"I am optimistic about the future. We should keep the struggle alive"

An Interview with Mr. Zaven Khanjian

First, can you please tell us about yourself?

Zaven- I was born in cradle of the Armenian Diaspora, the city of Aleppo Syria. Parallel to the patriotic spirit at home, I have nourished my love for my nation, mankind and literature through the discipleship of Mateos Der Mateosian, Haig Barigian and Yervant Kassouni.

After receiving elementary & secondary education in my home town, in 1967 I graduate from the American University of Beirut with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.

Moving to the Persian Gulf I spend 13 years working there while creating “Little Armenia”s together with like minded Armenians.

In 1979 I move my family to California where I have since been an active member of the community serving in leadership capacities at the Armenia Fund, The Armenian Evangelical Union of North America, The Merdinian Armenian Evangelical school, The United Armenian Congregational Church, Haigazian University of Beirut, the Glendale Family YMCA, The Salvation Army-Glendale Corps, Amercians for Artsakh and The Armenian American Real Estate Association.

Early on I have contributed to “Badanegan Artsakank” and later to “Chanasser”, “Nor Hay”, “Nor Gyank”, “Asbarez” & “The Armenian Observer”.
My letters to the editor have been published in the Arab, Armenian and American media.

Since 1987 I own and operate my Real Estate Company - Kanjyan Realty.

I am married to Sona Kelligian, am a father of three children and grandparent of five boys.

Raffi- When did you have the idea of visiting your ancestor's house?
Zaven- I had always wanted to visit my ancestral home but resisted the idea not to set foot in Turkey. The illegal, illegitimate and immoral war waged by the Bush Administration in Iraq made a mockery of the system of values in the world. It is complicated but the simple explanation remains to be the fact that for the first time I felt that I shared a common value with the Turk when I learned that the majority of the Turkish people just like me opposed the American invasion and occupation of Iraq.
For the first time I felt I was ready for the trip.

Raffi- What kind of obstacles did you face during your visit, and what were the reaction of the people when they found out that you were Armenian?
Zaven- I have described my "expectations" in my book as well as the "disappointment" for not having faced any obstacles during our trip. As a matter of fact our guide clearly told us that our trip was the first he had experienced with ultimately zero obstacles to visit anywhere or photograph anything. The experience of the reaction of people who found out we were Armenians was also very positive leaving the same taste of "disappointment" in us. Now there is no illusion that Turkey hosts many who would have liked us face the same destiny as Hrant Dink. But we did not meet them.

Raffi- Do the people living there fear that the Armenians would one day return to their home and get back their land?
Zaven- I believe Turks always fear Armenian demands of retribution & restitution after recognition. There are many examples of experiences whereby current property dwellers have asked the visiting heirs of homes to make their occupancy "halal". My personal experience could be that of the whole nation. When the Turkish occupant of my ancestral home asked me to tell him if the house was his or mine, my explanation is that he was experiencing a psychological turmoil and was not comfortable with his occupation. The more an educated Turk knows about the genocide the more uneasy and uncomfortable he will get.

Raffi- Do you recommend others to go through your path?
Zaven- I have concluded from my personal interaction with Turks whom I met during my pilgrimage and from our collective knowledge of Orhan Pambuk, Kemal Yalchin, Elif Shafak, Ragip Zarakolu, Fatma Muge Gocek, to name a few, that an educated, well informed and knowledgeable Turk who realistically faces his nation’s history cannot refrain from the feeling of guilt and shame. And pilgrimages of the sort will certainly help accomplish that. It will first sustain our bondage with our historical and ancestral lands. It will ignite the torch of a conscious national belongingness among the children of those who somehow survived the genocide, continue to live on the land but have lost their identity. And finally it will raise the conscious question in the minds of the current inhabitants and occupants of the land as to who these Armenians are & what is their relationship to the land.

In a speech at the United Armenian Congregational Church on November 5, 2006, three months before his martyrdom, Hrant Dink, referring to the Armenian Evangelical Camp Armen in Tuzla near Istanbul which he had described as “heaven on earth, an Atlantis” where over 1500 Armenian youngsters spent their childhood and youth for around twenty years and which was seized by the Turkish government in 1980, said: “And I have great hope that one day we will definitely repossess the camp that they took away from us. Definitely.”

In March 2008, the news wires reported that President Gul signed a decree into law whereby properties seized from minorities in Turkey after 1974 will be returned to their rightful owners. The Tuzla Camp is on the head of that list and I hope to see Hrant Dink’s rightful struggle in that respect come true.

There are seventy two million Turks & Kurds today who will not suddenly and magically vanish from the face of the earth. As a State and as Armenians of the homeland and the Diaspora it is my hope and wish that as much as we concentrate , encourage and assist in the development and enlightenment of our homeland, Armenia, we should also encourage to witness the same kind of development, education and progress in Turkey itself.

A civilized, progressive and well educated neighbor (provided we are one too) will only help sustain our homeland and the well being of our people.

Wwe can all repeat with the Psalmist our own vow and commitment
“ If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill, may my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy” Psalms 137: 5-6
Meanwhile, for a peaceful and happy coexistence of our children, grandchildren and successive generations let us hope, pray and struggle for a peace well anchored on justice.

Raffi: What advice do you give to the youth living in the diaspora, in the Middle East and in the States?
Zaven: I am optimistic about the future. We should keep the struggle alive, visit "home" as much and as often as we can. Always keep the Turk in a defensive mode. His knowledge of the facts in addition to our constant struggle and demand for justice will one day break him down.