The Literary Salon

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Diplomacy and Carleton

Quite an interesting day, so I will be as concise and organized as possible. First, my remarks on Carleton (first time I'd ever been there), followed by the lecture by a Turkish diplomat, Mr. Aktan.

The Carleton campus is not without its charms, but it really reminded me of York, that is, the things I don't miss about York: It is in the middle of nowhere, immured by tree after tree. The library resembled an aiport more than anything given the sheer volume of noisy students (again, the parallel to York here). By comparison, UOttawa's library looks more professional, doesn't have cafe in the basement, and has all the noise of a monastery compared to Carleton's. All I can say is that I'm content here at UOttawa, and I would prolly go nuts at Carleton (I'm also told, by people who attend Carleton, that it's not a very intelligent campus, but I'll leave that alone). Although it is silly to argue that any one school (e.g., UofT) is free of idiots, I found their presence far more conspicuous at York. In fact, the main distinguishing feature of the York idiot is that he/she boasts or makes public their idiocy, whereas at UofT, they would not be proud of it. These are, of course, generalizations.

On to the political part of my day. I've copied and pasted my reflections (as well as my involvement) that I sent to a friend via email, which were written very quickly, so please forgive in advance any spelling errors:

Remarks on Mr. Aktan's lecture today

The lecture was attended by approximately thirty to forty people. As far as I could tell, there was not a large Armenian contingent: apart from myself, there were three others, two of whom...were very vocal, thus making up for the disparity in numbers.

Mr. Aktan's lecture was interesting but, as especially Aris showed, flawed and full of contradictions. Being a diplomat, Mr. Aktan had an answer to just about every question, but often an unsatisfactory one (in some cases, he would change the subject somewhat).
I didn't take copious notes, but I did make a note of some of the problems of his lecture (I think Aris did a pretty good job of noting the problems). Here are some of the ones I noted:
-He started by saying the word Genocide was coined decades after the genocide, and that Armenians "discovered" it in the 60s. Of course this is ridiculous: the term "Holocaust" did not exist in 1945. Did the Jews also "discover" it?Mr. Aktan was right about one thing (something I was already aware of): the Armenian Genocide (AG) was not the first of the 20th century: the German massacres of the Harraris of Africa took place in 1908. Still, this, like many of Aktan's arguments, were irrelevant.

-Aktan made the mistake, like so many other deniers, of conflating the concepts of genocide and conflict. He would constantly refer to a "conflict" that took place between Armenians and Turks.

-When it came to numbers, Aktan was irrelevant and contradictory. He demonstrated that Armenians themselves are not sure of the population of Western Armenia at the time. According to Turkish statistics (collected for tax purposes), he placed the figure at about 1.3 million. Thus the claim that 1.5 million Armenians perished is exaggerated to say the least. As I'm not a historian, I couldn't argue this, but he himself went on to demonstrate that in the former Yugoslavia, a mere 8000 Bosnians were massacred, and this in fact constituted Genocide. Thus, if the number killed is irrelevant, it seems strange that he would spend so much time on this issue (Vahe brought this up, and Aktan didn't have a good response).
Aktan claimed that there was no anti-Armenian sentiment in the Ottoman Empire around WWI. During question period, I told him that Fatma Gocek, a Turkish in the US, spent half her lecture in Toronto last year demonstrating the opposite.

For my second comment to Mr. Aktan during question period, I told him that he failed to mention the International Association of Genocide Scholars, an impartial, non-political body of scholars, which, earlier this year, had sent a letter to PM Erdogan, telling him that the body believes as uneqivocal the historic truth of the Genocide. Aris Babikian furthered my point by telling Mr. Aktan that, although he constantly referred to third party intervention, he was ignoring the IAGS, which is a perfectly suitable third party.

On the whole, the event was interesting and both sides parted amicably. Questions and comments were raised without any antagonism.

For what it's worth, there were a few people (one of whom was Kurdish, and the other possibly Turkish) who expressed hesitation in believing Mr. Aktan's version of history. They were also suspicious of Turkey's side given their recent dealings with Kurds, etc.


Blogger psychgrad said...

They don't call it "last chance U" for nothing...

Nevermind...I'm just being mean.

8:42 PM  

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