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Turkey Warms to Armenia, Slowly

Turkey Warms to Armenia, Slowly
Members of the Armenian community in hold banners during a rally marking the anniversary of mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Empire in 1915. (photo by REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel)
Members of the Armenian community in hold banners during a rally marking the anniversary of mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Empire in 1915. (photo by REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel)

While we were visiting Paris for the Friends of Syria conference with [Turkish] Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, he spoke of Turkey’s quiet, three-pillar approach to opening up the Armenian issue.

The discussion regarding what happened in 1915 and the controversies surrounding the definition and terminology of it still paralyzes Turkey 100 years later. Remember what happened to Hrant Dink or the crises with France. Every year we spend millions of dollars to prevent the US congress from uttering the word “genocide.” And indeed, there is the burning pain and the longing for a part that was abruptly amputated.

Drawing upon Davutoglu’s statements, I can say that Turkey is initiating a new “opening” as we head toward the 100th anniversary of the 1915 incidents. This opening up of the Armenian issue is composed of three dimensions.

The first is the emotional dimension. For years, Turkey had either denied that this incident ever happened or attempted to undermine the pain of the Armenians with claims of alleged counter-massacres. The Khojaly massacre was used to belittle Armenian claims. Therefore, I think these statements from Davutoglu are noteworthy:

“I am not saying that nothing happened in 1915, but I wouldn’t classify the incident as a genocide, and I believe the usage of this term is a personal preference. We need to develop new language regarding this issue. We do not deny their pain. On the contrary, we understand it. Let’s try to sort it out together but not with a one-sided charge sheet against Turkey.”

There is a concept developed by Davutoglu called “fair memory,” which is based on the recognition of the Armenian’s suffering and the readiness to hear their stories. “We are not like the Germans. Our history does not have a record of ethnic cleansing or ghettoization. [Before 1915,] there had been losses, concerns and worries about the Muslims in the Balkans and Caucasus, as well. These incidents led to paranoia on the Turkish side. The Turks were terrified with the idea that they would be forced to move out of Anatolia. However, this psychology cannot be likened to that of the Nazis. You can not represent the Turks as a murderous race. We cannot accept a one-sided charge sheet against Turkey.”

I am looking at the bright side of things. Though this is happening quite belatedly, it is important to see the official Turkish position is ready to listen to the Armenians and hear their suffering. There are attempts to issue a joint declaration on the eve of 2015. [web-editor’s emphasis]

The second pillar is the redefinition of the term “diaspora.” The Turkish foreign ministry recently sent a circular note to all of its embassies that said: “Anyone who emigrated from Turkey, not just Turks, is considered as part of our diaspora. This includes Armenians, Jews, Greeks, El Turcos in Latin America and Arabs in Argentina. These are our people, whose culture and language are similar to us.” Turkish embassies will henceforth open their doors to all of these people who were once the citizens of the Ottoman Empire. Interactions with the Armenian diaspora have already begun.

This is a significant evolution in the Republic’s ideology, which attempts to convert its rich yet challenging heritage into a homogeneous Turkish race. This initiative should be considered alongside this statement from Erdogan: “Our history did begin in 1923.” The Turkish bureaucracy will overcome these challenges. These new conceptualizations resonate with Turkey’s ambitions in the region.

The final pillar is comprised of the sensitive diplomatic efforts with Armenia, aiming to give life to bilateral relations between two countries [which currently do not have relations]. Davutoglu kept on reminding us that establishing relations is still on the table. Last week, Hillary Clinton paid a visit to Armenia. Sarkisyan was reelected, and he is asked to withdraw from a tiny part of the Azeri land that is occupied by Armenia. After this step, Turkey will reopen its border and trade relations and investments will soar. A Turkish official said: “We will rejuvenate Yerevan with imports from Turkey, as we did in Erbil.”

This is an appealing offer for the Armenians. For Turks, this is a step to unify the departed souls and the lost identities. Davutoglu says “If you want to contribute toward solving this issue, let us collaborate. I wish the protocols were finalized. Still, I have regrets about this issue. Though it was pretty feasible, it failed due to the psychological barriers.”

Maybe it is not too late. Maybe they will be finalized.

Government officials, long used to denying the genocide, now acknowledge there were massacres in 1915, writes Aslı Aydıntaşbaş. Turkey is starting to open its borders to Armenians the world over, even though it still denies that the events were full-fledged genocide like the Nazis in Germany.
Publisher: Milliyet (Turkey)
Original Title: Davatoglu to Armenians: I am not denying your grief. Come, let’s talk.
Author: Aslı Aydıntaşbaş
Published on: Saturday, Jul 7, 2012
Translated On: Friday, Jul 13, 2012
Translator: Ceren Kenar

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