Commentary: No Monopoly on the Armenian Cause


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenian-Turkish relations have been historically complex and in recent years they have been further complicated. In the past, Armenians have been under foreign domination and their overlords — Ottoman, Russian or Soviet — have determined and shaped those relations, leaving no room to maneuver for the subject Armenian nation. Therefore, logic and expectation have been for Armenians to determine and shape their relations with Turkey and Turks upon gaining independence.

Now that Armenia is independent, it looks like the situation has further deteriorated. It has become more contentious, since no one knows who can speak with the Turks on behalf of the Armenians. As always, we have more chiefs than Indians.

Legally, only a government can handle international relations. However, since Diaspora Armenians are the direct descendents of the Genocide survivors, they have the moral right and the duty to participate in the dialogue.

But it seems some groups claim to have a proprietary position when it comes to pursuing the Armenian Case, the recognition of the Genocide or claims for restitution. Indeed the Dashnag party (ARF), its affiliates and some of its leaders believe that they have the monopoly on the Genocide issue or Armenian-Turkish dialogue.

Admittedly, the ARF has contributed significantly to the Armenian Case, beginning with delivering justice to the perpetrators of the Genocide and steering Armenia to independence in 1918.

Even today, their lobbying work in the US and Europe has been commendable.

The ARF activities in pursuing the Genocide recognition and fighting for Armenia’s independence cannot be denied, some blunders of historic proportions notwithstanding. But all that does not warrant monopoly on the Armenian Case, especially now that we have an independent Armenia. Also, the ARF’s contribution to the cause will be diminished directly in proportion to the party’s ignoring or underestimating contributions from other Armenian groups and parties.

Granted, we all are entitled to our opinions and can express them freely. And as Voltaire has said, “Your freedom ends where my nose begins.”

Since Armenia’s independence, many attempts for Armenian-Turkish rapprochement have been undertaken, some through diplomatic channels, others through academia or civil society institutions within the two nations. The ARF leadership has been adamantly opposed to the process when they have been left out of it, but, on the other hand, the party has been engaged in dialogue with the Turks and Turkey unilaterally, for example, during the Prometheus movement opposing the Soviet Union. The position caused a split among the groups seeking justice from the Turkish leaders (Shahan Natalie was one of the casualties).

The ARF opposed the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) initiative, the Protocols and now is in competition with other groups, such as the Armenian Assembly, instead of reinforcing and coordinating the efforts, notwithstanding its imperfections.

TARC at least yielded one positive result — the conclusion of the International Court for Transitional Justice, which ruled that Turkey had indeed committed a Genocide against the Armenians. On the other hand, if the Protocols did not yield any tangible results, at least they scored a diplomatic victory for Armenia; today the ball is in Turkey’s court, as was stated by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

All we can expect in Armenian-Turkish relations is incremental success. Turkey has become an economic powerhouse, a member of the G-20 countries. It is also a military power to be reckoned with. All our political activities as Armenians — inside and outside Armenia — register globally as little more than a mouse’s roar, and we should be careful not to become a laughing stock in the world community. Armenians have very limited resources to force down any position on Turkey. Therefore, our best bet is to get an internal change in Turkey.

Turkish leaders will never admit that the Ottoman-era government committed a genocide against Armenians, unless Turkish society itself comes to terms with its history. Fortunately, that process has already begun.

The Kurdish minority in Turkey can set the trend for us. The Kurdish Workers’ Party’s (PKK) acts of violence only hardened the resolve of the Turkish government to strike back. But the Kurds today have established a political parallel track in order to pursue their quests for human rights and maintaining their identity. They are engaged in the political process and they have been advocating for their cause in the Turkish parliament. Additionally, they have been calling for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

Turkey is undergoing a tremendous process of transformation. Intellectuals, journalists, scholars and ordinary citizens have been making amends to the Armenian people for the crimes their ancestors had committed. A few years ago that was taboo. Granted, Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code is still on the books, the Grey Wolves are still active and the military brass is not toothless yet, despite all the arrests and legal actions.

Our hope lies in the transformation of the Turkish people, waiting for the day when quantitative changes will bring a corresponding qualitative change which will compel the government to alter its course and drop its denialist policy.

One of the most significant changes was the government’s decision to return confiscated religious and community assets. A most symbolic case was the dedication of St. Giragos Church in Diarbekir. Some 2,000 Armenians converged on that city from different regions of Turkey, the Middle East, Armenia and Europe. A delegation of 26 Armenians, headed by the Primate of Eastern Diocese, also attended the celebration, to the dislike of an ARF party organ that indulged in wild assumptions and uncalled-for attacks on the characters of the Primate and the participants. Again, one of the reasons is a petty case of ignoring the name of Catholicos Aram I of Cilicia during the liturgy. Another reason for the attack in the October 26 issue of the Los Angeles-based Asbarez is that there was virtually no Dashnak participation in the entire celebration.

Then the writer allows himself the liberty of taking the role of inquisitor and blames the clergy and lay people, without the smallest shred of proof. Quoting the Turkish daily, Hurriyet, the Asbarez writer accuses the delegation of engaging in business negotiations with the Turks and then jumps to the following wild conclusion: “Given that such a series of business meetings could clearly not be scheduled at the last minute, one can conclude that in planning this pilgrimage to the historic St. Giragos Church, doing business with Turkish businessmen — effectively Turkey — was always on the agenda for those on this religious journey.”

The writer seems to be a clairvoyant to “conclude” what was on the mind of the religious delegation.

Then the writer twists a statement by Oscar Tatosian, chairman of the Diocesan Council, writing: “One of the members of Archbishop Barsamian’s delegation, a senior Diocese lay leader, Oscar Tatosian,” has stated that “our people should come together and enjoy a cup of tea. The dialogue starts with arts, culture, academic cooperation and trade. The rest will follow.” And the writer concludes: “That sadly is Ankara’s narrative.” As if Mr. Tatosian in stating that “the rest would follow” has meant — let’s drink tea, conduct business and we will give up our claim for Genocide recognition and restitution.

Since we are in the realm of guessing games, one could perfectly surmise that “the rest will follow” means that “let’s drink tea now and one day will come and take back our historic homeland.”

Although neither Hurriyet, nor Asbarez, for that matter, has given any proof that the Primate engaged in any kind of business talk, the writer asks, “his new role as a deal maker begs a larger question: What business do religious leaders have in commerce, especially in Turkey?”

We think the question must also be put to those grocery store owners in Watertown, Glendale, New Jersey and Bourj Hamoud in Lebanon — most of them ARF members and sympathizers — who sell Turkish products. They should also be asked whether they “fall in Turkish traps” and give up the Genocide issue in return for doing business with Turkey. All this amounts to the hegemonic justification of the ARF leadership that they are the only ones who can conduct dialogue with Turkey and all the rest are so naïve that they will forget the Genocide and forgive the Turks for having occupied our historic homeland.

The Turks have let the genie out of the bottle and they cannot put it back. The Genocide issue is on the agenda of many Turks. People-to-people contacts will only accelerate the process of bringing the Genocide issue to the broader segments of society.

The Turkish government will certainly manipulate situations to divide Armenians and pit them against each other. But similar articles are equally divisive and they will play into the hands of the Turks, especially when they come with a patronizing tone and proprietary pretensions. The tragedy is shared by all Armenians. No one has monopoly over the Genocide issue.