Ass. Prof. Dr. Ercan Karakoç


In this study, I will mention the events that I experienced regarding the
Armenian Question with some Armenians from the Armenian diaspora and American
academics during the time period when I was working at the Fulbright
Scholar-in-Residence program at the Chatham University in Pittsburgh in the
2010-2011 Academic year.


Within the scope of the above-mentioned program, I was to work at the
Global Focus Program, which was in the department of History at Chatham
University. This program gave the opportunity to get to know different
countries or geographies to university students and members by focusing on a
different state or geography each year. At that time, the 2010-2011 academic
year had been declared to be “Year of Turkey” at Chatham University. The person
who was in charge of the program was Dr. Jean-Jacques Sène. I was to assist him
in the studies related to Turkey and the Turkish culture.


Before going to Pittsburgh, I started to correspond with Dr. Jean-Jacques
Sène. When he gave information about the program he managed, we had our first
contact with the Armenian Question. In the promotion brochure that they had
prepared within the scope of the Year of Turkey it was written that the Turks
committed genocide against the Armenians and oppressed the Kurds. In addition,
there were films such as Calendar and Dol, which were not much related to
Turkey or the Turkish culture, among the films that would be shown that year. I
objected to these matters. Dr. Sène found my objections justified and instead
of these films the following films were shown during the year: Cars of the
Revolution (Tolga Örnek), Mommo (Atalay Taşdiken) and Farewell (Zülfü
Livaneli).


I went to Pittsburgh in August 2010. I gave a speech at the academic
opening of the university. After the ceremony, Dr. Sène asked the positions of
Turks and Armenians regarding the Armenian Question in our conversation. I
responded by saying, “Turks are very sensitive regarding this issue, and
Armenians are prejudiced.” He smiled and said that the same expressions are
used by Armenians as well.


My first contact with the Armenian diaspora in Pittsburgh was quite
interesting. Ramadan started in August that year. For the last 15 days of
Ramadan, the Turks who live in Pittsburght established an Iftar Tent in the
garden of “Cathedral of Learning.” Although I could not fast, I went there in
the evenings because I missed Turkish food. People sat in a random fashion in
the tent. Most of those who came were Turkish students and foreign student who
studied in the universities in that area. There were also people who came out
of curiousity after seeing the tent and the crowd. As a matter of fact, I met
the Calian family, which is of Armenian origin, in this way. They saw the tent
and the crowd and they came out of curiousity when they found out that it was a
Turkish tent. One evening, I was sitting and waiting for the Iftar time, an old
couple sat across from me. We introduced ourselves as a matter of courtesy.
When I said that I was the Fulbright professor who came within the scope of the
Turkish year at Chatham University, Mrs. Doris Calian said, “my husband will
attend the conference at Carnegie Samuelora in February.” As it turned out, we
met six months before the conference as its Turkish and Armenian participants.
Both the couple and I were quite surprised by this. After this first meeting
with the Calian family, we gave each other our business cards. The roots of the
Calian family goes back to Ankara, Urfa, and Harput. According to their
narrations, both families were victims of the forced relocation.


I invited the Calian family as well to the “Turkish Independence Day
Celebration,” which was organized the Festival of the Republic within the scope
of the Year of Turkey at the university. At first they were hesitant because
they thought that this was an activity for Turks only. However, when I told
them the details of the program, they decided to attend. When they came, I met
them at the door. We shared the table at which we sat together with the
university staff. We chatted together and drank Turkish coffee and tea. Since
they knew that I was going to go to Turkey for the Eid al-Adha, which was
approaching, Mrs. Doris Cailan prepared some gifts for my mom. One of them was
a postcard on which the following were written: “Congratulations that you haves
such a wonderful son, Ercan!. Our parents were Armenian and came from Turkey
(Ankara, Urfa, Harput). May God forgive the past and lead us all to friendships
now and in the future. Sincerely, Sam and Doris.” This made me very happy. When
I asked them what they wanted from Turkey, Doris Cailan requested “Turkish
coffee” and Samual Cailan requested “Turkish delight.” On my way back, I bought
coffee from Kurukahveci Mehmet Effendi for Doris Cailan and I bought double
roasted Turkish delight from Koska for Samuel Cailan. In addition, I gave them
the CD named “Mosaic of Ottoman: Armenian Composers” as a gift. Also my mom
sent hand-made short socks that she had made herself as a response to the kind
gesture of Doris Cailan. After I returned to the U.S., I contacted the Cailan
family again. I wished them a happy Christmas and new year. Apparently, they
found out my birthday from Dr. Sène, who is the person in charge of the Global
Focus Program. They invited me to their home to celebrate my birthday. Dr.
Calian came to the university with his car on a cold winter day. Since the
roads were icy, he kept reminding me to be careful while walking on the road.
He even said that, “your aunt Doris told me to watch over you and to protect
you”. We went to the home of the Calian family together. There was also a young
Armenian family of Lebanese origin there. It was also the birthday of their
child. So they had organized a birthday party for both of us. Doris Calian had
prepared borek and rice in a way similar to the Turkish cuisine. I had a
coversation with the Lebanese youth and we ended up talking about the
Fenerbahçe Football Club. He said that a Turk he knew talked about Fenerbahçe
all the time. We chatted and had tea. I presented one by one the gifts that I
had brought from Turkey. They gave me a tie as a gift and a birthday card. At
one point in the conversation, we started to talk about the forced relocation
of the Armenians. I said that Turks also experienced many said incidents
similar to the ones they mentioned but, “the Armenians paid the big price.”
After the birthday celebration finished, Dr. Calian gave me a lift to the
university.


Before going to the home of the Calian family, I also had a chat with
another Armenian. A woman named Heather H. Smith was studying for a masters
degree in “Counseling Psychology Program” and her essay “Focus on Turkey” had
earned 3rd place in the “Global Focus Art Work and Writing Competition.” This
competition had taken place when I was in Turkey. When I read Heather’s essay,
I realized that she was Armenian. I wrote an e-mail and congratulated her on
her success and invited her to my office to talk. She accepted my invitation
and we met at my office after a few days. When she came, I offered her from the
Turkish delights that I had brought from Turkey and we had tea while talking. I
realized this during our conversation with Heather: the information she had was
based on the stories that had been told to her by her elders. I realized that
she knew almost nothing about the Ottoman-Turkish-Armenian history from the
fact that she could not answer the questions I asked her. I said that the great
powers of the period used the Armenians to destroy the Ottoman Empire by
implementing a policy of divide and conquer. I talked about some of the pashas,
ministers, and high level bureaucrats who served in the top administration of
the Ottoman Empire. I mentioned that the Turks also paid a high price in the
same period and that similar stories have also been told to Turkish children by
their elders. I told her that I could also understand the bad incidents that
the Armenians experienced. I emphasized that policies that aim at creating
conflict between the Turks and Armenians are still being pursued. I noted that
this sensitive and serious issue between the two nations can only be resolved
by the two societies. I talked about the friendship between the Calian family
and myself and I showed the gifts that I had brought. Our conversation ended in
this way. A few days later, I came across Lindsey Peck Scherloum, who was from
among the assistants of the Global Focus Program, at the office of Dr. Sène.
She said, “Dr. Karakoç, my classmate from the masters program, Heather, said
that she met you and she was really pleased with the conversation she had with
you.” I told Dr. Sène about our meeting and said, “I told her the same things
that I tell you about this issue.” Dr. Sène was pleased with this and he said
that one of the most important goals of the Global Focus Program was the
societies getting to know each other and added, “Dr. Karakoç, you put this into
practice.” I invited Heather to the conference in February where we were to
address the Armenian Question. She attended the conference and when I asked her
what she thought of the conference, she said that she was pleased with the
topics that were discussed.


Our next meeting with the Calian family took place at the conference
titled “Turkey, Armenia and Principles of International Dispute Resolution.”
Among the participants of the conference were Ronald H. Linden from Pittsburgh
University, Samuel Calian, and Ergun Kırlıkovalı, who was the head of the
Assembly of Turkish-American Associations of that period. One week before the
conference, an email was sent to those people who were involved in the
conference by Sean Coleman, who was the private secretary of the university
president Esther Barazzone. In the email he said that, “an anonymous caller had
called the president and accused Ergun Kırlıkovalı, who was one of the
conference participants, of serious matters.” Suddenly, a discussion started in
the correspondence among the people about the conference and Ergun Kırlıkovalı.
I realized that we were face-to-face with a classic game of the Armenians. They
did not want to let the Turks speak. They did not comment about me because they
did not know me enough and because I was a Fulbright scholar. As a result, I
decided to write an enlightening email to the group. I talked to Dr. Sène about
this. He said that I could do that. I prepared an email that included 9 points
and sent it to the relevant people. In the end, the day of the conference
arrived. There were Turks, Armenians, students, and both the academic and
administrative staff of the university among the audience. The university
president Dr. Barazzone started the conference by giving a speech.


At first everybody was a bit tense. However, the conference ended without
any problems. At the end of the session Mrs. Calian asked for my sides and I
gave them to her.


I started to run across Heather, who had thought of protesting me during
the Opening Convocation saying that I was a “genocide denier,” at the
university campus, library and the cafeteria. We shared the same tables. Our
conversations continued and increased. I also continue to correspond with the
Calian family, with whom I met in a very interesting way. They often travel by
ship and they wil visit me when they visit Istanbul. I am still in touch with
Dr. Sène.


What I have narrated here is entirely based on my own experiences and
observations in Pittsburgh. Nevertheless, I wrote about my experiences in order
to record them in history. I still keep all the correspondence that was made,
the postcards that were given, the notices and programs in these experiences,
and the relevant links are shown in the bibliography. In conclusion, both
societies should keep the lines of communication open, should try to understand
each other, have empathy, and should tolerate each other. The events that were
experienced in the last century after a coexistence of about a thousand years,
no matter how painful, and the history and geography are leading the two
nations to understand each other and to share each other’s pains.


Bibliography


http://www.ataa.org/about/ (Date
of Access 26/02/2015)  


http://www.chatham.edu/ (Date of
Access 26/02/2015)


http://www.chatham.edu/globalfocus/
(Date of Access 26/02/2015)


http://www.chatham.edu/about/presidents_bio.cfm
(Date of Access 26/02/2015)


http://www.chatham.edu/about/spotlight/global/karakoc.cfm
(Date of Access 26/02/2015)


http://www.chatham.edu/globalfocus/competition.cfm
(Date of Access 26/02/2015)


http://www.chatham.edu/globalfocus/archives/turkey_1011/events.cfm
(26/02/2015)


http://www.chatham.edu/globalfocus/archives/turkey_1011/competition.cfm
(Date of Access 26/02/2015)


http://www.chatham.edu/academics/programs/undergraduate/policy/facultydetails.cfm?FacultyID=103
(Date of Access 26/02/2015)


http://www.chatham.edu/academics/globalfocus/archives/turkey_1011/_pdf/history_culture.pdf
(Date of Access 26/02/2015)


http://www.chatham.edu/academics/globalfocus/archives/turkey_1011/_pdf/gf_turkeyposter.pdf
(Date of Access 26/02/2015)


http://www.cies.org/program/fulbright-scholar-residence-program
(Date of Access 26/02/2015)


http://www.fulbright.org.tr/PageDetail.aspx?id=65
(Date of Access 26/02/2015)


http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2006/01/30/Calian-brought-change-money-to-Pittsburgh-Theological-Seminary/stories/200601300140
(Date of Access 26/02/2015)


http://www.polisci.pitt.edu/person/ronald-h-linden
(Date of Access 26/02/2015)


An Experience Regarding Communication with the Armenian Diaspora in
America


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