Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Erdogan’s Message: Where Do We Go From Here?--A REAL APOLOGY OR POLITICS AS USUAL

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On April 23, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a message of condolence in eight languages to Armenians worldwide, for their forefathers who lost their lives in 1915. As this was an unprecedented and unexpected gesture by a Turkish statesman, Armenians in Armenia, the diaspora, and within Turkey reacted with a wide range of emotions and opinions. Some dismissed it as a cynical move and a new version of continued denial of the genocide; some saw it as a smart political move and an effective delay tactic to avert the pressure of the Centennial of the genocide next year; others optimistically saw it as a change in direction by Turkey in facing its history, hoping for increased dialogue and a resolution of issues; and a few sycophants went as far as to take out newspaper ads thanking the prime minister, or suggesting that he be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. So, where do we go from here?
One can find many faults with Erdogan’s message. It could be interpreted as one more fitting for the victims of a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or flood, or a man-made accident, such as a train accident, instead of murdered victims of a state-planned annihilation of an entire people that has disappeared from its 4,000-year-old historic homeland. One can speculate about the reasons behind such a message: Was it calculated, insincere, or from pressure by the U.S., so that President Obama would not use the “G” word. But at the end of the day, no matter what the motive, whether genuine or not, one must acknowledge that this is the first time a Turkish leader has said something mildly humane about the Armenian Genocide victims of 1915, instead of complete denial or insults that were the norm for the past 99 years. More significantly, certain terms used in the message are really encouraging, welcome and irreversible, such as acknowledging the historic significance of April 24 for all the Armenians around the world, or acknowledging the inhumane consequences of the “relocation.” And therefore, it should be recognized as a small step in the right direction—provided that it is followed immediately by real, concrete action and further evidence of a change of direction toward facing history, justice, and restitution. The next 12 months will tell if this is the case or not.
It is not easy for a statesman to suddenly reverse a nearly century-old course of denial, which included brainwashing its citizens for four generations, and threats against anyone or any state that disagreed with its lies about 1915. But every journey of 10,000 miles starts with a small step. In a previous article I had suggested eight steps that Turkey could take within the next year—immediately and without even acknowledging the genocide—if there truly was goodwill in resolving historical wrongs:
1. Open the border with Armenia without any preconditions. Rename the Alican border-crossing the Hrant Dink Gate in honor of the heroic advocate for dialogue.
2. Grant citizenship to the living descendants of the deported Ottoman-Armenian citizens.
3. Clean up the textbooks at all levels of the educational system by eliminating the falsifications, hate-mongering, and discrimination against the Armenians, and start teaching the correct facts about 1915.
4. Initiate a state program through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to reconstruct or restore the more than 2,000 destroyed or deteriorating Armenian monasteries and churches, and return them to their rightful owner, the Armenian Church.
5. Offer a symbolic but meaningful apology to the Armenian people for the crimes of 1915 by returning Mount Ararat and Ani to Armenia, perhaps as part of a minor border revision and territorial exchange based on equivalent land area.
6. Open up to the public the archival documents related to the deportation/liquidation records and the Ottoman property deeds related to the deported Armenians.
7. Allow the compensation cases by descendants of Ottoman-Armenian citizens to proceed in Turkish and international courts.
8. Offer free transit and duty-free port facilities for Armenia at a Black Sea city such as Trabzon and Rize, as partial compensation for the economic losses of the Ottoman-Armenian citizens.
I am aware that some of these steps have already been taken or been considered by Turkish government officials. Discussions about granting of citizenship and restoring a few of the churches and monasteries have started—albeit as “museums,” and usually without mentioning their Armenian origins. Opening the border with Armenia without being held hostage by third countries would be a win-win for both states. A sure sign that Erdogan’s message is sincere could be the elimination of the names of the streets, schools, mosques, and neighborhoods named after the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) leaders Talat, Enver, and Djemal. But we know that there are still Turkish “deep state” leaders (recently released from jail by Erdogan) who have formed Talat Pasha Committees, or erected statues of such notorius murderers as Topal (Lame) Osman, famous for throwing Armenians overboard from boats into the Black Sea, or even worse, for throwing Pontic Greeks into the boiler rooms of the ships through the funnels.
Another indication of Erdogan’s sincerity in changing direction would be to stop the ridiculous publications and conferences by the state-financed Turkish Historic Society. Their latest publication had the number of perished Armenians during the genocide down to 8,000, and all had “died due to illness.” Their latest conference in Van in April 2014, where 35 so-called professors presented papers, was attended by only 7 people. One of the papers claimed that the 235 intellectuals arrested on April 24, 1915 were all very well treated, well fed and cared for in Ayas and Cankiri, and that all returned to Istanbul within a few months, “without even a tiny scratch on their bodies.”
Finally, Erdogan must understand that there is no need to assemble an international historic commission to prove the veracity of the genocide, as this has already been done for him by scholars worldwide using the Ottoman-Turkish and international archives. If the Turkish objective of the historic commission is to prove that Armenians were indeed fomenting rebellion, and thereby to justify the decision of relocation and wholesale massacres, these are already documented and open in Armenian and international archives. And yes, there have been localized revenge massacres of Moslems by Armenian volunteer troops entering Anatolia with the Russian army in 1916, but after the 1915 genocide had already taken place. He can assemble a commission within Turkey, as there are now enough credible Turkish scholars who can overcome the lies spread by the lackeys at the Turkish Historical Society. But he must understand that there are still hidden deportation/liquidation records from the 33 Ottoman provinces, as well as the Ottoman property land registry and deed records, still banned by the Turkish Army Chief of staff. Yes, there is a need for an international commission, not to establish the truths of 1915 but to deal with the consequences of the truths and restitution of justice.
Of course, it is essential for Erdogan and the Turkish state to correctly deal with the trauma and pain of the murdered—and not dead—victims of 1915, as he referred to in his message. But the issue is much more than that. There is the bigger issue of a massive plunder, transfer of wealth, land, and assets that resulted from the murder of these victims.  The president of the Turkish state today resides in the home of the Kasapyan family. A well-known Turkish newspaper editor owns the historic Varakavank Monastery near Van, and the entire village where Armenians lived until 1915. The Turkish state today owns the land of more than 4,000 Armenian churches and schools active before 1915. Turkish and Kurdish notables seized—and still possess—hundreds of thousands of houses, shops, stores, farms, orchards, vineyards, factories, warehouses, and mines owned by the Armenians before 1915. This massive plunder is not the result of a state conquering a foreign state; it is because a state decided to kill its own citizens and take their assets, followed by a series of legislation to legalize the robbery. This issue has nothing to do with whether the murders are defined as “genocide” or not, and this must be addressed by the Turkish state regardless, through revised legislation and a return of the assets to the rightful owners and heirs.
While Erdogan and Turkey’s leaders have a lot of work to do to confront the past, Armenians cannot afford to just meet among themselves or expect third-country politicians to take up their cause for them. As an advocate of direct dialogue with our adversaries, I suggest increased contact with Turks, Kurds, and the new emerging reality of the “hidden Armenians”—toward building trust, understanding, and a common “body of knowledge.” Armenian opinion-makers, media, academia, lawyers, artists, filmmakers, engineers, and architects, NGOs and other organizations must make contact with their counterparts in Turkey through conferences, cultural events, media and student exchanges, reconstruction projects, and jointly organized April 24 commemorations within Turkey. Thanks to a number of such initiatives and individuals, the number of opinion-makers and open-minded people who have become aware of the truth has grown dramatically. We are all aware that the problem is within Turkey, but we must realize that the solution is within Turkey as well. It is my hope that Erdogan’s message is a real step in the right direction, which will be through the steps described above.

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