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.
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.
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.
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.
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?