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: (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.