Protesters oppose hosting of Turkish Deputy Prime Minister at LA World Affairs Council Event
LOS ANGELES: On Monday, October 21st, hundreds of Armenians gathered at the Intercontinental Hotel to protest a presentation by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Ali Babacan. The protest was organized by the Armenian Youth Federation Western Region and the Unified Young Armenians.
Hosted by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, the event was a means for the government of Turkey to present their economic and foreign policy, including US-Turkey business relations and the future of economic investment in the region. Community members marched along the busy Los Angeles street during the evening’s rush hour traffic, voicing their concern and frustration over the LAWAC’s hosting of the genocidal Turkish government, given its continued track record of human rights violations.
“The fact that a representative from the government of Turkey was given a platform in L.A., from which to spread false propaganda about all the ways in which Turkey is a shining example of democracy, and in order to win the hearts and dollars of potential investors, is a complete outrage,” said AYF Executive Director, Stepan Keshishian. “As American citizens who value freedom of speech and expression, ethnic and religious freedom, and the protection of basic human rights, we cannot allow economic interests to overpower our values and beliefs. The government of Turkey does not respect and uphold the values that we regard as inviolable and fundamental to American society, and the democratic world must awaken to the policy of intolerance that guides their foreign and economic interests,” Keshishian added.
While the protest was in full force, the dinner-presentation commenced in the Grand Ballroom, where LAWAC President, Terry McCarthy, opened the evening with a tasteless joke about there being hundreds of people outside who apparently thought they would get to see Kobe Bryant (Bryant formerly held an advertising deal with Turkish airlines). McCarthy then introduced Ali Babacan, who addressed his dinner audience with a speech on Turkish foreign and economic policy.
Following the speech, the participants were granted a brief Question & Answer session with the Deputy Prime Minister. All questioners hinted at corruption and disregard for human rights within Turkey. Babacan was asked whether he feels that businesses investing in Turkey should worry about collateral damage on their public image as a result of Turkey’s human rights abuses, including its crackdown on peaceful protesters at Gezi Park—which is built on the grounds of a confiscated Armenian cemetery—having the highest number of jailed journalists in the world, its support for genocidal regimes, such as Sudan, its imprisonment of Kurdish children, its illegal occupation of Northern Cyprus, and its continued active denial of the Armenian genocide. Babacan responded that he did not know how to answer because there were too many issues brought up. He then touched upon the Gezi Park protests, stating that ‘Turkish police overreacted in their reaction to the peaceful protestors, but they did what was needed to be done.’ On the topic of the Armenian Genocide he stated that there needs to be a historical commission established in order to examine whether or not the death of 1.5 million people, the displacement of countless others, and the appropriation of vast amounts of businesses, properties, and wealth could possibly constitute a genocide.
In closing, Terry McCarthy stated, “we have speakers from all spectrums of contentious issues and as a non-partisan organization, we don’t endorse the viewpoints of the speakers we host.” However, the AYF and UYA are outraged by the LAWAC’s blatant disregard for the interests of the community; implying that the Armenian Genocide is a viewpoint is akin to hosting a denier of the Jewish Holocaust. “The Turkish officials and their paid mouthpieces must clearly understand that, until the Government of Turkey accepts its responsibility for the Armenian Genocide and makes appropriate moral, financial and territorial restitution, a progressive and enlightened Los Angeles can not welcome them,” stated Aroutin Hartounian, President of the UYA. We, as the Diaspora and as Americans, stand in firm opposition to entertaining and developing relations with representatives of a government that, since its inception, has systematically disregarded and violated these basic liberties.
Founded in 1933, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and most influential Armenian American youth organization in the United States, working to advance the social, political, educational and cultural awareness of Armenian-American youth.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - As I approached the Cercle d’Orient amidst the hustle and bustle of the Beyoglu district of today’s Istanbul, I could not help but remind myself what happened there the night of May 21, 1915. It was in this building where Krikor Zohrab was playing cards with Talat Pasha while bargaining the latter to set free those Armenian notables who were apprehended just a month ago and sent to unknown destinations in Anatolia.
Krikor Zohrab on the balcony of his Istanbul home. Photo courtesy of the Charents Museum in Yerevan via www.iatp.am
That night, Zohrab came to the table with his own cards to play. A skilled negotiator, he sincerely believed that he could haggle his way with Talat and save as many lives as he could, even if that meant his own. After all, there appeared to be a glimmer of hope. Just a week before, Gomidas and others were set free and returned to Constantinople. Zohrab felt that this was a giant breakthrough which he could take advantage of.
After the tense atmosphere subsided, the card session ended unusually early that night. Upon saying their farewells, Talat stood up and unhesitatingly gave Zohrab a kiss on the cheek. “Why such affection?” Zohrab asked. “Oh,” Talat responded with a smile, “I just felt like doing it.”
I started the walk from Cercle d’Orient down Rue de Pera (now Istiklal Avenue) to Zohrab’s residence, the same walk he took home that night. I walked slower than usual. My feet were becoming weary and shaking, as though they were weeping in some strange way. I thought about what Zohrab was thinking while walking back home that night, through these streets alone, with the burden of millions of people on his shoulders. Was he confident? Was he confused? No one will ever know. But we know of one thing, the walk home that night, was to be his last.
After walking down the winding road that leads up to the Zohrab family residence, I had a sensation of just running away. I knew that in front of this eloquent building, built by an Italian architect through the commission of Zohrab himself, were guards waiting to arrest him. I had the pleasant opportunity of entering the house. Zohrab, on the other hand, did not.
I took the long flight of stairs leading up to the top floor of the building, and to my surprise, it has now become a hotel. “How may I help you?” asked the receptionist upon seeing me. “I came to see this building,” I responded hesitantly, “it used to be a residence owned by a distant relative of mine.”
Almost instantaneously, the entire staff turned their heads towards me and listened to every word I had to say. Like some sort of magician, I felt as though I was going to unravel a show. I was to talk about a past, much more distant than it actually seemed.
A member of the staff broke the ice, “let us show you around and please, tell us more about your relative,” he said out of sincere curiosity. “Please,” I said, “just take me to the balcony.”
Kirkor Zohrab’s house, now a hotel. -Garen Zazanc
This was the balcony where Zohrab wrote much of his writings. Here, Zohrab would return from his tumultuous daily activities, and concentrate on what he loved most: writing. The Bosphorus, with all its beauty, laid out in front of him, encouraging him, inspiring him.
It was this very balcony, which his daughter Dolores yearned for so much, as she wrote in her memoirs, thousands of miles away in exile. With her father killed and her entire family exiled, she wanted nothing else in this world, but to sit on this balcony, next to her father, while he wrote his next short story, and as she enjoys the scenic view.”His name was Krikor Zohrab,” I responded, while gazing fixedly at the scenery.”What did he do?”
After much silence, the man appeared to think I was exaggerating. “That’s impressive,” he simply remarked.Turning towards him I replied, “He was an engineer, lawyer, professor, journalist, politician, short story writer, philanthropist, husband, and a father of four.”
“You’re not here to reclaim this property are you?” he asked in a rather serious tone. Amused by his question, “No, heavens no,” I assured him, “this was private property that was sold right before the family fled to Europe.””Fled?” he asked cautiously.
“Yes,” I responded briskly, not being in the mood to explain.
The balcony used to be one long stretch, but it is now divided into separate rooms, each having their own piece of the magnificent view. The designers of the hotel did a remarkable job of keeping the original framework of the structure intact. Much of the additions to the building can be easily removed since they aren’t fixated on the walls. Their intentions were to retain as much of the original structural characteristics as possible. I especially thanked them for their attentive efforts.
After taking a few photographs of the view and the balcony, the man invited me to have a cup of tea. I agreed. The rest of the staff also arrived. It happened to be their tea break.
I showed pictures of Krikor Zohrab on my phone and answered their questions about his life and works. Then they asked, “When did he die?” “1915,” I responded. They stood silent, almost ashamed.
I began to wonder, was this the first time that the dreadful year of 1915 was uttered in this building since that very year? I felt like this was an interrogation of some sort. A scene of a murder, where in some odd twist of fate, the murderers were interviewing me.
But no, that was not the case. These were human beings, much like myself, who were curious, curious the same way I was when I first started reading and learning about Zohrab myself. After much discussion, it was time for me to go. I thanked all those that gave me the wonderful tour and provided their delightful hospitality. As I was leaving, I was still awe-inspired by the magnificence of the structure, with its scenic views and elegant design.
Have they put the portrait up? I don’t know, and quite frankly, I don’t care. Another visitor of the hotel can provide those updates. But this personal experience was neither about the portrait, nor the scenic views. This was about a man, whose influence and power still resonates with us today.
He was a man full of wonder, to say the least, who saw the world not only as a writer, but as a lawyer, politician, professor, and more. I happened to live just one day of his life, but it felt like a lifetime, which reminded me that he is someone we can still learn from, whose skills and talents still amaze us until this day.
Today, his bones remain lost and yet to be found: unfitting for a man of such stature. But that should not matter. He is so awe-inspiring that his influence will be everlasting, much like his short stories, speeches, and residence, with all of its magnificence and splendor as well.
The five pillars of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) represent the goals and importance of the organization: Cultural, Educational, Political, Social, and Athletics. The weekend of October 4-6, 2013, over ninety participants from across Eastern region, along with members from Montreal and Florida, convened at AYF’s Camp Haiastan at AYF Senior Seminar 2013: Stand Up, Stand Together for Artsakh.
Without a doubt, it is always heart-warming to witness Armenian youth gather around a unified cause; however, the ambiance at Senior Seminar set a more meaningful tone to our great organization. Not only was it instilled in us to continue to stand in unity as the Armenian Diaspora, but the motivation and inspiration to be active members in our respective communities weighed deeply throughout the weekend.
The Central Educational Committee (Narineh Abrahamian, D.C.; Tamar Alexanian, Chicago; Nairi Khachatourian, Boston; and Talene Taraksian, Providence) organized a fulfilling weekend balanced in educationals, activities, and political activism. Lecturers included Nanore Barsoumian, assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly, Michael Mensoian, professor at University of Massachusetts-Boston, and Unger Mourad Topalian, former chair of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
With Artsakh as the central theme of the seminar, Nanore Barsamian shared stories about both Armenian soldiers and Artsakh locals, including the inspirational story of Stepanakert resident and caretaker of Artsakh’s military museum, Galya, who has devoted herself to honoring her fallen son, one of our many lost soldiers. Professor Mensoian discussed the abundant resources in Artsakh and Armenia and their importance in strengthening our homeland economically. He focused on how homegrown, Armenian products are sometimes undervalued or ignored, while products from abroad are often desired. During the seminar, ANCA-ER Executive Director Michelle Hagopian and ANCA National Board member Steve Mersobian instructed AYF members on how to make phone calls for Congressional hopeful, Peter Koutounjian. The seminar participants then led a phone banking session to help the Middlesex County Sheriff get elected to Congress.
The always inspirational Unger Mourad Topalian spoke about two very moving topics: first, about “inside baseball” between Armenia, Artsakh, Russia, and America discussing the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake and second, about the passion and fire he shares with the youth to realize a free, independent, and united Armenia. Unger Mourad opened his heart and shared his words of wisdom with the participants, lighting a fire in each and every member, stirring an eternal dedication to our organization and our homeland.
While AYF Senior Seminar spanned only a weekend, the discussions that came about throughout proved that our members will take what they learned and share their knowledge and aspirations with their respective chapters. The seminar ended on a high note, as members played a makeshift soccer-volleyball game, danced the traditional shoorchbar to the melodies of the AYF’s very own Yerakouyn Band, and nestled by the campfire, even under the rain. It was a weekend where we not only learned a great amount, but also left our chapter “cliques” behind and bonded as a single group in fraternity.
AYF Senior Seminar: Armenian Youth Standing In Unity for Artsakh