When conducting a long-term campaign for human rights and justice, the messaging must be clear and consistent. Over the decades, we have used different slogans, but the objective has always been about formally recognizing the crimes committed against the Armenian people and the criminal party paying some form of restitution to the victim. There have been legal arguments centered around the crime of genocide according to the UN Convention, and there have been political positions that attempt to gain support based on the geopolitical behavior of the Republic of Turkey. Some of our most enduring messaging has been directed toward world humanity as global citizens. That message has been simple and direct – a genocide unrecognized or ignored can lead to another. The most prominent example, of course, has been the quotation attributed to Hitler explaining that they could proceed with the assault on Poland and the Jews because no one remembers the Armenians. What Hitler was cynically referring to is that the Turks planned and implemented the attempted extermination and that 20 years later, the world had moved on with the crime unpunished. In this message, the Armenians have been trying to tell the world that as long as the violator is free, others will be emboldened to commit the worst of the human rights offenses. It happened in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia to name a few while the world sat by unable or unwilling to prevent these atrocities in a shameful display of ineptness. While Armenians quietly would respond with ”I told you so” as if the world needed more massacres to prove the point, a more personal reflection of this position has begun to emerge in our community.
The traditional definition of the Armenian Genocide is that it occurred from 1915 to 1923. Some scholars and activists began to discuss the Hamidian massacres of 1894 to 1896 and the Adana massacres in 1909 as evidence of an oppressive continuum. The mass atrocities against Armenians were directed from the central government in response to European pressure for reform, and Pan Turkic sentiments governed policy. It is clear that the fundamental strategy of the Turks with regards to Armenians has not changed appreciably in over 125 years. Driven by a deep-rooted hatred and a desire to eliminate what they view as an obstacle to Pan Turkic endeavors, the hostile policy has continued unabated through successive eras, political structures and governments. The genocide of the Armenians during and after WWI was driven by a desire to purge Anatolia (and the Caucasus) of non-Turkic peoples. The Kurds were initially exempted as “mountain Turks.”
This policy continued in the Republican era of Kemal post-1923. Since nearly all of the western Armenians had been murdered or deported, the new Republic went about the task of the coverup. The material wealth (in billions) of individuals and community property were redistributed to the government structure and individuals. The entire education system was designed to not only lie about the “events of 1915,” but to teach their young that Armenians were disloyal, traitors and undesirable. This cemented the institutional discrimination against the Armenians of Turkey who were forced to change their surnames to blend into the Turkish centric society. Armenian institutions illegally lost title to thousands of properties that crippled the community financially and culturally. Despite the “guarantee” of religious freedom of minorities in Turkey under the Treaty of Lausanne, the Turkish government has manipulated the Apostolic Patriarchate by closing the seminary, altering the criteria for elections and outright influencing the internal operations of the church. This has led to a weakening of the church and subjecting it to controversies and divisiveness. With the Armenian community in Turkey today centered around Istanbul, the Turks are doing their best to encourage immigration. In addition, the Turks have done little to protect the thousands of historic monuments and churches in western Armenia, leaving them to vandalism, theft or destruction. A few have been the subject of humiliation as the Turks open them for tourism with little or no reference to their true owners. This has been the work of the Turks for the last 80 years. This is cultural genocide. While there are few Armenians to murder, they destroy what they left behind as vestiges of our civilization. It is ugly and painful. It never stopped.
While Turkey has continued its policy of destroying our existence, the Azerbaijani “cousins” to the east have embarked on a parallel path. The rogue nation of Azerbaijan with shallow roots going back to post-WWI has embarked on a parallel path. From 1918 to 1920, Azerbaijan was an aggressive and hostile neighbor with territorial disputes and atrocities. After the Stalin decision on Nakhichevan and Karabakh, the Azeris proceeded to implement the policy of cultural deprivation and ethnic cleansing by depopulating the nearly 50-percent presence of Armenians in Nakhichevan to essentially zero by the 80s. The situation in Karabakh has been more volatile with the Azeris degenerating into unilateral wars, war crimes and genocidal atrocities. Just as the Turkish Ottomans transitioned from oppressive discrimination in the 19th century to genocidal policies, the Azeris followed a similar path in the next century. As both countries brag about “one nation…two governments,” it is evident that the Armenians have become the clearest example of their warped intent.
The recent Artsakh War was a shocking reminder to us that these Turkish nations have no use for an Armenian sovereign state. It is not enough with the genocidal theft of western Armenia and Cilicia – not just Kars, Ararat and Ardahan – not enough with Nakhichevan and Artsakh – but Zangezur (Syunik) and Yerevan! A genocide unpunished is a genocide that continues is not a casual observation of world history. It has become our reality. We are the example from 1894 into the 21st century, because the policy of discrimination, dispossession and destruction never changed. Sultans, Ittihads, Kemal and his “republic” successors have come and gone. Today’s Turkey is attempting to return to its Ottoman roots with its current foreign policy. The expansionist activity in Syria, Iraq, Greece, Cyprus, Libya and even Lebanon has one common thread. They are all former Ottoman territories that eventually found their path to liberation. Turkey views them as wayward children of the Turkish empire. This revisionist view of history is a significant threat to regional stability and exposes their dangerous intentions. As for Armenia and its peaceful Christian people, they remain an obstacle in the other dream of Erdogan. Long an admirer of the Ottoman leaders, his attacks on the Armenians are in pursuit of his pan-Turkic goals. Dusting off the work of the last century, Erdogan has positioned Azerbaijan as a Turkish subject under the thin veneer of supporting Azeri “territorial integrity.” All of the atrocities we have witnessed (importing jihadists, using Nakhichevan as a land corridor and stationing troops on Azerbaijani soil) are all connected to their long-term goal. Turkey has skillfully positioned itself for decades as a nation the west needs.
During the decades of the Cold War, Turkey was viewed as a loyal NATO ally who contributed to the Korean War effort and backed the anti-Soviet role of the western allies. After the Cold War ended, they positioned themselves as a moderate secular democracy in a volatile region. Despite the suits they wore and the western education they received, the hatred of Armenians never ceased. Institutional discrimination was the new, more “civilized” approach of the western ally. Turkish children were taught the lies of Turkish history and the term “Armenian” was an insult in the vernacular. In the last 20 years, Turkey has abandoned its western advances for its Islamic expansionism. They have succeeded in eliminating many of the secular foundations of the Kemal era and have emerged as a virtual dictatorship with no western values. They have become the bully of the region that counts on passive responses to their aggression. The latest of the long list of examples is the criminal assault on the Armenians during the Artsakh War. Their horrific attacks with advanced weaponry was a human rights violation of incredible proportions. Yet they remain unpunished with no remorse…only substantial reserves of hate. We have all been rightfully critical of the Armenian diplomatic blunders and general lack of preparedness. We must never lose sight of the fact that none of Armenia’s issues can absolve the genocidal Turkish assault. As the world players breathe a sigh of relief that the “frozen conflict” has been resolved with the “seven territories,” they once again turn a blind eye to Turkey’s behavior. They fail to connect the dots. This ambivalence only encourages the criminal.
When a bully persists, you either walk away or you find a way to defend yourself. Walking away is not an option for a people that have inhabited this land for thousands of years and thousands of years before there was a Turk in the Caucasus. That leaves finding a way to defend yourself: diplomatically, militarily and economically. This is precisely why all the discussions on the path forward are critical. It’s why our place in Armenian history today is unique but has much in common with our ancestors. They were faced countless times with the decision to back away or defend themselves. Knowing the Turks’ intent has always eliminated capitulating. It would mean certain destruction and death. Each of us has a role to play in our recovery. All of the talents are needed. We cannot afford to be distracted by political infighting. It will pass, but the Turkish threats will not. We have over 125 years of experience to know better. It is our turn to be the guardians of our history.