government, and that's where I'm going to leave it," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters on Wednesday.

He wasn't that unclear a year ago. Via YouTube:

I did not vote for or against candidates last year over the recognition of the genocide; he didn't disappoint me. As Jim Geraghty (no enemy of Turkey himself) often says, all promises from President Obama come with an expiration date. Other candidates have promised the Armenian diaspora recognition when they get into office, only to be disappointed when they get into office. What amazes me is two things: Why the Armenian diaspora continues to let itself be used this way; and the ease with which the State Department -- run by a former senator who sponsored a genocide recognition resolution not so long ago -- can pretend this is the FIRST time they thought about the question.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Russia, Georgia and Armenia 

I'm beyond hope that the situation there will resolve in anything other than the replacement of the current government of Georgia with a puppet regime run by Russia. This has been, after all, the model employed in Armenia to disastrous effect. Unilateral ceasefires and pullouts from pointless alliances are all the Georgian government has left. It has even sunk to blaming NATO for not providing quicker membership; that would have only made the Russians move faster. Ralph Peters points out correctly that this has to have been planned for months now. Stratfor notes this morning on Russia's call for a withdrawal:
The Russians have achieved the desired psychological effect with the West, shattered Georgian self-confidence and set in motion recalculations by other countries in the region. The pacification of Georgia was not on their agenda.
Global Voices has a special page on South Ossetia that should be required reading; GV uses local bloggers and independent reporters for its information, and the news is not filtered. There I found a report that reminded me of a phone call to Hugh Hewitt's show that I thought he handled too cavalierly: the Kosovo precedent. The argument has been brewing almost from the moment Kosovo became independent in February. Contra Austin Bay, it does not really matter whether the country from which the government which to separates is like Milosevic's Serbia.

In Nagorno-Karabakh there was an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan. With help first of Armenia and then of Russia, it has been an area of Russian influence (through the Minsk Group of the OSCE) since 1994. As such it has insisted on maintaining a presence in both Armenia and N-K, not dissimilar to its role in Abkhazia. It is as Tom Barnett notes:
...whenever something breaks off from something larger, you always find this littler bit inside the smaller entity that identifies more with the larger entity. Saw--and still see--this in the Balkans. Ditto for the Caucasus. Go back a bit farther and you see that Stalin set this up purposefully in many instances, shifting borders just so to trap a chunk of one historical state within another, also purposefully settling Russians for the same effect. Go back even further and you see the Russian empire using the pretext of the "fellow Slavs" needing protection to expand its borders ...

What I see here is Putin working familiar Russian themes for both domestic consumption and signaling to the West that Russia is once again a full-spectrum great power that defends its perceived interests like any other (admittedly, South Ossetia isn't exactly Iraq, but that's what a Russia can muster at this point). Timing is good (end of Bush term, Olympics, Iraq winding down but Afghanistan winding up). Man knows how to pick his moments.

What saddens me today is that Armenians look to Russia as "this littler bit ... that identifies more with the larger entity." We have Armenians and diaspora cheering Russia on, apparently without care that this may doom Armenia to being a satellite of Russia forevermore. We are more worried about sticking it to the Turks (and their Azeri brothers) still than about creating our own nation.

Michael Totten is traveling to Azerbaijan, and links to this excellent background piece on South Osseita by Joshua Kucera from this past spring.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Luck, the boat, and prosperity 

Like many, I've tried to trace back my family history, particularly on my father's side. His parents are Armenians who came from Ottoman Turkey to live in America. My grandmother had two brothers and two sisters. One died, the other was spirited away to Egypt where he had children who eventually emigrated to America. My grandmother and one of her sisters married men bound for America; in my grandmother's case, her husband would be a man who had already emigrated and came to Cairo to find a bride. It's a long story not important here.

My grandmother's other sister Sara, the oldest child of the five, stayed behind to take care of their mother who had been widowed. She left Turkey and lived in the general area of Lebanon north of Beirut with a husband and a couple of children. One day after WW2 a ship comes to the area from the USSR, offering Armenians in the area an opportunity to help rebuild Soviet Armenia. Sara, her husband and son take the opportunity and move to a village about twenty miles outside of Yerevan. (Sara's daughter stayed behind because she was married to a local Arab -- at last report she lives in Syria but we have no contact.)

Once there contact with Sara's two sisters was infrequent, ending with a postcard written in 1980. More than twenty years later I took the postcard to Armenia -- no longer Soviet -- to see if I could find the descendants. Indeed the son, Movses, was still alive, at that point more than 80 years old. The house they lived in had two large rooms and was the house he had built in 1948 with his father. His parents were buried about a mile away. The family lived on a fairly meager income supplemented by kids remitting from abroad (both, by the way, also in construction. I got none of these genes.) This picture shows Movses and his wife outside their home.

I was reminded of this reading Russ Roberts' description of motivation for his new book, The Price of Everything.

The novel is the story of Ramon Fernandez, a Cuban-American tennis prodigy who finds himself in the middle of a campus protest at Stanford. ...

Ramon is the son of a legendary Cuban baseball star. After the death of his father, Ramon's mother comes with him to the United States, bringing the young boy to America.

And while the story is fiction, I was inspired by the Elian Gonzalez story. What would have happened to Elian if he had stayed in America. Would he have prospered? Would he have been torn between an allegiance to his new country and his father's Cuba?

A number of pundits at the time of Elian's return to Cuba talked about how he was lucky not to grow up in such a materialist society as America's. I try and explore this issue in the book as well.

Word comes from out of Cuba, that the real Elian Gonzalez has joined Cuba's Young Communist Union.
When I visited Movses, his oldest son's fondest wish was to travel to Moscow to see how it looked now after transition (I took it he had been there before, but I do not know this.) Of course that trip was cheap if you could get permission to travel while the Soviet Union existed. Now it was not cheap, and sometimes being Armenian in Moscow is a little difficult. In contrast I had been able to travel to many capitals around the world and lived a very different life. Not only because Nana got on that boat to Piraeus and eventually Ellis Island, but for the statue she saw when she got there and what it represented.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

93 and remembering 

A friend of mine challenged me to let five people know today about the Armenian Genocide.

I will refer you five (and let me hope there are more than five) to the writer I consider most reliable in assessing genocides and democides of the 20th Century, Rudy Rummel. He writes of the entire panoply of genocides, not just the largest one begun this day in 1915. My grandparents left Turkey -- grandfather to America with his older brother, grandmother to a Lutheran orphanage in Beirut -- before the Young Turks came to power in 1909. They were casualties or collateral damage of the massacres of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the last Ottoman leader. (A stub of the story is still up on my family website written several years ago. I've not gotten around to reposting the rest of it.)

I have many stories to tell about marking today, which is known among Armenians as Genocide Day or Martyrs' Day. But perhaps the only thing that matters is that it eventually led a great woman, my medz mayr, to come to Dover NH, to create a family that included my father, who used to sing songs to me as a child that were Armenian and German, which I could only understand by learning about her life. And through it the tragedy of her family, her dead husband's family (my grandfather died when my dad was four), and a family tree that I've spent the last ten years trying to reconstruct. The records are gone -- they were in the Armenian churches that we are now told never existed -- and the older ones who remember are mostly gone. Remembering the martyrs is not about remembering murder and destruction; it's about remembering where you came from.


Friday, March 07, 2008

All I know about Armenia now 

Following the example set by Nazarian (whose blog is a must read for the events ongoing in Armenia, h/t: Kouba), I will ask this bow be placed on blogs to commemorate the deaths of eight persons in Armenia on March 1st as a result of violence surrounding the presidential elections held there February 19th. Some video at The Armenia Blog.

The Economist
provides coverage. Notes from Hairenik details ongoing fighting in Karabagh that may be an attempt by long-time antagonists to use the unrest in Yerevan to their advantage.

I haven't posted more about this because it's hard to get a read on the situation, largely because suppression of the press is leading to a warped information flow. For example, there's this curious post on Neeka's Backlog that says the protesters are targeting property held by the ruling party and supporting oligarchs. But the press reports everything said about the protesters as a provocation engineered by Kocharian/Sargsyan. I think Neeka could be right, but how do I know? I find this post at Armenia Now perhaps the best expressing the view that democracy isn't well served by either candidate winning.

What I do know is eight people are dead; I'd like to think not in vain, but too many trips, too many disillusionments leave me doubtful.


Monday, March 03, 2008

That Chilly 

Gary emailed me something very funny this morning, from Saturday's Vikings press conference announcing the signing of WR Bernard Berrian.
Then a few words about Bernard Berrian; i, a, n, you know there is a large Armenian population in Fresno, some of you may or may not know. Bernard is not Armenian however with the i, a, n at the end of his name. We talked about heritage last night, right? We had a great visit here and had to keep him busy all day long with video games, etc., a lot of different things going through his head.
Childress must have been watching the news from Armenia, where it goes from bad to worse. A few bloggers are getting word out:

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

The delicacy of signals 

I appreciate very much Captain Ed's post about my thoughts on the genocide resolution question last night. He hasn't backed down from his position on the resolution in Congress (unlike Speaker Pelosi, it appears):
Congress does not exist to validate genocides. If it wants to start, it has plenty of nations on which to focus before it gets to Armenia, which I listed the other day. The Irish genocide not only preceded the Armenian, it had more direct impact on America. And that's the problem with demanding these resolutions; it creates a demand for Congress to address every insult to ethnic groups. Our ancestors came here to get away from those concerns, not to indulge them.

Congress exists to protect American interests. Period. And Congress hasn't even done its own job this session; it should do that before venturing into academic investigations.

The last thing we need is an argument about what are the A-list genocides, the B-list genocides, etc. Besides, communism killed even more of its own people than the Irish and Armenian genocides; should that one go first? It's a silly argument we should avoid.

But suffice to say that signaling is costly, and at times more costly than others. The Turkish government has repeatedly made signaling expensive regarding its own history; it is not an act of cowardice for the U.S. to react to that expense with an eye first and foremost to its own sons and daughters in the field. And it is not an act of disloyalty for Armenians to say in response, "well then, when?"

Rudy Rummel
says it well: Sometimes we have to accept the less-bad, when no good is available:
We can be satisfied with scholars and media accepting that the genocide occurred, without putting an official stamp on it. I want to do this. I want all genocides and democides to be recognized by democracies so that in world opinion, thug regimes are recognized for the murder they commit. And those so murdered did not die in vain. But life is a balance of values, I am sorry to say.
Patience wears thin sometimes, frustration fills one with grief. At some point, I can only hope, the balance will shift.


Education, Armenians, and the Turks/Ottomans 

King has posted about the Armenian genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks after WW I. It was an example of atrocious, murderous behavior by one ethnic group towards another.

Upon rereading some of King's posts, I was struck by a key point about education that King made. Most western nations over the centuries have practiced one kind of self criticism or another. Whether it's the Judea-Christian heritage and the concept of sin, forgiveness, and change that causes the self criticism, I don't know. But, I'm willing to bet this kind of self-criticism does not exist in very many cultures.

The US, through its MSM and much education, has taken self criticism to an extreme, to the point where our children often only hear of our errors, mistakes, etc. but not the incredible achievements we have made. What other country has gone to war, against itself, to free a part of its population? You can debate the main causes of the Civil War but one key result was slavery was outlawed. We still struggled but our ancestors fought, died, and outlawed one of humanity's most degrading practices.

This paragraph from King's post says a lot. I did once attend a commemoration at Claremont for the 80th anniversary of April 24, what we call Martyrs Day. Armenian-American students whom I was advising organized a panel, emceed by Mrs. Scholar -- while I held our infant Littlest in the back -- and to which we had brought a survivor who was 85 by this time and was six during the march to Der el-Zor. While he spoke we got treated to people with their own placards and shouts. Tempers flared as they said we were liars. My aunt, who lives in southern California and was in attendance, became very angry. But instead we talked with these Turkish students, who said they were told about this meeting not by our signs around campus but by letter. They never said who sent it, but I have a guess. When asked what they know about the history of the Armenians and Greeks of their country during and after World War I, they said they did not really know the stories, they were not taught. We eventually settled down, shook hands and went on our way, we back to our memories and parents telling us stories, and they back to their fatherland and ... nothing.

What is very important in this paragraph is that these anti-Armenian protesters, by their own admission, WERE NOT TAUGHT the murderous parts of their history. Ethnic groups will be around forever and all have their embarrassing and often cruel practices in their history. Ignoring horrendous acts against others by ancestors or current representatives is wrong and bodes poorly for peace or any other positive development for human kind.

All ethnic groups or nations cheat their societies when they teach only the negative or the positive. When people are denied the chance to learn true history, the good and the bad, all lose. If and when those mistaught learn the truth, as ugly or enlightening as it may be, they can rightly question everything else they were taught.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"A great nation needs a thick skin" 

Knowing that we have fathers on either side of the Armenian-Turkish question (I did not know his mother was not Turkish; my mother is what we call back home "an old Yankee"), I had wondered when the WSJ's James Taranto would weigh in on the question of the genocide resolution. He does so today, and the result is actually quite good, containing tough medicine for both sides to swallow.

I have many Armenian friends, of whom several are of the type that still bring placards and shout angry words at Turkish officials when they visit the United States. When you are brought up in an Armenian (or even half-Armenian) household, you are taught over and again about the genocide, about the denial TO THIS DAY of it by the Turkish government, etc. When I read bloggers and columnists making the distinction between the current government and the Ittihad who then criticize the Congress for not being good judges of history, I wonder how many of them know that Ataturk himself was at one time a member of the Young Turks who later gave the orders to exterminate Armenians? Luckily, I guess, Mustafa Kemal was not in the top circle. Taner Akcam of the University of Minnesota has given an accounting.

So fine, I grew up with the history drilled into me, and Taranto says "this column is with Jack Murtha in acknowledging that we don't know enough to have an informed opinion." Yet when I read yesterday the quotes of some people -- including my friends -- who say "we all know it was a genocide," how do we know they know enough to have an informed opinion? And if they do not, are they in the slightest embarrassed by their ignorance?

That said, I have not stood with the placards and shouted the shouts. I have spent years with friends who are Turkish, most of whom acknowledge what happened and what we all know to be true -- many people who say they are Turkish can go back in their own family trees and find Armenians as well as Greeks and Kurds and Jews. Turkey wasn't always for the Turks. At one time, it was as multicultural a place as anywhere in the Middle East. The persons defending Turkey from the charges of genocide today may in fact be partly Armenian. Turkey for the Turks wasn't always the watchword.

I did once attend a commemoration at Claremont for the 80th anniversary of April 24, what we call Martyrs Day. Armenian-American students whom I was advising organized a panel, emceed by Mrs. Scholar -- while I held our infant Littlest in the back -- and to which we had brought a survivor who was 85 by this time and was six during the march to Der el-Zor. While he spoke we got treated to people with their own placards and shouts. Tempers flared as they said we were liars. My aunt, who lives in southern California and was in attendance, became very angry. But instead we talked with these Turkish students, who said they were told about this meeting not by our signs around campus but by letter. They never said who sent it, but I have a guess. When asked what they know about the history of the Armenians and Greeks of their country during and after World War I, they said they did not really know the stories, they were not taught. We eventually settled down, shook hands and went on our way, we back to our memories and parents telling us stories, and they back to their fatherland and ... nothing.

So Ataturk made a great nation, we are told, and its grandchildren do not know enough to form a good opinion. But this does not prevent Taranto from saying the right thing to Turkey:
Ankara's petulant threats, over what is after all only a piece of paper, seem to us to display a certain national immaturity. The Turks feel insulted by this resolution? Poor babies. America endures all manner of insults from allies, enemies and neutrals, including our friends the Turks. A great nation needs a thick skin.

Imposing injury in retaliation for insult is the Turkish way, at least as far as its World War I history is concerned. As the Guardian reported last week:

Aram Dink, and Serkis Seropyan, both editors at the Turkish-Armenian daily Agos, were each given a one-year suspended sentence under Turkey's controversial law on insulting "Turkishness," their lawyer, Erdal Dogan, said.

The case against Hrant Dink--for calling the killings of Armenians during the first world war a genocide--was dropped when he was shot dead in January, but the court continued with the prosecution of the other men under article 301 of Turkish law. Hrant Dink had been convicted and was appealing against the decision when he was killed by a Turkish youth.

Other journalists and historians have actually spent time in prison for "insulting Turkishness." Wherever one stands on the underlying question of whether the events of 1915 constitute genocide--and this column is with Jack Murtha in acknowledging that we don't know enough to have an informed opinion--Ankara's illiberal treatment of dissenters is hard to defend.

So it is not just a ninety-plus year old event. Hrant Dink died this past January. Had the world acted sooner in leading Turkey to a table of reconciliation and forgiveness -- which at this point is all that can happen, though some Armenians still think there can be more -- would he still be alive? Or was his it Dink's own fault -- was his statement "counterproductive"?


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Do you want to debate policy or history? 

I wrote early on about the passage of the Armenian genocide resolution, and while I had hoped the issue might go away, it has not. The focus is on the incompetence or darker motives of the Democrats that have pushed this issue. This Investors Business Daily editorial is exemplar:
...House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided to let HR 106, a nonbinding resolution that declares the Turkish Ottomans' murder of Armenians as genocide, to go forward.

The Turks are angered at the intentional insult leveled at them by Congress for a crime that's now 92 years old. They've threatened to stop cooperating with the U.S. in Iraq.

This behavior is consistent with Turkey's history of reactions to "insult." My reaction is to wonder why this is considered an "insult". Even those critical of the Democrats, such as Michael Rubin, at least have the decency to say that "[t]here is no doubt that up to a million Armenians died during World War I..." But in the very same sentence,

...although historians still debate whether their deaths constitute deliberate genocide or are collateral casualties of war.

Is this really necessary, to enter doubt over the mass murder itself? What's with "deliberate genocide"? Can Rubin cite an example of "accidental genocide"? Richard Cohen goes even further:

Of even that, I have some doubt. The congressional resolution repeatedly employs the word genocide, a term used by many scholars. But Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish emigre who coined the term in 1943, clearly had what the Nazis were doing to the Jews in mind. If that is the standard � and it need not be � then what happened in the collapsing Ottoman Empire in 1915 was something short of genocide.

It was plenty bad � maybe as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished, many of them outright murdered � but not all Armenians everywhere in what was then Turkey were as calamitously affected. The substantial Armenian communities in Constantinople, Smyrna and Aleppo were largely spared. No German city could make that statement about its Jews.

Is it acceptable for someone to claim that, because some members of the Armenian community fought with Russians in World War I, it was acceptable to call a whole people "a fifth column"? The International Center for Transnational Justice has offered an analysis of the events of that time. The key question is whether the intent of the Young Turks was to destroy the Armenian community, in whole or in part. That last sentence -- it's not a genocide because the Turks left a few communities alone -- is frankly an insult.

Scholars have been refused the opportunity to even debate the issue in Turkey by a court decree, forced to change plans. When the seminar went forward, protests were held outside. There is never going to be a time in the foreseeable future a good time to declare support for the Armenian claim, and Cohen at least comes around to saying it is "unacceptable" for Turkey to control the statement of history. There has never been a time in the past where it was sufficiently convenient for members of either party to make a statement of history -- witness Bill Clinton's request to squelch a Republican move to recognize the genocide in 2000. When Denny Hastert agreed to the request, the Turks were delighted. The author of the genocide bill that year, Republican Jim Rogan of Burbank, subsequently lost to Democrat Adam Schiff. Unsurprisingly, the bill before the House right now is authored by Schiff. As the New Republic reported in July (unprotected full version),
With Rogan's seat on the line in 2000, a first-ever vote on a genocide resolution seemed a sure thing--that is, until the Turkish government mobilized its lobbying team, led by former Republican House Speaker Bob Livingston, its $700,000 man in the field. In a state of affairs one furious Republican described to Roll Call as "ridiculous," Livingston found himself battling a measure meant to protect the very House majority he had briefly presided over just two years earlier. A Turkish threat to cancel military contracts, including a $4.5 billion helicopter deal with a Fort Worthbased company, ensured the opposition of powerful Texas Republicans like Tom DeLay. Hastert was cornered. But he found cover in Bill Clinton, who warned that Turkey might shut down its American-run Incirlik air base, from which the United States patrolled the no-fly zone over northern Iraq. Citing Clinton's objections, Hastert pulled the bill. Rogan tried to accuse Clinton of playing politics, and someone sent out a last-minute mailer featuring Schiff next to a Turkish flag. But it wasn't enough, and Schiff beat Rogan by nine percentage points.
Sound familiar? Think the Turks aren't playing games with this again?

Maybe I can respect those, such as John McCain on Ed's show yesterday, who are willing to say "I know it was genocide but the timing is very bad." And of course you cannot promise to bring it up later, as that is of course unlikely to appease Turkey. But McCain and other not-now'ers are boxed in by their logic; they cannot make a credible commitment to ever recognize the genocide by an official non-binding declaration. How will they ever acknowledge the history they all claim to know?

And it needs acknowledgment. As Youssef Ibrahim says, how can one expect Turkey to join the ranks of civil society, which must include respect for ethnic minorities, if it cannot recognize its own transition from an uncivil past?

As George Bush once said, "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe."

Ninety-two years in our case, Mr. President. And counting.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

The power of single-issue voters, Armenian edition 

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has voted 27-21 to move H Res 106, the resolution on recognition of the Armenian genocide, for a vote of the full House. Based on email I'm getting, the reaction of most Armenians is ecstatic. The Turks, meanwhile, have moved to recall their ambassador for "consultations".

Ed thinks this is wasting time and pointless, and the White House is in full damage control. I talked about earlier efforts here. The truth is that Armenian-Americans understand the value of being fickled voters (just as sports economists have hypothesized that teams are more likely to put winners on the field when their fans are more fickled about showing up only for winners.) As the story Ed linked shows, bill sponsor Adam Schiff only got his position after Armenians flipped on his Republican predecessor after the Republicans had pulled back a previous genocide bill for a vote. People and politicians respond to incentives, and the Armenian lobby has been quite effective in this regard. (Please note, the interest of full disclosure, that my last name is Armenian and I work on economic issues in Armenia.)

I do not think one can say that the current government is faultless in the genocide when it continues to fund deniers. This isn't much different than the Saudi funding of centers which many have criticized. One might ask whether, if the issue was not being fought by the Turkish government currently elected, why the reaction to a simple committee vote?

No doubt the US would like to have good relations with Turkey for geopolitical reasons, and no doubt too that Armenia neither offers the same strategic advantages, nor should consider this the most pressing issue. (Again, for full disclosure, I have been part of a conference discussing the value of opening the border to trade between the two countries, something that I still feel would be beneficial to each side.) Still, recognition of injustice is part of the step of reconciliation, and having the West say that at some point reconciliation is needed seems sound foreign policy, regardless of which party supports it.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On becoming a pawn 

Readers might remember my trip to Armenia last January, in which I wrote:
The purpose of the conference I spoke at was to assess the economic and social consequences of opening the border between Armenia and Turkey, closed by Turkey as a response to the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1993. Closing the border is a political decision. Now my job was just to talk about what the effect on foreign investment would be in Armenia if the border was re-opened -- the opening would be, in my view, a representation that the risk of external conflict was reduced in the region. But we were told that we could not talk about politics at all. There was the acting ambassador here to make sure we didn't and when he left the local USAID guy kept watch on the proceedings. The local community is upset that the issue cannot be raised. Worse, the Turkish scholars here -- who either didn't get the memo or weren't obeying it -- tried to say something about how to solve the political issue. For this, they have been hammered by the more nationalistic Armenians here. In one sense I feel bad for them, but frankly there's one that keeps putting his foot in his mouth, so to heck with him. Yet if the US government wasn't so nervous as to place an imperfect gag order, none of that would have happened. They would have debated, and at the end hopefully we all have food and drink.
A few weeks ago people believed Speaker Nancy Pelosi might bring a bill to the floor of the U.S. House that would recognize the massacres in 1915 in Turkey of Armenians as a genocide. Executive branches for years have begged Congress not to pass these rules, as Karoun Demirjian notes in today's Chicago Tribune, and this year is no different.
In a letter to Pelosi and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote that Turkey -- which borders Syria, Iraq and Iran -- is "a linchpin in the transshipment of vital cargo and fuel" to U.S. troops in the Middle East.

A negative reaction from Turkey to a resolution on the Armenian genocide "could harm American troops in the field, constrain our ability to supply our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and significantly damage our efforts to promote reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey," Rice and Gates wrote.
That letter included this remark:
Efforts such as the recent USAID-supported conference in Yerevan entitled "The Economic and Social Consequences of Opening the Armenian-Turkish Border," which was attended by both Armenian and Turkish civil society representatives, demonstrated that the U.S. approach to this difficult issue is, indeed, working.
That was the conference I was at. The board of the organizing research group (of which I am a fellow, but not a board member) responded that the letter was wrong,
With the full agreement and insistence of the U.S. government donor supporting it (USAID), all political issues were intentionally kept off of the conference agenda, and the proceedings were run in a manner to maintain an exclusive focus on non-political issues. Therefore, as an apolitical academic event that deliberately avoided the topic of Genocide recognition, the conference cannot legitimately be described as a component of a process of reconciliation. That process must fundamentally address a number of political issues for which the conference was not designed.
It's intriguing to get caught as a pawn in this game. But it's mostly sad. Today marks the 92nd anniversary of the day when 250 Armenian intellectuals were rounded up in Istanbul, marched out of the city and shot. The systematic massacres began the next month. (I note that my father's family roots by this time had left Turkey; my grandfather had fled to America for four years already, and my grandmother to a Beirut orphanage after losing her father in an earlier pogrom.) Regrettably the condemnation of Jewish Holocaust deniers has never been visited on a worldwide scale on those who deny the Armenian genocide (type the last two words into Google and you'll find denial sites quite easily.) Indeed, in the interest of Israeli-Turkish relations, even the Knesset has rejected a statement of recognition.

Regrettable even more is that a topic that should be left to historians and archaeologists has instead become a "process" that "must fundamentally address a number of political issues". Letting politicians decide history is how we got into this mess; hard to believe there's no other way out.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Easter egg fights 

A tradition in Armenian households is the dying of eggs for Easter, traditionally using purple onions to get a dark red hue. That's not unusual, most families here in the States dye their eggs. But the difference between cultures comes when I explain Easter egg fights.

Saint Grigor of Tatev wrote in 14 th century about dying eggs red: "We dye eggs red on Easter and its symbolism is that the egg is a model of the world and as wise men say, the egg shell is the earth, the membrane is air, the egg white is water, the yolk is fire. And the red dye symbolizes that the entire world was bought at the price of Christ's blood. And we, when taking the red egg into our hands, proclaim our salvation. That is why we first eat the red egg and then the other dishes."

Almost everyone has egg fights on Easter, but children love this tradition most of all. Before a fight they test the egg's hardness by gently cracking it against their teeth. They find different tricks to win the fights. To fight, they crack the eggs against each other with either end, and the winner is the one whose egg cracks the opponent's egg.

I've heard stories of kids using a small pin to extract the yolk and egg white from their garmeer havgeet then injecting the shell with epoxy to make an impregnable weapon. My father used the more common trick of exposing as little of his egg as possible when you were to strike his egg. (He won a disproportionate number of Easters.)

I wish all readers a happy Easter. I'm off to make choereg, if Mrs. S will let me in the kitchen. NARN is on its "best of" behavior. See you Monday. Krisdos haryatz ee merelotz!