Yegparian: reCONciliation

Reading the phrase “hell-bent on Armenian-Turkish reconciliation” at the end of Harut Sassounian’s most recent column triggered a profound revulsion coupled with a realization.

Harut did nothing wrong. He was just referring to the losers who have raised the “reconciliation” flag and paraded it around in Armenian settings every chance they get. This plays right into Turks hands. How?

“Reconciliation” is such a “good thing,” right? Who could be against something that Nelson Mandela (cited in Hrant Apovian’s “What Will the Armenian Genocide Centennial Accomplish?”) defined as “working together to correct the legacy of past injustice” (note this is from the guy who practically invented the whole notion of socio-political reconciliation).

But that takes two willing, non-duplicitous, equitably motivated, sides. Not one sincere side and another side cynically abusing the opportunity to get out of its obligations to humanity and its victims.

I realized that much of the push is coming from U.S. sources, with the Turks availing themselves of the escape route provided by “reCONciliation.” And that’s what it is in our case—a con, a scam, a flimflam, a deceit, a ruse, etc., ad nauseam. Those whose experience is defined by life in the Americas, especially the U.S., are used to thinking in terms of “we must all get along, we’re all different, but we’re in this together,” because all but the Native Americans are recent arrivals to the those continents.

In the Armenian case, you have a native population, essentially totally extirpated from its home, and the murderous invader wanting to escape responsibility. That’s reCONciliation as conceived by the Turkish government.

This approach is evident in Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s recent characterization of the deportation portion of the genocide as “inhumane,” and attributing it to the Ottoman Empire. He’s doing two things. He’s playing “decent” by recognizing the fundamentally wrong nature of the deportations. At the same time, he’s not recognizing that the deportation happened in the context of committing genocide. Thus, he strengthens Turkey’s position in arguing that reCONciliation should happen without recognition of the genocide, reparations, or restoration of Wilsonian Armenia to its rightful owners.

In this, he’s supported by sectors of society in Turkey. One Aybars Gorgulu, program officer at the Foreign Policy Program of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), a Turkish think-tank, asserts, “Armenian diaspora needs to see the change in Turks’ approach to 1915.”

Great, so, we see the change, then what? If the terminus of the Armeno-Turkish relationship is a journey of a million miles, then we’ve advanced maybe 10 miles. That’s better than the one mile of just a decade ago, but it is still insignificant in the overall scheme of things.

By the way, TESEV, on its own website reports it “organized a study trip in the Armenian capital Yerevan on 4-6 June, 2012…[for] academics, students, media, and civil society representatives who have been actively involved in…discussing Turkish-Armenian relations since 2010 but never been to Armenia before.” Without having the benefit of following, personally, the participants’ activities in Yerevan, my instinctive reaction is that this just provided grist for the reCONciliation mill.

The fact that we have made some progress is a testament to the value of the pressure we have applied to Turkey. Much more is needed. This does not mean, and I say this emphatically, that we should not engage our adversaries. Quite the contrary, we should speak with them, and openly, this way neither side can accuse the other of misrepresenting the content of any contacts. Interestingly, my article from two weeks ago, “Turks Must Be Smoking Their Own Poppies” has inadvertently followed this two-step approach: The “pressure” came from pointing out the flaws in a Turkish academician’s article. The “engage” part arose with that author wanting to meet when she’s in the Los Angeles area next.

Engagement is not of the sort that Davutoglu revealed during his trip to Yerevan—that he had been meeting with Armenians on the sly wherever he traveled. That’s just a tactic to enable reCONciliation.

Please, from now on, whenever we hear “reCONciliation” being brandished as the ultimate good and goal in relations with our denialist neighbor, let’s recognize it for the vacuous blather it represents at this point in our million-mile journey.


Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.

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  1. I don’t want to reconcile with Turks at all. It has never even occurred to me to attempt to do so. I dislike the word “reconciliation”. It is New-Age stuff. Where did that word come from in relation to Hay Tahd? Why would any Armenian want reconciliation? I don’t understand. I am totally against reconciliation.

    Also I don’t use the word “deportations”. I call them “death marches”, which is what they were.

  2. I agree that reconciliation should not even be on the table without massive, fundamental changes in the Turkish mindset.

    However… “restoration of Wilsonian Armenia to its rightful owners.”

    I of course hear this all the time. Western/Wilsonian Armenia being returned to Armenians… but… do you guys ACTUALLY think this is going to happen? Look, let’s say we live in a truly perfect world. Tomorrow morning Turkey recognizes the Armenian genocide and gives back Wilsonian Armenia. Guess what Turkey just did? It compromised its territorial integrity. It willingly gave up sovereignty on a large piece of land. It willingly gave up its legitimacy as a sovereign state. This could and will have catastrophic repercussions for Turkey. Which is why Turkey will never accept it. Which is why, even if the Turkish government undergoes fundamental changes, there still won’t be real “reconciliation” with that much territory at stake. As long as “Wilsonian Armenia” is a must, there’s no point talking about reconciliation. It’s just a waste of time.

  3. RVDV;
    I agree with your perspective in your second point. I would add that an agenda whose primary focus is 1915 and securing Western Armenia pushes the welfare of the Republic of Armenia into a subordinate position.
    Building a strong Armenia with a vibrant free market economy not burdened by socialism with good democratic governance should be the primary agenda.
    A strong economy with open borders is needed to stem the horrific population losses. The border will not open without dialogue and relationship with Turkey. It seems Mr. Yegparian and many in the ARF ask the people of Armenia to sacrifice their interests for the Western Armenia reclamation goals.
    At times it appears many in the diaspora are essentially holding the people of Armenia hostage. Their positions seem to reflect the belief that Armenia refusing dialogue with Turkey-that Armenia stoically bearing the burden of the blockage-that Armenian threatening its own suicide by slowly bleeding out has some leverage on Turkey. The belief that Turkey will displace millions of Turks and Kurds and return vast areas because Armenia threatens to stay the course of self-destruction -is ludicrous in the extreme.
    The probability that Turkey is going to feel sufficient guilt and responsibility for killing 1.5 million Armenians 100 years ago that they return Western Armenia is about as likely as Garen surrendering his home/property to the native Americans.

  4. RVDV,
    I would say if Turkey gave up Wilsonian Armenia, it will have gotten away with a big advantage for its crimes against humanity and Genocide. For many of us there is that little matter of Cilicia, something that we will not give up the rights to. In fact when “Wilsonian Armenia” was first proposed, many Armenians did not like it because it was not the real Armenia. The real Armenian goal of the time was the territories of the present day NKR to Wilsonian Armenia and stretching to the Mediterranean with Cilicia. Of course this would mean that Turkey would not have “Islamic neighbors”, and why not? Why should Armenia pay for that price with Genocide? We weren’t the ones that migrated to the lands of other peoples and stole their culture and identity and lastly committed genocide against them to finalize the process.

    You say that by Turkey giving up land, “It compromised its territorial integrity. It willingly gave up sovereignty on a large piece of land. It willingly gave up its legitimacy as a sovereign state. This could and will have catastrophic repercussions for Turkey.”

    How so? How would Turkey’s territorial integrity be compromised when it acquired that territory through Genocide and prevention of the self-determination of the Armenians on their ancestral land? I don’t know what catastrophic consequences would be created either, other than Turkey paying for its crimes, and perhaps a country which would be less able to bully everyone around her with a NATO created military.

    Also, why is Turkey facing catastrophic consequences through giving up land not acceptable, but it is for Armenia, when she has ‘been’ suffering those catastrophic consequences already for a century? Turkey without Armenian ancestral land would actually STILL be a very large country and I don’t see anything catastrophic about it. And I do not consider a looter giving up its wrongly acquired goods as a “catastrophe”. In contrast, Armenia without at least SOME of its ancestral land is not a country that can grow and prosper. I will address “Turkish sovereignty” later.

    • Hagop: Well, if you’re going to claim land, might as well claim all of the land you see as yours. The only thing with Cilicia is that it includes Adana and Antep (I think), which have populations over one million each- unlike the more sparsely populated eastern Turkey/western Armenia. So, a much bigger displaced persons problem.

      “How would Turkey’s territorial integrity be compromised when it acquired that territory through Genocide and prevention of the self-determination of the Armenians on their ancestral land?”

      Well we’ve discussed in length whether the land in question was acquired by genocide. I don’t think it was (Ottoman sovereignty over the area since 1514) you think it was. That’s not the point though. You will struggle to find any cases of a country willingly giving up part of its territory. There’s a reason Russia made such a strong statement in Chechnya. There’s a reason China doesn’t let the Uyghur’s secede. There’s a reason both of these nations are wary about ethno-secessionist movements and do not like when they secede. It sets a bad example to those within their borders and gives them hope for secession while Russia and China very much want to keep their territory in tact. It shows you as a weak nation unable to maintain control within your own borders. If you cannot maintain control within your own borders/provide for ALL your citizens, you are not fulfilling a requirement of sovereignty- and you lose your legitimacy if you’re the ruling regime.

      Also, unrelated, but eastern Turkey is western Armenia to Armenians but it is also northern Kurdistan to Kurds. So Armenians would get the lands that the Kurds have been fighting for the past 30 years? In an armed conflict that has cost 40 thousand lives? You can imagine that wouldn’t go down so well with the Kurds.

      “Also, why is Turkey facing catastrophic consequences through giving up land not acceptable, but it is for Armenia, when she has ‘been’ suffering those catastrophic consequences already for a century?”

      I thought we had agreed at this point that the situation is not fair. I know you guys get offended when these “reconciliation” efforts are in some ways equating the murderer with the victim. BUT, that’s just the way this situation is. Our concerns are your concerns because they affect you directly. I still have not heard one idea of what to do with the roughly 10 million people that would be displaced with this Western Armenia/Cilicia land claim. It IS your problem.

    • [email protected] I have one question. Why do you feel like more territories will solve all the problems when you guys cannot even maintain Yerevan and NKR. The current ruling elites in Armenia live on the high horse, while most people in mainland Armenia are dirt poor. How come the Armenian diaspora is not pushing to get rid of corruption and oligarchy in their country, and how come the Armenian diaspora cares about expanding their borders the most. By the way, I am not one of those people who believe in no concessions concerning resolving the Armenian question. I think we should look at normalizing ties on the basis of something in the middle of Kars treaty, or between Kars and Sevres.

      Also, you guys should learn a lot from your neighbors. Last summer, a large amount of people protested against the corrupted ruling AKP party and slammed the AKP party for a variety of wrongdoings (decreasing press freedom to the 80th down to the 150th worst score, arming terrorist squads in Syria, destroying Turkey’s proud Secular system with Sharia Law, ignoring the rights of poor and impoverished groups, ignoring Turkish religious minorities, being unrealistic about Turkey-EU relations and so on). My point is, the enemy of Armenia is not Turkey, Azerbaijan or Georgia, but inside. We spend some much time accusing each other of past wrongdoings, yet, both of our countries our problematic. We should work on improving our countries for a better future instead of bringing up the past so much. This will only bring more hate between peoples, rather then peace, which needs to be achieved in this world.

  5. European imperialism never died, it is alive and well. The EU imperialists drew the borders of the Middle East and Africa and created never before heard of countries. (For a while the Soviets were in on the game too). And they can undo them just as easily and any way they please if it becomes necessary.

    Turks can make themselves feel good by showing the world how they refused the US, France and the UK this and that, threatened them with this and that, but underneath it all, these powers can dismantle Turkey within a week if they needed to. For one, all they need to do is call a conference and say the Lausanne Treaty is no longer valid. What will “sovereign” Turkey do then? Fight against NATO? Turkey has its border recognized with a treaty. Can anyone tear up any treaty and the UK borders would no longer be recognized? Or the USA? Or France?

    Next, in the 50’s when the Soviet Union was about to invade Turkey (the liberation of Armenia was part of the plan), Churchill called an emergency meeting with the US and they threatened the Soviets with nuclear war, thereafter they hastily armed and formed a modern Turkish army after convincing them to “help” the allies in the Korean War. What is this worth to the present-day Turkey?

    When the Genocide recognition issue is raised, Turkey all of a sudden throws a temper tantrum, and “threatens” the world powers. This is analogous to something like this: a prominent restaurant owner hires a servant. Since the restaurant has prestige, the servant after a while feels he is infallible. After making a few bucks, he becomes so full of himself, he starts telling the owner of the restaurant what to do. Reality will set in when the owner fires the hired hand.

    When some ridiculous politician in the west states “Turkey and Armenia must find a dialog” for me as an Armenian with family that went through the genocide, this is the biggest insult I can hear. Our business is not, and should not be with Turkey. That is the last step, not the first one. If Turkey is interested in joining civilization, then Turkey’s first business is with itself. It has a lot of self-reflection to do.

    Does a criminal court tell a victim’s family they need to “find a dialog and make up” with a killer? Our business is first and foremost with the allies of WWI. They have every bit responsibility in the Armenian Genocide. They started their war, and the Genocide took place as a result of it. The Turks committed Genocide against Ottoman citizens of Armenian descent instead of using those resources against real armies. Yes they lost the war, but with the dirty politics going on with the allies and the Soviet Union who betrayed Armenia, Turkey came out a winner by losing the war, and did not answer to crimes of Genocide to boot.

    If the allies of WWI wanted it, Turkey would recognize the Armenian Genocide whether it wants to or not. Here is one scenario: if Turkey threatens or raises its voice when Genocide recognition is discussed, it will face all kinds of sanctions, like they did to Iran. Would Turkey have the audacity to raise its voice then? If Turkish goods are banned, travel to Turkey is banned, businesses are forbidden to do business with Turkey, etc etc, Turkey would capitulate in short order. But of course, we Armenians don’t have such influence and are “unimportant” to them, hence Turkey’s current position and attitude. Recognition of the Genocide is COMPLETELY in the hands of the allies of WWI, it is they and they alone who are responsible for its non-recognition. And they are the ones that need to find a dialog with Armenia first, not Turkey.

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