“Normalization means an end to justice. Normalization means the end of Western Armenia. Normalization means the end of our dignity.” That’s how ANCA National Board member Ani Tchaghlasian opened a thought-provoking community discussion exploring the ramifications of the current Turkey-Armenia talks to “normalize” relations between the two countries.
The AYF-YOARF Washington DC “Ani” Chapter hosted the panel discussion on the eve of the 107th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. Titled “Non-Negotiable,” the panel included insights by Tchaghlasian and ANC International Programs director Gevorg Ghukasyan. AYF DC “Ani” Chapter member Varant Anmahouni served as moderator. The discussion was accompanied by a cultural program featuring Armenian poetry and songs performed by the AYF Washington DC “Ani” Chapter seniors and “Sevan” Juniors.
Ghukasyan set the stage with an overview of various previous attempts at so-called Turkey-Armenia dialogue—from the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission in the early 2000s to the Turkey-Armenia protocols in 2009. He argued that despite statements to the contrary, Turkey had always placed three preconditions to bilateral negotiations with Armenia: “First, Turkey demands that Armenia stop efforts to secure international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Second, Turkey demands Armenia’s official recognition of so-called territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Third, Turkey demands that Armenia officially recognize the de facto border with Armenia as legal and binding,” explained Ghukayan. This would be an end to any recognition, reparations and/or restitution for the Armenian Genocide.
Tchaghlasian, for her part, emphasized what normalization means to us– the Armenian nation, the Armenian people. She highlighted how the idea we have all dreamt of—a free, independent and united Armenia will disappear. That alone was enough to silence a room filled with young children and seniors who have been dedicated to the cause for over 40 years. The feeling of anger and fear was overwhelming as Anmahouni asked his first question: “Why do you think the normalization process is proceeding this quickly?” Ghukasyan answered with, “Turkey is pressuring the Armenian government to be rapid in this process and the current Armenian government does not have the ability to defend our existential rights.” Tchaghlasian added that the speed of this negotiation process is uncommon and the geopolitical advantage Turkey currently holds by having strong, supportive allies and Russia, being occupied with their own war, will only work in their favor. Shocked and disappointed in our current situation, I began to feel that same sense of hopelessness I felt during and right after the war.
I remember a specific question being asked that I have always wondered, but never wanted to know the true, detrimental answer. One audience member asked, “If Armenian statehood does not go along with everything and war becomes a reality that the Armenian nation is not prepared for, what is or should be done to prepare for the very possible reality that a lot of people in Armenia face?”
This question was particularly stressful to me since just a few months ago, I was living in Armenia with host families in both Gyumri and Yerevan. True, I still don’t and hope to never, understand the incomprehensible loss over 5,000 families have faced, but from my six-month journey living in Armenia, I was able to gain a better understanding of their mindset and daily struggles.
I anxiously waited for one of the panelists to respond as the nostalgic memories of the families I met in the homeland flashed through my mind. Tchaghlasian stressed, “This context of ‘if we don’t go along with everything, there will be another war,’ I think is the same fallacy as, ‘if we don’t go along with normalizations, Turkey will attack us and kill us.’ Either way, that is what we are facing. But there is nothing we can do today without regime change.” That was the answer that I was actively trying to avoid in my mind. The inevitable truth of the situation our homeland is currently in.
The panel concluded with the final question from our very own AYF Washington DC “Sevan” junior member, Victoria Penenian, asking, “What is the next step to a better Armenia?” It was as if the room began to brighten up with inspiration as everyone was looking at the young, passionate Ungerouhi. Tchaghlasian almost immediately responded with, “A better Armenia is what you are going to create. The future of Armenia is going to be what you all, the youth, are going to imagine.” We must look at our youth to see what the future of our people is going to look like. For me, I am honored to be surrounded by our local AYF juniors who motivate me every day. Their enthusiasm for bettering Armenia combined with their innovative ideas give me hope in a better Armenia tomorrow.
Looking toward the future, the program ended with AYF DC juniors reciting the poem, «Ազատություն» (“Azatutyun”) by Mikael Nalbandyan and the singing of “Yelek Hayer Baykari” with both the AYF juniors and seniors. Earlier in the program, this group had done a spotlight on Armenian intellectuals who were killed or captured during the start of the Armenian Genocide– reminding us of the initial actions taken by the Turks.
I was honored to attend this informative panel and was proud of my local chapter executive for preparing this meaningful event to galvanize our community in gaining a deeper understanding of what is currently going on in our homeland. As AYFers, we must be educated on the political climate of Armenia in order to act quickly and stay connected with our ungers back home. It was an atmosphere that provided a healthy exchange of ideas to foster needed dialogue on the effects of Turkey-Armenia and Azerbaijan-Armenia negotiations.
Nothing is permanent and the current regime’s days are numbered. I have hope for Armenia’s future. I have hope in an ազատ, անկախ եւ միացյալ Հայաստան. You have to, otherwise you have given up– and that is something we as a people cannot afford to do.