BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
This article is a child of Garo Paylan’s visit to the United States. Much has been written about the tremendous importance and value of Paylan’s tour. It is impossible to overstate. This piece will focus on complementary observations made by Paylan and Khatchig Mouradian during the Armenians and Progressive Politics conference held at Burbank’s Woodbury University.
Paylan asserted that the only way to make progress in Turkey is to establish a viable democracy. He advocated everyone supporting this course. No one would disagree with this direction.
But Mouradian quickly added that it must be democracy coupled with justice. The point was that merely establishing democratic governance is insufficient to addressing Turkey’s multitude of issues, be they international (Syria, Israel, Greece, Russia, EU, Iran, etc.), internal (Kurds, other minorities, equal rights for all citizens, etc.), or, most importantly for Armenians, the Genocide, reparations, and Wilsonian Armenia.
Democracy, the process of electing governments through mass participation does not necessarily yield a just result. Hitler was elected that way, as was Mussolini. Countless other authoritarian governments which abuse their citizens have come to power in the same way.
That happens because justice is lacking. It is lacking in the mindset of the people. It is lacking systemically. It is lacking in the ways elites (elected and others) operate.
Just (only) democracy is not just. This is a problem Armenians confront in all the settings relevant to our nation and cause. It impacts us from Yerevan, to Ankara, and on to every other city we live in worldwide.
The easiest example is the United States. At its founding, slavery was legal, and a relatively small portion of the population could even vote! Even after two centuries of struggles for civil, labor, minority, voting, women’s, and every other kind of rights and justice, the system is still imperfect. It even resulted in genocide of the original peoples who inhabited the territory of what is now the U.S. But, the key to progress was an awareness that constant effort and an internal moral compass that always points to justice are necessary to make life better for all citizens.
This is no less true in Armenia. During our revolutionary period, that same internal compass drove our fedayees, intellectuals, villagers, and most of the nation to fight for dignity against the Ottoman and Russian empires. Ultimately, that struggle led to our first republic. Later, after Sovietization, that same drive led to the Gharapagh Movement and the re-independence of Armenia. Today, that spirit, though much battered, persists in many quarters of Armenian society as an oligarchic, economically inefficient, and civically degrading system is being challenged so a more just country can be built.
And so it goes in Turkey. The stirrings of liberty that led to the 1908 Ottoman constitution, led in part by the Armenian community, primarily through the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s efforts, are still alive. Once again, the Armenian community, best represented through Garo Paylan’s Peoples’ Democratic Party, is involved. Despite the battering that both justice and democracy have taken at President Erdoğan’s hands, hope for improvement is still alive, though now much more patience seems to be required.
In all places and at all times, we should not forget the necessary linkage of justice with democracy. The absence of that linkage in the minds of the Ittihad ve Terakki (Union and Progress) Party is what led to the Genocide. Using our bitter experience, we should always be at the forefront of efforts to promote the expansion of “DEMOCRACY with JUSTICE”.