Strictly speaking, 2008 could be called “the year of attempts and possibilities” but certainly not “the year of solutions.” Pursuant to an invitation sent by Armenian President, Serzh Sargsyan, the landmark visit of Turkish President Abdullah Gül to Yerevan to watch the football game between the Armenian and Turkish teams was absolutely historical. Mainstream pundits and the media predicted an “instant blitz” solution to long estranged Turkish-Armenian relations; still others were pessimistic. The latter were correct in thought - or at least they are as of yet.
Looking back to the Autumn of 2008, we saw a plethora of heated debates amongst Turkish society, ranging from the apology letter campaign sent out en mass via the internet to the ethnic origins and background investigation of the Turkish President. Sadly enough, Turkey’s opportunities to ameliorate her relations with Armenia are getting blurred with time because of the unchanged official position of the Turkish governments on Armenian-Turkish relations.
Turkey still insists on the establishment of a commission to study what the Turkish side still refers to as the ‘historical truths’ about the ‘tragic events’ at the beginning of the 20th century. The Armenian side, to date, has never rejected any opportunity for discussion or dialogue and this precedent has been clearly exemplified by former Armenian President, Robert Kocharyan’s reply to his Turkish counterpart, Mr. Erdogan, in April 2005. Kocharyan offered a full-on discussion of all problematic issues as well as the establishment of bilateral relations and the re-opening the closed borders, still closed on the Turkish side.
However, in order to maintain the integrity of these meetings, such talks reserve no space for denial and/or the ignorance of very well known and internationally accepted historical facts, i.e., that the Armenian Genocide was in fact perpetrated by the Ottoman Turkish government and more than 1.5 million Armenians and their millennia old rich Christian cultural heritage perished as a result. The convenient interpretation of historical facts paired with a prescribed agenda and banal ignorance of unquestionable proofs and undeniable facts could turn such discussion into a fiasco.
Sooner or later Turkey should admit that the Armenian genocide it is not just a part of Armenia’s history, but also their very own, despite how awful, unwanted and unacceptable upcoming documents and evidences expected. Before setting forth in motion the behemoth wheels of such a bureaucratic commission as the one proposed, or even any other body, the freedom of expression of the very citizens, who this commission claims to represent, should be upheld. These citizens ought not to fear persecution or death, but should speak out with impunity. Let this commission firstly respect the rights of those who bravely speak the truth, but are silenced by Article 301.
Clearly, there is no serious scholarly debate around the question of whether genocide occurred against Armenians. The Armenian genocide is a proven fact, not only historically, but also on the academic level. For those, who have another opinion very helpful will be the article in Encyclopedia of genocide, (vol. I, p. 177, on Denial of the Armenian Genocide).
Given this starting point, however, none must feel hurt because of this truth and its implied consequences. Certainly reconciliation is warranted and many chances were missed to obtain it. However, the most recent Armenian offer comes from a deeper perception and understanding of the positivity of such a step rather than the victimized, vulnerable landlocked ideology concerning economic shortages. Sixteen years of a closed border policy has proven infective towards Armenia.
Turkish insistence in viewing the involvement of the Armenian Diaspora as a major obstacle for establishing bilateral relations between Armenia and Turkey is simply a tactical move designed to yet another variable in the already multifaceted Armenian-Turkish dialogues. The fact remains that the mater of Genocide recognition is not based in the Diaspora. The explanation of the worldwide campaign for the condemnation and recognition of the Armenian genocide must be interpreted in the historical context of its complexity and in this very modern actuality: the Armenian genocide is an important part of both the Turkish and Armenian people’s history and memory.
Their records, memories and histories inside of the US, Canada, Greece, Lebanon, Romania, France, Russia and many other nations that took in Armenian survivors are the direct result of genocide. Those survivors who made substantial contributions to their host countries also made their own tragedy and revival a part of their new homeland and as such must be considered as a whole, integral part of the Armenian voice.
International activism for the recognition of the Armenian genocide should be regarded as a humanitarian rather than a political act, the culmination of which is targeting the global prevention of new crimes against humanity. This is the highest value for humankind, much higher than any strategic partnership and common block membership values could ever hope to maintain. You can clearly recognize them, as they are almost always presented in the form of an effective and intelligent counterargument.
Today a new generation of Turkish scholars emerges. Having known several of them personally, including those dozens of young Turks who with or without hesitation visit the Armenian Genocide Memorial & Museum and leave a flower at the memorial’s eternal fire. I assert that the future of our bi-lateral relations are in good hands, because those same hands end their visits at the Museum with comments in the guest book that speak of “sorrow”, “shock”, “shame” but also of “hope,” “dignity” and “humanity.”
This is their right to be faced with the hidden pages of their ancestral history, which differs tremendously from the present day curriculum of denial taught in Turkish schools. No doubt, it is very painful reckoning, but necessary for lifting the burden of complicity.
We need to look to our history and admit its inalienability. And since it is history, we should live with and not be overshadowed by it. We must start from history in order to understand this happening and then along the way not forget to learn the lessons. This is where the road to reconciliation between Turks and Armenians starts.
The logic of reconciliation excludes any conditions and preconditions for such steps. For Turkey the outdated talks about commission of historians is a clear-cut precondition opposed to this very logic. The important moment is that Turkey must claim her ownership in her own history.
The Turkish government can take speedy action in order to prove its commitment to establish good neighborly relations with Armenia. The following are some suggestions, but not preconditions that would put the road to reconciliation on a fast-track:
• Establishing diplomatic relations and sending viable diplomatic representations in Armenia and Turkey,
• Opening the border on the Turkish side and commissioning the Kars-Gumri railroad to full service,
• Refraining from any references to the Karabakh issue while talking about the establishment of bilateral relations-just like how the Armenians never mention the Cyprus issue,
• Refraining from any information operation or propagandistic warfare policies against Armenia, which always were and are on Ankara’s agenda.
P. S. Recently, a Turkish journalist informed me that during the construction works of so called “hands of the friendship” being built in Kars’s former Armenian neighborhood human remains were revealed on the dig site…
Only history can judge us, history which is only one part of truth but not a lie.
Let’s think about this together.