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18 July 2012

Speech on the Proposed Closure of Ealing Hospital's Accident & Emergency

Ealing Hospital
Mr Mayor I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak in support of Councillor Jasbir Annand’s motion concerning the future of Ealing Hospital. I would urge the chamber to read between the lines of this motion and therein read that what we are discussing tonight is a process that undoubtedly would see the eventual closure of the Hospital. That’s where I feel – and quite confidently – we are headed.
The brevity of this motion embarrasses the lengthy paperwork that currently poses as a consultation document. Less a consultation, more so a cleverly disguised dictation of what our opinion as local residents and hospital users should be. Don’t be fooled, this consultation offers one option, closure, and only suggests we are being listened to when we evidently are not.
If we were being genuinely consulted then we wouldn’t need a document so verbose in detail that it drowns the principle, nor indeed would we have need of Councillor Annand’s motion, as good as it is. Instead our response would be 3 words: “leave Ealing alone!”
Unfortunately, that option isn’t offered to us by a Government that so often claims to champion localism, but has proven such championing to be only a convenient mantra.
What we are facing is a centrist diktat by the Government, and an ignoring of the localist outrage so evident at public meetings such as that which took place a fortnight or so ago at Hanwell Methodist Church which I was lucky enough to attend. Mr Mayor what was so encouraging about that meeting was the heated opposition to these proposals from across the community and cross party unanimity amongst local councillors.
It is insulting to the people of Ealing and an affront to us all that not only are we presented with an impenetrable document, a farce of a consultation, and the fettering of discretion but by way of explanation we have the management speak of Mark Spencer who rather inanely assures, and I quote, “we looked at this very hard [and] we need to concentrate some of our services on to fewer sites so we can produce higher quality of care”. To paraphrase our own indefatigable Ealing North MP Steve Pound what is the point of these centres of excellence if you cant get to them.
I wonder aloud; if, God forbid, the worst should happen, let us say in the middle of the night or indeed the day, and one of us here, or our family, or our neighbour should be rushed to an A & E department, some distance away, in pain, potentially at serious risk to their long term health or life, will these inane platitudes belying that these proposals are in fact about costing rather than clinical need offer any solace to the good people of not just Ealing, but Northwest London and beyond. We are being told that a healthy balance sheet is worth more than a healthy resident.
I have another fear Mr Mayor, that of Creeping Normalcy, or if you will death by a hundred closures. We have seen the demise of our Stroke Unit, we have seen threats to our Urology department and we now face nothing less than the beginning of the end for our Accident and Emergency. We are seeing an incremental closure, service-by-service, department-by-department.
I hesitate to describe David Cameron’s response to Virendra Sharma MP question early on in this Tory-led Government concerning the future of Ealing Hospital so strongly as an outright lie. However, increasingly that’s exactly what the Prime Minister’s response “There are no plans to close Ealing Hospital” sounds like. He may not be directly at the helm of these proposals, but he remains the captain of the ship.
Mr Mayor journalist Clare Rayner wished her last words to be recalled as “if David Cameron screws up my beloved NHS I’ll come back and bloody haunt him”. I’m interested to know, does Clare Rayner keep the Prime Minister up late at night, or his conscience?
What is really odious about these proposals is how the saving of one hospital means the closure of another. This unforgiveable pitting of communities against one another in some post-modern gladiatorial combat is not just disgusting; but seems to have such a capricious sentiment behind it as whoever shouts loudest will be heard. That such irrational logic be behind such a decision leads me to conclude that we may even be facing grounds for judicial review.

© Ara Iskanderian July 2012

29 April 2012

Speech At the Armenian Memorial Tree

Yesterday the London British-Armenian Community gathered to pay homage to the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide at the recently planted "recognition memorial" on Ealing Green.

The landmark memorial, opened last year, features a symbolic Apricot Tree (Prunus Armeniaca) and a plaque to commemorate the Armenian massacres of 1915. 

Alongside Labour Mayoral Candidate Ken Livingstone, Stephen Pound MP (Labour),  hundreds braved the rain to show their support and hear speeches from community leaders.

My speech to those present follows below:

"Compatriots, allow me a few brief words.

"Nearly two years ago Ealing Council - and in particular the Labour Group therein - took the historic and courageous step of officially recognising the Armenian Genocide. 

"The first and, so far only governing authority England to do so.

"By extension of that resolution we today are able to gather as a community around this humble Apricot Tree and remember the one and a half million victims of the Armenian Genocide.

"Let us remember the fallen. Let us commemorate their memory - but let us also reflect on how and why we remember.

"My fellows, continue to be patient with justice, and it will be served.

"Whilst we wait let us recall those great things that make us Armenian: our language, our faith, our culture - the very markers of difference that set us aside for massacre.

"Let us make the act of remembrance one wherein we remember for what our ancestors died - their language, their faith, their culture - and in so doing demonstrate why we deserve to live.

"Let this humble Apricot Tree be our example. Daily deepening its roots, an exile like us, daily remembering for what it was planted, here in a rainy corner of England - far from its native Armenia...

"And just as I have great faith that one day this tree will bear fruit, so too will we.

Patience compatriots, justice is coming."

Guardian journalist Dave Hill was accompanying Ken Livingstone's campaign team and had this to say about the occasion in his blog at the Guardian online 

please scroll down to see the relevant passages towards the end

Copyright Ara Alexander Iskanderian 2012

4 April 2012

Anti-Racism Speech Delivered on April 3rd 2012

Thank you Mr. Mayor for allowing me to speak on this motion; the underlying issues of which are so dear to me, that I might go so far as to say they are the very reasons that first encouraged my entry into local politics via the “Hope not Hate” campaign.

At our last Council meeting I left early and in disgust. I was disappointed at the tone and manner in which the opportunity to speak quickly descended into thinly veiled immigrant bashing.
As the descendant of immigrants to this country myself, I was unwilling to allow my presence to lend any legitimacy to what felt like an attack attempting to have some semblance of authority by being aired in this Chamber during a political debate purportedly about the budget.
I am of the opinion that this Chamber’s makeup should reflect the multicultural diversity of Ealing and its residents. Furthermore, that whilst we may differ politically, we might at least be minded to be united in the message that race and ethnicity are irrelevant issues to us as representatives of the people; and that even if that is wishful thinking, we might exercise caution and restraint in our words.
Sensitivities aside, I think it was forgivable to leave the Chamber on that day as a backbench observer, with the view that certain members believed all our local and national woes; be they economic, societal or educational, were squarely to be laid at the feet of immigrants. Views subsequently confirmed in several councillors’ blogs.
Not many people may know but I, a second generation immigrant went to school with Tory Group leader Councillor Millican’s son, and with my fellow Labour Councillor Crawford. Indeed I was in the same year as Councillor Millican’s son, even sharing some classes with him. Did I - the children of immigrants – really hold back his son’s and others’ education? I reject the view that my presence impeded theirs or any others’ opportunities.
These are unacceptable views either to hold or to air in public, and certainly not to blog about.
Councillor Dennehy made a mistake. I would like to think that he knows this and that his comments were unacceptable, singling out as they did a whole community and suggesting nationwide problems were intimately linked with that specific community.
However, an official apology, notable so far only by its absence, rather than any measure of contrition, might go some way to proving this assumption. Instead the best part of a month has passed, no apology, no official statements, and a sloppily handed suspension are the best the local Tory party leadership has managed.
Councillor Dennehy had ample opportunity to post an opportunity on his blog – he didn’t. Instead his assertions remain posted on Councillor Costello’s blog, and worse have been repeated on right-wing equivalents including a BNP website! Councillor Dennehy too could have remained and sat out this debate, using his opportunity to speak to apologise: again he chose not to.
I am however unsurprised given that this is the same group that considers it acceptable for its blogger-in-chief, Councillor Taylor; to preamble any mention of an ethnic minority councillor with said councillor’s ethnic origin.
We as a Chamber should celebrate the multicultural diversity of our borough and commend the borough’s harmony. We should be upstanding in representing the decent majority of people who recognise that societal problems do not stem from race, but rather focussing on race prevents us from sorting out these nationwide problems.
Let us also be sure: what has transpired is not an exercise in free speech. Having made offensive remarks it is not acceptable to cry “free speech” and fall back on it as a defence. Free Speech contains as much responsibility as it is an exercisable right; citing it is no excuse for saying something outrageous and offensive.
Or as my father, an immigrant from Iraq to this country succinctly put it, albeit with a slight accent: “Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should”.
Mr Mayor I am not a Southall resident. Having been born here, nor am I an immigrant, instead, proudly British. However, I felt the need to speak because I feel that an attack on one community is an attack on us all. Remaining silent, rather than showing solidarity, leads us down a dangerous path where language directed at one group can all too easily lend itself to another.
I would like to conclude with a quote from Martin Luther King, which I feel that during these harsh economic times serves this debate well, and is a truer inversion of the misconceived maxim that we are all in it together. We as a Chamber would be well served to be mindful of it; Dr. King said: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now”
Copyright Ara Iskanderian April 4th 2012

19 October 2011

Speech on Police Cuts

Mr Mayor, fellow Councillors, I would like to speak in support of Councillor Dheer and Councillor Ball’s joint motion condemning the Conservative-led government’s cuts to London Policing.
In that same breath I would like to commend the Liberal Democrats by joining the Labour party deputy leader in authoring this motion. Mr Mayor, in so doing they have demonstrated how issues of such magnitude cross party lines, and also the right way to coalesce on concerns of importance to our residents.

May I start by voicing my appreciation to the Police force of Ealing, and indeed beyond the borough, who in the face of unprecedented riots and in trying circumstances, nonetheless performed their duties to the best of their abilities, and despite criticisms levelled against them did their utmost in restoring order to our streets.

Might I add that the total number of Police eventually flooded into London, a number totalling 16,000, was a mere 1,000 short of the number of Police officers trained thanks to previous Labour government’s investment.

You’ll forgive me for wondering aloud as to where we would have gained the reinforcements from were we left with a Conservative legacy.

I think it is an all too sad truth to state that cutting Police numbers in the wake of some of the most disturbing scenes of civil disorder and mass violence in recent memory, insults the people of Ealing, and this country and what’s more completely ignores their fears for the safety of their neighbourhoods, businesses and personal wellbeing.

Members of this chamber who were present at last night’s riot inquiry will be only too familiar with how heightened these concerns are in the wake of last summer.

Mr Mayor, fellow Councillors, let us talk bluntly about what we are facing because all too often the spin and choice use of the facts by more senior Tories than those to my left - would have you ignore the effect of cuts in favour of you hearing the pithier and sound bite rationales behind said cuts.

Theresa May would have us believe that these cuts will not effect frontline policing.
Let’s be clear; they have, they will.

It is ludicrous to suggest that any cuts, let alone those of such a size and speed, will not have an immediate or trickle down effect. It’s insulting to suggest that anyone would believe otherwise.
People are not ignorant as to the effects; and the effect is simple; less funding for the Police, less resources for the Police, less Police!

There were questions during the riots “where are the Police?” If, God forbid, the worst should happen once more, and these cuts go ahead, I fear that such a question as “where are the Police?” might find an answer in the minutes of the Spending Review.
The relish with which the axe wielding government cuts, is matched only by the dogged axe grinding of the Home Secretary.

The time has come for Theresa May to admit, that as with her pussycat she’s got it wrong. Otherwise the next time the Home Secretary is greeted by silence by the Police Federation it might just be because she’s culled all our officers!

I make a difference between senior Tories and colleagues to the right, because I suspect, that many of them share the concerns aired by Councillor Dheer, but for whatever reason fail to voice them, but that if they did it would only lend weight to this motion and in so doing achieve something.

Perhaps they should listen to the heir-apparent Boris Johnson who says now is not the time.

In describing Theresa May’s cuts, I would like to borrow a term more often than not used by Councillor Reen: this is no less than the salami slicing of our Police Force. A salami slicing that belies the Home Secretary’s choice of ignoring the concerns of our law abiding residents and instead persisting in an ideological drive

© Ara Iskanderian October 18 2011

7 April 2011

Maiden Speech

What follows is my Maiden Speech delivered to Full Ealing Council on Tuesday April 5th 2011:

Mr Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Fellow Councillor’s, Comrades;

Allow me to begin my maiden speech by first of all thanking the good people of Northolt Mandeville for voting me into this chamber as their representative.

Although the May election is now a distant memory, I think it only fitting to say a few words concerning how honoured I feel to represent, in this chamber, the ward and people of Northolt Mandeville; a truly diverse part of the borough.

I would add how privileged I am to work with such an enthusiastic and committed group of colleagues within this Chamber; who have not only led by example in showing how a young councillor, such as myself, should conduct himself but also offered ample guidance.

They are also people whom I must applaud for the manner in which they conduct themselves and the sensitivity which they display in meeting the challenges posed by the axe wielding Tory-led central government

A government hell bent on front loaded cuts, and leaving us local councillors with the difficult challenge of making the less painful of otherwise two equally painful decisions.

Mr Mayor, comrades, having been raised and educated within the borough I can proudly call Ealing home; and it truly is a great borough to come from.

It is with a strong emotional attachment and warm familiarity, that I read through the lists and landmarks of the borough and can recall deeply personal memories.

Ealing was both a family home, and wherein lay the family laundrette business, at which several councillors on the other side frequently dropped off their dirty washing, including none other than our own Councillor Taylor.

Ealing studios are a landmark on the itinerary of every family member visiting from overseas; and it was at Ealing Cinema that this Councillor, served the borough’s residents as an usher, and perhaps a few of you were served popcorn by me.

Acton was an education, not least because it was where I went to school, but because this ethnically diverse part of the borough is a living, breathing exercise of successful multiculturalism - not the airy intellectualising that our current government favours.

Northfields, personally well-known not least because it hosts one of the cultural centres that the Armenian Community, a community from which I draw heritage – and which has deep roots in Ealing - have established in the Borough, but also because a certain bar therein. Some Councillors on the other side might remember me serving them wine.

Southall too, a special place, where my India-born grandparents swore you could buy the best jelaybis in London, Mr Mayor, I would suggest the best jelaybis in the world.

And Mr Mayor, as someone who regularly drives family members to Southall, someone who has personally experienced the frustration of trying to find a parking space in the area, I for one, wholeheartedly welcome the news of a much needed new car park that this Labour led Council has pledged.

Mr Mayor, comrades;

As a young councillor, it is with particular enthusiasm that I take an interest in the future of our borough.

It is to Ealing’s next generation that we owe a strong duty of investment by way of effort, resources and above all education. If we make decisions, as elected representatives that fail to safeguard a positive legacy for the young people of this borough, then we run the risk of bequeathing a lost generation with all the negative consequences that entails.

What’s more, if we fail our young people, we prove ourselves insincere in caring about our borough’s future.

It should be with interest that the members of this council note, that several councillors herein, have, like myself, graduated from Ealing’s schools; including my fellow Labour Councillor Daniel Crawford, who like myself was a pupil at Twyford Church of England High School. Other councillors’ children are likewise alumni of our fine educational establishments.

I wonder how the opposition hope a new generation will emerge from their own ranks to replace them when they so blindly apologise for cuts, and ignore that the only future they are succeeding in building for our community is a one where opportunity is denied, but for the wealthy few, talent refused incentive to develop, and services so reduced in ability, that they will forever be testament to the reckless thriftiness of silver-spooned politicians.

Mr Mayor that is why I commend the leadership of this Labour Council as they make tough decisions in tough times.

They do so in the spirit of progressive politics as identified by the Anglo-Catholic novelist and essayist G. K Chesterton, who says that when faced with the forces of reactionary conservatism, progressive politics is as much about preventing a worse world emerging, as creating a better one.

I urge all the councillors herein, it is not ideology that should compel our decisions, nor idle point scoring motions that form, and have formed, the bulk of opposition business to date. Instead, we should be mindful of why we are here; to serve the interests of the people of this borough.

Mr Mayor, I would like to make two pleas:

Firstly, I call upon the opposition to end their selective memory of Labour’s record, and instead encourage them to expend their energies in suggesting solutions, rather than unconstructive criticism.

Secondly, that we join Councillor Johnson in damning the national budget which does little to serve the hopes, aspirations and interests of the people of Ealing.

Mr Mayor, comrades, as a keen historian, I would like to conclude with a brief exercise in etymology.

It may interest members that the name Ealing is derived, in part, from an Anglo-Saxon particle meaning “place of the people” ensuring that Ealing lives up to its historic name, that is what I hope we achieve in these difficult times ahead and in the face of a budget that so resoundingly reminds us that we are not all in this together.

20 September 2010

Book Review: Deep Mountain: Across the Turkish-Armenian Divide by Ece Temelkuran

In his travel account of 1930s Soviet Armenia, the Russian-Jewish poet Osip Mandelstam wrote; “I have cultivated in myself a sixth sense, an ‘Ararat’ sense: the sense of attraction to a mountain.” Mandelstam’s observation based on the Armenians’ heavily romanticised longing for Mount Ararat might just be an aspect of the Armenian mentality rather than merely a colourful remark.

The mountain upon which Noah’s Ark came to rest now lies on the Turkish side of the border and looms ominpresently over Armenia’s capital Yerevan, a daily reminder to Armenians of loss and historic trauma. It’s customary for Diaspora Armenians to prominently display a picture of the mountain in their homes, a symbol of exile and the lost Armenia of Anatolia. Ararat is a sort of Armenian Zion.

A gradually growing ‘Ararat Sense’ develops throughout the pages of Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran’s new book Deep Mountain: Across the Turkish-Armenian Divide; Ararat anchors every chapter in Temelkuran’s quest to seek out and encounter the fabled Armenian Diaspora, ultimately infecting her as well. For most Turks Ağrı Dağ - to give Ararat its Turkish name - is merely Turkey’s highest point. However, for Armenians it’s a far more emotive landmark.

In conversation with the late Silva Gabudikian, the grand dame of Armenian poetry, Temelkuran is informed of the conundrum Ararat poses to Turkish-Armenian dialogue: “Young lady,” says Gabudikian, “Ararat is a matter of height for you but for us, it’s a matter of depth!” Hence a book gains its title, and Ararat a synonym: ‘Deep Mountain’. A metaphor for insurmountability or a shared romanticism, Temelkuran leaves the reader to apply their own Ararat sense whilst offering her own suggestion.

Truly deep run Ararat’s roots within the Armenian psyche. During one interview the Istanbul-born Armenian avant-garde musician Arto Tunçboyajyan states; “There’s only one people in the world who feel like they belong to a mountain: the Armenians.” Mention of the mountain recurs throughout the encounters described in Deep Mountain, perhaps convincing Temelkuran of her choice of title but certainly leading her to conclude rather poignantly “It’s your Ararat and our Ağrı. Your loss and our pain.”

Herein this statement coming close to the end lies something telling about the book. Temelkuran’s audience, though not intended to be exclusively Armenian, undoubtedly has Armenians in mind during its final pages. The author seems to be speaking directly to an Armenian readership, concluding in her epilogue with a warm invitation for a glass of raki – which she refuses to italicise for reasons apparent in the book – and over that glass, perhaps Armenians and Turks could reconcile? Utopian, the book will definitely be accused of, but it remains laudably trailblazing.

This is a book part travelogue, part encounter, part memoir and part history and yet overarchingly heartfelt. Ece Temelkuran sets herself a difficult task; not content with the official image of the Armenian bogeyman and the ‘other’ of the Turkish media, she takes it upon herself to seek out Armenians for herself. Her goal, to confront the popular image peddled in Turkey of a belligerent and vengeful Armenian Diaspora and an impoverished suffering Armenia on account of the former’s demands for recognition of the Armenian Genocide. In her odyssey she travels to Armenia, and to centres of the Armenian Diaspora: Paris, Boston and New York, helpfully encouraged by the late Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Here one could be critical, absent on the list of Diaspora centres are other important sites; Beirut, Aleppo and Moscow could have been added, and I for one would have loved to have chatted in London.

There are some painful confrontations in this book too; Armenians who refuse to talk to a Turk, an elderly bookselling couple whose faces’ colour drains at the prospect of a Turk in their midst. The image of the terrible Turk that many Armenians harbour is as much an issue to overcome and Temelkuran is refreshingly non-judgmental in this disregard, in fact she’s rather empathic and understanding and rarely prone to frustration. By the conclusion of her sojourns Temelkuran’s got the measure of the Armenians. “Armenians are designed for survival,” she says and her listeners are overjoyed at the summation.

That Armenians are. When Gabudikian rather unpoetically and equally undiplomatically lists and quantifies Armenia’s most recent woes – the 1988 earthquake (50,000 dead), the Karabagh War (30,000 dead), Turkey’s blockade (nearly a million émigrés) – Temelkuran silently sits hearing the litany, quietly accepting the accusation from Gabudikian that attempting to decipher a people having gone through all that is almost impossible. Indeed, much later in the book Temelkuran grinds her own axe, angrily stating how offensive she finds the touristic image of the Turk as an apple-tea-drinking, moustachioed kilim-seller. Implicit is that stereotypes need to be overcome and her narrative quest is underwritten by an attempt at this.

When Temelkuran is at Tsitsernakaberd (‘fortress of swallows’), the museum and monument dedicated to the Armenian Genocide and there confronted by the images of the genocide’s victims, she admits to feeling a sense of detachment; it’s honest, albeit an admittedly disappointing reaction. Yet, in her honesty Temelkuran also suggests that the intense stare of a museum assistant, desperate to discern an emotional reaction, prevents a genuine reaction. Is this a symptom of the titular Turkish-Armenian divide - resentment at being forced?

Later on, following the murder of Hrant Dink on an Istanbul sidewalk, Temelkuran weeps and with her 100,000 others for a very dear Armenian. Overnight Hrant Dink became a martyr, sometimes for the wrong reasons. Dink’s death, and Temelkuran’s account, reveals the depth of a very personal, very human, very real relationship – Dink in life and death was seemingly the catalyst for the book’s beginning and completion – and underlines the unfortunate truism latent in Stalin’s aphorism that a million deaths remains a statistic whilst an individual’s death is a tragedy. Dink is for Temelkuran an inspiration and in his death she sees perhaps a glimmer of the Armenian pain, which she has earlier diagnosed in the Diaspora but not understood wholly or empathically, until Dink’s murder. A painful frustration of voices prematurely silenced, patriarchs killed and opportunities lost.

There are cringe-worthy moments the book. When Ece and Yurttaş, her photographer, are asked to leave a bar in central Yerevan unless they accept the Armenian Genocide, I found myself wanting to say; ‘we’re not all like that’. In Boston the pair attend an Armenian scouting event where there’s much foot-stomping and chest-beating. It’s April 24th, the day Armenians globally commemorate the Armenian Genocide and the evening’s proceedings to which Temelkuran’s privy culminate with a brief documentary on the genocide. Images of genocide are interspersed with the Turkish perpetrators. Temelkuran’s description of the commemorative event, similar to ones I participated in as a child, rather alarmingly reminded me of the ‘two minutes hate’ sessions of George Orwell’s 1984.

Yet in this landscape of human encounters there are really touching moments. When a group of war veterans excitedly tell their tales to Temelkuran on May Day in Yerevan in Azeri Turkish, she listens attentively like a good granddaughter whilst they lap up her attention. In America when wealthy, well-to-do Armenians suddenly break into dormant, peasant dialects of Turkish you can almost read the grin on Temelkuran’s face at the sound of half-dead Anatolianisms. The secret language of cuisine, folk songs and common expressions regularly brings a smile, just as Yurttaş’s altercations with a constantly ‘recalculating’ GPS and overly patriotic French waiters are eerily familiar and human. Most poignant of all are Temelkuran’s encounters with Armenian women where some secret language of sisterhood and maternity inflects the dialogue and really encourages openness. As a male reader I felt I was missing out on something when descriptively knowing looks pass between Temelkuran and people she considers her Anatolian sisters.

This is not a political book and will certainly displease many demagogues irrespective of their ethnicity or nationality. In its pages are no judgements of right and wrong. Temelkuran asks some questions, talks rather romantically in parts but largely leaves the people she meets to do the talking. This is ultimately a humanistic exploration of trauma. History is nodded at but not wholly explained, thus Temelkuran’s own personal view on the Armenian Genocide is never assertively stated but that’s somewhat forgivable; this is a book about encountering people and their memories, not entering the fray of a very emotive issue. Having said that, not making an explicitly clear stance will draw criticism from some who see the whole topic as politicised. I’m also not convinced of what purpose it serves to draw links between the politically motivated killings of left-wing Turks in the 1970s and the Armenian Genocide. To paraphrase Plato, one cannot compare two people’s suffering. Similarly, her search for a common Anatolia culture is a bridge waiting to be crossed and Temelkuran seemingly relishes these commonalities but how much there is a willing community to join her in charting this possible common ground is up to writers who come in this book’s wake.

The bravery with which Temelkuran proceeded to challenge stereotypes and the un-diminishing courage when faced with sometimes bellicose interviewees is commendable, especially when one considers the flak she has attracted in Turkey for having written the newspaper columns out of which this book evolved. Personally I was moved by her rather simple strategy for reconciliation with which she concludes. Dismissively utopian for some, nevertheless Temelkuran suggests “the fantastic notion that this problem could be resolved if every Turk listened to every Armenian – just listened.” What might ‘they’ hear? Perhaps nothing more than the love of a mountain, that infectious Ararat sense. It’s a start though.

© Ara Iskanderian September 19th 2010

12 June 2010

Blogaid being a play on the word Blockade

It was with some amusement that I learned the other day of the intention of a group of young Israeli students’ to put together an aid flotilla, and dispatch it to Turkey. The flotilla was to be sent on a mercy mission to relieve the suffering of Turkey’s, and I quote, ‘oppressed’ Kurdish and Armenian minorities. Just exactly what the ships would contain by way of aid wasn’t elaborated upon, although it was hinted that medical supplies would make up part of the cargo.

Boaz Torporovsky, the chairman of the Israeli National Union of Students, and chief planner, made it clear that the aim of the flotilla was to draw global attention to Turkey’s hypocrisy in criticising Israeli policy towards Gaza. Torporovsky stated; “Turkey, which leads the campaign against Israel and makes all sorts of threats, is the same Turkey that carried out a holocaust and murdered an entire nation of Armenians,” before proceeding to correctly identify Turkey’s Kurdish population as a much larger minority, and much larger stateless people than the Palestinians.

Alas the ignoble art of blogging is a poor medium via which to transmit the wry, cynical smile that curls my mouth’s corners, and indeed the only words I can utilise to best describe my response is the text-speech neologism; LOL!

Textisms aside, terming the Armenian Genocide a holocaust...ouch, the Turks won’t much like that particular stab at their Achilles heel by the plucky David. Fighting the Arab Goliath is one thing, pissing off the Turks is quite another, and comments like that are bound to hurt. Personally, I think it’s farcical, disingenuous and insensitive to use Armenian history in this cheap point-scoring way, but then why change the habit of a lifetime?

I would of much rather preferred that the would-be Israeli aid flotilla organisers drew attention to a different aspect of the hypocrisy and irony of certain Turkish politicians criticising Israel’s blockade of Gaza. It would also be heart warming if all those opinion pieces lauding and commending Turkey’s belligerence were equally eager to turn their necks a mere ninety degrees and realise that Ankara’s chest-thumping is merely the pot calling the kettle black. Turkey itself enforces an illegal, internationally condemned blockade of its neighbouring landlocked Armenia, in league with its ally Azerbaijan. The Turkish-Azerbaijani authored blockade has lasted seventeen years, caused untold suffering and misery, and indirectly caused the flight of over one million people from Armenia. The Armenian border town of Gyumri, hit by an earthquake in 1988 has never recovered because Turkey refuses to relent on the blockade.

Does that thought haunt the Turkish blockade runners and politicians who merely reveal the level of their own hypocrisy? How many do-gooders will dare run that blockade in the name of humanitarian relief? My point is that Turkey should be true to the Kemalist dictum; ‘Peace at home, peace in the world’ and focus more on its own embarrassments rather than those of others.

But, alas, as is the case with my peregrinating thoughts, I digress...

Even if the ship were to set sail tomorrow, and arrive in two to three days time (the length I believe it would take to go from Tel Aviv to Istanbul), it would arrive ninety-five years too late. There is little left of the Armenian population of Anatolia, modern day Turkey, merely a residual community of 60,000 (realistically) to 80,000 (optimistically), consisting mostly of an urbanised community in Istanbul, which largely keeps itself to itself. Rather than the jubilant crowds that might have expected to greet a successful aid flotilla, had it reached Gaza, I’m nearly 100% certain those stoical Istanbulite Armenians wouldn’t much care for the attention.

That would bring us neatly to Turkey’s Kurds. Perhaps nearly 20% of Turkey’s population are Kurdish. Just what they would make of a bunch of Israeli students turning up to offer them assistance is anyone’s guess, it’s certainly beyond this blogger, who isn’t Kurdish, and isn’t interested in conjecture.

According to the organisers of the Israeli students’ ‘counter-flotilla’ they have the know-how, the supplies, the ships, the people, even the balls, but lack the money. However, there are other issues to consider. Successfully getting aid to Turkey’s Armenians and Kurds, the later an almost entirely landlocked people, would require the tremendous feat of navigating the hostile Dardanelles straits, and then somehow going overland. That would be a naval feat that successive would-be-conquerors, right up to Winston Churchill’s attempt in 1915 to blast through Turkish defences with the might of the Royal Navy, all, successively failed to do.

Something else the would-be Israeli mercy mission might want to consider is how best to get the aid from the sea to the intended Armenians and Kurds. The Kurds are a largely landlocked people, and Armenia, certainly the current republic of, is also an entirely landlocked entity. Here the Israeli students would have to contend with the problem that the former British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury identified in the 1890s when pressed to aid the Ottoman Armenian population, then being butchered by Sultan Abdulhamid II, how do sea-based ships cross mountains?

Hopefully by now you, my reader will have picked up on the tongue firmly in cheek nature of this post. I intend no offence, nor point scoring, but I do love a bit of irony. Certainly there is a serious side to this fiasco-cum-disagreement, but kid yourself not, this is not some clash of interests, nor prelude to conflict. The economic, military and political ties that mark the Turkish-Israeli relationship are too deep and valued to be completely undermined by this spat, littered with grandiose hawkish statements so obviously tailor made for domestic consumption. Israel and Turkey are unlikely to fall out in any game-changing way.

There are tragedies here to list and detail. The tragedy in which nine civilians were killed, and the issue of whether they, and their families, will receive justice and compensation. Then there is the ongoing tragedy of the Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza, besieged, blighted, frustrated and suffering, but definitely not forgotten, as so many other causes demanding immediacy and address, around the world are – and I have listed just two herein. There are criticisms to be made, of those ‘angels of mercy’ who attacked the Israeli marines that boarded the ships, just as there is criticism to be levelled at the high-handedness of those same marines which resulted in bloodshed. And there is also the ample criticism to be thrown at Israel’s attitude to Gaza. Caution dictates serious implications do not descend into the mud-slinging farce that is the Middle East’s default state of play.

History has repeatedly shown that blockades notoriously don’t work. Both Napoleon and Hitler aimed to blockade Britain, and force her into a state of economic isolation and destitution, thus assuring her defeat. Both Napoleon and Hitler failed, their plan’s contributing to their own downfall. Turkey sought to kowtow Armenia, but the plucky ex-soviet republic has yet to bend.

The Roman historian Arian, recounts that when Alexander the Great, who allegedly wept for he could not conquer the moon, happened upon the hitherto unimportant city of Gaza he found an obstinate Persian governor named Batis, unwilling to surrender to the might of Macedonia. At first Alexander sought to bypass Gaza, ignore it but Batis dug in and fought a bloody protracted battle to the last, the Gazan’s under his command never surrendered. In the words of Arian “The defenders, though the town was taken, still stood shoulder to shoulder and fought to the last”.

When recounting Alexander’s motivation, Arian suggests hubris and fears of that this stubborn outpost of resistance would undermine his empire-building. Arian writes “Alexander, however, was firm in his belief that the greater the difficulty, the more necessary it was to take it; for a success so far beyond reason and probability would be a serious blow to the morale of the enemy, while failure, once Darius and the Greeks got to know of it, would be an equally serious blow to his own prestige.” One could draw parallels and conclude history is repeating itself, and that Alexander’s observation was correct, for I also read today that Darius’ Iranian descendants are sending their own flotilla to Gaza, no doubt motivated by the failure of Israel to break Gaza’s obstinacy.

With all this goodwill floating about the high seas of the Middle East, it makes you kind of wonder why their all so reluctant to forge a peace? Overcoming that mental bloc, or blockade if you will, is the real act of political heroism and humanitarian achievement, but it certainly won’t come about by bashing heads with metal bars.

© Ara Iskanderian June 10th London 2008