Sassounian: How Should the Diaspora React to New Turkish Overtures?

I have been informed by reliable sources that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is continuing his efforts to initiate a personal “dialogue” with the diaspora on Armenian-Turkish issues. Earlier this month, Davutoglu met with Armenian Americans as follow-up to the meetings he held in Washington last March.

During their conversation in May, the Armenian interlocutors frankly advised the Turkish foreign minister that Ankara must address Armenian demands for genocide recognition and restitution before any “reconciliation” could be achieved. The Turkish side reportedly indicated a willingness to discuss these thorny issues with diasporan representatives.

Despite the seeming openness of Davutoglu, Armenians have well-founded reasons to mistrust such overtures, given Turkey’s decades-long denial of the Armenian Genocide and its antagonistic policies toward the diaspora, Armenia, and Artsakh. Armenians also suspect that Turkish officials may exploit meetings with the diaspora to score propaganda points with world public opinion.

Nonetheless, one wonders why the very busy Turkish foreign minister has invested so much of his precious time and effort to hold a series of private meetings with Armenians in recent weeks.

One possible explanation is that Turkish leaders are seriously concerned about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Ankara may have realized that unless it takes proactive measures, it cannot stem the tide of anti-Turkish publicity generated in 2015 by Armenian commemorative activities worldwide.

The second likely reason is its long-standing interest in joining the European Union. As the newly elected French President Francois Hollande warned, unless Turkey recognizes the Armenian Genocide, France will reject its application for EU membership.

The third possible explanation for the Turkish overtures is that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has a freer hand in tackling Armenian-Turkish issues at a time when his ruling party controls the parliament and many of his hardline military adversaries are under arrest.

Regardless of why Turkey is reaching out to the diaspora at this time, Armenians have to make their decisions based solely on their own national interests, regarding whether this is an opportune moment to test Turkey’s resolve to deal with the disastrous consequences of the genocide.

However, before the diaspora’s leaders react to Davutoglu’s persistent efforts for “dialogue,” they should ask Turkish officials to clarify their true intentions by making some positive gestures, starting with the return of the Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island to the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey. This historic church is currently designated as a museum belonging to the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Furthermore, the Turkish government has to do much more than renovate a couple of churches for touristic purposes and return a handful of properties to the Armenian community in Istanbul. There are thousands of confiscated churches and community properties throughout Turkey that must be returned to their rightful Armenian owners.

An initial test of Turkish sincerity in pursuing “reconciliation” with Armenians would be putting an immediate halt to genocide denial, eliminating Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, and ending all adversarial behavior toward Armenia and Artsakh.

In view of the fact that the Turkish government will not willingly and unconditionally meet Armenian demands, and that all outstanding issues will have to be resolved someday through direct negotiations, diasporan organizational leaders should prepare for such an eventuality. In this regard, it is important to review the records of the 1977 meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, between Turkish Foreign Minister Sabri Caglayangil and representatives of the three Armenian political parties.

Here are some preliminary thoughts to consider before any further meetings or discussions are held between Turkish leaders and Armenian Diaspora representatives:

In the absence of an elected diasporan representative body, major Armenian organizations, with assistance from experts in diplomacy and the art of negotiation, should start drafting a common strategy and a list of demands from Turkey. No Armenian organization or individual should be involved in separate negotiations with Turkey, thereby denying Ankara the opportunity to create disunity in the diaspora.

It is imperative that diasporan representatives coordinate their negotiating positions with leaders in Armenia and Artsakh to assure a common stand vis-à-vis Turkey.

In normal circumstances, Turkish diplomats would have dealt with Armenian issues in direct negotiations with their counterparts in Armenia. However, given Azerbaijan’s obstruction of the Armenia-Turkey protocols, pending the resolution of the Karabagh (Artsakh) conflict, Turkish leaders are left with no choice but to reach out to the diaspora and address its legitimate demands.

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. Those sneaky Turks, masterminded by their gang leader Mr. Ahmed Oghlu, will maneuver politically with US Armenians, they will do their best to make division among Armenian Nation to neutralize Genocide recognition by any US official, Congress or even by US President!! Armenians must be united and well organized. It seems to me those Turkic tribes are well prepared, for a “dirty” battle, in order to defeat Armenian genocide recognition in US and in Europe!!

  2. While I acknowledge that Turkish society is slowly changing, we should not believe these gestures are worth considering until the Turks change their own institutions and culture for internal reasons, and not because they must reluctantly make a few gestures to please European elites, their own western educated children, or the EU.

    People who know Turkey can best gauge these things, but here are some bellwethers:

    admit Armenians and other minorities to every facet of their civil services, including the police, the military, and the government;

    stop vilifying Armenians in their schools

    tear down the Talaat mausoleum and the major Boulevards named after him and his fellow murderers

    tell children in their schools what the Genocide of the Christian people was

    repudiate Turkish diaspora Nazis like the infamous ATAA President Kirlikovali, who has written that the Armenian Genocide reminds him of a joke he knows about the death of a fly.

    • How about putting an end to this medieval hate campaign first? Look at a mirror maybe. It takes two to tango.

    • Medieval ?
      Is the year 2012 ‘medieval’ in the warped time continuum of the delusional Denialist Turk’s mind ?

      Dateline February, 2012:
      Turkish Government sanctioned mass Anti-Armenian march in Taksim Square by 10s of thousands of Turks.

      Interior Minister of the State of Turkey İdris Naim Şahin present and makes a fiery speech.
      Says not one word about the “hate” being displayed by his fellow Turks.

      A sample of placards displayed by Turks at Taksim (paraphrased)

      “Today Taksim, tomorrow Yerevan” (i..e we Turks will invade Yerevan next)
      “All Armenians are bastards”
      “We will bury on Mount Ararat”

      Why don’t you look in the mirror yourself, maybe.
      Before giving advice to Armenians.
      And maybe stop denying the Armenian Genocide before giving advice to Armenians, Denialist Murat.

  3. Interesting article but do not totally agree with it.
    Even though the Diaspora has led the efforts to the recognition of the Genocide, Turkey’s direct approach to the Diaspora belittles the legimate Government of the Republic of Armenia.
    The Diaspora should give a clear and strong message to Turkey. They have to deal with their counterparts in direct negotaions with the Armenian Government.
    The Diaspora relentlessly should continue its work on putting pressure on Turkey, but it should also throw its full support to the Government in Armenia. Moreover, the Diaspora should find the right and proper channels of communication with the Representatives of the Republic of Amenia, to coordinate a common stance against the socalled Turkish “overtures”. Turkey should not be allowed to separate the Diaspora’s goals from those of the Homeland.
    Vart Adjemian

  4. The Armenians do not need to do “anything” because the Armenians did nothing other then being Armenian.. The Turks need to come to full terms with their crime of the genocide and the proper restitution BEFORE ANYTHING IS REACHED BETWEEN THE TWO SIDE. Its that simple. That should be the united attitude of all Armenians across the world. There is no need for “negotiation”. Only Turks coming to terms with their crime..

    As far as Vart’s comment, he makes a valid but obvious point: Its clear that the Turks are more afraid of the impact and resistance of the diaspora then they ever will be of Armenia proper. That’s why they are reaching out to the diaspora instead.. The Turks are cunning but predictable. They are opportunists and lack ANY CREDIBILITY AND SINCERITY.. Understand this well. Unfortunately in 1915, many Armenian community leaders never did and became victims of the Armenian genocide.. Do not trust them.. Turks are no ones friends.

    • Well said John:

      you are correct in your assessment: Turks know the Armenian Diaspora is immune to their pressures and threats, unlike RoA.
      That is why they have been trying for years to drive a wedge between us.

      We can cause a lot of damage to them politically and legally; we can constantly interfere with everything they do – and there is absolutely nothing they can do about it except spend enormous amounts of cash and political capital to try to stem the tide.

  5. Another keeper from Mr. Sassounian.

    The following two excerpts should be printed in bold on a placard and posted on one’s wall:

    [No Armenian organization or individual should be involved in separate negotiations with Turkey, to deny Ankara the opportunity to create disunity in the Diaspora.]
    [It is imperative that Diasporan representatives coordinate their negotiating positions with leaders in Armenia and Artsakh to assure a common stand vis-à-vis Turkey.]

    With good coordination (and full trust) we in the Diaspora can cause a lot of pain for Turkey.
    RoA has the diplomatic levers as a State: but she also has geopolitical constraints and vulnerabilities.
    We in the Diaspora do not have the diplomatic levers of a State: but we have far more flexibility and freedom of action. For all practical purposes we are immune from any counterstrike from the Turkish state. We can be the proverbial dirty cop. Everything that is legally and politically available to us to cause maximum legal and political pain to Turkey can and should be used by Diaspora.

    Either RoA+Artsakh+Diaspora get what we want as One Singular Entity – because we are – or no deal.
    If Turks can play games by dragging unrelated 3rd parties (Azerbaijan) into the mix, so can we.
    We can run out the clock too.
    The worst is behind RoA+Artsakh: both survived 20 years of Turkish and Azeri blockade and are getting stronger year in, year out.
    Turkish and Azeri geopolitical and ethnic problems are multiplying every year.

    Let Turkey worry about coming up with the best deal for Armenians.
    As John said above: we owe them nothing; they owe us everything.

  6. You are right on, Avery, in your agreement with Sassounian that: “No Armenian organization or individual should be involved in separate negotiations with Turkey, thereby denying Ankara the opportunity to create disunity in the diaspora.”
    this is a non-negotiable postition. We must speak with one voice.

  7. This is why Harut’s writing is respected. It is thought provoking. We have entered a new phase of our mission. Are we prepared? The Turks know that they must prevent being put on a complete defensive for the 100th. In their most private dialogue, they know that the denial campaign is out of gas. It all about posturing and winning the perception game.
    Short of an absolute admission of the fact of the genocide, it is in the interests of Turkey to open dialogue with the diaspora. Why? Finding a weak link in the diaspora with some “reconciliation without admission” minded elements will allow them to promote this as the voice of the Armenians or at the very least, present a divisive diaspora… and in turn a wedge between the diaspora and Armenia.
    Do we have the infrastructure and the discipline to remain united? We will be tested as a “diaspora” in the coming years. Are we prepared as the curtain rises on the next phase of our quest for justice? We conveniently use the term “diaspora” but it is anything but a cohesive unit.
    We have entered a critical phase and we must not let the Turks seize the advantage because we are unprepared. We have discussed this internally for decades. It is time for unity of external thought and discipline as a people. The
    opportunity before us may very well depend on it.

  8. Dear Harut Sassounian,

    This is another of your very meaningful articles addressed to Diaspora Armenians in relation to the necessity in creation and formation of ‘Diasporan Representative Body’.

    In a prior article quiet some time ago, you raised the same issue with no avail yet.
    We all know about time and efforts required in establishing such a ‘body’, and we already witness extreme Turkish initiatives to disrupt Diaspora’s unified actions approaching 2015.

    So, don’t you think that we are losing time, while Turkish denial policy is already on the battleground?

    In an attempt to overcome our own reluctance and inactivity; which is heading directly toward another loss of opportunity throughout 2015 commemoration events, don’t you think Diaspora has to move faster in creation of activism toward the notion of ‘Diasporan Representative Body’ through a well prepared people like yourself; and by analytical, problem-solving proposal to enable rapprochement of different, powerful but isolated community groups, even before other expectations?

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