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THE STRUGGLE FOR GENOCIDE RECOGNITION: THE NEXT STEPS Armenian News Network / Groong April 15, 2001 By Groong Research & Analysis Group Ten years after the end of the Cold War, the international political atmosphere has evidently become more conducive for the official recognition by Western governments and international organizations of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Even former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger finds the Turkish denial unexplainable and thinks `activist Armenians will help get' eventual recognition from the US government (1). The reference attributed to Hitler, "who remembers the Armenians?" has been one of the most quoted sentences in media articles calling for recognition. >From the USA to Iran, from France and the United Kingdom to Lebanon and Argentina, the present generation of Diaspora Armenians is making sure that the memory of the Genocide to which their families were subjected does not fall into oblivion. The Turkish political and intellectual elite is clearly irritated by the resurfacing of this problem and wants to get rid of Armenian Genocide claims without being obliged to reconsider crucial moments in their perception of their own history. Its immediate reaction to France's adoption earlier this year of a law recognizing the Armenian Genocide was to promulgate economic sanctions in order to push business and government circles in the USA and elsewhere to prevent their own legislators from following suit. A minority view in Turkey suggested improving relations with the neighboring Republic of Armenia in order to isolate and put pressure on the Armenian Diaspora. Both policies are fraught with danger, however. Sanctions against France do not help relations with the European Union, especially given the very deep and structural problems the Turkish economy is now facing after the recent stock market crash. There is widespread speculation already that Turkey may soon lift the ban on French firms in public tenders announced after the French parliament vote (2). On the other hand, even low-level diplomatic contacts -- let alone the establishment of official relations -- between Ankara and Yerevan would raise the ire of Azerbaijan, Turkey's chief ally in Transcaucasia, that has already wholeheartedly endorsed Ankara's negationist attitude toward the Genocide issue. What the Turkish elite is definitely not reconsidering is revising its historiography and attempting to build some bridges with the Armenian Diaspora. Armenians find this stand highly regrettable, as recognition by Turkey is for them certainly the most important element of the Genocide issue. Armenians think recognition by foreign governments is secondary to Turkish acceptance of the full horror of the events in dispute. The international campaign they are waging for recognition serves primarily to remind the Turkish elite that the issue will persist. The growing wave of international recognition and the resulting pressure, however, do not appear to convince even the ordinary Turks to modify their stance, and Turkish recognition is still far from being a foregone conclusion. According to Etienne Copeaux, a French scholar who has authored a book on Turkish historiography, Turkish intransigence is grounded in the fact that "Ninety percent of the Turks are absolutely convinced there was no genocide and that, on the contrary, it was the Armenians who killed Turks. It is a sincere belief. The [Turkish] educational system has been most successful. This kind of totalitarianism in the educational system has perfectly succeeded in transforming the Turkish mentality" (3). A number of Armenian and Western observers were surprised by the virulence of the recent Turkish reaction to the Armenian Genocide recognition campaign. The emergence in the last few years of a number of liberal-minded Turkish voices (Taner Akcam, Halil Berktay, Ragip and Aysenur Zarakolu, etc.) calling for Turkish recognition had raised within Armenian circles the hope that the situation had begun to change in Turkey. These hopes appear to have now been greatly diminished by the rarity of views dissenting with the official Turkish position. The resulting disappointment was best expressed by Hrant Dink, the editor of the Turkish-language Istanbul Armenian daily Agos, who stated in an interview given to a Dutch newspaper "Am I disappointed with Turkish-left? Yes I am thousand times disappointed. You can't cite a single renowned left-wing Turkish poet who has written a single verse about the Armenian Tragedy" (4). Left-wing Turkish intellectuals, however, are not entirely to blame for their recent silence, given the extremely tense atmosphere prevailing in Turkey since the Armenian Genocide recognition issue was brought on the floor of the US House of Representatives last September, and the hysterical outburst provoked by the French recognition. Alternative views were actually much less heard during the "French" round between the months of November to January than during the preceding "American" round, heightening speculation that the Turkish security services had instructed the press not to print these kind of "revisionist" views. Moreover, individuals who recognized the Armenian Genocide have been exposed to violent reactions and been subject to prosecution. One will remember the widow of the former Turkish President Turgut Ozal calling a TV station during a debate on the Armenian Genocide and asking for Taner Akcam - who participated to the debate from his self-imposed German exile - to be "shut up." Human rights activist Akin Birdal, accused of "publicly humiliating and vilifying the Turkish nation," risks a six years imprisonment sentence under article 159 of the Turkish penal code for having reportedly declared during a conference in Germany that "everybody knows what was done to the Armenians and Turkey must apologize for it." Fr. Yusuf Akbulut, a Syriac Catholic priest from Diyarbekir was also tried (but finally acquitted) under article 312 of the Turkish penal code which criminalizes "inciting hatred by showing up differences of class, race, religion, creed, or region." The priest had been charged for allegedly confirming the Armenian Genocide and mentioning that the Syriacs had been similarly victimized. It is difficult to assess to what extent international interest in the case, exemplified by the presence in the courtroom of some 50 official observers - including some from European countries and human rights groups and parliamentarians from Sweden and Germany - had influence on this 'not guilty' verdict. Finally, the Turkish Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee approved in February the exact wording of a bill entitled "The law against international accusations, claims and manipulations," the first article of which considers any international discussion of the Armenian Genocide issue "a hostile attitude." However, in spite of all these obstacles, prospects for a Turkish recognition are still better than they were 10-15 years ago. As such, Armenians need at this point to devise alternative avenues for action to bring a change in Turkish attitude. They have to determine why exactly they need recognition, and depending on the answer to that question, how would the process of the realization of their demands be affected by the future course of the Turkish state and society. It is also time to discuss and decide how Armenians would deal with Turkey the day after the desired recognition is achieved. Is recognition, as the Turks stress, something Armenians need to strengthen their identity, or do Armenians want to take some kind of revenge on the Turks for the sufferings of their ancestors? Is it clear to Diaspora Armenians what kind of reparations they want from Turkey? Is Genocide recognition important only because it may open the door for land claims? Are Armenians eager to leave Los Angeles, Paris, Beirut and return to Van, Erzerum and Kars, whenever the latter are 'returned' to the Armenian state? Is a weak and fragmented Turkey necessarily what the Armenians should strive for, in the hope for recognition and land restitution emanating from such feebleness? Or do Armenians want recognition simply to bury the terrible past and start a new page with their Turkish neighbors? Is it impossible, in that case, for a confident and forward-looking Turkish state to come to terms with its bloody past? The present Diasporan position demanding recognition before everything else can be discussed, is an outcome of a special arrangement made among the different political groupings in the mid-1960s. The list of Armenian demands has to be updated now in order to conform to the new political realities. The issue of reparations, for example, cannot be disentangled from the issue of recognition. Turkey will not take the final step until it knows what it will encounter next. Moreover, the Turkish political and military elite exploits the lack of knowledge among the country's masses regarding the Armenian issue by raising the specter of territorial dismemberment, the so-called Sèvres syndrome. Consequently, while continuing the international campaign for genocide recognition, Diaspora Armenians need to think of constructive compensation plans which, when made public, would also strengthen the position of Turkish intellectuals in favor of Genocide recognition and the advance of liberal elements within Turkey's political and intellectual elite. Armenians would thus show the Turks and the rest of the international community that they just want the world to remember and honor their victims. The position of liberal Turks would be immensely strengthened, for example, if the presented package would not affect Turkey's territorial integrity but would include steps to foster reconciliation between the two nations. Was Armenian President Robert Kocharian's interview with Mehmet Ali Birand on CNN-Turk - that international law opposes claims by one country on another's territory, and that Armenia does not have land claims on Turkey - congruent with such a strategy? The publication of such a reparation list can also be used during the gradual process of rapprochement, which is needed if the Turkish state starts shifting its attitude towards the Genocide legacy. In return for Turkey taking some steps towards implementing some of the provisions mentioned in this list (for example, returning abandoned Armenian Church property to its rightful owner, the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul), the Diaspora Armenians may agree to temporarily slow down their international campaign for Genocide recognition to allow the Turkish elite time to prepare the public for the coming shift in position. The continuation of such a quasi-moratorium can be made directly dependent on the pace of change in the official Turkish position. Democracy and the establishment of an "open society" in Turkey can benefit the long-term interests of Armenia and go hand in hand with Genocide recognition. It is equally important for opinion makers and decision makers in the world arena to understand that discussing the Armenian Genocide freely -- and eventually recognizing it -- will help the democratization process within Turkey itself, hasten Turkish membership in the European Union, and reduce tensions in the Caucasus. Notes 1. Carissa Vanitzian, "Two Questions to Henry Kissinger," ANN/Groong, April 22nd, 1998. 2. 'Turkish shares surge on economy plan hopes', Reuters, 11 April 2001. 3. Jean-Christophe Peuch, "Turkey: Uproar Over Genocide Reflects Need to Reconcile With Past," RFE/RL Weekday Magazine, February 9th, 2001. 4. Erdal Balci, "Breaking a Taboo: The Armenians," Trouw Newspaper [The Netherlands], February 9th, 2001.