Rober Koptas: bridging difference

I recently did an interview with Rober Koptas, the editor of the Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper Agos, which has just appeared on SETimes. He spoke about Hrant Dink, Agos’ original editor who was murdered in 2007, as well as a range of other issues, not all of which made it into the final edit.

Hardly a new topic I know, but his reflections on why Dink was murdered were interesting:

Because he was very dangerous in the eyes of Turkish ultranationalists. He was always crossing the border: he was Armenian but not an “acceptable” Armenian as they defined, because the ordinary Armenian doesn’t have the right to speak, but he was speaking very loudly. He was not an ordinary journalist: he was touching every critical issue of Turkey.

He became a bridge between these ethnic groups — Kurds, Turks, Armenians — and he was a kind of model of a future Turkish citizen, I think, because he had strong ties with his culture and identity, but he also tried to understand Turks and Islam. Because of that he was a dangerous man and they knew that killing him could destroy a lot of positive things.

Another issue he talked about was the tension between Agos and other elements of the Armenian community and diaspora, which didn’t make it into the final cut. Here’s what he said:

We have some problems with the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul because as the Patriarchate they are trying to use their force in some non-religious spheres.  But we believe that only elected people can enter into that political area and the Patriarchate must remain in its religious sphere. This is a struggle between Agos and some Armenian groups in the community, and the Patriarchate. We believe that with the new Patriarch who has some democratic principles can help us improve this relationship between the Patriarchate and Agos. 

Before Hrant Dink’s assassination we had bigger problems with the disapora because they thought that Armenians of Turkey are tools of the Turkish state. They had a wrong perception about Turkish-Armenians, and only after Hrant Dink’s assassination they saw that Turkish-Armenians are trying to change Turkish society. Before that they couldn’t understand our attitude because the diaspora is always looking to the state and the Turkish state is not changing its attitude to Armenians.

But we’re living in Turkish society and we can see that society is changing gradually. We cannot express this view to the diaspora. But now I believe they’re more aware of these facts. They’re at least understanding us better.

Armenian worshippers pay their respects to Archbishop of Istanbul Aram Ateshian at the historic ceremony held at Surp Khach Church on Akdamar Island in September

On a related issue, Jenny White has an excellent piece out about a talk at Boston University by the Islamic philosopher, poet, intellectual etc, Tariq Ramadan. It is about the question of how people can claim Islam is egalitarian when it is used around the world to justify intolerance and patriarchy. Apart from anything, it’s a beautifully written piece – you really need to read the whole thing.

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