For nearly a century our survivors of the Meds Yeghern (Great Catastrophe) have suffered the psychological and emotional trauma of the first genocide of the modern era. The effect of the genocide has long since passed the point where recognition by Turkey can erase the emotional scars that have become part of the Armenian psyche. If the near destruction of their nation, if being uprooted from their ancestral homes, dispossessed of their wealth, and scattered wherever chance may have taken them were not sufficient a tragedy, the survivors had to witness the victorious Western democracies reward an unrepentant Turkey.
Having won the Great War (World War I), the Western democracies, led by Great Britain and France, recognized the government of Kemal Ataturk as the legitimate successor to the Ottoman Empire. The newly formed Republic of Turkey was allowed to join the world community of nations unscathed by any moral, financial, or political liability for the Armenian Genocide. And the historic Armenian lands awarded by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in the Treaty of Sevres (concluded in 1920) as a free and independent Armenia were abrogated by the Treaty of Lausanne (signed in 1923).
Another April 24th has come and gone. Nothing has changed. Within a few years 2015 will mark 100 years that we have persevered in our struggle for a cause that cries out for justice. Yet, as we approach that historic milestone, we are no closer to obtaining justice than we were when the Western democracies turned their backs to our plight at the end of the Great War. In anticipation of 2015, the Turkish government has already put its considerable resources in full offensive mode. If we continue on the path we have elected to follow, 2015 will be anti-climactic in our pursuit of justice.
Think about it for a moment. The survivors of the genocide are but a handful. Not only the first, but the second generation progeny of the survivors are decreasing in numbers each year. Within another 15 to 20 years, generations that had an emotional and psychological connection to the genocide will have dwindled significantly in numbers. As the years pass, the link between 1915 and the present will become more and more tenuous. And, as a result, it will become an historic event devoid of the personal involvement of those who carried on the struggle for justice for most of the first century. Realistically, how many can we expect to continue the struggle with the same determination and dedication? And just as realistically, how much empathy can our cause continue to engender among our own people without a significant political victory?
Unfortunately, Yerevan is constrained either by protocol, by Moscow, or by the interests of the oligarchs. Whatever the reason, it does not lessen the fact that Yerevan has failed to aid the diasporan attempt to gain recognition of the genocide. Our efforts have been uncoordinated and unimaginative. Our observance of April 24th has fared no better. Granted, we are constrained by the lack of funds, but may we question where all of our concerned Armenian supporters are? Typically the same small percentage of our community members participate in these observances. Does that send a message or does it make us feel better to ignore this fact? We have been confronting Turkish governments for 100 years. Governments that are committed to denial and historical revisionism. Governments that are determined to complete the genocide of our nation. Yet, given the lack of political victories, our strategy has changed very little over the course of 100 years.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu continues to express Turkey’s desire to share the pain of those who are ready to share their pain with the Turkish nation. How much pain does the perpetrator have to share with its victims? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton does no better in her response to a query from the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) when she suggests that Armenia and Turkey should “…work together to address their shared history. Only by working together to address these horrific events can [Armenia and Turkey]…achieve a full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts.”
Mensur Akgun, a Turkish academic, expresses the mindset of many Turkish intellectuals in his article “The Virtue of Apologizing,” in which he cites German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s apology to her Turkish citizens for the racist attacks they suffered at the hands of some Germans. Not to be outdone, President Obama apologized to all Muslims for the accidental burning of Korans in Afghanistan by U.S. service personnel. In another misguided example, Akgun refers to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s apology for the Dersim Massacre in 1936. This apology was pure political theatre to discredit the Republican People’s Party (CHP) for the massacre at Dersim and its present leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu (Erdogan’s political opposition). For Akgun to have the temerity to equate the subject of these apologies with the Armenian Genocide is beyond belief. “One would hope that the tragedy of 1915 could be discussed independent of its legal label, and that the state [Turkey] would express its regrets for what unfolded…for taking these events lightly,” he said. By his own words, Akgun is taking “these events” all too lightly.
Does his understanding of “apology” reflect the thinking of those Turkish intellectuals and the average citizen who presumably represent the groundswell of popular support sweeping Turkey to revisit its past? Is this the evolving sentiment that Armenians believe will ultimately force the Turkish leadership to recognize the genocide?
Contrary to many who continue to believe that Turkey is on the brink of imploding for the benefit of Armenia—a view held by too many Armenians for too many years—our neighbor is getting stronger economically, and its diplomatic influence is steadily increasing and geographically expanding. Erdogan has not yet completely defanged the political influence of the Turkish military. Any attempt by any government in Ankara that seeks to recognize the genocide would be subject to a coup that would be supported by a majority of Turkish citizens once its economic, political, and psychological implications were understood. If recognition of the genocide were free of these ramifications, it could have conceivably happened years ago.
We have a dangerous tendency to overlook or belittle the cunning and political astuteness of our adversaries. It would not be beyond Erdogan to upstage our efforts in 2015 by offering a conciliatory message to Armenians based on a revisionist view of events that took place in 1915. How would he frame the premeditated murder of some 1.5 million innocent Armenian men, women, and children in a way that would be palatable to the Turkish citizen, his political ambitions, and Turkish history, all while preventing a political backlash to his administration? Whether or not he could succeed is unimportant. His attempt would garner sympathy on the world stage for Turkey, and Armenia, the victim, would be perceived as being intransigent.
His deceitful apology, self-serving as it would be to Turkey’s interests, would be accepted without questioning by any number of governments including the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Israel, Switzerland, and Spain, which collectively wish that the issue of the genocide would simply go away forever. The only strenuous objection to this hypocrisy would come from Armenian organizations and the legions of unbiased and credentialed genocide scholars and historians, who have determined that a genocide occurred based on a dispassionate analysis of the evidence. For Armenians, genocide recognition has become an emotional crutch. For foreign governments, recognition is a political issue of which they want no part at this point in time.
As a result there is a serious disconnect between our understanding of justice and the understanding of justice that world political leaders have accepted. Our justice embraces Hai Tahd (Armenian Cause). Their concept of justice simply suggests that Turkey acknowledges a dark period in its past (whatever that may mean). These political leaders, bereft of any moral principles guiding their decision making, do not place any further burden on the Turkish leadership.
Governments with geo-strategic interests in the south Caucasus and in the vast energy resources of Central Asia can be expected to place Turkey’s interest above Armenia’s. Yerevan would be pressured to work with Ankara to usher in a new beginning and a better life for Armenians. Little thought would be given to the adverse effect this sought-for cooperation would have on Armenia’s future sovereignty and development. Substantial economic aid would be offered Yerevan (which would ultimately serve to enrich the oligarchs) to encourage cooperation. Turkey might offer to open the border (a symbolic gesture since Turkish goods already enter the Armenian market) to buy its acquiescence. Unfortunately, with an open border, Armenia would soon become an economic eastern province of Turkey and the lira would replace the dram within a few years. Hai Tahd would soon become a dream that the aging nationalists could talk about over surj (Armenian coffee).
Anyone who disputes this fact should compare the $1 trillion Turkish Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with Armenia’s 18 billion GDP (Central Intelligence Agency estimated data for 2011 based on U.S. purchasing power parity). While the population of Armenia is steadily decreasing (mid-2011 estimates) to slightly under 3 million, Turkey’s is just shy of 73 million. Only Russia, in order to protect its interests in the south Caucasus and Central Asia, stands in the way of such a scenario being successful.
As we approach 2015, the task before us is obvious: Our 100th anniversary must be a year-long observance that must rise above the mundane. Programs and events should be planned by professionals assisting the local committees. It must be a coordinated 12-month effort throughout the Armenian Diaspora that challenges the Turkish lies; shows how the tremendous wealth that was confiscated during the genocide became the basis of the new Turkish economy; exposes the planning, execution, and methodology of the genocide, and the number of religious and communal properties that were destroyed or desecrated; shows the failure to honor Article 42 of the Treaty of Lausanne; and puts a light on the illegal occupation of historic Armenian lands and the continual persecution of the Armenian minority. Anything less than this will be a last hurrah. The 100th anniversary must define our cause to the world and firmly set the stage for its continuation beyond 2015.
Having said that, it must be decided whether the present strategy emphasizing genocide recognition is to be replaced by a strategy that reflects the new reality as we approach 2015. And what is the new reality? The absolute need to achieve de jure independence for Artsakh and the amelioration of the political, economic, and cultural condition of the Javakhayer. If we cannot save Artsakh, the first of our historic lands to be liberated, how do we propose to reclaim Nakhitchevan, Kars-Ardahan, or Wilsonian Armenia?
As for Javakhk, Tbilisi is in contravention of so many agreements without any fear of repercussions. Yet we do little to constantly and effectively challenge and publicize these flagrant violations meant to marginalize our brothers and sisters as citizens of Georgia. We cannot have failure here and expect victory in Turkey. There is a clear path that must be followed. Unfortunately, genocide recognition is not it.
Our 100th anniversary is a one-time opportunity that cannot be frittered away with replays of what has gone on countless times before. The world must hear our message clearly and completely. And the Turkish leadership must understand that our demand for justice will never cease.