Cascading toward the 91 st Anniversary? - by Dr Harry Hagopian
Armenians across all five continents are getting ready this week to commemorate the 91 st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. With the noteworthy achievements of 2005 now behind them, it is time to think both tactically and strategically of the 24 th April events - not only for this week, but also for the longer-term policy of the years ahead. After all, Armenians are nine critical years shy of a century in order to break through the psychological barrier of denial.
In this context, events in Turkey as of late have also been quite relevant. After all, this country - whose predecessor regime was culpable for those atrocities but which remains to date a bastion of rapacious denial - has taken some grudging steps toward acknowledging the existence of a "problem" rather than simply blotting it out of its collective psyche. In fact, having applied to join the European Union, this post-Ottoman republic should accept not only EU democratic norms and values, but also the requirement to guarantee the fundamental human rights of all its citizens.
True, Atom Egoyan's film Ararat was shown last week on the private Turkish Kanalturk television station with less censorship than has been the case in the past. It is equally true that a Turkish court dropped charges against four Turkish journalists (Hasan Cemal, Ismet Berkan, Haluk Sahin and Erol Katircioglu) who had been charged with writing articles in which they criticised a judicial decision to delay a conference last year entitled 'Ottoman Armenians during the decline of the empire: Issues of scientific responsibility and democracy'. These, along with other small paces, have been positive although they have stopped short of going any further in translating them from tactical orientations to strategic decisions. For instance, while dropping charges against those four journalists, the court decided nonetheless to proceed with the trial of Mehmet Murat Kadri Belge, a columnist for the Radikal newspaper. Besides, just as with Orhan Pamuk's case, the Turkish government did not address itself to repealing the articles in the Turkish Penal Code that would allow such charges to be made in the first place (Amnesty International UK is presently campaigning for the abolition of Article 301), but applied insincere interpretations to try and satisfy a Western EU-friendly audience whilst at the same time not budging away from its own stolid political standpoints.
Let us be clear that there is no shortage of historians, academics, institutes, lawyers and writers worldwide - not least the International Association of Genocide Scholars - who have acknowledged the genocidal nature of the atrocities meted out against Armenians during WWI. So the problems - and thereby solutions - inherent to denial cannot solely be traced to historical issues. On the contrary, they are overpoweringly political. It is self-evident that many countries - not least the USA or the UK - would not wish to upset Turkey as a NATO ally with a substantive military presence and with many bases in a geo-strategic but volatile region. The same applies for Israel. When the then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres publicly stated in April 2001 to the Turkish Daily News that the Armenian experience was not tantamount to genocide, he was thinking of buttressing the strong military ties and ongoing economic interests that Israel enjoys with Turkey despite occasional complaints about Islamism. No wonder then that Yisrael Charny, director of the Jerusalem-based Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide, reproved publicly this wily politician for misrepresenting the facts.
It is true that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by some parliaments and councils indicates a painstaking but relentless momentum forward. But Armenians should now consider working with the younger Turkish academicians who have also been researching this chapter of Turkish history. Moreover, they should be careful not to be perceived as a token anti-Muslim (and by analogy anti-Turkish) force, or be used in the brinkmanship between Turkey and the EU as a convenient pretext for barring Turkish entry into the European club. After all, Turkey has major challenges today that make it fall foul of accession anyway - namely, the Kurdish issue that has recently flared up again in the violence-wracked southeast region that is now a homeland for a large Kurdish minority, as well as the refusal by Turkey to open its ports and airports to Cypriot-registered vessels despite a customs' union agreement. Turkey also has economic woes, one year short of parliamentary elections, with high public debt, high current-account deficit and tax breaks that are contrary to IMF recommendations - as evidenced by the recent spat over the appointment of the central bank governor.
I believe Armenians should re-configure their strategic interests discursively, with more reason and less intuition. Would the acquisition by Armenians (and other long-standing minorities such as Assyrians) in Turkey of EU passports, for example, not help them in their legal and functional quests? Should those Turks who helped rescue Armenians during the genocide not be honoured too, in the same way that Israelis honour brave Gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust? After all, these too are intrepid people who upheld the honour of the Turkish nation when their government was destroying its own Armenian citizens. Focusing on such a moral issue would prove that many Armenians are certainly not visceral anti-Turks, and could also turn into an exposed embarrassment for Turkey.
Geopolitics in the 21 st century is not based on high decibels and angst-ridden feelings alone. Rather, it is based on strategic thought and vested interests. Could Armenians not invest in their resourcefulness to excel in this arena too?
© hbv-H @24 April 2006