Mensoian: A Dispassionate View of France’s Genocide Recognition

Finally, the French Senate had sufficient resolve to “bite the bullet,” and passed legislation criminalizing public denial of the Armenian Genocide. Whether this vote represented genuine support of the Armenian Cause, political expediency, or a situation where the two reasons coalesced to produce the desired outcome does not matter. Whatever the motivating reason for its passage, to France’s credit, the penalties attached to the legislation are significant and not merely symbolic.

Does our leadership believe that genocide recognition is the means to achieve this end or is it a means that simply meets the expectations of their diasporan constituency?

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) should be commended for its persistence in seeking recognition of the genocide that sought to destroy the Armenian nation. France becomes one more country the ARF can add to the two dozen or more that have officially recognized as genocide the murders that took place between 1915-23 in Ottoman Turkey. Now all that is needed is for the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom to follow suit. These would be impressive victories in the nearly century-long effort to seek justice, which has been so long denied to the Armenian people. Unfortunately there are caveats to these moral victories.

Caveat one

Considering the passion of those that supported the legislation, little was expended on naming Turkey guilty of this heinous crime. In fact, the passionate proponents emphasized that the legislation was not directed at any specific country; their intent was to speak out against genocide as an acceptable political policy to solve ethnic issues, and to strike a blow against hate speech. With all due respect to those who ceaselessly toil to achieve these moral victories, this begs the obvious question: At what point does the cumulative weight of these genocide recognitions by foreign legislative bodies reach such a critical mass that Ankara is either forced to accept responsibility or realize that its best interests are served by negotiating in good faith with Yerevan? In other words, does our leadership believe that genocide recognition is the means to achieve this end or is it a means that simply meets the expectations of their diasporan constituency?

We continually overlook the fact that these “victories” are votes against genocide in its generic sense. The Armenian Genocide is used as the vehicle to express that sentiment. The French Senate vote was neither accusative of the Turkish government and its leaders nor supportive of Hai Tahd (Armenian Cause). At best, it represented another moral victory that appeals more to Diasporan Armenians than to Hayastan Armenians. However, how the principal entities—the ARF, Ankara, and Yerevan—respond to the French vote and its eventual signing by President Nicolas Sarkozy will be determined by time and their respective political objectives.

Caveat two

Although laws criminalizing the public denial of the genocide are “feel good” victories for the Armenian people, do they actually strengthen or engender support for our cause? Does limiting free speech serve our cause in other countries? How will the average Turkish citizen respond? Contrary to the belief that a rising tide of pro-genocide support is slowly engulfing Turkey, it would be more appropriate to believe that such votes tend to stiffen support for their government’s position. Any massive transfer of the country’s wealth through reparations (which presumably is an end objective), no matter how far into the future this may occur, would represent a serious internal political issue. The Turkish military may have been weakened, but its influence has not been destroyed. Other conservative and ultra-nationalists groups remain dormant. It would matter little to these groups, or to most Turkish citizens, that theirs was Armenian wealth confiscated during the genocide.

Caveat three

In that light, and for the sake of argument, we might revisit Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Dersim apology to gain some insight into how he could respond to these moral victories. The 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide would provide a dramatic moment for Erdogan to offer a Dersim-type apology to the Armenians. Such a bold political move would preempt the world’s news channels and plans by Armenians worldwide to honor their martyrs of the Ottoman Turkish-inspired genocide. In advance, key foreign leaders would have been given notice of his important April 24th address.

Dersim was pure political theater by a very astute politician who should not be underestimated. It was an apology solely to remind the Turkish electorate that the 1937-38 Dersim Massacre was the sole responsibility of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which controlled the government during the years straddling this event. In addition, the CHP currently represents the major opposition party to Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). Although the massacres met the definition of genocide, he refrained from using that term for obvious reasons.

Appearing on television as a selfless leader willing to accept responsibility for an evil act in which he had no part, he asked the rhetorical question: “(I)f it is necessary to apologize on behalf of the state, I will apologize, I am apologizing. It is a disaster waiting to be enlightened and boldly questioned.” He then innocently asked whether it should be me (Erdogan) or you (Kemal Kilcdaroglu), as the leader of the CHP, who should apologize for this “most tragic incident of our near past.”

Tragic as it was, he did not hesitate to complete the project of building dams and flooding the countryside, thereby forever changing the landscape. This was the project that was responsible for the Dersim Massacre of untold thousands of indigenous Kurds (and converted Armenian survivors of the genocide) who were unwilling to yield their independent ways to the Turkish state.

Only two decades separate the genocide at Dersim from the Armenian Genocide. Erdogan is quoted as saying that one of the principal deterrents to Turkey becoming “one of the most powerful states in the world is that it can’t face up to its past…” Forgetting the political posturing that attended the French Senate vote, the 100th anniversary of the genocide would represent an opportunity on the world stage for Erdogan to reprise his role as a selfless leader as he makes his appeal to the Armenian people and world leaders.

Prefacing his apology with the same “If it is necessary to apologize on behalf of the state, I will apologize, I am apologizing,” he’ll continue, referring to the Armenian Genocide, “It is a disaster waiting to be enlightened,” by both Turkey and Armenia, “and boldly questioned” by a joint commission of historians that Turkey and other countries have repeatedly proposed. Who would he blame for the apology he’d be making? How would he frame the murder of some 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children to not only make it palatable to the Turkish citizen, but to his political ambitions and Turkish history?

His apology would be based on a sanitized version of events. Few world leaders would challenge his interpretation. In fact, his offered “apology” would be eagerly accepted by any number of nations, such as the United States, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Sweden, etc., whose chorus of approval would mirror a combination of their respective geo-strategic interests; a desire to reduce tensions in the South Caucasus; and finally, to put the genocide issue to rest forever. Israel’s position would depend on its relations with Turkey at the time. The international support given this travesty would drown out the strenuous objections of the ARF and the legion of reputable genocide scholars and historians.

The international community could be expected to be relentless in pressuring Yerevan to come to terms with its neighbor for the good of the Armenian people. Both nations would be encouraged to put the past behind them and work for a better future. The onus would be placed on Armenia—the victim—to accept this conciliatory offer by Turkey, and thus bring peace and prosperity to the South Caucasus. Offers of economic aid, the opening of the border, and joint Turkish-Armenian economic projects would make the appeal to essentially capitulate to Turkish interests more enticing. These same nations would give short shrift to the ultimate hidden costs to Armenia’s future political and economic viability. If Armenia’s presently weak economic condition is allowed to fester or deteriorate further, Yerevan would be hard-pressed to weather this intense international pressure.

Given this possible scenario, it would be folly for the ARF to depend upon genocide recognition as the key to the justice Armenians seek as well as the answer to Hai Tahd. Seeking genocide recognition should continue, but its limited role must be understood and accepted. Genocide recognition must be subordinate to other objectives of greater immediacy and significance to Hai Tahd if a viable Armenia is to survive in the long term.

Achieving genocide recognition without palpable efforts that yield de jure independence for Artsakh (Karabagh) can never be considered a victory. Achieving genocide recognition without a political, economic, and judicial system in Armenia based on equality, opportunity, and justice can never be considered a victory. Achieving genocide recognition while Armenia’s population is steadily decreasing because young people and families are emigrating for economic reasons can never be considered a victory.

Simply put, genocide recognition will never compensate for our party’s inability to introduce a system in the homeland that is beneficial to all Armenians irrespective of age, infirmities, talent, or intellect. Genocide recognition will never compensate for our party’s inability to aid our brothers and sisters in Artsakh in gaining de jure independence. Genocide recognition will never compensate for our party’s inability to create a vibrant homeland whose population increases annually and provides opportunity for all Armenians who seek to create a new life.

Since the establishment of a free and independent Armenia in 1991, the ARF has continued its diasporan agenda with genocide recognition as the Holy Grail of Hai Tahd. Times have changed, but the agenda remains anchored to the past.

Tell me, what value is it if the entire world recognizes the genocide and my Armenia has become no more than a satrapy?

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Michael Mensoian

Michael Mensoian, J.D./Ph.D, is professor emeritus in Middle East and political geography at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a retired major in the U.S. army. He writes regularly for the Armenian Weekly.

16 Comments

  1. Realistic article especially how it relates to the events occurring in France with the possible defeat of the Armenian genocide bill just before it was to become law. what were we thinking. Turkey’s might beats right, pay-offs continue and history repeats itself. Armenia is used as a pawn in the big picture.

  2. mr. Mensoian
    I liked your article.
    you write:
    In other words, does our leadership believe that genocide recognition is the means to achieve this end or is it a means that simply meets the expectations of their diasporan constituency? unquote

    I thought that for Armenians an eventual recognition on the part of Turkey would be a value in itself, even if also a means to something else. In other cases, for people to acknowledge dark spots in their or their nation’s history is a value, not only something that “simply meets the expectations….”. But of course I agree with ytour caveats, however with some possible modifications. Semih Idiz of the Daily Hurriets writes that – paradoxically? – the French law may make it more difficult for Turkey to prosecute people who hold the genocide thesis, because of the heavy rhetorics unleached by Erdogan against France

  3. Though this is a quite critical and insightful article, I can’t agree with some of its presumptions and conclusions.
    Firstly, I don’t expect that even in 2015 Turkey will be prepared to reconcile and apologize, although the author has made that assumption for the sake of argument.
    Secondly, there are not too many alternatives available to Armenia to break itself free of her landlocked situation, unfortunately. So, we must be realistic.The only alternative, actually an urgent task for Armenia at this juncture, is to put into action decisive reforms in its judicial-social system to prevent further exodus of its citizens. It will take super-human endeavours to acheive that. But, if that doesn’t happen, then only God should help Armenia, if he exists.
    Thirdly, the general recognition of the AG may not be a priority for Armenia as it may be for the Diaspora, but recognition by Turkey is something else, especially for Armenia. Here is my answer to the last question of the author, which I think is not formulated fully comprehensibly. That presently improbable event, recognition and apology by Turkey (again I hope I will prove to be wrong), can have a number of other consequences which the author fails to take into consideration.
    The first is that that would mean a significant reduction of tension in the region, meaning that the probability of war will be diminished. That would be in itself a good development for landlocked Armenia, but it will not be limited to that.
    Azerbaijan, a real threat to Armenia’s security, will be more isolated and less dangerous, grudgingly witnessing his big brother’s “treason” to “one-nation- two-countries” beloved motto. We shouldn’t forget that it was Azerbaijan who was mainly responsible for the collapse of the protocols which the two coutries were about to sign.
    Besides, prospects for foreign investment, also in Artsakh, will grow. We should never underestimate the economic factor. Further, a new important trade route will open to Armenia through which it can expand its foreign trade, something which further will improve its economy and make it stronger, thereby increasing its clout in the region.
    In order not to be misunderstood, I emphasize again that I’ve just mentioned the possible positive consequences arising out of the (prersently) improbable act of an apology by Turkey to Armenians.

  4. Here are the TOP priorities for ALL Armenians:

    1. Democratic Armenia: Socially just and solid, with independent judiciary;

    2. De jure recognititon (plus economic investments) in Karabagh.

    3. (yes: only in 3rd place) LEGAL victories/lawsuits, where possible, on Armenian Genocide.

    4. (yes: only in 4th place) Political recognition of Genocide ( so called, as they are vague generally and of little legal/tangible interest for Armenians).

    —————————————————————

    As a so-called Hayastantsi Armenian I wrote here couple of times and I do want to write again the following:

    Dear Diaspora WESTERN Armenians,

    You are VERY PASSIVE and INACTIVE when it comes to having (positive) POLITICAL impact on Armenia’s internel political developments/events. A huge mistake. You have to put aside your historical-negative-inferiority complex and GET REAL. There is still time.

    For lots of Western Armenians it has become “Genocide Recognition LLC”- for your HOBBYLAND Armenian Rebuplic, so that at night YOU CAN SLEEP WEL, as you can tell yourself (during your inner dialoge) that you DID SOMETHING for Armenia. It is NOT enough.

    It is hight time to go INTO ACTIONS (in Armenia/Artsakh). That/there is the RIGHT starting point.

    Let me tell you one idea: Do you realize what the impact would be if several Diaspora organizations (like ANCA, AAA, ARF, AGBU,etc) would send observers to the coming Armenian parliament elections? WHERE ARE YOUR ALL during these 20 years? Care FIRST on those who are (still) alive.

    • Varaz, some of the organizations that you mentioned are worst than the Armenian government as far as being democratic and transparent. In the case of AGBU for example, the board members now are appointed not elected as in the past and presidents are there for life. Why would they get involved in internal politics of Armenia and put their positions in danger? You are giving the diaspora organizations much more credit than they deserve.

  5. Although I had decided not to enter in here more than once a week or even once ea two weeks when I have spare time I do enter again.Especially reading some posts (only part of them some times) Arshag where are you? to criticizie those like above who write such LOOOOONG ones…has something happened to you ? never mind such ios the Armenian mindset when one does not find nothing to stick something to someone he she does not like or is J of then (gaytzag you write very long posts) eh????
    O.K. Mr. Mensoian with due respect, France is not one added to the 20 -as you write above-please keep abreeast of news re Armenidad-Armenity.She acknowledged our Genocide official 1 1 years ago……
    What is transpiring now is passing of law that 3 yrs ago was passed in CH ,Switzerland…and what is more Enacted whe Turkish labour party chief was condemned and chucked out of CH (as he had denied existance of the Armenian Genocide). It is nothing new .However important very mjuch so as this isa powerful country and has weight ion EU…
    What is more there was also in parallel with this French move the U.S. one(lately keeping quiet) that all hospitals, schools, churhcdes in great Turkey ought to return to Armenians ,Assyiran s and others…
    The noose around great turkey was thrown on but not yet tightened enough, as ..after all Francxe does 15 Billion dollras worth B iz w / her and she still is a Nato Ally etc.,
    Let us hope that the Constitutional court in France will reaffirm the Law and then we shall have come one more important step FWD.
    Short and concise eh Mr. Arshag-do you like this better Now?
    For those who may wish to learn about my viewpoints and suggestions pLEASE GO TO ..www.armeniannews.info …………..and there read my articles.
    Thanks .
    G.P

  6. Dear posters, please remind yourselves of the facts that turkey slaughtered at least 3-4 million souls including assyrians, greeks, chaldean, armenians, and jews. reparations should include but not limited to returning properties to their rightful owners. Secondly, there should be a some type of neutral zone where there is unfettered and unrestricted access established to the black sea and the medateranian sea for all countries and ethnic groups.
    Do i think its going to happen anytime soon? probably not but these ideas must be put forward and in the psychy of the turk that true liberation requires access to the sea.
    Again this was not just armenian population that suffered, it was all non-muslims.
    Turkey and turkish citizens are we all lying? or are we all telling the truth. turkey could do so much for its citizens and for its remaining minorities and hold such a more prominant and positive light in the world if it could take a different path. but i think there are still too many in the country that dont care and still outright hatefull against its indigenous peoples. long live Hrant Dink and his legacy.

  7. It’s an interesting article, I do agree with most of the points raised by Mr. Mensoian. I would like to add couple of ideas related to the topic at hand.
    We in Diaspora lack professional think tanks that could assist Armenian organizations to take sound decisions in local and international politics. Today the geopolitical dynamics around the world are on high speed, we need professionals that have the tools and assets to keep up with the ongoing events that are developing on a daily basis challenging the old method (perceiving events in black and white).
    If Armenian organizations had the expertise well versed in geopolitical analysis, then we would have not been disappointed by President Obama when he avoided using words like AG, or Secretary of State Hilary Clinton calling “genocide recognition a dangerous door”.
    For a hypothetical argument, let’s assume that U.S recognized the Armenian Genocide and was able to convince Turkey to apologize to all people that had suffered atrocities under the Ottoman Empire. In addition, U.S was able to convince Turkey to make minimal financial reparation. Do we think that we will be able to ask for more reparations? Most of the great nations and Islamic/Arab world will side with Turkey and will try to bury our cause permanently. Today, if Turkey gets annoyed from our activities to a point and says to Armenians ok, let’s settle your case, we would come out losers. Now it’s Turkey’s time, United States, Great Britain plus some European countries (except France) are relying on Turkey for their ME affaires. The whole Islamic world Arab or non (except Syria and Iran) are following the footsteps of Turkey. A fairly recent example will highlight this situation. I’m sure we are all following the highly politicized issue where France is trying to pass a law that will criminalize denial of genocides including the Armenian. If you follow international news, commercial media, the so called “independent” media, Islamic/Arabic media from Pakistan to GCC countries, even most of Israeli media, you would come to one conclusion; the majority of these media sources are supporting Turkey. Now, I am not suggesting to ignore the international efforts in recognition of the Armenian Genocide, what I am alluding is to be more efficient and knowledgeable in the fields of international affairs and how they are related to domestic politics. In turn it will help us to make the right moves.
    The U.S relationship with Turkey in ME geopolitical arena is here to stay, so, avoid spending time and money trying to pass resolutions that will hurt the bilateral relationship between these two countries. Current U.S administration needs Turkey more than ever, which means ANC and other Armenian organizations need to reevaluate the situation and come up with a new game plan.
    It is highly advisable to form “Professional Groups” whose focus would be in producing reports and analytical on various topics that are essential for navigation through the unpredictable political times that we are in.
    You might ask how we should be funding these Professional Groups, my answer is, stop building better and bigger Agoups and churches, we have more than we need.
    Our new generation is blessed with well educated young professionals, some of their expertise lies in the fields of political science, public relations, international law, grass root organizations, civil right, journalism and others. As you see, we have the human asset which is the most important part, all that we need to do is to put our inflated egos aside and cohesively face the upcoming challenges.

  8. I am not aware of turks having slain jews. The jews never mention the matter that the turks slaughtered jews. On the contrary they have gone to extreme lengths to lionize and eulogize the mutually respectable relations between jews and the ottoman authorities. Who are we to infer that this is the case ; when it is not historically verified.?

  9. Daron – I totally agree with you in following: “…stop building better and bigger Agoups and churches, we have more than we need….”.

    What is the NEED of building yet another bigger Armenian church in US (on foreign soil, or even in Armenia), when in Armenia 40% go poor and almost hungry? How big is your ego in there? Bling-bling, one more bigger thing?.

    And where are the Armenian Gods?

    The bottom line is this: because you, after all, DO NOT REALLY CARE about Armenia and you DO NOT REALLY intent to return Armenia one day. Otherwise your actions would be different.

    The rest I wrote in my comment above.

  10. to arziv, jews must have cordial relations with turkey past, present and future. and yes they were protected and better treated in turkey than europe at time, but just because they dont publicize synogoges being burned does not mean it did not happen. per Dr. Richard Hovanesian books, jews were targets also perhaps not as widespread.

  11. Jews were targeted to a considerable extent through the varlık vergisi. To a considerable extent. But the argumentation in mr. Mensoian’s article run along two incompatible tracks. On the one hand Turkish recognition of the Armenian Genocide as a value in itself for the great majority of Armenians, on the other hand what will be the positive effects of recognition on other areas of the political development. If there are no beneficial effects in other areas, this does not nullify the value of recognition in itself. And the probability of beneficial effects of recognition in other areas is slim as indicated by several here. But this again does not diminish the intrinsic value of recognition for Armenians. So I think mr. Mensoian is mistaken in saying that there are “caveats” to an eventual moral victory. The moral victory is a value in itself and does not “produce” the negative effects except possibly that Turkish conservative opinion will be stiffened in its negative raction. However, genocide recognition and Artsakh are certainly two different issues. And why say – I quote “Achieving genocide recognition without a political, economic, and judicial system in Armenia based on equality, opportunity, and justice can never be considered a victory”? When these two themes and potential realities are not causally intertwined in any sense? Will the materialization or non-materialization of genocide recognition at all effect the system in Armenia? I doubt it. But then the “caveat”s are not caveats at all except in the sense that one should not put too much emphasis on genocide recognition, but on other issues, which mr. Mensoian also says. But why then not write on these other issues, and not mention the other issues together with the recognition issue?

  12. Daron,
    You err tremendously, as to”Arab countries following in great
    Turkey’s footsteps.When Mr. Erdogan recently remarked that the French has committed atrocities in Algiers,latter’s FM politely put him in his place saying “do not mix us up with your problems ,or to that effect.For your info.Most Arab or all near all Arab countries have had their share of pain from Ottoman Turkey and do not wish to collaborate with the descendants of same any more, or be associated with them in any way.Except perhaps, some selling oil to them!!!
    Never underestimate the Arab countries knowledge of the issues that are at hand in the area.
    True,their general public may not be quite so sophisticated in politics and diplomacy ,but they have instinct and can discern friend from foe.
    Please have in view also that our present stance requres fair if not not very good relations with all Arab countries.

    • Gaytzag and Varaz Syuni,
      Thanks for your comments, I appreciate any input from the readers.
      Gaytzag, I always enjoy reading your posts, they speak of your wisdom and experience regarding the issues that are discussed on this thread.
      You are right regarding Algeria’s FM’s announcement to Erdogan, warning him not to use Algeria’s history in his dog fight with Sarkozy. A similar situation was created in recent Erdogan’s visit to Eygpt, where he lectured to Egyptian people on how to govern their country. Of course, Islamic Brotherhood made clear that he is exceeding his boundaries and he was not welcomed.
      In my post I was referring to the issues that are mainly related to Armenian/AG/Artsakh. The track record of Arab/Islamic countries regarding AG and Artakh are clear, they always side with Turkey and Azerbaijan. I will not go in details to prove my point, the information is out there available to the public.
      Another reason for not counter arguing your point: As I follow the comments that are being posted on this thread and other, where dear compatriots argue against each other making good points and not which only creates division among us on an open forum (I too have participated in the past in similar arguments with regrets). So I have decided to respect your disagreement with my statements and leave it there. Unless a free spirited poster tries to force his or her religious beliefs and perceives the people that do not share the same belief system as “anasvads”. Please allow me to say this; there are some people on AW like Tom Vartabedian who are blessed with guardian angels. It is very hard to counter argue or to express disagreement with his articles especially those that deal with Christianity or his perspective on appearances, like people that have tattoos or pierced body parts.

  13. after outlining a potential Turkish apology for the Armenian Genocide, mr. Mensoian writes:

    His apology would be based on a sanitized version of events.
    unquote.
    Comment:
    What is a sanitized version of events? Will Armenians agree on what kind if apology would be real and not sanitized? Can one, as expectations of this kind of apologies go, expect the Turks to make exactly the kind of statement one wants, or must one be content if a) the statement by a prime minister – who anyhow will do it for political gain – is much better than earlier “empathy” statements, or b) the apology from the liberal section of Turkey is much better and more genuine?
    Your statement is interesting: the probability of a “sanitized” statement is very high. What conclusions are we to draw from all of this? Will it mean that THE APOLOGY as a definite event is a kind of chimaera, that we must rather look for a continuous heightening of Turkish conscience of the catastrophy that was wrought on the Armenians, more disparate signs of atonement in the form of condemnation of the ittihadists, restauration of churches, return of property? After all, both Richard Hovannisian and Taner Akcam made statements at various times in the form of: We do not expect them up fron to use the term genocide, if Turkey gets to be a democratic country really interested in its past, they will realize this themselves?

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