BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Nope, this article is not about the new movement that’s working to take back the reins of government from Wall Street. It’s about a strange juxtaposition, somewhat jarring, that exists in our Armenian reality. It struck me on the two days of this past weekend.
I, with my youngest brother to keep me well behaved, went to check out the “Anatolian Cultures and Food” festival (October 6-9) held in Orange County and the bitterness of occupation slapped me resoundingly. This festival is a huge production. I find it hard to believe it is the doing, exclusively, of the Pacifica Institute, whose name was plastered all over the place. I’m convinced the Turkish government has a hand in this (especially since a similar event has already taken place in Melbourne, Australia). That same Turkish government currently controls our lands, so they get away with representing the history, reality, and culture of the region any which way they please. Hence, that bitter taste of occupation.
Imagine, ambling down a walkway created by walls of history. One side is written in English, the other, Turkish. Hittites, Phrygians, Turks, and all other occupants of Asia Minor (NOT just Anatolia which, as Richard Hovanissian pointed out recently, includes Anatolia and the Armenian Plateau/highlands; the Turks are conflating the two for their own nefarious reasons). Except, of course, we, the Armenians, are largely missing. How is that possible? How is it possible to tell the story of the Roman conquest of the Eastern Mediterranean without ever mentioning Dikran the Great? It’s eminently possible if you’re a liar, a historical revisionist, and a genocidal state striving at all costs to avoid accountability.
After the walkway, on the right (the south end of the festival area), the visitor is treated to reproductions (images printed on material attached to framing) of parts of the Topkapi palace with pictures of various artifacts inside. There was even a reading going on, from what I assume was the Quran. Upon leaving this exhibit, I was struck by the size ofthe festival area, probably on the order of at least thrice the footprint of the Navasartian Games Homenetmen organizes at Birmingham High School.
Continuing to the right, there was a food preparation show, with audience participation, going on and dozens of dishes pictured on the wall. Next door were some booths— Pacifica Institute, books, the Turkish Journal, and the like. Then, the visitor turns right into the food area with various vendors and some on the spot preparation in traditional ways. Unfortunately, there was one booth with an Armenian name. This may be good or bad, and I’ve already encountered arguments on both sides of the issue. Regardless, it’s bad because it was not done in consultation with our community institutions. A substantial stage for various dance troupes and other performances bounds the packed food area on the north.
Beyond lay the most frustrating and insulting exhibit… a representation of Akhtamar. This is the height of cultural thievery, despite mention of Armenians as the builders, though as minimally as possible. Comically, the texts describing the church alternately used its correct name or the Turkified “Akdamar”, sometimes in sequential sentences! This is a clever Turkish revisionist tactic, essentially saying “yeah, there are these things called Armenians, and a few of them were around, even built a church, but they ain’t worth much mention beyond that”. They thus insulate themselves somewhat from criticism, but must be called out for every gimmick they use.
After Akhtamar, Constantinople, and other exhibits (all photographic representations as I described Topkapi) are laid out on the northern end of the festival area. Interspersed are booths with stone carving, carpets, various locales soliciting tourism, etc. The northwest corner was set up as a children’s playground. Finally, the western part had numerous booths selling handcrafts, more tourism-hawking towns, and, what might be the most interesting booth in this medley… an FBI and DEA recruiting station!
But the festival exhibits are not the only aspects of the festival that jarringly drove home the occupation of our homeland. The positive propaganda garnered for Turkey is immense. I heard lots of Farsi being spoken, followed by Arabic, three families speaking (Western) Armenian, and I saw many East Asians and Europeans wandering, gawking, and sampling. Add to this the lecture series proffered on Saturday and Sunday which not only gave an intellectual veneer to this propaganda-fest, but included a lecture by an Armenian titled “Cultural legacy of Armenians in Anatolia and in the Ottoman Empire”. For the same reasons as above, this presentation was out of line. It allows Turkish propagandists to claim “even-handedness” when we appear at their affairs. But again, I emphasize, the biggest problem with this is that our community institutions were not consulted, while the speaker’s biography referenced leadership posts held in some of our organizations. This makes the organizations unwitting accomplices to Turkish propaganda.
On the other end of the spectrum was liberation. The Artzakh Development Group had organized a conference on Sunday at the Glendale Public Library. Unfortunately, I could only attend the first half. It was very informative with discussions of development, propaganda activity by Azerbaijan in the scholarly war over that part of our homeland, and the diplomatic front. The lineup of speakers was impressive, as you’ve seen in media reports. But mostly, it spoke to me of the possibilities that open up for progress towards a free, independent, and united Armenia, when we actually control our lands and even more importantly… when we live on them.
Next time, let’s thwart the Turks’ taking advantage of the occupation of our lands.