Unless otherwise indicated, the articles here and in the Archive appeared on www.globalresearch.ca

German Government Draws the Line


Protesting

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror-Spectator
BERLIN — If Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan thought he could celebrate the first anniversary of the attempted coup by cementing his dictatorial rule at home and intimidating allies abroad, he made a serious miscalculation, which may end up costing more than he could have imagined. By exacerbating tensions with Germany, he has approached a breaking point neither he nor many in Berlin thought possible. On July 15, the anniversary of the coup attempt attributed to the Fetullah Gülen movement, the Turkish president celebrated by staging mass rallies, followed by a new wave of arbitrary arrests and accusations leveled against persons and institutions related to Germany. A day earlier it became known that Turkey had refused to allow members of the German Bundestag (Parliament) their lawful right to visit German troops stationed at the NATO base in Konya, “postponing” the visit due to a “deterioration” in bilateral relations. On July 17, a number of human rights activists earlier detained, were formally arrested on trumped up charges of supporting terrorism. Primary among them was Peter Steudtner, a German citizen, taken into custody for up to 5 years. Since the coup attempt last year, 22 Germans had been arrested, including journalist Deniz Yücel, and nine are still in prison.At the same time, it was reported in Zeit magazine, that the German Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt) had received a “black list” of names of 68 persons and agencies (later corrected to 700), from Turkish authorities, accused of having connections to the Gülen movement. Among them were big industrial groups like BASF and Daimler. When the BKA demanded further information, nothing came and the list was ridiculed in Berlin as “absurd” and “ridiculous.” The German press quickly put two and two together, and reckoned that Erdogan, by arresting German journalists and others, was essentially taking hostages that he might offer in exchange for the extradition of persons in Germany he wanted to put on trial. Among the latter would be Turkish military and diplomatic personnel who have filed for political asylum since the coup attempt.

Peter-Steudtner Kopie

The Last Straw
This time the blackmail coming from Ankara backfired. On July 19, the Turkish ambassador was summoned by the German Foreign Ministry, and “clearly told that the arrest of Peter Steudtner and other human rights activists was not comprehensible, not acceptable and certainly inexplicable.” Berlin demanded his immediate release, and characterized the assault on the human rights group as a “dramatic escalation.”
Underlining the seriousness of the incident, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel cut short his vacation and flew back to the capital. Gabriel accused Turkey of having abandoned European values and announced a new direction in German foreign policy. “De-escalation is in principle a good thing,” he said, but “we need a change in course, so as not to make ourselves ridiculous — even if it comes at a price.” The concrete steps that followed are capable of delivering a negative economic impact. First, Gabriel said that travel warnings for Germans going to Turkey would be expanded, since virtually anyone could be fair game. Tourists should report to the German consular offices. Already, bilateral tensions have cut into Turkey’s revenue from German tourists, whose numbers are second only to the Russians. Then trade relations are to be reviewed, as Gabriel said he found it difficult to encourage German investments in a country where no real legal framework existed. As reported in Spiegel magazine, Germany is Turkey’s most important trade partner, in 2016 to the tune of 37 billion euros; about 15 billion euros in imports to Germany and 22 billion in exports to Turkey. German investments stand at 12 billion, so if the Hermes export credits are reduced or withdrawn, as Gabriel has suggested, that could have a devastating effect. Furthermore, Germany wields power in EU-Turkish relations; Gabriel stated, “I can’t imagine that negotiations for the expansion of the customs union will take place” in such a situation. Not only is the customs union being questioned, but the very process of talks on EU membership are de facto on ice, and CSU chairman Horst Seehofer, endorsing the new government policy, said he thought the talks should be cancelled and the 4.2 billion euros slated to support the process between now and 2020 be stopped. Germany is receiving backing not only from Austria but also from the EU Commission in its new response to the “destructive course” of Erdogan’s policy, as EU Expansion Commissioner Johannes Hahn put it.
The arms sector was also affected. On July 21, a spokesman for the German Economics Ministry stated officially that all orders and applications for arms deals were being subjected to thorough review. Though some orders last year had been denied, deliveries to the tune of 100 million euros had been approved since January 2016. It was reported on July 21 that the agency responsible would not issue any new permits. This is no small matter considering that in 2016 Germany had approved arms exports worth 83.9 million euros and in the first four months of 2017, 22 million, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Turkey is, after all, a NATO member.

Message Received
This time Ankara seemed to sit up and take notice, albeit with much fuss and bluster. While fuming that “No one has a right to interfere in the internal affairs of Turkey” (by demanding the release of prisoners), and categorically stating that Turkey “is a democratic, social state of law,” Erdogan found himself on July 23 also pleading that the “strategic partnership” with Germany should not be overshadowed by events. He added that reports that Turkish authorities were investigating German groups on suspicion of terrorism were outright lies. On July 24, this line was made official. A spokesman for the German Interior Minister Thomas de Mazière announced that his Turkish counterpart had told him by phone that there had been a “communications problem,” some sort of misunderstanding, that is, and that no Germans were being investigated by Turkey, in either country. (The Turkish Economics Minister Nihat Zeybekci had also raised doubts that such a black list ever existed.) De Mazière’s spokesman then declared that the Interpol office in Ankara which had originally asked the BKA for information on the blacklisted names had “formally withdrawn” the request.
It is important to stress that, although Germany has entered an election campaign period, there is agreement across the political spectrum regarding the need to draw a firm line with provocations from Turkey. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, from the CDU, had unusually harsh words for Erdogan: “He is placing the hundred-year-long partnership between Turkey and Germany in jeopardy,” adding, “It is certainly dramatic. But we cannot let ourselves be blackmailed.” His party colleague Volker Kauder, head of the CDU/CSU Parliamentary faction, said economic pressure was absolutely necessary; “We have to tell Turkey that it cannot go on like this.” On the issue of the German government’s rights to visit its troops, Kauder stressed the fact that the troops are there not for Turkey but as part of the coalition against the so-called Islamic State. SPD politician Wolfgang Hellmich, who is Defense Committee chairman, called for even more pressure, demanding an ultimatum for the visit be set for late August.
He also said the issue had to be clarified more fundamentally, as one could not become dependent on “arbitrary case-by-case decisions by Turkey.” As for NATO, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tried to mediate on July 24, by proposing that a NATO parliamentary delegation be organized to visit Konya.

The Die Is Cast
Whatever compromise solution here might be reached, it is clear that a new chapter has opened in German-Turkish relations. In a summer interview on national television on July 24, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose official position is considered politically neutral, minced no words regarding his Turkish counterpart: “Erdogan is trying to tailor the country to his own liking,” meaning his own aspirations to power. The “rest of the critics and opposition” are being persecuted, thrown into prison and silenced, he said. Even former members of Erdogan’s AKP were being oppressed. Throwing his support behind the new German policy thrust, Steinmeier said “we cannot accept” what is going on in Turkey, it is “also a question of the self-respect of Germany.” And for this reason, it is right “to send clear signals.” No matter how deep the crisis has become, threatening the very existence of bilateral relations as Schäuble put it, Foreign Minister Gabriel has gone to great lengths to explain the matter to Turks in Germany. Over the past year in particular, the escalating social-political conflict inside Turkey has spilled over into Germany, at an alarming pace and intensity, threatening violence within the community.
Repeatedly German politicians have sought to reestablish calm. To make his bid for understanding, Gabriel addressed the Turkish community in a bilingual message published in the Sunday edition of the mass tabloid Bild Zeitung, and spoke in the name of the whole government. These citizens and residents of Turkish background see the difficulties in bilateral relations, he said; your homeland is Germany, but for many it is also in Turkey. For this reason, “we want to say to you: the friendship between Germans and Turks is a great treasure. We have always worked for good relations with Turkey also because we know that a good relation between Turkey and Germany is important for you.” Then his tone sharpened: “Now however innocent German citizens are being put in prison. As the German government. we cannot idly stand by. We have to protect our citizens.” This is the reason, he went on, for the change in German policy, whereby cooperation and economic aid will be re-examined, also on a European level. Most emphatically, Gabriel stated that “None of this is aimed against people in Turkey and our citizens of Turkish background in Germany” and concluded that, no matter how difficult matters become, those of Turkish background in Germany “belong to us – whether with or without a German passport.”
(Quotations from German sources have been translated by the author.)





Aramean Day of Remembrance in Berlin

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror-Spectator
Mor-Philoxenus-Mattias-Nayis
BERLIN JUNE 29, 2017 — If the Armenians were the ones who suffered the greatest losses in the 1915 genocide, they were not alone. Other Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire were targeted, among them the Arameans, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greeks. Since 2015, the date June 15 has been designated as Remembrance Day in Germany for the Arameans, the East and West Syrian Christians, and this year members of the community, joined by Armenians and others, commemorated the victims in Berlin. In the afternoon, participants gathered at the Evangelical Luisenkirchof cemetery, at the site of a memorial in honor of the 3 million Christians who died between 1912 and 1922. The three altars of remembrance are dedicated to the Armenians, the Arameans, Assyrians and Chaldeans, and the Greeks from Eastern Thrace, Asia Minor and Pontus.
In the evening a solemn ceremony was held in the French Cathedral, located in the historic Gendarmenmarkt in central Berlin. Following greetings by Josef Kaya, from the Foundation of Aramaic Studies, Prof. Dorothea Weltecke from the Research Center for Aramaic Studies of the Goethe University in Frankfurt spoke. She introduced a theme that was to be developed by later speakers: the German role in the genocide. The Germans were not only well aware of the events unfolding during the war, she said, but were complicit. In May 1915, the French, English and Russians had raised the alarm, and some Germans tried to prevent the atrocities but others took part. She called for an independent parliamentary commission of inquiry to investigate the German role. The resolution passed on June 2, 2016 by the Bundestag (Parliament) recognizing the genocide was all well and good, she said, but did not go far enough.
Daniyel Demir, chairman of the National Association of Arameans in Germany, drew the parallels between the butchery wrought by the so-called Islamic State today and the genocide a century ago, when the Ottoman leadership under Talaat Pasha et al was committed to eliminate the Christian community from Turkey. Demir also applauded the passage of the Bundestag resolution, but lamented the fact that the German government had undermined its impact by saying it had no binding legal value. Expressing his “due respect to the Bundestag,” he urged the government to take steps with regard to the descendants of the victims.
Community of Survivors
Mor Philoxenus Mattias Nayis, Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Diocese in Germany, expressed his profound gratitude and respect for the fact that the Arameans have succeeded in maintaining their integrity as a people. He said 1915 was not the only time they had been persecuted. It is truly a wonder, he went on, that this community, which has neither its own land nor a state, has managed to survive; though expelled from their homeland and dispersed throughout the world, they have kept their faith and identity. Given this moral strength, he expressed his confidence that the schools and churches that have been destroyed again today will be rebuilt.
The members of the Aramean community displayed their special appreciation of the presence of an Armenian diplomat at the ceremony. Ashot Smbatyan, the Armenian ambassador in Berlin, himself honored to be present, spoke of the fraternal relations between the two peoples. Arameans and Armenians have much in common, he said, not only as victims of the genocide but as friends throughout hundreds of years before that. He recalled the presence of Aramean traditions in Armenia, pointing to manuscripts preserved in the Matenadaran. He also referenced the importance of works in Aramaic that were translated into Armenian. And he recalled the fourth-century bishop Jacob, said to have been the first to search for Noah’s Ark; though he climbed daily, and prayed, he never found the ark. But it is related that an angel sent by God gave him a piece of the wood of the ark, preserved in Echmiadzin.
Stressing the need to “commemorate, remember, warn,” Ambassador Smbatyan said the people of Turkey today are not guilty for the deeds committed by others, but they need to acknowledge the deeds of their forefathers. Many Turks are ready to do so but the political leadership is not. Recognition of the genocide, he said, is the precondition for reconciliation to take place. In 1915, it was not only Armenians but also Pontic Greeks, Assyrians and Arameans, a fact that has been expressly acknowledged in Armenia. In September 2015, a monument to the Arameans was unveiled in Yerevan. In conclusion, he noted that such symbols and dates of remembrance are important, not only for the victims but also for Europe today. The scenes we see today remind us of events of a century ago, he said, and quoted George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The Language of Christ
In this ecumenical ceremony, Dr. Markus Dröge, Bishop of the Evangelical Church, Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Oberlausitz, spoke for the Protestants. Aramaic was the language of Christ, he recalled, and quoted those words in the Bible that are still given in the original, in Luther’s German translation: “eli eli lama sabachthani?” (My God why hast thou forsaken me?)
Christ’s plea from the cross might well be uttered by Arameans, as their suffering is not universally known; the genocide against the Arameans, he said, is the least known of the atrocities of the 20th century. Turning to the current situation, Bishop Dröge noted that many survivors who fled to Syria and Iraq today are threatened again, this time by IS. In what he characterized as “an epochal event” that has not been fully grasped, the successors of the first Christians, those who speak the language of Christ, are threatened today. He called for more awareness of how dangerous the current situation is. “We Protestants know too little about the Orthodox Christians,” he noted, and suggested that the arrival of refugees here to Germany represents an opportunity to learn about them.
‘Destroying, Remembering, Commemorating’
One of the leading initiators of the event was Prof. Tessa Hofmann, a philologist and genocide researcher, who delivered the main address. The year 2015, when June 15 was designated a day of commemoration for the Arameans, “marked the centenary of the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians,” through a deliberate action lasting 19 months. Hofmann reviewed the process whereby April 24, 1915 was officially declared remembrance day in 1921, by Catholicos Gevorg V., noting that many Syrian Christians also recognized it, as their forefathers had been among the victims. Similarly, Syrian Christians in northwest Iran were massacred in 1914 and 1918. Whether or not they were singled out for elimination, or were “collateral damage” within the Armenian genocide, is a question she could not elaborate there, but the fact is that, despite their shared suffering in the war years, many Armenians were not aware of the Arameans’ plight. Thus the importance of a separate remembrance day. Against this backdrop, Hofmann found it appropriate to make some “basic considerations about remembrance, commemoration and related policy.”
In the genocide, the physical destruction of the people was followed by the destruction of the evidence, the attempt to eliminate the culture, especially by destroying the churches. After death, one lives on through memory, and to erase this memory is to kill again. Therefore descendants of survivors strive to counter the elimination of memory with a culture of remembrance, not only transmitting family histories from one generation to the next, but by establishing a collective memory. This, Hofmann said, serves not only as genocide prevention but has also unleashed creativity, as demonstrated in the rich genocide literature. Citing the phrase in the German constitution, that the dignity of the individual is inviolable, Hofmann emphasized that in genocide (including today) the perpetrator violates the dignity of the victim in every way imaginable, through slavery, torture, rape, etc., before finally extinguishing life itself.
The 2016 Bundestag resolution explicitly calls for teaching about genocide in schools, and it is the federal states that decide curriculum. If this was not merely symbolic, in Hofmann’s view, then the schools must take on this task, and expand teaching in genocide studies. In light of the influx of refugee communities, too, she called for “ethical orientation” to be offered. In this context she condemned the continued existence of “graves of honor” in Berlin cemeteries for genocide perpetrators. Instead, those who intervened to save people from genocide — the “Ottoman Oskar Schindlers” — are the ones to be remembered and honored. Finally, she highlighted the need to acknowledge the “enormous cultural achievements” of the Arameans, Armenians and Greeks of Asia Minor, especially through their translation works of the ancients. Preserving the languages of the region is part of this effort. This approach is what Hofmann views as crucial to a policy of remembrance.
The moving ceremony concluded with a recitation by Anne Osterloh and prayers by Mor Julius Hanna Aydin, with the participation of the choir of the Mar Jacob Syrian Orthodox Church. The entire evening was framed in music, with a new interpretation of Syrian hymns for a string quintet on the occasion of the commemoration and selected pieces from the Sayfo Symphony by Thomas Ücel.


rita-sargsyan
First Lady of Armenia Rita Sargsyan at the My Way center with students and staff

‘My Way’ Is Helping Children with Autism in Armenia

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror-Spectator – JUNE 15, 2017
YEREVAN — It was not the atmosphere we expected to find in a center for youngsters with autism: laughter rang out of one room where children were busily painting, while piano music sounded in another room, where two young lads were performing a duet. Playing from memory without scores, they were fully concentrated, absorbed in producing the strong rhythms. When one of the lads played a solo piece, his companion grabbed the hands of a woman (who turned out to be his mother) and swept her up in dancing across the floor. In another room, a child hovered over his notebook, carefully writing out exercise sentences in Armenian under the watchful eyes of his teacher. In other small rooms, the same one-on-one combination of specialist and student was to be seen: whether in speech therapy or physical therapy. The scenes depicted youngsters concentrated on tasks that they were carrying out in their own fashion, with serenity, or delight or outright joy. The meaning of the center’s slogan — “I am different, I am one of you” — was immediately apparent.
As Lilith Soghomonyan and Sona Petrosyan, co-founders and board members, explained to my husband and me, taking us on a tour of the My Way Socio-Rehabilitation Day Care Center last April, the children come to the center five days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and take part in a wide range of activities, selected in consultation with the parents according to the specific needs of each individual. Therapy is provided in small groups where appropriate or individually, as for example, in speech therapy. Music, art, — whether drawing, painting, paper maché or clay modeling — sports, gardening or making candles, — all sorts of playful and productive activities are available, to allow the students to learn new skills in a social context. And they see the fruits of their endeavors, not only in the final creation, but often in its sale. Near the entrance, we saw such products on display, items ranging from candles to ceramics to works of art. The center has organized online auctions of paintings, for example, and the proceeds go to financing art therapy classes. This commercial activity, albeit on a small scale, illustrates the principle of gainful employment. In fact, as we learned, those running the center hope to expand, to provide actual vocational training to the older students, in an effort to provide them the means to earn a living.
It is a “global mission,” Soghomonyan explained to us, an approach that addresses the needs of the children as well as the families, providing information exchange and advice, and increasing social awareness of the issue. By functioning like a school, with a five-day schedule, the center provides the students with therapeutic, social activity under the supervision of specialists, while allowing families to tend to their jobs and homes.

The Founding Mothers
It should come as no surprise that the founders of the center are mothers of autistic children. Prior to the opening of My Way, there were no facilities in Armenia to address the needs of persons with autism. Lilith, whose daughter Jeva displayed symptoms of autism, came into contact with Renate Beil, a German who had been taking painting lessons from Lilith’s mother Nona Gabrielyan in Wiesbaden. On a visit to Armenia, Beil met Lilith, who is also an artist of the second generation. (Her son Guy represents the third generation of this artistic family, and he was among six young Armenians who exhibited their works in Wiesbaden last December (see “Portraits of the Artists as Young Men,” December 10, 2016 and “Art Inspires Artists,” December 17, 2016).
Through Beil’s intervention, Maria Kaminski, director of the German organization named “Autismus,” travelled to Yerevan several times with associates and organized workshops for the families of autistic children. Kaminski is also the mother of a son with autism, and that is how she got started. She has founded 82 (!) centers for autism in Germany and is currently President of the National Association of Autism — Germany.) She told the Armenian parents, “You have to do something” and they did. Initially, she helped Lilith and her daughter, then it expanded to a group of six children. Out of this process the NGO “Autism. Overcoming” was born, as the effort of a group of parents, among them Soghomonyan and Petrosyan in 2004. Two years later the International Child Development Center (ICDC) was founded by Dr. Ira Heilveil, PhD, an American clinical psychologist and behavior analyst from Los Angeles. Heilveil, who has over 30 years of experience treating children with autism, trained a base of specialists, and in Yerevan, these specialists have trained others, expanding their capabilities. Initially, due to space constraints the center could offer help to a limited number of children and youth.

First Lady Spearheads National Effort
Progress was being made on a national level that was to have a decisive impact on the Yerevan group. In 2012, the “Autism National Foundation” (ANF) was established on the initiative of the First Lady of Republic of Armenia Ms. Rita Sargsyan, who is its President. The Director, Lilit Atajanyan, MD, has been involved in various charitable activities for children with disabilities. The mission of the Foundation, as detailed on its website (www.anf.am), is “To support people with autism in Armenia” which includes children, teenagers and adults. This means providing them education as well as preparing them for meaningful employment. At the same time, the Foundation seeks to enhance their quality of life, increase public awareness and promote social inclusion also with government engagement.
In 2012, the foundation received a building from the Yerevan City Municipality as well as the funds to have it renovated and in January 2015, a new facility opened to provide help for over 100 students. This was the Socio-Rehabilitation Day Care Center for Children and Teenagers with Autism known as My Way. The new Center brings together the ANF, the NGO “Autism.Overcoming” and the ICDC in one facility and is able to offer therapy to 5 times the number of students assisted in the previous site.

Providing a Healthy Life Chain
At the same time, a second building was made available on a neighboring site, slated to house another My Way Center, this one providing age-specific vocational training for teenagers with autism. This includes work stations for vocational training as well as living quarters for young adults. The vocational training, as we learned, includes crafts such as sewing and embroidery as well as carpet weaving and pottery, woodworking, computer skills, gardening, cooking, music and art. The aim is to work with organizations and employers to find jobs for the students and markets for their goods.
In March 2016, a grant from Save the Children financed a pilot “Vocational Training for Teenagers and Young Adults with Autism” and in the five-month program 30 therapists attended seminars and received on-the-job training. Now they are working independently providing speech, art, music and dance therapy. On completion of this part of the project, the parents extended the activities to the end of 2016. Since January 2017, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has been financing the project, providing salaries for 30 of the specialists, albeit at a minimal level. Now My Way is seeking further financial support to raise salaries. Currently 140 students are receiving education and therapy from a total of 73 specialists.
To help children with autism, early diagnosis is crucial. Our guides told us that this might be at the age of 1 or 2 years even, and it is important to begin therapy as soon as possible. As the word has spread about the encouraging work of My Way, more and more parents have made contact, and the waiting list now has well over 150 names. The only obstacle to welcoming them is physical and logistical: My Way needs more room. They have the therapists, the expertise and have gained the experience required, but need expanded facilities.
Last year a third building was made available to them for this expansion, and now the directors are seeking funds for the necessary renovation. Here the vocational training program will find its logical continuation as students will learn the advanced skills and specialization in various fields, preparing them for employment in different professions. About 70 students should find work here, while others will seek employment independently outside the center.

National and Regional Pioneer
The goal is for the center to operate in three buildings: in the first, more than 100 children under the age of 14 will find accommodation, in the second, 70 teenagers and young adults at a time will be able to participate and in the third, 70 adults will find training in the workshops. Currently, the State Budget covers costs for operations and therapy for the first building and it is expected that the same will be the case for the second and third facilities, once they have been renovated and made operational.
It is important to stress that all services available at the Center are free, thanks to government support and partner organizations. It is also noteworthy that this institution is the only one of its kind, not only in Armenia, but throughout the Transcaucasus. Indeed, it is a pioneer in the field and can serve as a role model for similar initiatives nationally and abroad.
When we left Yerevan, Lilith and Sona and their colleagues were optimistic that they would reach their goals and we shared their optimism. As a symbol of that shared commitment, Lilith Soghomonyan gave us a beautiful painting done by her daughter.
This week Lilith has been in Germany, to attend the annual gathering of the German Autism Congress, held in Dortmund on June 9-10. This is the organization of Maria Kaminski. This year’s conference was entitled, “Learn — Work — Quality of Life,” and featured lectures by specialists as well as workshops and round table discussions. The presence of a founding member of My way was a fitting reminder that the campaign to help persons with autism has reached Armenia; and it was a personal acknowledgement of the crucial contribution Kaminski has made to this effort.
For more information about the center, visit http://anf.am/
(Material for this article has been taken from the ANF website and project reports of the ANF and My Way.)






German Troops to Leave Incirlik


By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror-Spectator – JUNE 8, 2017
Incirlik
BERLIN — When Turkish government officials repeated to German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel their refusal to allow German parliamentarians unconditional access to their troops at Incirlik base, it was the proverbial straw that broke that suffering camel’s back. Gabriel had travelled to Ankara on June 5 in a last-ditch effort to reach a compromise solution to the conflict that has strained relations, both bilateral and within NATO, to an unprecedented degree. After talks with both Foreign Minister Mevlùt Çavusoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gabriel made clear that Germany would have no choice but to withdraw its troops and relocate them. “There is no decision, no concrete plan,” he said, but there was also no alternative to transfer. Çavusoglu for his part stated that, although German parliamentarians could visit troops at the NATO base at Konya, “at the moment the conditions do not exist” for them to be allowed in to Incirlik. It was expected that within days the government and Bundestag would deliberate on the matter and opt for relocating the contingent to Jordan. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen had already explored the option in Jordan and all that remained were the formalities of procedure.

Piling Up the Straws

How could it come to this point? The controversy began a year ago in the wake of the Bundestag’s deicison on June 2 to recognize the Armenian genocide. Turkey reacted by refusing visiting rights to a delegation of German parliamentarians to Incirlik, where 260 German troops, 6 Tornadoes and fuel tankers are stationed as part of the fight against IS. In September Berlin found a compromise formulation to deflate the impact of the resolution, which led to Ankara’s permission for one visit. Turkey resurrected the ban in response to Germany’s refusal to extend the witch-hunt against persons considered to be in cahoots with the Gülen movement which Erdogan blames for the attempted coup last July. Turkey’s stance toughened further after Germany granted political asylum to Turkish officers threatened with prosecution as pro-Gülenists. In addition, Turkey charged Germany with harboring terrorists, with reference to Kurdish organizations, accused of sympathies for the PKK. To add fuel to the fire, in February of this year Turkish authorities arrested Deniz Yücel, a German-Turkish journalist, as a pro-terrorist, and followed this up by detaining a German translator on similar grounds.

Since the German army is an army of the Bundestag, it is imperative that parliamentarians have unconditional access to “their” troops, and for this reason there can be no backing down on the part of Germany. After consultations between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister von der Leyen, it was decided to engage NATO, but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (whose doctrine is that Turkey is “a key country for security in Europe”) decreed the issue to be “bilateral.”

The NATO Dimension

Although the geopolitical considerations behind this are obvious, the proclamation raised eyebrows in view of the fact that Turkey had recently blocked the decision for NATO’s collaboration with Austria in the Balkans. Austria is not a NATO member but had been cooperating with 500 soldiers in NATO’s Kfor mission in Kosovo. After Austrian Foreign Minister Kurz lobbied for terminating EU entrance talks with Turkey, Ankara responded by blocking this operation.

A further reason to involve NATO would be the fact that, in Erdogan’s anti-Gülen purge, an estimated 150 of 300 Turkish officers have been fired from their positions in NATO headquarters, or as military attaches in embassies, according to Spiegel magazine. The same source reports that 270 mainly high-level officers in total had been fired by Erdogan, creating a collapse in quality, as the replacements were often less qualified and lacked foreign language capabilities. This has security implications, as they may be tasked with sensitive operations like air space surveillance and secret defense planning, according to Spiegel.

That notwithstanding, NATO steered clear of the dispute. Turkey would allow German Parliamentarians to visit German troops at Konya, because it is a NATO base and as such no formal permit is required; NATO must simply inform Turkey of the plan. But Incirlik is another matter.

A Bilateral Non-Solution

Thus it came to be that Gabriel made one last attempt to reach a solution on the bilateral plane, and left Ankara empty handed. Judging from public statements made before the talks and the tone struck at a joint press conference of the two foreign ministers, the atmosphere was not very congenial. Çavusoglu had said matter-of-factly of the foreseeable withdrawal, “We welcomed them when they came and when and if they leave, we will bid them a friendly farewell.” The reason for the Turkish visiting ban provided by the foreign ministry was that Germany had given Turkish officers political asylum. Furthermore, Germany was not doing enough against the PKK. “Our expectation,” the Turkish foreign minister said, “is that our friend will not become a refuge for our enemies.” Gabriel made clear that in his country it is “independent agencies and courts that decide on asylum,” not politics. In reference to the case of Deniz Yücel, Çavusoglu conceded that he could see it was very important for Berlin. “But,” he added, “one thing is certain and Germany knows it only too well: the charges against Yücel do not have to do with journalism but with terror,” adding that the Turkish judiciary was independent in its activities. He accused the Europeans of sending journalists to Turkey as spies, in order to play the “press freedom” card once they were caught.

The German foreign minister was explicit in identifying underlying factors to the strife. “For some time,” he said, “it has not just been a question of the joint fight against IS, but also about domestic politics. We cannot allow our soldiers to become the playthings of the political climate.” He refused to budge on the demand that Bundestag members have unlimited access to the troops; “If Turkey insists that they cannot, then what remains is a decision for the transfer.” He expressed his desire to “arrange it with our Turkish colleagues peacefully and without great fuss.”

As if to underscore the animosity, Prime Minister Binali Yilderin made it known that scheduling problems would prevent him from receiving Gabriel.

However, Gabriel did get to meet Erdogan for an hour, and it was, as he said afterwards, a “sobering” experience. “Relations are very tense,” he summarized. Erdogan had accused Germany of failing to prosecute terrorists. Gabriel concluded, “We have to take note of the fact that the Turkish government has a completely different understanding of the state of law than we do.”



German Troops to Leave Incirlik


By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror-Spectator – JUNE 8, 2017

Incirlik
BERLIN — When Turkish government officials repeated to German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel their refusal to allow German parliamentarians unconditional access to their troops at Incirlik base, it was the proverbial straw that broke that suffering camel’s back. Gabriel had travelled to Ankara on June 5 in a last-ditch effort to reach a compromise solution to the conflict that has strained relations, both bilateral and within NATO, to an unprecedented degree. After talks with both Foreign Minister Mevlùt Çavusoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gabriel made clear that Germany would have no choice but to withdraw its troops and relocate them. “There is no decision, no concrete plan,” he said, but there was also no alternative to transfer. Çavusoglu for his part stated that, although German parliamentarians could visit troops at the NATO base at Konya, “at the moment the conditions do not exist” for them to be allowed in to Incirlik. It was expected that within days the government and Bundestag would deliberate on the matter and opt for relocating the contingent to Jordan. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen had already explored the option in Jordan and all that remained were the formalities of procedure.

Piling Up the Straws

How could it come to this point? The controversy began a year ago in the wake of the Bundestag’s deicison on June 2 to recognize the Armenian genocide. Turkey reacted by refusing visiting rights to a delegation of German parliamentarians to Incirlik, where 260 German troops, 6 Tornadoes and fuel tankers are stationed as part of the fight against IS. In September Berlin found a compromise formulation to deflate the impact of the resolution, which led to Ankara’s permission for one visit. Turkey resurrected the ban in response to Germany’s refusal to extend the witch-hunt against persons considered to be in cahoots with the Gülen movement which Erdogan blames for the attempted coup last July. Turkey’s stance toughened further after Germany granted political asylum to Turkish officers threatened with prosecution as pro-Gülenists. In addition, Turkey charged Germany with harboring terrorists, with reference to Kurdish organizations, accused of sympathies for the PKK. To add fuel to the fire, in February of this year Turkish authorities arrested Deniz Yücel, a German-Turkish journalist, as a pro-terrorist, and followed this up by detaining a German translator on similar grounds.

Since the German army is an army of the Bundestag, it is imperative that parliamentarians have unconditional access to “their” troops, and for this reason there can be no backing down on the part of Germany. After consultations between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister von der Leyen, it was decided to engage NATO, but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (whose doctrine is that Turkey is “a key country for security in Europe”) decreed the issue to be “bilateral.”

The NATO Dimension

Although the geopolitical considerations behind this are obvious, the proclamation raised eyebrows in view of the fact that Turkey had recently blocked the decision for NATO’s collaboration with Austria in the Balkans. Austria is not a NATO member but had been cooperating with 500 soldiers in NATO’s Kfor mission in Kosovo. After Austrian Foreign Minister Kurz lobbied for terminating EU entrance talks with Turkey, Ankara responded by blocking this operation.

A further reason to involve NATO would be the fact that, in Erdogan’s anti-Gülen purge, an estimated 150 of 300 Turkish officers have been fired from their positions in NATO headquarters, or as military attaches in embassies, according to Spiegel magazine. The same source reports that 270 mainly high-level officers in total had been fired by Erdogan, creating a collapse in quality, as the replacements were often less qualified and lacked foreign language capabilities. This has security implications, as they may be tasked with sensitive operations like air space surveillance and secret defense planning, according to Spiegel.

That notwithstanding, NATO steered clear of the dispute. Turkey would allow German Parliamentarians to visit German troops at Konya, because it is a NATO base and as such no formal permit is required; NATO must simply inform Turkey of the plan. But Incirlik is another matter.

A Bilateral Non-Solution

Thus it came to be that Gabriel made one last attempt to reach a solution on the bilateral plane, and left Ankara empty handed. Judging from public statements made before the talks and the tone struck at a joint press conference of the two foreign ministers, the atmosphere was not very congenial. Çavusoglu had said matter-of-factly of the foreseeable withdrawal, “We welcomed them when they came and when and if they leave, we will bid them a friendly farewell.” The reason for the Turkish visiting ban provided by the foreign ministry was that Germany had given Turkish officers political asylum. Furthermore, Germany was not doing enough against the PKK. “Our expectation,” the Turkish foreign minister said, “is that our friend will not become a refuge for our enemies.” Gabriel made clear that in his country it is “independent agencies and courts that decide on asylum,” not politics. In reference to the case of Deniz Yücel, Çavusoglu conceded that he could see it was very important for Berlin. “But,” he added, “one thing is certain and Germany knows it only too well: the charges against Yücel do not have to do with journalism but with terror,” adding that the Turkish judiciary was independent in its activities. He accused the Europeans of sending journalists to Turkey as spies, in order to play the “press freedom” card once they were caught.

The German foreign minister was explicit in identifying underlying factors to the strife. “For some time,” he said, “it has not just been a question of the joint fight against IS, but also about domestic politics. We cannot allow our soldiers to become the playthings of the political climate.” He refused to budge on the demand that Bundestag members have unlimited access to the troops; “If Turkey insists that they cannot, then what remains is a decision for the transfer.” He expressed his desire to “arrange it with our Turkish colleagues peacefully and without great fuss.”

As if to underscore the animosity, Prime Minister Binali Yilderin made it known that scheduling problems would prevent him from receiving Gabriel.

However, Gabriel did get to meet Erdogan for an hour, and it was, as he said afterwards, a “sobering” experience. “Relations are very tense,” he summarized. Erdogan had accused Germany of failing to prosecute terrorists. Gabriel concluded, “We have to take note of the fact that the Turkish government has a completely different understanding of the state of law than we do.”



Erdogan’s Referendum and Germany’s Dilemma


By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

Special to the Mirror-Spectator – 25 MAY, 2017

Hermann
FRANKFURT, Germany — Turkish citizens who went to the polls on April 16 were saying “yes” or “no” not only to a new constitution but to the future of relations with Europe. This was the interpretation offered at a public debate organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a think-tank linked to the German Liberal Party (FDP). Convened on May 19 near Frankfurt, the event addressed the theme: “The Sick Democracy on the Bosporus: Is Turkey Taking Leave of the West?” The round table, moderated by Dr. Rainer Hermann, who was the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s correspondent in Turkey for more than a decade, brought together prominent politicians who have been involved in bilateral relations with Turkey.

Dr. Hans-Georg Fleck, current director of the think-tank’s Istanbul bureau, was joined by Dr. Jörg-Uwe Hahn and Nicola Beer, both members of the regional parliament in Hessen.

It was clear from the opening greetings by Hahn, that the political deterioration inside Turkey had cast a pall on relations with Germany. Over the past ten years, the Hessen government has tried to develop ties, both on the city and state level, and was the first to set up partnerships with Bursa. Now, Hahn said, he was very saddened, since contact has been interrupted; his counterpart, the Vali of Bursa, is now sitting in a jail, along with hundreds of thousands of other Turks accused of association with the Gülen movement, officially inculpated with the coup attempt last summer.

The outcome of the referendum has only aggravated this state of affairs. As Fleck detailed in his introductory analysis of the vote, those who supported the new constitution in hopes of achieving stability and security would be disappointed; the enhanced powers granted to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will neither help alleviate economic ills, especially growing unemployment, nor contribute to solving problems deriving from the oppression of the Kurdish (and other) minority populations. The collapse of the tourist industry (which he characterized as more important for Turkey than the auto industry for Germany) and falling currency rates have resulted from the political crisis following the coup attempt and massive crackdown. Economic revival will depend on development of the younger population, which will require advances in education, which, he said, would not benefit from the referendum results. If the education system in the country was already abysmal, the mass firings of competent academics have worsened the situation. These teachers have lost not only their jobs, but their pensions, their social standing and, in many cases, their very freedom. The situation in the judiciary, where young, inexperienced judges have replaced those thrown out, the perspective is as bleak.

That said, the speaker hastened to stress that the results were indeed very close, as nearly half those who cast their ballots voted against the changes, and thus against Erdogan’s move towards autocratic rule. Rejecting the “yes” voters’ illusions of regaining some mythical Ottoman glory, the “no” camp, which included Kemalist and pro-minority voters, is characterized by its pro-Western, pro-European orientation. The question for Turkey’s partners in Europe is: how to deal with this highly polarized population? How to provide support for the very substantial sector of Turkish society which is adamantly opposed to Erdogan and the AKP’s dictatorial ambitions?

Should Turkey Enter The EU?

The issue is not academic for the German government. Should Berlin join those in Europe who want to end all discussion with Ankara about its bid for membership in the European Union? If, as Erdogan has threatened, the death penalty is reintroduced, that will automatically terminate Turkey’s chances for membership, since the EU outlaws it. Even now, debate is rife as to whether or not German authorities would allow Turkish citizens residing here to vote in a referendum on the death penalty; thus far, the position has been negative, as no campaign propaganda for such would be compatible with German law. Linked to the issue of EU membership is the question of whether or not Europe should continue providing Turkey with funds allocated for the process.

In the course of a lively debate, moderator Rainer Hermann posed the provocative questions, “Are the EU negotiations, then, simply a farce?” And should the funding stop? Whereas Fleck argued that Turkey should take the first step, to decide whether or not it still wants to join Europe, Beer countered that the Europeans should put a stop to the process. Erdogan’s provocations, she said, had been his way of testing how far he could go and, in her view, “the limits of the tolerable have long since been overstepped.” Therefore she called for not opening any further chapters in the negotiations. As for the funds, which she said were still flowing without any accountability as to where they were being allocated, Fleck said they had been appropriated but not yet delivered, and that money for refugee program support at least was under control.

The refugee crisis represents a further challenge to bilateral relations. What, Hermann asked, if Erdogan were to make good on his threat to open the borders, allowing a new wave of refugees into Germany before elections here in the fall? Beer’s response echoing the official position of Chancellor Angela Merkel, that a European-wide solution is required, and that is indeed a topic high on the agenda addressed in ongoing EU discussions.

And What About NATO?

Last but surely not least for the German government is the issue of military cooperation. Again, in mid-May, Turkey refused permission for a delegation of parliamentarians from the Bundestag to make a routine visit to German troops stationed at the Incirlik base. The first time Ankara made such a move was in response to the German Bundestag’s recognition of the Armenian genocide last June; now the reason for the refusal was Germany’s having granted asylum to Turkish citizens, including military officers, persecuted for alleged Gülen ties.

Two opposition forces, the Green Party and the Left Party (Die Linke), called for Germany to pull out its troops in response; since “the German army is the army of the parliament,” it stated in its call, “and the parliament must control it at all times,” such a veto is unacceptable. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel had also said the Turkish refusal was “the limit of the tolerable,” and Defense Minister von der Leyen arranged a visit to Jordan to discuss with the king possible alternative bases in the Hashemite Kingdom. Gabriel went further, suggesting that a possible pullout should be considered also for troops stationed in Konya. As government spokesman Steffen Siebert stated, however, there are differences between the two situations; German soldiers at Incirlik are manning German Tornados for reconnaissance flights over Syria and Iraq, whereas in Konya it is a NATO base for AWACs, and this would involve a NATO decision. It is considered unlikely for NATO to take any such steps considering Turkey is its second largest members.

As Beer pointed out at the round table debate, even redeploying German troops to Jordan would not solve the problem, which goes much deeper. How can one accept the move by one NATO member to deny access to troops of a fellow NATO member? This, indeed, is the question: how far is Germany or NATO going to tolerate the arbitrary rulings of an Erdogan regime which believes that with the referendum it has received a mandate to dictate its will despite national sovereignty and international agreements?






Armenia’s Heart: Poems … and Nothing More


Lilit
Lilit Sargsyan in Gyumri

Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

Special to the Mirror-Spectator – MAY 18, 2017
GYUMRI — Anyone who knows anything about Armenians is aware of the special role their language plays in their history and culture, and nowhere is this more obvious than in their rich poetical tradition. In Germany, this tradition is not unknown; in the 1970s and 1980s, through cooperation between literary associations in the then-Communist East Germany (GDR) and Soviet Armenia, translations of works appeared by Hovhannes Tumanyan, Avetik Issahakyan and Paruyr Sevak as well as an anthology of medieval verse. At the same time, literary journals in West Germany featured some translations. Now, in the wake of the recognition of the genocide last June by the German Bundestag (Parliament), a wave of interest in Armenian literature has swept across the intellectual landscape.

In 2015, a new translation of 24 poems by Paruyr Sevak was issued by Schiler Verlag in Berlin, the result of a joint effort by prize-winning German author Heide Rieck and Agapi Mkrtchian, an Armenian author honored in Yerevan by the Armenian Writers Union with the Vasdakovor order, as an author of outstanding merit. Now, an anthology has appeared in Grössenwahn Verlag, translated by Mkrtchian and Helmuth R. Malonek, a German translator and university professor who studied in Yerevan and teaches in Portugal. The volume is entitled “Armenia’s Heart: Poems … and Nothing More,” and includes works by twenty-five contemporary Armenian poets.

As Prof. Tessa Hofmann writes in an extensive Afterword, they include well-known poets from the older generation of the 1940s and 1950s like Arevshat Avagyan, Henrik Edoyan and Edward Militonyan, as well as authors born in the 1970s and 1980s, who represent a post-Soviet literature. In addition to traditional themes in Armenian poetry, like love, religion and nature, Hofmann notes the treatment of emigration, for example, in the works of Varlan Alexanyan, Edward Militonyan, Ani Ter-Gulanyan, Eduard Harenz, Agapi Mkrtchian, Arevshat Avagyan and Arpi Voskanyan.

Opening Doors with Poetry

In her commentary, Hofmann quotes lines from a poem by Chilean Vicente Huidobro that say, “Let poetry become a key that opens a thousand doors.” Both in Armenia and in Germany, doors have been opened by the public readings of poems from this anthology in both languages. While on a recent visit to Armenia my husband and I had the opportunity to enjoy an event in Gyumri on April 9 at the Berlin Hotel, an inter-cultural center for artists and writers, where Agapi Mkrtchian presented selected poems in both languages. Attending the gathering, which was celebrated by violin and guitar music, were several prominent members of the Gyumri Writers’ Association, who spontaneously offered readings from their works at the conclusion. Days later in Mkrtchian’s hometown of Gegashen, not far from Yerevan, students from the local school presented a two-hour program to a packed auditorium, reciting (from memory) selections from the anthology, again in both Armenian and German. Students of Mariam Kazaryan, who directs the music school, provided the musical counterpoint to the poetry.

As soon as we entered the school, my husband and I were surprised to be greeted by faculty members in German. As we learned during a tour of the school, German is an integral part of the cultural tradition there and all pupils begin to study it as a foreign language already in the third grade. In fact, this is where Mkrtchian first encountered the language; later she was to pursue higher education in Germany and today teaches it at the high school level in Wiesbaden. On stage, one after another young girl or boy stepped forward to recite poems from the new book, and we were amazed at the proficiency of their delivery, particularly considering that the book had just come off the press and they had prepared the entire program in one short week.

Back in Germany, the book has already been presented at the Leipzig book fair and will be featured by publisher Grössenwahn in October in Frankfurt. On May 5, at the Wiesbaden Literaturhaus, guests were introduced to the poems by Mkrtchian and members of the Dichterpflänzchen, a poetry lovers’ association, who recited in German, and Susanna Markosyan and Lilit Sargsyan, in Armenian.

A generous selection of poems provided the audience with a broad sample of the volume: Armenuhi Sisyan, Narek Kirakosyan, Vardan Hakobyan, Nane, Agapi Mkrtchian, Edward Militonyan, Arusyak Ohanyan, Sona Van, Arevshat Avagyan, Benik Stepanyan, Anush Aslibekyan and Anush Vardanyan.

Again, music completed the evening, and again in both traditions; Diana Sahakyan performed selections from Chopin and Schubert on the piano whereas Arpi Nazanyan and her brother Mushegh played Armenian works on the flute and cello, respectively. A special treat came in the performance by Lilit Sargsyan, who sang her own compositions accompanying herself on the classical guitar. Sargsyan, who is founder and editor in chief of the magazine “Chrag”, composes both the verse and the music and has won prizes for her interpretations. She is currently studying in Germany.

With the final selection, a poem by Anush Vardanyan entitled “New Europe,” Lutz Schauerhammer from the Dichterpflänzchen said the performers wanted to encourage the younger generation of Armenian poets to look beyond their own borders and experience, abroad and to the future.

At the end of May, the Literaturhaus in Berlin will open its doors to the new anthology and book launches are to follow in several more cities.

Gegashen-pupils

Gegashen pupils


Agapi

Agapi Mkrtchian with students from her school