Armenians should form a united front before any negotiations with Turkey

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had previously described Armenian Americans as
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had previously described Armenian Americans as "Turkey's Diaspora".

My latest column on Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s efforts to initiate a dialog with the Diaspora generated numerous reactions from both Armenians and Turks.

Turkish newspapers, TV stations, and websites gave extensive coverage to Davutoglu’s reported overtures to Armenians. The Turkish media linked the Foreign Minister’s initiative to Armenian plans for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Genocide in 2015.

Armenians posted dozens of comments on websites and facebook in response to my column which was circulated worldwide in English, Armenian, Turkish, French, and Russian. The Armenian reaction was understandably skeptical and cautious. Armenian government officials quietly followed the reports on Davutoglu’s meetings without making any public comment, while the Armenian press in Istanbul simply reprinted what the Turkish media had published on this topic.

Armenian readers raised two key issues: Who would represent the Diaspora if and when Armenians start negotiating with Turkey, and what should be the specific Armenian demands from the Turkish government?

These are highly complex issues deserving serious consideration by Armenians worldwide. Ideally, Diaspora representatives should be selected through elections in various countries, as proposed in my earlier columns. Those elected would have the right to represent Diaspora Armenians in any negotiations.

These representatives would have to coordinate their decisions and actions with the Armenian government, particularly on the critical issue of negotiating with Turkey, by forming a joint delegation. As Armenians learned from the recent fiasco of the Armenia-Turkey Protocols, it would be unthinkable to reach a settlement with Turkey without the participation and agreement of both Armenia and the Diaspora.

In the absence of an elected Diasporan structure, representatives of the three main Armenian political parties, jointly with the Armenian government, could take the lead in forming a single negotiating team. To make the delegation more inclusive, several major community organizations and prominent individuals could be asked to join, including representatives of Armenians in Turkey.

Another critical issue is framing the agenda of negotiations with Turkish officials. What are the Armenians’ concrete demands from Turkey? This is an extremely serious and sensitive matter that requires in depth knowledge of the Armenian Cause and expertise in negotiating strategies and tactics.

It would be instructive for Armenians to review how Israel and 23 major Jewish organizations came together as the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, to obtain restitution for Holocaust victims; and how these organizations coordinated their positions with the State of Israel which signed a separate Reparations Agreement with West Germany? Over the years, as a result of their collaborative efforts, the coalition of Jewish Diaspora organizations and Israel received more than $70 billion dollars in restitution from Germany.

Additional lessons could be learned from examples of financial settlements resulting from mass torts, asbestos exposure and product liability, and claims arising from destruction of the World Trade Center and the Gulf oil spill.

There is, however, a significant difference between the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. While the Jewish people were exterminated in European countries under Nazi rule, Armenians were massacred and forcefully driven from their ancestral homeland. Therefore, no amount of monetary payment will fully compensate Armenians for the loss of their historic lands. Armenians should seek not only compensation for their personal losses, but also the return of Western Armenia as arbitrated by Pres. Woodrow Wilson — a claim Turkey has repeatedly rejected.

Should serious negotiations materialize, the joint Armenian delegation could ask Turkey to take the following preliminary actions to show its good faith:

  • Compensate all Genocide victims;
  • Rebuild and return all religious sites to the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul;
  • Return all confiscated private and community properties to their Armenian owners;
  • Provide the Republic of Armenia with special access to the Turkish port of Trabzon for commercial purposes;
  • Give Armenians visa-free entry to Ararat, Ani, and other Armenian historical sites in Turkey;
  • Lift the blockade of Armenia;
  • End Turkey’s official policy of denial of the Armenian Genocide and annul Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code;
  • Refrain from all hostile policies directed against Armenia and Artsakh (Karabagh).

These measures, if agreed upon, would represent significant progress in the pursuit of Armenian claims from Turkey, whereas the issue of territorial restitution could be addressed separately through international legal action.

The following commentary was first issued the week of May 21:

How should the Diaspora react to new Turkish overtures?
By Harut Sassounian

I have been informed by reliable sources that Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is continuing his efforts to initiate a personal ‘dialog’ with the Diaspora on Armenian-Turkish issues. Earlier this month, Davutoglu met with Armenian-Americans, as follow up to the meetings he held in Washington last March.

During their conversation in May, the Armenian interlocutors frankly advised the Turkish Foreign Minister that Ankara must address Armenian demands for genocide recognition and restitution before any ‘reconciliation’ could be achieved. The Turkish side reportedly indicated a willingness to discuss these thorny issues with Diasporan representatives.

Despite the seeming openness of Foreign Minister Davutoglu, Armenians have well-founded reasons to mistrust such overtures, given Turkey’s decades-long denial of the Armenian Genocide and its antagonistic policies toward the Diaspora, Armenia and Artsakh. Armenians also suspect that Turkish officials may exploit meetings with the Diaspora to score propaganda points with world public opinion.

Nonetheless, one wonders why the very busy Turkish Foreign Minister has invested so much of his precious time and effort to hold a series of private meetings with Armenians in recent weeks.

One possible explanation is that Turkish leaders are seriously concerned about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Ankara may have realized that unless it took proactive measures, it could not stem the tide of anti-Turkish publicity generated in 2015 by Armenian commemorative activities worldwide.

The second likely reason why the Turkish government may want to talk with Diaspora Armenians is its long-standing interest in joining the European Union. As the newly-elected French President Francois Hollande warned, unless Turkey recognizes the Armenian Genocide, France will reject its application for EU membership.

The third possible explanation for the Turkish overtures is that Prime Minister Rejeb Erdogan has a freer hand in tackling Armenian-Turkish issues at a time when his ruling party controls the Parliament and many of his hard-line military adversaries are under arrest.

Regardless of why Turkey is reaching out to the Diaspora at this time, Armenians have to make their decisions based solely on their own national interest, as to whether this is an opportune moment to test Turkey’s resolve to deal with the disastrous consequences of the Armenian Genocide.

However, before Diaspora’s leaders react to Davutoglu’s persistent efforts for ‘dialog,’ they should ask Turkish officials to clarify their true intentions by making some positive gestures, starting with the return of the Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island to the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey. This historic church is currently designated as a museum belonging to the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Furthermore, the Turkish government has to do much more than renovating a couple of churches for touristic purposes and returning a handful of properties to the Armenian community in Istanbul. There are thousands of confiscated churches and community properties throughout Turkey that must be returned to their rightful Armenian owners.

An initial test of Turkish sincerity in pursuing ‘reconciliation’ with Armenians would be putting an immediate halt to genocide denial, eliminating Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, and ending all adversarial behavior toward Armenia and Artsakh.

In view of the fact that the Turkish government will not willingly and unconditionally meet Armenian demands, and that all outstanding issues would have to be resolved someday through direct negotiations, Diasporan organizational leaders should prepare for such an eventuality. In this regard, it is important to review the records of the 1977 meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, between Turkish Foreign Minister Sabri Caglayangil and representatives of the three Armenian political parties.

Here are some preliminary thoughts to consider before any further meetings or discussions are held between Turkish leaders and Diaspora representatives:

In the absence of an elected Diasporan representative body, major Armenian organizations, with assistance from experts in diplomacy and the art of negotiation, should start drafting a common strategy and a list of demands from Turkey. No Armenian organization or individual should be involved in separate negotiations with Turkey, to deny Ankara the opportunity to create disunity in the Diaspora.

It is imperative that Diasporan representatives coordinate their negotiating positions with leaders in Armenia and Artsakh to assure a common stand vis-à-vis Turkey.

In normal circumstances, Turkish diplomats would have dealt with Armenian issues in direct negotiations with their counterparts in Armenia. However, given Azerbaijan’s obstruction of the Armenia-Turkey Protocols, pending the resolution of the Karabagh (Artsakh) conflict, Turkish leaders are left with no choice but to reach out to the Diaspora and address its legitimate demands.

The column below was released on April 17, 2012:

Two faces of Turkey: veneer of gentility masking ruthlessness
By Harut Sassounian

When Turkey’s Foreign Minister met secretly with a group of Armenians in Washington last month, he wooed them with his sly smile and sugar-coated words. This was the fake facade of traditional Turkish diplomacy.

Last week, Turkey’s UN Ambassador in New York revealed the nasty and aggressive face of his government. Upon learning that a symposium on the Armenian Genocide was going to be held at the UN on April 12, Turkey’s Permanent Representative filed a protest with the Secretary General’s office, trying to disrupt the event.

Organized by the Association for Trauma Outreach & Prevention (ATOP), the event was titled: “Toward Preventing Genocide, Nations Acknowledging their Dark History: Psychosocial, Economic and Cultural Perspectives.” Following screening of Dr. J. Michael Hagopian’s documentary, “The River Ran Red,” the attendees heard addresses from filmmaker Carla Garapedian, Dr. Dennis Papazian, Prof. Ervin Staub, and Garen Nazarian, Armenia’s UN Ambassador.

Encouraged by Turkey’s 2007 success in obstructing a reference to the Armenian Genocide in a UN exhibit on Rwanda, the Turkish Ambassador tried to force the UN to cancel last week’s Armenian Genocide symposium. Fortunately, Armenia’s UN Mission, official sponsor of the event, stood its ground and the symposium took place as planned, albeit with some minor disturbances.

At the start of the event, two Turkish diplomats entered the meeting room without an invitation, and repeatedly attempted to disrupt the proceedings. They kept on shouting, accusing the speakers of defaming Turkey, and refused to comply with the organizer’s request to submit all comments and questions in writing. As the commotion continued, UN security officers were called in, and the two undiplomatic Turkish diplomats left the hall, inanely shouting: “we are the security, we own the security, and we pay for the security!”

In his introductory remarks, Amb. Nazarian observed that “97 years ago, a state-devised plan unleashed a crime whose magnitude and consequences were unparalleled not only in the history of the Armenian nation but also in the history of the world. The plan of extermination of the Armenians was implemented by the Ottoman Empire’s state machine through all its structures and carried out with exact instructions.”

Prof. Papazian’s remarks were titled: “Sovereignty, Nationalism, Racism vs. Humanism and Intellectual Freedom: The Causes and Cures of Genocide.” He expressed his discontent “that the Armenian Genocide is not recognized by the present day Turkish government as a crime committed by its predecessor government under the dictatorship of the Committee for Union and Progress”; “that the people of Turkey are denied free access to accurate sources because of Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code which makes it a crime to insult Turkishness”; and “that such [Ottoman] collections as the confiscated properties archives and the military archives are not open to inspection by objective scholars.”

Prof. Staub spoke about “Overcoming Evil: Preventing Genocide and Creating Peaceful Societies.” He stated that “acknowledgement by perpetrators, bystanders, and the world in general of a group’s suffering has great value for both healing and reconciliation.” However, “perpetrators rarely, and only with great difficulty, acknowledge their acts and show regret,” because of “their profound devaluation of the victims, their ideology, and their unacknowledged shame.”

Carla Garapedian explored the “Economic Consequences of Acknowledging the Genocide.” She related that J. Michael Hagopian had recorded the testimonies of genocide survivors so that their voices would be heard someday at an international tribunal deciding what restitution Turkey would have to pay to heirs of the victims.

Not counting the value of the properties, lands and other assets confiscated from Armenian victims of the genocide perpetrated by the Turkish government, Garapedian assessed as $15 billion the restitution value of the 1.5 million Armenians who had perished. Her estimate is based on Germany’s $60 billion restitution payment for the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust since 1952. Garapedian concluded by suggesting that no state should profit from violating the law and unjustly enrich itself, asserting that a criminal state should not be allowed to keep the fruits of its crime.

This week, Dr. Ani Kalayjian, President of ATOP, sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon complaining about the “disruptive, unprofessional, and arrogant behavior” of the two Turkish diplomats. She wondered how the UN could bring peace to the world, when it cannot establish order at an event held at its own headquarters!

The column below was released on April 10, 2012:

Turkey’s foreign minister in search of ‘soft’ Armenians
By Harut Sassounian

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s ‘man on the run,’ has added to his extremely busy schedule the new task of travelling around the globe trying to recruit ‘sensible’ Armenians.

Davutoglu has embarked on such a desperate initiative after the failure of all Turkish attempts to divide and conquer the Armenians and weaken their resolve to pursue their just cause. The Turkish Foreign Minister openly acknowledged that his urgent efforts are prompted by the looming 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide that hangs like a Damoclean Sword over his country.

After the collapse of the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) and Turkey’s futile attempts to seek ‘friendly’ Armenians around the world, Ankara gave up on the Diaspora altogether and turned its attention to a ‘softer target’ — the Government of Armenia.

Initially, Turkey registered some success when the Armenia-Turkey Protocols were signed by both countries, under the guise of opening their mutual border. However, this latest attempt to drive a wedge between ‘soft’ Armenian officials and ‘hard-line’ Diasporans also failed, when the much-touted Protocols were not ratified.

Realizing that Turkey had to deal with the Diaspora, not just Armenia to resolve genocide related issues, Davutoglu once again turned his attention to Armenian communities worldwide. During a March 24, 2010 CNN-Turk interview, he announced that Turkish authorities would initiate a dialog with ‘sensible’ Diaspora Armenians.

To pursue this stratagem, in April 2010 Davutoglu met in Washington with Turkey’s ambassadors to the United States and Canada, and Consul Generals in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and Toronto. He instructed them to contact Armenians who are open to dialog, and to avoid ‘hard-line groups,’ according to the Turkish ‘Today’s Zaman’ newspaper.

A few weeks later, ‘Hurriyet’ reported that the Foreign Ministry issued a 10-point action plan, instructing Turkish diplomats worldwide to:

Invite and involve local Armenians in Turkish events;

Participate in Armenian community activities;

Contact Armenians who are materially benefiting from making genocide claims as well as recent immigrants from Turkey; and invite to Turkey those who harbor anti-Turkish sentiments;

Establish good relations with Armenian diplomats and attend their official events;

Accept speaking opportunities at local community and university events to explain Turkey’s position on Armenian genocide claims;

Establish contacts with local academics to explain to them Turkey’s position;

Develop contacts with diplomats of countries neighboring Turkey and familiarize them with Turkey’s position on Armenian genocide claims;

Advocate the creation of ‘a joint commission of historians’;

Promote normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations;

Emphasize that the peaceful resolution of the Karabagh conflict would benefit Armenian-Turkish relations.

In December 2011, Turkey announced a revised concept of ‘Diaspora’ to include all descendants of ‘Anatolia,’ regardless of their religion or sect. Davutoglu instructed all Turkish diplomats to hold ‘face-to-face’ meetings with such individuals in order to discuss their ‘joint history’ and “the suffering of all Ottoman people during the incidents of the World War I era.”

Dissatisfied with the efforts of his diplomats, Davutoglu decided to take matters into his own hands. Last month, he spent several hours in Washington meeting privately with several Armenians and non-Armenians from the Los Angeles area to discuss ‘Armenian-Turkish reconciliation.’ The Turkish Foreign Minister also invited the attendees to come to Ankara and bring along other ‘prominent’ Armenians. Since then, Davutoglu has held similar meetings elsewhere.

Meanwhile, another Turkish-initiated group on ‘Armenian-Turkish reconciliation’ will be launched on April 12 in Washington. The host group ‘HasNa’ is set to meet at the offices of Arnold & Porter, a lobbying firm hired by the Turkish government. The attendees will include some Armenians and Turks, U.S. government officials, members of the media, non-governmental organizations, academics, and others.

Armenians who choose to get involved in Turkish recruitment schemes could well be seeking fame or fortune, or are well-intentioned, but naive do-gooders. However, regardless of the reasons for their involvement in such questionable practices, they should be mindful of the consequences of their actions:

Dialog for the sake of dialog could do more damage than good to the Armenian Cause. The Turkish government would exploit such efforts to create the false impression that Armenians and Turks are in the process of reconciling, thereby derailing the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by other countries.

Unless a specific positive outcome is agreed upon in advance, there is a good chance that the Armenian participants would end up holding an empty bag.

Only Armenian officials and credible leaders with diplomatic expertise should be negotiating with shrewd and skilled Turkish diplomats. Otherwise, Turkish officials will cleverly cut a deal with those who are bound to be less demanding and more accommodating.

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