SAN FRANCISCO–The Bay Area Armenian National Committee (ANC) hosted its annual "Hye Tad Evening" at Treasure Island–with special guests including Turkey’s Agos Armenian Weekly editor–Hrant Dink and Belge Publishing House owner–Ragip Zarakolu.
Hrant Dink is the publisher and founding editor of the only bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper–the Agos Weekly–established in 1996.
Dink thanked the Bay Area ANC for inviting him to the event. Speaking in Armenian–he said–"I am delighted to have the opportunity to meet the Armenian community here," adding that he was happy to have had the chance to meet and talk with ANC committees all over the world.
Dink grew up in Malatia–attended Armenian school in Istanbul–and studied Philosophy and Zoology at Istanbul University. Through his writings–publications–and public statemen’s–Dink has been an outspoken advocate for the democratization of Turkish society and for the need to break the silence about the Armenian genocide.
Dink recently went on trial for "insulting the Turkish state," because of his remarks about reciting the Turkish oath. Dink said about the oath–which says "I am Turkish–I am honest–I am hardworking," that although he was honest and hardworking–he was not a Turk–but an Armenian. Although he was finally acquitted in that case–he was later convicted of "insulting the Turkish identity" for writing an article about the impact of the Armenian genocide on the diaspora.
Although his suspended sentence requires that he not repeat the crime–Dink said–"I will not be silent. As long as I live here–I will go on telling the truth," and vowed that he would appeal to Turkey’s supreme court and to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary. "If it is a day or six months or six years–it is all unacceptable to me," he said. "If I am unable to come up with a positive result–it will be honorable for me to leave this country."
Dink now faces new charges for attempting "to influence the judiciary," because of his commen’s about his conviction.
Despite government pressure on people who are speaking out–Dink said–"It was a dream 10 years ago to imagine seeing the publication of books and articles on the Armenian genocide. There is no doubt that there has been some positive change."
"People are starting to defend their rights," said Dink–hoping for "great changes."
"The activities of the diaspora–the Genocide resolutions passed by other countries every year–have contributed to the growing consciousness in Turkey," said Dink–who also attributed much of the growing recognition of the Armenian genocide in Turkey to the Kurdish struggle for national rights there.
"The government used to say–’We don’t have Kurds or a Kurdish problem. Those people fighting up in the mountains are actually Armenia’s,’" said Dink. "And to prove their assertions–they would publish photographs in newspapers showing the uncircumcised corpses of the defeated fighters. The Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan was referred to as ‘The Armenian Bastard.’" Dink said that one of the first things his paper did was to prove a certain priest who appeared in a government newspaper photo with a Kurdish leader–was not–in fact–an Armenian priest–as was claimed.
"We said we’re going to speak in their language," Dink said of the decision to publish Agos in Turkish as well as Armenian–against the protests of many in the Armenian community. "Since then we began to speak about our history and to counter their lies. We said–’Now–it’s our turn.’"
Dink said that the process of democratization in Turkey can no longer be turned back. "There is a movement to talk about the past and a desire to know what happened to Armenia’s–" he said. One of the unexpected consequences of this movement was that many people in Turkey are now revealing that their ancestors were Armenian.
"On the other hand–the Turkish government has responded with more propaganda," said Dink–citing the fact that four years ago–new textbooks were distributed to all the schools which claim that Armenia’s massacred the Turks.
Comparing the small number of books on the Genocide now being published–with the millions of government textbooks denying the Genocide–Dink said–"My hope is that those 3,000 books will vanquish the governmen’s’ millions." He said that the process of recognizing the Armenian genocide is going to take place from within the country–starting from the general population. He said that outside pressures for change must find a partner from within the country–or there is a danger for extreme nationalism. Dink described a new ideological movement within Turkey which brings together the Turkish and the Islamic identities to form one unifying identity. He also pointed out that the nationalist groups and Islamist groups are competing with one another and as a result attacks against Armenia’s have increased.
Nevertheless–Dink expressed optimism about Armenian genocide recognition. "One day they will recognize that the Armenian genocide has to be addressed. But they will try to delay it and water it down as much as possible."
Regarding Turkey’s entry into the European Union–Dink said–"Turkey is like a young man in love with a young European woman. But by the time a union can actually take place–the man will be old and the woman will be ugly… But love is the important thing. It keeps men young–because they try to look better–act younger–take care of themselves. Joining the European Union is not the important thing–but being in love is important." Dink also expressed his hope that one day Armenia would join the European Union.
Ragip Zarakolu is the owner of Belge Publishing House. Through the publication of books deemed subversive by the Turkish authorities–Zarakolu has given voice to countless victims of injustice whose stories have been silenced–denied–and banned by successive Turkish regimes. The first book on the Armenian genocide which he published in Turkish was Yves Ternon’s–Le Genocide des Armeniens–under the title–Armenian Taboo–in 1994. Later came Vahakn Dadrian’s Genocide as a Problem of National and International Law. When Zarakolu was acquitted of charges against him for that publication–the possibility of more free discussion about the Armenian genocide in Turkey increased.
Among Zarakolu’s other translated publications about Armenian and non-Armenian human rights issues is Mgrditch Armen’s Heghnar’s Fountain–Franz Werfel’s Forty Days in Musa Dagh–Avetis Aharonian’s–The Fedayees–Tessa Hoffman’s Talaat Pasha Trials in Berlin–Peter Balakian’s Black Dog of the Fate–and most recently–Turkish translations of Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story.
Because of his work–Zarakolu spent three years in prison in the 1970’s. His wife also spent several years in prison.
Zarakolu spoke about his first exposure to the Armenian genocide–when his mother–a witness to the deportations–told him about being kept in the house–while hearing Armenia’s being taken away outside.
"My mother said–’The Armenia’s were crying outside–and we were crying inside,’" said Zarakolu. Referring to Turkey’s involvement in WWI as a "stupid–adventurous war of the Ittihadists," Zarakolu said his mother lost both her parents. She was also able to save two Armenian girls from deportation–but the government later removed those girls from their home.
Zarakolu also spoke admiringly of Sarkis Cherkezian–an Armenian genocide survivor born in a Syrian refugee camp who just passed away at 90 years of age.
"We learned many things about the realities of what happened to the Armenia’s," he said of his close relationship to Cherkezian. He said it was because of people like Cherkezian that he is able to write.
Zarakolu discussed the initial years of the Belge publishing house–during which his work was not only banned but received little attention. "We had a press conference for our collection of writings of the first reports on the Armenian genocide–but there was no coverage in the press," said Zarakolu.
Since then he has withstood a constant barrage of criminal charges–further imprisonment–confiscation and destruction of books–the bombing of his publishing house–and heavy government fines and taxes. His publishing house has endured more than 40 criminal indictmen’s. Zarakolu is currently being tried for publishing George Jerjian’s History Will Set Us Free–and Dora Sakayan’s An Armenian Doctor in Turkey: Garabed Hatcherian: My Smyrna Ordeal in 1922.
Economic means permitting–Zarakolu hopes to publish the Turkish editions of the Blue Book from the United Kingdom–Armin Wegner’s testimonies–Captanian’s testimonies–and a selection of Zabel Yeseyan’s works–as well as a photographic documentation of the Armenian deportation to the Syrian Desert.