Current Political Challenges in Georgia, Armenia and Turkey
Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Brno | 17.-19.3.2010
Those who are interested in Georgian, Armenian or Turkish political affairs had the chance to visit the conference held by Be International NGO. The three-day session took place at Faculty of Social Studies in mid-March and was an integral part of s long-term project called “Human is the reason, human is the answer” that strived to strengthen the ties among different nationalities. Each conference day consisted of two panels – the first panel with presentations of guests from Georgia, Armenia and Turkey and the second panel formed by academic experts. As the majority of performers were students of various fields, range of contributions topics seemed to be broad. Nevertheless, as the name of conference suggests, all of them were at least a bit connected to political matters.
The first conference day belonged to Georgian guests and their speeches about political challenges in Georgia.
Tornike Metreveli – Vice President of Youth Atlantic Treaty Organization, columnist of weekly magazine Tabula
After the initial phase of introducing his collegues Mr. Metreveli proved his sense of humor by pointing out that Georgia is actually situated on Caucasus, not in the United States, as many people apparently think. Explanation of how it feels to be Georgian was then followed by culture and lifestyle walkthrough that formed a notable share of conference opening contribution. For instance, the audience had a possibility to learn about the inseparable part of Georgian social life – the celebration and feast called “Supra”. By his warm welcome speech Mr. Metreveli created friendly atmosphere for upcoming performers.
Tornike Lezhava – Nantes University, France
“Eye on Georgia (40 Centuries of Old Nation and Culture)”
First of the contributors was Tornike Lezhava, whose talk could have been stamped as comprehensive historical excursion. Besides presenting the Georgian national art, religious icons and famous painters which was supplemented by many pictures and photos Mr. Lezhava also introduced some basic facts about Georgian alphabet, literature and especially architecture that contained for example famous cave city of Vardzia and other significant buildings. Final part of Mr. Lezhava’s presentation was devoted to the folk music of Georgia and explanation of some of its lyrics.
Ana Kurgelashvili – Tbilisi State University, Secretary General of Youth Atlantic Treaty Organization Georgia
Next contribution held by Ms. Kurgelashvili was dedicated to the problem of multi-ethnicity in Georgia. In the beginning she explained how different nationalities appeared in the Georgian region and how the situation changed during so called “golden age” under the governance of king David “the Builder” and also throughout influential period of Soviet era, when sending people to Georgia was actually a kind of punishment for criminals. According to Ms. Kurgelashvili, current ethnic troubles go back to those times and minorities living in Georgia are used as objects of pressure. Attitudes of various past and present-day political leaders including Georgian presidents Gamsakhurdia, Shevardnadze and Saakashvili were demonstrated. Subsequently, Ms. Kurgelashvili pointed out which hurdles between nationalities could be hit, like the problematic language barriers and to conclude she emphasized the role of Georgian government and NGOs in this process.
Ana Gachechiladze – Georgian American University, Tbilisi; head of department of research and education in the Tbilisi Financiers international organization
“200 Years o Resistance (Historical-Political Analysis of Georgian-Russian Relations)”
Fourth contribution to Georgian conference day was at the same time the first to discuss the topic of recent Russian military aggression in Georgia. Ms. Gachechiladze began her speech with distinction of nationalism and socialism and ironic depiction of Moscow as a “true peacemaker”. After referring to ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia she got to 2003 bloodless revolution as the point where Georgian politics changed. According to Ms. Gachechiladze, pro-western politics orientation of Georgia is the real cause of Russian punishment and its interest to keep the conflict ongoing, because without getting it resolved Georgia will probably not be able to join NATO which is regarded as a kind of enlargement that would significantly weaken Russian position on Caucasus. To finish her speech Ms. Gachechiladze highlighted that there are a lot of international agreements violated by Russian government in Kremlin.
Dr. Emil Souleimanov – Department of Russian and East European Studies, Institute of Area Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University
“Georgia in International Relations”
The second panel of the day was opened by Dr. Emil Souleimanov, scholar from the Charles University who contributed to all three days of the conference. At first he shortly described his academic background and in advance he also asked the audience to be tolerant, as points discussed by him and other performers were quite sensitive. This time, his talk was dedicated to Georgian international affairs. The relationship between Georgia and Turkey, as Mr. Souleimanov said, is not as black and white nowadays and during last two decades it has been even positive. In contrast, regarding the Georgian-Russian affairs there is indisputable evidence that these relations are much worse, however in assessing them we have to build on historical context and not just on current incidents. Subsequently, Dr. Soulemainov compared policies of Caucasian states and noticed that reactions of the western world are often essential for the development of relations in Caucasus region.
Mgr. Zinaida Schevchuk – Faculty of Social Studies, MU
“Georgia on the Way to NATO”
Another expert panel presentation introduced by Ms. Schevchuk focused on a possibility of NATO enlargement by accepting Georgia as a member state, which has already been a question intensively promoted in the media. After the historical walkthrough of NATO-Georgian relations including comment on Partnership for Peace and general enlargement dialogues Ms. Schevchuk mentioned Georgian motives to join. On the first place it is a guarantee of security, peace and independence, although it is also perceived as an element of western culture. According to Ms. Schevchuk there are now four criteria for Georgia to meet before it will be able to join the alliance. These conditions are stable politics, population and its support, military capability and absence of unresolved disputes. To this day, only the second condition has been fulfilled, as 77% of Georgians agreed to become a part of NATO in 2003 referendum.
Jimi Dabrundashvili – chairman of the Georgian diaspora “Samshoblo” in CR, independent journalist
“Georgia 2008: Occupation of Georgia”
Following contribution made by leader of Georgian community in Czech Republic Mr. Dabrundashvili was directly connected to the latest violent action of Russian army in Georgia and consisted mainly of rare photos projection. To comment these pictures Mr. Dabrundashvili firstly highlighted that generally there has been a lack of information about this conflict and only 32% of Czech people were informed about it properly and then he also warned that severe social problems in Georgia could cause the escalation of violence again. According to Mr. Dabrundashvili, Russia has got a potential to help but does not want to and on the contrary it is even supplying criminals in Georgia with arms. To improve the overall situation Mr. Dabrundashvili said it is essential to engage more qualified people and show the public what is happening in Georgia.
Bc. Giorgi Pipia – Faculty of Social Studies, MU
“History of Georgia Versus Russia from the Beginning”
The last speech of Georgian conference day was done by Giorgi Pipia on the Georgian-Russian relations from historical perspective. Centuries ago, while the world superpowers colonized different territories by sailing overseas, Russia had been the only one to remain on land while conquering its enemies. During the description of the historical development periods Mr. Pipia did not forget to mention the era of Georgia under Ottoman empire which was according to him much more secure than to be the part of Russian empire. After designating Georgia and Russia cooperation as “contract with evil” and “fake promises” finished Mr. Pipia his talk by pointing out that despites a lot of recent global religious violence there is no vandalism caused by religious differences nowadays in Tbilisi, referring to high level of social toleration.
On the second day of conference we remained on Caucasus but moved slightly south, listening to speeches on current political challenges in Armenia.
Hovhannes Grigoryan – director of Institute for Political and Sociological Consulting, co-president of Yeritac Youth NGO
After brief introduction Mr. Grigoryan opened the first panel of second conference day with presentation on some basic facts about his country. At first he focused on growing economy of Armenia, where the poverty line allegedly and surprisingly decreased from 50% to 26,5% between 2002 and 2008. According to Mr. Grigoryan, Armenian GDP growth during the first decade of 21st century could be compared to rising economy of China, of course, before the 2009 crisis. Historical walkthrough contained the mention of Christianity, with Armenian nation first to adopt it as a state religion and it also did not miss comments on Armenian Genocide, problematic Soviet era and the period of transition to democracy with all it occurring problems of legitimization of power and general formation of political culture. Regarding the Armenian-European relations Mr. Grigoryan explained several approaches of EU perception in the country, starting from “Europe as a source of freedom” and ending in “Europe as a threat to national identity”. General thinking about the concept of freedom made up the end of the speech.
Hamlet Melkumyan – PhD student in Contemporary Anthropology, member of Yeritac Youth NGO
“Yeritac Organization Presentation: What We Do and Why”
Next conference contribution presented by PhD student Hamlet Melkumyan was meant to familiarize the audience with the institution that every Armenian speaker was connected to – Yeritac Youth non-governmental organization. Besides the establishment of Yeritac Mr. Melkumyan firstly specified what kind of members form the organization, saying that not only youth, but also academics set the crew up, making Yeritac YNGO more professional in its manners. The principal part of Mr. Melkumyan’s presentation consisted of describing various projects and goals achieved by this youth institution. In the end of his talk Mr. Melkumyan designated the cooperation appeal as the main and long-term Yeritac’s objective.
Anna Ghazaryan – economist, youth activist of Yeritac Youth NGO
“The Armenian Women in Power”
In the name of women’s rights, following presentation was spiced with a gentle tinge of feminism. According to Ms. Ghazaryan, political scene should be well balanced, so it has equal representation of men and women. However, numbers say that globally there is only a 15% share of women in political parties, 17% in parliaments and the situation in Armenia is even much worse. But recently and under the influence of some respected Armenian woman public figures there has been considerable improvement backed up also by United Nations legislation. To support her arguments Ms. Ghazaryan finished her contribution by projection of short document including woman politicians speeches.
Lusine Shahnazaryan – Director of International Center for Languages and Training, Language tutor, Member of Yeritac Youth NGO
“Armenian Youth in Decision-Making Processes”
Fourth talk held by Lusine Shahnazaryan was dedicated to the participation of Armenian youth in decision-making processes. In the beginning of her speech she shortly presented main aspects determining youth activities in Armenia, such as massive growth of political participation and activities among young people after the dissolution of Soviet Union or differences between opportunities in the capital of Yerevan and other provinces called Marzes. The main part of the presentation was devoted to currently active youth NGOs, such as All Armenian Youth Foundation (AAYF) or National Youth Council of Armenia (NYCA), and to young successful Armenians and their projects. In this context Ms. Shahnazaryan also mentioned misusing of student activities as a path to power, as a “dark side” of these activities. In the end of her speech Ms. Shahnazaryan stressed need for a new vision, which will lead from criticism to constructive and positive action.
Shushan Harutyunyan – journalist and blogger at www.7or.am online daily newspaper, Initiator of “Youth Movement in Armenia” online campaign
“Freedom of Media in Armenia: Current Challenges and Developments”
Following topic – Freedom of Media in Armenia: Current challenges and developments – was presented by journalist, blogger and activist Shushan Harutyunyan. Reminding that according to Freedom House Armenian media are “partly free”, she emphasized that most of the media companies are state owned and mostly pro-governmental. Ms. Harutyunyan was also talking about phenomenon of self-censorship, rooted in unknowingness of their rights among the journalists, which in common with “soviet-style” political culture full of secretiveness causes a lot of skepticism regarding the freedom of media. In conclusion Ms. Harutyunyan mentioned attacks against independent journalists, including violence, and her own experiences.
Dr. Emil Souleimanov – Departement of Russian and East European Studies, Institute of Area Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University
Comments on the topics presented in the first part of the conference, addendums
Academic panel was this time represented only by Dr. Emil Souleimanov from the Charles University, who began his speech by describing phenomenon of “small nation complexes”, problem of most of the Armenian population living abroad and conflicts between conservatism and liberalism and between modernism and traditionalism in Armenian society. Then he supplemented previous presentation with comparison of freedom of media in South Caucasian perspective. Subsequently Dr. Souleimanov commented on “two faces” of Armenian-Russian relations, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict regarding its possible solutions and role of Russia. Final part of Dr. Souleimanov’s apt comments was devoted to the Armenian-Turkish relations, regarding Turkey’s blockade of Armenian borders in context of EU’s pressure on normalization of mutual relations and pro-Azeri public opinion in Turkey, and possible consequences of potential Turkey EU membership for Armenia and whole region.
Third and last day of the conference was devoted to current political challenges in Turkey and particularly to the Kurdish society.
Erkan Toy – Pamukkale University, Denizli
Opening speech of “Turkish day” was held by Erkan Toy from Pamukkale University stationed in Denizli and as well as during preceding days of the conference it was presentation of current country profile. Mr. Toy summarized basic geographical, demographic and religious facts, Turkey’s relations with EU and participation in other international organizations, including “western-” but also “eastern-world” organizations. He also pointed out the status of Turkey as developed country and regional power. In the final part of the presentation Mr. Toy mentioned some notable places in Turkey such as Hasankeyf, Pamukkale, Kapadokya, Izmir, Fethiye and, of course, Istanbul.
Nur Öner – Hacettepe University, Ankara
“Human Rights in Turkey”
Following talk by Nur Öner from Hacettepe University in Ankara was dedicated to human rights issue in Turkey. First part was devoted to the problems arising from the system, where Ms. Öner described role of ideology in efforts to homogenize Turkey’s very heterogeneous society and “internal enemy” state paranoia. She also mentioned issues such as role of legal system in human rights violations, position of judiciary and misuses of constitution. Second part of the speech was based on practical implications of human rights violations. Main issues mentioned were role of indoctrination in educational sphere and freedom of religion regarding discrimination of women wearing the headscarf and many other examples. Role of EU and European Court of Human Rights in process of transformation of Turkey’s human rights policy was also mentioned. In the end of the presentation Ms. Öner outlined few requirements which have to be met in order to reach state of law in Turkey such as definition of boundaries and functions of state apparatus and removal of ideological influences on it or adoption of civil constitution.
Serhat Can Sevim – Ege University, Izmir
“Turkish – Armenian relations”
Serhat Can Sevim from Ege University in Izmir focused his speech on Turkish – Armenian relations regarding problem of recognizing Armenian genocide. In the beginning he depicted perception of genocide in context of evolution of Turkish nationalism, position of genocide issue in education and divisions in Turkish society on basis of genocide perception. Mr. Sevim also outlined some short- and long-term preconditions for solution the whole issue or at least improving mutual relations between the two countries (short-term: neutral approach to the issue in educational sphere, reinvestigation of Hrand Dink’s case, canceling Karabakh conflict solution condition etc.; long-term: open door policy and official recognition and reconciliation). Influence of close Turkish – Azerbaijan relations on possible warming of Turkish – Armenian relations, impacts of genocide recognition by other states and activities of Armenian lobby were analyzed as well. Despite complexity of the issue Mr. Sevim concluded quite optimistically by suggesting that positive progress in Turkey during last fifteen years could also positively influence this sensitive issue in future.
Ramzan Önder – Istanbul University, Istanbul
“Taboos in Turkey”
Ramzan Önder from Istanbul University closed the first panel with comprehensive speech on “Taboos in Turkey” which was divided into four parts according to the individual issues. First “taboo” mentioned was using of word “Kurdistan”. Mr. Önder described roots of this issue in Atatürk’s reforms and contemporary phenomenon of refraining the word. He also analysed usage of the word “Kurdistan” in public and political discourse and mentioned some concrete cases connected to this issue. Second issue was previously assessed Armenian genocide. In this context Mr. Önder remarked recurrent efforts of lobbyists against possible official recognition of Armenian genocide in US Congress, cases of well known Turkish writers Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak, 2005 Bahcesehir University conference on Armenian issues and 2008 “I apologize“ initiative. Third topic was issue of the first three untouchable articles of Turkish constitution. To this point Mr. Önder described rigidity of constitution based on prioritization of Kemalist ideology and thus opening ways for oppression of opposition and reformists who do not demonstrate their loyalty enough. In addition he summarized role of actors who could potentially seek for change of constitution. Last “taboo” analysed was role of the army in the politics. After short outline of army’s influence and history military coups Mr. Önder focused on struggle of daily Taraf against army’s meddling into politics. He also touched on mutual relations between ruling AKP and he army, army’s efforts to stay in power and anti-army demonstrations.
Dr. Emil Souleimanov – Department of Russian and East European Studies, Institute of Area Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University
Turkish – Kurdish relations
Dr. Souleimanov from Charles University began his speech on Turkish – Kurdish relations with emphasizing diversities in Turkish society which can be found in religious vs. secular and traditionalists vs. modernists dimension as well as in socioeconomic sphere or among various ethnic groups. Then he explained roots of Turkish sensitivity to ethnic minorities as potential threat in historical context of numerous separatist and nationalist tensions which were disturbing stability of Ottoman Empire and in Atatürk’s legacy of unified Turkish nation based on Turkish ethnicity ergo denying other ethnicities. After that Dr. Souleimanov focused on Kurdish question as a security issue of identity and territorial origin. Possible strengthening of Kurdish separatist claims based on population boom of Kurdish population in south-eastern Turkey and inspired by Iraqi Kurdistan example was described as main fear of Turkish establishment. Conceivable Armenian territorial claims in eastern Anatolia in case of Turkey’s territorial integrity erosion were also mentioned. In conclusion Dr. Souleimanov sketched possible solution of this potentially critical situation, including role of Islam as a factor unifying Turks and Kurds.
Petr Kubálek – Radio producer, Writer on Kurdish issues
Tribalism in the Kurdish Society
Petr Kubálek, radio producer and writer on Kurdish issues, held speech on tribalism in the Kurdish society which was based on his own experiences from northern Iraq. In the beginning Mr. Kubálek remarked on position of tribalism in modern society and then he continued with general characteristics of tribe. Main focus of the presentation was presentation of hierarchy of Kurdish tribal society in historical perspective. Other issues mentioned were rules and practice of blood vengeance including so-called blood money and role of council of clan leaders regarding mainly to the question of succession and solution of blood vengeance. Finally Mr. Kubálek touched on custom of taking bride by violence and concept of honorability.
The Yezidi Religion
Second speech by Mr. Kubálek and the last one of the conference as well was dedicated to Yezidi religion. First of all Mr. Kubálek depicted first contacts of European tourists with Yezidis in nineteenth century and some specifics of Yezidism compared to Islam and Christianity. Then he mentioned position of Yezidism in Kurdish national movement, which perceives it as Kurdish original faith before they have been islamised. Roots of Yezidism and its establishment also were not omitted. In the very end of his speech and whole conference Mr. Kubálek explained some similarities of Yezidism with Islam and remarked its relations with Sufism and Zoroastrianism and its conception of holy beings.
There was no doubt that speeches of performers attracted the audience as the lively discussion triggered after each panel. Debates went often in the way of well-known matters like Russian violent actions, corruption, NATO and EU enlargement, Armenian genocide, Kosovo independence, Kurdish question, odd policies, various elections and much more. For those who attended the conference it was a special opportunity to learn something new about Georgia, Armenia and Turkey as most of the speakers were citizens of these countries, so they could mediate the direct perspective which usually cannot be took out from a book. Despite for some of the guests it was the first time to contribute to a conference, their speeches were complex, interesting and informative. They gave the audience an insight into different world that was in some points a little bit shocking but also enlightening.
Ondřej Urbánek, student of Security and Strategic studies, FSS MU
Zdeněk Vodák, student of Security and Strategic studies, FSS MU
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