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.


Internation Musing said...

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Armenian Issue Blog said... is created to facilitate an open discussion, as well as exchange of information and insights on Armenian issue. We are waiting your comments.

Ann said...

Thanks for all the info... I definitely wished I had seen it for myself but that was a good recap.

I just wanted to comment on this statement and what followed: "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."

I'm not sure there's any real concern for diaspora at all. I would say that it seems like more of an apathy then trying to jab them by making deals with Armenia. As you wrote in an earlier blog, it would be beneficial to Turkey and its eastern regions as much as it would be for Armenia.

I'd be interested in hearing more about what diasporans here felt concerning the thawing of relationship btw Armenia and Turkey. I'm just as conflicted as you are.. it seems like a wonderful thing on paper, but if our main issue is lost or even mildly dusted under the carpet, what remains of the cohesiveness of the diaspora?