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The Turkey-Armenia Agreement Is a Farce

New America Media, Commentary, Hayg Oshagan Posted: Oct 27, 2009

There is, in essence, one issue that defines the Armenians anger toward the agreement signed by the Turkish and Armenian governments and currently awaiting ratification by both nations parliaments. It is the matter of Genocide.

This issue has hung over Turkey like a blight, a moral disease that has infected the state, forcing its logic of revisionism and denial upon an entire nation. Penal codes, persecutions, millions for lobbying and even assassination have been the unfortunate result, burdening a struggling secularism and democracy with the specter of state terror.

Of course, there is reason to worry. Admitting to Genocide is not only a historical issue, laying questions of failure and shame at the heart of a nations identity. There are also material and other costs involved. Punishment and retribution for a crime can take many forms, from prosecution of the historical legacy of those responsible, to apologies, to monetary compensation, to the return of land to victims. There are certainly many examples of reparation by states over the past few years for victimizing their citizenry.

The cost is also high for the survivors. Most Armenians living outside Armenia have a direct family connection to the Genocide, and would simply not be living dispersed across the globe today were it not for the Genocide. Whereas more than 2 million Armenians lived in Turkey before 1915, mostly in Eastern Turkey, today that number is less than 100,000. Are there claims to land, are there deeds of property, are there receipts of bank accounts, are there reams of official testimony of forced marches and of vast killing fields? Of course there are. And there are also painful memories of human loss, of atrocities and of an unimaginable crime denied. The Armenian Diaspora has not forgotten its bloody genesis and has been vocal for recognition and restitution.

Since the re-establishment of the Republic of Armenia, Turkey has made every effort to address the issue of the Genocide with the Armenian state. Two issues have been at the center of Turkeys effort. The first has been to find a way to dismiss the Genocide as an issue on the agenda of relevant international bodies (e.g. the U.S. Congress, or the International Criminal Court), where it might lead to determinations of guilt and possible punishment for Turkey. The second is to limit potential compensation, at least in terms of any return of land.

But how to do this?

What if Turkey were to close the border with Armenia in 1993, subject Armenia to economic hardship for more than a decade, and then, as a condition to reopen the border, require that Armenia accept Turkish demands regarding the Genocide? And what if, just in case of last-minute reluctance, it made sure that the Americans, the French and the Russians were there to pressure the process? That is the farce that these protocols are. This is what Turkey wanted and that was the scene in Zurich, where a grim-faced Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian signed these agreements beside a jubilant Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, surrounded by a phalanx of enforcers: Hillary Clinton, Bernard Kouchner and Sergei Lavrov.

The Diaspora rightly saw these protocols as capitulation. Heres why.

Firstly, why should Turkey make any demands for reopening its border with Armenia? The two nations are not at war, and just as Turkey unilaterally closed the border, it should simply reopen it to its neighbor.

Secondly, why place a condition in the protocols to establish a commission between the two nations to study the Genocide? There have been hundreds of studies already on the historical events of the Genocide, and the matter is largely settled by historians, despite unrepentant Turkish denialist efforts. So what is the purpose of a commission to study what has already been determined? This is simply a means to relieve pressure on various governments (e.g. the U.S. Congress) or bodies (e.g. the European Union) to make determinations of Turkish guilt and possible reparation for the Genocide. As long as Armenia and Turkey are engaged in official dialogue on the Genocide, any international action regarding the Genocide will be indefinitely postponed.

Thirdly, why force Armenia, as part of signing the protocols, to recognize the current border with Turkey as final? This matter refers to potential territorial reparations. By signing these protocols, Armenia is seen to be signing away any future claims to lands that for more than 2,500 years have been inhabited by Armenians. These Eastern Turkish provinces are now, of course, empty of Armenians as a result of the Genocide, but the claim to land reparation and a new border are current issues. There are more than 200 border disputes across the globe between countries that have, nevertheless, open borders. The only reason for this precondition in the protocols is to limit potential future land compensation to Armenia.

There is good reason why most Armenians, not just those in the Diaspora, are up in arms about these protocols. Protests in Yerevan (50,000+), Los Angeles, New York, Montreal, Paris, Beirut, Athens and elsewhere are testament to the outrage. These protocols are an example of how skilled diplomacy and geopolitical interests allow one to commit a crime and then get away with it. In a world where we want to see justice, we cannot allow geopolitical interests and expediency to reprieve crimes. And when the sin is against humanity, as in the case of the Armenian Genocide, the responsibility is on all of us, not just Armenians, to demand justice.

Hayg Oshagan, an Armenian, is director of Media Arts and Studies and professor in the Department of Communication at Wayne State University in Detroit. He is also director of New Michigan Media.

Related Articles:
Reducing Historical Baggage Between Turkey and Armenia

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