Recognition is about Honesty–Justice is about Remorse
By George Aghjayan
As acceptance of the historical fact of the Armenian genocide becomes prevalent in Turkish society–there has been a similar movement to label such acknowledgemen’s as extraordinary. Some–such as David Phillips and other members of TARC–go so far as to take credit for the movement–as if the last 5 years of rapid change in the Armenian struggle for justice can be viewed separately from the previous 85 years or the Armenian Cause separately from a growing human rights movement in Turkey.
So often–we characterize Turkish denial as born from ignorance–when in fact it is born from a common agenda with the perpetrators of the crime. In that context–acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide–whether by a Turkish citizen or by a United States President–is about honesty regarding the facts of history. Those that deny are dishonest and ill-suited as a party to dialogue. While we can acknowledge the extraordinary bravery of those who risk criminal prosecution and imprisonment to acknowledge the Armenian genocide within the Republic of Turkey–we must not confuse this as a triumph of the Armenian Cause. Instead–we must recognize it for what it is–simple honesty.
Acknowledgement is the ticket to the table of reconciliation–nothing more. Justice is the necessary next stage as it indicates not only an acknowledgement–but also an understanding of the magnitude and wrongness of the crime–as well as a sense of remorse.
Recognition of a crime is not enough to show an acceptance for it being wrong. In fact–recognizing the crime committed and the gains obtained without penalty encourages similar criminal acts. Thus–we can begin to understand why justice for the Armenian genocide has relevance today and extends beyond the Armenian community.
Over the course of events this year commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide–it was continually mentioned that recognition was necessary so that genocide would not happen again. This claim makes little sense as stated. Recognition without justice will guarantee genocide will happen again.
There are a number of argumen’s against justice being presented by some in the community–beyond the ignominious ICTJ report of TARC. The reason for such views depends on the source. There are those that simply adhere to the agenda of the US State Department–others are nave–while still others overlook the needs of humanity for their own selfish interests.
Regardless of the reason for the challenge–those who fully understand the necessity for justice must respond. The following are argumen’s being presented along with what I feel are appropriate responses. They are not meant to be exhaustive–but they do represent my feelings on the matter.
"I do not want money nor do I plan on living on any land that is returned to the Armenia’s." This argument has two very different aspects to it. In the first case–one may feel this way because the crime of the Armenian genocide is so great that no money or land can truly compensate for the loss. While it is true that there can be no perfect compensation for the loss the Armenian people suffered–a loss so great that this small article cannot begin to expose–this should not preclude any justice. My explanation above should suffice as justification for more than just acknowledgement of the crime. We would not accept acknowledgement alone for the smallest of crimes–why then should we accept it for the greatest crime against humanity–genocide.
Going further–this claim for recognition alone meets with some measure of acceptance because once the denial ends–the Genocide itself will end for many people. That is not to say that there is resolution–but simply that when we are subjected to genocide denial we become victims and are one with the victims of 90 years ago. Denial causes us pain and the deniers understand and embrace that pain in the same way the perpetrators did some 90 years ago. Recognition is expected to end the pain denial causes today.
However–we–as victims of genocide–have a responsibility to fight for more than just recognition. In addition–while acknowledgement by the Turkish government may marginalize denial–it will not end it. One only need look at the proliferation of Holocaust denial as an example.
Another aspect to consider is the unabashed selfishness of such a view. While the descendents of the remnants of the Armenian nation fortunate enough to have come to the United States may have reached some level of affluence and rarely fear ethnic based prejudice–that does not necessarily hold for all diaspora Armenia’s nor even Armenia’s in Armenia.
Restitution of land and reparations could meaningfully assist in the perpetuation of the Armenian nation–the destruction of which was the stated objective of the crime. To view restitution of land and reparations solely in the context of the individual is the height of selfishness.
Another common theme is that calls for justice hinder Turkey’s ability to recognize the Armenian genocide. It may be of interest to note that this same argument has been used to blame the resolution of Jewish claims against Swiss–German–French and Austrian banks for the recent rise in anti-Semitism.
It is inconceivable to me that such perverse logic is taken as reasonable. The perpetrator of a crime is being requested by the victim group (and others) to partially atone for the crime and the resultant prejudice is seen as reasonable. Once again–Armenia’s are placed in the position of emasculating themselves in order to achieve the crumbs of human rights that everybody else considers basic.
This is the epitome of a slave mentality. For centuries–Armenia’s have lived as second-class citizens; so much so that we accept in regards to the Armenian genocide something that would be absurd in any other aspect of our lives.
Closely related is the notion that today’s Turk is not responsible for the crime of the Armenian genocide and–thus–cannot be held accountable. Beyond the consideration that denial is the final stage of genocide and–thus–the crime continues to this very day as a result–there is also the aspect that genocide is a state crime and the current Turkish state is the successor of that which began the crime over 90 years ago.
In addition–one need only read current news accounts as validation of the continuing nature of the Armenian genocide. I have directly witnessed the destruction of Armenian cultural sites–the desecration of Armenian graves–and the outright falsification of our national history.
It has been openly stated that the blockade of Armenia by Turkey is meant to create poverty of such a level so as to encourage immigration and–thus–create an Armenia empty of Armenia’s. In addition–the struggle over Artsakh cannot be viewed separately from the continuing nature of the Armenian genocide. Armenia without Armenia’s has always been the objective and the current Turkish government is just as culpable as that which ruled a century ago.
Much has been made of the conclusion in the ICTJ report that Armenian genocide claims cannot be put forth under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. That is only the tip of a very large issue and ignores so much of the real need for justice–however imperfect that justice might be.