Dateline Bursa: We Were Chanting ‘Hay-as-tan’, but We Had Already Lost
Football diplomacy or before the opening of the “gates of heaven” “Aren’t they going to bring us anything to drink? We’re going into the enemy camp?” asked a seasoned reporter on the flight to Bursa. I am at a loss to say how many of the 34 reporters feel the same way - ‘into the jaws of the enemy’. We are headed to Bursa to cover the Armenia-Turkey football match and the state of football diplomacy. I am also at a loss to gauge the degree of accuracy in the seasoned reporter’s statement. I also can’t, for the life of me, venture a guess as to what the other Armenian reporters on the plane think about Armenian-Turkish relations in general. For one thing, they’ll tell you one thing then turn around and say something different on T.V. or write the exact opposite in their newspapers. I’m always amazed how one person can juggle three opinions at the same time. Back in the Yerevan airport, a reporter, primed for such official travel, seeing such a huge mob of reporters asked in amazement – where are they all going? His amazement was quite sincere. “They’re going to conduct diplomacy”, I smiled back in silence. That day, four Armenian firms belonging to Edward Ernekyan and one Turkish company had ordered an advert for the occasion. It announced, “Pone Triumph for Two Nations: That is Our Wish”. The same advert was published in the Armenian papers and later saw it appear in some Turkish ones as well. The difference was that the Armenian tri-color didn’t appear in color in the pages of our black and white tabloids; just two black bands and two Turkish crescents and a star. In the color pages of the Turkish press, the tri-color was actually tri-colored. I thought to myself, “At least we can claim this as a victory”. “The cold wind has reached down into my bones”, I said to a trembling reporter next to me. “Armenian-Turkish relations demands a sacrifice”, I blurted out. We had been standing by the secondary entrance to the hotel, waiting, for some three hours. The number of reporters had swelled to one hundred. I had counted them all just to kill some time – the reporters, police, security officials and the random passersby. Security personnel, naturally, made up the largest contingent. They were everywhere. We were standing around waiting; why and for whom, we did not know. All we knew was that around 9 p.m. we were to go and watch the football match. The waiting reporters, from a variety of countries, had started to get bored and were interviewing each other. The experts say that our team’s effort on the pitch was influenced by the psychological pressure of the occasion. Several Armenian reporters were saying that it was “due to undue psychological pressure that our boys lost the game”. This opinion reverberated back in Yerevan on several T.V. stations. But why then didn’t the Armenian team win the game played one year ago in Yerevan when it was the Turks that were feeling the “psychological pressure”? Why was it that the president of the Armenian football federation never experienced the same pressure and thus hand in his resignation? At least one thing was clear – the football federation president has been an utter failure lo these past few years and must quit the game and engage in the drafting and passage of legislation, as he is a member of parliament. I saw the Turkish fans; a huge throng comprising a cheering orchestra filling the stands of the Ataturk stadium. I got angry that our football players weren’t playing a good game. It was if the Armenians hadn’t actually fielded a team. Two or three days before the game, the federation president had promised to sack the coach if the team lost. In essence, he freed himself from all responsibility and threw the onus of defeat onto the shoulders of another. What he should have said was that he would resign if the team lost. When I try and convince myself that the opening of the border will spur economic development, certain facts and examples immediately come to mind culled from articles we have published. This year, Armenian villagers along the Turkish border dumped hundreds of tons of onions into the garbage. Why? - Because certain officials imported onions at a cheaper price from Iran. The border opening with Turkey envisages the same - cheaper onions along with cheaper produce and goods. I say, let’s get the country in order before any border opening so that it isn’t torn to pieces. Before the border is opened, see to it that the villages aren’t emptied and depopulated. A few hundred meters from the Armenian-Turkish border, a resident of the village of Haykadzor laments that, “My village is being emptied. In a few years it will be a ghost town. What bloody border are they talking about?” I believe what this person is saying. He is stating the truth and I support him. I will never support a person like Galust Sahakyan who labels Armenians of the diaspora opposed to the Armenian-Turkish protocols as “dregs of the nation”. I can’t fail to think that Samvel Aeksanyan, sitting in the Bursa stadium with me, isn’t already scheming as to what goods to monopolize once the railway line is up and running between Armenia and Turkey. This is what actually awaits us once the border is open, whether you want to believe it or not. Those who believe that the “gates of paradise” will be opened are in for a big surprise. Do you know what was placed on the seats of the bus waiting to whisk away the thirty-four reporters arriving from Armenia? - a book, in color, all about Turkey, a special “gift” from the government. The book relates how Armenian bandits slaughtered 100,000 peaceful Turks during the years 1914-1915. On page 246, there appears a photo of a pile of bones with the inscription that these are the remains of the Turkish village of Kolar; its residents massacred by the Armenians. Today, the only Armenians left in Bursa are those who must conceal their true identity. I don’t know if the Armenian officials now in Bursa, a city renowned for its textile sector, realize that the first such factories were built by Armenians? The largest such factory in Bursa was the silk processing plant belonging to J. Keoulian back in the 1800’s. The current residents of Bursa of course are illiterate about such things. When I started to tell a Turkish reporter about such things he looked at me in disbelief and utter amazement. I promised to send him a photograph of the factory taken back in its heyday. He promised that he would locate the factory’s original site and write an article about it. I then told my Turkish colleague that there were 90,000 Armenians living in Bursa 100 years ago. He replied that such a thing wasn’t possible. I thought it senseless to respond. While in Turkey they would ask me – “What’s the problem? Are you against the opening of the border?” Naturally, my response was that I didn’t oppose the opening of the border but rather the signing of the protocols. “But there aren’t any preconditions in the protocols”, was the response I got. To which I would retort – “But if there aren’t any preconditions why then the need for protocols?” They would tell me - that’s the way things are done - and I would say that we didn’t see the need for protocols when we established relations with Vietnam. “Well, yeah, but that’s Vietnam”, they’d say. “And this is Turkey”, I what I say. In the stadium a bunch of us unfurled the tri-color and started to wave it chanting, ‘Hay-as-tan’. They warned us that it wasn’t permitted to unfurl flags in the press box. We stood our ground and continued to wave the flag and chant ‘Hay-as-tan’ as loud as we could. But we had already lost.