By Nicolas Cheviron, AFP
The oldest Armenian-language newspaper is celebrating its 100th anniversary in Turkey, surviving a century of tumult in a place where Armenians were massacred and reduced to a tiny community.
Founded by a man of letters, Misak Kocunyan, and his brother Sarkis, Jamanak (Times in Armenian) was born on October 28, 1908 in Istanbul, in the clamor of the Young Turk revolution that three months earlier had forced the Ottoman sultan, Abdulhamid II, to restore constitutional rule.
It was an epoch of enthusiasm when a myriad of parties, associations and newspapers emerged in Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, encouraged by the end of draconian censorship.
The Armenian minority, the victim of pogroms under Abdulhamid II, participated actively in the reformist movement.
“Jamanak was then an important actor for the Armenian community, both in political and cultural terms," said Turkish-Armenian historian Rober Koptas.
The daily, which had a circulation of 15,000 among the 160,000 Armenians estimated to live in Istanbul at the time, did not hesitate to raise explosive subjects, narrating the killings of Armenians in Anatolia in the 1890s in the form of a serial story.
To weather the black days of World War I, Jamanak had to keep a low profile as hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed in fresh massacres across Anatolia, accused of siding with invading Russian troops.
The killings, which Armenians say were a genocide, remain as a major stumbling block in Turkish-Armenian relations today, with Ankara fiercely rejecting the genocide label.
-- ‘That was the price it paid for continuing to publish’ --
“From 1915 on, the paper would focus on cultural life and subjects without political implications. That was the price it paid for continuing to publish,” Koptas said.
“We continued to go to press in 1915, but we lost a columnist,” added Ara Kocunyan, grand grandson of Sarkis, Jamanak's co-founder and first editor.
The paper, like the Armenian community, witnessed other dark periods: World War II, during which non-Muslims in Turkey suffered various discriminations and the riots of September 6-7, 1955 when non-Muslim properties were destroyed and looted.
“In 1955, we managed to survive because our porter told the rioters that there were no Armenians or Greeks in our building,” Kocunyan recounted.
The most recent tragedy hit the community in 2007 when Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian journalist who maintained the World War I massacres were a genocide, was shot dead by a nationalist Turk in Istanbul.
Modern times have brought about further difficulties for Jamanak: the size of the Armenian minority has dwindled to an estimated 80,000 people, with some -- notably the younger -- losing either the language or interest in the community.
“In the past there were doctors, engineers who regularly wrote articles for us. Such people no longer exist,” said Nadia Kocunyan, the daily’s manager and Ara’s mother.
Jamanak, which is also Turkey’s oldest newspaper to have been published without interruption since its creation, employs eight people today.
With a circulation of 1,500 to 2,000, its four pages offer complete information about community life as well as domestic and international news.
For Jamanak, the hope of a brighter future lays in overcoming the enmity between Turkey and Armenia.
“If the relations normalize, our community will have a very constructive role to play,” Ara Kocunyan said. “If commercial links begin between the two countries, we may even attract advertisements to the newspaper.”
Turkey has refused to establish diplomatic ties with Armenia since the ex-Soviet nation gained independence in 1991 and keeps their border shut.
A prospect of reconciliation emerged in September when President Abdullah paid a ground-breaking visit to Yerevan to watch a World Cup qualifying football match between the two countries on the invitation of his counterpart Serzh Sarkisian.