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Defining a Future As Neighbors

The Current Discussion: Today is "Genocide Remembrance Day "in the Armenian community, a particularly strained time of year for Turkey and Armenia. What's a realistic first step forward toward reconciliation for each of these countries?

By Richard Giragosian

Armenians throughout the world are gathering today for their annual April 24th commemoration of the Armenian genocide, in a traditional ceremony of collective remembrance. Yet this year's commemoration differs greatly from previous such ceremonies, as Armenia and Turkey are now poised to forge a new and historic agreement on "normalizing" relations. After a long process of secret diplomacy that culminated in the first-ever visit to Armenia by a Turkish head of state last September, both sides now finally seem ready to reexamine their past and redefine their future.

Later today, President Barack Obama is set to issue the traditional presidential statement on the Armenian genocide, with both sides eagerly anticipating, or fearing, his choice of words to define the tragic events of 1915. Clearly, there is a substantial amount of evidence showing that the events of 1915, during which roughly 1.5 million Armenians were killed, constituted a concerted state policy of genocide. Moreover, an independent legal assessment of the applicability of the convention to the Armenian case, commissioned by the respected International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), concluded that "the events (of 1915), viewed collectively, can thus be said to include all of the elements of the crime of genocide as defined in the Convention, and legal scholars as well as historians, politicians, journalists and other people would be justified in continuing to so describe them."

But any narrow focus on only the genocide issue or President Obama's choice of wording obscures the point, as the burden for addressing Turkey's historical legacy now rests with Turkey itself, which has already embarked on a significant, and at times painful, reexamination of its past and redefinition of its identity.

We also see the dynamic nature of change within Turkey, evident in the publications of several ground-breaking books and the onset of significant new Internet-based campaigns, such as "I apologize," with tens of thousands of people participating in their own critical examination of the past.

Further, this notable effort underway within Turkey today to set aside previous taboos regarding many issues, ranging from the Kurdish issue to the Armenian genocide, must be encouraged. Such progress must also move further and faster, however, and should be broadened beyond the Turkish elite to include all segments of society. In this way, Turkey should also decriminalize basic freedoms of speech, thought and expression, as prerequisites for a healthy and truly open society.

In a broader sense, the process of Armenian-Turkish normalization offers a fresh dose of optimism and hope, bolstered by the fact that public opinion in both countries is already changing. And with a possible normalization of relations, including the opening of the border and diplomatic relations, Turkey and Armenia can re-examine its shared legacy of genocide in a shared pursuit of what this means not for the past or present, but for the future, as neighbors.

Moreover, Turkey now seems ready to extend diplomatic relations and open its long-closed border with Armenia, which, as the last "iron curtain" in Europe, stands as a sad testament to the difficulty of replacing conflict with cooperation in the Caucasus. For its part, Armenia has consistently stressed its policy of pursuing "no preconditions" for talks with Turkey. But most importantly, each side now recognizes the fact that closed borders have only entrenched closed minds.

But we are still far from success. Both sides need to move beyond declarations and, in the words of independent Armenia's first foreign minister, Raffi K. Hovannisian, should "structure the discourse not to disdain the divides emanating from the past, but to bridge them through the immediate establishment of diplomatic relations without the positing or posturing of preconditions, the lifting of Turkey's unlawful border blockade, and a comprehensive, negotiated resolution of all outstanding matters, based on an acceptance of history and the commitment to a future guaranteed against it recurrence."

Thus, given the unique opportunity now before us, we can only hope that Turkey and Armenia will be able to move forward together, coming to terms with the legacy of the past, but based on a shared commitment to the future. Only then can the promise of normalization become the reality of reconciliation, endowing next year's April 24 with a new shared significance.

Richard Giragosian is director of the Armenian Center for National and International Studies in Yerevan, Armenia.

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Comments (7)

naristealieva Author Profile Page:

I fully agree with You!. In the whole post-Soviet space we witnessed how Armenia is still occupied and is still occupying an Azeri land known as Mountainous Karabakh. Until Armenia frees and gets the hell of out Karabach in Azerbaijan, Turkey and Azerbaijan and even Turkic-speaking Central Asian Republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and maybe even Farsi-speaking Tajikistan and Iran should stay firm against the claims of Armenian lobby living in the USA. I am sure ordinary Armenian citizens do not want/need to participate in this political propaganda.

Atabeg Author Profile Page:

Armenia is trying hard again to outsmart the Turkish diplomacy and get its position through WITHOUT PRECONDITIONS. It's clear that even if Turkey opens the border, Armenia will not pull back from either its support for a global legislative blackmail or the perspective extortion attempts against modern Turkey by already calling Eastern Turkey as Western Armenia. Subsequently, the expectation that Armenia's position would somehow soften on any issue if the border with Turkey is open simply lacks logic.

If Armenia truly desired peace and reconciliation with its neighbors, its first step should have been ceasing occupation and land claims against its neighbors WITHOUT PRECONDITIONS. Armenians would have a strong moral ground for demanding any recognition of their suffering century ago, if they took demonstrable steps towards recognizing the suffering of non-Armenian people in the same region in Armenian hands WITHOUT PRECONDITIONS. Don't the Muslim civilians (Turks, Kurds, Azeris) who perished in World War I in Eastern Anatolia and Caucasus at the hands of Russian and Armenian troops deserve recognition? Why? Just because they're not Armenian or Christian?

For Armenia, the "Hye Dat" (“Armenian Question”) is a part of national identity. At this point, the Armenian ideology cannot feed without land claims on Karabakh or Nakhchivan in Azerbaijan, Kars, Ardahan, Igdir or Erzurum in Turkey, Akhalkalaki or Akhaltsikhe in Georgia and even Tabriz or Julfa in Iran. In past 15 years, it became clear that Armenia is very determined to pursue this ideology as a state policy. And WITHOUT PRECONDITIONS approach does not indicate any desire to pull back from these.

The only way to achieve a permanent peace in the region is for the Republic of Armenia to take demonstrable steps in ceasing its aggressive policy and support for the claims of "Greater Armenia" over lands of other nations. Armenian people have to understand that this is the past, and in the age of globalization, small Armenian nation need not to occupy or claim someone's land but to prosper within its recognized boundaries and economically integrate with neighbors. Thus Armenia must recognize and respect the borders of its neighbors just like those neighbors do, WITHOUT PRECONDITIONS.

Hundreds of thousands of people suffer over Mountainous Karabakh conflict, both Azeris who can't return to their homes and Armenians who can't build happy homes over the graves of Azeris they massacred or forced out just 15 years ago. So when will Armenia take steps to solve those WITHOUT PRECONDITIONS?

factsveritas Author Profile Page:

All one has to do is to look at the below first three references and add a few numbers to understand that allegations of an "Armenian genocide" is political propaganda, not historical truth, and why Armenian radicals and genocide-mongers always run away from any civilized historical debate. See also the fourth and fifth references below to decide who really committed a Genocide:
1. Langer, William L., _The Diplomacy of Imperialism, 1890-1902_ (1935) (Chapter 5), see page 147.
Harvard history professor Langer puts the Ottoman-Armenian population at the turn of the 20th century at one million, maybe as high as one-and-a-half million, and indicates that in 1890 Armenians were not a majority in even the areas called Armenia.
2. Barton, James L., _Story of Near East Relief (1915-1930)_, (1930), see pages 46 and 112.
(this book is also on the Internet). Missionary Barton clearly notes the number of refugees in Near East Relief camps (a) in Aleppo, Damascus, and Dier-ez-Zor[sic] at 500,000; and (b) in Armenia at 500,000. There are no errors with the zeros here, each number is half-a-million.
3. Cardashian, Vahan, "The Turks", article aimed to emphasize that Turks are racially inferior to almost everyone else, published in a book titled _The Lausanne Treaty - Turkey and Armenia_, (1926), pages 105-109 (see pg. 109).
In this racist article, Mr. Cardashian, the secretary to the Armenian Delegation at the Lausanne Conference, lets it slip that the number of Armenians in Turkey at the time of the writing was 320,000. This, of course, does not prevent him from lying about other things.
4. Pope ,Stephen & Wheal, Elizabeth-Anne, _Dictionary of the First World War_ (1995),
See page 34 where the authors write that Armenian extreme nationalists, in December of 1914, "slaughtered an estimated 120,000 non-Armenians while the Turkish Army was preoccupied with mobilization", i.e. before the government took any action against Armenians.
5. Arfa, Hassan, _The Kurds - An Historical and Political Study_, Oxford University Press, (1966). See pg. 26.
The Iranian general and diplomat mentions that the Armenians killed 600,000 Kurds[sic] in areas of the Ottoman Empire they occupied during WWI, between 1915-1918.

Read the references, then make up your own mind. Only the Armenians will impose on you to believe what they say without question.

JillK1 Author Profile Page:

Historians of the Ottoman Empire refute the genocide charge.

Professor Bernard Lewis' summary rebuttal below of the Armenian genocide narrative is perhaps the shortest summary by a historian of why the President was RIGHT in not calling this a genocide, but wrong to imply that he still personally held that view.

Statement of Professor Bernard Lewis Princeton University on Book TV (also available on You Tube):

"What happened to the Armenians was the result of a massive Armenian armed rebellion against the Turks, which began even before war broke out, and continued on a larger scale. Great numbers of Armenians, including members of the armed forces, deserted, crossed the frontier and joined the Russian forces invading Turkey. Armenian rebels actually seized the city of Van and held it for a while intending to hand it over to the invaders. There was guerilla warfare all over Anatolia. And it is what we nowadays call the National Movement of Armenians Against Turkey. The Turks certainly resorted to very ferocious methods in repelling it. There is clear evidence of a decision by the Turkish Government, to deport the Armenian population from the sensitive areas. Which meant naturally the whole of Anatolia. Not including the Arab provinces which were then still part of the Ottoman Empire. There is no evidence of a decision to massacre. On the contrary, there is considerable evidence of attempt to prevent it, which were not very successful. Yes there were tremendous massacres, the numbers are very uncertain but a million nay may well be likely. The massacres were carried out by irregulars, by local villagers responding to what had been done to them and in number of other ways. But to make this, a parallel with the holocaust in Germany, you would have to assume the Jews of Germany had been engaged in an armed rebellion against the German state, collaborating with the allies against Germany. That in the deportation order the cities of Hamburg and Berlin were exempted, persons in the employment of state were exempted, and the deportation only applied to the Jews of Germany proper, so that when they got to Poland they were welcomed and sheltered by the Polish Jews. This seems to me a rather absurd parallel."

Lewis is not alone in holding this view, visit the Turkish Coalition of America and read in their own words that scores of scholars do not define the Armenians as helpless victims, show how their treason seriously undermined the Ottoman war effort and that Armenian rebels and Armenian Russian soldiers were responsible in the death of over half a million Ottoman Muslims and Jews in Eastern Turkey.

It's time that the West stops this double standard. I hope that PResident Obama, who prides himself to be at home in both the Christian and Muslim worlds, finally recognizes that the WW I victors (Christians) who wrote that history had no problem stepping on the Muslim/Jewish dead.

hgcsato Author Profile Page:

Turkey should face the music and provide an unconditional apology and restitution to all Armenians, including those that suffered in 1960s and 1970s during the civil war. And Turkey should be told by the world to do it in a year or face tough and heavy sanctions, isolation and economic limitations until it clears its past.

Spartakus1 Author Profile Page:

No, let's get real here. In 1908, Sultan Abdul Hamid II was removed and replaced by a constitution and the Committee of Union and Progress party. In 1912, a fringe, extremist, racist triumvirate which envisioned a Turkey without a non-Turkish population successfully took hold of the government.

In 1914, Armenians reluctantly expressed Turkey's approval of the war and offered their services and held prayer services for a swift Ottoman victory. Naturally, many Armenians were unsatisfied with being second-class citizens and a very small number joined the Russian side because life had become unbearable in Ottoman Armenia. The Turks used this as a justification to remove the empire's Armenian population; otherwise, why would the Turks remove Armenians living hundreds of miles west of the war theater? Why would the deportation destinations have to be in the Syrian deserts, where the temperatures there rose into the triple digits?

I have to say I am amused each time Turks come to forums to tell everyone how history is taught in Turkey. Almost a 100 years and you still haven't a single clue.

usa_mfm Author Profile Page:

Let's Get real here, why would any nation live with their Minority for hundred of years and suddenly turn against them,actually during the Ottoman Empire when they were the rulers would not be easy er for them to do away with Armenians then, but why all of a sudden when the Empire was in their weakest moment to do this, well l tell you why,
Armenians took up arms and sided with Russians to gain their own province inside Turkey like others who got under Russia comunism,for the Russians they want to do away with Turks and get access to Mediterranean sea and they still do so does the Americans and Americans who had Turkey in their side they enjoy it today ,NATO allied Turkey,instead Russian allay Armenia,Turks had no choice but to deport Armenian killer, many Armenians who did no killing stayed behind and still today living in Turkey,1,5 million get real here,total population was 1.5 million ,1 million came to US 300,000 went to Syria how who come up with this numbers ,do you know what it takes to kill 1,5 million,Turks were fighting 5 fronts and still won and Armenians were another front with in,
you just do not wake up one morning and decide to deport 1.5 million if there was no thereat,Armenians even sent man to Greek army to fight Turks, and Russian army,what you call that but an ENEMY.let's get real here,
Thank you

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