BY HAYKARAM NAHAPETYAN
If Turkey ever officially faces the Armenian Genocide, the recognition will begin from the East of the country and not from center or West. The City of Diyarbakir, the “capital” of Turkey’s Kurdistan, is the most advanced city in Turkey in terms of facing the historic reality of the Genocide. Indeed, the role of human rights activists and intellectuals of Istanbul and other settlements should and cannot be underestimated. But there is no political administration, other than the authorities of Kurdish-populated ones that would openly speak of what had happened to the Armenians and call for repentance.
Diyarbakir’s administration established street signs in Armenian language, opened Armenian classes in 2012, the Seftali street officially renamed Megerdich Margosian street, who was a prominent “bolsahay” (Istanbul Armenian) author. On November 13, 2011 Nursel Aydogan, member of Turkey’s parliament (meclis) from Kurdish HDP party from Diyarbakir, submitted a petition to rename the Sur district of the city to Dikranagerd: the historic Armenian name of the place. According to parliament’s website the petition is still under discussion at the Internal affairs commission.
Eighty percent of “diarbekirtsis”, who attend the Armenian language classes, are reportedly Islamized Armenians. They used to be called crypto-Armenians before. Not in Diyarbakir anymore: in historic Dikranagerd more locals unveil their Armenian roots, even convert to Christianity and baptize at Armenian-Apostolic churches – turning from crypto-Armenians to new-Armenians. The deacon of Diyarbakir’s newly-renovated St. Giragos Church Armin Demerjian himself, until recently had a very much different name: Abdur Rahim Zorusselan.
Diyarbekir’s municipality supported (also financially) the reconstruction of city’s St. Giragos Armenian Church. Apparently, Turkey’s government also has a record of reconstructing an Armenian spiritual temple: the Holy Cross church on Akdamar island of Van in 2007. However, Ankara authorities attempted to make a show out of it by putting huge Turkish flags (but no Armenian Cross) on the church. And certainly there was no Armenian flag on the whole island. The Turkish government refused to open the border-gate even for a short period of time or arrange a direct flight from Yerevan to Van for the opening ceremony day. The Armenian delegation from Yerevan had to drive all the way through Georgia.
But Diyarbakir leaders did not strive to make a PR out of church’s reopening. The reconstruction of St. Giragos was rather a step to approach their Armenian fellows and to reconcile Turkey with Turkey’s past. “Pari yegaq dzer dune” Armenian posters were seen in the city during the ceremony.
The Kurdish leadership, including the one in Northern Iraq, has truly invested lot of efforts in democratization. Kurdistan has fairly good chance to turn into the locomotive of democracy in the Middle East. According to The Economist, “Democracy in the Kurds’ region, though imperfect and tainted with corruption, functions far better than elsewhere in Iraq.”
Iraq’s Kurdish leadership sent a delegate to Paris in March, where the Congress of Western Armenians was taking place. A member of Iraqi Kurdistan’s parliament Ali Halo apologized for the Kurdish participation to the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian language has become one of the official languages of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Kurdish authorities could take one more historic step in terms of bringing the Turkish Republic and society closer to facing their history. Diyarbakir has a chance to become the 1st city of modern Turkey to take position on recognizing and condemning the Armenian Genocide. Out of 92 members of Diyarbakir’s city council about 60 belong to Kurdish BDP party. Although the city council involves several members of the ruling AKP party, who theoretically should resist such recognition, the BDP politicians apparently outnumber.
On April 24th six non-governmental organizations held commemoration in Diyarbakir and called for recognition of the Armenian Genocide. “It has been a century-long time that the political vision of CUP leaders put a disgrace over our shoulders”, Kurdish leader Selahettin Demirtas stated at the ceremony next to the ruins of st Sarkis Armenian church. Although different Kurdish public and political figures in Turkey have made statements openly calling the events of 1915 a Genocide, there was no formal recognition by any administration of Turkey since Raphael Lemkin had coined the term.
It would be very much proper and fitting to vote for such resolution in 2015, the centennial year of the Armenian Genocide. In past, there were many occasions when the Armenian Genocide has been recognized on city council level: Edinburg (Scotland, UK), Cardiff (Wales, UK), Batak (Bulgaria), Milan (Italy), Rome (Italy), etc. In fact, the formal decisions adopted by various Italian city-halls eventually turned to be a major boost pushing Italy toward formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide in November of 2000. Will the same scenario work for Turkey? It may, or it may not. But in any case, it would be the right thing to do launching an important process in modern Turkey.
Hundred years after 1915 Dikranagerd could change history and make a critical stride toward healing the pain of the Armenians, and promoting the piece between the Armenians and Turks based on truth and justice.
Indeed, this will be a huge step in bringing democracy and openness to Turkey itself.