Saturday, April 22, 2006

Conference about Turkey - a Review

Attended this conference with my wife today.

First speaker was Professor Peter Riddell.

He started with a handout listing "10 Arguments For" and "10 Arguments Against" Turkey in Europe under three heads :

1) Economics
2) Politics and
3) Religion and Society.

A helpful framework.

Then, he spoke for about 30 minutes giving an overview of Turkish history over the last 1,000 years or so.

Actually, it was more an overview of Turkish migration as it happened to impinge on the Byzantine Empire.

Plenty of colour coded maps on Powerpoint made it a strongly visual presentation. We were told at the beginning that there were representatives present from the Turkish Embassy. I'm wondering what they thought of all of this.

Anyway, Riddell was followed by Baroness Cox. I was familiar with her by reputation as a champion of Christian causes in the House of Lords. This was the first time I heard her speak.

However, I have to admit I was greatly disappointed. She began with the events of 1915 involving the Armenians. She read through a script that seemed to have been taken from an encyclopedia or prepared by someone else for her benefit.

The Powerpoint presentation was liberally dosed with black and white pics of bodies of dead emaciated children (presumably Armenian) lying on roadsides.

After her talk I told her I could probably find someone in Turkey who could give the same presentation but with different bodies (i.e. Turkish ones).

I don't think she got my point that this kind of exercise only fans hatred on both sides and doesn't get anybody anywhere. But what bloody politician ever does ?

As a Christian I would have expected her to demonstrate a more godly perspective in terms of fairness.

I am not an expert on the international events of that period but there are three things I know for sure : 1) Britain and Russia were at war against the Ottoman Empire 2) the British PM and Foreign Office of the time gave active encouragement to the Armenians to revolt against the Ottoman authorities and 3) Armenians armed by the Russians engaged in raids against some Turkish villages.

She closed her talk by invoking the words of the Lord Jesus about knowing the truth and being liberated thereby --- grossly out of context and self-serving.

Her presentation became more personally engaged (and engaging) but perhaps no less one-sided when she started talking about current events involving Nagorno Karabakh, a semi-autonomous Armenian province within Azerbaijan.

There are always two sides to any story and she was deliberately just giving us one.

The visitors from the Turkish Embassy were not impressed either as the question session later revealed. All questions had to be submitted in writing. One of their questions referred to Arnold Toynbee's book on the Armenian catastrophe as "propaganda" which Baroness Cox rejected in the absence of any proof to that effect: fair enough.

Another asked her whether she would label ASALA (an Armenian organisation) as a "terrorist organisation". Since the questioners were diplomats I understood exactly what was being asked here. And so did the Baroness, of course. However, she was strangely reluctant to apply the label (because it fits the diplomatic definition of "terrorist organisation" used by international bodies) but only gave some indirect response saying she repudiated terrorist acts no matter who committed them.

She was not so reticent about labeling her target group with the word "genocide" despite the fact this term is :

1) a legal term carrying jural consequences
2) defined in the late 1940's and early 1950's and
3) cannot be applied retroactively.

I think, therefore, the term "catastrophe" in regard to what befell the Armenians during that period is more appropriate. This was the term used by the next speaker Ziya Meral. And ,it should be used as a minimum by all who desire genuine reconciliation.

Mr Meral's talk was packed full of facts, tightly reasoned argument and tightly reasoned conclusions. We were told all the papers might one day be available in print. I sure hope so. I do look forward to getting a hold of a copy of Mr.Meral's paper.

Ziya Meral is a Turkish Christian post-graduate student in sociology at the LSE focusing on this very topic. His talk revolved around a detailed psychological and sociological analysis of the processes of "denial" , "acknowledgement" and "reconciliation".

While the Baroness's presentation came close to being an outright demonisation of Turks, Mr. Meral's presentation was ,as a Turk, humbly realistic, full-orbed and fair to Armenians and Turks living at the time and also to us living now under the current circumstances.

As I said, his presentation was chock full of facts. One of the highlights was his use of LSE Professor Stan Cohen's studies on "denial". But he also added some original analysis of his own on top of Cohen's thinking on the subject which again shows what a bright and original thinker he is.

I, as a Turk, must admit was also glad to hear the result of the work produced by his able assistant Miss Google in 4.5 milliseconds on the expression "Western Armenia" : "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone". (Are you reading this, Baroness?)

The final lecture before lunch was given by Professor Anthony O'Mahony. It was a very metaphysical discourse with too little factual content. The highlight, I suppose, was his anecdotal account of a 24-year old electrician named Faruk who upon learning that his Armenian ancestors had "passed" as Muslim during the atrocities had now decided to take on an Armenian name (Garabet) and reclaim, once again, his Armenian identity.

Professor O'Mahony made absolutely no reference to the indigenous Christian churches consisting of converts out of the Muslim population. None of the other speakers made any reference to these Christians either. Perhaps this was beyond the scope of this symposium; however, this is a serious failing for LST which presents itself as a Gospel institution.

The agenda, dwelling so heavily on ethnicity and ethnic fault lines as it did, masked (i) what the gospel of the Lord Jesus is (ii) who the Lord Jesus is (iii)what He accomplished and (iv) what He expects from His followers.

This really saddens me because there is the real danger that in fighting the wrong or peripheral battles the Christians of this country will not be advancing but actually undermining the Great Commission.

I've been around for almost 50 years, am a well traveled person having lived and worked in three different cultures and countries. I, more than others perhaps, can from my personal experiences appreciate the need for all peoples no matter how different to work together and to understand one another regardless of race or creed.

However, xenophobia and prejudice have a nasty way of embedding themselves in things like this.

It goes to show how man left to himself will mess things up -- even Christians claiming to be doing the Lord's will. Man does and will always mess it up badly.

That is why I am a pre-millenial realist and not a post-millenial "optimist"...

... but that is for another day and another post.

Be well.


Miles said...

was not so reticent about labeling her target group with the word "genocide" despite the fact this term is :

1) a legal term carrying jural consequences
2) defined in the late 1940's and early 1950's and
3) cannot be applied retroactively.

I think, therefore, the term "catastrophe" in regard to what befell the Armenians during that period is more appropriate.

At ar recent discussion ver this in our school this arguemnt and others was used by a local group to stop the calling of the massacres of the Jews a "genocide."

After all according to the three criteria cited the massacres of the Jews during the upheavbels of World War Two can't be called genocide as this is retroactive.

It is a shame that we had to stop callig the events agaist the Jews a genocide, as well as add work by people how say the allegations of scope and official sanction by the Nazis may be overblown or false, but one persons view of "genocide" is anothers of simply civilian deaths during war.

Celal Birader said...

Dear Miles,

Thank you for your comments.

Of course, Jews themselves have always refused to link, associate or in any way equate what befell the Armenians with what happened to them during WW2.

Similarly, we could also ask, for instance, whether the British government has ever 'apologised' for the tens of thousands of civilian deaths as a result of Bomber Harris firebombing Dresden during WW2? etc. So you can understand poeple's sensitivities.

In another day, Haman tried to destroy all the Jews and Jesus also said people would hate his followers "on account of me" and warned that Christians would be killed and that those doing the killing would think it was "a service to God".