Medz Yeghern: The 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

armenia logo

The official banner commemorating the centennial anniversary of the Armenian genocide in the UK.

 

 

armenia 2

A depiction of the Syrian desert death marches.

ottoman map

A map of the Ottoman empire of 1914.

 

April 24, 1915 marks the date that started the carnage sealing the fate of an estimated 800 thousand to 1.5 million Armenian people who were systematically murdered at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in what has come to be known as the Armenian Genocide. Similar to the Jewish holocaust of World War II, the Armenian genocide was the governmental extermination of Armenians as a minority within the region that is now known as the Republic of Turkey. The first cycle of this bloodbath (that didn’t end until 7 years later in 1922), involved the mass murders and forced subjugation of physical labor of the young and robust male population. The second cycle of the Armenian genocide involved the Syrian death marches.

Women, children, and elderly in large numbers were marched southward to the Syrian deserts where they were then subject to frequent incidents of rape, robbery, and physical abuse. Many died on these marches from starvation, and lack of water. Those who tried to stop and take a break were shot on site.

The ancient Armenians had inhabited what was known as their homeland for many years prior to the Turk invasion in the eleventh century. With this invasion came significant problems for the Armenian population. For one, the Turks were mostly followers of the Muslim religion and began to rule while labeling Armenian Christians as second class citizens denying them their right to vote and going so far as to tax them for identifying as Christian.

young turks

A painted depiction of a meeting of the Young Turks political group.

 

With the growing trend of Turkish nationalism came the creation of a political group known as the Young Turks who were an ultra nationalist organization whose political ideologies included the end goal of a wholly Muslim and Turkish state. Behind the smoke of World War I, the Ottoman Turks began their attack on the Armenians starting by targeting the thousands of Armenian soldiers enlisted in the Turkish army. This event is known to the Armenian people as “Medz Yeghern” meaning Great Crime. On the 24th of this month, the Armenian community, along with its sympathizers remembered this time of sadness in fellowship with marches, rallies and speeches centered around this harrowing topic. However, Armenians today face another hurdle concerning this 20th century genocide—recognition that it was a genocide in the first place.

 

100 years later, the modern Turkish government does not recognize the massacre at Anatolia to be deemed a genocide. Perhaps even more surprising (to me anyway) is the fact that the United States and Israel are also among the ranks of the few nations who also refuse to use the language specific to genocide when talking about the event. Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide comes from claims within the Turkish and Azerbaijan governments that there was no plot to exterminate the Armenian race, but that there was a more complicated inter-ethnic war taking place, that Muslim Turks were also killed during that time, and that the numbers produced by scholars concerning the number of Armenian dead are inflated.

Speculation has been made that President Obama’s refusal to use the term genocide is largely because of the United State’s alliance with Turkey— despite that a majority of 43 states have declared their agreement that the massacre of 1915 was indeed a genocide. This year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the event, a recorded 130 thousand people marched in Los Angeles from Little Armenia to the Turkish Consulate in solidarity. On the eastern side of the United States, there was also a gathering of thousands of Armenian-American youth in Times Square where they marched waving the Armenian flag,  wearing Red carnations and chanting, “Turkey is responsible for genocide”.

It would seem that 100 years later, Armenia still has something to fight for—even if it’s just the recognition their bloodied history deserves.

Armenian-American rally in New York for the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Armenian-American rally in New York for the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Identity Crisis at the Döner Stand

Dönermann

The trusty Dönermann

On a cold November evening in the neighborhood of Schöneberg in Berlin, a friend and I decided to take part in one of the most sacred of Berliner activities, going to the Dönermann and getting a delicious döner. This style of the Turkish, gyro-like meal is an amazing gift from food heaven and a unique staple of Berlin street foods, the Berliner art of döner differing quite a bit from what you might find in Istanbul. It was conceived in a German city, so it’s not necessarily Turkish, but at the same time, something created by a Turkish immigrant can’t quite be credited to Germany either.

I asked the man at the döner stand where he was from, and his answer tells a story similar to the food he sells: “I was born in Berlin, but my heart is in Turkey.” This is not an uncommon sentiment for second and third generation German Turks, whose families have lived in Germany since the Gastarbeiter program in the 1960s. During this time, Germany invited guest workers to support the struggling post-war economy, giving them two-year work contracts. Workers were supposed to return to their home countries after their contract was up, but many of them never did. Eventually Germany allowed workers to bring their families with them and stay indefinitely.

berlin-neukoelln-karl marx str

Karl-Marx-Straße, a glimpse into the Turkish community in Neukölln.

Since the 1960s, Turkish immigration has created a minority community that thrives in Germany’s urban areas, and in Berlin, the neighborhood of Neukölln is known as the Turkish district of the city. I had the opportunity to live off Karl-Marx Straße in Neukölln, an area where nearly every business is owned by Turkish Germans or German Turks, depending on who you ask. This array includes businesses dealing everything from exotic spices, candied fruits, and baklava to Islamic apparel, cheap flights to Istanbul, and haircuts, and business seems to be booming. This area can have the feeling of stepping into another city, as this bit of graffiti playfully suggests (below).

Neukölln Urlaub

“I’m not going on vacation, I have Neukölln!”

 

While there is much to be said about the extent to which the Turkish community has assimilated and/or integrated into German culture, in this post I merely wanted to present a glimpse of the Turkish Berliner community, even if it is just the tip of the iceberg. So, as two Turkish children speak German on the S-bahn while a German boy eats a döner and listens to Turkish rap coming straight out of Kreuzberg, I think it’s safe to say that both of these cultures have made a few lasting effects on the other.

German Turkish

Finding Love Online

If you’ve seen television recently, then you probably have seen the Match.Com commercial that states, “1 in 5 couples meet through an online dating service.”  Well, they weren’t kidding and it holds true in Europe, too.

Europeans have even taken to mobile dating, finding people via your cell phone based on current GPS location.  Meetic and Vodafone are at the forefront of European mobile dating and are watching as this phenomenon expands. Because of Americans busy schedules, I cannot see mobile dating exploding in America

How do Europeans make themselves stand out when actively pursuing someone on an Internet dating website?  Well, one blogger turned book publisher, Zoe Margolis, has some pointers for those looking for love.  She suggests that you make sure you’re grammatically correct.  She explains that your grammar shows your attention to detail and that you are actually intelligent.  She also suggests not to portray yourself as too picky, too desperate or too arrogant. She differentiates wanting a legitimate relationship from a purely sexual encounter.  Are the majority of people on these sites seeking Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now?  Well, it appears, after some investigating, that these sites are quite similar to a bar.  Each person wants something different.

Oddly enough, economic recessions throughout Europe have made the amount of online daters skyrocket.  Why?  Well, my guess is when you don’t have a job, you have more time on your hands and people use that time to find love.  But most of these sites do require some kind of monthly membership fee, so, you should hope you find someone quickly.

Isn’t it funny, online dating was originally thought to be only for Americans because Americans are presumed to be too busy to find love, a basic human need.  Online dating was even frowned down upon by both Europeans and Americans.  Years ago, it had the connotation of being either desperate or possibly, dangerous (who knows who you could meet…). Now though, a single mother, for example, may have to be selective, in the interest of her children, about the people she takes the time to date or perhaps a busy professional may not have time to go out and meet other singles.

In a world that embraces technology, it appears that online dating around the world is here to stay and possibly, change the way people meet. While I have never used an online dating service and it is currently not my desired method of meeting people, one day it may be the norm. Have you ever used an online dating service?  If so, what did you think about it?

Traveling to Turkey… Visa Required.

Image: VBR

Are you wanting to travel to Turkey? Do you know the regulations to enter the country? Being a European can simplify your travel plans, but entering Turkey from non-European countries can be more complicated. A traveler from India, for instance, with a valid passport is also required to purchase a visa before entering the country. Further inquiry as to the details of how to obtain this visa reveals a dizzying array of advice on the best way to acquire the visa. 15 Euro / 20 USD seems to be the current going rate though other Half of the reports say that you must buy the visa in advance, half say that you get it at upon arrival and all have the first-hand experience to back it up. Accounts of the process makes one wonder if Turkish customs is not somehow a satellite office of the DMV. While Turkey’s official Ministry of Foreign Affairs website makes the process seem fairly straightforward it is notoriously outdated (even when it has “just been updated”) and the regulations are in a near constant state of flux, and are subject to change without warning. In reality it can depend on the particular official you get that day.

Fortunately, very few of the instances end in a traveler actually being denied entry into the country. There are a few general guidelines that will help streamline the experience as much as possible:

1. Bring cash! Visa fees are payable in most currencies – GBPs, Euros, and USD$. In true bureaucratic form, they do not accept their own national currency, Turkish Lira.

2. No dirty money – Turkish border officials are notoriously particular about the condition of the money: do not try to pay with torn, dirty, or defaced bills.

3. Most of the Turkish visas are single entry and once you exit the country re-entry is not allowed so plan accordingly.

4. Often tourist visas aren’t checked so whether you buy the visa upon arrival or in advance, if you are not asked to present the visa DO NOT SHOW IT!! This eliminates the process of being held up by any visa-related discrepancies or errors that may be present.

Traveling to Turkey can be very difficult, but some countries do no have it as hard as our above example India.  For instance, countries like Germany, Greece, France, New Zealand, Japan and Singapore, and as well as many other countries, have the right to stay in Turkey for 90 days without obtaining a visa.

But what about the United States?

Many have a false presumption by thinking Americans can travel as they please.  Even though it is not as hard for an American to acquire a visa into turkey, as it is for an individual in India, one should still do some searching before going abroad.  Most likely, if you are a traveler from the United States, you pay for a tourist permit or visa ($20) in order to enter Turkey.  One can do this right before entering the country.  There is an exception to this rule.  If a traveler is “arriving by cruise ship for a day trip to Turkey, you do not require a visa as long as you are not staying on shore overnight.”

Other rules apply to individuals who want to stay longer than a day, or longer than 90 days.  Staying for longer than 90 days requires a visa from a Turkish Embassy or Consulate before arrival.  And if one is planning on working or studying there, one “must also apply for a residence/work permit or Turkish ID card within the first month” of arrival.

Important! – Be sure to check the stamps on your passport, because you do not want to overstay.  Overstaying can cause serious problems, like a fine or being deported.

For more information, contact a US Embassy and check with specifics including the laws that may be foreign to you.

Safe travels!

Co-Written with Josh Cochran

Germany banning Muslim tradition?

Currently in Germany, there is a law being proposed by Angela Merkel’s cabinet designed to criminalize forced marriages.  However, this presents a huge controversy since forced marriages are prevalent in the Arab/Turk communities and are considered a Muslim tradition. Adding to the controversy, there are a lot of Turkish (along with other nationalities) immigrants living in Germany.

As an American who very much values my freedom, I was initially for the banning of these marriages. As I delved deeper into the subject, I began to question the right that Germany has to do away with a tradition that has been around longer than Germany has officially been a country! I came across compelling evidence which well supported both sides.
Obviously, the woman in the video had an extremely negative experience with her forced marriage and I think it is safe to assume there are many more like her. Also, different rights groups have said that young immigrants in Germany are beginning to identify with Western values and value the freedom of choosing their own partner.

However, it is important to note the difference between forced marriages and arranged marriages. In an arranged marriage, the bride and groom are matched by a third party but consent is given by both people being marries. In a forced marriage, the partners are matched without consent (usually from the woman) to marry.

This video is a bit lengthy, but shows that arranged marriages can be very successful in terms of both people being happy.

I believe banning forced marriages is a great move on Germany’s part. However, if they were looking to ban arranged marriages that would be an entirely different story. On the other hand, does a government have the right to ban something that some (a vast minority of Muslims) people consider part of their religion? My answer is yes.

My final position on the subject was that this issue was that it is a human rights violation to allow people to be forcefully married. Too often, this results in the bride being victimized in a variety of ways.

Hitchhiking Still Sees Thumbs Up

It might be thought of as the best way to be killed by a serial killer in the USA, but in Europe hitchhiking is still trucking along.

Hitchhiking

Trying to get a lift from the outskirts of Stara Zagora to the city centre. Stara Zagora (Стара Загора), Bulgaria. Image © flickr/onnufry

In my father’s youth growing up in England, hitchhiking was a common way of transportation to explore Europe and the world if you were a student or wanderer on a low budget… or if your motorcycle broke down in Germany and you need to get home. Now there are more concerns about safety and the legality of thumbing a ride for your summer adventure – with many people preferring to travel via a rail pass. Yet this has not stopped the hitchhiker culture from continuing to roam.

While my father kept a written journal in the 1960’s, people are now blogging about their hitchhiking adventures. Inga of Latvia is currently chronicling her days hitchhiking from Cologne, Germany with friends she made on facebook. Even putting together a list of unwritten rules for hitchhiking successfully. She is now in Bratislava and will soon be on the move again.

Most posts I’ve found have centered on the safety of hitchhiking – the key part being to hitchhike only where it is legal (most of Europe, but not on highways or autobahns) and to be aware of who you are taking a ride from.

Hitchhiking in Amsterdam

Hitchhiking in Amsterdam, where they have dedicated places for hitchhiking in the Netherlands. Image © flickr/teppo

Of course with the wonders of the internet there are a ton of interesting guides for backpackers, including Wiki guides and more “organized” hitchhiking though ride sharing sites like www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de, where a small fee is paid to the driver for petrol – but many still prefer the uncertainty of thumbing a ride old school, finding their way to the edge of town to catch a ride.

As much as I enjoy being organized, if I am going to backpack and wander across Europe, I’ll do it like my father did, experiencing the adventures good and bad that come with rides from strangers so I can have some interesting stories to tell later.

Mesut ist Deutscher

Since the highly controversial publication of Sarrazin’s book “Deutschland schafft sich ab,” Germany finds itself in the midst of a lively debate about integration.

One group of people that has been especially in the spotlight are the Muslims. Just a few weeks ago, when Germany played Turkey in a European Cup qualifying game, the debate reached soccer fans, because both teams had players of German-Turkish origin in their lines.

Mesut Özil (center) during the German national anthem. On the left is Serdar Tasci, who also is of Turkish descent.

Many Germans with Turkish roots also have a Turkish passport and thus can decide what country they want to play for. When Mesut Özil – who is at the verge of becoming a world-class player for Real Madrid – decided that he wanted to play for Germany instead of Turkey, many Turkish soccer fans were in total disbelief. Fortunately, he was mainly treated with a lot of respect for what he has achieved in such an early point of his career, and even Turks are proud of “their Mesut.”

Since then, Mesut Özil has become one of the prime examples for integration. He is portrayed as the friendly young man from a working class background who has truly embraced his German nationality. (And most importantly plays well for the German national team, one might think.)

For 22-year-old Muslima Kübra Yücel, this couldn’t be further from the truth. On her blog Ein Fremdwörterbuch, which was intended to be a blog about her life but now focuses on questions concerning her religious background, she claims that the current debate about integration is a farce.

Ich will nicht wissen, wann und unter welchen Umständen ich als Mensch mit nichtdeutscher Abstammung und nichtchristlicher Religion ein Du-bist-deutsch-Siegel bekommen könnte. Das sind Scheindebatten. Die Realität sieht so aus: Mesut Özil kann – wie übrigens viele seiner biodeutschen Kollegen auch – keinen grammatikalisch korrekten deutschen Satz hervorbringen, ich hingegen schon. Trotzdem gilt er als integriert und deutsch, ich aber nicht.[…] Großartig. Ich habe also einen deutschen Pass, engagiere mich hier, spreche die Sprache und gehe wählen. Aber das reicht anscheinend nicht. Leider kann ich kein Fußball.

[I don’t want to know when and under which circumstances I – a person of non-German origin and non-Christian religion – could get the you-are-German-predicate. These are make-believe debates. Reality is different. Mesut Özil cannot utter a grammatically correct sentence like many of his biologically German peers, whereas I can. Nonetheless, he is considered to be integrated and German and I am not. […] Great. I have a German passport, I am involved socially, speak the language and I vote. But that doesn’t seem to be enough. Unfortunately, I don’t play soccer.]

Kübra Yücel

This incident shows that the current debates about integration are merely touching the surface of the problem. (If you browse through her blog or the blog Just another Hidjabi by her friend Yasmina Abd el Khader, you will find many more.)For Kübra, the debate about integration is ridiculous due to the results and misjudgements about what it means to be integrated when it comes to celebrities (or someone with celebrity status).

She sees nationality as an empty term. She doesn’t say she is German, nor that she is Turkish. On the contrary, she feels that these terms only limit her in what she is and as what she is seen as. She wants to be seen for what she really is: her qualities, ideas, and her character. Maybe Kübra is right and thinking in terms of nationality is outdated. Europe is coming closer together and the EU has been an important step in this development. Furthermore, the western world shares both ideologies and values, and people travel freely between countries. The next logical step would be to include the remaining parts of the world, including the Islamic world. Both blogs give insight into the views of two young Muslimas and utter a call for an open-minded approach to people of foreign cultures in general. As Yasmina puts it: “Wir wollen keine Schubladen mehr.” (We don’t want to be pigeonholed any longer.)