Armenian News Network / Groong

Review & Outlook

Redistribution of Groong articles, such as this one, to any other media, including but not limited to other mailing lists and Usenet bulletin boards, is strictly prohibited without prior written consent from Groong's Administrator.
© Copyright 2001 Armenian News Network/Groong. All Rights Reserved.


Armenian News Network / Groong
April 15, 2001

By Groong Research & Analysis Group

Ten years after the end of the Cold War, the international political
atmosphere has evidently become more conducive for the official
recognition by Western governments and international organizations of
the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Even former US Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger finds the Turkish denial unexplainable and thinks `activist
Armenians will help get' eventual recognition from the US government
(1). The reference attributed to Hitler, "who remembers the Armenians?"
has been one of the most quoted sentences in media articles calling
for recognition.

>From the USA to Iran, from France and the United Kingdom to Lebanon
and Argentina, the present generation of Diaspora Armenians is making
sure that the memory of the Genocide to which their families were
subjected does not fall into oblivion.

The Turkish political and intellectual elite is clearly irritated by
the resurfacing of this problem and wants to get rid of Armenian
Genocide claims without being obliged to reconsider crucial moments in
their perception of their own history. Its immediate reaction to
France's adoption earlier this year of a law recognizing the Armenian
Genocide was to promulgate economic sanctions in order to push
business and government circles in the USA and elsewhere to prevent
their own legislators from following suit. A minority view in Turkey
suggested improving relations with the neighboring Republic of Armenia
in order to isolate and put pressure on the Armenian Diaspora. Both
policies are fraught with danger, however. Sanctions against France do
not help relations with the European Union, especially given the very
deep and structural problems the Turkish economy is now facing after
the recent stock market crash. There is widespread speculation already
that Turkey may soon lift the ban on French firms in public tenders
announced after the French parliament vote (2). On the other hand,
even low-level diplomatic contacts -- let alone the establishment of
official relations -- between Ankara and Yerevan would raise the ire
of Azerbaijan, Turkey's chief ally in Transcaucasia, that has already
wholeheartedly endorsed Ankara's negationist attitude toward the
Genocide issue.

What the Turkish elite is definitely not reconsidering is revising its
historiography and attempting to build some bridges with the Armenian
Diaspora. Armenians find this stand highly regrettable, as recognition
by Turkey is for them certainly the most important element of the
Genocide issue. Armenians think recognition by foreign governments is
secondary to Turkish acceptance of the full horror of the events in
dispute.  The international campaign they are waging for recognition
serves primarily to remind the Turkish elite that the issue will
persist. The growing wave of international recognition and the
resulting pressure, however, do not appear to convince even the
ordinary Turks to modify their stance, and Turkish recognition is
still far from being a foregone conclusion. According to Etienne
Copeaux, a French scholar who has authored a book on Turkish
historiography, Turkish intransigence is grounded in the fact that
"Ninety percent of the Turks are absolutely convinced there was no
genocide and that, on the contrary, it was the Armenians who killed
Turks. It is a sincere belief. The [Turkish] educational system has
been most successful. This kind of totalitarianism in the educational
system has perfectly succeeded in transforming the Turkish mentality"

A number of Armenian and Western observers were surprised by the
virulence of the recent Turkish reaction to the Armenian Genocide
recognition campaign. The emergence in the last few years of a number
of liberal-minded Turkish voices (Taner Akcam, Halil Berktay, Ragip
and Aysenur Zarakolu, etc.) calling for Turkish recognition had raised
within Armenian circles the hope that the situation had begun to
change in Turkey. These hopes appear to have now been greatly diminished
by the rarity of views dissenting with the official Turkish position.
The resulting disappointment was best expressed by Hrant Dink, the
editor of the Turkish-language Istanbul Armenian daily Agos, who
stated in an interview given to a Dutch newspaper "Am I disappointed
with Turkish-left? Yes I am thousand times disappointed. You can't
cite a single renowned left-wing Turkish poet who has written a single
verse about the Armenian Tragedy" (4).

Left-wing Turkish intellectuals, however, are not entirely to blame
for their recent silence, given the extremely tense atmosphere
prevailing in Turkey since the Armenian Genocide recognition issue was
brought on the floor of the US House of Representatives last
September, and the hysterical outburst provoked by the French
recognition. Alternative views were actually much less heard during
the "French" round between the months of November to January than
during the preceding "American" round, heightening speculation that
the Turkish security services had instructed the press not to print
these kind of "revisionist" views.

Moreover, individuals who recognized the Armenian Genocide have been
exposed to violent reactions and been subject to prosecution. One will
remember the widow of the former Turkish President Turgut Ozal calling
a TV station during a debate on the Armenian Genocide and asking for
Taner Akcam - who participated to the debate from his self-imposed
German exile - to be "shut up." Human rights activist Akin Birdal,
accused of "publicly humiliating and vilifying the Turkish nation,"
risks a six years imprisonment sentence under article 159 of the
Turkish penal code for having reportedly declared during a conference
in Germany that "everybody knows what was done to the Armenians and
Turkey must apologize for it." Fr. Yusuf Akbulut, a Syriac Catholic
priest from Diyarbekir was also tried (but finally acquitted) under
article 312 of the Turkish penal code which criminalizes "inciting
hatred by showing up differences of class, race, religion, creed, or
region." The priest had been charged for allegedly confirming the
Armenian Genocide and mentioning that the Syriacs had been similarly
victimized. It is difficult to assess to what extent international
interest in the case, exemplified by the presence in the courtroom of
some 50 official observers - including some from European countries
and human rights groups and parliamentarians from Sweden and Germany -
had influence on this 'not guilty' verdict. Finally, the Turkish
Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee approved in February the exact
wording of a bill entitled "The law against international accusations,
claims and manipulations," the first article of which considers any
international discussion of the Armenian Genocide issue "a hostile

However, in spite of all these obstacles, prospects for a Turkish
recognition are still better than they were 10-15 years ago. As such,
Armenians need at this point to devise alternative avenues for action
to bring a change in Turkish attitude. They have to determine why
exactly they need recognition, and depending on the answer to that
question, how would the process of the realization of their demands be
affected by the future course of the Turkish state and society. It is
also time to discuss and decide how Armenians would deal with Turkey
the day after the desired recognition is achieved. Is recognition, as
the Turks stress, something Armenians need to strengthen their
identity, or do Armenians want to take some kind of revenge on the
Turks for the sufferings of their ancestors? Is it clear to Diaspora
Armenians what kind of reparations they want from Turkey? Is Genocide
recognition important only because it may open the door for land
claims? Are Armenians eager to leave Los Angeles, Paris, Beirut and
return to Van, Erzerum and Kars, whenever the latter are 'returned' to
the Armenian state? Is a weak and fragmented Turkey necessarily what
the Armenians should strive for, in the hope for recognition and land
restitution emanating from such feebleness? Or do Armenians want
recognition simply to bury the terrible past and start a new page with
their Turkish neighbors? Is it impossible, in that case, for a
confident and forward-looking Turkish state to come to terms with its
bloody past?

The present Diasporan position demanding recognition before everything
else can be discussed, is an outcome of a special arrangement made
among the different political groupings in the mid-1960s. The list of
Armenian demands has to be updated now in order to conform to the new
political realities.

The issue of reparations, for example, cannot be disentangled from the
issue of recognition. Turkey will not take the final step until it
knows what it will encounter next. Moreover, the Turkish political and
military elite exploits the lack of knowledge among the country's
masses regarding the Armenian issue by raising the specter of
territorial dismemberment, the so-called Sèvres syndrome.

Consequently, while continuing the international campaign for genocide
recognition, Diaspora Armenians need to think of constructive
compensation plans which, when made public, would also strengthen the
position of Turkish intellectuals in favor of Genocide recognition and
the advance of liberal elements within Turkey's political and
intellectual elite. Armenians would thus show the Turks and the rest
of the international community that they just want the world to
remember and honor their victims. The position of liberal Turks would
be immensely strengthened, for example, if the presented package would
not affect Turkey's territorial integrity but would include steps to
foster reconciliation between the two nations. Was Armenian President
Robert Kocharian's interview with Mehmet Ali Birand on CNN-Turk - that
international law opposes claims by one country on another's territory,
and that Armenia does not have land claims on Turkey - congruent with
such a strategy?

The publication of such a reparation list can also be used during the
gradual process of rapprochement, which is needed if the Turkish state
starts shifting its attitude towards the Genocide legacy. In return
for Turkey taking some steps towards implementing some of the provisions
mentioned in this list (for example, returning abandoned Armenian
Church property to its rightful owner, the Armenian Patriarchate in
Istanbul), the Diaspora Armenians may agree to temporarily slow down
their international campaign for Genocide recognition to allow the
Turkish elite time to prepare the public for the coming shift in
position. The continuation of such a quasi-moratorium can be made
directly dependent on the pace of change in the official Turkish

Democracy and the establishment of an "open society" in Turkey can
benefit the long-term interests of Armenia and go hand in hand with
Genocide recognition. It is equally important for opinion makers and
decision makers in the world arena to understand that discussing the
Armenian Genocide freely -- and eventually recognizing it -- will help
the democratization process within Turkey itself, hasten Turkish
membership in the European Union, and reduce tensions in the Caucasus.


1. Carissa Vanitzian, "Two Questions to Henry Kissinger," ANN/Groong,
April 22nd, 1998.

2. 'Turkish shares surge on economy plan hopes', Reuters, 11 April 2001.

3. Jean-Christophe Peuch, "Turkey: Uproar Over Genocide Reflects Need
to Reconcile With Past," RFE/RL Weekday Magazine, February 9th, 2001.

4. Erdal Balci, "Breaking a Taboo: The Armenians," Trouw Newspaper
[The Netherlands], February 9th, 2001.

| Home | Administrative | Introduction | Armenian News | World News | Feedback