Living On

Armen is heavily missed. His absence left a hole in independent observation of the political and economic risk situation in Latin America. Beyond the merely analytical though his work was wide-ranging from Armenian philanthropy and social observation of Latin and European lifestyles through to being a "fly on the wall" at the Cannes Film Festival every year and reporting back on the more exotic foibles of the international jet-set.

We miss his wit, his sense of history and his bon mots (in French, Armenian and, even, Turkish). Armen was very much a product of the Levant but then, like so many other Levantines, converted to an international stage where they offer insight into all around them. This record tries to humbly accumulate his collected writings for public consumption so they can be preserved and appreciated for the urgency of the moment in which they were written to the timelessness of the observations.

How best to categorise the uncategorisable? Maybe Armen could be described as an Armenian/Anglo/Franco Samuel Pepys for our times.....

It is ironic that ultimately it was the very mediocrity and self-satisfaction of the Chilean "system", which he documented so thoroughly, that brought about his tragic end.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

A TRIBUTE TO HRANT DINK Sacrificed on the Altar of Freedom of Speech

I am devoting this week's paper to the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul last January 19. The reason is that the act represents an affront to freedom of speech which transcends the Armenian cause. We know at our cost that the latter is of little interest to most non-Armenians. I am spurred in writing these words by the fact that the Chilean audiovisual press totally ignored the event, and the written press gave it a perfunctory mention. Far beyond the Turkish assassin and his backers, there are a number of other accomplices, by design, neglect or omission. An old Armenian curse on all of them. 


I write these words with Hrant's visiting card in front of me. It is entirely written in Turkish, describing him as Gemel Yayin Yönetmei (which roughly translates into General Executive Publisher). I was glad and honoured to meet him in Yerevan last September, when he was a much-applauded speaker at the Diaspora Conference I attended. I told him that even the Chilean press had mentioned his tribulations with the Turkish authorities, and asked him if he had any plans to visit Latin America. He said that indeed he had an invitation from the Armenian community in Buenos Aires (the largest in Latin America), which he was hoping to take up in 2007. I gave him a copy of my private-circulation study on the Geopolitics of Armenia, and insisted that he should add Chile to his itinerary. It was not to be.


I heard about the murder an hour or so after it occurred, following a call from a foreign ambassador friend in Santiago, who had seen it on CNN. For the next 24 hours, the US network ran it as its top story. I quickly updated myself of the known facts, and realising that I was most probably the only person in Chile to have ever met the victim, I got in touch with my three favourite medias: Radio Cooperativa, CHILEVISION, and El Mostrador. In each case I explained what had happened (none of them had watched CNN or looked at agency wires over the past 2 hours, it seems). In coming days, they totally ignored the event, even though several of them have been prosecuted for revealing the truth on many scandals in Chile..El Mercurio did publish a letter of mine, after cogitating about it for five days. I then started receiving articles, comments and agency reports from various sources. The ones from Anglo-Saxon countries had obviously not absorbed the enormity of what had happened. They continued to use euphemisms such as the "massacres", or put "alleged" in front of Genocide, or the word itself with quotation marks. The same medias who have no hesitation whatsoever in calling Genocide the killing of a few tribesmen here and there, still cannot bring themselves to use when it comes to the Armenians. CNN at least gave the story the importance it deserved, and interviewed people in Turkey itself who had no qualms in using the G word. Reuters had no balls, as usual. The current issue of The Economist has a leader on Dink, but not a single article, or letter, and the Obituary is dedicated to some Ugandan spiritist. The leader speaks about "horrors" against the Armenians, halves the number of victims, and declares itself against the penalization of negationism (understandably, otherwise most of The Economist staff would be in jail by now).

Hrant Dink Armen Kouyoumdjian

I have been a reader of The Economist for 36 years, and I have stoically withstood their blinkered support of Thatcherism, their lack of concern for the evils of the free market, followed by their mercenary backing of the Bush administration's foreign policy. However, when they started taking the Turko-American-Israeli silver pieces to rubbish the Armenians, I have decided to call it a day. When my subscription comes to an end next May, its Executive Editor Daniel Franklin is going to get a piece of my mind, jointly with my cancellation.

I have to single out the BBC, that paragon of international journalism whose total cost to the British taxpayer is higher than Chile's defence budget. Some months before the latest events, I was in correspondence with its European Editor, Mark Mardell, to complain about the "allegeds" and "genocide with quotation marks" notes on their website. His answer was very revealing. He said that as an "independent" organisation, they had to give all points of view, including those of the Flat Earth Society. When I asked him whether this generous pluralism applied to the Jewish Holocaust, there was a pregnant silence. After Dink's murder, when the "allegeds" and the "genocide with quotation marks" reappeared, I graphically reminded him of his sin of omission, and the fact that we were not The Flat Earth Society. He got offended at my language. Troppo Vero, as the Pope told Michelangelo. Oh how the British and the Chileans are alike in their verbal mariconeria…No wonder men in both these countries have tremendous sexual hang-ups! As they say in Turkish, tembel pezevenkler..

At least, Hrant Dink was oppressed by Turkish legislation talking its own book. The world media whose careful euphemisms encouraged his murderers, had no such excuse.


Though the new US Congress with its Democrat majority has another resolution before it recognising the Armenian Genocide, it has little hope of succeeding. The last one under the Clinton administration was withdrawn from the floor of the house half an hour before its assured vote, for "reasons of national security". The Bush administration has gone even further. Last year, it fired its own career ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after the courageous diplomat said at a conference that it was high time to stop playing word games. A tribute to him will take place at a Los Angeles dinner on March 4. In his place, the president named one Richard Hoagland, who again had semantic problems during his Senate confirmation hearings. Everyone expected that a more objective person would be proposed instead, but GW has gone on and re-proposed the same Hoagland!

It was a good few months for disseminating the Armenian cause. Pamuk's Nobel prize in literature last October, and the proposed French legislation to penalize Genocide negation, aired the matter to all corners of the world. However, people should know that the said legislation did not have the support of the French government, which in fact was hostile to it. Though France is currently hosting the Year of Armenia, it is obviously doing it, as we say in Armenian about the unenthusiastic, with half its mouth.

Award-winning French-Armenian film director Robert Guediguian launched a new film last year, called "Voyage en Arménie". For all practical purposes it is an uncontroversial French film, about modern Armenians seeking their roots, and the relationship between the Diaspora and the Republic of Armenia. It won a prize at the Rome Film Festival last year. I thought it might be a good idea to screen it here, as an offshore activity related to the Year of Armenia.

Hrant Dink Armen Kouyoumdjian

Having obtained the enthusiastic backing of the chief commissar to the Year of Armenia in Paris, and the producers of the film, I approached the French embassy's cultural department, copying all my correspondence to the ambassador. They did not even answer my message, despite three reminders, and when I really got angry, they said they had decided that the film was "of no interest to the local market", and did not think it even necessary to inform me. Just in case you wonder, anybody who has anything to do with French diplomacy has been eliminated from my distribution list. It was a painful affair. Three generations of my family were French civil servants (two of them in Turkey, as it happens), but I do not accept messing around with the Armenian cause from anyone. Some years earlier, The Canadian embassy, which has a 5-strong "cultural" department, refused to have anything to do with the film Ararat, even though it had won the prize of top Canadian movie the year before.

Last but by no means least, we have to return to the shameful collaboration (in the WWII sense of the word) between the State of Israel and the Turkish authorities. The former have sought the help of the Jewish Diaspora in their evil deed, with varying degrees of success, but this may explain the hostility of some press organs to the Armenian cause. Anyway, what do you expect from a country who has a convicted multiple rapist as a president. At least in Chile we only have pederast senators.


The outpour of sympathy from ordinary and not so ordinary Turkish citizens, the strong condemnation in much of that country's press, and the massive crowd at Dink's funeral, might optimistically indicate that maybe the negationists in Turkey are a minority, held in ignorance and abeyance by nationalist forces which have dominated the country's politics for the past century. It is early to say how the wind will blow, but considering that Dink had been attempting a rapprochement and not a confrontation, even criticising Diaspora verbal extremism, maybe something good will come out of this mess.

As did Dink, I also support the negotiations for Turkey's entry into the EU, but probably because I am not as nice a person as he was, my purpose is more Machiavellian. I think the negotiations should be actively pursued, during which time Turkey will have, by law or by pressure, to change its policies and attitudes. Once that is achieved, they would still probably not get in (if only because of opposing referendums in some countries). The Armenians would have meanwhile had their Genocide recognition, the Republic's border with Turkey would have been opened, and even the Karabagh conflict may have found a solution. The rest, quite frankly, we should not care about, insomuch as few people have cared about us in the past 92 years.

Already, in the past few days, I have seen documents circulating on the web, from non-Armenian organizations, using the Dink murder as another excuse to stop Turkey entering the EU. One of the first things Nicolas Sarkozy said after being designated his party's presidential candidate, is that there was no room for Turkey in Europe. One of his chief advisers is Patrick Devedjian. To stop negotiations now would only strengthen the hand of nationalists and make things worse for the Armenian cause. Let us play the game for a while and fleece the opponent's chips one by one, rather than kicking the table.

No comments:

Post a Comment