The Museum that May Never Be


 

By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenians are hell-bent angry at the destruction of the Martyrs Monument and church in Deir Zor at the hand of Islamic zealots at the bidding of the Turkish authorities. That anger is compounded by global  indifference in the face of such barbarism.

The US government was able to muster the forces of 80 countries and thus formed a coalition to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Turkish government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is thumbing its nose and blatantly helping ISIS forces, despite having nominally joined the coalition against them.

The once-thriving Armenian community in Aleppo, Syria, and the Deir Zor monument have always represented wounds to the Turkish government, which was waiting for an opportunity to destroy them. The war in Syria, mostly instigated by Turkey, provided the golden opportunity to make their move. Much like the Young Turk government, which used the cover of World War I to execute a long-planned extermination of its Armenian population, Erdogan used Turkey’s surrogates to decimate the Armenian community in Aleppo and the Martyrs’ Monument in Deir Zor.

Similarly, the Turks have been watching with alarm the formation of an autonomous Kurdish enclave on their border, around Kobani. That city at this moment is bearing the brunt of the ISIS offensive, using weapons and intelligence provided by Turkey.

Our anger is rightfully directed at Turkey and its surrogates.

But today, we have also to address another facet of that anger, which must be directed at ourselves.

The occasion is the eve of the Genocide centennial, which we will face unprepared. We do not have yet a worldwide plan to create major political impact. Armenia is forming its own centennial committee involving anybody and everybody from the diaspora. The United States, where Armenians enjoy the broadest freedoms to engage in politics, has two centennial committees, with no visible coordination between them.

Thus far, all major projects which would have some political significance, have been mired in embarrassing controversies and failures.

Take the Armenian Genocide Museum in Washington, which began with heavenly promises but ended up in lawsuits and acrimonious  public exchanges. It was too good to be true to see just a handful of benefactors contribute millions to build a Genocide museum within earshot of the White House. It is futile to sort out who was right and who was wrong. The fact is that the museum will not be ready by the centennial.

The Turkish government, which has hired high-powered lawyers and public relations companies to react to every Armenian initiative, certainly was not indifferent to an undertaking of this magnitude. Conspiracy theories are rife and it would be naïve to think that the Turkish government was an innocent bystander. We have to wait for the next wikileaks or Edward Snowden leak to find out the Turkish role in this debacle. But Armenians are equally at fault in this melee.

The latest news brings a glimmer of hope in the museum project. A news release issued on October 13, 2014, in Minneapolis, where the Cafesjian Family Foundation is based, stated, “The Cafesjian Family Foundation has engaged a leading philanthropic and fundraising consultancy to conduct a feasibility study for the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial in Washington. The decision follows the recent conclusion of lengthy legal proceedings around the Washington properties intended for the project.

“Kathleen Cafesjian Baradaran, chair of the Cafesjian Family Foundation, noted that the feasibility study is a required first step for the project of this scale. ‘The study will serve as the foundation for an international fundraising campaign to make the dream of the museum and memorial a reality,’ she said. ‘The goal is both to renovate and reimagine the downtown Washington location, where the story of Armenians will be told to the current and future generations.’”

The late Gerald Cafesjian and his Cafesjian Family Foundation have brought world-class art to Armenia and state of the art museums at the Cascade in Yerevan. If the same vision is extended to the Genocide museum, an equal splendor may be anticipated.

But still, a serious question remains: why should the fate of the museum remain at the mercy of one family or one foundation, no matter how charitable, when it must be owned by 1.5 million Armenian martyrs and 10 million survivors and descendants? We hope the public will be rewarded with the answer to this existential question.

Another scandal germain to the Genocide issue erupted when teams of Armenian lawyers successfully sued New York Life and AXA insurance companies, winning a compensation of $37.5 million. The money was awarded to the surviving descents of the Armenian policyholders. But instead of consolidating on our success, we witnessed a flurry of accusations and counteraccusations between these legal teams, overshadowing the victory. The Turkish authorities must have had a field day when the victory degenerated into vindictiveness.

Now comes another piece of news from Pasadena, reporting that William M. Paparian, the former mayor of that city, has announced his resignation as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Pasadena Armenian Genocide Committee, amidst allegations that the board treasurer had provided fraudulent information on his background along with a slew of other accusations. Should you ask that unnamed treasurer, you will certainly hear a different story. But rather than getting to the heart of the story, one should only consider the public relations aspect of the controversy; the centennial is around the corner and Armenians are still engaged in self-flagellation. That is the only moral of the story.

While Armenians are staging these scandals around the world, what are the Turks doing? The government of Turkey has long taken the challenge very seriously. The chief architect of the Turkish reaction is none other than Ahmet Davutoglu himself. Now that he has the state apparatus at his disposal, as Turkey’s prime minister, he can conduct his campaign more effectively. We have yet to learn what is in store for 2015, but Mr. Davutoglu has the bull by the horn.

To stifle any public exposure of the Genocide issue, Mr. Davutoglu has been planning a huge international affair to celebrate the centennial of the Gallipoli campaign, where Turkey scored a dubious victory, under Mustafa Kemal, while losing the war. The Australians and New Zealanders will be playing into the hands of the Turks. Finding no other serious occasion for the birth of “national consciousness,” these two nations have decided that Anzac Day marks the birth of their nations. The truth is that Australians and New Zealanders were brought to Turkey by their British Colonial overlords to serve as cannon fodder at Gallipoli (Chanakkale).

Mr. Davutoglu’s other undertaking has been to take the time and develop a historical theory, justifying why the Ottoman government had to exterminate the Armenians. His thesis was published in the Turkish Quarterly, which received an appropriate response signed by Gerard Libaridian.

Since we are at a point dealing with scholarship, we need to record that the only significant achievement could be considered the scholarly volumes published by Armenian and non-Armenian scholars. Ironically, most effective among those scholars have been those of Turkish and Kurdish extraction — Taner Akçam, Ugur Umit Ungor, Murat Belge, Halil Berktay, Fatima Muge Goçek and Elif Shafak. If course, Armenians and other nationalities have also contributed significantly to the Genocide scholarship, despite the fact that the Turkish archives have not been available for them, contrary to the Turkish government assertions.

The major art film on the Genocide again is by a Turk, namely Fatih Akin, who just released his sensational film, “The Cut.” Atom Egoyan’s “Ararat,” which preceded “The Cut,” was a good movie, but as a Genocide film, it pulled its punches by creating unnecessary abstractions.

As far as grandiloquent gestures are concerned, it looks like President Serge Sargisian’s invitation to President Erdogan to visit the Martyrs’ Memorial on April 24, 2015 will have the same fate as the similar gesture of football diplomacy; and Charles Aznavour, who is planning to accompany Erdogan to Yerevan, will be forced to take a lonely trip.

The Turks have been watching Armenians to determine the fault lines — which are all too obvious. They will be extending some bait, like Erdogan’s “condolences” to further confuse Armenians. Now that Mr. Davutoglu has engaged veteran journalist Etyen Mehcupyan as his chief advisor on Armenian affairs, he will be in a better position to package his false message.

In view of the disarray throughout the Armenian world, the Turks cannot contain their glee, because most of the damage that they were contemplating to cause Armenians is already being done to themselves by themselves.

Talaat Pasha, the executioner of the Armenian nation, is reported to have said that he will give such a blow to the Armenians that they will not recover for a hundred years.

He is also reported to have said that he will leave one single Armenian in the world to serve as a museum artifact.

Come to think of it, that museum may never be.