Finding a path to peace through journalism

I greeted Ofelya Kamavosyan and Mehmet Fatih Öztarsu when they got off the plane three weeks ago in Tallahassee from Washington, D.C., as professionals extending typical courtesies. I knew them only from their Facebook pages.

They had come to Tallahassee and our newspaper ostensibly to finish working on a documentary, part of the International Center For Journalists “cross-border reporting project.”

As they departed for Washington and then home — Kamavosyan, an Armenian and Öztarsu, a Turk — I realized their mission was far bigger. Their mission — and that of five other reporting teams from their countries participating in the ICFJ project — was to find peace through their journalism.

This is no small task between these neighboring nations, which have no diplomatic relationships and a closed border. Öztarsu is the lone Turkish journalist working in Armenia. In 1915, during World I, millions of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire, the precursor nation to Turkey, disappeared, with Armenians claiming 1.5 million were killed and hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions more — fleeing to the United States and places around the world.

Turkey, a U.S. ally, has never recognized this genocide and has pressured its allies against such a recognition. It is illegal to speak of the genocide in Turkey. It has twice in recent years recalled its ambassador to the United States temporarily in reaction to efforts in Congress to recognize the genocide.

As a candidate for president, then-Sen. Barack Obama criticized the firing of the U.S. ambassador to Armenia for using the word genocide, saying it was his “firmly held conviction that the Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable.”

But as president, Obama has not used the word genocide. Last month, Turkey, one of the United States’ few Muslim friends in the world, reacted angrily when President Obama issued this statement on April 24, Armenian Remembrance Day:

“I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. A full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts is in all our interests.”

Peace through journalism will be very difficult. Indeed, the whole concept seemed a bit too incredulous just a few weeks ago, but not any longer, not now that I know my two new young journalist friends. Journalists must have the courage to say things that the politicians and governments cannot or will not. That is what members of our profession have long done, often at great personal risk, and that remains our calling today, in our small towns and on the world stage. The task — the challenge — must be always to seek the truth and find ways to report it.

Sometimes it is truth that absolutely no one wants to hear or that some feel is better left unsaid. I have listened as these two have spoken to each other and as they have interviewed dozens of American Armenians living in Tallahassee. I have read their writings, too.

During his visit here, after interviewing Americans of Armenian ancestry, including Tallahassee City Commissioner Mark Mustian, Öztarsu wrote an article published in several languages in publications in Europe. In it he suggests that Turkey needs to change course:

“Turkey, which is on the verge of losing this particular battle, at least theoretically, this battle essentially, extended the closure of the border and reports of incidents with the Armenian diasporas. And it is now clear that none of these tactics has brought a lot to Turkey.”

Until relatively recently, I must confess, the Turkey-Armenia “problem” was barely a blip on my radar screen, just one more of those problems between nations that share a border and some ugly history. But now that I know these two young journalists, I care deeply about the outcomes. Next month, I will travel to their countries to visit my new friends and to listen to them present a documentary at conferences in Ankara and Yerevan, and I will think of them both daily, and their challenge to help their nations find peace through their journalism.

Bob GABORDI / Executive Editor of Tallahassee Democrat – The USA—/105130353/Finding-a-path-to-peace-through-journalism

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