There is an old Turkish belief according to which one does not speak ill after the dead. The following letter was written in May 2006, several months before the assassination of Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist of Turkey. It should therefore be read in the light of this proviso.
Dear Bekir Coşkun,
I am Verkin Arioba, an Armenian of Turkey whose roots go back 700 years. I am also the Deputy Chairperson of "The Foundation for the Preservation of Historical Heritage," a foundation that aims to provide to the present and future generations, historical works that carry the profound marks of many civilizations throughout history, works many of which are among the most valuable masterpieces of the world cultural heritage.
Whenever the Armenian issue is discussed, the public opinion remembers the names and views of a limited number of people. However, in this process where the Armenian issue is heated up in international circles and Turkey is pushed into the corner, we need initiatives that will be able to explain to the world that this country is being unfairly treated, initiatives that will reduce the tensions between Turkey and the outside world on this issue. In this connection, as an Armenian of Turkey devoted to Turkey with a devotion guided by the wealth of knowledge and the insight of my deceased father who used to say, "despite everything, the best place where we can live is Turkey," I have a proposal:
The court sentence given for Hrant Dink, the editor-in-chief of the Armenian daily Agos, and the name that is among the first that comes to mind in connection with the Armenian issue for his statement that "clean blood that will replace the poisoned blood to be vacated from the Turk is already present in the noble veins that the Armenians will establish with Armenia," has been upheld by the Court of Cassation. The Court of Cassation 9th Chamber which overturned the request to overrule the 6 month imprisonment to which Dink was sentenced, based its decision on the understanding that the expression that was used by the author "insulted and offended Turkishness" and that praising a nation did not necessitate the denigration of another.
Regarding the discussion of the Armenian issue, I do not share the views of Hrant Dink on many counts. But I also know that the Armenians of Turkey will be wounded if Hrant Dink is put in prison. While discussing such issues, rather than the real content of the issue, the overwhelming concern tends to be over what the West's reaction will be. My primary concern in this incident is the tension that the imprisonment of Dink due to his not so elegant "clean vs. dirty blood" metaphor will create among the Armenians of Turkey. It has always been this way so far: the brunt of the reactionary backlash launched against the few with more resonant voices will ultimately be borne by us, "The Native Armenians."
The budding of warm feelings towards Armenians within the Turkish society is more valuable and more meaningful than the views of the Armenian Diaspora, of France and of the West. Views, declarations are voiced in the media and in Parliament, but it is us, the Armenians of Turkey who share these lands and share every moment with the Turkish society in our daily lives. It is us, the Armenians of Turkey that feel this inner feeling of apprehension. On the other hand, the fact that Turks and Armenians live lives so intertwined with each other and that they share so much with each other is a much stronger feeling for us.
Your article in which you mention your grandmother whose Armenian origin you became aware of much later had a meaning and importance that needed to be conveyed to all Armenians in the world. What we really need is not actions that constantly push Turkey into the corner and compel it to act with a reactionary backlash, but on the contrary, actions that bring out and buff up the Armenian-Turkish friendship, the warm feelings and common memories that tend to reduce the tensions in the society.
In his article which became the subject of the decision of the Court of Cassation 9th Chamber, Hrant Dink underscores the need for communication and dialogue. Everybody would surely benefit from a Turkey that adopts a more democratic stance. But the conveyance of these messages require the utmost delicacy. The Turkish-Armenian issue can be conveyed through the emotion laden story of an Armenian grandmother; it can also be conveyed with the "dirty-clean blood" metaphors the consequences of which may take us along totally different routes. Let us, therefore, dab a pinch of red hot chili pepper on Hrant Dink's mouth in the idiom of our grandmothers but let us not sentence him to imprisonment. Because this would hurt the Armenians of Turkey the most.
Deputy Chairperson of the Foundation for the Preservation of Historical Heritage