YEREVAN, Armenia – That an Armenian repatriate, American-born into a legacy of remembrance inherited from a line of survivors of genocide nearly a century ago, feels compelled to entitle his thoughts with a focus on Turkey – and not Armenia – reveals a larger problem, a gaping wound, and an imperative for closure long overdue on both sides of history’s tragic divide.
The new Armenia, independent of its longstanding statelessness since 1991, is my everyday life, as are the yearnings of my fellow citizens for their daily dignity, true democracy, the rule of law, and an empowering end to sham elections and the corruption, arrogance and unaccountability of power.
“Generation next” is neither victim nor subject, nor any longer an infidel “millet.” We seek not, in obsequious supplication, to curry the favor of the world’s strong and self-important, whose interests often trump their own principles and whose geopolitics engulf the professed values of liberty and justice for all. Gone are the residual resources for kissing up or behind.
And so, with a clarity of conscience and a goodness of heart, I expect Turkey and its administration to address the multiple modern challenges they face and offer to this end a list of realities, not commandments, that will help enable a new era of regional understanding and the globalization of a peaceful order that countenances neither victims nor victimizers.
1. Measure sevenfold, cut once: This old local adage suggests a neat lesson for contemporary officials. Before launching, at Davos or elsewhere, pedantic missiles in condemnation of the excesses of others, think fully about the substance and implications of your invectives. This is not a narrow Armenian assertion; it includes all relevant dimensions, including all minorities. Occupation, for its part, is the last word Turkish representatives should be showering in different directions at different international fora, lest someone require a textbook definition of duplicity. Maintain dignity but tread lightly, for history is a powerful and lasting precedent.
2. Self-reflection: Democracies achieve domestic success, applicants accomplish European integration, and countries become regional drivers only when they have the political courage and moral fortitude to undergo this process. Face yourself, your own conduct, and the track record of state on behalf of which you speak. Not only the success stories and points of pride, but the whole deal. Be honest and brave about it; you do possess the potential to graduate from decades of denialism. Recent trends in civil society, however tentative and preliminary, attest to this.
3. The Armenian genocide: Don’t revise history; recognize the historical record and take responsibility. There is a wealth of evidentiary documentation, more than sufficient to disarm the various instruments of official denial that have been employed over the years. But this is only the paperwork. The most damning testimony is not in the killing of more than a million human souls in a manifest execution of the 20th century’s first genocide or, in the words of the American ambassador reporting at the time, “race extermination.”
4. Homeland-killing: Worse than genocide, as incredible as that sounds, is the premeditated deprivation of a people of its ancestral heartland. And that’s precisely what happened. In what amounted to the Great Armenian Dispossession, a nation living for more than four millennia upon its historic patrimony was in a matter of months brutally, literally, and completely eradicated from its land. Unprecedented in human history, this expropriation constitutes to this day a murder, not only of a people, but of a civilization and an attempt to erase a legacy of culture, a time-earned way of life. This is where the debate about calling it genocide or not becomes absurd, trivial, and tertiary. A homeland was exterminated by the Turkish republic’s predecessor and under the world’s watchful eye, and we’re negotiating a word. Even that term is not enough to encompass the magnitude of the crime.
5. Coming clean: It is the only way to move forward. This is not a threat, but a statement of plain, unoriginal fact. Don’t be afraid of the price tag. What the Armenians lost is priceless. Instead of skirting this catastrophic legacy through counterarguments or commissions, return to the real script and undertake your own critical introspection and say what you plan to do to right the wrong, to atone for and to educate, to revive and restore, and to celebrate the Armenian heritage of what is today eastern Turkey. Finally take the initiative for a real reconciliation based on the terrible truth but bolstered by a fresh call to candor.
6. Never again: The rewards of coming to this reality check far outweigh its perils. What is unfortunately unique about the Holocaust is not the evil of the Shoah itself, but the demeanor of postwar Germany to face history and itself, to assume responsibility for the crimes of the preceding regime, to mourn and to dignify, to seek forgiveness and make redemption, and to incorporate this ethic into the public consciousness and the methodology of state. A veritable leader of the new Turkey, the European one of the future, might do the same, not in cession but in full expression of national pride and honor. My grandmother, who survived the genocide owing to the human heights of a blessed Turkish neighbor who sheltered little Khengeni of Ordu from the fate of her family, did not live to see that day.
7. The politics of power: Turkey’s allies can help it along this way. Whether it’s from the West or the East, the message for Turkey is that, in the third millennium AD, the world will be governed by a different set of rules: that might will respect right, that no crime against humanity or its denial will be tolerated. The Obama Administration bears the burden, but has the capacity for this leadership of light. And it is now being tested.
8. Turkey and Armenia: These sovereign neighbors have never, in all of history, entered into a single bilateral agreement with each other. Whether diplomatic, economic, political, territorial, or security-specific, no facet of their relationship, or the actual absence thereof, is regulated by a contract freely and fairly entered into between the two republics. It’s about time. Hence, the process of official contacts and reciprocal visits that unraveled in the wake of a Turkey-Armenia soccer match in September 2008 should mind this gap and structure the discourse not to disdain the divides emanating from the past, but to bridge them through the immediate establishment of diplomatic relations without the positing or posturing of preconditions, the lifting of Turkey’s unlawful border blockade, and a comprehensive, negotiated resolution of all outstanding matters, based on an acceptance of history and the commitment to a future guaranteed against it recurrence.
9. Third-party interests: Nor should the fact of dialogue, as facially laudable as it is, be exploited as an insincere justification to deter third-parties, and particularly the U.S. Congress, from adopting decisions or resolutions that simply seek to reaffirm the historical record. Such comportment, far from the statesmanship expected, contradicts the aim and spirit of rapprochement.
10. The past as present: The current Armenian state covers a mere fraction of the vast expanse of the great historical plateau upon which the Armenians lived until the surgical disgorgement of homeland and humanity that was 1915. Accordingly, as improbable as it seems in view of its ethnic kinship with Azerbaijan, modern-day Turkey also carries the charge to discard outdated and pursue corrective policies in the Caucasus. This high duty applies not only to a qualitatively improved and cleansed rapport with the Republic of Armenia, but also in respect of new regional realities.
On the road to inevitable self-discovery, Turkey, its future with Armenia, and their immediate neighborhood have come to form one of the planet’s most sensitive and seismic tectonic plates. Integrity, equity, and a bit of humility might help to save the day. And our world.