Monday, June 9, 2014

Turkey and Genocide Recognition: A Candid Assessment

Here we are within one year of an historic milestone in our quest for justice. It is now 99 years since the Ottoman-Turkish government unleashed the genocide that slaughtered some 1.5 million innocent Armenian men, women, and children. A genocide that uprooted another 500,000 from their ancestral lands and saw tens of thousands of our young women and children taken in servitude and denied their birthright to grow up as Armenians.
The purpose of the genocide was simple enough: to empty the historic provinces of Western Armenia of its people and to plunder their wealth. Complicit in this politically motivated crime were the government leaders of England, France, and the United States by their acceptance of the horrendous slaughter that was taking place with their full knowledge, notwithstanding what amounted to their meaningless protestations. Compounding this tragedy, England, as the principal architect of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), welcomed Kemal Ataturk, who was no less responsible for the anguish visited upon the Armenian people, and the newly formed Republic of Turkey into the community of nations absolved of all responsibility for the genocide.
The new Turkey was given the blood-soaked historic lands of Western Armenia emptied of its people by a genocide that subjected its victims to the most inhumane and barbaric methods imaginable. These supposed bastions of democracy saw fit to ignore this heinous crime against the Armenians. The personal and community property plundered from the victims was gifted to Ataturk in the Treaty of Lausanne. The government of the United States, by its inaction, was as culpable as England and France in allowing this transgression against the Armenian people to go unpunished.
The year 2015 will mark the 100th anniversary of the genocide that sought to wipe us from the face of the earth. A genocide that has continued unabated in the decades that followed to destroy physical evidence that Turkey occupies lands that were settled by our people for millennia—lands that still, legally and morally, belong to the Armenian nation. Today we are no closer to the justice that is rightfully ours than we were during those years immediately following the genocide, when our nation faced an improbable future against seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Now here is the rub. Turkish intellectuals stress the importance for Turkey to “acknowledge its past”; bravo to them. When foreign leaders say that Turkey should face its past especially during official visits to Turkey, we become euphoric when it is reported in the Armenian press. Similarly when Turkish citizens demonstrate in remembrance of the tragic assassination of Hrant Dink or proclaim that “We are all Hrant Dink,” we are encouraged to believe that we are moving ever closer to the justice we seek. We want to believe that a wave of sympathy, like a tsunami, is slowing building and when it finally crashes on the Turkish shore, government leaders will be forced to acknowledge the country’s past. I don’t believe so. However, given the volatility of the domestic political environment within Turkey, no one can say with certainty what may happen in the future.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as a prelude to the 100th anniversary of the modern era’s first genocide, continues the official policy of denial that every Turkish government has followed. He refers to the common pain that Armenians and Turks endured and the need for historians to make a judgment as to what actually happened during the years from 1915 to 1923. His hypocrisy can be understood, but how can one say the same for President Barak Obama when his April 24th message is once again filled with platitudes; when fails to use the word genocide; and when he suggests that a “full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all of our interests.” Who is he addressing with this banal suggestion?
Mr. President, the slaughter of 1.5 million innocent Armenian men, women, and children between 1915 to 1923 is an historic fact that has been thoroughly documented and evaluated by unbiased, credentialed scholars—not politicians—who have unanimously agreed that it was genocide. Yes, it would be “in all of our interests” if you would remind your friends in Ankara, as well as yourself, to acknowledge the facts.
Our naiveté in believing that the pressure is mounting on Ankara to accept its past is frightening. As part of the Turkish response to 2015, Erdogan has once again invited Armenia and the (Diasporan) Armenians to join Turkey so that we may “…wipe away the tears, push prejudice to one side, and reveal historic truths…in an objective manner.” Looking north across the Black Sea, Erdogan must be emboldened by President Vladimir Putin denying what the world was witnessing in real time—his occupation and annexation of Crimea from a sovereign neighboring state without fatal repercussions.
With all of his internal problems, the government of Prime Minister Erdogan is not about to collapse anytime soon. For us to believe that Turkey will implode for our benefit is an old saw that has been played since I was a youngster. Will it never end? Whether we like it or not, Turkey has assumed even greater strategic importance as the Southern Gas Corridor, as Western Europe seeks to shift its dependence on Russian oil and gas imports to the energy resources of the Caspian Sea Basin.
To bolster our belief that the political climate for recognition is improving, we conveniently overlook the possibility that the demonstrations for Hrant Dink (as well as the Taksim Square/Gezi Park demonstration that quickly spread to other major Turkish cities) may simply have served as the vehicle for urban and educated Turkish citizens to vent their frustration with the policies of Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), rather than actively supporting recognition—notably, his shift from the policies of Ataturk, especially the shift from a secular society to one that places significantly greater emphasis on the ultraconservative values of the Islamic faith. This has placed increased restrictions on individual rights and the movement toward an open society. Given this legitimate concern of these citizens, we cannot gauge the depth of their sympathy for our cause until it runs up against their loyalty and love for Turkey. However, it is extremely gratifying that the Human Rights Association of Turkey has come out forcefully not only for recognition, but for indemnification. It is not surprising that boundary rectification was not mentioned.
Yet, to be fair in our assessment we cannot summarily discount the fact that there are Turkish citizens sincere in their protestations who cringe at the suffering that the genocide has wrought upon the Armenian people. These Turks may or may not be in the vanguard of a people who are tired and ashamed of the guilt their intransigent leaders have forced them to bear.
A factor we seem to overlook is the response of those sympathetic Turkish citizens once they realize that there is a difference between advocating the need for the nation to face its past and actually acknowledging its past. Acknowledgement is the moment when they must come to terms with the hideous crime of genocide carried out by their forebears. Recognition carries a heavy emotional, moral, psychological, and economic burden. There are significant groups within Turkey, at least a majority, that would never willingly accept recognition. The culturally conservative rural population would have the most to lose with recognition. They are settled on land that belongs to the victims of the genocide. Of the 77 percent of the population that is classified as urban, it is safe to say that a majority are or lean toward being culturally conservative as well. The military may have been weakened by Erdogan, but it still remains a powerful force in support of a secular state and against recognition. Then there are those who for various reasons would object to any accommodation with our legitimate demands.
Unfortunately there are any number of foreign leaders, including those who have supported recognition, who would eagerly accept any proffered recognition by Erdogan or his successors as being sufficient to put the genocide issue to rest forever. It is not a pleasant thought to consider. And solely for the sake of argument, should recognition be achieved, there is no guarantee whatsoever that indemnification and boundary rectification would follow. Can you name one nation, other than Russia possibly, that would vigorously support our legitimate claims against Turkey for either indemnification or boundary rectification?
One final comment. The spate of reports coming from Diyarbakir is uplifting. The rehabilitation of the Sourp Giragos Armenian Church was a singular event in what might be called a sort of rapprochement between Armenians and the Kurdish people of Diyarbakir. Much credit should go to the people of the city and their officials, Abdullah Demirbas and Osman Baydemir. However, does the rehabilitation of a long-neglected Armenian church serve to expiate the transgressions of their Kurdish ancestors who participated in the genocide? It reminds me of the practice by the powerful and wealthy during centuries past who would have a church built or perhaps rehabilitated or adorned as a way to ease their entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. Does this rapprochement include encouraging the progeny of those young Armenian women and children taken during the genocide to become acquainted with their Armenian roots?
We may not want to accept it, but these “lost” or Islamized Armenians, however diluted their blood may have become through the generations, are still our people. How we respond and develop this relationship has significant ramifications for Hai Tahd. This is not suggesting that we proselytize, but simply take the opportunity to develop a dialog, perhaps with the assistance of our recently contrite Kurdish friends. It is something for our leaders to actively expand upon.
It is interesting to note that at the recent commemoration of the genocide in Diyarbakir (reported in the Armenian press) the Kurdish speakers referred to the shared pain that Kurds and Armenians suffered. One would think that the purpose of the genocide was to eliminate both Armenians and Kurds; that Kurds had no role in what happened; or that they did not benefit from the wealth that was plundered. Kurds continue to suffer under the brutal yoke of Turkish oppression, but let them not deflect their participation in the genocide by implying that they were also victims.
We should keep in mind what Talleyrand, the foreign minister to Napoleon, once remarked: that nations do not have friends, they only have interests. It would be surprising if we had any friends (with the possible exception of Russia) who would vigorously support our quest for justice against Turkey. For nearly a century Turkish leaders have been determined not to accept responsibility for the genocide. Although our cause is just, that alone will not bring us victory. Aiding Turkey as an unyielding enemy of Hai Tahd is the passage of time. After nearly a century we have yet to develop and implement a comprehensive coordinated plan that vigorously attacks Turkey’s numerous vulnerabilities. Our efforts have been and continue to be sporadic, disconnected, and diffused. We face a formidable enemy. Unfortunately, we do not have forever to achieve our purpose.

No comments:

Post a Comment