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Armenian News Network / Groong
July 5, 2000

By Ara Sanjian


The First Channel of Armenian State Television, which also broadcasts
via satellite to Europe and the Middle East, offered unprecedented and
extensive coverage to the June 17, 2000 meeting between a selected
number of Armenian and Turkish intellectuals. The event, held in the
hall of the French Senate in Paris, was organized by the Paris-based
Research Center on the Armenian Diaspora (CRDA; founder and president:
Jean-Claude Kebabdjian) under the patronage of the President of the
French Senate, Mr. Christian Poncelet.

According to media reports preceding the event, the meeting aimed at
placing future Turkish-Armenian relations on a new footing, while
refraining as much as possible from hostile recriminations that had
hitherto aggravated relations between the two nations.

The French Senate has refused twice, in recent months, to consider a
bill to formalize French recognition of the Armenian Genocide, an act
initiated on May 29, 1998 by a vote in the lower house, the Chamber of
Deputies. Poncelet, however, had visited the Armenian Genocide
memorial and museum in Yerevan in 1999 and had stated, prior to the
June 17 meeting, that 'it is not too late to induce Turkey to make up
with its neighbors, especially Armenia, and to come to terms with its
own history, as other countries have done.'

In the end, Poncelet was not himself present at the meeting, which was
reportedly presided over by a member of the French resistance. A
message by Poncelet was read, however, to the assembled audience.

Two of the three Armenian participants invited to deliver papers
during the gathering were from Yerevan: Lavrentii Barseghian, the
Director of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in Tsitsernakaberd,
Yerevan; and Hakob Tchakerian, a senior researcher on Turkey in the
Institute of Oriental Studies, the Armenian National Academy of
Sciences. They were accompanied to Paris by freelance journalist Hamo
Moskoffian, CRDA's representative in Armenia, and Arthur Grigorian of
Armenian State Television.

Prior to their departure, Barseghian, Tchakerian and Moskoffian were
invited to appear on the state TV's very popular nightly talk-show,
Kesgisherayin Chepntats (Midnight Express), hosted by Arthur
Bakhtamian. The meeting was the first item on the news bulletin,
'Haylour' for two consecutive evenings, while footage filmed by
Grigorian was later shown on the same news bulletin on two separate
occasions after his return from Paris. Barseghian, Tchakerian and
Moskoffian again appeared on Kesgisherayin Chepntats after their
return to share their impressions with and answer to questions from
the audience.

'Such meetings have not been held in the last decade,' meaning, since
Armenia regained its independence, erroneously claimed Barseghian
during the program, ignoring, for example, the Chicago conference with
the participation of some top-class Turkish and Armenian historians in
March this year. No intellectual from Armenia, as far as this author
aware, had been invited to the said gathering, however.

What follows is a summary of the report the delegation from Armenia
presented to its audience back home, for the full texts of the
speeches made in Paris have not, to the best of my knowledge, been
made public yet, while the footage shown on Armenian State Television
was relatively short and probably very selective. Nor was this author
present at the chamber to listen to the speeches himself.

The attendant analysis is more about how this new type of
Turkish-Armenian dialogue should be treated by Armenian intellectuals
and the media rather than a political and/or scientific evaluation of
the full content of the speeches made in Paris. It is important to
comment on how these tentative attempts to establish some sort direct
communication between Armenian and Turkish intellectuals have been
reported to the public in Armenia. Such an attempt can help us better
perceive what this section of Armenia's intellectual elite understands
by saying Turkish-Armenian dialogue.

Barseghian reported that he had stated in his paper that the Armenians
could never forget the genocide. He considered the modern republican
government in Turkey to be the legal continuation of the Ottoman
Empire and therefore called on the Turkish government to condemn the
policies of the Young Turks during the First World War, recognize the
Armenian Genocide and offer compensation to the Armenian victims and
their survivors.

Tchakerian reportedly analyzed the present state of affairs between
Armenia and Turkey. He reminded that the late Turkish President,
Turgut Ozal, had ominously cautioned the Armenians more than once -
during the 'hot' stages of the Karabagh conflict with Azerbaijan - to
'learn from their experience in Anatolia!' It is in Turkey's interest,
argued Tchakerian, to improve its links with Armenia. This would
increase economic opportunities for Turkish businessmen in Armenia and
decrease Ankara's political tensions with Armenia's much stronger
friend, Russia.

Both Barseghian and Tchakerian were satisfied with the paper delivered
by Ragip Zarakolu, the Turkish publisher by now famous among Armenian
circles. Zarakolu reportedly praised the role the Armenians had played
in Ottoman society and was very critical of the policies of the Young
Turk regime during the First World War. He called for an official
Turkish apology, and a concerted effort to tell about the historical
truth (i.e. the huge losses suffered by the Armenians) to Turkish
citizens today.  He suggested that a symbolic compensation should be
offered to Armenian victims. Armenian historical monuments, now
abandoned in Turkey, should be preserved and reconstructed, and new
monuments should be erected in Turkey in the memory of the massacred

The reaction of the Yerevan delegation was more cautious toward the
papers of Turkish journalist Oral Calislar and Mete Tuncay, the famous
historian of left-wing movements in the Ottoman Empire and Republican
Turkey. To start with, both had avoided the use of the term 'genocide'
in their papers and had preferred to describe the oft-debated events
of the First World War as 'deportations.'

Calislar, who, like Zarakolu, had previously visited Armenia,
nevertheless argued that this crime should be condemned. He added that
the Armenians in Turkey had also suffered terribly during the
imposition of a Capital Tax (Varlik vergisi) during the Second World
War. Calislar did not reportedly fail to point out, however, that
people in Turkey had now become more tolerant toward ethnic minorities.

Mete Tuncay reportedly put the blame squarely on politicians, both
Turk and Armenian. Politicians' decrees should not teach historians
what to say about the events in 1915, said the professor. When
thinking about Armenians, Tuncay said, he was basically interested
about those living as a minority in Turkey or as the latter's
neighbors in the Republic of Armenia; Armenians living further abroad
concerned him much less. He called on Armenians to accept the reality
that none of the Turkish governments in the next few years would be
ready to recognize the genocide, for that would entail going against
prevailing Turkish public opinion. Both sides, he suggested, should
apologize to one another for past misdeeds. He, for example, could
expect an apology from the descendants of the Armenian fedayees, who
killed his grandfather when the city of Erzerum was occupied by the
Russian army in early 1916. Looking to the future, however, Tuncay
reportedly said that Armenian and Turkish governments should not
encourage the publication of provocative and tendentious historical
works on both sides and hence not sacrifice the long-term future of
their peoples to their short-term political interests. Arthur
Grigorian, in his report to 'Haylour,' was equally concerned about
references made to possible territorial exchanges in the passages in
Tuncay's speech relating to the ongoing conflict between Armenia and
Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Mountainous Karabagh.

The most intense tirade, however, was reserved against the third
Armenian participant, Gerard J. Libaridian. Journalist Grigorian
presented the senior advisor to former President Levon Ter-Petrosian
as 'having an Armenian forename and surname,' 'an American passport.'
He rhetorically asked 'who was Libaridian representing during the
gathering.' One possible explanation, by Grigorian, was that the
organizers 'may have invited him to balance the Turkish democrats.'

Libaridian had spoken in French. In the brief footage shown in
Armenian translation on Armenian National TV, he reportedly described
the prevailing Armenian stand regarding the consequences of the
genocide as 'blind and stubborn.' In the past, he reportedly said, all
the Armenians had condemned all the Turks for the massacres, as if all
the Armenians had been waging a struggle against all the Turks. The
memory of the genocide is, according to Libaridian, one of the
foundation stones of the modern Armenian Diaspora; it organizes and
unites that Diaspora. He went on to state that some Armenians have
gone as far as questioning the legality of the Turkish state.
Recognizing the genocide is, for some, according to the report on
Libaridian's speech, only a first step to recover lost Armenian

Barseghian further reported that Libaridian had said that former
President Ter-Petrosian and his political party, the Armenian National
Movement, did not want to raise the issue of genocide recognition with
the Turkish government when they were in power. Again according to
Barseghian, Libaridian went on 'to mock' current Armenian President
Robert Kocharian's belief that it is possible for Armenia to improve
links with Turkey while continuing, at the same time, to raise the
issue of genocide recognition in international forums. Barseghian
defended Kocharian's stand; he and others repeatedly pointed out with
approval that genocide recognition has, in the past two years
(i.e. since the election of Kocharian) been high on the Armenian
government's foreign policy agenda.

The television pointed out that two Turkish activists now living in
Germany, Ali Ertem, chairperson of the Association of People Opposed
to Genocide and sociologist Taner Akcam, who were both present in the
chamber, rebuffed in their impromptu speeches what Libaridian had
said.  No further details were given of what Ertem and Akcam had
actually said.

Finally, it was pointed out that Libaridian had been the only invited
speaker, who refused to sign the joint declaration issued after the
gathering. He reportedly objected against making any mention of the
Armenian Question in the text. The Turkish participants, on the other
hand, were reported to have easily consented to the final text.

As Barseghian, Tchakerian and Moskoffian were speaking on Kesgisherayin
Chepntats about the negative impression they had received of Libaridian,
viewers phoned in to express their dismay at what the senior adviser
to former President Ter-Petrosian had done. One caller even expressed
doubts that Libaridian was an Armenian, generating clearly audible
laughter from at least one of the invited guests.

Journalist Grigorian, in his turn, called on the Armenian public to
Ponder about the real identity and motives of those who were directing
Armenia's foreign policy (i.e. Libaridian and his colleagues) during
the tenure of the previous administration.

It is unfortunate that Libaridian himself did not get any opportunity
to present his own point of view to the Armenian public. This author
is not aware if National TV had invited him to express his opinion
directly. Not having listened to or read the full speech made by
Libaridian in Paris, this author will purposely refrain from any
comment - either positive or negative - about any of the specific
ideas attributed to Libaridian above or about its direction. Actually,
venturing with any definitive personal judgment or opinion based
solely on sources apparently intent on undermining Libaridian's
credibility will undoubtedly be unprofessional by today's accepted
standards for objectivity. It appears, however, from what has been
reported by his critics, that the general tone of Libaridian's speech
in Paris did not depart much what he had said recently in his latest
book, The Challenge of Statehood, as well as during the above-mentioned
Chicago conference in March.

The Armenian State Television's - especially Haylour's - attitude
toward Libaridian - a pillar in the regime that the incumbent
President helped bring down in 1998 - was perhaps predictable. There
is still an intense debate in Armenia about how state-owned media
outlets should report the day-to-day news to the public. Should they be
the accepted mouthpiece of the government in office (now that there
are also other, independent newspapers, radio and TV stations) or
should they still try to remain neutral - as a state budget-financed
form of public service - when reporting on disagreements between the
government and the parties in opposition? Within this context, it has
been repeatedly underlined by observers that Armenian journalists in
general (and not only those working for state-owned media outlets)
have not still mastered the art of separating fact from opinion.

The legacy that the Kocharian administration inherited in this regard
from the earlier Communist and Ter-Petrosian administrations was not
an encouraging one. Both had turned the state-owned media into a tool
to fight their political opponents. Under Kocharian, the state-owned
media was making real progress towards taking a more objective
position than the Armenian public had ever been accustomed to
before. The state TV's coverage of the 1999 parliamentary election
campaign, for example, was incomparably better than its extremely
biased coverage of the 1996 presidential elections had been. It is
alarming, however, to notice a significant retreat in this regard ever
since the assassinations of October 27 and the attempt by some
followers of the murdered Prime Minister, Vazgen Sargsian, to
implicate Kocharian and some of his closest associates with the

In recent months, the national TV's (the majority on the board of
which consists of the president's supporters) Haylour has categorically
sided with Kocharian in its news reporting, criticizing the way the
investigation of the terrorists and other suspects of the October 27
case was being handled by the military prosecutor's office. The
political parties and the families of the chief victims were at one
time extremely unhappy with the coverage of the investigation on state
TV. They demanded the dismissal of the pro-Kocharian head of the state
television, and the latter ultimately resigned). Kocharian seems to
have weathered that political storm.  He and his chief political ally
of the moment, Defense Minister Serge Sargsian, now seem to be more in
direct charge of day-to-day events than at any time since Kocharian's
election as President in March 1998. There seems to be no reason to
doubt that the President will continue to use his grip on national TV
to further entrench his and his followers' grip on power.

Parallel to these developments, Haylour has also become extremely
critical toward the pillars of the former administration of Levon
Ter-Petrosian.  Previously the tendency had been more to ignore rather
than attack them.

The reporting on the rallies organized in recent weeks by the Union of
Right Wing Forces (a coalition of small parties close to Ter-Petrosian)
has consistently been very negative. Haylour is also very supportive
of the conclusions reached by the ad-hoc parliamentary committee to
investigate mismanagement and corruption in the energy sector during
the Ter-Petrosian administration, which accused successive governments
of the early 1990s of embezzling around 200 million US Dollars only in
that sector when the country was almost totally without electricity.
It has downplayed (while reporting) the objections raised by former
Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian and others regarding the plausibility
of the findings of The said commission. Supporters of Ter-Petrosian
have been labeled as 'revanchists' by Haylour staff on numerous

It can be argued (quite convincingly in this author's opinion) that
many in Armenia do still resent the seven years of the Ter-Petrosian
administration for the sharp economic decline, corruption, and the
unprecedented levels of difference between the newly rich and the
impoverished in the country. It is extremely doubtful if the desires
of some of the former associates of Ter-Petrosian to return to power
as soon as possible has any tangible support among the Armenian public
at large, at least for the moment. The professionalism of the
state-owned media of a country knocking at the doors of the Council of
Europe dictates, however, that these negative opinions be aired
through interviews with politicians and members of the public, and not
with the reporters taking upon themselves the role of the critic.

Based on Haylour's record in recent months, the attitude taken by
Grigorian toward Libaridian could have been seen as just another link
in the chain of criticism leveled against Ter-Petrosian and his
supporters. What was surprising in this case was the apparent taking
of sides by Kesgisherayin Chepntats, whose very popular anchor Arthur
Bakhtamian had consistently avoided till then all kinds of political
hot potatoes in his program (launched in August 1999) and had refused
categorically to answer to viewers' questions, which contained
political undertones.

A few other, unnamed Armenians also came under attack during
Bakhtamian's program, this time by Moskoffian, for their stand during
the gathering, but this issue passed off comparatively lightly and
again the audience never learned what they had said or done.

Moskoffian added that the French language program of Tehran Radio had
conducted a 45-minute interview with him on a mobile phone on the day
of the conference. He was told that Iran liked to see the issue of the
Armenian genocide discussed in international forums, and not only the
Jewish Holocaust. Moreover, Moskoffian said that attempts were under
way to organize a similar meeting in the future, this time under the
auspices of the German Bundestag.

The Armenian television viewers were told by Tchakerian that Turkish
newspapers, like Hurriyet, Yeni Gundem and Cumhuriyet, as well as a
few private TV stations, had covered the gathering. Hurriyet, said
Tchakerian, had published its report the very next day, but had only
printed extracts from the speeches made by Kebabdjian and Libaridian;
Tchakerian's and Barseghian's more forceful speeches were -
'conveniently' ignored, according to the former.

Finally, the Armenian State Television showed footage from the
unrelated Armenian demonstration of June 18 in Paris, organized by the
'April 24' committee, on the occasion of the 13th anniversary of the
recognition of the Armenian genocide by the European Parliament. The
French demonstrators of Armenian ethnicity again demanded from their
Senate to ratify the lower house's recognition of the Armenian
Genocide. The television also showed extracts from Lavrentii
Barseghian's address to the demonstrators.

This was a resume of how the Armenian State TV made the issue of
Turkish-Armenian dialogue an issue of public discussion. Increasing
Encounters between Turkish and Armenian intellectuals from various
walks of life have become a positive feature of the recent decade. It
is extremely encouraging that more and more people are gradually
getting involved in this yet largely unregulated process. The
invitation extended to two scholars from Armenia was a very correct
and useful decision taken by the CRDA, and it provided the opportunity
for the State TV (and probably other media outlets in Armenia) to
broach this very important subject.  Previous contacts of this kind
(and attendant Armenian media coverage) had largely been confined to
the Diaspora. Such a delicate issue in the Armenian psyche cannot be
the preserve of one segment of the nation alone.

Yet, as the circle of those involved in the discussions is increasing,
differing attitudes about how to evaluate the past or the present and
what to demand from the 'other side' are coming more and more openly
to the fore. This author wishes to look at the criticism leveled at
Libaridian by the two other Armenian participants through this prism,
thus widening its implications from the relatively narrow confines of
points-scoring between different political factions - which might have
been one of the prime motives of Haylour.

It seems inevitable that Turkish and Armenian intellectuals interested
in this issue should also seriously discuss it with people from 'their
own side.' Some measure of infighting seems to be inevitable in any
dialogue between two nations with a troublesome history that has
produced seemingly unbridgeable mutual suspicions. In Israel, for
example, opposing groups of historians and educators have become
extremely divided about how to treat their country's past and are very
acrimonious toward one another as negotiations with Palestinians
continue.  It is necessary, however, that such differences - not only
across the 'national' fence, but more importantly within each camp -
be expressed in a polite and respectful manner. The dressing of the
assassinated Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin in the uniform of a Nazi
officer or in the headgear associated with the Palestinian leader
Yasir Arafat in composite photos prepared and raised in demonstrations
by his radical political opponents did not help strengthen national
unity to say the least. The way Libaridian was treated - irrespective
of what he actually said and how people may interpret it - again does
not serve this purpose, although this author remains convinced that
the reasons behind the stand taken by Barseghian and Tchakerian on
Kesgisherayin Chepntats emanated from their fundamental differences
with Libaridian in outlook and not from personal antipathies.

As the circle of the dialogue is expanding, it is high time for
Armenian intellectuals to openly admit that there is a lot to talk
about (even in 'purely' Armenian circles) in addition to defining a
workable strategy to attain the decades-old desire for the current
government of Turkey to accept some sort of responsibility for the
genocide, apologize for the severe losses suffered by the Armenian
deportees in 1915 and stop its campaign to prevent open discussion of
these events and their repercussions. This author is not a specialist
in the history of the Armenian Genocide.  However, as an instructor in
twentieth century Armenian history to Lebanese college students of
mostly Armenian extraction, he has to cover arguably the most seminal
event in modern Armenian history and has gradually come to realize
that the general Armenian understanding (in his case, among the
university attending youth) of what exactly happened and why during
the events under discussion is extremely simplistic and stereotypified.
So is the image of the Turk. There is yet a lot to study, to uncover
and to pass on to the younger generations, and any constructive
dialogue with 'the other side' may gradually help achieve that.

This dialogue is new. It is therefore to some extent dangerous and
certainly very unpredictable. Chances have to be taken, however, for,
as any scientist will tell you, without a risk there is no hope of any
progress. 'Internal' dialogues within each camp can help minimize such
risks, overcome theoretical and ideological differences, make sure
that the ranks of the supporters of dialogue remain strong and united
as much as possible. The descendants of the Armenian Genocide and
their ethnic kin now live in various parts of the world, under
different social, economic and educational systems. Their modern
understanding of the events of 1915 is partly shaped by the different
intellectual milieu in which they live and work. Armenian scholars of
the Genocide are the product of these differing environments and their
views and priorities are partly shaped by the latter. Writers on the
Genocide in America, for example, did not face the same obstacles as
those writing about the same topic under Soviet rule, and vice
versa. It is imperative that these nuances be admitted and respected
by the scholars themselves prior to engaging in tirades and
accusations of people not sharing their views as being 'worse than the
Turks.' Those who wish to break new ground - in either camp - should
not feel obliged to look behind their shoulders - toward the
traditionalists in 'their own side' - every time they make a statement
or publish an article. Dialogues cannot succeed in an atmosphere of
inquisition and psychological terror. The Armenian State TV, this
author believes, would have done greater service to its audience had
it spent greater effort to videotape interviews with the various
participants in the Paris meeting, put some of the troubling questions
to them directly and broadcast their answers. The viewers would have
gained much more - especially at this early stage in the dialogue -
had they had the opportunity to listen directly to all shades of
opinion - both Turkish and Armenian. A live (or at least recorded)
debate between people with differing points of view would have been
more informative.

Turkish social scientists who care to bury the hatchet with the
Armenians are facing similar difficulties with their more
traditionalist compatriots, not to mention the state authorities.
Moreover, they are openly admitting it in their interviews with the
Armenian media. They do not seem to be afraid to be labeled as being
'worse than the Armenians.'

Ara Sanjian is an Assistant Professor in History at Haigazian
University, Beirut.

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