The following interview was sent by Dr. Dennis Papazian to the Armenian American press earlier this month.
Question: When he was a presidential candidate, Barack Obama promised to reaffirm American acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide if elected. Do you think he will do so now that he is president?
Dr. Dennis Papazian: As a matter of fact, I think he will. We probably will know for certain by April 24, Armenian Martyr’s Day, if not before.
I think Obama is a moral man. Many of his top advisers are well aware that the Ottoman Turkish government carried out a genocide against the Armenians residing in their native homeland. Obama wants to push the reset button on America’s foreign policy and reestablish a moral basis to America’s foreign policy in order to inspire and lead the world.
I think he will explain this to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gull. He will effectively say: You had nothing personal to do with the Armenian Genocide, so why do you deny it, why do you defend it, why do you continue to involve yourselves, your allies, and the United States in a transparent scam? He will say: Make friends with the Armenians, secure a lasting peace in the Caucasus, open the doors for trade, for the shipment of oil, forget old quarrels, move onto the 21st century, and don’t maintain obsolete positions that have no basis in fact. I sincerely believe this.
I think both Erdogan and Gul are also moral men who will rise to the occasion in stages as circumstances allow. Conservatives in Turkey are very powerful. I think they will make a verbal promise to Obama that they themselves will recognize the genocide before the 100th anniversary in 2015.
Question: Do you think that the U.S. House will pass the Armenian Genocide Resolution during this administration, and why?
D.P.: I really don’t know. Congress would prefer that the president take the lead in recognition. If he doesn’t, Congress will. The Turkish government made a big fuss about the resolution last year, and the Bush Administration caved in. The spin doctors tried to make the resolution seem anti-patriotic, and succeeded to some extent. No one, however, denied the Armenian Genocide; they just said it was “not the right time” to pass it.
In any case, it makes little difference. The resolution passed through Congress in 1975, when I headed the Armenian Assembly of America, and in 1984. President Ronald Reagan used the term “genocide” in 1982 in his annual message commemorating the Armenian Genocide. The U.S. is effectively on record, if not totally officially.
Question: Why do the Armenians and supporters commemorate the Armenian Genocide?
D.P.: The last stage of genocide is denial, and as long as the present-day Turkish government denies the culpability of its predecessor government, the Ottoman Empire, and refuses to make compensation to the heirs of the victims, then Armenians and their friends will continue their commemorations and seek to garner public support for justice.
One must not forget the past. To forget the past is to invite repetition of past wrongs.
It is the duty of the progeny of the victims to commemorate the pain suffered by their ancestors. For, once the victims are forgotten, the genocide will have succeeded.
Question: What is the historical evidence to support the Armenian Genocide?
D.P.: The evidence to support the genocide is too extensive to compress in a short statement. It is overwhelming. Needless to say, we have the testimony of survivors; we have evidence provided by foreign missionaries who were eyewitnesses, by American consular officials who were scattered throughout the area where the genocide was committed, German consular officials and military attaches who were advisers to the Turkish army and navy and who frequently witnessed the genocide; we have documentary evidence, and the Austrian archives, and the German archives—then allies of the Ottoman Empire—documents in the Russian archives, and documents in the U.S. State Department archives, as well as the archives of Great Britain and France.
Finally, we have the records from the Turkish war crime trials, which were just published for the first time; these include courts-martial of the leading perpetrators, the evidence and the verdicts, as well as a plethora of documentary proof from the Turkish archives and the memoirs of leading executors of the Armenian Genocide.
To cap it all off, the “Black Book” of Talaat Pasha, the chief instigator and sponsor of the Armenian Genocide, has just been published in Turkey. In it he keeps a minute record of the progress of the genocidal expulsions. What more evidence could you possible ask for?
All real scholars, accordingly, recognize the Armenian Genocide. The International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) passed a resolution a few years ago reaffirming it and called on governments throughout the world to acknowledge it.
Question: Why is the Turkish government denying the genocide?
D.P.: This is a complex question. Many people believe it is chiefly a question of Turkish pride. The Turks have made progress in the last century and most do not want to admit, even to themselves, that their ancestors committed such a crime. Some Turks consider themselves a conquering people. To admit to genocide is to admit that their ancestors did a wicked thing, that the state and the people have profited from the vast wealth taken from the Armenian victims, and that the state mythology maintained by the Turkish government since 1923 is false.
There is also the idea, in the minds of many Turkish chauvinists, that “We killed them, we took their property, we drove them out, and the spoils belong to us. Why should we confess to anything? The victors write history.”
Some others say that the Turkish government is fearful of financial and other liabilities that would come from an acknowledgment, since present-day Turkey is the successor government to the Ottoman state and accordingly bares its responsibilities.
It is hard to say what would come from official Turkish recognition. It could be as little as a public apology, or as much as an attempt to make restitution. What all Armenians in the world want is recognition of the tragedy, the preservation of Armenian cultural monuments, to relieve Armenians living in Turkey of onerous legal disabilities, to allow them the freedom to run Armenian schools, to manage Armenian churches, to be allowed to build and maintain cultural centers, to be allowed to reopen their seminaries and monasteries, and the like.
The maximum demand is for some kind of border adjustment that might place Mt. Ararat and the historic border city of Ani within the Armenian Republic, according to earlier treaties signed with Turkey. Finally, the maximalists want Western Armenia.
Question: How do you counter any opponents who deny the genocide?
D.P.: You counter opponents of Armenian Genocide recognition by presenting the truth, evidence, reason, and perseverance. It is a fight of memory against forgetting. You try to avoid debate with the deniers, since they will stoop to any specious argument and readily tell lies. They depend on the ignorance of most people in the world who have no idea what really happened in order to deceive them. Tell a big enough lie and some people will believe anything.
Question: What are the consequences of countries recognizing the genocide?
D.P.: The consequence of countries recognizing, or reaffirming, the truth of the Armenian genocide is to place more pressure on Turkey to come to terms with its past. It also wakes up world public opinion, which is also interested in justice for the victims of injustice and their progeny.
Question: What major world events have taken place in the 20th and 21st centuries because of the denial of the genocide committed by the Turkish Ottoman Empire and other nations?
D.P.: There is no question that when a genocide goes unpunished, it makes other perpetrators discount the possibility of being punished for their transgressions. Hitler is well known to have been aware of the Armenian Genocide, and before sending his death’s head units into Poland, said: “Go. Kill without mercy. Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?” So, genocides still come, one after the other. I wonder whether it would have happened if the first perpetrators of the 20th century had got their just deserts.
Questions: What would be the consequences for Turkey if its government admits to the genocide? What does Turkish society think about recognition?
D.P.: I think around 20 percent of the Turkish people believe there was a genocide, and many are very sorry for it. Perhaps 70 percent say they don’t know one way or another. Many, of course, are quite indifferent. That is not untypical—though it is unfortunate—in a busy society. It is the chauvinistic and the conservative members of the ruling elites, the top 10 percent who profited from the genocide, who reject recognition.
Many Turks themselves demand recognition as a first step toward bringing real democracy to Turkey. As it stands now, to advocate recognition in public can be considered a crime under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code. These patriotic Turks who demand recognition believe that the ruling elites have manipulated Turkish public opinion to discourage Turks from seeking the truth about their past and having the freedom to investigate any and all allegations. Many patriotic Turks believe Armenian Genocide recognition is the first step toward an open, multicultural, free, and truly democratic society in Turkey.
As a matter of fact, so do I. Any patriotic Turk should demand recognition of the Armenian Genocide by their government.