Mutual Understanding or the Demise of a Cause?

There has been much discussion and disappoint at President Barack Obama’s failure to use the word “genocide” in his first annual April 24 statement to the Armenian American community. Although the term “Medz Yeghern” was used in its place—an Armenian term used only in the context of the Armenian Genocide—and has never before been written or spoken by a U.S. president, many were outraged, and rightfully so. Nevertheless, that Obama did not use the “G-word” should have been expected as only a few weeks ago he was visiting Turkey to reinforce ties between the U.S. and its crucial ally in the Middle East, during a time when the U.S. wages its desperate “war on terrorism” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A far more serious issue must be concentrated on by the entire Armenian nation at this juncture, namely the agreement of “mutual understanding” between Armenia and Turkey that was signed on April 22. The agreement was backed by the U.S., and Obama specifically referred to the recent diplomatic talks being held between the two countries as the main reason for abstaining from properly acknowledging the Armenian Genocide in a press conference held in Turkey. Obama did not want to disrupt the discussions by antagonizing Turkey. Yet, had the president properly recognized the genocide he would in reality have done Armenia a favor had the talks broken down.

Here’s why: Although the Armenian government still refuses to reveal what exactly was stipulated in the “road map” and what the two nations believed to be mutually acceptable in continuing to improve relations, the points of the agreement were leaked to the press, which published the information online. Subsequently the information was printed in Armenian oppositional newspapers, but the points contained in the agreement have yet to be discussed on news programs of television stations that are virtually all government controlled. The five points of the “road map” as published by Trend News on April 24 are as follows:
1. Armenia should accept the Kars agreement signed between Turkey and the former USSR in 1921;

2. A joint commission of historians is to be formed to investigate genocide claims, with the participation of a third country, if necessary;

3. The border between Armenia and Turkey will open and relevant documents will be signed to begin trade relations;

4. Diplomatic relations will be established when the ambassadors of Armenia and Turkey present their credentials to each other’s governments;

5. The parliament [assumingly of each country] will discuss and approve the stipulations contained in the “road map.”
Naturally, the first two points are the most disturbing. The acceptance of the current Armenian-Turkish border as defined in the Treaty of Kars would be absurd. Without dedicated, secure access to the Black Sea, Armenia would forever be dependent on its neighbors for ensuring that foreign trade continues unabated. Armenia’s economy is already highly dependent on Turkey’s willingness to do business despite a closed border. As is obvious to Armenian consumers, most clothing, construction materials, and domestic products are imported from Turkey with all products being trucked into Armenia through Georgia. They are purchased in huge quantities because the prices of these products are very cheap, although their quality is usually mediocre or poor. Armenia would need to have the boundary redrawn so that its interests are served in a final agreement.

The formation of a joint Armenian-Turkish panel to research whether the Armenian Genocide indeed occurred would be a mockery to the 1.5 million victims who fell beneath the Turkish sword. Indeed, it is no longer in the hands of historians to decide whether genocide was committed. Non-denialist historians who have researched the matter have already unanimously determined that genocide did occur. Twenty-one nations around the world have acknowledged the genocide. Therefore the creation of such a body defies logic and wholly undermines worldwide efforts by Armenian activists to have the genocide understood and acknowledged.

These two points are detrimental, or rather are lethal, to the Armenian cause. If diplomatic relations between these two countries are established with these conditions in place, then all that the thousands of Armenian freedom fighters and political activists have fought and died for will have been in vein. Justice will not have been served to the remaining genocide survivors and to the offspring of those deceased. The Armenian cause will no longer be relevant, as there would be no need whatsoever for the Turkish government to finally address the genocide issue with the Armenian government washing its hands of the matter. All hopes of land reparations and a redrawn border similar to if not exactly defined by the Treaty of Sèvres will evaporate instantly. The Armenian cause will become pointless and moot.

Furthermore, although not stipulated as a point, Turkey will have influence in the peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabagh—influence that Armenia has always categorically rejected.

This worst-case scenario can naturally be avoided should Armenia keep the diplomatic “road map” in check, or rather redefine it. If Armenia tosses it into the wastebasket it will lose nothing, for the Armenian economy indeed boomed in the last five years with a closed border. But if the charted map becomes a reality, Armenia can only lose. The Armenian cause will become irrelevant and the nation’s subsequent cemented borders will be geo-strategically weak. Armenia will also lose control of its own economy, which it has regenerated from ashes.

Armenian political activists worldwide must refocus their agendas to address these points of the agreement and categorically condemn them. The Armenian government must never be allowed to downplay or renounce the Armenian cause. Further discussions between Armenia and Turkey based on these points of “understanding” will weaken the case for continued genocide recognition by world nations, especially by Turkey. The shared border that exists today, which serves more as a cultural border than an economic one, is not a boundary that will serve the long-term interests of the Armenian republic and therefore should not be accepted unequivocally.

Armenia’s leadership must not be allowed to give in to Turkey’s preconditions for the sake of establishing diplomatic relations.


Christian Garbis

Christian Garbis is a writer and experimental filmmaker born and raised in Greater Boston. He received his BA in English and Certificate in Film Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has been contributing to the Armenian Weekly since 1994 and has served as an assistant editor for the paper. He lives in Yerevan with his wife and son and maintains two blogs documenting his impressions: Notes From Hairenik and Footprints Armenia. His first novel is partly based on his experiences in Armenia.


  1. Armenia’s salient needs include:

    1. Armenia becoming economically strong–can’t happen if the exit to the outside world is only Russia via Georgia
    2. Democracy and the rule of law become prime descriptors of Armenia. While this is overwhelmingly dependent on the people and government of Armenia to accomplish, this process can be facilitated by an open border to the West. Hopefully it becomes an EU border.

    Insisting on Turkey surrendering land to Armenia or no deal to establish  diplomatic relations or no open border seems needlessly self-destructive.

    Armenia’s national leadership seems to have an objective and sober assessment of their situation. They are moving in the right direction to help insure a better future for their country. I wish them well. I believe my country sees reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia as being in its interests. I hope the USA continues to thread its way through this difficult dialogue and facilitates the development of a Mutual Understanding.

  2. I strongly doubt this is the right direction. And correct me if i am wrong, but during the current talks i haven’t read anything about the Armenian government asking Turkey for land. but the current course of events should be unacceptable, at least in its current format.   The govt. wants us to forget about the Genocide once and for all, to slowly slowly give up on Artsakh as well – you have to be blind not to see that Turkey is keen on kissing up to Azerbaijan and connecting the two issues – and ultimately Syunik as well – the press has been rather loud lately on how Azerbaijan set it’s eye on Syunik in order to be able to connect to Nakhichevan, which they also stole from us. Whether you (and everybody else) admit this or not, this is what is expected from us.
    Basicly, if you want your future to be good, stop barking, shut up and do what i order you to.
    Is this the price you want to pay?
    Are you 100% sure, beyond any doubt that this will work the way you expect it to…?
    Do you think that DIGNITY, NATIONAL INTEREST(S) AND NATIONAL SECURITY should be put up for sale this easily?!

    I hope not… 

  3. Cristina, my regrets for not writing more precisely. You are right-the  government of  Armenia is not asking for Turkey to surrender land. Some in the diaspora, not all,  who object to opening the border–object to the current border and wish to extend it to the west. They want to see an Armenia with a Black Sea port and Western Armenia restored to Armenia. I think we have all read comments to that effect. So, opening the border between the two neighboring countries would imply acceptance of the border as the legal demarcation between Armenia and Turkey.  Some individuals  living comfortably and securely in western countries find it unacceptable for the government and people of Armenia to acknowledge the current border.  

    So, the comment about demanding Turkey to cede land to Armenia was directed to that perspective. Since Armenia disportionately gains from an open border demanding unrealistic concessions from Turkey seems to be self-destructive. Appropriately, Armenia has been clear that it will  not go silent  on the fact of the genocide nor surrender NK to gain the benefits of an open border.

    The national security of Armenia requires a strong economy–An economy that can stand on its on without its continued existence dependent on Russian goodwill and diasporan cash tranfers. I can’t see Armenia achieving national security while in a stranglehold from Turkey and Azerbaijan.  Russia is too unreliable to be the outlet to the outside world. As we have seen from time to time when they shutdown Georgian ports and Armenia suffers greatly. The Armenian government seems to realize just how tenuous their situation. Disruption by Russia and a draw down in remittances from outside Armenia for a prolonged period will jeapardize the very existence of the country. Yes, there may be a rail outlet to Iran in five years but the outlet will be into an area of Iran inhabited by millions of Azeris– that may not play out so well.

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