BY TAMAR KEVONIAN
A recent column from these pages traveled the wide highways of the internet and found a home on another Armenia related website. The notice popped up in my inbox and, curious, I clicked on the link. First I noticed the advertising for a singles website, then, in the process of looking for the text of the column, I scrolled down the page where my attention was captured by a bright orange banner ad for the Anatolian Cultures & Food Festival.
Anatolia refers to a region in the world that is part of Asia Minor (the eastern end of Asia) – from the Black Sea in the north, the Mediterranean Sea in the south, the Aegean Sea in the west to the Taurus Mountains in the east. Today it is considered part of Turkey, who inherited it from the Ottomans who wrestled it away from the Armenians, who were preceded by the Byzantines and so on through the Romans, the Greeks, and all the way back to the Hittites. Armenians refer to the area as Giligia.
The website is well designed and informative. Its sponsors include the Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce, West America Turkic council, Westwood One, OC Weekly and Turkish Airlines amongst many others. The festival is organized by a non-profit group called Pacifica Institute, established by Turkish and American community leaders in Los Angeles to introduce Turkey and Turkish culture in a “unique way, from past to present.” Its mission is to “foster peace and honor diversity through DIALOG, and multicultural interaction.” The capitals are theirs, to emphasize the key points of their beliefs.
“With a VISION of a collaborative society based on shared human values, Pacifica connects with other like-minded, non-profit organizations and provides opportunities for cooperation among diverse groups. The Institute also organizes conferences, panels, and art activities in pursuit of intellectual interaction.” It went on, stating it greater mission.
“Pacifica supports the IDEALS, of Turkish members of the community to converse their own culture while adapting to the local society. In addition, it introduces authentic Turkish culture and history to communities across California.” I was perplexed by its claim of authenticity while the site layed claim to so many of the cultures in Anatolia.
“Pacifica Institute organizes many activities by working together with likeminded nonprofit organizations in order to familiarize the real Turkish CULTURE and Turkey to Americans, foreign nationalities, and especially Californians.”
Reading this inspiring description of their work, I couldn’t decide if I felt anger or envy welling up inside me.
Located in the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, it is a 15 acre complex complete with a food court, a children’s area, a performance stage, reproductions of Turkish iconic architecture such as the Gates of Cilicia, the fountain of Ahmet III, and a corridor of beautifully prepared banners educating the attendees of the history of the cultures found throughout Anatolia’s past, punctuated by volunteers in exquisite period and cultural costumes of the various eras.
“Festivalgoers included local Orange County and Los Angeles residents and ranged from Americans, Turks, Armenians, Greeks, Middle Easterners and Indian ,” announces the press release. It seems last year’s inaugural festival attracted 30,000 people and received significant media coverage. And why not? It was a well prepared, interactive, informative and visually impressive display that appealed to Southern Californians’ desire to have fun. This year’s event seems to be gearing up for more of the same.
The Turkish-American community had come together to present themselves to the larger community in which they resided. This allowed their friends and neighbors to learn about them in a nonthreatening environment while fostering friendship, cooperation and support.
I racked my brain to think of a similar event organized by the Armenian community in which an impressive display of information, food, music, architecture, and all other elements that make up a culture, were organized specifically to present to those unfamiliar with the nuanced richness of the Armenian existence.
Although the festival claims support by the Organization of Armenians in Istanbul, the participation of Armenian dance companies and musicians and many Armenian attendees, the site itself offers very little information about the people whose footprint so heavily impacted Anatolia.
The list of civilizations includes the Ottomans, Seljuk, Byzantine, and Roman Empires along with the Urartu, Hittite and Ionian States. Armenians’ impact is referenced briefly with the words “The Urartus mixed with other tribal nations and formed the Urartu nation. Some sources refer to the Urartus as ancestors of the Armenians. The Urartu people are called the people from ‘Ararat’ in the Torah.”
With that brief sentence, they took care of a thorny subject that only really matters to a small, select few. What did I expect? After all, this festival is called “Discovering Turkiye” and they have the power to choose whatever information serves their goal. Their presentation has wide appeal and positively portrays the current state of Turkey. As a result, they appeal to the mass media which helps them spread their message.
The Turks have mastered the art of diversification. Their approach has gone beyond the scholarly and political arenas into the mass market where current perception and image matter much more than historical accuracy. Demonstrations, hunger strikes, marches, banquets and athletic events serve us by keeping the Armenian spirit alive within ourselves but make no inroads in the context of the society in which we live. We still have not managed to package ourselves in an outer layer that is appealing to our neighbors when all our outreach efforts to the masses center on the topic of our fight for Genocide recognition.
It is no coincidence that the largest Turkish festival in the United States does not take place in a city with the largest Turkish community but in a part of the country with the largest Armenian community. It may be a consolation to think Armenians have them worried but in the popularity contest of public opinion, it seems we have fallen far behind and are losing the war.