By Hilda Choboyan
Hilda Choboyan, the president of the Armenian National Committee of Europe, gave the following speech during the “Three Genocides, One Strategy” conference in Athens from Sept. 17-19.
On behalf of the European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy, I would like to thank the organizing committee of the conference “Three Genocides, One Strategy” for inviting me, as well as the distinguished speakers present here, to take part in discussions on what steps to take in the direction of a common strategy for our three peoples that were the victims of genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire.
History over the last century divided the efforts of our three peoples for international recognition and reparations, but the common point of all three of them has been and remains the strong denial of their annihilation by the main author of these crimes, the Turkish state.
Concurrently, the Armenian, Greek Pontian, and Assyrian Genocides were erased from the collective memory of the European peoples and were buried in the European consciousness. While seeking the reasons for this collective amnesia, one notices all the political, economic, and juridical grounds that pushed our three genocides to the second plan in contemporary history: the absence in the end of World War I of a relevant international law punishing crimes against humanity, and the duplicitous policy of the European powers that saw economic interests prevail over commitments for justice and political reparations.
Since then, the international media worked on the principle that events deserve interest if they are not too remote and too old. The bipolarization of the world took care of the rest.
The principal torturer of the Armenian people, Turkish Interior Minister Talaat Pasha, had stated during a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau that the Young Turks had buried the Armenian problem for the next 50 years. Coming from one of the most notorious assassins of the 20th century, these words were like a sentence; the Young Turk leaders knew that after such an enormous destruction, the Armenian people would not have the strength to defend themselves for a long time, and they also knew well that an indifferent world would be of no help.
Clearly, the battle was difficult and long for the survivors and their children to regain the legitimate rights that were refused to them: First, their right to a decent life. They had to rebuild physically and ensure the survival of the generations to come. Also, their human rights, which are the rights that ensure an individual’s human dignity, in all its dimensions. And finally, their collective rights—the right to a homeland, the right to self-determination, and the right to reparations for the damages and losses of the genocide.
When we take stock of these 95 years, it is important to note that the physical and moral rehabilitation of the Armenian people became possible as of the end of the 1960’s, and it is during the last 25 years that we have seen our hard work from all these decades come to fruition. The battle for genocide recognition made extraordinary progress across the globe. The first arena where we won this battle after a decade of harsh struggle was the subcommittee for the prevention against discriminatory measures and racism of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
As for the European Union, we all know that the modern history of Europe has been stigmatized by a major genocide of the 20th century , the Jewish Holocaust, and the other crimes against humanity committed on European soil during World War II.
But when, only a few years after these mass crimes, Western European leaders wanted to turn the page of the dark years in the perspective of the European construction, they did not plan the European reconciliation process by hiding the reality about the genocide, but recognized it, made Germany recognize its crimes, and prepared the European community on the basis of condemning crimes against humanity, and reparations.
We can say therefore that there is a European model of reconciliation, a European way of treating genocides and crimes against humanity issues.
Acknowledgement of the truth, justice, and reparations are the three landmark stages of that treatment. This is what we were taught from the history of European construction. Armed with this conviction, we engaged the struggle for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the European Parliament, which we obtained on June 18, 1987.
In its Article 4, the European Parliament’s resolution put the acknowledgement by Turkey of the genocide as a prerequisite to its membership : “…the refusal by the present Turkish Government to acknowledge the genocide against the Armenian people committed by the Young Turk government, its reluctance to apply the principles of international law to its disputes with Greece, the maintenance of Turkish occupation forces in Cyprus and the denial of existence of the Kurdish question, together with the lack of true parliamentary democracy and the failure to respect individual and collective freedoms, in particular freedom of religion, in that country are insurmountable obstacles to consideration of the possibility of Turkey’s accession to the Community.”
At the time, this resolution was received by Armenians all over the world as an historic landmark achievement, as the first step towards justice and restitution. However, a few years later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Turkey enhanced its efforts towards European membership. No one in the European Parliament and other European institutions remembered the resolution of 1987; no one wanted to comply with the conditions put by that resolution.
At that point, had we abandoned the struggle for the implementation of the 1987 resolution, years of effort by the Armenian National Committees of Europe would have failed. We were convinced that the European model should apply to the whole of European policies in the EU’s bilateral and multilateral relations with all states, and especially with genocidal states and regimes.
In November 2000, the first European Parliament resolution on the progress of Turkey towards European membership finally mentioned the obligation for Turkey to recognize the genocide; we had succeeded in introducing that requirement in the final text after a fierce diplomatic battle against the “rapporteur,” General Morillon who resigned after the plenary vote because of his defeat.
In the following years, and until recently, successive resolutions by the European Parliament repeatedly called on Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide on its path to the European Union. This position did not go unnoticed by the European Commission and Council. But instead of integrating it into its membership requirements, the Commission fled its responsibilities by a skilful maneuver, changing the requirement for recognition of genocide into a need for dialogue between Armenia and Turkey.
In the new European approach, there is no room for the recognition by Turkey of its state crime as a genuine step towards the process of justice and reparations. There are no victims and no executioners. Instead, there is business, issues of energy transport, and European companies operating in Turkey, which should silence the MEPs who continue to demand accountability from successive governments of Turkey. One observes the shift of European institutions to a disengagement from the core principles that founded Europe.
Furthermore, today we are facing a renewed campaign of denial growing in all the democracies, including those that have recognized the genocide. It takes the form of policies, driven by significant financial and political interests, that serve Turkey’s denial campaign by creating ambiguity and diversion.
The recognition of the genocide by national parliaments, governments, or national and international political authorities is obviously political: recognition by these very authorities are a testament that the genocide itself is a political act, with legal ramifications that place responsibility on the states and the international community.
Faced with these political recognitions, we see two attitudes that characterize Turkey’s position:
In reality, it reinforces the denial of the genocide, but in appearances, it calls for dialogue between Armenian and Turkish groups and individuals.
So what is the significance of these two contradictory attitudes that we have observed for nearly 10 years? Which is the true face of Turkey, behind the declarations of good intention and public relations campaigns to improve its image?
Turkey’s true record on the matter is, in fact, dismaying. In reality, Turkey promotes fanaticism among its youth by teaching a history in which minorities, and in particular the Armenians, are presented as dangerous traitors and elements whose elimination is seen almost like a national duty for all young Turks.
Today, Turkey exports with vigor and violence its official denial campaign to the West. The fact is that Turkey exploits and radicalizes its communities in the West against the Armenian Diaspora. In Europe, the demonstrations of denial in homage to Talaat, the author of the genocide, organized in Berlin, along with the one in Lyon on March 18, 2006, are underpinned by a deliberate infiltration of certain European political parties. In Belgium and the Netherlands, to secure Turkish community votes, political parties have taken notorious denier-extremists and even Gray Wolves on their electoral slates.
In November 2008, after years of difficult internal negotiations, the European Council adopted the “Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law,” including a section on punishing the denial of genocides, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. This is a decision that each European member state has to implement in its legislation. However, the effectiveness of this European decision is limited by its very nature; furthermore, each member state can choose which cases of denial must be punished within its borders.
Turkey buys pages in the international press under the pretext of promoting tourism, but in actuality aims to disseminate genocide denial on an international scale. You all know about Time Magazine, which finally recognized its error and distributed a DVD restoring the truth on the genocide. Turkey imposes a blockade on Armenia, and to lift it, requires that Armenia pressure the diaspora to stop its recognition efforts. Turkey finances conferences around the world with the purpose of denying the genocide, in particular in Europe and in the United States.
On the brink of every key decision by a national or international authority, calling on Turkey to recognize the genocide, we see yet another Turkish initiative of dialogue between Armenians and Turks. We know that dialogue is the first step in resolving problems between people. So who could be against the principle of dialogue? But what kind of dialogue are we talking about?
We recognize that individuals play an important role in any civil society, and one should try to inform and educate the Turks on the reality of the genocide. But when one replaces the need for recognition by the Turkish government with dialogue between Armenian and Turkish individuals, we are in the business of fraud.
Denial is not a simple lie; it is part and parcel of the crime of genocide. It is born along with the concept of genocide in the mind of the assassins, and is a continuation of the intention to exterminate the victims perpetually, wishing to erase their memory and the only trace of their existence in this world. It would be incorrect to think that we oppose Turkey’s entry into Europe due to animosity for the country. In the current context of the international relations, we carry out this battle for Europe, for Armenia, and for all of mankind.
As Europeans, we are the spectators of the negotiations that have become “bras de fer” between Turkey and the European Union, in which Turkey is succeeding in imposing its values and its criteria on Europe.
As Europeans, we cannot tolerate that European values will be adulterated by this accession, given that these values were born 60 years ago from the people’s will to recognize the crimes of World War II and to pay for them. Europe was built because Germany de-Nazified, whereas Turkey has not yet done so.
As Europeans, we cannot tolerate that Turkey, with its policy of denial, become a member of Europe and claim an influential role in its geographical realm, since such a state can only be dangerous to its neighbors through its racist behavior and its expansionist aspirations.
As Europeans, we know that if Europe does not obtain Turkey’s recognition of the genocide before its accession, in a few years we will no longer be allowed to transfer the memory of the genocide to future European generations, due to the growing power of Turkish deniers in Europe.
As Armenians, we know that the Armenian Republic and Turkey should establish normal relations for the good of their people. But, we also know as Armenians, that Turkey’s policy of denial is a danger to the safety of little Armenia. As long as it denies the Armenian Genocide, Turkey will be able to recommence its campaign of destruction of the Armenian people.
As an integral part of mankind, we know that we will achieve justice only if we combat these phenomena of denial, falsification, and intolerance, which are the many manifestations of racism that generate genocide.