Monday, May 23, 2005

Letter 21: Ottawa's annual Tulip Festival

Ottawa Tulip Festival, May 2005

It is that time of year after the Winterlude season is over, when Ottawa welcomes tourists by the thousands from all over the world, again. It is the time of the world famous “Ottawa Tulip Festival”.

The festival originated with the generosity of HRH Princess (later Queen) Juliana of the Netherlands and the Dutch people. HRH expressed her gratitude to Ottawa, where one of her daughters was born and where she and her family found refuge during the Second World War, by sending us an annual gift of 20,000 bulbs of tulips.

Ottawa photographer, Malak Karsh, in love with the beauty of the tulip, conceived the idea of the “Tulip festival.” He founded it and promoted it. His Armenian family having escaped from Mardin, after the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, Malak was familiar with the splendor of this flower in his original homeland. When it was decided that playing on the Tulipomania of the XVIIIth century would bring an exotic flavour to the Tulip festival, Malak worked on the idea and brought it to fruition. In his typical spirit of “Peace and Friendship” he involved the Turkish Embassy in the project, and a Turkish pavilion has been part of the Ottawa Tulip Festival for a few years now. Some people now believe that tulips originated in Turkey, and a few are even aware that Sultan Ahmed III bankrupted the Sublime Porte (The Ottoman government) in 1730 because he speculated on Tulips as the bubble burst at the height of Tulipomania.

In her recent book “The Tulip”, even famous gardener-author, Anna Pavord, forgets that when she went hunting for one particularly beautiful variety of “brilliant red tulips”[1] in “Eastern Turkey”, she had actually set foot in “Historic Armenia”. Pavord recounts her first encounter with a truly indigenous variety of tulips there: Tulipa Armena. She writes: “…On the road between Askale and Tercan (sic)[2], we came across an isolated group of tulips, with at least two dozen flowers in full bloom…..We excavated one bulb and,…established that it must be T. armena, for it did not have much wool under its tunic[3].” Then, on the same page, Pavord goes to describe a strange encounter with an Erzerum wolf. She writes: “The …T.armena conundrum was rolling around my head like a riddle. I opened my eyes to find a wolf silhouetted against the sun… Only inches from my eyes, were the tulips, brilliant red blazes in the foreground. Behind them was the wolf, stark against the sky. When I sat up, it bolted away, disappearing into a low cave under a neighboring rock crag. The conjunction of the two was …enigmatic… I thought still of these tulips, slashes of brilliant blood welling from the bare… slopes of the mountain. Wolves were nothing to them… Millennia had passed by on this slope, while the wild tulip slowly, joyously had evolved and regenerated itself. Even now,…the tulips were plotting new feats, re-inventing themselves in ways that we could never dream of.”

I am as puzzled by this encounter with the wolf as Pavord seems to be. It brings to mind the very recent attempt by the Turkish government to change the scientific names of local animals. In a story aired last March by the BBC[4], an official with Turkey's Ministry of the Environment was quoted as saying that many old names were contrary to Turkish unity: "Unfortunately there are many other species in Turkey which were named this way with ill intentions. This ill intent is so obvious that even species only found in our country were given names against Turkey’s unity," a ministry statement quoted by Reuters news agency said. Some Turkish officials say the names are being used to argue that Armenians or Kurds had lived in the areas where the animals were found. The name changes affect the following: Red fox, known as Vulpes Vulpes Kurdistanica, would become Vulpes Vulpes. Wild sheep, called Ovis Armeniana, would become Ovis Orientalis Anatolicus. Roe deer, known as Capreolus Capreolus Armenus, would become Capreolus Cuprelus Capreolus.

Will the Turkish government also attempt to rename T. armena, this brilliant red beautiful wild tulip? Will they try to change the name of the apricot from Prunus Armeniaca? How far will they go to try and wipeout any evidence of Armenians from their historic homeland? How far will the genocide extend? I do sincerely hope that Turkish citizens of good will, will on their own put an end to these deceitful tactics of their government.

Perhaps Pavord’s vision was prophetic. Like the Armenians, the brilliant red tulips did regenerate themselves. Gagach is the Armenian name for tulips, and every year on April 24, mountains of these gagachs, brought by individuals in memory of their fallen family members, accumulate in front of the eternal flame at the Genocide memorial in Yerevan, Armenia

So next time you visit beautiful Ottawa in May for the Tulip Festival, remember it might as well be named “Gagach Festival”.

Antoine S. Terjanian
is an Ottawa resident who spent one year working for sustainable development in the Republic of Armenia, as a volunteer.

My letter 21 was published May 10, 2005 by the Ottawa Citizen on the Editorial page A-15 (see photo by clicking http://www.flickr.com/photos/aterjanian/2235990035/in/set-72157600803882235/ ) . The article was published with a big 'provocative' headline (they were touched by our story and told me they verified all the facts, but hey, remember, their business is to sell newspapers...).
In a spirit of fairness, I am posting the following responses which were also published by the Citizen. It is conforting to me that the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa does not seem to support the renaming of species, although the CBC website indicates that it is the "Turkish parliament is now even removing references to Armenians and Kurds in the animal kingdom". See April 27, 2005
http://www.cbc.ca/dispatches/sept04june05.html

Ninety years ago, Armenians suffered a genocide they can't forget, and one Turkey won't admit.
In fact, the Turkish parliament is now even removing references to Armenians and Kurds in the animal kingdom, as we hear from the CBC's Bruce Edwards near Istanbul.
Listen to Bruce's dispatch



AT’s comment: This is yet to be verified. I also agree with Dr. Paktunc: Let's enjoy the gagachs! :D :-)))

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The Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Re: A tulip by any other name, May 11.

Antoine Terjanian's article is a manipulative and opportunistic attempt to convey a controversial message about Turkey's renaming of tulip species.

I am not familiar with the protocols of naming species. However, I gather that any attempt to do so would have to go through a scientific panel for approval. It is not up to governments to name or rename species.

Although I sympathize with the sufferings of the Armenians during the war, I don't want my celebration of spring, peace and freedom be tainted by prejudices.

So, Mr. Terjanian, do the honourable thing as Malak Karsh did: Enjoy the flower for its beauty, keep your politics away from our celebration of peace and friendship and let the historians debate the genocide claims.

Dogan Paktunc,

Ottawa

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Turks are proud of tulips

The Ottawa Citizen

Friday, May 13, 2005

Re: A tulip by any other name, May 10.

Malak Karsh and his wife Barbara always gladly attended events organized by the Ottawa Tulip Festival and the Turkish-Canadian community, which held the Karshes in great esteem.

Mr. Karsh often tried to spot Turkish tulips to photograph during the festival. While he was indeed very pleased with the Tulip Festival board's decision to feature Turkey, he did not initiate Turkish involvement, contrary to what Antoine Terjanian contends.

Rather, Ayse Heinbecker and Carole Reesor, then Tulip Festival board members, thought of it during a conversation at a Swiss Embassy dinner in the winter of 1992.

Following Mrs. Reesor's suggestion to the board, Pamela Hooker, a board member and long-time supporter of the festival, approached me, as the then- president of the Turkish-Canadian Cultural Association, to join the festival board of directors.

The Netherlands had just announced that 1994 would be the 400th anniversary of the tulip's first journey from Turkey to the Netherlands. (European ambassadors to the Ottoman Court had introduced tulips to Europe in the 16th century.)

The board decided to feature Turkey in the 1994 festival as the tulip's country of origin. The 1994 tribute to Turkey, organized jointly by the Canadian Tulip Festival, the Embassy of Turkey and the Turkish-Canadian Cultural Association, was a great success.

Following this tribute, the Turkish government invited Malak Karsh to tour many sites in Turkey and photograph to his heart's content. He was most pleased with his trip.

The Turkish-Canadian community of Ottawa has been a proud participant in the Tulip Festival's international village as a "friendship country" for the past 11 years and will gladly continue to do so in the spirit of peace and friendship.

Fusun Oren,

Ottawa

AT’s comment: Wait a minute Fusun Oren, in the beginning you state that, contrary to what I wrote, Malak Karsh did not have much to do with bringing a Turkish flavour to the Ottawa Tulip Festival. But at the end you say: “Following this tribute, the Turkish government invited Malak Karsh to tour many sites in Turkey and photograph to his heart's content”. Unless he was substantially involved in bringing this idea to fruition, why would the Turkish Government pay for Malak Karsh's trip to Turkey “Following this tribute”?
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Misleading

The Ottawa Citizen

May 13, 2005

In his opinion article, Antoine Terjanian focuses on Tulipa armena through a series of misleading selective references from Anna Pavord's book, Tulip.

Pavord also writes: "About 14 different species grow in the mountains of Turkey, though only four of these, T. armena, T. biflora, T. humilis and T. Julia are thought to be indigenous." Many other tulip varieties originated from Central Asian steppes and Persia.

If one variety is called Tulipa armena, so what? The name given by a botanist to that single species does not change the fact that the tulip was cherished, cultivated and enriched first in the Ottoman Palace and then discovered by Europeans in Istanbul.

The official who suggested scientific name changes of some animals endemic to Turkey was ridiculed for weeks by the Turkish media, professors and the public. But this was not found newsworthy abroad. Instead, his initial remarks were repeatedly covered in the international media, probably not because the issue was seen as that important, but because it presented a chance to tarnish Turkey's image.

Isn't it as ridiculous to suggest that the Ottawa Tulip Festival might be named as "Gagach Festival" because a single tulip variety is named after Armenia?

The "tulip era" that the article attempts to diminish to a "bankruptcy" is indeed a complex phenomenon of Ottoman renaissance in arts and letters, unfairly portrayed only as a period of royal extravagance. There was no bankruptcy at all but a political revolt of the palace soldiers finished the era and the Sultan's life.

Malak Karsh never "involved" the Turkish Embassy in anything, albeit he was indeed friendly because he was not a fanatic. Unfortunately, even his legacy can not escape being abused in this way.

Mr. Terjanian uses the subject of the tulip as a chance to further the national cause of Armenians to defame Turkey. The fixation of self-vindication displayed by some Armenians in seeing everything from this narrow angle of what they would like to call as "Armenian genocide" is indeed troubling.

Fazli Corman,

Ottawa,

Counsellor, Embassy of Turkey
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AT's Comment: Thank you Mr. Manoukian, for writing this "to the point" effective supportive letter.
Not surprising

The Ottawa Citizen Page B-7

May 14, 2005

Re: A tulip by any other name, May 10.

This is an interesting article, indeed, about changing tulip species' names and denying the Armenian genocide of 1915. Turkey still denies this sad event and commits childish acts such as changing the scientific names of animals, plants or even microbes containing a mention of Armenia.

Such acts are not surprising if we consider the systematic destruction of Armenian architectural treasures in western Armenia or eastern Turkey.

Manoukian Berdge,

[1] Pavord, Anna. “The Tulip” ISBN 1-58234-130-3, Bloomsbury, UK 1999. pp 19-21.
[2] Tercan, while pronounced ‘terjan’ by the Turks, is the spelling in the Turkish new alphabet of the ancient Armenian name « Terjan » which means in Armenian ‘Dear Lord’. This author should know better the meaning of his own patronymic.
[3] I can vouch for that ;-)
[4] See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4328285.stm