Defining Our Demands and Course of Action at Threshold of Centennial


By Edmond Y. Azadian

The Armenian Genocide centennial is around the corner and we are still unprepared as to how to organize or commemorate it worldwide and, more importantly, realize what impact we can expect or anticipate.

The fact that Armenians are scattered around the world and consequently cannot join together and present a unified force was the intended outcome of the perpetrators of the Genocide. One million and half Armenians were exterminated from their lands and thus, they have also been eliminated as claimants, as have the generations the martyrs would have begotten.

Talaat Pasha boasted that his plan was to keep only one Armenian alive for the museums. The primitive methods that the Turks employed did not have the discipline and perverse perfection that the Germans used 30 years later and that is why Armenians were left to populate more than museums. Actually, they have come out of the museums to haunt the Ottoman rulers and their descendants who have been enjoying the loot from their great crime.

A full century later, after all the losses and assimilations, Armenian survivors and the younger generations are at Turkey’s doorstep with their demands. They have amplified their voices with those of the martyrs, who were silenced brutally.

Most of the plans and deliberations about the centennial are focused on the ceremonial and commemorative aspects. At best, they aspire for Genocide recognition.

Some people believe that the Armenian Genocide has been fully recognized, therefore we need to concentrate our efforts on demands and reparations.

The most vocal among that group is our friend, columnist and California Courier publisher Harut Sassounian. However, it is an open question how we determine recognition. President Ronald Reagan’s commemorative citing does not satisfy the legal definition of recognition, nor does an indirect allusion in a United Nations Rapporteur’s report constitute recognition. Unless a formal UN resolution is adopted, we still have an uphill battle in forcing Turkey to recognize the Genocide.

That is, of course, one component of our demand for justice. The next step is the formulation of what justice means to the victims of the Armenian Genocide. Armenians themselves have different definitions, while we should not leave foreigners to define for us what justice ultimately will mean. Most foreigners would say forgive and forget, even though there is no one on the horizon asking for forgiveness. Even alienated and assimilated Armenians would also fall into that category.

For some Armenians, it would suffice for Turkey to apologize for the crime of Genocide. Others press for compensation following a potential apology. It is that specter which scares the leaders of modern Turkey from taking the first step and recognizing the Genocide, even before moving to the apology phase.

A statement by former President Robert Kocharian to the late journalist Ali Birand of CNN-Turk was misinterpreted and reverberated in political circles and eventually ended up in an accusation that Kocharian had given up on Armenian territorial claims. What he had actually meant in his interview with the Turkish journalist was let’s take it one step at a time and not jump to the next step before the first one has been achieved; recognition is one issue and compensation is another. Each of these two aspects has its own legal parameters.

In fact, many individual scholars and groups have different assumptions and concepts as to what that compensation should comprise. Some Armenians believe that if Turkey agrees to return all confiscated churches and monasteries to the Istanbul Patriarchate, it would satisfy Armenian demands. (Although a pushover vicar at the Patriarchate, echoing his master’s voice, has already announced that the Patriarchate does not have the funds and power to manage those properties.)

Other Armenians will present territorial claims, which in themselves will become a Pandora’s box, because many people and many groups have different perceptions about the size of territorial claims.

Wilsonian Armenia, which would have roughly tripled Armenia’s present territory, is a case in point as a precedent.

During the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Sevres, US President Woodrow Wilson was asked to draw the future map of Armenia. He was trying to come up with a territory which would be viable economically. Many compatriotic organizations were appealing to Wilson to include their hometowns in the map. Wilson had designated the port of Trabizon to become Armenia’s access to the world’s seaways, although Trabizon had never featured in the historic map of Armenia.

As Cilicia was excluded from the Wilsonian map, a last-ditch effort was made as a desperate move to create a fait accompli; indeed, six days before the Treaty of Sevres was to be signed (August 10, 1920), an assembly of Armenians and Assyrians declared homerule in Cilicia, under the leadership of Mihran Damadian.

Turkey is a major power with tremendous resources. Its leaders have carefully and thoroughly analyzed the Armenian issue, because that is part of their permanent political agenda, and they have to deal with it down the road. They fully realize the disarray reigning in the Armenian world and they also know how to create confusion and chaos by a surprise bold move.

Should Turkey decide to deal with the Armenian Question, where do we stand collectively at this point?

There has been a precedent in recent history and Armenians reacted in a cooperative fashion. That was in the year 1977 when ASALA was conducting a terror campaign against Turkish diplomats. Whether anyone is for or against terrorism is immaterial in this case, because that campaign forced the then-Turkish Foreign Minister Ihsan Sabri Çaglayangil to invite the leaders of the Armenian political parties — ARF, Hunchak and ADL — to meet secretly in Switzerland. The political leaders demonstrated exemplary unity by subscribing to a common agenda. But as soon as the Turkish government found out that the delivery of the cessation of hostilities was beyond the means of the political parties, it immediately dropped subsequent meetings.

This brings us to the point that Turkey may decide to give it another try for whatever reason; are we prepared for that eventuality?

Armenians have very few concrete proposals or programs to deal with that kind of situation. A recent article (“A Blueprint for Diaspora Representation in Negotiations with Turkey over Reparations, June 1, 2013) in the Armenian Weekly, signed by Avedis Hadjian, is one of them.

The author outlines a plan to develop a representative entity to deal with Turkey. He is proposing a bicameral general assembly to be elected by the Diasporan Armenians. Given the lack of feasibility of bringing voters from different countries under one roof, he proposes a virtual system, voting online, although that may pose other problems. One important suggestion is that the Armenian government has to head this assembly; that, of course, will eliminate the traditional rivalry between the diaspora groups and what is more important, it will provide legality to the assembly as a sovereign state.

If we wish to render the Genocide centennial a meaningful historic turning point, we must be thinking in these concrete terms. Of course, following the creation of the assembly comes the definition of our demands. Historians and authorities in international law must be invited to formulate our demands, which cannot be left to amateur armchair politicians.

We need to make the centennial a watershed, where Armenians go beyond commemorations to a solid political movement, mobilizing worldwide Armenians into fighting battalions. That requires more sober thinking, detached from emotional actions and reactions. Of course, we cannot eliminate layers of distrust and hatred built up over centuries because of Turkish atrocities. And no one has the right to preach to Armenians not to hate their murderers. That is not human — and not even divine. When the poet Avedik Issahakian was reminded of Christ’s advice to turn the other cheek if someone slaps one check, the poet answered: “When Christ gave that advice, Turks did not exist.”

We have to face the centennial with diverse manifestations of artistic events, asserting our survival, political rallies and above all, united political action.