News > UAE Armenians > Armenians in the UAE express cautious optimism
By Abbas Al Lawati
Dubai: As the relations between Turkey and Armenia are set to thaw with the historic visit of Turkish President Abdullah Gul to the Armenia, Armenian citizens in the UAE supported the move while members of the diaspora expressed cautious optimism.
For Anahit G, an assistant manager from Armenia, the "open mindedness" on both sides was a welcome move, but "pending issues" could not be ignored.
"We can't change our neighbours. They are a reality," she said, noting that the closure of borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan and instability in Georgia had put Armenia under a virtual "blockade".
"But for us to forgive them, the Turks need to admit to the genocide," she said, referring to the killing of some 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans during World War One.
But citizens of the Republic of Armenia say that it is often difficult to justify their pragmatic positions to the Armenian diaspora, which has stronger anti-Turkish views.
Anna Kandaryan, an Armenian sales executive, said that while it was necessary not to forget the killings, it was also important to think about the future of Armenia.
"Diaspora Armenians have been personally affected by the genocide and have been reminded about it continuously. They want nothing to do with Turkey," she said.
"But the business potential between Armenia and Turkey is huge".
While diaspora Armenians too welcomed the move, they stressed the need to keep the memory of the killings alive.
For Vartan Mardirossian, an Iraqi born Armenian business consultant, Gul's visit will open more windows and enable dialogue on the killings.
"I have Turkish friends here. I can tell a hundred of them about the genocide and that would be an achievement. Imagine what a million Armenians could do," he said.
For Hrach Kalsahakian, a Syrian Armenian in the tourism industry, if the two sides wanted real normalisation, they needed to discuss "all the issues, including the genocide".
"Personally, I think normalisation is very important for both sides. But at what expense?" he said.
For Armenians, he said, the killings were not a matter of discussion, but a fact. "We [the diaspora] are living proof of the genocide". His grandfather, Kalsahakian explained, was the only member of his family to survive the killings.
Kalsahakian however said he was not interested in "any kind of material compensation" that Turkey fears will be demanded. "I just want moral compensation. I want the memory of my people to be acknowledged and respected. I am not vengeful," he said.
Source: "Gulf News", Dubai, 09 September 2008
Photo: Armenian football fans cheer during the World Cup 2010 qualifying match between Turkey and Armenia on 06 September 2008 (AFP photo). Many fans were wearing recognize Genocide T-shirts.
Besides the news taken from international sources and news agencies, UAE press highlighted the recent developments in the Armenian-Turkish relations with additional coverage by staff writers and syndicated articles.
Local English daily "Khaleej Times" published on 09 September 2008 an article by former Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, where he concludes: "Beyond the emotional impact of President Gul’s visit to Yerevan, real improvement in Turkish-Armenian relations requires opening the two countries’ closed border – the last in Europe. Or, for a start, the existing railroad link between the two countries could be made operational. If this does not happen within the coming weeks and months, then Turkey will have demonstrated that all this was just a show. President Gul’s visit does mark a watershed – either as a failure to make history, or as the beginning of a new era." See full article here.
Another English daily "Gulf News" published on the same day (09 September 2008) a quick survey by reporter Abbas Al Lawati (see article above) titled "Armenians in the UAE express cautious optimism", where several Armenians living in the UAE expressed their personal views about the recent visit of the Turkish President to Armenia. All agreed that the Genocide should not be forgotten and that if Turkey is sincere in its approach, it should not avoid the historical aspect of its relations with Armenia, without underestimating the importance of upgrading the current relations for the benefit of both sides.
In the same issue "Gulf News" devoted an editorial on the subject of the Armenian-Turkish relations, in which it tried to please both sides, as a result some of the sentences lacked clarity and were unbalanced. An example would be the following sentence: " There is much to forgive on both sides." The article was vulnerable also in regard of some historic facts such as the following sentence: "Before the First World War, historic Armenia was part of the Tsarist empire, but hundreds of thousands of Armenians lived in the neighbouring rival Ottoman Empire" (Note: Modern Armenia was best known in pre-WWI period as Russian or Eastern Armenia, while the other part of Armenia was referred to as Turkish or Ottoman or Western Armenia, both part of Historic Armenia or the Armenian Highland). Below is the full text of Gulf News editorial:
Brave start needs to become a solid process
Gulf News, United Arab Emirates
Sept 8 2008
The historic visit to Armenia by Turkish President Abdullah Gul is a chance to start a new era between these two peoples who have had a poisonous relationship based on decades of hatred, fuelled by massacres and memories of persecution.
Before the First World War, historic Armenia was part of the Tsarist empire, but hundreds of thousands of Armenians lived in the neighbouring rival Ottoman Empire.
However, the cause of the present day hatred lies in the chaos in the Ottoman Empire as it lost the First World War, when the Armenians say that 1.5 million of them were massacred between 1915 and 1917 in an orchestrated attempt at genocide; while the Turks say that 500,000 Armenians were killed (as well as many Turks) in civil war as parts of the failing Ottoman Empire tried to succeed.
These accusations were frozen for decades as the Armenians lost their independence to the Soviet Union in 1920, and the Turks tried to cover up the killings. However, after Armenia's restored independence in 1991, all the hidden fury came back to the fore. It was fuelled by Turkish support for Azerbaijan (Azeris are Turkic in origin) in the war over the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh surrounded by Azerbaijan, during which Turkey blockaded Armenia and only stopped after peace was declared.
It is important that a new spirit is built between these two historic neighbours. The Turkish President has taken a brave step in starting the process, but his single visit has to turn into a solid process. This will require the Turks to persevere and the Armenians to respond, which will not be easy for either. There is much to forgive on both sides. Strong leadership in Turkey and Armenia is needed to overcome resistance from the more intransigent sections of their populations.