Richard Hovannisian Lecture (Eye Witness Account)

The following is an excerpt of a Turkish-American who attended a lecture given by Richard Hovannisian, an Armenian scholar who focuses on recognition of the Armenian genocide.

On Sunday when I arrived at FAU where R.Hovannisian's second lecture would take place, one of our friends was standing at the door with a big poster with pictures of all murdered diplomats. Just as I arrived one Armenian woman said to her "more should have been killed"!

So I walked in and saw the same crowd as last Wednesday, group of older Armenians who had taken most of the first . . 3-4 rows. There were many Turks as well sitting in different places. So a girlfriend & I decided to put the fliers I had prepared on the empty chairs. Once we finished that, we started handing it out to the Armenians who were already seated. First group took them, but then by mistake I came by the same guy who had called a friend "odun kafa" (wood head) last Wednesday & when I handed over the flier he tore it up, crushed it & gave it back to me saying "we don't need no bloody Turkish propaganda". I said, "it's not propaganda, if you care to read you might learn things you didn't know. It would help open your eyes because you continue wearing horse blinders". Then another one said to me "you are all brainwashed since you were 7" I said "you are mistaken it's not us who are brainwashed but yourselves". By this time, his wife, who at the last meeting was also screaming "your grandparents murdered my family" got up & started yelling & calling me "murderer".. So I said "we're not murderers. Educate yourselves" & walked away. I was shaking like a leaf with anger & disbelief at such hatred in these people's eyes & voices. When I was walking away an elderly gentleman held my arm and said "don't let them get to you".

Then this same bitchy woman jumped up & went to collect the fliers we had distributed on the chairs, so I also went & started collecting them to save the fliers.. Whatever she collected she tore up & threw away. So I gave whatever was left in my hand to another Turk at the door to distribute to newcomers. My other friend who was helping distribute the papers also faced obstacles. One guy kept throwing the papers on the floor, and she kept collecting them, then one of them said his last name was "Allahverdian" (God gave ian), to prove he even took his driver license out & showed her. He spoke perfect Turkish and said he goes to Turkey every year and because of his last name they always welcome him with open arms every where. So she said "see Turks treat you so good each year you go there and yet look at this animosity over here, do you approve of it?" And his response was "but Turks killed many many people".. Then one of them said to her "Ataturk is responsible of all this", so when he said that my friend really got upset and said "if Turkey is a free and modern country today, we owe it all to him, and I'm proud to be a Daughter of Ataturk". So he said in return "how can you be proud, he's not even a Turk he was born in Greece and he had 6 fingers!" My friend says, "none of these people look into your eye when they speak", so she kept telling them "look into my eyes when you speak".

Then more & more Turks started coming, young ones, old ones.. We made up at least 1/3rd of the room, if not more. There was a map on the screen which showed half of Turkey as Armenia.. Before the lecture started one of our girlfriends went in front of the map and shouted "this is a wrong map, I protest it". So the Armenians started shouting "if you don't like it then get out" etc.. The presenter this time was no longer Alan Berger, who directed the last lecture disastrously, but another Professor from India. At the end he did give a chance to a lot of our people to ask their questions.

Hovannisian's lecture was mainly about the trip he made to Turkey back in summer of 2006 along with his wife and the Turkish scholar no other than Fatma Muge Gocek. He said they flew to Baku & then came to Trabzon where they all met. They had a driver who was a Hemshin, and the driver knew they were being followed by security people from the government. So he showed slide after slide of torn down churches and monasteries which he claimed belonged to the Armenians but that the Turks vandalized, dynamited and destroyed these churches so not many were left standing today. At one point one of our people said "sir how come you fail to mention the earthquakes? In many of these places several very serious earthquakes leveled the villages over the years" Hovannisian, with his ever present sarcastic smile, didn't say a thing & went on with his show of churches. He then arrived in Van, where the Akhdamar church is restored, instead of saying the restoration was paid for by the Turkish government which cost them millions, he said some non-descriptive stuff & only mentioned that the proud architect was a Kurd! Throughout his speech he tried to pinpoint how now the Kurds are also agreeing that Turks are bad bad people and that these places belong to Armenians. He seemed to have a great time, without any problems and yet he did not want to admit this openly. He ended his speech with him meeting Hrant Dink in Istanbul, who told him he was being threatened and he left the picture with the two of them on the screen for the remainder of the day.

The Indian professor let several Turks ask their questions. We were applauding the questions so at one point Hovannisian said "it seems like at a football match today". Most questions from our side included calls for truce, peace, friendship. One Turkish-Armenian got up, apparently wife of the very wealthy Armenian from Boca who actually sponsored this event, and said many things like she grew up in Turkey, had no problems etc etc but ended with "once Turkey recognizes the genocide we will all become friendly again"!! One Armenian said the Spaniards kicked out the Moors, so why would it be wrong for the Armenians to try capture back their country! In a way, this confirmed what we've been saying all along, that they started the uprising to get independence.

While the slide show was going on, one guy was taking pictures of Turks. The girl who had protested the map said to this guy "you have no right to take my picture", she even complained to the policeman. Then in the very back were a group of young Armenians like "izbanduts" as we say in Turkish (huge mean looking guys) and one of them was eventually taken out by the police while shouting obscenities, why I have no idea. Then there was a girl of maybe 16-17, she was red in the face with rage, hatred in her eyes,ready to burst and whenever anyone said "it was wartime" she shouted "there was no war"! Like she was there 100 years ago! She had a t-shirt on which said something like "we survived before & we will survive and form the Armenian union again". It's sad to see such young people so full of hatred that hatred almost blinds them..

After the speech there were refreshments so while eating & drinking we mingled among the people and everybody talked to someone again like last Wednesday. Overall we felt good because as compared to his language last Wednesday, he had really toned down his speech not to include the word genocide as much. Guess he didn't expect to see so many Turks there. Especially because there was a grassroots meeting earlier, almost everyone from that meeting came there as well. This time there were many young ones also who all came wearing Ataturk or Turkish flag t-shirts.

Prior to these two lectures, I had never been to one about the so called genocide with so many Armenians present. Many of us haven't, so it was a whole new experience for most. However, as much as we try to build friendships, soften the mood, they have no intention of doing so. They are so full of hatred it's almost surreal.

Interesting TIPS for Lecture-Attenders!!!!!!!

I find it intriguing that people would be so willing to hate.

For those of you planning to attend lectures like this, please keep in mind several tips:
- Don't get angry, be joyful when discussing the issue, your positive attitude will make you look better. If you're red in the face or angry or shaking while arguing then you will not look good, and you're more likely to make a mistake or not be able to respond to a snappy comment.

- Bring maps, pictures, and documents with you--- preferably in projector-ready form, so that they can quickly post it up, and if they refuse, you can ask them why? you can say "More input from different sources can never hurt, and if it is wrong, you can explain why you think it's wrong."

Most likely they will not let you so don't get too worked up about it.

-If they put up imagery, such as "torn down churches" or massacres or telegrams "proving genocide", then be ready to raise your hand and ask a question.

-If they put up Aram Andonian's forged telegrams, ask them for a direct translation, and if they can't translate then ask them how they know this is what they say it is. If they say it is by Aram Andonian, then tell everyone that it is a forgery, and that numerous Western historians, even the ones that accept the genocide have admitted that it is a forgery.

-If they put up a map of "Greater Armenia", talk about the Treaty of Sevres, and then the Treaty of Lausanne, and how Armenians were promised that land by foreign invaders but later ignored because the Turks had won their independence... DO NOT argue that it is a "false map", it won't work well, but do say that it was a promise that was never realized.

-If they put up torn churches, bring attention to the fact that many churches were damaged by earthquakes, but that most churches were preserved by the Ottomans since they granted their citizens religious freedom while encouraging Islam. Also mention the church in the island of Lake Van, and how the Turkish government funded the restoration project for it. Also mention the numerous Mosques that were desecrated by Armenian rebels and regiments.

-Try to come off as a neutral party (unless you have an accent). You don't need to present and introduce yourself as a Turk, you don't even need to hang out near the other Turks either-- and don't worry, there won't be a "mob fight". The importance is your opinion not your background.

-If they are ripping apart your pamphlets or flyers, tell the cop, perhaps he/she will do something about it, but he/she may not either.

-If they talk about how "True" the Armenian genocide is, then ask why the Armenian government locks it's archives. Also ask why the Turkish archives were opened if there was evidence of genocide?

-If the speaker is not Hilmar Kaiser, Ara Sarafian, or Moudjian (i forget his first name), then ask him why he hasn't visited the Ottoman-Turkish archives.

-If Armenian audience members attempt to portray you as "brainwashed" a "denialist" or "revisionist", respond as such: "Only Nazis suppress differing points of views." Or "You know why Jews don't care about holocaust deniers? Because the Holocaust is proven and can stand on its own, while the Armenian Genocide after 93 years still doesn't have a shred of proof other than speculation by Armenian scholars."

If you have to... Memorize that response. I assure you, they will probably not be able to say anything intelligent afterwards.

It was a sad affair for both parties involved. One is trying to prove its innocence to the other that is full of resentment, sorrow and yes hatred…

New generation of Turks are flabbergasted to the idea that all Armenians might actually hate them for a crime which they had no involvement at all. Why can’t we get along, and love each other as brothers and sisters? Well, this was the basic message Turks were trying to convey while trying to explain their side of the story in the meeting. Unfortunately, the Armenian audience is not ready to . . hear any brotherhood songs yet, until and unless Turks admit what Armenians claim was a systematic and State Sponsored Genocide of 1915.

Whatever happened around 1915 -1918 was horrible. There was a World War 1 going on with its full force, and the World wide influenza pandemic was killing millions as it swept through the Europe. People were dying everywhere, in pain, bloody and without reason.

Once gleaming and powerful Empire, Ottoman, was crumbling with domestic turbulence and external attacks of other empirical powers of the World. This was the golden opportunity for minority leaders to get together with the enemy to claim their share out of the collapsing Empire. Why not? Now was the time.

Mr. Hovannasian had a slide show of Armenian Churches that now look like ruins, around the area where many Armenians used to reside during past 1000 years, together with Kurds and Turks and others. Question should not have been why they were in ruins when the poor locals don’t even have schools or healthcare facilities of their own. Question should be; why do you think after centuries old neighborly relations, suddenly Turks decided to kill Armenians? Actually, these slides were proof that the Armenians were allowed to built their stately Churches and worship their God as they pleased. They spoke their own language without limitations, owned homes, owned businesses, and were quite well off…So, the Mr. Hovannasian’s claims of oppression does not make sense. Then, why did they revolt? Because, they were coaxed by the enemies of Ottoman Empire. They were wheedled into believing that they could have a land which they could finally name “Armenia”, for the first time in history. This was a strong enough motivation for Armenians. But the results were deadly. Local government decided to uproot them and disband these people around the country. This was a logical but dreadful solution. Many died along the way from famine, harsh winter, fatigue, flu and sorrow. Many killed along the way, by the Kurds, Turks and others.

There will be many more meetings of both sides asserting their side of this sad story. Like said, truth has three components; yours, mine and the bona fide…Bona fide component can be proven by the facts of the time documented by the third parties, historians and scientists who are not Armenian nor Turkish. As a Turkish woman, I am looking forward to listening impartial third party testimonials, where I can face my country’s past with dignity whatever the truth is, I can hold my heavy heart and say this is it…I am willing to do this for the future generations’ sake and for my own conscious. But are Armenians? Instead of pushing their version of history to Europe’s and America’s throat by pouring money in political campaigns and one sided historians’ books, they should be willing to face truth that may be, may be Turks were not the enemy after all…And start the healing process between two people, instead of continuing to revive the fire of hatred.

I felt a profound sadness, as I was leaving the meeting. My heart went out to those who lost their loved ones during 1915, and after…For both Armenians and Turks…And I could not believe my ears when I heard that an Armenian woman said ASALA should have killed more Turks…I knew than that we have a long way to go…

Before last week, as a Turkish scholar, I have not heard about Dr. Hovanissian and his claims about the so-called Armenian unfortunate incident that happened in 1915. Being the curious scholar, and a devoted Turkish that I am, I decided to go and hear him about the topic he was covering.

It was the evening of April 6, 2008 at the Florida Atlantic University around 3 30 pm when I arrived to the place. There were mainly above average 60-70 years old Armenians with his relatives who were also walking with us, Turkish people who were going to join the meeting, talking mainly Armenian amongst themselves. Nothing was out of the ordinary, . . mainly bunch of people going to the meeting. From the talk they have with each other, and the gestures, they looked more like they went to the church in the Sunday Morning together, and decided to also join this meeting after lunch. Most of the attendants were mostly like paying a visit to the meeting in order to just socialize.

When we went into the conference room, I have noticed that some of the Armenians were distributing handouts to the empty chairs for the upcoming visitors. I was curious enough to grab one of them thinking that this must be some sort of a document, some sort of a proof of their allegations against Turkish government, or maybe against the Turkish hospitable reputations, known almost for thousands of years against the minorities within the borders of the Ottoman Empire. Not at all, it was the life story of the Dr. Hovanissian. During that time, one of our devoted Turkish friends of our Gulsay Hanim was already holding the banner that had the pictures of the Turkish diplomats who were killed by the Armenian Terrorist organization called the ASALA.

Moreover, some of our devoted Turkish ladies also were trying to distribute the copies of the documents, the proofs that are actually against the allegations, as well as the copies of the pictures of the violent Armenian Militia’s crimes that was committed against the Turkish farmers and families back in that time. The oldest the Armenians were the least tolerant ones against those fliers our Turkish friends were trying to hand out. Some of them cursed, some of them shouted, even some time in the middle of the presentation, the Police has to literally kick one of the Armenians out of the conference room by dragging him outside. Mainly, Aydan Hanim, Meltem hanim, Ayse hanim, Biray hanim, and couple of other Turkish ladies were the ones who were trying to hand out some facts about the issue that is why they were the ones who had to deal with some of the cursing and confrontation with the people.

Then, the presentation started Dr. Hovanissian took almost 1 and a half hour, maybe even two, to show his vacation pictures, and couple of the ruins of eastern Turkey. And he finished with the convenient picture of him and Hrant Dink together shaking hands. Not even one slide he showed that might even be closest to the proof to his allegations, or maybe even a document from any archive, Maybe British, French, or Armenian. The presentation overall has no scholar value what so ever in trying to prove the allegations. Then, Questions started, mainly our Turkish friends, and some of the Turkish associations’ representatives, such as FTAA, and ATAA, asked some questions about the allegations. Mainly, we asked;

• Why does not Armenia want to cooperate in trying to getting together with both sides of the historians and discuss the issue with opening the archives to the public as well as to the international groups who are interested to be a part of the resolution?

On this question, Dr. Hovanissian claims that Armenian archives are wide open. This was apparently news to us and the news to the rest of the world

• What do you think about the fact that before even Turkish side take any action, the Armenian rebels started killing Turkish farmers, and started forming a riot to try to claim the land from the Ottoman empire?

He commented on that vaguely. He said that he would not support any violence against anybody, and he also kind of accepted the fact that the Armenian rebels might have actually had something to do with the unfortunate incident.

The professor who was leading the Q/A period was asking the Turkish people not to commend but just ask the questions, but I guess it differed when Mrs. Batmaciyan (Basmaciyan possibly) took the term and extensively made her comment about the Turkish government needed to accept the blame and start the dialog after that. This was not even a question but for some reason the professor let her do so maybe because she was the woman with the money. She was the woman who brought him here, and supported financially for the event. Mrs. Batmaciyan was actually from Istanbul, and went to the Robert College, and also Bogazici University, and moreover every year she goes to Turkey in order to spend some time with her so-called left-over Armenian family in summer. (So she says! and my heart went “tiki tiki”  for her because of the fact that her left-over family in Turkey were so unfortunate that they had to send her the Robert College and the Bogazici University, vah vah). When I was listening to her, I was laughing inside of how much conflict she even has with herself by still enjoying her summers in the country for which she tries to feed hate others after she turns back to United States with the considerable wealth she already has.

Overall, the answers Dr. Hovennassian gave did not sound anything like the truth. Some of the answers were not even the answers, just his ongoing allegations. He did not provide any document. And most importantly, with the most effective questions we probably prevented him from making any valid point for his accusations. It might not change the minds of the Armenians, but it was definitely a joke to the non-Armenian people in the crowd.

After meeting, one of the families approached me to ask me if I love my country, pointing out the Turkish flag I was carrying. I said;

Then, her son asked me “what do you think about this issue then?”
I said “I don’t believe that Dr. Hovannassian point of view is accurate”.
Then he said; “then, you should read more history” with the tone of a voice that was also accusing me. My reply to him was;

“That is exactly what I did. I did read my side of the story with the supporting documents and proofs from the several different countries’ archives, that is why I don’t believe Dr. Hovannasian”

He did not like the answer, but by that time, I was already friendly with her mom by trying to find her a can of drink because she was very thirsty and those younger Armenians were grabbing the cans even before their mothers and fathers. But my search was successful and I was able to find

The last can of diet soda for that Armenian mother!


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