BRUSSELS (Armenpress)-Foreign Minister of Armenia Vartan Oskanian addressed the Second Convention of European Armenia’s Monday on the 20th anniversary of the European parliament’s recognition of the Armenian genocide resolution.
Below is the text of his speech.
"Dear Friends and Colleagues, on behalf of the people and government of Armenia and as a descendant of genocide survivors, I would like to express our appreciation for the efforts of those who passed this resolution 20 years ago. It has been an interesting coincidence that this anniversary comes at a time when the US Congress, too, is considering a resolution and there is much talk about the value–or danger–of third parties engaging in what are said to be old historic issues. In that context, I want to thank those who recognized the immense moral and political value of rejecting genocidal behaviors and criminal policies which are not in anyone’s national interest nor in humanity’s international interest.
Let me say at the outset that the Republic of Armenia, the Government of Armenia, the Armenian people around the world would gladly have done without this distinction. It goes without saying that we would have preferred NOT to be the victims of Genocide, we would have wanted NOT to be sufferers who are often blamed for their own fate but after having such a fate visited upon us, we would certainly have NOT wanted to have been swept aside by the pages of history and today we do NOT want to be accused of having national aspirations which are at odds with international interests.
But the international community has the capacity for more than one message. The international community can indeed carry on its business, develop coalitions, fight off threats and dangers, including the threat of genocide, and none of this should come at the expense of recognizing and condemning genocide anywhere, anytime–in Darfur in the 21st century, or in the Ottoman Empire in the 20th century.
Dear Friends, the value of the 1987 resolution is that it did more than recognize and condemn the Genocide of Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire. Believing as it did that the Armenian issue and the question of minorities in Turkey must be re-situated within the framework of relations between Turkey and the European Community, the European Parliament extensively and thoughtfully laid out all the facets of this complex issue including recognition of the rights of the Armenian minority which still lives in Turkey and recognition of the need to move Armenia’s and Turks towards understanding and reconciliation.
This resolution also revealed political common sense. The message of the resolution was: a country aspiring to join Europe must look like Europe, act like Europe, imagine and see like Europe. It must view history for what it is–the product of political and social tensions of the time–and it must accept its own role in that history, learn from it and move forward, as Europe has done.
Turkey ignored that message. Worse, just half a decade later, when independence came to all the Soviet republics, including Armenia, Turkey ignored a huge opportunity for a new start. Turkey refused to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia, and two years later closed the border, hoping perhaps that Armenia’s vulnerability and fragile statehood would force it to renounce its past and with it, any possible claims for compensation.
The country that could have been, should have been, the regional leader, the bridge between Europe and Asia, the bridge across the Black Sea, the bridge between the past and the future, that country abdicated its responsibility, because of unfounded fears.
What is it that Turkey is afraid of? We have asked that question often, and particularly so this last week. We don’t know. We are certainly not the only neighbors in the world who have had, and who continue to have, a troubled relationship. Troubled memories, a tortured past, recriminations, unsettled accounts and the enduring wounds of victimhood plague the national consciousness of peoples on many borders.
Let’s hear the Turks out. Their fears, their concerns, their excuses, their accusations, have been ringing loudly all week.
First, they insist that labeling the events of 1915 as genocide is an insult to the Turkish people. It seems to me that a mature society that believes in free speech is beyond insults. But be that as it may, it can safely be said that the Turkish state created its own image, its identity, and its modern history based on something less than reality. They boast of 1000 years of statehood, but they choose to assume only the glory of the Seljuk and Ottoman periods and not the burdens.
Their textbooks lack the context that explains what befell the Ottoman Empire’s many minorities, the Greeks, Kurds, Jews and Armenia’s among them. Now, with that gap in public knowledge, they are afraid that their own people will be insulted by the truth. But they are not the only country or the only people that has had to come to terms with the undesirable contradictions at the base of their state building process. The United States, France, Russia, Germany all have had to deal with the consequences of an unconscionable past. And all have survived and flourished. Turkey cannot be afraid of being insulted, afraid of being asked questions, afraid of looking in the mirror.
Second, Turkey insists that Armenia’s are trapped in the past. Actually it seems to us that the opposite is true. We do not forget the past, we do honor the victims and the survivors, but we don’t make the past, the recognition of the past, a precondition for normalizing relations today and moving forward tomorrow. Turkey does. Turkey somehow expects that Armenia’s will renounce the past in order to appease Turkey and arrive at open borders. So who is living in the past? Who is making the present and the future conditional on the past? Who is allowing the dreaded past to confound, complicate and generally determine our collective future?
Third, Turkey fears that what will follow recognition will be even more costly and more damning. Turkey must de-link history from politics. It is a political reality that both Turkey and Armenia exist today in the international community with their current borders. It is a political reality that we are neighbors and we will live alongside each other. It is a political reality that Armenia is not a security threat to Turkey. And finally, it is a reality that it is today’s Armenia that calls for the establishment of diplomatic relations with today’s Turkey.
Turkey’s idea to resolve these issues about the past is to form a historical commission, which it says is the best way to resolve our historical differences. Our answer is threefold. First, really, let’s face it: outside of Turkey, the question is not a historical one–the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the International Center for Transitional Justice, Raphael Lemkin, archives in countries the world over have all established the historical veracity of the Genocide. Second, the penal code restrictions and their discriminatory application, especially to minorities, and especially to Armenia’s and those who dare to explore Armenian issues, has become frightening, and would certainly prohibit an open, healthy discussion about what have come to be called the events of 1915.
Look, the world inside and outside Turkey stood up to protest the murder of Hrant Dink last January, the son of the slain Hrant Dink has now also been convicted, again under Article 301, again for publishing an interview of his father’s, the same interview for which Hrant was convicted, and which created the atmosphere of intolerance that resulted in his assassination, an assassination that has yet to be persuasively and persistently concluded. The threat hanging over the head of Hrant Dinks associates and successors cannot be ignored. Third, there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries and the border is closed between us and a discourse under those conditions would be hard to imagine.
However, if Turkey indeed wants to discuss 1915, Armenia will be ready to do so at a governmental level, if relations between our two countries have a semblance of normalcy. At a minimum, with open borders. You see, we have experienced a decade-long series of efforts by Ankara to engage Armenia in a process, for the sake of showing the world that there is some ongoing process and that third parties need not engage. The most insignificant, inconsequential meetings are held up as signs of progress. Let me be clear: short of movement on the border, there is no other measure of forward movement in our relations. Any other call will not be taken seriously.
Armenia believes there is simply no reason to keep the border closed. Closed borders are not normal. Countries not at war with each other do not maintain closed borders. There is nothing in the current history of Armenia and Turkey that warrants closed borders. It is the unsettled memories of the past against which it has slammed shut the door between us.
Armenia believes that Armenia and Turkey must confront those memories and histories. Armenia believes that there is no history in a vacuum, making it, assessing it and overcoming its obstacles the two sides have to do together. Armenia believes that Turkey must open the borders so that our people will interact to create new experiences to replace the old memories.
Armenia’s believe that today’s Turks do not bear the guilt of the perpetrators, unless they choose to defend them and identify with them. Armenia believes that Armenia’s and Turks, together with the rest of the modern world, can reject the actions and denounce the crimes of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey and Armenia together must exorcise the demons of the past. Turkey itself must summon the deep force of humanity and goodness and must renounce the deed, its intent, and its consequences. And we, the descendants of the victims must exhibit the dignity, capacity and willingness to move on.
Dear Friends, if anyone thinks that genocide is only a matter for the past, that it is indeed to be forgotten, they are not only wrong, but they do not understand the security implications for living alongside a strong, unrepentant neighbor, and the safety implications for those living within that society that has not come to terms with its past.
I fear the ignorance that prompts those in positions of influence to label irrelevant the attempts of responsible leaders to bring some semblance of normalcy, morality and responsibility to relations between neighbors.
I fear the reactions of a world power that counts on an ally whose allegiance is conditional. I fear there will never come a time that is the right time for the world to tell the government of Turkey, or any government for that matter–remember Darfur—that it has a responsibility to acknowledge such crimes.
Dear Friends, Genocide is the ultimate crime against humanity. It is the extreme abuse of power. The human rights challenge facing all of us is to be able to recognize that a government has the capacity for such immorality and inhumanity, and that particular governments have indeed committed genocide. The political challenge is to call things by their name, to acknowledge that genocide is not just mass murder, not just massacre and deportation, but the betrayal of the responsibility of custody by the very people entrusted with insuring the security of their own population. Thus it requires a different kind of response, a different level of reaction, an unorthodox solution commensurate to the extraordinary crime.
Twenty years after the European Parliament’s call for condemnation and reconciliation, with even greater urgency, we repeat the call. The burden is on us all.
When next the Parliament discusses this issue, we can only assume that Europe will expect that a Turkey, which is serious about EU membership, which is indeed able to juggle the complex relationships that EU membership entails, will have to come to terms with its past, and to open borders with its neighbors.
As you see, third parties still have a huge role to play. Parliaments and congresses must continue to insist that there be morality at the starting line and the goal line of all our foreign policies and foreign relations. It is essential that administrations and executive bodies not bend the rules, nor turn a blind eye or lower standards. Instead, let the international community consistently extend its hand, its example, its own history of transcending, in order for us all, to move on to making new history. Thank you.