A Cat Tale in Emails
Why An Armenian May Not Be Named ‘A Young Turk’
By Zarine L. Arushanyan
"The Armenian Weekly", Volume 74, No. 12, March 29, 2007
“About 1.5 million people were killed as a result of the Armenian Genocide organized in the Ottoman Empire by the government of Young Turks, 1915–1919.”
To start with, I shall say that I live my quiet life in Yerevan, though since 1988 the life in Armenia may hardly be called “quiet.” Anyhow, after the war for the independence of Artsakh, the meetings of 1996 and the assassinations in the Armenian Parliament in 1999, I managed to create an isolated small world for myself, a kind of “ivory tower,” as one of my relatives named my life style in recent years.
You may grin at me, but because of the adverse circumstances of daily routine in Armenia, I preferred to choose this isolation. I try to work hard (when there is work to do), and read books that we could not afford to hold in our hands some 10 years ago. Accidentally, in 2001, I got a cat, and because it resembled the Vana katu, the collection of the information about this domestic cat breed became a hobby that I leaped into. Thus, I finished an online course for feline breeders, then, again accidentally, remade my course paper which was, of course, on the “Turkish Van” cat (the name under which the breed was recognized and registered by various international cat fancy organizations), and prepared an article titled, “What does a true Van cat look like?” that was published in a pet fancy magazine in their October-November 2007 issue in Russia.
Meanwhile, a German cat fancier showed interest in my article, and I translated it to English with some corrections. To ground my negative attitude to the intentions of some cat fancy organizations to recognize all-white as a color of the Turkish Van cat, I gave the genetic background that would influence the health matters of the breed in this case, and referred to folklore, cultural traditions and history, including the cat images on Hittite, Urartu and Artaxiad (Artashesian) Dynasty-period jewelry, armor and other handicrafts, which were mentioned in various articles relating to the breed.
My German colleague in cat fancy replied as soon as she received the English version of my article, and said she liked it and would do her best to edit it for possible publication in Germany. But then she asked me to submit photographs of the Turkish Van cats, living in Yerevan, as well as the photographs or drawings of the named antiques. It was not difficult to provide the photographs of the cats, but all my attempts to find the ancient cat images failed. No one knew where they were; even those, who had published this information in their articles replied with silence or referred me to somebody else.
Then, the German lady kindly offered her help in this search, and told me that she had sent an inquiry to some Armenian organization in the U.S. involved in the preservation of Armenian cultural inheritance. I was waiting for their reply with great hope.
Therefore, please try to imagine how hurt I was, on reading in the German woman’s next e-mail the response from the Armenian-American: He had advised her to contact archeologists in Armenia, but to be careful because there were many emerging “Young Turks” in the National Academy of Science of Armenia who had become aggressively nationalistic in the last 15 years. He suggested contacting an older Armenian historian of the same Armenian Academy of Science for a more objective source.
“Emerging ‘Young Turks’”? I was sitting in sad confusion, trying to understand what all this might mean. I addressed the lady once more, demanding an explanation. Very soon she forwarded me the reply from the Armenian-American scholar, and explained that some phrases of my article obliged her to find out if they were correct.
These phrases were: “… If we advert to a more recent period, we will see that the large light-colored cats with characteristic ring-colored tails are imagined at the jewelry of the period of Urartu or otherwise Ararat Kingdom (9th-6th c. c. B. C.).”
And then: “…if one takes into consideration that the continuous settlement of other, except the Armenians, ethnic groups on the Armenian Upland started during the last 5 to 6 centuries, i. e. much later than the named images of the Van cats appeared, then it may be understood that the legend, as well as the breed itself, has passed to the Turks from other ethnic groups ‘by succession.’”
In our continued correspondence, the German lady demanded that I enter into debates with the Turkish breeders of the Van kedisi and prove the “Armenian” point of view as contrary to Turkish point of view. When I refused, because we do not have any cat fancy organization in Armenia and it was my personal opinion, and because I did not want to enter into confrontation with anybody on national basis, she called me a nationalist because of the passionate style of my article and criticism of Turkish history (Oh my God! The history of Van is separate from Armenian history!), religion and traditions (as if I could write about red-and-white van-patterned vana katu without the explanation of the differences existing between it and all-white van kedi, and the reasons for these differences).
To my further surprise she asked me for my permission to pass my article on to a Turkish breeder of van kedisi, who resided in Germany, to publish in his book about van kedi, as well as asked me to translate from Turkish two articles on van kedisi. This was in the beginning of January, and I needed two months to realize what had made my German colleague in cat fancy apply such criticism and offers to me. To find the answers, I reread all the works of Armenian historians that I had collected in my life, especially those that were published after 1988. Nothing in these two phrases contradicted the content of the mentioned written sources. Then online, I found a Turkish governmental site on the origin of the Armenians, and realized why the lady had offered to translate the articles, written in Turkish. The official statement of Turkish government confirms that Turkish and Armenian are relative languages and have numerous words in common. I thought, “Wow!” and decided to write to the Armenian-American scholar, who had called the historians at the Armenian Academy of Sciences “Young Turks.”
I resent him his own reply to the German lady, and asked him what had made him use this comparison. The following day, I received his reply. In particular, he quoted various reference publications and periodicals, thoroughly explaining who the “Young Turks” were, where and when they had been at rule, as well as the meaning and usage of the idiom that originated of the name of the Young Turk movement.
I had no information on this person, but two things were evident. First, he did not realize why “the English idiom” hurt me, and the second, he did not know from my given name that I was a woman. Initially, I no longer wanted to contact him, but then I thought he could be a non-Armenian and did not know our history and language, or that he was not aware that almost every Armenian knew who the “Young Turks” were along with the names of the Three Pashas that had organized the Great Genocide.
I send him the citation, placed in the beginning of this article, and offered to find him an Armenian, who had genocide victims in their family, to explain to him why it was unacceptable to use this worn idiom when addressing an Armenian. When I sent him my second e-mail, I tried to get more information about the man. I searched the internet, and to my great surprise, I found out that he was a respected authority in Armenian culture and had numerous publications. This discovery put me into further deliresearch. From January on, I tried to contact the Armenian academic, who had been mentioned by this person as a trustworthy scholar, but this person had gone to the United States to read lectures and was going to return to Armenia only in April. So, I contacted one of his colleagues, who explained to me the position of the USA researcher.
When we, Armenians, overhear someone abroad speaking in Armenian, we ask them: “Are you an Armenian?” We’re asking about someone’s ethnic origin, not citizenship, because in everyday life we are hardly interested in someone’s citizenship. We are sure that an Armenian remains the same Armenian everywhere. We say: “an Armenian of America” or “an Armenian of France.” For centuries, patriotism and nationalism were the must for any representative of the nation, in order not to lose both our country and ethnic identity. There was nothing dangerous in our nationalism for those who surrounded us; to the contrary, our neighbors always threatened not only our independence but also our physical existence.
I would not say that much has changed both in our mentality and the attitude of our neighbors to us. But the world around us does not stand still; it constantly develops and changes. When someone is asked about their nationality in the official papers, he or she is being asked about their citizenship. The contemporary international researchers in archeaology, ethnography and the other social sciences have adopted some definite principles, and those who don’t adopt these principles stay in isolation. To co-exist in the modern world a person should admit the principle of the equality of all ethnic groups and nationalities. If you try to praise your own nation, you will be accused of nationalism and racism. Any attempt to speak on the ancient origin of your nation will be met with distrust.
We innocently believe that we, Armenians, are the descendents of Hayk Nahapet (Patriarch), whom we consider a historical person or a hero of the epic that reflected the fight of the Armenians with Babylon. Our mentality resists questioning this point of view, not because we are undereducated or aggressive. We are expressing our patriotism in a hostile environment. It helps us survive under severe conditions and to develop our national culture and traditions.
At the same time, the social sciences develop, and to communicate with the outside world, we must change our mentality and attitude to that outer world. Ideally, this way of thinking is necessary. But it is true only in general. To illustrate this idea, I will give some examples on how this principles work in practice.
Example 1: Such terms as “Armenian plateau” and “Armenian highlands” were used in non-Turkish publications to describe the region until 1941, when these terms were replaced with the name “Eastern Anatolia Region” at the request of Turkish officials. The request was satisfied, and the long-lasting tradition, existing in the Christian part of the world, was left behind.
Example 2: In 1969, the delegates to the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) voted in favor of granting breed recognition to the Turkish Van Cat. The application was supported by a letter, written by Professor Emin Ariturk, the acting head of the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Ankara, who confirmed that the Van Cats of Turkey were a recognized breed and had been bred domestically in Turkey for many years. Thus, the breed was to be named the Turkish Van Cat, similar to the Turkish Angora Cat, another cat breed originating in modern Turkey. These two cat breeds are named with the use of two place-names (toponyms), making the exception among the names of all other cat breeds.
Example 3: The Turkish Daily News reported in 2005 that “The Environment and Forest Ministry has announced that it has changed animal names that contain the words “Kurdistan” and “Armenia,” which they considered threatened Turkey’s unitary state.” Meanwhile, a United Nations Development Program official objected, noting that the change needed to be cited in relevant literature to come into effect. We may guess of the extract that whenever the change is cited in relevant literature, it will come into effect. We see in these examples the tendency, as well as the process of attaching “national identity” to scientific standards, which we are demanded to remain true to. This distinction in the approach finds its continuation in popular publications, when for instance, American and European writers with tender affection repeat the Turkish interpretation of the place-name “Anatolia” (in Turkish “Anadolu”) as “the land of mothers.”
Contrary to the “resolute step” of our neighboring nation, we are used to adapt to ever changing circumstances, and in the outside world we, in our greater mass, are pliable; we easily recede, leaving behind what we achieved with hard work and at the cost of enormous hardships. Usually we forget easily and hurry on to march in step with European time.
In our fear of being accused of nationalism and finding ourselves in isolation, we become the most passionate guardians of the objectivity in the valuation of our history and culture. We discuss various foreign theories of our own origin, and our historians divide into different hostile camps; yet, none of them want to hear the arguments of the others, instead of trying to find the solutions that may satisfy both the requests of the contemporary scientific methodology in the analysis and evaluation of the archaeological and linguistic data, and serve our national interests.
The above-mentioned actual state of affairs, as I may guess, was the reason the Armenian-American scholar gave such a negative opinion of the large part of our historians. Of course, from the “scientific” point of view, he may be right. But I look at his “devotion” to the principles from the ethical point of view, and it is not acceptable for me. In case he wrote to my German cat fancy colleague that naming Urartu “Ararat kingdom” and declaring the Armenians the oldest ethnic group of the region was not correct, and advised her to contact a trustworthy scholar, I would find the truth and enter the corrections in my article sooner.
But, unfortunately, he applied his excellent knowledge of English idioms and modern world history in his way. His replies show that he wrote them with the conviction in his own immaculacy; this made me more upset because I believe that naming an Armenian “a Young Turk” was an insult that outraged the remains of our unburied victims, the ashes of whom hammer in our hearts because none of their executioners have publicly recanted.
Unfortunately, the intolerance to our compatriots that has been displayed by the Armenian-American scholar is not a lone event. Recently, we witnessed another type of such intolerance that had transformed into hostility, developed within the internal political process going on in Armenia. Some of our compatriots forgot the severities they had suffered not long ago, while others (between their long-lasting feasts and gambling) refused to see that the “lean years” had not finished for everybody in our country.
This lack of “love to the neighbor” resulted in the social burst that led to victims. I will not do any guesswork, and will wait for the results of the criminal investigation to be published in the hope that this time, those who took advantage of the people’s dissatisfaction in their miserable living and the internal policy of the authorities, and instigated the disorder that threatened our national security, will be revealed, and that they and the faithful executors of their orders will be punished according to the law.
I am firmly convinced that the truth about the tragedy and the cooperation among the political forces, based on the mutual respect of other parties’ opinions, is the only way for the survival of this nation.