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Cablegate: Turkey's Sole Ethnic Armenian Village Says It's Time to Move

VZCZCXRO2980
RR RUEHDA
DE RUEHDA #0122 3031427
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 301427Z OCT 07
FM AMCONSUL ADANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4623
INFO RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 1166
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 1007
RUEHYE/AMEMBASSY YEREVAN 0007
RUEHKB/AMEMBASSY BAKU 0010
RUEHSI/AMEMBASSY TBILISI 0008
RUEHDA/AMCONSUL ADANA 1226

UNCLAS ADANA 000122

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: TU AM PGOV PHUM PREL
SUBJECT: TURKEY'S SOLE ETHNIC ARMENIAN VILLAGE SAYS IT'S TIME TO MOVE
ON

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Turkey's only remaining Armenian village,
Vakifli, is fighting demographic and social pressures by
developing niches in organic farming and religious tourism. The
Village elders said Turkish officials treat Vakifli well,
including providing help with church renovations. While the
leaders also recognized Vakifli's unique status is a draw for
tourists and journalists, they wish the latter would focus on
their region's economic potential instead of dwelling on the
stale "genocide" controversy. END SUMMARY.

BACKGROUND
--------------------

2. (U) Turkey's sole remaining ethnic Armenian village,
Vakifli, lies on the slopes of Mount Moses in Hatay province, 35
kilometers from the Syrian border. According to village leader
Berc Kartun, in 1915 inhabitants of Vakifli, along with six
other Armenian villages, chose to hunker down rather than comply
with the Ottoman order of expulsion. The villages resisted
successfully - and long enough to see Hatay's terrority ceded to
French-administered Syria until 1939, when the province was
relinquished to Turkey. After the handover, many of Mount
Moses' ethnic Armenians migrated to Lebanon and Syria, and those
who remained consolidated their numbers in the village of
Vakifli, where the current population stands at 132. Other
areas of Hatay likely have an additional 120 or so ethnic
Armenians, Kartun said.

LET'S MOVE ON
-----------------------
3. (U) According to village leaders, Vakifli enjoys a status
indistinguishable from other villages and the support of local
government. To underscore this last point, Church leader Garbis
Kus said the sub-governor's office donated funds to restore the
village church, where over 100 mostly foreign tourists visit
weekly. Vakifli's main activity is the cultivation of 29 types
of organic fruits and vegetables and was the first village in
Hatay province to earn EU organic farming certification.
Leaders want to expand export markets in hopes of retaining the
village's thinning population and, of course, generating income
for the village. Kus estimates 500 of Vakifli natives are now
living in Istanbul and Europe due to economic and social
factors. Kus said there are few marriageable women in the
community, and young Vakifli males often opt to travel to
Istanbul or abroad to find a partner.
4. (U) Kus and Kartun harshly criticized how the press handles
AGR issues, and lament it's the same routine year after year.
When giving TV interviews, they said they'd much rather talk
about innovation in their organic products than a subject that
should be left to academics to discuss. After a recent 17-day
trip to Armenia, the two leaders believe the key to "moving on"
lies with Turkish Armenian rapprochement, political and
economic. (Both Kus and Kartun commented they had no problem
entering Armenia with their Turkish passports, and were
surprised to find their western dialect of Armenian and the
language of Yerevan were very different.)
5. (SBU) While the village leaders had no complaints about
overt GOT pressure or discrimination, the reality is that
mandatory Muslim religious classes for elementary school
students and a ban on Christian theological schools (the church
therefore lacks a priest) makes it challenging for Vakifli to
preserve its Armenian culture and language. Still, Hatay
province is known for tolerating and even celebrating its unique
religious and cultural diversity, and local GOT administrators
seem to share Vakifli's enthusiasm for promoting religious
tourism. Other cities are also joining the effort to safeguard
Vakifli's cultural roots; media report the Development of
Vakifli, an Istanbul-based organization, will soon implement a
project to restore the traditional stone houses of the village.

6. (SBU) COMMENT. Ironically, the sustained interest of
outsiders will likely be key to maintaining the village's
internal charm and authenticity. The steady stream of media
attention and foreign tourists will help anchor Vakifli's place
on the newly trodden path of Hatay's faith-based and
eco-tourism, and help the village promote its organic products.
END COMMENT.

GREEN

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