A Turk in Yerevan: Zaman paper’s photo editor in Armenia to cover April 24 events

Selahattin Sevi, the editor of photo department of the Turkish Zaman daily, arrived in Armenia to cover how Armenians commemorate on April 24 their forebears who fell victim to mass killings and deportations in Ottoman Turkey a century ago.

100 years after the killings Turkey still denies that it was a systematic effort of the Ottoman government to exterminate Armenians as a people.

The Turkish photographer, who had been in Armenia many times before, says that the Centennial is commemorated not as a grief but as more of a remembrance day.

“On the 95th anniversary I was in Beirut; it was a grief day there, and now I can see that the stress is put on the claims. I am interested in attending the numerous exhibitions and concerts organized in Yerevan on these days. The Centennial has gained a cultural coloring. I thought that the society might have protested that, for instance, System of a Down is holding a concert, but, on the other hand, the band has features that contain political message in it and the concert is in the context,” Sevi told ArmeniaNow.

The Turkish photographer is surprised: a small country like Armenia with numerous social-economic problems spends quite a lot of money to commemorate the Centennial with large-scale events. He singles out his participation at the social-political forum Against the Crime of Genocide where he could have interviews with people who are not easy to be found, such as Kate Nahapetian, Government Affairs Director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

The theme of the Genocide for Sevi is on the agenda, as much as all the rest of most important events happening in the world.

“There were many human movements and losses during the first half of the previous century; Armenians bore the most damage as a result,” Sevi said, avoiding the use of the word genocide.

In Armenia he never met Genocide survivors, instead he met those years ago in the city of Anjar in Lebanon, which in 1939 was founded by Armenians who had left their Armenian villages in Musa-Ler.

“As you speak to them you understand what actually happened,” he said and added that what they knew of the Armenian Genocide was from their history textbook where it was introduced in a completely different context.

Selahattin Sevi was in Armenia first in 2001. Together with a group of Diaspora Armenians he traveled to Kesaria, Kars and then to Armenia.

“It took us a long time to cover the 15 minutes’ traveling distance from Kars to Armenia [the border today is closed and travelers have to go through Georgia]. Then we visited Echmiadzin. We met the Patriarch, whom we constantly wanted to ask questions.

We took a group photo in front of the Cathedral after which he said we could ask questions, but before he wanted to ask us a question, “Do we recognize the Genocide or not?” The question was shocking for me then. Years later I can say that back then the rough political position was more vivid, a lot has changed now,” the Turkish photographer says.

Addressing the issue of “people-to-people diplomacy” between the two countries the journalist says that Turkish-Armenian journalist and scholar Hrant Dink’s tragic death in 2007 had a critical significance for Turkey.

“Hrant’s murder… we saw a human flood on his burial; that was the most correct answer; in Turkey there is a social layer which does not tolerate injustice, illegality and is ready to fight for all that. And especially after Dink’s murder the democratic diplomacy was activated,” he said.

According to him, this very type of diplomacy has a big significance when the pressure on the government is from below.

Selahattin Sevi states three preconditions without which success is impossible – media, democracy and a conscious society.