Friday, December 5, 2008

Whisper Bloody Murder?

Less than a month ago news started coming across the wires that surprised many in the Armenian-American community. A CNN press release said that it would be airing a program by their respected correspondent Christiane Amanpour, entitled, "Scream Bloody Murder," which would deal with the lack of response to genocides of the 20th century. The release specifically mentioned Armenia as one of the cases of genocide it would be examining. This naturally created some excitement that finally a major news organization would be dedicating a program partly to the so often overlooked Armenian Genocide of 1915 and inform a nationwide audience about it. Word was spread by phone and internet with many Armenian-Americans excited that the mainstream media would finally take a look at our forgotten genocide. Personally, I was a little suspicious and the day before the showed aired I found out through a source that, as I had suspected, the total time dedicated to the Armenian Genocide in this two hour program would be 45 seconds. However the many other Armenians who did not know this went into the show expecting at long last some serious interest in the plight of their ancestors from one of these many 20th century genocides. They must have been sorely disappointed. Before the show had even ended people I know were angrily posting messages of shock and disappointment that something billed as a documentary about genocide, inclusive of the Armenian case, would dedicated large portions of time to all the other cases but less than a fleeting minute to Armenia.

What's so interesting is the title of the CNN show to begin with invokes the imagery of screaming and talked to those who screamed about genocide, a notion identical to that of Carla Garapedian's Armenian Genocide documentary "Screamers". This idea of screaming about genocide to make it known was originated by Harvard scholar Dr. Samantha Power in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book "A Problem from Hell". She was featured in "Screamers" and it is hard to think that the CNN special was not at least in part inspired by Power's work based on this similarity. It bares mentioning that Power dedicated a chapter of her book on genocide to the Armenian Genocide and so one can assume that if put in charge of planning "Scream Bloody Murder" she would have found it worthy of much more screen time than 45 seconds. This is not to say that CNN should be condemned for mentioning the Armenian Genocide, but the off-handed manner in which 1915 gets mentioned (despite Armenia having been prominently billed as one of the documentary's subjects in the original press release) when the other examples of genocide each received on average the space of time through two commercial breaks seems to imply it is a lesser example or somehow not central to the subject of genocide.

Flying in the face of this conception though is the fact mentioned in the documentary that 1915 inspired Lemkin to coin the word genocide and really got him thinking about the crime in the first place. As one can see in the documentary Screamers or Power's book, there was no lack of screaming going on in the Armenian case either. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau's story is a now legendary example of someone who stood up to the very face of genocide and tried to scream about it to the world. This screaming reached its way to the top, as evidenced by this article regarding Secretary of State at the time William Jennings Bryan, but unfortunately it couldn't be stopped. Other screamers included Consul Leslie A. Davis who told tales of genocide which sound frighteningly similar to those which occurred later in Rwanda and Cambodia as mentioned in "Scream Bloody Murder". Even though the Armenian Genocide is over its effect and the fact it is unrecognized by Turkey still resound today in the highest levels of world affairs, geopolitics, and is quite relevant to our world today even though it is almost a hundred years in the past. Just a few years ago former US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans was fired by the State Department for screaming proper recognition of the genocide. This story compliments those mentioned by CNN, such as that of Canadian general in Rwanda Romeo Dallaire, of those who screamed and paid the price (and is a unique twist in that this scream was so long after the genocide happened as opposed to while it was going on).

Despite being largely overlooked, the Armenian Genocide was even referenced in the Genocide Convention covered by Amanpour as having finally put into law the crime of genocide. While it is too late now to go back and create a new segment on the Armenian Genocide to place in the already aired documentary, that does not mean CNN has no way of rectifying this error. I had been feeling hopeful about the documentary and might have given it more of a pass on this omition until I saw this interactive map on the section of Scream Bloody Murder section of CNN's website about the world's killing fields. It appears that despite the fact when it had first been announced Armenia was prominently mentioned as one of the examples of genocide that would be covered, it failed to even be pinpointed on the interactive map as an example of genocide. This is a very strange thing to ponder since one would assume if the Armenian Genocide is mentioned in the promotional material it'd be listed on this interactive map. This seems to compound the insult of being only mentioned for 45 seconds in the documentary to being completely forgotten on their world map of genocides and makes me question what went on behind the scenes. Perhaps they found it too provocative to pinpoint a NATO ally such as Turkey and decided that since marking the Armenian Genocide would mean marking Turkey it'd be best to just leave Armenia off despite the fact it is even mentioned in the documentary? Despite the fact it says almost nothing about the Armenian Genocide, Scream Bloody Murder hasn't gone unnoticed in Turkey after all, as this Turkish newspaper article from Hurriyet yesterday makes clear: "Genocide feature worrisome"

Whatever the case, this oversight is extremely unfortunate and Armenians and Americans alike should take CNN to task. American officials were the first to scream out in the 20th century – a proud fact swept under the rug. Besides letting CNN know they should have paid more attention to the original example of 20th century genocide in their documentary, it can show its good faith immediately by placing the Armenian Genocide on their website's interactive map as it deserves. For an otherwise well-done documentary on the importance of screaming bloody murder whenever and wherever it happens, this blank spot over Turkey doubles as a shameful and bloody stain.
To write to CNN, or to post your question for Christiane Amanpour, take action here:
http://capwiz.com/aaainc/issues/alert/?alertid=12278316

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chess Victory, Karabakh Speculation, and an Armenian in Istanbul

There's been sufficiently interesting enough news on the Armenian front that I think it is time once again for a blog entry. I don't just do these for any old reason after all! First I am glad to announce that it looks like Armenia has won for the second time in a row the Chess Olympiad. They led for most of the tournament except for one day when Israel took the lead; Armenia was just recently tied with Ukraine for first but it seems that it has taken the lead and is securely in first place for the gold medal. Too bad Armenia never won any of those at the recent Olympics! It is great to know despite being such a small country up against world powers it can still manage to win, pretty incredible when you consider the task at hand.
Meanwhile, in the realm of Armenian foreign policy things continue to bump along mainly behind the scenes since the September football diplomacy visit. The main feeling of the opposition is that the President and his crew are preparing to "sell-out" Karabakh in exchange for economic gain and legitimacy in the eyes of the west. There have been various voices in Armenian society declaring that not an inch of land should be surrendered to the Azeris, even though the whole purpose of the buffer zone was as a bargaining chip in negotiations. More recently, head of the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan Hayk Demoyan put forward that resolution of the Karabakh conflict should be built on equal concessions- meaning trading some of the occupied territories like Aghdam for the de jure Azeri but formerly Armenian-populated territory of Shahumyan north of Karabakh. There's a lot of talk about the Madrid Principles which are now being seen as the road map to a peace settlement, however it seems that many tweaks and alterations are being considered and negotiated for a final settlement. We continue to get schizophrenic as always news out of the lead western negotiators- some express optimism and I even heard the phrase that settlement is possible by the end of this year, but at the same time seem to make it clear that no real progress is possible in the coming months. I don't think I can call the negotiation process anything more than an extremely complicated morass.
There are numerous modalities to fixing the Karabakh problem- none of them easy and makes the current status quo look almost attractive for all involved. Logistically at this point the thought of returning Azeris to live amongst Armenians in Karabakh after two decades of bad blood- especially considering the way the word Armenian is anathema in Azerbaijan where hatred of Armenians is more or less a state-sponsored business- is a nightmare. Neither side, especially Azerbaijan have not prepared their people for peace and the prospects are beyond dim for a long-term future together. Yet they are neighbors and this stalemate can't continue. Azerbaijan appears dead set on Karabakh as being anything but completely part of Azerbaijan, a pretty tall request considering Karabakh has had no tie with the nation for two decades. Azerbaijan has forced Karabakh to become dependent elsewhere and it makes no sense to suddenly force Karabakh back into a country which has disdain for its people. Also ridiculously Azerbaijan continues to refer to Karabakh Armenians as occupiers despite them having always been the majority population in that land. I understand this term being applied to the territory around Karabakh but not to Karabakh itself. It makes one wonder what a "non-occupied" Karabakh would look like in Azerbaijan's opinion. Having followed the peace process for a decade has left me with nothing but a headache. I don't know how, if, or when things will change but I have absolutely no expectations thanks to what has become like "the boy who cried wolf". The current issues under negotiation seem to be the status of Lachin and if a referrendum will be allowed in Karabakh to determine its status in the future. Of course things like this can be promised, but without a set date for a vote there are no guarantees it could ever happen. The negotiators are walking a fine line and they have to be careful not to give up too much because it could result in all being lost. At the same time things can't continue like this forever and Armenians will have to remember what the buffer zones were originally intended for and have a society-wide discussion on what is to be done. One has to hope that the President don't have to force an agreement down the throats of his own people, as he seemed to do with his election. Oh and did I mention that there are rumors that Kocharian could return to the scene as the ANTI-Sargsyan, teaming up with the hard-line Dashnaks for a "no surrender" movement on the Karabakh front? Whether Sargsyan is in on this ploy is unknown, but it could be used as a way whether Sargsyan is a willing accomplice or not to return Kocharian to the political stage by forcing a governmental compromise in order for Serzh to keep his job. There's really no reason to even speculate about what's going on behind the scenes within the Armenian government because the truth is I just don't know and literally anything is possible.
In other news Foreign Minister Nalbandian is in Istanbul for a meeting with officials there towards the normalizing of relations between Turkey and Armenia. One development I've heard coming out of there is that it seems Turkey has finally uncoupled relations with Armenia with the Karabakh conflict, a vital step forward if true. Turkey had formerly said it would not begin relations with Armenia until Karabakh was settled, something we've always concluded is a morass, meaning that Gordian knot would have to be untied before the border opened with Turkey. With the developments in the region though we know all parties involved wants Turkey and Armenia to begin relations as soon as possible so with this new pragmatic view and the knowledge that Karabakh isn't being solved anytime soon that uncoupling is necessary for any movement. Turkey has been trying to placate Azerbaijan while warming to Armenia. A big story which came out of the Armenian-Turkish negotiations recently was the announcement that Armenia had agreed to a historical commissions to settle the genocide issue, a favored idea of the Turkish leadership but abhorred by the Armenian diaspora. The Armenian government refuted this notion and President Sargsyan said that such a commission would not be needed. While I am happy to see rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey I am worried about what Turkey might be trying to pull here. It is no secret that they have long dreamed of creating a rift between the diaspora and Armenia, namely on the genocide issue which the diaspora spearheads, and it is (true?) (false?) declarations like these which gives the impression Armenia is undermining the diaspora on the genocide front. I don't know who leaked or fabricated what but it is a tricky situation to be sure. Perhaps to combat these ideas, Nalbandian said in Turkey that Armenia will never urge the diaspora to stop efforts towards recognizing the genocide. I think that, without undermining them, Armenia can take a backseat when it comes to the genocide while letting the diaspora handle it. I doubt this will satisfy Turkey though who obviously have been telling the Armenian leadership behind the scenes to make the diaspora stop- clearly forgetting that the movement long predates independent Armenia itself. The diaspora was born without an independent Armenia and cannot be controlled by it, no matter how much Turkey with its misinterpretations and incorrect notions about the diaspora wishes it. Regardless, times are still interesting when it comes to Armenia's foreign relations and I suspect there will be more intriguing developments to write about sooner than later.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Geocache Armenia!

As diasporans, besides the many charitable and humanitarian projects we undertake in Armenia, we are always looking for fun and adventurous activities to introduce there. These include strivings to make Armenia an international location for birdwatchers, various ecotourism projects like hiking trails, skiing, and rafting, and introducing other western institutions to Armenia like boutique hotels. As diasporans we are almost automatically drawn to doing something for Armenia though our distance usually restricts that to sending money and moral support. I was talking with a friend this weekend who just spent almost a year in Armenia and the conversation both turned to her experiences in Armenia and on an unrelated note my new hobby of geocaching. Suddenly the idea struck me that instituting the hobby in Armenia would be a perfect compliment to other things of interest to do there and could be a small way of doing something for Armenia (with help) from a distance.

For those of you who don't know, geocaching is a novel "sport" which puts a twist on some age-old practices. The major website for the hobby http://www.geocaching.com/ allows you to enter in your town and see a map of the area with the locations of hidden geocaches marked. Each cache has its own page with information about it and the coordinates. You enter that into your GPS device and make your way out to the cache- which typically is made up of at minimum some sort of notebook or log sheet on which you sign your screen name. The smallest ones are tiny and only contain a piece of paper but the larger, more interesting ones are tupperware containers or ammo cans. The larger ones are better because besides a notebook people put in trinkets or toys which can be swapped by people who find the cache. Geocaches certainly aren't anything fancy but there is a surprising satisfaction which comes from hunting and finding them, sometimes hidden in nature or other times in very public areas but just out of notice. Once you've found the cache, signed and traded, you replace it and log it on-line with notes about your find. You can read the experiences of others there as well.

When I first started I of course looked up Armenia and believe it or not the hobby has reached the Caucasus. There have been a total of four geocaches placed in Azerbaijan according to the official website though one on the Baku beach has not been seen in over three years and is considered lost. The ones at the Fire Temple of Ateshgah and the Mardakan Arboretum near Baku also appear to be long gone, it is not rare that caches are accidentally found and thrown away as trash or just plain stolen. Only the cache at the Mud Volcanoes near Gobustan 40 miles south of Baku has been found recently so Azerbaijan only has one viable cache. The nation of Georgia has had two caches placed, the first one by an Austrian team of heliskiiers high in the Caucasus Mountains at the ski resort of Gudauri. It was temporarily disabled in August due to the Russian-Georgian War, Gudauri is far north of Gori and east of Sourth Ossetia, but is now back on line and apparently waiting to be found- though it never seems to be found probably because of its remoteness. The other is naturally located in Tbilisi and appears to be up a hill with a nice view of the city.

As for Armenia, it can already claim the distinction of having the most active caches in the South Caucasus because all three of them have been found recently and are not likely to have been destroyed or lost as in Azerbaijan. One cache is dedicated to a view of Ararat from Yerevan and based on the clues it is located in a "modern housing subdivision" on Leningradian Street. The other two are hidden in the Erebuni ruins complex, as you can see one of them as pictured here is labeled in Armenian and English to warn people who might stumble upon it what it really is and to not trash it. While it is hard to determine much about the people who place these caches the Erebuni ones seem to have been placed by someone living in Yerevan while the other was left by a visitor.

What I find most fascinating about geocaching is the dedication and expanse of the hobby. A check of the website’s map shows that geocaches can be found everywhere from the northern shelf of Alaska to Antarctica. I’ve looked up countries far more remote than Armenia such as ones in the heart of Africa and have found there aren’t just a couple geocaches in those places but numerous! Therefore Armenia only having three at this point is terribly understated for such a huge hobby and feel something interesting could be instituted in Armenia without much work. While obviously most residents of Armenia don’t own the necessary GPS device to participate themselves (unless an alternate method of finding the cache more like steps of a treasure hunt as opposed to just the coordinates is also put on the cache’s site allowing people to find it without one) it could become something for tourists to do at the various sites they visit. The fact that some visitors to Armenia have already participated is proof that people geocache while they travel in Armenia and perhaps if it had more caches it would bring in more people with this hobby to visit.

A place I thought would be perfect for geocaching is along the Janapar trail in Karabakh (http://www.janapar.org/). While people are walking the trail they can seek up caches hidden along it, trade things with other hikers and see who has been there before them. Caches can be hidden at places of interest along it as a way of getting people to seek those places out and enjoy them which they might have otherwise just passed by if their attention wasn’t drawn to it by the cache. I am not in Armenia so can't implement geocaching in Armenia myself but hopefully some of the readers will. It is so easy to do that I don’t feel like I’m asking much of them at all, just sign up at http://www.geocaching.com/, buy a cache container and get started! My favorite thing people use as the 'cache' are .30 ammo cases because they are metal and durable. I am sure there are lots of those in Armenia and while probably not sold in stores there like in America I bet someone at Vernisage must have things of that nature. I have included the picture of the current map of Armenia where all three caches can be seen marked off around Yerevan. Wouldn’t it be nice to make Armenia a geocaching haven of the Caucasus with many more marked off? I hope anyone interested in possibly hiding a cache in Armenia who wants to learn more will leave a message and we can get started. Come on let’s Geocache Armenia!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Emotion

I didn't intend to write here about the American election results but after hearing President-elect Obama's speech I couldn't help but be moved to write something spontaneously:

It's quite something.
Before I get ahead of myself, this victory by no means fixes our myriad problems. There will be lots of difficult times ahead and it isn't going to be easy on Obama- sure people are cheering now but as he said tonight he will have to do a lot of things many people disagree with. I almost fear the fever pitch built up around him that expectations are basically unmeetable. However I have come to feel the past 8 years have been nothing short of a rape of our nation and the most poisonous time since Watergate and Vietnam and while there will always be a segment attached to the Bush wing of the Republican party I sincerely hope in the coming years we can move past the horror and pain of the opening years of this century and onto something brighter. There's no doubt we need it.

Barack Obama. That's our new president's name? That's certainly going to take some getting used to, especially since I've long had all 43 of their names memorized and it certainly doesn't come close to resembling them. Is that a bad thing? An unfortunate aspect of this campaign and so many past ones is that this candidate was not eligible for office due to an innate part of his being. Whether because the candidate was Catholic, female, or this time around a Muslim or someone with a funny name... they've all been seen as not "American" enough or not presidential. Guess what, no matter how we look back on the birth of America through our vantage of hundreds of years later, we have never been a homogenous country and we've been made up of immigrants since day one. I am so sick of these idiots who try to say something about you disqualifies you from anything- whether it be your name (Barack or Hussein or Obama) or your religion (like Islam, and while Obama is not Muslim no one until Colin Powell finally spoke up found anything wrong with the "he's not Muslim he's a good person" explanation). There is insidious fear which permeates our nation. Fear is a reaction above all else to the unknown and breeds prejudice. Nothing erases prejudice, as a poster on the school wall said as I stood in line to vote, like familiarity. Is it naive to think having one of these "different" people as the face of our nation for the coming years might help to bring that much needed familiarity? As one of those "different" people who has at least a couple of those 'disqualifying' factors going against him (weird name, anyone?), I don't see anything wrong with hoping. I was actually inspired seeing those long lines everywhere waiting to exercise their right to vote. There just wasn't this sort of feeling in the past two national elections- I waited in line almost an hour and a half this year at the same polling station where I went right up and voted without a line at all four years ago. After the electoral messes of the past two elections I felt like America was giving up on the process, I certainly was rather disillusioned, but to see the dedication people poured into this cycle was absolutely inspiring. Yes, it is premature to say, we will return to politics as usual at some point, likely soon, but at least for tonight I feel like we're a new nation, and just a bit prouder.

Our generation has a rendezvous with destiny. Here's to a hopefully healing, safe, and almost assuredly a fascinating four years.

And one last message to those of you who think Obama's a Muslim, or that if he was a Muslim he somehow would not be an American, or that he's a traitor who hates America, or that if someone don't have the same complexions of our past presidents that person isn't presidential material, or that certain backgrounds disqualifies our right to call ourselves an American:

"We are a nation of many nationalities, many races, many religions--bound together by a single unity, the unity of freedom and equality. Whoever seeks to set one nationality against another, seeks to degrade all nationalities." -FDR

Monday, November 3, 2008

What's Going On Over There?

It has been nearly two months since "soccer diplomacy" and then... nothing happened. I mean nada, zip, nothing. I had absolutely nothing to write about because it seemed as if nothing was going on. Now was nothing really going on, of course not, I knew behind the scenes there was a flurry of activity but there was nothing public to discuss. The only thing of interest I can remember from the past two months was the forcing out as parliament speaker of Tigran Torosian and Levon Ter-Petrossian suspending his opposition campaign due to what he described as the entering of a sensitive time regarding the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Suddenly with last weekend's meeting in Moscow between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan a public development has finally been made showing the progress of what was going on in secret during the two month lull in developments. During his visit to Armenia not even two weeks ago the Russian president announced he'd like to hold a summit in Moscow between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders, the speed with which it was organized and took place in the usually slow-and-steady world of diplomacy shocked many, making it clear we are likely entering a rapid stage of more public developments.

It was clear from the advent of soccer diplomacy that the world powers had taken a new interest in Armenia and the Cacasus and that it was time to sweep away the various inconveniences of the region including the Turkish blockade of Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It has long been in the US's interest to settle at least the Turkish blockade because that would lessen Armenia's reliance on Russia while Russia has likely wanted to maintain it to maintan that dependence, especially in light of strong Georgian-US ties. A widely held belief is that the Russian-Georgian War changed everything in the region and the world powers are trying to figure out where they will go from here. No one has obviously ever explained their rationale to me so I can't say for sure but Russia most likely wants to strangle Georgia, which has now been discredited to the west as an unreliable transit route for the all-important gas and oil pipelines. With Armenia blockaded though it remains an impossibility to use any place but Georgia, so almost ironically it now becomes vital for Russia to sacrifice the very thing which kept Armenia reliant on it in order to further its goals of making Georgia regionally irrelevant. It seems the goals of the West and Russia now converge after years of opposition and they are prepared to start anew another push for Karabakh peace and regional stability.

That said, the West can't be too happy about Russia taking the lead by inviting the presidents to Moscow for peace talks. It seemed like Russia was losing its grip for good on the South Caucasus until August's conflict and now suddenly it back as a major force and trying to prove itself as the regional powerbroker after years of inactivity by the west on that front. This was bolstered by the signing yesterday of the first declaration on the peaceful resolution of Karabakh by Armenia and Azerbaijan's leaders since the 1994 ceasefire. The more I learn about foreign affairs and hear about all the backdoor dealing it becomes nearly impossible to know what everyone's best interests are and what positions they are actually promoting since if one knew everything it'd be clear to see how complicated everything is, but at least on the exterior I think I have a handle on what is going on there with what I just wrote. The most difficult thing when it comes to conflict resolution though is not just getting the presidents to agree it is the facts on the ground. For example when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, people always treat it as some big puzzle which like a math problem has a correct answer which just makes everything lock into place and work. It is as if people think if only we had that one genius who can finally come along and tell us the right answer everything would be good. A peace agreement is not just one that suits the leaders but one which navigates the various affected groups and finds a way to pacify each not completely but to the degree that none of them rises up in revolt against it. This is a problem we have with Karabakh. Kocharian removed NK as a negotiator many years ago and while the return of NK to the negotiation table has been a long alluded to event, it appears we are no closer to that happening. A peace being decided upon without NK imput cannot likely be imposed upon it unless Armenia plans on abandoning NK if it does not comply with Serzh's decisions. This is pretty unthinkable, especially since Serzh notoriously comes from that very place, but it is clear a settlement agreement without NK is not tenable. Others alledge Armenia's corrupt government officials are merely negotiating the price which they will be paid by Azerbaijan in return for a surrender of it, though I have an almost impossible time fathoming a Nagorno-Karabakh in which Azerbaijan is allowed to march right in and reclaim control after 20 long years. I am not sure if either side knows what a mutually-agreed peace will actually look like right now.

While details on what a peace agreement will mean is basically a mystery, it seems we are dealing with something ambiguously related to the principles of a decade ago which cost LTP his job. Serzh can sign whatever he wants, but there are many disaffected groups within Armenia who might unite to make sure what he wants doesn't come true. There are interesting rumors like that Serzh has spent his time in office distancing himself from Kocharian but now Kocharian is mad about Serzh's handling of Turkey and Karabakh as are the Dashnaks, who have threatened to leave the governing coalition if a peace is agreed to which they don't like. Rumors of late have Kocharian possibly finding his re-entry into public politics as a leader of those groups opposed to compromising on Karabakh, likely finding his way into the Prime Minister's chair as has been rumored he eventually would since day one a la Putin. Meanwhile one can't forget that Kocharian put Serzh in office so while it appears Serzh is currently operating against Kocharian and has been purging his government of Kocharian hold-overs, for all we know Kocharian has been directing the whole thing. As I've said I have no idea what is going on behind the scenes and I am open to the idea that the reality is either one of the scenarios mention or maybe another one all together. Whatever the case though with Russia courting Azeri gas pipelines as it has long been by the west for oil, Armenia finds itself in a tough situation with very little to offer these big countries in return. Time is working against Armenia in many ways and many think waiting some more years to solve this issue will leave Armenia with almost no cards in its deck against a stacked Azerbaijan. A resolution is needed, and sooner than later, but at what cost?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Diasporan Youth part 1, and a censored article by one of them

As a blog on Armenian diaspora issues, I find one of the most interesting subjects to be the youth. As the cliche goes the youth are tomorrow's future and the state of the Armenian youth can say a lot about the diaspora's future. My opinion on diasporan youth is mixed. I am pessimistic about youth in general even though I am one of them. I have found the way the outside world has more and more ways of creeping into homes via the internet and television has caused them to grow up faster and faster, not least of because of the messages they get from it which corrupts them at much younger ages (I am no Puritan but it is impossible to not notice the maturity- or lack there of- levels between eighth graders now and just a decade ago when I was one). The Armenian-American diasporan youth (the Armenian ghetto of Southern California aside) is most often a typical suburban kid with some level of ethnic flair, and while it's hard to stereotype such a huge group like east coast Armenians they tend to be upper middle class more often than not. When it comes to youth younger than me, as I feel about typical American children I am not overly pleased. Hopefully this is partly because of their age and is something they can grow out of, but the self-importance, gangster or harlot mentality, etc. is not uncommon amongst them. Most seem to be spoiled to some degree or just attitudy in most unattractive ways. There are many positives as well, especially when they are a little bit older because I also know many Armenian youth more my age have a love of Armenia and are very dedicated to Armenian causes for which they work tirelessly. Even though they are many generations removed the genocide is still an important issue to many of them which I find to be something good because the typical American youth today is completely ignorant of history and their past. The average Armenian-American youth is a hard worker and at least ok organizer, keeping afloat their organizations despite hardships and general nationwide downturn in fraternal organizations due to hundreds of other activities, sports, and responsibilities.


Not that this is anything new, but the typical Armenian-American youth just like so many of their peers across all ethnicities like to have a good time, drinking and partying is a hallmark of almost every community event. This is much to my distaste, though at the same time I know I can't expect otherwise and am cognizant that they are probably no better than their parent's generation- well I still think thanks to media influences they are probably more than a little worse but anyway... The two biggest of these community events each year cap the summer, the ACYOA Sports Weekend at the beginning and AYF Olympics at the end. I have attended both and as I mentioned they are seen mostly as a time to reunite with friends.. and an excuse to party overly hard. The two main diasporan youth groups are different and have their own sets of pros and cons, something I'd like to go into in another entry, but this one is about a certain issue related to one of them in particular.


When it comes to AYF it is more or less expected, but in recent years the Sports Weekend event has gained more popularity and has been growing. What is awkward for ACYOA is that while its party scene is not much different these days than AYF Olympics', it is a church-affiliated event and therefore much of the activities at it are hardly becoming of a church organization. I didn't attend Sports Weekend 2007, but apparently it was becoming clear that something needed to be done to curb this behavior (though according to my sources it wasn't as bad as it was at Sports Weekend 2006 which I did attend and just didn't notice because I am not with that scene). The ACYOA Central Council decided on some rules to make attending Sports Weekend harder, the main one being making everyone who attends get their application signed by their parish priest or board member. This would preclude the various people who are not affiliated with the church or are not overly serious about it, because while divisions are still tight in the diaspora there are of course many equal opportunist who doesn't care what party you are affiliated as long as there's a good party to be had. This decision was very controversial and met with a lot of resistance, all knew there was a problem but unsure of what the best approach was. I often feel that the Armenian Church hierarchy tends to ignore the voice of the youth, in part certainly because I mentioned many are not at the age at which they can make "serious" contributions and are often more interested in partying- so I almost can't blame them for being ignored. There are many youth in the church whoever have strong opinions which sadly are not heard. Almost paradoxically, I also feel they place too much significance on the importance of their young men, desprately needed to hopefully fill their shrinking ranks in the future- while ignoring and denying just as engaged if not more so young women even simple responsibilities they very much desire to have to say nothing about actual positions within the church.


One of those young women, Arpi Paylan, wrote a response to the Sports Weekend problem after the introduction of the solution mentioned above in the lead-up to Sports Weekend 2008. She submitted it to the Hye Hokin newsletter only to have it rejected for being too controversal and likely to avoid exposing internal ACYOA issues, though it makes one wonder whether those issues are easily exposed by merely attending said event? Whatever the case the article never saw print and so I've decided to publish it here myself. Arpi's arguement that this is a needless measure which won't be effective was proven correct at this year's Sports Weekend 2008 which may or may not have been the craziest in history. Not only was there an attendance record but also pandemonium in the halls every night. I felt truly bad for the people unlucky enough to have been stuck on one of the Armenian floors. The coup de grace however was destruction of a fire extinguisher holder and subsequent discharge of it all over one of the hallways, resulting in a 3:30am fire alarm and mass evacuation of the entire hotel onto the street below crowded with fire trucks. Who the perpetrator(s) are is still hazy, though at least one is a youth very much connected with the church while the others apparently were Bolsahyes. Immediate talk was that this event might have been the last nail in the Sports Weekend coffin, however the next day before leaving people were talking about next year so look out for another potentially crazy year and possibly even crazier rules. I do want to take a second here to point out this is not the fault of the volunteer organizers of this event, I came away with an awe at how tireless and hard-working they were, going above and beyond what anyone should be expected to do. They are models to the Armenian community and am disappointed that their trust was abused and they weren't rewarded with good behavior in return.

Without further ado here is Arpi's take on the situation before the pandemonium of Sports Weekend 2008 even broke out which was rejected for publication by the ACYOA:

It seems that we Armenian youth have overstepped some sort of threshold of inappropriate behavior and are now scrambling to reevaluate and revamp Sports Weekend, an event that has been running successfully for years. The complaints are not new—every year someone has something acerbic and scathing to say about the way some of us Armenian girls choose to dress, about the drunken and aggressive conduct of our young men and the decidedly irreligious feel of the event as a whole. Let me make clear right now that I am not blind to the truth behind these criticisms—our conduct as an organization representing the Armenian Christian faith no doubt leaves an outsider with an utterly awful and ultimately inaccurate opinion of us. Nevertheless, I can not help but take issue with making any changes to Sports Weekend. My impulse is to argue that if the event is made even incrementally more selective, it will be hindering those exceptional few who come to the event with no prior exposure to their Armenian community and leave inspired to be dedicated and powerful leaders. This is an admittedly thin argument—the aforementioned people are far and few in between and in reality, the changes being implemented would not actually prevent people of this caliber from attending.
My opposition to changing Sports Weekend then, is this—that we are attacking the manifestation of a deeper, bigger problem and not the problem itself. Rather than getting angry over the inordinate amount of underage drinking that takes place, another look should be taken at what is being done at the level of the parishes to stymie such habits. We get angry over what we see, but what we fail to realize is that all of this—the dress, the conduct, the underage drinking—is all symptomatic of a deeper problem and neglect. We act as though these people we choose to admonish—the underage drinkers, the excessively inebriated legal drinkers, the scantily clad women, the unnecessarily aggressive men—are not a part of who we, as Armenian Christians, are. I am not trying to say that we Armenian Christians are a bunch of brawling drunks; rather, I am saying that it is wrong-minded and unchristian to act as though these people are separate from those of us who choose to behave upright. We are disowning them so that we may remain an upstanding ethnic minority within this vast and aggressively homogenous American existence. Rejection, admonishment and ostracizing are no way to treat the Christian Armenians who disappoint or embarrass us as an organization. That is not Christian behavior, that speaks ill of what the ACYOA stands for. Instead, as a Christian organization, we should do our best to dig deeper and understand what kind of pain and confusion may be driving our young men and women to act in ways that dishonor their heritage and faith. Something different needs to be done at the level of the parishes—what specifically, I think is up to the priests and parish leaders. I can guarantee that any changes made to Sports Weekend will have little actual effect—they will be the changes that we can flaunt to the hotel owners and other non-Armenians whose opinions we seem to value so much. Our survival and cohesion as Christian Armenians has nothing to do with those people. It has everything to do with us loving one another, accepting one another and working together to become a truly Christian community. This of course, means reevaluating so much about the way we choose to conduct our Armenian Christian lives, but I am of the opinion that this is a far more worthwhile enterprise than punishing specific individuals or by wagging a proverbial finger at the Armenian youth. Effort should be poured into reenergizing our spirit and faith in our everyday lives—this is the true challenge and one that requires every ounce of our energy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Turkish Vignettes from Yerevan or: Where Do We Go From Here?

After what must have been an interesting weekend on the streets of Yerevan with numerous interactions between Armenians and Turks, officials and regular citizens, it is now time to sit back and see where things go from here. I felt we'd be hearing at least some token changes and agreements between Armenia and Turkey early on though the speed of the negotiations towards major decisions is a total unknown. The reaction in the press regarding the visit has surprisingly been almost universally positive. Even the Dashnaks welcomed the rapprochement, underscoring the important of recognition of the genocide first though. The only rain on the parade has been the Turkish opposition parties who have maintained a populist hard-line position against any sort of negotiation with Armenia until it jumps through numerous impossible hoops. Relations between AKP and the opposition are downright icy with AKP delivering various government-related documents to them via regular mail of all things while defending the trip to Armenia. It is almost funny for Armenians, especially in the diaspora, to imagine this Turkish government supporting Armenia while opposing fellow Turks but that's politics for you.

Armenialiberty just released an interview with Turkish Economist writer Amberin Zaman about what will come next which I think is a very good guide of what to expect with these very unprecendented turn of events. While some people hope for an immediate opening of the Turkish-Armenian border, Zaman rightfully points out that the border was closed in the first place due to the Karabakh conflict and therefore will not be open until some substantive progress can be pointed to on the issue. Though the border will not be opened yet, she does point out the possibility of the Kars-Gyumri rail link being restarted, and it bears noting that there have been reports of repairs having recently begun on the Armenian side to that long-closed line in case Turkey allows for it. This would be for humanitarian reasons regarding the conflict in Georgia which would do good there while allowed for an ease in Armenian-Turkish restrictions. Regarding the match itself, Zaman said: "I believe that the visit went extremely smoothly. I had the opportunity to actually see both presidents during halftime. They seemed incredibly relaxed, very happy, they sounded extremely cordial and the messages that we heard after the match from both sides were extremely positive". So as Zaman points out, Azerbaijan is the major key in Turkey starting relations with Armenia. This is likely why Gul's next visit after Armenia was to Azerbaijan where he and other Turkish figures have been trying to reassure them that this is not a betrayal and to let them know Armenia is ready for serious negotiations. Not long ago Turkey as a serious moderator in the Karabakh conflict seemed like a ridiculous pipe dream but now it seems Sargsyan has given the go-ahead to just that. A fair resolution to Karabakh is in Turkey's interests because it will free them to have more open relations with Armenia, and Azerbaijan's strong reaction against the Yerevan visit should give hope that Turkey can be a fair negotiator, but let's just hope this isn't Armenia being backed into a corner on Karabakh due to its vulnerable position. Turkey is organizing a meeting between themselves, Azerbaijan, and Armenia at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly later this month so if we can expect a new major development it'll likely be after that meeting.

From what I read in the press, except for the booing of the Turkish national anthem the Turkish visitors were pleasantly surprised by the warm reception they received in Yerevan and how they had no safety concerns. They were greeted nicely and all are reporting back positively of Yerevan and relations with Armenia. If Hrant Dink was the first crack against Turkish taboos this visit seems to have broken down an entire portion of the wall, not just because it was the biggest visit of Turks to Armenia since... well probably since the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 but because of the numerous intriguing vignettes which have come out of it. One example is the report that a total of 300 visiting Turkish citizen visited the Genocide Museum (not sure if that number includes Turkish-Armenians, which would be far less momentous, but I doubt they'd be counted). As Armenpress reports: "Many of the Turkish visitors at the museum were students, sports fans, and NGO representatives. He said many of them visited the museum out of curiosity, with varying reactions to the exhibits, including sympathy, remorse, regret and denial." They were especially by a new exhibit on Armenian contributions to Ottoman Sports. The most talked about visitor to the museum was Hasan Jemal, grandson of Jemal Pasha of the Young Turk triumvirate, who laid flowers at the memorial and proposed a moment of silence before the game in memory of the victims (which I assume didn't happen as President Gul said there was no mention of 1915 his whole trip). We have to be careful how Jemal's behavior is interpreted because I don't think it can be portrayed as being a unilateral "recognize the Armenian Genocide" sort of thing. He had written a book "Let's Respect Each Other's Pains" which seems to imply he has equivocation view on 1915 with all things being equal, not a totally uncommon view among Turks so it's hard to know how he feels. Either way though such a gesture should be highlighted and taken to heart because it certainly seems to be a great leap forward.

Another interesting story to come out of this weekend is an interview in Taraf newspaper with retired Turkish diplomat Volkan Vural. Vural recounted his relations with Armenia early in its independence and how he sees that early period as a missed opportunity for Turkey to start relations with Armenia. He believes many of the problems between the nations today such as Karabakh could have been mitigated through relations from the beginning, as Ter-Petrosian was willing, however concludes that the genocide taboo and Azeri pressure got the better of the Turkish government. In an arena like this where single words can have huge meaning we have to be careful with translations, but hopefully the one I am referencing is accurate. When asked about what Turkey can do to make amends for the genocide, Vural speculates that if he was in charge he'd allow all Armenians who wanted Turkish citizenship to be able to attain it and a right of return. While he rightfully notes that very few if any will actually take up this offer it's a start. He advocates starting a fund to deal with the incredibly complicated issue of property and asset lost by the deportees. He also states that Turkey should apologize for the events. "These events are unbecoming for Turkey. We do not approve them. The people who were forced to leave this country have our sympathy. We see them as our brothers. If they wish, we are prepared to admit them to Turkish citizenship."

These are the types of sentiments which were never uttered even a few years ago and only a few brave Turks started standing up in the past few years. I hope vignettes like these indicate a larger flood of such sentiment coming from Turkish society and gives hope that more Jemals and Vurals will stand up for what is right, helping to bring a century of pain to a close.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Football Game of the Century Recap

The long awaited game has come and gone and when I see pictures like the one above I still have to wonder if it really happened. For those who don't know, the remarkable picture above taken by a friend Gor Zakaryan shows the top of the stadium decked out with a Turkish and Armenian flag directly below the tall spire of the Genocide Memorial. To imagine this scene just a couple years ago would be absolutely unthinkable and it is still rather hard to believe. How does it make us feel? As a diasporan I know there are many conflicting feelings about it, though overall I haven't seen a whole lot of diasporan discussion on it either way. While many knew about the game I wouldn't be surprised if it passed unnoticed by a good deal of some of our more Turkophobic members who will one day see these pictures of Gul and Sargsyan shaking hands in the Yerevan presidential palace and... well I don't know how they'd react but dumbfounded is the first word which springs to mind. Regarding the picture above, as a diasporan it does make me feel a bit sad that certain things came at the expense of pushing others into the background, as is literally depicted here, but I know this had to come first. Those like the ANC who unsurprisingly advocated that Gul should visit the genocide memorial, a move also proposed in a mocking manner by Deniz Baykal of the Ataturkist opposition party CHP. I feel a little bit cynical that it was economics which made this all happen, not those lofty ideals of truth or justice or what have you. Once again though, as Baykal makes clear this was not an easy nor popular move for Gul and we as Armenians couldn't make it any harder for him than it already was. I remain hopeful that as the thaw continues and such initiatives as that highly controversial historical commission apparently move forward, entering it with somewhat thawed relations instead of the extremely contentous animosity which has been the hallmark of 90 years means that perhaps we can begin to bring them around. A couple things are for sure:

1. Turks have a stubborn pride characteristic of this region where things like justice are seen as a weakness. Giving even a little on an issue is easily seen as leading to an emasculating domino effect which is unacceptable for them. Not to be stereotypical or cliche, and Turks certainly aren't the only ones like this, but Turkish policy up until now certainly would cut off their nose to spite their face. That's why in the face of genocide resolution after resolution they only became more irrational and no matter how bad it made them look they kept banging their heads into the same old wall of denial getting absolutely nowhere. The AKP party came to power and instituted some new creative ideas to a very old game. I don't know what they see the endgame of this joint commission as, a cleaner method to get the inevitable accepted at home or some sort of last ditch effort to throw mud on the diaspora's momentum and a way to hopefully get at least a few of their opposing ideas canonized- but it is clear that the conclusion of this commission if worth anything cannot be anything but that it was genocide. So does that mean it will be worthless?

2. The diaspora will not give up. One could certainly argue that this is the Turkish government attempting to step around the intractible diaspora by going directly to the extremely vulnerable Armenian government and cutting out the diaspora. They hope the Armenian government 'good cop' will help this genocide unpleasantness go away by giving them a few token gifts (like opening a border which always should have been open). What they don't realize is the diaspora has a mind of its own and even if the Armenian government dropped all claims, the diaspora isn't going anywhere. In fact, it was the diaspora that was created by the genocide and are the ones who they really should be answering to, Serzh Sargsyan didn't have ancestors killed or deported from their villages in 1915. Of course dealing with the diaspora isn't palatable for the Turkish government- and seeing the angry public opinion at home I do concede 'how could they anyway?' I think the best thing for the diaspora to do is watch how this goes between the governments and assess the results. No reason to stand in its way, the diaspora must and will remain strong but at the same time should adopt this spirit of friendship. There's nothing I hate more than stories of Armenians in the diaspora meeting Turks and saying something mean or irrational at them as soon as they hear they are a Turk. That's small minded and applying the same sort of racist idealogy on them as the Young Turks did to our ancestors.

Sorting out history is not a fun and sometimes very dreary thing, I'm glad we could have some fun playing football while we're at it. The much-anticipated game wasn't all that great in my opinion. While the Armenians held off a score during the first half, they were being very defensive. When they came back on the field after the half the Armenians appeared to have lost all their energy and were pretty easily finished off 0-2. Another surprise was the apparent emptiness of the stadium for such an anticipated game. Stories I've heard from past qualifiers were of full (and extremely rowdy bordering on anarchic) crowds. Certain areas were full and the crowd was certainly invigorated, but very conspicuous areas were empty besides the guarded Turkish section. According to one news report the once expensive tickets were allegedly being given away for free at game time, however perhaps the emptiness was by design to avoid pandemonium. Sure enough I just talked to a friend who was at the game and she said the government purposely didn't sell many of the tickets because they didn't have the security for it.
While the Armenian team was the game's loser, I didn't feel a great sense of loss because I think both sides hopefully will come out on top in an era of renewed relations. The biggest loser of the day was Dashnaktsoutyoon who- in a most schizophrenic manner- managed to remain a part of the ruling government and yet protested the government's invitation to Gul. I don't know how to feel, in part I think why spoil a nice day of peace with a protest but then again I think it would show weakness to allow him to waltz right into Yerevan without a reminder of why he hasn't been there already. The protest was apparently poorly organized and not well attended (perhaps thanks to the delay tactics I previously wrote I believe Gul exhibited even though he probably knew he was going long ago). Dashnaks showed they really don't know what their doing as a party in Armenia anymore, if you are going to protest the government as a party then get out of the ruling coalition! The protests seemed to make the headline of all the international news coverage however, leading me to believe they either made an impression or more likely those international outlets went there to find that story.
The long-awaited party in Yerevan is at an end- but what is next? Not much information has been released about the meeting or the future but Foreign Minister Babajan stayed behind to work out future steps. According to Hurriyet these steps could include: "raising the level of regular consulting mechanism to foreign ministers, speeding up efforts to form a joint commission and opening the border for humanitarian aid." If anything, seeing some of the signs held by Turkish fans calling for brotherhood, open borders, and seeing the names Armenia and Turkey next to each other were a nice reminder of how things could be in an 'East of Igdir' age (and I do feel quite sad they had to sit their while their national anthem was booed, though it is a sports rivalry and I'm not convinced the majority of spectators in Turkey wouldn't have done the same to us. Let's hope that was a catharsis and won't be repeated if Turks come again.) This should not be at the expense of our past but getting reaquainted on a person-to-person and even nation-to-nation level. We will never work it out as long as emnity remains. By interaction with Turks we will be able to remember they are humans again and that we once lived together. We cannot protest and scream at the into realizing that. I feel true justice, if it comes, will only be because of yesterday's steps, not in spite of them, and regardless of what comes of Gul's whole Armenian excursion that is an encouraging thought.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin Rant

I know this is an Armenian issues blog, but after watching tonight's RNC I can't help but rant. I consider myself an independent but found myself utterly sick from Giuliani's and especially Palin's speeches.

I don't know what's worse- might as well start with the country blathering coming out of someone on stage named "Cowboy Troy"- ever since circa 2001 to be Republican means to be a cowboy rockin' out to country music. Anyway here are the main four things which have been festering in my brain since seeing this spewing of filth otherwise known as these convention speeches:
1. What else? The speeches- I didn't even watch the earlier ones, but I did hear Mike Huckabee's utterly vapid story involving some kind of absurd vignette involving musical chairs and soldiers. It illustrated how easy it is to make a crowd of people cheer, it doesn't have to make sense, just mention terrorism, troops, fight, freedom, and end it with a U-S-A chant and watch as people go nuts. I'm not even kidding, I defy anyone to contend Huckabee's story made actual sense and wasn't just an exercise in proving that dropping keywords can set any group on fire. Giuliani was just screaming something incomprehensible about Obama loving Islamofascist terrorists and how he's allegedly afraid to call them Islamofascist terrorists but good old Rudy calls 'em as he sees 'em and believe it or not they really are Islamofascist terrorists! Horray for Rudy!
As for Palin, sure she did a good job in getting the crowd riled up, but she said absolutely NOTHING of substance what-so-ever. This is the candidate with zero experience at anything or has ever done a single intellectual pursuit (ala president of the Harvard Law Review, say what you will about Obama's 'executive' experience but he certainly isn't short on intellectual accomplishments). If anything Palin should be proving to us why she is capable of being VP and possibly president, but no. Instead this was 40 minutes of trashing the other party with LOUD empty rhetoric and showing how tough she can be despite being a woman as a way of forgetting we ever doubted her. Great job showing you're tough, now how about showing you're... anything?

2. Virulent attacks- look, I know part of politics are the attacks, but between Rudy's and Palin's the hits didn't stop!! I'm sure the democratic convention had attacks in speeches too but I can't really remember anything all that huge. Those two speeches were just sickly low, most of them were of absolute no substance and were just attacks for attacking's sake. I can't even provide examples because I don't know where to begin, wait for the transcripts. As a random aside, I got to hang out with Giuliani in '06 when he was making the rounds campaigning for others in order to lay the groundwork for his own '08 presidential run. I was on "security detail" in a room with about 20 VIPs he was meeting with and he was so busy that night doing anything and everything possible essentially running for president that he shook my hand three times within 15 minutes without even realizing it.

3. Palin- not only is she totally unqualified and probably the worst VP pick in decades, having clearly passed over NUMEROUS more qualified candidates not to mention quite a few women, but after her speech the commentators seemed to LOVE it, WHAT?! It was masterfully crafted to give Palin a much needed boost by making her appear... competent? What better way to make someone look like they know what they're doing and get loved by the audience better than having them sound strong saying a bunch of empty virulent things that'll whip up the base in attendance and throw in a few big words like "Caucasus" to give the appearance she knows... anything... about a little thing called foreign affairs. It wouldn't be politics if they didn't jab at each other, but there was nothing to this speech EXCEPT jabs. Oh and some Palin fawning over McCain and how he saved the world a thousand times or something. But mostly totally empty attacks like that Obama is a "community leader" instead of a governor and we don't need a community leader or something... (actual quote: "i guess being a mayor is kinda sorta like being a community organizer except that i actually had responsibility")... and of course how he's a member of that "do-nothing Senate" (unlike McCain, who clearly belongs to some other Senate...). Those weren't even the tip of the iceberg, I was too busy being disgusted by attack after attack to keep track.'

4. AND THE MOST DISTURBING OF ALL (and least noticed?)- alright so we all know about the Trig-is-actually-the-daughter's-baby-gate, which was promptly dispelled by the brilliant Shyamalan twist of "that baby can't be her out of wedlock at 17 years old lovechild because SHE'S PREGNANT WITH THIS OUT OF WEDLOCK AT 17 YEARS OLD LOVECHILD! GOTCHA SUCKERS!" Anyway as we know in the week since Palin became VP her recently-old-enough-to-drive daughter is suddenly totally in love with the baby's father and they're getting married. Awww, isn't that sweet? According to one 24-year old convention official, as heard on NPR today, this makes it "all good". Nothing forced at all about that solution, right? Well to PROVE that there's nothing forced check this out- go to about 1:10 into this video, the part where McCain totally feels up the young man who also happens to be the VP's future teenage son-in-law: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4booZ3CABo (which I got from Wonkette). Now just after the marriage announcement it was said he was joining his future family at the convention. Hmm I wonder why? Notice how in the video, completely unprompted, the boyfriend/fiancee/whatever is holding hands with with Palin's ultra-fertile daughter for the ENTIRE time. They aren't trying to prove anything to their mother's conservative masses, right? Well tonight on stage after the Palin speech I couldn't help noticing the two were at it again, holding hands the ENTIRE TIME they were on stage. Seriously, at one point their hands separated briefly until they realized it and grabbed back at each other again, as if they forgot the rule to 'never let go Jack' or else the country won't think they aren't truly in love and are actually some of those sinful out of wedlock teenage parents! Heaven forbid!
Someone should be eviscerated for manipulating these children like that. And does this reaction from the crowd and tv people mean it's ok to like Palin now? You mean she's NOT going to be withdrawn in shame? Disappointment of the week, there were 5 to 1 odds on it this morning! OK you might have won this battle McCainiacs but just wait 'til you win in November and something happens to him and we have a hockey mom fresh off the PTA leading our nation. Then the joke will be on not just you, but on all of us, ALL OF US.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Soccer Diplomacy Moving Forward?

As it stands we are a mere four days away from the much-heralded soccer diplomacy and leaves everyone asking "what's going to happen?" Officially, we don't even know if Gul is going or not. Sargsyan extended his invitation months ago, shortly after secret talks in Switzerland were leaked to the public, but Gul has yet to officially respond. A late-July visit to Ani was thought to be a nod to and positive sign for Armenia, however based on Gul's comments there, namely "Ani is important to us because...... it is where Turks first entered Anatolia" left me downright angry instead of encouraged. An Armenian reporter on the scene tried to get any sort of positive statement out of Gul but none came. Perhaps he has been coy though, going to Armenia is a major step and major controversy amongst people in both countries and he is likely being careful not to stir the cauldron too much in Turkey. Sargsyan has been more forthcoming and restated his invitation and desire for better relations with Turkey numerous times- aside from the Dashnak minority however I don't think such statements are as controversial within blockaded Armenia.

I've assembled my own timeline of what I think has gone on behind the scenes and why I have always been confident the Turkish president will go, despite what many others have been thinking. News of secret talks were leaked in mid-July, the culprit still a mystery but likely to be either an unhappy faction in the Turkish power structure- it is no secret the military and factions of the opposition want relations with Armenia to remain locked- or Azerbaijan who has been panicking over this development. It is also unknown how long secret talks went on or if they ever would have been revealed if the leak hadn't occured. The invitation to Turkey was extended shortly after, indicating to me it must have been coordinated. Very few things in international relations are not choreographed and I think the fact it shortly followed that round of secret talks is hardly a coincidence. Extending this invitation put Sargsyan out on a limb and Turkey in a corner. Both were put in precarious positions by it, especially Turkey who would look bad internationally by rejecting it. Visiting a nation you have blockaded for 15 years and with whom your "brother nation" is in a state of war with isn't something taken lightly and I can't imagine this invitation wasn't made after careful negotiations and and agreement of both parties behind the scenes. Thus I find it no surprise that all indications are now pointing towards Gul accepting the invitation, which he likely must have done long ago privately, unless we are to believe he actually expects Armenia to completely prepare for his groundbreaking and security nightmare of a visit in a matter of hours.

Speculation on Gul's lack of a response so close to the game has been cause for different speculation in numerous different directions. Some think by not saying yes or no, something can conveniently come up at the last minute which Gul has to attend and he can back out at the last minute, perhaps sending a lesser official or no one at all. However if this was the case I'd think it would have come up already, no sense in having that very important conflicting meeting or event come up just days before the game in what would obviously look like a last minute "I have to stay home and wash my hair" sort of excuse to get out of a bad date. Others think, and what I believe to be much more likely, that this delay is to give those who would protest his visit or seek to cause trouble the least amount of time possible to organize. It makes me wonder why Sargsyan didn't wait longer in extending the invitation if they really want to give them less time, because truly diehard protestors would likely start organizing whether or not he was officially coming just in case, but then again how many diehard protestors can there really be in Armenia itself regarding this issue with so many distractions and the reality of life in Armenia giving them other things to worry about. Speculation as to whether he will or won't attend is rather outdated at this point as over the weekend the small Turkish newspaper Taraf broke the news, though there was still reason to doubt because some speculated it was just a test balloon to gauge reaction. A few days later in an interesting/strange contradiction, Prime Minister Erdogan actually indicated Gul and Foreign Minister Babajan would be in Armenia for the game next week while at the very same event Gul continued to deny he had made a decision. It is also worth noting that there was an interesting exchange of interviews around the same time, one from President Sargsyan and one from Gul, both published in the Turkish newspaper Radikal in which they made friendly overtures to each other, such as Gul telling Armenia that Turkey is not an enemy.

Other occurences on the sidelines of the drama over 'will he/won't he' we have the total renovation of the Hrazdan stadium preparing to host the event, the novelty that the stadium is only meters away from the Genocide Memorial (though I am quite sure Gul will only be going halfway up that hill), and the recent Turkish proposal of a Caucasian Union for Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and Russia. Some think this was invented purely as an excuse for heightened negotiations between Turkey and Armenia because nobody thinks a regional alliance can actually work, what with Russia at Georgia's throat and Azerbaijan and Armenia in a state of cold war. The Caucasus is a complete mess and Turkey has long wanted to extend its influence there. While the U.S. supports open borders, it is likely Russia's part in this union as well as Turkey's failure to notify the U.S. ahead of time (as they had come to an understanding that Turkey would do regarding any developments in the region) which caused Matt Bryza, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, to respond very surprised and cooly to word of this proposal. If it wasn't for Azerbaijan's influence over Turkey in this matter I wouldn't be surprised if the border was already open, or at least relations further along, but it has been pressure from Baku which has probably been the biggest roadblock for those within Turkey who want to see relations with Armenia. One can't discount the influence of the military and secularists who by and large have been severely opposed to relations with Armenia as well and have long suffered from a monolithic and unchanging option on relations with it. It has only been the road paved by the AKP which brought some new thinking to the Turkish government while diminished the influence of those previously mentioned forces in the government.

In the past few years Turkey has been extending its influence in the Middle East quite a bit, for example by having peacekeepers in Lebanon and acting as a conflict manager for parties in the region. Its ability to do the same to the east has constantly been curtailed by its total lack of influence over Armenia thanks to locked borders and it has had to rely on Georgia as its only outlet. In that sense the football invitation has had pitch perfect timing. For most of 2008 I had been hearing from some people in the know that the west could no longer rely on Georgia and were now in a full-court press for improved relations between Turkey and Armenia. At the time I don't know if anyone could imagine how quickly things would blow up but they knew Georgia was a ticking time bomb, its instability a secret to no one. In light of the war Sargsyan's invitation became that much more vital as Georgia's east-west road has only recently come unblocked and Russia hanging out just miles away. At the same time, the blockade has all put pushed Armenia into Russia's arms and most of its infrastructure has already been bought up by Russia. Turkey and the west have likely decided this has gone on for too long and if they have any hope to remain a power in this vital part of the world they need to do something fast. So this is where we find ourselves today, on the verge of a possible breakthrough in Turkey-Armenia relations after what has been literally almost a century of silence and bitterness. There are still many concerns, not least of which the feeling that Sargsyan is trying to counter his unpopularity at home with support abroad by such moves- and what we can assume might be tough concessions which come from them. Others doubt anything will come from this visit at all, but how can anything so profound happen without a single result?

No matter what, it seems this historic and extremely improbable visit will be going through after all. With confirmations from just about everyone but President Gul himself, with Turkish special forces apparently already on the ground in Yerevan preparing for his protection, there is little reason to think otherwise. Even frenzied Azerbaijan is coming to terms with the eventuality of the visit, articles decrying the potential visit have lessened and Turkish Ambassador to Azerbaijan Hulusi Kilic announcing "Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s visit to Armenia will be useful for Azerbaijan", anger could still bubble over depending on the visit's outcome. One is left to marvel at the way events have unfolded since last year- Armenia having been grouped in the previous qualifiers with Azerbaijan leading to two canceled games between them after a dispute over venues. It was promised that Armenia wouldn't be grouped as such again, only to have it "randomly" picked to face Turkey instead in this group of World Cup qualifiers! From here things snowballed bringing us to today, where football is the hope to begin diplomatic and economic relations between two long-time enemies, and which can hopefully start to repair the human and emotional gulf which lies between these two peoples as well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Crossing Igdir

Besides being a blog on diasporan issues I also enjoy following developments in Armenia's geopolitics and plan on covering developments in that field as well. 2008 has been the most interesting year of that since I've started following these issues almost a decade ago as the region pulsates with troubles and a renewed push towards a Turkish-Armenian thaw. This thaw might have happened earlier had not Azerbaijan hung on to its "brother state" Turkey for dear life keeping them from doing anything which might be seen as a positive for Armenia. This has stunted relations between Armenia and its western neighbor and delayed any potential developments between them. Cracks have been growing though, most recently with Prime Minister Erdogan's new proposal of a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform.
The Turkish Daily News published an article today by Adil Baguirov, head of the "US-Azerbaijani Network" and USC's former Armenophobe-in-residence on why stability and cooperation in the Caucasus is a bad thing for Turkey and that such peaceful moves like opening the border will do nothing but to harm it. If you care to read his joke of an article (I do not say this because he is an Azeri but as my response to it below points out it truly is a non-sensical joke of an article) here's the link followed by my take:
http://www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/article.php?enewsid=113639

The blindingly fantastic nature of Adil Baguirov's propaganda piece "For true Caucasus stability Turkey must remain on course" defies belief. Thankfully he does start off his propaganda with an actual fact, that the Armenian-controlled areas equal 15% of Soviet Azerbaijani territory (as opposed to the 20-25% which regularly is cited from Azeri sources despite the ease with which one can dispel that exaggeration via simple math). Unfortunately he then dives right in highlighting "over 800,000 Azerbaijans and Kurds were displaced or killed". Such a framing of the conflict, in which an uninformed reader might presume Armenians killed anywhere close to a million people, neglects the internationally recognized fact that almost all of the displacement occured during the course of the war after "400,000 Armenians were displaced or killed" by anti-Armenian riots throughout Azerbaijan before war had even started. Baguirov literally demolishes his own credibility in one quick swoop by neglecting this vital fact for understanding the evolution of this conflict and proves that he isn't afraid to leave out facts for the sake of promoting the interests of one side.
What is almost as puzzling is the whole purpose of Baguirov's article in the first place. He goes on a tirade about the Armenian lobby's twisting of PM Erdogan's recent Caucasus iniative, except as an active member of the Armenian diaspora and a close follower of both Armenian and Turkish news I have not even seen the iniative mentioned by Armenian lobby groups yet let alone twisted to meet their own allegedly sinister desires. He claims that the proposal has already been "ripped from context and used with such ulterior motives by one special interest group" and yet fails to mention what the Armenian lobby or Armenia has done. He's actually created an opportunity to slander the Armenian lobby (or Armenia, it is not exactly clear which is his guilty party) out of thin air by letting the Turkish Daily News's readers assume what the evil Armenians must have already done to sully this iniative- without actually telling us what it is. This is of course because there is nothing to actually report!
He then rhetorically asks what Armenia has done to repay Turkey for all its goodwill, as if Armenia has constantly rubuffed a Turkey which reaches out to it despite taking constant abuse from Armenia. This once again forgets that the blockade is Turkey's not Armenia's initiative and that it is Armenia which has asked for the border to be opened without preconditions. Despite this Baguirov continues to play pretend by asserting that Armenia is "holding Turkey hostage to never-ending demands", once again failing to mention what these imaginary demands are. He also forgets Armenia's leadership has publically denied it has claims on Turkish territory on numerous occassions (a prerequisite for opening the border) only to have Turkey tell them that they actually do, and that it has shown the goodwill Baguirov claims is lacking to the point of even inviting the Turkish president to Yerevan for the upcoming football match. What better way than to show the good neighborliness Baguirov claims is lacking from Armenia than for President Gul to accept her invitation to visit? Baguirov continues his arguement by stating the best tactic for Turkey would be to continue its trade with the "booming economies" of Georgia and Azerbaijan and that this trade is best done by using Georgia as the only bridgehead. Any tactician could tell you that relying on one path for anything is hardly the best course of action. Baguirov's statement, or should I say his wishful thinking, is now almost pitiable as we see Georgia in shambles and its only east-to-west corridor unblocked just days ago by the Russians, its future accessibility in severe question.
I am not responding to Baguirov to merely promote Armenians as some infalliable people who are right about everything as he does on the other side of the arguement. I just believe his firery Azeri rhetoric as a last-ditch effort to convince Turkey it will somehow suffer by promoting open borders and freer trade for all peoples of the Caucasus is an attitude which does not help this terribly volitile region. If Georgia has taught us anything it is that the nations of this region must work together harder than ever to resolve their differences before they explode again. This means all parties shifting into the painful yet necessary reconciliation mode now instead of attempting to contiually spite fellow nations forever, which while much easier does no good for the region's future. Turkey can play a constructive role in the Caucasus, but is acutely aware that its influence is severely limited as long as it has no relations with a third of the region and needs to rely on wartorn Georgia as its lone outlet. I'd also like to see how Baguirov's arguement that opening the border would cause nothing but ill for Turkey holds up if posed to residents of its eastern provinces, areas in bad need of the economic opportunities the opening would bring. An impoverished region means an unstable region, and more than anything Turkey will benefit from a relieving of its eastern instability. This doesn't even begin to take into account tourism from Armenia whose residents badly want to visit their sacred sites located throughout this region and the positive the people-to-people contact this would bring and contribute towards reconciliation. Based on first-hand accounts, it seems an Armenian has yet to visit Turkey and not felt at least a little bit at home. "For true Caucasus stability Turkey must remain on course"?! Nothing promotes hostility better than polarization and unfamiliarity, what better way forward towards stability than by breaking down regional barries and rediscovering how similar we all really are?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Defining the Diaspora, Part 2

Part 2 (of 2)
As you can see the being an Armenian in the diaspora is a complicated identity and without a central homeland Western Armenian culture has not been able to evolve, merely attempt to remember what it had once been a hundred years ago. Unfortunately this putting on hold of our culture for a century has also led to a stagnation of the problems and political differences which separated us then. Armenian-Americans in particular can see how the political rivalries and old world debates which festered among us not only set us back as a people in our new world but prevented us from wielding political power and influence within our adopted societies. We were too busy holding on to our ethnic political affiliations and disputes- something totally foreign and incomprehensible to American politics- to be politically efficient. We approached officials as Tashnags and Ramgavars instead of Democrats and Republicans, the true labels of political capital in America.

However, when seen on a global scale, western Armenians have been very much shaped by the country their ancestors found refuge in and are far less homogenous due to the common denominator of their Armenian origin. We often blame ourselves for these differences and the inevitable conflicts such divisions cause, almost surprised at the differences we see in other subdivisions of Armenians after growing up thinking of ourselves as one people. We are shaped much more by our home nations than we realize and to a degree an Amerigahye meeting a Barskahye is only somewhat less foreign for them as it would be for an American to meet an Iranian (minus the inherent political antagonism over nuclear weapons). In my (limited) experience, nowhere has this been more apparent and dramatic than in the American-Armenian community. Having formed an identity of their own through their churches, schools, organizations, and kefs, steady flows of immigration from other parts of the diaspora to America during the past 50 years has meant the average Armenian-American community member is more likely to experience the “other” Armenians I spoke of on a regular basis. This has left the Armenian-American diaspora with an interesting series of strata differentiating them, and while I am not as familiar with the number of major classes of Armenian in the other major centers in the diaspora, it is not hard to speculate that America has the most.

The Armenian-American as an identity has been a constantly evolving notion. When Armenians first started coming to America in huge numbers due to the genocide they met and in many cases brought over by kinsman who had been in country for up to 30 years. The foundation had been laid long before though it was accelerated by their swelling ranks due to the genocide- though with many struggling to make a living after arriving here with nothing it was still a slow uphill struggle. Organizations like AYF were founded here and churches were built-up and consolidated (albeit separately as we know…). While it is impossible to call any group homogenous as previously stated, there was definitely a sense of familiarity and similarity amongst American-Americans (within their unfortunately very much politically split groups) as a distinct entity. The political complexities however did cause the complete estrangement of this otherwise singular identity which artificially split what was otherwise the same. Where things really get complicated is with America’s prominence as the place all immigrants strove to be. While an Armenian-American cultural identity had developed so had the Lebanese-Armenian, Syrian-Armenian, and numerous others from throughout the world. After having fled to these nations to escape the genocide, it seemed Armenians were doomed to perpetually flee turmoil. Problems in Iran in the 1950s and later 1979 Islamic Revolution created waves of Barskahye immigration. Ethnic strife against Christians in Egypt and Istanbul around the same times sent them abroad as did the Lebanese civil war of the 70s and 80s. Even more recently the Baku pogroms and general post-independence emptying of Armenia for abroad has created only the latest of numerous waves of differing-identity Armenians to America.

For the diaspora in general not only does it have the acute problem of virulently opposed political parties and a split national church but due to the ubiquitous nature of the Armenian they come in multiple cultural variations. It is hard enough trying to get otherwise similar Armenian-Americans of differing parties and churches to understand each other let alone with these other types of Armenians. Each group has differing levels of comprehension of the Armenian language and cultural identity in great part due to the type of society in which they were raised. This means that what being Armenian means to them and how they display it also tends to vary widely. In future entries I hope to tell the story of these differences and what happens when they mix together in one community- namely where I’ve seen it personally in my own Philadelphia. As I said while these problems are acute throughout the American-Armenian diaspora, there are some expected and interesting differences to be found in Philadelphia which I hope can be used as a model for other communities throughout it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Defining the Diaspora, Part 1

Anyone mildly familiar with the diaspora knows there are myriad communities throughout it, none of which can exactly seem to jive with the others. On the international scene, besides the obvious Hayastansis from Armenia we have communities from Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Russia, Baku, France, the U.S., Istanbul, and so on. While many of us see this as a recent phenomenon caused by the genocide, diasporan communities date back far longer, as most recently evidenced by President Sargsyan and Karekin II’s visit to Crimea to celebrate the 650th anniversary of its Holy Cross church. Across Ukraine in Lviv, one of the city's oldest churches is that of the Armenian community which founded it in the 1300s. Its neighbor Poland also has an ancient Armenian community which has mostly assimilated by now but some retain their identity or Armenian-influenced names. Wealthier refugees and nobles from the fall of Cilicia in the late 1300s fled to Cyprus, and while to the best of my knowledge they must have all assimilated after half a millennium, the island received a fresh batch of refugees after 1915 causing it to maintain its position as a prominent spoke in the diaspora. Armenian traders set up communities throughout India and the Far East, which in many cases only the church, cemetery, and a few caretakers might remain of the once-vibrant community, but the Armenian mark of hundreds of years have been left in all these places.

No blog regarding diasporan issues would be complete without the most prominent one which faces us, assimilation, and the ongoing changes within our communities. While certain leaders today revile and see it as a modern ill of this globalist world, keeping an eye to history reminds us that these changes have actually been a constant part of our history going back as far as there has been some sort of group called Armenians. A simplistic (and common) view would hold that we have always been “Armenian”, doing whatever were doing for thousands of years until suddenly in 1915 we were uprooted and escaped to foreign lands, where whether because of our own fault (or society, or a mix of both) we are doomed to a second genocide as we assimilate away into nothingness. There are some truths in that, but in actuality what we see as our “Armenianess” is Anatolian village life of the 1895-1915 era put on pause and transplanted elsewhere. Living as an Armenian means, whether we realize it or not, to mimic as best we can the lives our of village ancestors based on a lot of imagination and preconceptions as to what that life was actually like. In a sense, our notion of what it means to be an Armenian today- and the way we now generally assume it has always been throughout history- is an interpretation of what traditions the refugee generation was able to bring with them from home and rebuild abroad, usually adapting them to their new place and time. We today see our Anatolian past through this lens of how our grandparents lived in a world totally separate from where they started, meaning the diaspora has developed based on these interpretations and adaptions a step removed from the original culture it seeks to perpetuate. Even then, this particular ideal culture we look back to as setting the standard for Armenianess throughout history is merely how it was in one area at just one singular point in the long history of Armenia. This is, as my blog title proposes, our disapora's society remaining constantly in a fixed position "West of Igdir" where we try to survive by holding fast to the little we have left. This is problematic however because this creates the conditions for century old feuds to maintain a stranglehold on us in tandem with these attempts at keeping the preceived and actual greatness of our past.

So a diasporan culture and community, whatever interpretations of Armenianess it may or may not be based on, definitely exists but is there a singular identity? What we fail to realize about our Armenian identity is the role our host country has played in the formation of this identity. If Anatolian culture was the seed of our modern diaspora- or should I say multiple seeds which were hardly uniform to begin with (ever heard a Dikranagertsi accent?)- they could not have grown without nutrients from the foreign soils which they blew to. Whether we like it or not Western Armenian culture has developed into numerous different Armenias (William Saroyan was right)- which while it gives us a vibrancy is also the root of numerous problems. I will go into some of these problems and what happens when these varying identities collide in one place in part 2. I plan on using my own community Philadelphia to be a case study as I start off my diasporan issues blog with an attempt at defining what Armenian diasporan identity really is. One can see these problems at work here but also some novel ways in which Philly Armenians have managed to do it differently. An introduction to the make-up of the diaspora is vital in understanding the dynamics and issues of the day which will surely come up and be discussed here. While I propose a diasporan uniformity as both a myth and an impossibility, an ultrasegmented diaspora like we have is a carcinogen attacking our diasporan body and will only lead to an expidited expiration date for the heirs of Western Armenia.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

First Blog/Dorkiness Prevails

Well, it happened. As a constant follower of Armenian news in both Armenia and the Diaspora I've always thought about creating a blog to talk about it. I was encouraged by some other members of the Armenian blogosphere during the aftermath of the March violence as I was actively following the news and commenting about it at blogs such as Onnik Krikorian's fantastic Caucasian Knot: http://blog.oneworld.am/ I never did get around to doing it and eventually as the situation receded so did the impetus to add another star to the blogosphere's Armenian constellation. Five months later and the Georgian war has spurred me to finally go through with it and set up a blog so here it is. I'm an active follower of Armenian news but I really don't have any particular behind-the-scenes expertise or doctorate in this sort of thing, I'm just an amateur lover of it. The reason I think Georgia spurred me was because:
1. I didn't see it coming, I just kind of took for granted after years of following the news on these frozen conflicts that they would just stay that way for years to come. I should have known better, which makes me worried about the Karabakh situation more than ever. I should also point out that I am young enough that I don't remember Karabakh War the first time around and seeing the scenes of South Ossetia and Georgia bring home what could happen there again as well which is a very painful thought.
2. I knew 2008 would be an eventful year in the Caucasus with elections in all three countries but this invasion adds a whole new dimension to the problems there. It will certainly lead to much musing and speculation for a long time to come on a region of the world very important to me so what better place for it than a blog? Besides Armenian and regional politics though I also plan to cover goings-on in the diaspora at large with a focus on my own little corner of it Philadelphia (one of the more ignored Armenian-American cities which seems to be totally unique in its community dynamics from other diasporan cities. It certainly wouldn't hurt for other cities to learn from it). On top of all this the Turkish-Armenian soccer game is in less than a month and the dynamics between the two countries possibly headed into totally new territory I think there are many intriguing things occuring which bear discussion and reflection by all Armenians.

An introductory post should include a little information about me and my aim with this blog (without going on much longer!) I am purely a diasporan and I frankly have seen very little blogging about the diaspora and its myriad issues. We have some great blogs on Armenia itself and I thought it wouldn't hurt to add to the fray one coming from the diaspora discussing both issues in Armenia which I have visited and here as well. I named the blog West of Igdir because... well mainly because naming your blog is one of the hardest things you'll ever do short of birthing a child and I wanted to make it as painless as possible by just making it the first thing which came to mind. Why is an Armenian blog named after a Turkish town? West of Igdir is a notion I took from my great-grandfather's diary, a gamavor with General Antranik who wrote it on the battlefield in 1915. In an especially stirring passage translated into English he writes about his group of soldiers crossing over from their actions around Lake Van down into Igdir and its green Ararat valley. "Leaving the village of Mousn that morning, in one and a half hours we climbed to the top of the hill which was the Russo-Turkish border... In the evening we arrived in Igdir. It was as if we came to a new world. The whole city was green and blooming. We fell from hell to paradise." These lines he wrote really struck me, not only they are beautifully poetic lines from the field of war but the way they so perfectly illustrates the freedom from all the fighting and genocide to the west. The line is even more poignant today because this valley which provided freedom is no longer passable from one side to the other and Igdir is no longer a safe Armenian city. It goes without saying that both Armenia and the diaspora for their own reasons have yet to pass east to their own Igdirs so to speak, and many of the problems of these two Armenian nations have roots firmly in that same Armenianless land "west of Igdir". It is my hope that watching from this blog the slow work of peace and reconciliation- not just for Armenia and its neighbors but for Armenians with Armenians internally and for diasporans with diasporans throughout the world- each may too somehow pass out of the dark shadow of the past west of Igdir into their own green valleys.