BY KHATCHIG MOURADIAN
From The Armenian Weekly
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey—The city that only a few weeks ago hosted several thousand Armenians during the opening of the Surp Giragos Church is squarely confronting its past again this weekend.
From Nov. 11-13, Diyarbakir hosted a groundbreaking workshop on the social and economic history of the city and its surrounding areas from 1838 to 1938, tackling head-on the fate of the region’s vibrant Christian minorities.
The workshop, organized by the Hrant Dink Foundation and the city’s metropolitan municipality, opened on Nov. 11 with a powerful speech by Mayor Osman Baydemir. Diyarbakir, he said, was the third most economically vibrant city in the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, but was relegated to the 66th position in the decades that followed because of the destruction of its Armenian and Assyrian population.
Baydemir said he saw the conference as yet another attempt by the city to truthfully confront its history. He then went beyond and said the municipality is currently engaged in an effort to return properties confiscated from minorities to their rightful owners, or provide equivalent land elsewhere if the particular land is currently owned by a third party.
Baydemir underscored the municipality’s efforts to reclaim some of the city’s past multi-cultural vibrancy, and noted how calls to prayer from mosques and the sound of church-bells are mixing once again in Diyarbakir today.
The effort to renovate houses of worship also constitutes an effort to renovate the conscience of people and confront the past, he said.
“This city,” he went on, “belongs to Armenians and Assyrians as much as it belongs to Kurds.”
Ankara University professor Baskin Oran delivered the keynote speech, titled “The State, the Muslims, and the Non-Muslims, 1839-1938.” The opening session also featured comments by Rakel Dink, Ali Bayramoglu, Cengiz Aktar, and others.
Speakers at the workshop included genocide scholars and Ottoman historians from Europe, North America, and Turkey. David Gaunt, Raymond Kevorkian, Vahe Tashjian, Hans Lukas Kieser, Barbara Merguerian, George Aghjayan, Seda Altug, Janet Klein, Jelle Verheij, and Ayhan Aktar were among the participants.
Live-feed blocked in Turkey
The conference was broadcast live on the Web site of the Hrant Dink Foundation. Yet, live-feeds from the foundation’s website were blocked in Turkey—a reminder of how far behind the Turkish state is compared to Diyarbakir and the hundreds gathered there for the conference.
The video of the conference will be made available online.
Khatchig Mouradian is the editor of the Armenian Weekly