Despite very interesting panels scheduled simultaneously on Sunday afternoon, November 23rd, at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) Conference in Washington D.C., I chose to attend the special session titled “New Dynamics in Turkish Foreign Policy.” The session was to feature Ahmet Davutoglu, Ambassador and Chief Foreign Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister of Turkey, Prof. David Cuthell of Georgetown University, and Prof. Ahmet Evin of Sabanci University, Istanbul.
There were some changes in the panel. David Cuthell did not show up, and you replaced Ambassador Davutoglu. In spite of this, the panel abstract was inviting. I wanted to hear about the “major shift ;. taken place in traditional Turkish foreign policy parameters” and the “new approaches to Turkish relations with the European Union, the United States, and the Middle East.” Not that I was unfamiliar with the changes of Foreign policy in Turkey–being a concerned Armenian, I duly follow that subject in the press. But my knowledge was limited to statemen’s delineating the government’s official stance on issues pertaining the Turkish foreign policy made in the media. I expected to hear something different in a panel of such caliber in an academic conference in which the audience is expected to be consisting of young and old scholars and graduate students pursuing different disciplines in Middle Eastern Studies. I was disappointed. The panel turned out to be another channel propagating the official Turkish stand vis-?-vis what I so eagerly came to hear: The Armenian issue. And I must say, that issue came up in your and Prof. Evin’s presentation on various occasions, both as a historical problem, and in contemporary relations with my homeland, Armenia.
Mr. Ambassador, do you remember me? I commented on your presentation both from the audience and privately as I approached you to give you my book. I indicated that I have a problem with the way you presented the ongoing negotiations with the Armenian government as a one way street to benefit Armenia alone. You answered that there are 30,000 Armenia’s legally or illegally living and working in Turkey (a Turkish favor to Armenian opportunistic merchants and prostitutes?), and that diplomatic relations would take care of that issue. You also stated that in the present situation of Armenian relations with her neighbors and the dire state of the economy in Armenia, Turkey is her only outlet to the world. That was a strong justification. I am sure you convinced 90% of the scholars in audience, who had scant interest and knowledge about the Armenian issue. The other 10%, Armenia’s or scholars of Armenian studies, took your words as the reiteration of the Turkish approach to this negotiation to debase the other side and take the upper hand. As I stated in my commen’s, I don’t believe in the Turkish government’s sincerity in suggesting to organize a committee of historians to examine the “tragic events during World War I.” I could see how difficult it was for you to pronounce the word “genocide”–and actually you stuttered on it–when you said that Turkey is ready to accept it as a fact if that was the committee’s conclusion. You even brought in a personal dimension, emotionally mentioning the loss of your uncle during these tragic events to prove that both sides had suffered. I objected to the statement that Turkey has historical experience in dealing with the neighbors and will use that experience to become a major actor in the region. That experience has been tainted with suppression and violations of peaceful coexistence with the neighbors, including its most recent unilateral invasion of Iraq. In response, you tried to give me a history lesson.
Mr. Ambassador, you were very articulate and fluent in your presentation, but you were not convincing. The Turkish motivation in negotiating with Armenia is to show the EU how civil and benevolent you are in extending a helping hand to an economically weak and land-locked neighbor. The Turkish motivation in proposing a committee of historians to examine the documen’s of the tragic events of WWI and to come up with a conclusion is not to unearth the truth but to buy time and stall the Armenian struggle for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Incidentally, Mr. Ambassador, what year did your uncle lose his life–I assume at the hands of Armenia’s? Wasn’t it an action of revenge and retaliation after the Turks deported and massacred one-and-a-half million Armenia’s? I am familiar with that argument. Anachronism is a pillar in Turkish denial literature.
Your and Prof. Evin’s speech/presentation and my being photographed while I spoke reminded me of the MESA panels years ago, when the Turkish panels served only to deny the Armenian Genocide, and the Armenian panels were recorded by “special envoys” and the panelists were photographed. That has changed in recent years. Turkish panels are sophisticated and treat a wide scope of literary, social, and political issues in Turkish history. There are even Turkish-Armenian joint panels in the spirit of free and scholarly discussions. Does this mean that even if there is change in the academic circles, the political leadership has not changed course at all? Does this mean that there is no “new dynamics to Turkish foreign policy” as it concerns the Armenian issues?
Mr. Ambassador, I gave you my most recent book, And those who Continued Living in Turkey after 1915: The Metamorphosis of the Post-Genocide Armenian Identity as Reflected in Artistic Literature. Please don’t throw it in the waste basket. Read it. You may see the suffering of my people and the discrimination and persecution they still endure. You may witness the persistence of the memory of the widespread ravage, murder, and rape, the wound that refuses to heal.
Rubina Peroomian, Ph.D.,
UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures