An Obama hand in Turkish-Armenian talks?

April 29, 2009
Hürriyet is reporting that it was a threat from Barack Obama to use the word 'genocide' in his April 24 speech which prompted Turkey to close the deal in agreeing to a 'roadmap' for normalizing relations with Armenia.  
According to Hürriyet, during Barack Obama's visit to Turkey in early April of this year, Obama threatened to make good on his campaign pledge to recognize as a 'genocide' the events of 1915, in which at least several hundred thousand (and possibly more than one million) Ottoman Armenians perished. Every year, the president of the United States makes an address on April 24, the day in which these events are commemorated, and every year there is speculation over whether or not the word 'genocide' will be used in the address. In not using the word 'genocide' in his address, Obama was sharply criticized by Armenian groups and others for having 'turned his back' on the pledge. 


Caucasus Journey XI: Second week in Tbilisi

April 28, 2009

Things are going pretty well in Tbilisi. In general, I like Georgia a lot. The people here seem very laid back and friendly, and the food is really good. None of this is a surprise after my experiences in Russia with Georgians and Georgian cuisine, but all the same it's nice to have my expectations in these regards confirmed.
The archive here has really been a pleasant surprise. When I was first advised by Robert Geraci five years ago to come and research, I had no idea what a great font of information this archive would turn out to be. I'm finding a great amount of material and am really glad that I was lucky enough to get funding to come here. The archive also has a small library, which is open for two hours after the archive reading room closes. Today I worked in the library for the first time, making use of their extensive holdings in late nineteenth century regional government publications.

April 24-25: two days of remembrance

April 26, 2009
April 25 (yesterday) is a holiday in Australia and New Zealand known as Anzac Day (which stands for Australia-New Zealand Army Corps), which commemorates soldiers who died in the British-led invasion of the western Ottoman Empire in 1915. On April 25 of that year, thousands of troops from (mainly) Britain, Australia, and New Zealand began what would become an eight-month siege of Çanakkale ("Cha-nak-ka-le"), on the Gallipoli (Gelibolu, in Turkish) peninsula between the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean Sea. Gallipoli is the entry point to the Dardanelle Straits which lead, through the Sea of Marmara, to Istanbul--the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

The Sea of Marmara is directly below Istanbul, and is connected to the Aegean (and through the Aegean, the Mediterranean) by the Dardanelle Straits.

Turk-Arm II: A Legacy of Pain and the Turkish-Armenian Rapprochement

April 23, 2009
Like a lot of people, I'm glad to see that the Turkish and Armenian governments have apparently made some progress recently in their relations with one another. As I wrote in a post last week, leaders of the two states have been making quiet steps towards a normalization in their relationship since the fall of 2008. In September of last year, Turkish president Abdullah Gul made a quick trip to Yerevan to attend a soccer game, and since late 2007 delegations from the two countries have been meeting regularly in Geneva in an effort to come up with a means of developing their relations.

Turk-Arm III: Opportunities and Risks in Turkish-Armenian rapprochement

April 23, 2009
In my previous post, I talked a little bit about the issues that have been dividing leaders from Turkey and Armenia since Armenia became independent in 1993. Now I'd like to discuss some of the pitfalls that the normalization process needs to avoid.
Following Armenia's independence from the USSR, Turkey and Armenia never established diplomatic relations. In 1993, Turkey sealed its border with Armenia in solidarity with Azerbaijan, against whom the war over Nagorno-Karabakh had begun to turn. Thus, while it is possible to fly directly between Turkey and Armenia, the fact that the border between Turkey and Armenia is sealed means that ground traffic between the two countries must be transited through Georgia.
Perhaps more importantly from the perspective of the United States, oil--and the Baku-Ceyhan ("Jay-han") pipeline in particular--also runs through Georgia, as neither Turkey nor Azerbaijan would countenance the possibility of the pipeline running through Armenia. (Is anyone still wondering why the neo-cons were so quick to decry Vladimir Putin as the second coming of Hitler--the position's been open since we hanged their last 'Hitler'--during the Russia-Georgian conflict last August?)

It's a long way from Baku to Ceyhan, especially if you have to get there via Georgia

Caucasus Journey X: First Week in Tbilisi

April 22, 2009
So far, things are going pretty well here. As I mentioned in a recent post, I arrived in Tbilisi from Kutaisi last Tuesday night, then headed into the archive on Wednesday. On Thursday, I rented an apartment.

My view of the recent crackdown on the DTP in Turkey

April 21, 2009

Jenny White has a good piece in her blog regarding recent developments in Turkey pertaining to the Democratic Society Party (DTP in Turkish), a party associated with the Kurdish rights movement.  Earlier this month, over 50 members of the DTP--including 9 provincial and 5 district party chairmen--have been arrested by Turkish security officials on the grounds that they support the Kurdish Worker's Party, or PKK.
The DTP is simultaneously fighting efforts, initiated by Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya (who also filed a closure case against the ruling AK Party last year), to close the party. Currently, there are 21 DTP members of parliament in Turkey, and the party controls seven municipalities.
Here are a couple of points which I think should be kept in mind when considering the recent arrests:

1) In the municipal elections of March 29, the DTP received just 5.42 percent of the vote nationally, but won big in the southeast of Turkey--which is largely Kurdish. Of the seven municipalities that the party controls, four were won for the first time in the elections of last month--and all four were taken from the AK Party. The AK Party fought hard to win Kurdish votes in the southeast, and the AK Party and DTP are by far the two most important parties in the region. At the beginning of 2009, the government launched a state-run television station, TRT 6, which includes evening broadcasts in Kurdish,  while the AK Party governor of the province of Tunceli attempted to distribute more than 5 million Turkish Lira's worth of applicances and electronic goods in the run up to the March elections until the undertaking was shut down by the electoral commission. Ten days before the elections, Prime Minister Erdogan promised that he'd set up a Kurdish-language radio station and even spoke Kurdish himself at TRT 6's opening ceremony. During the election campaign, the AK Party put up advertisements in Kurdish in order to remind voters in the east of the country which party had given them state-run Kurdish television.

A Kurdish-language banner prior to the recent elections. On the far left side of the banner is the AK Party logo, a yellow light bulb, to the right of which is the logo for TRT 6

Turk-Arm I: Quiet Steps forward in Turkish-Armenian Relations

April 18, 2009
Turkish members of parliament from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP in Turkish) and Nationalist Action Party (MHP) have recently visited Azerbaijan to attend a meeting called  "Azerbaijan-Turkey: Common Interests and Problems." At the meeting, the opposition MPs made a point of criticizing the recent efforts of Turkey's AK Party government to take some steps towards the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. 
Referring to Armenia's occupation of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, CHP representative Sukru Elekdag was quoted as saying "Turkey wants peace, tranquility and security to prevail in the Southern Caucasus. However, peace and security cannot be ensured in the region because of the ongoing Armenian occupation." 

Thousands March in Ankara to Protest Direction of Ergenekon Inquiry

April 18, 2009
The Istanbul daily Cumhuriyet is reporting that "tens of thousands" of individuals marched to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as part of an organized protest against the path that the Ergenekon investigation has taken (an AP story estimated the crowd at 5000). Meanwhile, Deniz Baykal, leader of the opposition Republican People's Party, has denounced the Ergenekon inquiry as "a political trial, not a legal one." 

Protesters in Ankara. Photo courtesy Radikal

Caucasus Journey IX: Getting Settled in Tbilisi

April 16, 2009
It’s been a busy few days. After working all day at the Kutaisi archive on Monday, I went out to dinner with Nino, a professor at Kutaisi State University that I had met at the archive that day. Then, the next morning, I had to return to the archive in order to pay my 20 tetri  [about 13 cent] per document fee for using archival materials. The process was pretty straightforward. I went to the bank, waited in two lines, signed my name to four sheets of paper, had each of them stamped twice, then took them back to the archive to prove that I’d paid. Couldn't have been any simpler, really.
After paying my debt to the archive, I headed back to the apartment where I was staying and picked up my things. The family I was staying with was friendly, as was their little dog. We bid our farewells and I took a taxi to the bus station.
The trip from Kutaisi to Tbilisi took about three and a half hours, and was gorgeous. For much of the journey, there were long rows of snow-capped mountains on either side of us. The regions we passed through were pretty populated, with one small town our village pretty much blending into the next. Traveling from the second largest city in the country to the capital, the road was two-lane and badly potholed until about twenty miles outside of Tbilisi.

Ergenekon, and on and on

April 15, 2009
I don't have much time, so I'm going to quickly post a excerpt from Hurriyet newspaper's English-language site relating to the most recent arrests in Turkey's ongoing Ergenekon investigation. Pay particular attention to the last three lines of this passage, beginning with "Things that the professors had in common."
Police detained 29 people, including three former and two incumbent university rectors, in the 12th wave of the Ergenekon probe. Police searched 83 different places, including the offices of the Association for Supporting Contemporary Life, or CYDD, in the operations that were held simultaneously in 18 provinces. Professor Mehmet Haberal (Baskent University in Ankara), Professor Osman Metin Ozturk (Giresun University in the northern province of Giresun), and former rectors Professor Fatih Hilmioglu (Inonu University in eastern province of Malatya), Professor Ferit Bernay (Samsun University in northern province of Samsun), Professor Mustafa Yurtkan (Uludag University in northwestern province of Bursa), who is also the deputy chairman of the Kemalist Thought Association, were taken to Istanbul for interrogation. Things that the professors had in common: They were all against freedom of headscarf at universities, they were all appointed by former president Ahmet Necdet Sezer, and they are all known for their Kemalist thoughts.

Caucasus Journey VIII: Leaving Kutaisi

April 13, 2009
I woke up on Sunday to beautiful clear weather. It was so clear, in fact, that on my way into town in the morning I realized that Kutaisi was surrounded by snow-capped mountains I hadn’t seen the previous two days. Since I hadn’t been able to see the mountains during the course of Saturday’s excursion to the Bagrati Cathedral on the bluff overlooking Kutaisi, I decided to hike up there again in order to get some better photographs.
In the afternoon, I went out to Vani, about 25 miles southwest of Kutaisi. Vani is an ancient city, established in the 6th century BC. I took a marshrutka out there, with the hour-long ride taking me through some really gorgeous scenery.  
Vani and the Mountains


Caucasus Journey VII: Cruisin' Kutaisi and Environs

April 12, 2009
Today (Saturday) was a lot of fun. It was raining and nasty out in the morning, so until about one o’clock I just screwed around with my computer, working on my photo album for this trip. In the early afternoon, however, the sun came out and I decided to check out the sites. I’m really glad I did. 

The first place I went was Bagrati Cathedral, which dates to the eleventh century. The cathedral is located on a hill overlooking the city, and the views of Kutaisi are really great from there. Most of the cathedral itself is undergoing heavy restoration so isn’t too much to look at right now.

Caucasus Journey VI: From Batumi to Kutaisi

April 11, 2009
Despite all my plans to leave Batumi on Thursday, I ended up staying an extra day. There were two main reasons for this. First, there were anti-government demonstrations taking place all over the country on Thursday, and a number of people had warned me that the roads between cities might get closed if the protests got too large or unruly (after all, it’s been just five years since street demonstrations overthrew Georgia’s last president), and in any case I didn’t feel like getting caught up in the middle of a protest while trying to find a hotel and get into town from the bus station. Secondly, it had been pouring rain in Batumi for two solid days, and most of my clothes were soaked. I decided to stay in (the archive was closed anyway because of the state holiday). I rigged a clothesline by tying the six-foot long electrical cord from the spanking-new television (mounted near the ceiling in a corner of the room) to the wardrobe by using a small portion of dental floss. I had to do it this way, because the only heat in the room came via a small electrical fan on the wall, which only warmed things directly in its path. While my clothes dried, I worked for several hours on an article of mine that I’ve been meaning to send out for publication.
I spent the whole day indoors, listening to the rain pour down incessantly. Finally, in the evening, it let up a little bit and I decided to go out and get some dinner. The plan was to just grab something light, then head back to the hotel and get some sleep.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way. Sitting alone at dinner, I was adopted by the group sitting at the table next to mine. We spent the next several hours talking and pounding shots of homemade vodka. This was followed (stupidly) by more drinking of homemade wine. By the time I got up to leave and looked at my watch, it was almost two o’clock. 

Caucasus Journey V: Batumi Marathon

April 9, 2009
Wednesday was another long day in Batumi. Actually, I’d planned on being out of town by Tuesday morning, but my research detained me. Even though the folks at the archive had declared two of the files I wanted to look at [from the 1880s] “top secret,” there was still a lot for me to look at. As is usually the case with archives, once I thought I was out, I got dragged back in. So, to make a long story short, I ended up working there not only on Tuesday, but also all day Wednesday.
At your service: the staff of the archive reading room

Caucasus Journey IV: Batumi by Day, Batumi by Archive

April 7, 2009
So far, I’ve been having a really super time in Georgia. Frankly, I feel rather coarse saying this, because so many people here are obviously hurting. All the same,  I’m really glad I came here.
After crossing the border on Saturday afternoon I had the taxi driver take me to a hotel I’d found in Lonely Planet. The rooms looked pretty good and I took one quickly, since I was jonesing pretty bad to get out and see the sites.

Caucasus Journey III: Crossing the Border

April 5, 2009
I woke up Saturday morning in Trabzon at about eight o’clock. After grabbing a couple of poğaças and some morning tea from the local pastane, I returned to the Nur Hotel, packed up my stuff, and headed off to the train station. It was time to head to Georgia.
Black Sea on my left en route to Hopa


Caucasus Journey II: The Long Road to Trabzon

April 3, 2009
Thursday started early, with the alarm clock at 5am. I had an 8:30 flight from Sebiha Gökçen airport on the Asian side of the city, and needed plenty of time to get there. From Arnavutköy I took a taxi to Taksim, where I caught the 6 am Havas airport bus to Sebiha Gökçen. I made it in plenty of time, arriving at the airport at about 6:45.
I'd never been to Sebiha Gökçen before. Istanbul’s main airport, Atatürk airport, is on the European side, and that’s still where all of the international and most of the domestic flights leave from and arrive into. But Sebiha Gökçen opened in 2001, and has gradually been picking up more and more domestic flights. They’ve got an international terminal as well, but it appears to still be under construction.

Caucasus Journey: Getting Started

April 2, 2009
On Thursday, April 2, I'm beginning my Caucasian odyssey with a flight from Istanbul to Trabzon, a city on the Black sea coast of Turkey. After spending a day or so in Trabzon, I'll travel by bus to Hopa, just across the border from Batumi and about three and a half hours from Trabzon. From Hopa I'll take a minibus to the border, and from there plan on walking across the border and then taking a taxi into Batumi.
Batumi, I think, will be pretty cool. Despite my years of education in Russian and Ottoman history, I really don't know much more about the city than what is written in its wikipedia entry. I'd known, for example, that Batumi had been part of the Ottoman Empire (indeed, the city has been an important part of my research here in Istanbul), but I hadn't known that Batumi, which I've been looking at mostly in the context of the late nineteenth century, had been part of the Ottoman Empire for so long (1627-1878). Since I've been spending a lot of time looking at issues like smuggling, illegal immigration, and other forms of cross-border travel, I really hope to get the chance to do some archival work when I'm in Batumi.