By Santiago Del Carril
Born: Buenos Aires City
Favourite newspapers: Clarín, La Nación
Hobbies: Politics, reading,
Favourite soccer team: Independiente
Favourite music: Classic rock
Pope Francis sparked a diplomatic row with Turkey this past week when he called the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians 100 years ago “the first genocide of the 20th century.” They were words though that were celebrated among Argentina’s 130,000-strong Armenian community that is hosting a series of events to mark the 100th anniversary of the mass killings. From his office on Armenia street in the heart of Palermo, The Armenian Centre Cultural Affairs representative Carlos Manoukian spoke passionately about the Armenian genocide, what he described as efforts by the Turkish government to cover it up, and how Armenian-Argentines have been able to hold on to their roots.
How was your family affected by the Armenian Genocide?
My paternal grandparents lost 70 percent of their family, my mother’s side was able to flee Turkey. The genocide actually began before the official 1915 date, which is when the killings became systematic, as they seized and killed 250 Armenian intellectuals in one night and then attacked the civilian population. However, the Turks claim it was a civil war.
Why was the massacre carried out?
They wanted a Turkish state, for Turks. The Turks are Muslim, the Armenians are Christian. A Christian enclave that was hated. They took the Armenians out of their homes and occupied them
How many Armenians died in Turkey?
Three-quarters of the Armenian population was assassinated, 1.5 million killed and 500.000 exiled. Now there are only around 30,000 left. They wanted to make them disappear. All the documentation proves this, diplomatic telegrams and newspaper articles throughout the world.
Although Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians died in clashes with Ottoman soldiers, it continues to deny it amounted to a genocide. Why?
One of these reasons is that, if it were to accept genocide, it would launch legal claims to compensate for the Armenian property that was taken.
But, they weren’t a state then...
Yes, but the land was occupied by Armenians that were part of the Ottoman empire at the time. The Armenian Church lands were immense for example. There were cities with more than a thousand churches. Imagine what this would mean for Turkey to give back this land. In the long term, they will have to give it back.
So do you think current Turkish leaders understand that genocide was perpetrated but are doing this for political reasons?
Yes, to avoid paying and having to confront history. If they recognized the truth they would have to realize, for example that the Turkish founding father Mustafa Kemal was also one of the people who organized this genocide. How do you reconcile this? It’d be like acknowledging that José de San Martín was a mass murderer.
Are there Turks who support acknowledging the genocide?
Yes, many academics such as Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Prize winner in literature, have acknowledged it but they are persecuted by the Turkish government for their views.
Why isn’t there more international pressure on the Turkish government to recognize the genocide?
Because it’s very important geopolitically—a key land mass connecting Europe with Asia and the Middle East. It has an important and sizeable army. It’s too important an ally to many states for them to risk their relationship over this issue.
After Pope Francis publicly acknowledged the Armenian genocide, do you think more countries will follow suit?
Yes, they eventually will be forced to do so. Israel and the US could even change in the future. Israel uses it as a bargaining tool with Turkey while Barack Obama promised before he was elected that he would recognize it, although he has yet to do so. Turkey will eventually have to reconcile with its own history.
Is there still racism against Armenians in Turkey?
How will the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide be commemorated here?
There are several activities planned. On April 24 there will be a religious ceremony and the City Legislature will award a medal to the community. On April 25 there will be a remembrance ceremony at the Rural Society and there will also be a march to the Turkish ambassador’s residence on the 28th. And on April 29 we will hold an event at the Luna Park theatre. There will also be numerous events throughout the year.
Is President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government supportive of the Armenian community?
Yes, the president met with us (last week).
But isn’t it true that the state-run news agency Télam recently removed an article from its system about the Armenian genocide because of pressure from Azerbaijan?
es, this journalist wrote an investigative piece on how a historically Armenian region was given to Azerbaijan by Joseph Stalin. And the journalist visited the region, wrote an article and received pressure from Turkey and Azerbaijan to remove it.
Doesn’t that concern you?
My views are one thing and the institutional views another. It’s a mistake, but we must understand that Télam is the national news agency.
But if the state recognizes the genocide but backs off from an article, doesn’t that mean there is pressure...
It certainly isn’t a good thing but you can separate it into two different issues. The land conflict with Azerbaijan is one thing and the Armenian Genocide is another.
Do you think it was racist for the Volkan Bozkir, Turkey’s minister for European affairs to say that “the Armenian diaspora controls the media and business” in Argentina?
It was so disrespectful, they even threatened the Pope. They are just brutish. They are completely wrong, I wouldn’t say they are fascists but they can’t take criticisms.
The same minister said Argentina was a country that welcomed “Nazi torturers with open arms.”
I didn’t really understand that statement because Turkey was allied to Germany in both wars. Its significance is hard to understand, you would have to ask them. But they wanted to insult the pope for being Argentine.
A recent Turkish soap opera that has garnered huge ratings here has been criticized by the Armenian community that said it was being aired to cover up the anniversary of the genocide, do you see it that way?
I don’t criticize people for liking it but it’s too much of a coincidence.