BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
For years now, I have been mocked, or drawn smirks, or pooh-poohed, or patronized, or ignored, whenever I mention restoration of western Armenian territories to their rightful owners. Some of those who have given me this kind of treatment even present “brilliant” “reasons” or “arguments” which effectively say “forget it, those lands are long gone” – the contention is “we should/can’t even take care of the current Republic of Armenia (RoA) and Artsakh”; or “who’s gonna move there anyway?”; or even the always-sinister-sounding, conspiracy-flavored “‘they’ will never let it happen”!
I realized it was high time to put forth a proposal to initiate serious discussion of HOW we should proceed to regain those lands rather than IF we should. Here it is. Very preliminary, very general, very rough though it may be, this is a three-generation plan for restoring Wilsonian Armenia to achieve the United Armenia declared on May 28, 1919.
Before proceeding, allow me one disclaimer. I am neither a cartographer, nor an artist, so please forgive the coarseness of the accompanying map showing the delineation of the three steps of my proposal. On this map, I have tried to reproduce Wilson’s “boundary between Turkey and Armenia” along with rough lines showing the temporary borders I envision for the first two phases of my proposal.
Conversely, the other map accompanying this piece, one you have probably seen before, is what was generated by President Woodrow Wilson when he demarcated the border based on his charge under the authority of the San Remo peace conference. I had hoped to generate a map that matched more closely this one, but the place names – mountains, cities, rivers, etc. – have either changed (even the Turkish ones), been obliterated, or have simply not been entered into Google Earth’s database. Establishing the current name-equivalents of those cited in the verbal description of the boundary is obviously an important first step, requiring some serious research. There are 55 different segments described in delineating the border, and many of them have multiple sub-descriptions.
On to my actual proposal.
The basic notion I am putting forth is that we should take incremental “bites” of territory – small, medium, then large. This multigenerational approach allows us, and in fairness, the Turks, too, to anticipate and plan for what can only be described as massive change. It allows both sides to adjust to the exchange of big cities and small villages, industry and agriculture, road and rail routes, and even people, less disruptively.
If it takes a decade or so to negotiate this arrangement among the Diaspora, Yerevan, Ankara, and any relevant international bodies/entities, and if we assume each generation is 30 years long, then in a century, Wilsonian Armenia will be properly constituted and serve to reestablish the entirety and integrity of Armenian culture. I make this last remark because I have observed that in every corner of the Armenian “universe” different snippets of our culture have been saved, and this leads me to believe that the crypto-Armenians of Turkey have also retained some otherwise forgotten treasures. All of these can regroup and amalgamate in United Armenia.
As each phase is implemented, people will be supported in deciding to remain where they are or move in-to or out-of Armenian controlled territory. Of course constitutional amendments in the RoA will enshrine the Armenian nature of the state being rebuilt, without denying the cultural rights of individual inhabitants. During these population exchanges, crypto-Armenians living too far west to be included in Wilsonian Armenia must receive highest priority and support if they want to move into newly re-Armenianized territory, an aspect in which the Diaspora can play a major role of incremental financial support, even though Turkey, as the culpable entity for the status quo and as the beneficiary of the ill-gotten gains of the Genocide would have to undertake the bulk of the financial burden of “Wilsonianization” process.
The first generation’s “tranche” (a term that seems really popular in international circles) of territory that would be tied to the RoA is marked by the red line on the accompanying map. This is the smallest increment because it is the first. It allows the RoA to “digest” this major change and learn how to do so optimally for the next two tranches. Very roughly, it hews to the territories frequently referred to as “G/Kars and Ardahan” that were part of the Russian Empire until WWI. It is mostly mountainous terrain, perhaps economically best suited to the eco- and adventure tourism being pursued in the RoA. It is also home to much of the Hamshentzee population (Islamicized Armenians) of Turkey which makes the integration process a little easier for the population of the area. Perhaps the old Giumri/Gars rail line I’ve heard about could be reactivated.
The second generation’s tranche is medium sized and bears more significance. Marked by the green line on the map, it includes Mt. Ararat, emotionally, culturally, and even economically (think mountaineering) very important. Trabizon, which Wilson included in his border to provide Armenia with a port and thereby access to the world, is part of this phase and would allow us to regain, partially, our historic position as a major trade route. It includes Erzerum/Gareen which has great strategic importance (see Roupen Der Minassian’s “Hayasdan Meech Tzamakayeen Ooogheeneroo Vra”).
The third generation’s tranche is the largest and introduces a new twist. It is marked by the black line of Wilson’s border. Not only does it restore to Armenians Van and the home of our Nayirian roots, but it introduces a Kurdish factor far more significantly than in the first two phases. This area is most heavily populated by Kurds and in its southern reaches abuts the nascent Kurdish state that is currently part of Iraq. We will have two generations to hammer out the difficulties this may be present with our closest neighbors.
Throughout this century-long process, the largest challenge, conundrum, we Armenians will face is population. How do we “make up” for our losses during the Genocide? We will have to create new modes of understanding internationally, and, put bluntly, do some serious procreating internally. Plus, we will have to guide our children into fields of endeavor that are best suited to each of the tranches in anticipation of their turn-over to Yerevan’s control.
For Turkey, two major challenges will be foremost: demilitarization and “honestification” of history. The demilitarization will have to occur in each of the tranches well ahead of the time of transition, if nothing else, as a trust-building measure. Teaching close to 80 million people that they’ve been lied to for a century will take at least a generation. Also, international oversight will be necessary to assure that when withdrawing from these territories, a scorched earth policy is not implemented by Turkey. Only legitimately sensitive military technology may be removed, with all other infrastructure remaining in place and in usable condition.
I know this proposal may seem far-fetched. But, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you don’t start, you can never finish. Let’s get busy with this project, not only because it is right and necessary, but also because it will contextualize all other Armenian endeavors, at least politically, and later culturally. Think of how much more natural Genocide recognition would become. Think of how much more diplomatic and economic maneuvering space the RoA would gain through this process, even its mere initiation. Think of the cultural/archeological odyssey and renaissance we could enter.
Unfortunately, Kharpert (Dzopk/Sophene), Sepasdia, Dikranagerd, and their environs, not to mention Cilicia, are not included in this calculus. But, their re-Armenianization, in some form, will stand as a challenge for our descendants a century from now.
Finally, we should start celebrating November 24 as the day of demarcation of Wilsonian Armenia.
What do you think? What can you contribute to revising/refining/developing this proposal? What diplomatic and governmental channels and entities (other than the obvious Republics of Armenia and Turkey) should be approached with the proposal and when/how?