BY VARANT MEGUERDITCHIAN
In April this year, French President Francois Hollande declared that “genocide” was the only word that could appropriately characterize the events of 1915; the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passed a resolution affirming the historical reality of the Armenian Genocide; Australia’s newly appointed Human Rights Commissioner condemned the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide; Members of the European Parliament declared that the attacks on Kessab were reminiscent of the historic deportation and massacre of Armenians; and the American Jewish Committee urged Turkey to address the Armenian Genocide. These were some of the political developments that marked the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide this year.
The shift in the media’s positioning toward Armenian Genocide recognition, however, was more significant than the political affirmations. Al Jazeera noted that Turkey has lost the battle of truth on the Armenian Genocide; CNN denounced Obama’s broken promise to use the “G” word; and Al Monitor ran the story of one popular Turkish political commentator who rejected years of denial to finally accept the Turkish state’s responsibility in the Armenian Genocide. Going even further, The Jerusalem Post and other news outlets criticized Erdogan for referring to the “shared pain” of Armenians and Turks in his first ever official statement on the occasion of the April 24 commemoration.
There have been many instances of third party recognition of the Armenian Genocide over the years and it is likely that the next round of political affirmations are just around the corner; on the 100th anniversary of 24 April 1915.
A number of commentators have remarked that recognition is not necessary for reparations and this has been proven to be true at least in the cases of AXA and New York Life insurance claims.
However, if we accept that recognition is not necessary to bring about the beginning of reparations, we must equally accept that reconciliation will bring about their end. This is the reason why Turkey has been seeking to “reconcile” with Armenia as quickly and as expediently as possible. This year Turkey again attempted to position itself as a promoter of reconciliation. Erdogan’s statement and Davutoglu’s subsequent opinion piece in The Guardian offered condolences to the descendants, while stopping short of recognizing the Genocide and accepting ownership of its consequences. As the Armenian Genocide Centenary approaches, we should expect Turkey to make numerous similar attempts to water down its historical reality and present-day implications.
This year, more than in previous years, brave Turkish citizens gathered to publicly commemorate the Armenian Genocide in various cities across Turkey. It is encouraging to see that internal pressures are now adding to the mass of external pressures. Ultimately, it is the combination of these two forces that will eventually lead Turkey to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, and it will be critical for Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora to be prepared.
While reparations can be achieved through the court of law, a negotiated resolution is more likely to deliver enduring peace.
Lasting reconciliation between the two nations is conditional upon the fulfillment of three key deliverables: that substantive justice is done to address the crimes committed; that the Armenian and Turkish states agree to the outcome; and that the respective societies, through dialogue and direct engagement with each other, accept these outcomes.
The 2009 Turkey-Armenia protocols were particularly unpopular in Armenia and eventually failed because they did not satisfy the first and third deliverables. In reality, the protocols should not have been satisfactory to the Armenian government either.
Today, the Armenian state is landlocked and blockaded. It is unable to fully cater to some of the basic societal needs of its citizens or the cultural and political needs of the Armenian Diaspora. It is plagued by emigration, it is militarily and economically vulnerable, and as a consequence, it is heavily reliant on Russia, with its domestic and foreign policies closely tied to the Kremlin. The fragility of Armenia today traces its roots back to the Genocide and as such Armenia should be the primary beneficiary of reparations offered for the Genocide.
As a state, Armenia is more vulnerable to pressure to reach a negotiated solution without substantive justice. It is critical, therefore, for the people of Armenia and the Diaspora to support the Armenian state in its undeniable right to reparations.
In this regard it is most important to consider what we want. A balanced stakeholder consultation process with the participation of Armenian advocacy organizations, political parties, church denominations, cultural, business and legal groups from Armenia and the Diaspora alongside representatives of the Armenian state should guide the establishment of Armenian expectations. It may even be that Armenian Diaspora organizations need to lead this activity.
In negotiating a just resolution of the Armenian Genocide, nothing must be off the negotiation table.
Everything that Armenia is entitled to, everything that the Armenian Diaspora is entitled to, everything that the descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors in Turkey are entitled to, must be placed on the negotiation table.
This includes: Return of lands, return of churches, the right of return for Armenians, the right of hidden Armenians to live freely and openly, monetary compensations to Armenia, our churches, Diasporan institutions and individuals who choose to seek it. Additionally, there must be an unreserved apology by Turkey for the crime and for years of denial, a repeal of anti-Armenian laws in Turkey, the placement of Armenian Genocide memorials in Turkey, and a correction of the Turkish account of history in the country’s education system. We must also seek a reduction in Turkish military presence on the Armenian border, an acknowledgement that Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian agendas in Nagorno Karabakh and Nakhichevan have been the result of the long-standing absence of a just resolution of the Armenian Genocide, and a commitment by Turkey to apply pressure on Azerbaijan to recognize the right of the people of Nagorno Karabakh to self-determination.
These are the top-line demands that Armenia and Armenians are entitled to in the form of reparations and none of these rights should be compromised prior to negotiations. Undoubtedly a stakeholder consultation process among Armenians would lead to the development of a far more comprehensive list of rights.
What the final outcome of negotiations would be is, of course, uncertain. It is important to keep in mind, however, that when US President Woodrow Wilson was asked to draw the border between Turkey and Armenia, his primary consideration was that Armenia be secure and sustainable.
Ultimately whatever the outcome of the negotiation, Armenia must be sustainable, independent of reliance on other countries for its defense and economic security and be able to fulfill its purpose of serving the needs of Armenians both at home and in the Diaspora.