By Raffi Arzouhaldjian
Recently a concert by Russian pop singer Filip Kirkorov has been cancelled in Yerevan after protests by student groups charging that the entertainer is "pro-Turkish" because he sings Turkish songs–denies his Armenian descent–wears clothes with the Turkish flag–etc. This Turkophobic phenomenon exhibited by Armenian youth in Yerevan today is very similar to the worrisome anti-Armenian intolerance that is being practiced in both Turkey and Azerbaijan. These trends cast a dark shadow over regional integration–peace & security–and play into the hands of regional powers. Additionally–they play a disservice to Armenia’s fragile democracy–as true democracies need not only to have free and fair elections–but also represent the rule of law and the protection of basic liberties of speech–assembly–religion–and property.
Over the last century–the Armenian political agenda has been hijacked at several milestones by ethnic hatred and hollow nationalism. While remaining a strong advocate of Armenian rights–I would like to invite Armenian youth today to contemplate on their actions of intolerance towards Turkish culture. Having a 93+ % homogeneous Armenian population within the borders of ones country does not negate the fact that we are condemned as a nation to live next to 68+ million Turks on the West and 7 million Azeris on the East. Additionally–it is very natural–that even in the absence of diplomatic relations–goods–services and culture (the new US embassy construction project–for example–is partly using Turkish contractors) to flow between Turkey and Armenia. Ignoring these basic facts of geography is purely myopic. And being intolerant of a neighbor’s culture is borderline racist–and an unacceptable projection of values on the future of freedom that we struggled so hard to get in Armenia.
After all–what would have happened if Filip Kirkorov’s–one third previously sold out- concert–was allowed to go on for his Armenian fans in Yerevan? How threatening would it have really been and why? Projecting cultural tolerance by Armenian youths would have sent a strong message to the artist and others across the borders that "cosmopolitan" Armenian patriotism is radically different from its neighbor’s Kemalist narrow brand of intolerant nationalism that continues to suppress minorities like Kurds and Alevis–and is attempting to join the EU without changing. Armenian youth movemen’s in Armenia and around the world can pursue a struggle for justice–while distinguishing it from "demonizing" an entire nation and its culture. We should be able to be tolerant–without feeling diminished.
Ethnic hatred has no place in critical–modern Armenian political thinking. The civilized platform to resolve our political differences is not to pick on an artist that has decided to hold a concert in Yerevan and perform some songs in Turkish: The political arena for the struggle for justice is in world tribunals–global parliamen’s and–most importantly–in the court of public opinion. On the eve of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide–more than ever–Armenia’s need to differentiate between the Turkish state policies on one hand and Turks and their culture on the other. In this context–an important paradigm shift for Armenian youth organizations–like the Nigol Aghbalian youth Union that boycotted the concert–is to become more aware of the old paradigm of seeing "Turks and their culture" as an identity threat and move into a new cultural space in which cultural diversity is accepted–without necessarily labeling it with ethnic phobic adjectives.
Today–the issue of the Armenian genocide has erupted again in Turkey–as one of the Republic’s key challenges on its road to further democratization. Unlike our grandparents’ generation–who could not help but view Turkey from the perspective of individual & communal losses after the Genocide–our generation needs a wider and more sophisticated view of Armenian-Turkish relations. Given the climate of public discourse that is coming out of Istanbul’s small but emerging civil society–Armenian youth movemen’s cannot imitate the monolithic positions of the establishment in Ankara and its Armenophobic policies. Being anti-Turkish on the eve of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide should not necessarily be equated with being a patriotic Armenian. We have too much to do for Armenia–and no energy to waste on being anti-Turkish.
Raffi Arzouhaldjian is a Graduate candidate–Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy