BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
Months before the Turkish Prime Minister’s now infamous and patronizing April 23 “condolence message” to Armenians, the wheels were in motion here in Southern California to organize another “dialogue” between Turks and Armenians to promote “understanding” between the two societies.
The common denominator of these efforts is to circumvent the fact of the Armenian Genocide and to create an atmosphere of pseudo cooperation in an effort to water down the importance of Genocide recognition and its immediate consequences. This credo, advanced by Ankara and the US State Department, reared its ugly head in the dangerous Turkey-Armenia Protocols, as well as in the failed Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission—TARC.
These esoteric efforts to bring Armenians and Turks together around a table to “dialogue” are futile and those Armenians participating in these efforts are playing into the hands of a dangerous policy that is being advanced by official Ankara to demonstrate that Turks are a peace-loving people who just want to get along.
Erdogan’s April 23 message—a rebranding of Ankara’s denialism—should have raised red flags for all Armenians who have circled this and other such “dialogue” initiatives and prompted them to immediately distance themselves from these efforts.
These well-meaning and sometime-active members of the Armenian community believe that by participating in such efforts and articulating anti-denialism sentiments they will send a decisive message to organizers and Turks. Instead they are playing right into the hands of the orchestrators of this policy who use these events as talking points to derail any and all decisive efforts vis-à-vis the Genocide, such as advancing recognition resolutions in Congress and the discussion of the Genocide in legitimate international arenas. Unwittingly, these individuals are engaging in a debate on the veracity of the Genocide—a guiding tenet of Turkey’s policy.
The latest of such “dialogue” effort is slated to take place this weekend at the University of California in Irvine where the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at UCI and the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, known as TESEV, are hosting public forums and closed-door “dialogue” meetings with Turkish and Armenian individuals who somehow have been picked as spokespeople or experts on the matter. The individuals on the Armenian side who have been duped to take part in this initiative in no way or form represent the collective interests of the community or the national aspirations of the Armenian people.
Let’s begin with Ankara’s attempt to insert itself in our community as a stakeholder. This policy, which has been in effect for several years, was articulated in 2012 by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in an interview with the Turkish Milliyet newspaper, the details of which were outlined in a July 13, 2012 article in Asbarez.
Davutoglu’s “simple” plan is to redefine what he calls the “Turkish diaspora” to include all people who were “Ottoman subjects” and by waving his magic wand empower Turkish representations and Ankara agents to stage “dialogues” with, in this case, Armenians and Turks.
“We consider all those who emigrated from those lands, and not only the Turks, to be the diaspora—the Armenians, Jews, Greeks, the people called El Turco in Latin America, and the Arabs in Argentina… Those are our people… Those are people whose culture and language resemble ours,” Davutoglu outlined in the Millyet article.
Based on these “redefined criteria,” Turkish representations around the world “will now open their doors to those people who were once Ottoman subjects, they will contact them, and they will even invite them to national days. The contacts with the Armenian diaspora are said to have already started,” according to the Milliyet article.
On April 3, 2012, via an article in Asbarez, community members were warned of this strategy because the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles was making active strides to engage so-called Armenian community representative in “friendship-building dialogue.”
The recent and rabid engagement by UCI in advancing this issue is troubling for an academic institution, which is funded and run by the State of California. It seems the recent uptick in Turkish and Azeri population in Irvine and Orange County is dictating that institution’s academic modus operandi and turning this venerable institution into a special interest group.
These “dialogue” initiatives are framed as apolitical. This misses the entire point of the Turkish-Armenian conflict, which by its definition is political since at the center of it is the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s subsequent and ingrained denial. Turning a blind eye to this reality is to become complicit in Turkey’s ongoing efforts at denial and perpetuation of the crime of Genocide.
By the same token, the sole schism within the Armenian and Turkish societies stems from Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide. So, those who believe that by holding hands and singing Kumbaya the issue of recognition, reparations and restitution for the Genocide will come to a just resolution, are only doing a disservice to the Armenian Cause, their immediate community and not to mention themselves as Armenians.
It would be so much less complicated—if not easy—if we could ignore the realities of the Armenian Genocide and build dialogue channels between Armenian and Turkish societies, but that would be a dangerous short-cut that would only serve Turkey to advance its interests and cut short the aspirations of the Armenian Nation.
Without the proper recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the willingness to address the issue of reparations, there can be no dialogue, whether that is between the states or societies. Let us not fall prey to Turkey’s blatant efforts to silence the reality, or those who are shepherding that cause on behalf of Ankara.