BY MICHAEL MENSOIAN
The procrastination by the Turkish Parliament in ratifying the Turkish-Armenian protocols turned out to be a temporary victory for those Armenians who understood the insidious effect implementation of these documents would have on the future political and economic viability of Armenia.
The signing of the protocols in Zurich, Switzerland by Foreign Ministers Eduard Nalbandian and Ahmet Davutoglu on Oct. 10, 2009 under the watchful eyes of Secretary of State Hillary Rodman Clinton was no less a calamity than the Treaty of Kars between the Soviet Union and Turkey in 1920, which was ratified by a prostrated Armenia on Sept. 11, 1922. Normalization is not intended to meet the economic, political, or security needs of Armenia. An open border will, in time, essentially make Armenia an economic dependency of Turkey. There have been no expository studies cited by Armenian proponents of normalization to support their position (see “The Roadmap to Normalization Is a Roadmap to Oblivion for Armenia,” the Armenian Weekly, May 23, 2009)
Normalization primarily serves Turkish interests. Several immediately come to mind: 1) normalization would burnish Turkey’s image as a conciliatory neighbor willing to forget the past (why wouldn’t Ankara want to forget its past?) in order to bring stability to the south Caucasus; 2) it would enhance Turkey’s attempt to gain entry into the European Union; 3) Ankara’s determination for a commission to reconsider the events of 1915-23 (seems innocent enough) is to cast doubt on the planned systematic murder of 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children as being a genocide; 4) a careful reading of the protocols enumerates principles that would technically hamstring Armenian support of the Artsakh Armenians (Turkey is committed to having Karabagh (Artsakh) returned to Azerbaijani control); and 5) ratification will facilitate an expansion of Turkish economic and diplomatic influence across the Caspian Sea into central Asia and the Middle East.
Presently a renewed effort by Turkey to have the protocols ratified is being supported by forces outside as well as inside the Armenian nation. While individual Armenians and Armenian organizations certainly have the liberty to express their support for or against the protocols, is it too much to ask proponents how normalization as suggested by these documents would benefit Armenia? Opinions and official positions taken by Armenian organization unsupported by facts are not only valueless, but exceedingly dangerous because the debate loses its required objectivity and degenerates into an emotional “argument.”
As an aside, President Obama continues to praise the Erdogan government for having created a vibrant democracy reinforced by the fact that nearly 80 percent of the electorate recently turned out to vote on a number of referendums. Well over 90 percent of the Soviet electorate consistently voted in their elections. By his standard that would have qualified the Soviet Union as a vibrant democracy. Yet, since 1960, presidential elections in the United States have never involved more than 63 percent of the electorate. Where does that put the United States as a democracy?
Erdogan’s visit with Obama at the White House on Dec. 6 of this year will focus on reinforcing Turkey’s objective to link the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabagh issue with normalization. It seems that the proponents of rapprochement, whether foreign interests or some Armenian organizations, appear willing to abandon our brothers and sisters in Artsakh for an open border and the yet-to-be-determined benefits normalization is expected to provide Armenia. The future wellbeing of the Artsakh Armenians is based on some vague belief that eventually all will work out for the better. The situation of the Javakhkahayer (Javakheti Armenians) in Georgia should be a wake-up call to all Armenians as to what would happen to the Artsakh Armenians should they lose their freedom and independence and revert to Azerbaijani control. To condemn them to a situation they had to endure for some 70 years before their successful war of liberation cannot be considered an acceptable option.
President Obama speaks of the Armenian murders as one of the “…great atrocities of the 20th century.” Having said that, he quickly appeases the Turkish leadership by supporting their determination to link normalization to a “…full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts.” Again, what different outcome could a reconsideration of the facts yield? The genocide occurred and it is a fact that Obama personally accepts. Turkey seeks such a commission because its make-up will preclude a unanimous decision affirming that a genocide did take place. This result is almost guaranteed even with all the evidence contained in the official documents in the various archives of Europe and Washington, by personal accounts and photographs of survivors and eyewitnesses, mass burial grounds yet to be exhumed, and an entire region devoid of its historic inhabitants. The commission will have served Turkish interests if it simply casts doubt and creates additional questions concerning the events that occurred from 1915-23. It is not difficult to imagine the pressure that would be brought to bear on Armenia by various foreign governments and some Armenian organizations to accept the commission’s conclusions ostensibly for the good of the Armenian people. They will rationalize their position by saying that it is time to move on.
An outright acknowledgment of the genocide by Turkish political leaders is not likely, nor would it be tolerated by the military faction (no matter how the present referendum voting may attempt to weaken their power). Acknowledgment would have severe national economic and political consequences. It could well be the catalyst that effectively restores the military to its classic role as protector of Ataturk’s secular Turkey. There is no realistic scenario with respect to resolving the genocide issue that would benefit the Armenian nation. Once the Turkish people realize the Pandora’s Box of economic and political issues genocide recognition opens, they may be less amenable to “facing their past” and more supportive of their government’s anti-genocide recognition policy. How Prime Minister Erdogan implements the success his Justice and Development Party (AKP) achieved in the recent referendum voting could well determine the potential for the military’s return to power. Neither a secularist government under the military or an Islamist leaning AKP bodes well for genocide recognition or a weakening of Ankara’s support of Azerbaijan.
Contrary to what most believe, Turkish academics/intellectuals, when they speak of the Armenian Genocide, are speaking primarily to the moral-psychological need of the Turkish people to face their past. Facing the past will be a catharsis that frees them from guilt. This is assuming that the average Turkish citizen harbors any feeling of guilt with respect to the genocide. Any Turkish citizen born during the period of the Armenian Genocide would be about 90 years old today. And every one of these same Turkish citizens would have been thoroughly indoctrinated during their years in school studying the government’s interpretation of Turkish history. These academics/intellectuals do not consider restitution and indemnification as part of the need to face the past. Neither do they delve into the injustice created when the Treaty of Lausanne superseded the Treaty of Sevres, which had promised a free and independent Armenia on their historic western provinces in eastern Anatolia. However, the Turkish leadership understands fully that acknowledging the murder of 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children as genocide is a political and economic minefield through which they fear to tread (see “Why Would Turkey Acknowledge the Armenian Genocide,” the Armenian Weekly, Feb. 10, 2007).
Just recently the Turkish leaders again showed their contempt for the Armenian people when an invitation was extended to the Armenian religious to participate in liturgical services at Akhtamar. For a government that seeks to encourage normalization and to generate favorable publicity, they failed completely. They made a mockery of the invitation to hold liturgical services in the restored edifice that was Sourp Khatch (Holy Cross) Church on Akhtamar Island in Lake Van. The structure that exists today is a Turkish museum in a former consecrated Armenian Church that has been profaned by its new use. When a church is put to a nonreligious use there is a deconsecration service that is performed. If the Turkish political leaders had been sincere when they offered to rehabilitate Sourp Khatch in 2006 , it would have been restored and consecrated the following year as an Armenian church with its cross and not as a Turkish museum. Sourp Khatch should now be blessed during the appropriate consecration ceremony and allowed to be administered by Etchmiazin. Then and only then should religious services be held. Turkey has failed by design to live up to Article 42 of the Treaty of Lausanne which contains a clear-cut statement that “(t)he Turkish government undertakes to grant full protection to the [Armenian] churches…cemeteries, and other religious establishments…”
Both Yerevan and the Armenian proponents of normalization should keep Article 42 in mind as they recall the hundreds of Armenian churches, cemeteries with their khatchkars, monasteries and other religious sites that the Turkish government has destroyed, allowed to fall into dangerous disrepair, vandalized or looted for building material, or used for purposes that desecrate the holy purpose for which the structure was consecrated. Is this the government that can be expected to be a trustworthy neighbor once Armenia is officially bound by the protocols? I don’t believe so.