‘Turkey first needs to make peace with Armenians in Turkey’

‘Turkey first needs to make peace with Armenians in Turkey’

Hayko Bağdat

April 05, 2010, Monday/ 16:39:00
Hayko Bağdat, an Armenian who was born and raised in Turkey, says peace between Turkish and Armenian people is more important for him than Turkey's normalization of relations with Armenia because he would like to have a “normalized life” in Turkey, where he lives.

“Turkey may or may not have good relations with Armenia. The first thing Turkey needs to do is to make peace with Armenians in Turkey, where you can find Armenian heritage everywhere,” he told Today's Zaman for Monday Talk.

“I understand the benefits of the normalization of relations with Armenia from the perspective of realpolitik, but it is not enough for me. For me, the important thing is to have normalization in my daily life.”

Born into an unusual family, with a Greek mother and an Armenian father, he is married to a Turkish woman. Bağdat said he feels comfortable where Turkish is spoken.

For Monday Talk we discussed various issues regarding the Armenian community in Turkey, from who represents the community to the community’s expectations and concerns.

‘Turkey may or may not have good relations with Armenia. The first thing Turkey needs to do is to make peace with Armenians in Turkey, where you can find Armenian heritage everywhere. Is it going to be possible for a Turkish person to be upset about what happened to the Armenians? … I understand the benefits of the normalization of relations with Armenia from the perspective of realpolitik, but it is not enough for me. For me, the important thing is to have normalization in my daily life’

When we were talking about your life story, you told me that you are an Armenian. You have been trying to emphasize the fact that there are not many public figures among the Armenians to represent the Armenian community living in Turkey, right?

You can write “Armenian” for my title. Recently, more people have been looking for an Armenian to talk to in Turkey, where there are not many Armenians left.

This issue leads me to ask you about the representation issue. A Turkish-Armenian, Bedros Şirinoğlu [the president of the board of trustees of the Armenian Surp Pırgiç Hospital], had a meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Şirinoğlu made some statements following their meeting. As a result, a group of Armenians started a petition emphasizing that Şirinoğlu does not represent them. Could you talk about this?

Representation of Armenians is an issue that calls for debate as we cannot talk about a homogenous Armenian community. Some people can say that they are a religious community, but is there representation of religious groups in secular Turkey? This tradition of religious representation for Armenians is inherited from the times of the Ottoman Empire. So that’s where the Armenian Patriarchate comes from. There are also frequent references to the Lausanne Treaty.

What is wrong with it?

There is a reference to it as if it can remedy all of our problems. When you look at the issue from the perspective of the Lausanne Treaty, it has often been the case that a group of Turkish citizens have been held hostage in accordance with the logic of reciprocity. As a result, Turkey’s minority citizens have been treated by Turkey in accordance with how other countries that signed the Lausanne Treaty treated their own citizens of Turkish origin. Looking at the issue from this perspective is a crime against humanity. It could have been the right logic at the time the Lausanne Treaty was signed, but not anymore.

‘I don’t care what Obama says on April 24’

Do you attach importance to what President Barack Obama is going to say on April 24?

I care about what Turkey and Turkish people say about it. I was at the place where Obama had a talk with Turkish people when he visited İstanbul. If I were able to ask him a question, I would say that I don’t care what he says on April 24 because I know what happened. I would like to ask Obama what people 50 years from now will call what happened in Iraq and Palestine. What happened to the Armenians is an issue that interests Turkey because the people who died were Turkey’s own citizens. So what Obama says would not change our reality. Why do we care about what Obama is going to say on April 24? Let’s put that aside and not care about it. What is important is how a Turk feels about Armenians. As I asked before, are they sorry because they are human? Can Turkish newspapers publish a headline on April 24 saying “I am sorry because I’m a human”?

Does the Armenian patriarch represent Turkish-Armenians?

That’s how it has been in practice, and this has made things easier for both sides. But when Agos emerged, this representation was shaken. What happens when a group of Armenians decide to publish a newspaper? Who do they represent? These are legitimate questions. Such questions have increasingly been voiced since Agos was founded.

‘We suffered trauma too: Hrant died’

Has there been a serious and continuing conflict between Agos and the patriarchate?

There was a serious conflict between the Patriarch [Mesrob] Mutafyan and Hrant Dink. But I am afraid we lost them both at the same time. Mutafyan gave his last sensible address when Hrant Dink died. His health failed after that. Now who is going to represent the Armenian community?

Who will?

We can say that the Surp Pırgiç Hospital is the biggest of the Armenian community’s institutions and that it has representative power. If we go back to Bedros Şirinoğlu’s meeting with the prime minister, it was requested by Şirinoğlu some time ago in order to show appreciation to the government for giving back some properties it had taken. This visit came at a time when the prime minister’s image was damaged because he had threatened Armenia by threatening to expel illegal Armenian workers in Turkey. The timing of the appointment was right in that regard. And by looking at what Şirinoğlu said following their meeting, we can say that he doesn’t represent the Armenian community in Turkey. Still, he is the head of an organization which is important for the Armenian community, and he has a right to express his own views.

What exactly is bothersome here?

I know a joke: Some people take a group of Armenians to kill -- I’m not talking about 1915 here, this is a joke. As they walk to their death, one of them screams, saying that this is a terrible crime. A fellow Armenian touches him on his shoulder and says, “Don’t make them angry.” This is a familiar way of thinking for a lot of Armenians who lived through the events of Sept. 6-7. It’s an expression of helplessness. But as the younger generation, we had more freedom and courage, but we also suffered trauma, Hrant died. Still, we came out of it by not having the same reactions that the older generation did. So Şirinoğlu’s words are very problematic for us.

He said that what happened in Anatolia during World War I was a “fight between two good friends.”

It is not correct to have a debate over the number of deaths on the two sides. A population that was here 100 years ago is not here anymore, be it the result of genocide, a massacre, killings, forced emigration, one side’s right to defend his land or whatever you call it. One hundred years ago, one in five people in this land spoke Armenian. They’re no longer here. And it cannot be explained by a petty fight between two brothers. That statement was not a result of naïveté. He was probably trying to create a circle of protection around the Armenian community. But it hasn’t worked because nobody believes it. I bet even an ultranationalist was angry at him because he might have thought that the Armenians were set free too easily. And this was probably too much even for the AK Party [ruling Justice and Development Party]. And we see the prime minister is still continuing with the same rhetoric. Şirinoğlu thanks the prime minister for the return of eight properties. What about some 1,400 unreturned properties? And why were those properties taken in the first place?

‘Armenians disappeared from Turkish minds’

What is the biggest problem between Armenians and Turkish people in Turkey?

Hayko Bağdat,

lover of İstanbul and the Turkish language

He was born in İstanbul to a Greek mother and an Armenian father. He studied in Armenian schools until he was accepted into İstanbul University’s faculty of literature. However, his university life was cut short after his father died and he had to run his father’s printing business. He did his military service in the province of Tunceli in 1996. In 2003 he started his own radio show at Yaşam Radyo, the first radio station to broadcast Armenian songs in the Republic of Turkey. He also wrote a column for the Turkish-Armenian community’s Marmara daily. He is among a group of people known as “Friends of Hrant.”

Let’s put aside the physical disappearance of the Armenians from this land, the most significant issue is the disappearance of the Armenian from Turkish minds. When I go to talk on panel discussions in different regions of Turkey, I ask them if they have ever seen an Armenian. Every time the response I get is a “no.” They are almost shocked that an Armenian speaks perfect Turkish. Who are those Armenians? Where did they come from? They have no idea.

Do you think talking about the Armenian issue is still taboo in Turkey?

Yes, it is. Let me explain. I don’t want the return of properties because I am not the head of some association with some property. They have a right to ask for the return of their property. What I want is this: People should neither have a better attitude toward me because I am an Armenian nor they should say: “Look, there is an Armenian. Let’s go and get him.” I am a citizen of this country where the prime minister is also a citizen, and I have the same citizenship rights as him. Why does he categorize me according to my ethnic origin? Why does he designate me as a number? He doesn’t have a right to do that. Actually, what [Foreign Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu said was even more dangerous. He said Armenia would not show the same sympathy if a Turkish journalist was murdered in Armenia, as if Hrant Dink was a journalist in Turkey from a different country. And we can also discuss how much sympathy there has been here for Hrant Dink, whose murderers were embraced by the security forces. While a group of Turkish citizens feels great sorrow for the loss of Hrant Dink, almost all public institutions have felt close to his murderers. There are even people, for example Cemil Çiçek, from the AK Party, who made Hrant Dink a target, and he climbed the career ladder. [Former İstanbul Chief of Police] Celalettin Cerrah said 24 hours after the assassination that the murder was committed by nationalist sensitivities and that there was no connection to any organization. This was what the murderer said: He committed the crime because his nationalist pride dictated that he do so.

Don’t you think the Armenian issue is being talked about much more in Turkey today than it was a few years ago?

Yes, it has been because we paid the price for it. We lost one of our friends, Hrant Dink. This society loves heroes who die alone in a corner. I can ask you this question: Why didn’t writers, journalists, historians and intellectuals talk about the Armenian issue before? We know there is an official history, like in other countries, but there are also independent intellectuals. Where were they before?

Do you think the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia could positively affect Turks’ views of the Armenian issue and Armenians?

I question why Turkey and Armenia feel the need to normalize their relations. Is there a demand for that from society? This is probably a result of the demands of international relations. Armenia is a county in the Caucasus. Turkey may or may not have good relations with Armenia. The first thing Turkey needs to do is to make peace with Armenians in Turkey, where you can find Armenian heritage everywhere. Is it going to be possible for a Turkish person to be upset about what happened to Armenians? For example, I see pictures from the past, destitute women and children in villages or somewhere else in Turkey, and they look very much Turkish. I feel so sorry for them, so sad. Can a Turk feel that for an Armenian because she is a human? The prime minister embraced Roma people recently, and columnist Cengiz Çandar pointed out in his article that the prime minister could have visited the Kurtuluş neighborhood [where most Armenians in İstanbul live]. So I understand the benefits of the normalization of relations with Armenia from the perspective of realpolitik, but it is not enough for me. For me, the important thing is to have normalization in my daily life.

How close do you feel to Armenia or Armenians from Armenia? Do you plan to visit the country?

I’ve been there once, and I did not have a chance to visit much of the country. It’s not in my vacation plans. As an İstanbulite, I don’t feel very close to the Armenians from there. I feel comfortable where Turkish is spoken. And I love İstanbul.

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