BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
It’s almost as if our compatriots in Bolis are working mightily to restore their home city to it status of a century-plus ago when, along with Tiflis (Tbilisi), Georgia, the two cities served as Armenia’s “capitals” – and really, from the point of activism, education, intellectual ferment, reform, religion, revolution— they were! Unfortunately, in the political-governmental sphere, the Armenian Highland was bereft of an “on-site” focus given the (then) five-centuries-plus non-existence of Armenian statehood. Never forget, Bolis is more of an Armenian city than Turkish. One third of Byzantine emperors were Armenians. After the Turks captured the city, we were still among the main artisans, builders, financiers, and merchants that made the city great.
You might wonder how I could possibly even think such a thing with so few Armenians left in Bolis, along with the Turkish occupied portion of the Armenian Highlands, Cilicia, and Asia Minor. But that may be exactly why there’s so much happening there, the repression and “oblivion” forced upon Armenians through successive Turkish regimes’ policy. There may be an unspoken, understated, “we’re not gonna take it any more” attitude permeating our persecuted compatriots.
Here are the examples, both specific and general, very recent and somewhat less so, that have led to this thought and the article attempting to elucidate it.
On October 27, Robert Haddejian completed 50 years of service as the editor of “Marmara” (named after the sea separating “European” from “Asiatic” Turkey, of course) which has been published in Bolis since August 31, 1940. The very next day, Zhamanag (“Time”), the longest continuously running Armenian language daily newspaper (a distinction held by Boston’s “Hairenik” until economics forced it to go weekly several years ago), published in the same city, celebrated its 110th anniversary.
The 36th Annual International Istanbul (sic) Book Fair, held in early November featured numerous books about Armenians, the Genocide, and Armenian issues.
There’s the ongoing saga, perhaps better referred to as a farce, of the Patriarchal elections, which have been stalled for months on end because of the Turkish authorities’ shenanigans, enabled through the power-hunger of certain individuals within our community. Then there is Garo Paylan’s involvement in in Osman Kavala’s (prominent businessman and civil society activist) unjust detention by the Turkish authorities.
Of course this brings us to one of the medium term examples of Bolis’ intensity – producing three Armenian members of parliament, IN TURKEY, in the June 2015 Turkish election. Also on the political front, Elmas Kirakos and Taylan Yildiz are founding members of a new Turkish political party, Iyi Parti (Good Party), led by Meral Aksener. Aksener is touted as a serious challenger to Erdogan in the next Turkish presidential elections. But, most recently, she was in the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Movement Party), a chauvinist party usually associated with the Grey Wolves, a paramilitary youth group which has conducted many attacks. This seems like a strange place for Armenians to be. But then, Selina Dogan, one of the three Armenian members of Turkey’s Büyük Millet Meclisi (parliament) is in the CHP, the party of Ataturk and Markar Esyayan is in the AKP, Erdoðan’s party. Politics does indeed make for strange bedfellows.
Add to the above medium term trends embodied in open commemorations of the Genocide, Crypto-Armenians coming out of hiding, Kurdish recognition of the Genocide and active embrace of Armenians, the progressive (primarily Kurdish) HDP and its positions on matters Armenian, the difficulty which Islamicized Armenians face when trying to re-adopt Christianity. All these ultimately lead back to Bolis.
In these more trying times of Erdogan’s ascendency, let’s not forget our compatriots who are holding down the fort for us in old Bolis (Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul). If you have remote or close relatives there, keep up, strengthen, or reestablish your connections. Let’s make sure they do not feel alone. Let’s make sure they are well integrated with and attuned to the web of Armenian life that spans the globe.