BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Ambassador John Evans’ book “Truth Held Hostage” was recently published and ends with ten suggestions which are a great starting point for discussion. I will address them here, one at a time. They are a mixture of sublime, no-brainers, bad, and thought provoking. I strongly recommend reading the book (available from Gomidas Institute, Armenian bookstores, and even Amazon), since I can’t fully reproduce the ideas in this compact space, andmight miss or omit some nuances. You no doubt remember that Evans was the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Armenia who dared say “Armenian Genocide” during a tour of Armenian communities in the U.S.
1- Pass a congressional resolution: Obviously a no-brainer “yes” and Evans discusses some different angles of approach.
2- An Armenian museum in Washington, D.C.: another easy yes with specific interesting suggestions included.
3- The U.S. President should recognize the Genocide: another no brainer, but Evans’ discussion of this matter has some worrisome aspects. He proposes interim formulations of a presidential statement’s contents, which make sense at first blush. But, these same sensible formulations could well set a new ceiling, a “maximum” which would have to be battled for yet another generation until a new truth-speaker (like Evans himself) comes along. I’m not sure this is a preferable approach to striving for a full and proper recognition statement with no interim phases.
Also in the discussion, details about Obama and his utterances serve to mitigate the denialism – the only correct term possible – of the executive branch (in general) and the State Department (most of all). This is not something that should be done, no matter how unintentionally or incidentally. Finally, there is also a reference to what I can only interpret as being the meetings that led to the promulgation of the infamous Protocols. This should be fleshed out in any future editions of the book. Here and in a few other places, we must bear in mind that these memoirs were written at a certain point in time, and more has happened since then which sheds additional light on matters such as the Protocols.
4- The U.S. Ambassador to the RoA should be able to “openly and sincerely” speak to the Genocide at annual commemoration: absolutely yes! But why stop at once a year? Why not ongoingly? If it’s “doable” to create the apparent contradiction in the U.S. position on April 24, then let the contradiction be created as necessary. I imagine the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey has to say things that are contradictory, too. This might be a temporary, please-and-displease-both-sides compromise until Turkey gets a grip on reality
5- RoA and Turkey should establish normal diplomatic relations with no preconditions: this is mostly a “yes” but… Look at what has happened with Israel and those Arab countries with which a treaty has been negotiated. The peace is a very cold one. And in the case of the Palestinian Authority, with which day-to-day interactions over mundane life issues are necessary, a somewhat cooptive relationship has emerged leading in part (in my mind) to the emergence and governance (in Gaza) of Hamas (no value judgment is implied here). Evans describes his attempts to replicate the Greek-Turkish “earthquake diplomacy” (those countries assisting each other when struck seismically) leading to a break in the ice of their relationship. In the case of RoA and Turkey, it was to have been “bird flu diplomacy” where the former was urged to assist the latter when the disease struck. These types of comfort-creating activities are good, but can also be abused to circumvent (ultimately) addressing the real issues of recognition, reparations, and restoration of territory.
It is very refreshing and encouraging that Evans addresses Turkey’s preconditions normalized diplomatic relations (drop recognition demands and return Artzakh to Azerbaijani control) and ultimately dismisses them. We don’t see this often. But his discussion betrays a gap in understanding. Evans observes that he noted “exaggerated” fears of what the real intentions of today’s Turkey are. Here, he misses the undergirding (though unspoken) pan-Turkist ideology that is at the heart of Turkey’s identity TODAY and for the last century. The simplest way to recognize this is Turkey’s Artzakh precondition. Yet, the connection is not made. If this reality is not recognized along with the chauvinism (as opposed to completely normal, understandable, and justified nationalism) that was initiated by the Ottoman Empire’s last regime, embedded in the life of the Turkish republic by Ataturk – heir to the young Turks, and permeates Turkish life today, then progress will be very difficult.
6- Turkey should acknowledge what was done to the Armenians: another no-brainer, absolute yes… but Evans goes on to add:
“Today’s Republic of Turkey may not be directly responsible for the Genocide, but as the successor state to the defunct Ottoman Empire, it represents a continuing enterprise of Turkish statecraft dating back almost a millennium.”
If that’s not a self-contradictory statement, in essence, I don’t know what is. Also, Evans absolves Ataturk of responsibility for the Genocide, attributing anti-Armenian activity to his subordinates who came from Young Turk circles. But Ataturk came from those same political circles. It was during his ascendency that the cleansing from Armenian lands of their native inhabitants was continued. Let’s not forget the re-exile that struck our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents in the early 1920s after most had returned home. Ambassador Evans, please take the final step of unequivocally indicting Turkey as the responsible party for the Armenian Genocide since it is the successor state, its founders continued the processes of the Genocide, it derives the benefits of the untold stolen Armenian wealth, and it today continues a policy of denial, effectively admitting its oneness as the perpetrator, regardless of changes in its statehood.
Also, Evans cites an “exaggerated” fear by Turkey of having to make reparations and cede territories as an obstacle to progress on recognition. This is a concern and argument that has been present at least since the meetings between Turkish and Armenian representatives occurred in the late 1970s, repeated by Taner Akcam and many otherwise right-minded Turks who are observing “practical” realities. In my book, there’s nothing exaggerated about it. Turkey must make full restitution and territorial amends. I would much rather we start with the end result openly stated, and proceed with finding a way to get there. Otherwise, we will forever be accused of never being satisfied. Imagine, we get our churches and related properties back. Then we ask for personal properties, and someone will say “but wait, you just got churches” and then it’ll be “churches and properties” when we ask for factories followed by “hey wait, churches, properties, factories, and now you want bank accounts?” and so on all the way through to getting Wilsonian Armenia. Each point will become an additional, intermediate stumbling block.
7- The U.S. should help Turkey preserve Armenian monuments: eh, why not? This seems like a nice idea, fairly unobjectionable. But we must be cautious that such well-intentioned undertakings do not become ways to Genocide-wash Turkey (much like many large corporations Green-wash their otherwise environmentally destructive activities by taking minimal steps but publicizing them as if they have truly reformed their practices). Evans refers to a little known mechanism (U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.) that might be used to accomplish some restoration of Armenian cultural remnants currently under Turkish control.
8- U.S. Department of State counseling of individual families: very likely a “no.” This is something that has evidently been done in the context of the Holocaust. I am leery of this type of approach because it can serve to numb and distract people from the crucial issues at hand. It seems that some reparations for Holocaust survivors and their families have even been secured through the DoS. But given that agency’s current denialist position, such activities would, at best, come off as duplicitous and hypocritical. Couple that with the Executive Branch’s position that helped lead the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 to strike down the California law which allowed families to pursue claims against insurance companies, and I think you have a non-starter with this otherwise beneficial-seeming proposition. Oh, and let’s not forget the DoS’s role in and support of TARC! And, this is another possible avenue for Genocide-washing.
9- A Historical Commission: forget it, for any time in the foreseeable future! Even Evans acknowledges how politicized such an entity might become. It is also an optimal way and place for Genocide washing and procrastination. The Ambassador thinks it might provide some face-saving routes for Turkey to make progress. Saving a Genocide perpetrator from embarrassment is far from being a foremost concern for me. The risks involved in such a commission, frequently proposed by Turkey (a revealing fact) render this suggestion fundamentally unacceptable.
10- We can give Armenian-Americans our respect, and honor their narrative: sublime, and truly necessary. This simply phrased course of action, if adopted by the 310 million people of the U.S. would enable unbelievable progress. Evans reproduces six items from Richard Hovannisian for American diplomats (and I would add all government officials and citizens) NOT TO DO regarding the Genocide:
1- negating it outright
2- casting doubt on whether it happened
3- engaging in debate as to whether it happened
4- rationalizing it
5- relativizing it
6- trivializing it
Following this advice would eliminate the “it was a century ago, why do you still care” mindset. It would prevent much heartache and re-infliction of pain. We should get copies of this book to every elected official, the media and its operatives at all levels, and our non-Armenian friends and neighbors, asking them to read this 10th suggestion from Ambassador Evans even if they disregard the rest of the book.
The only flaw in this item is the reference to laws making Genocide denial illegal. That, unfortunately, is an unresolved question, with many Armenians even agreeing with Evans’ position, based on free speech concerns. Let’s leave this issue for another time.
Everyone, Armenian or not, should read this book since it serves as a great jumping off point to address our issues. No one and no book is flawless, as you can see from the above. There are other areas of the book which need tweaking or significant correction (Matthew Bryza, the U.S. diplomat who sold out to Turkey and Azerbaijan comes off smelling like roses), and hopefully this will happen with future editions of the book.
Buy it, read it, gift it, and disseminate it in any other way you can think of.