By Seto Boyadjian–Esq.
The Prime Minister of Turkey–Recep Tayyip Erdogan–has penned an article–"Turkey’s Historic Journey," in "The World in 2006" annual issue of the English weekly magazine The Economist. Drumming up the significance of his country’s membership in the European Union–Mr. Erdogan writes: "Since its foundation–the Republic of Turkey has always sought to become a constructive and responsible member of the international community–working to promote an environment of peace and prosperity."
Reading this self-serving statement–we immediately resort to our routine reaction. How can the successor state to the empire that committed the first genocide of the twentieth century become a constructive and responsible member of the international community–when it has–ever since its foundation–constantly refused to acknowledge the act of genocide perpetrated by its predecessor against the Armenian people? How can Turkey have the audacity to claim that it has promoted world peace and prosperity–when it has steadfastly pursued a policy of denial against the Armenian genocide?
These seemingly normal reactions are exclusively based on the recognition of the Armenian genocide. It has become commonplace for us to view the issues relating to Turkey from the prism of Genocide recognition. Based on this reasoning–we must emphasize the familiar fact that–at present our claims against Turkey are overwhelmingly based on the Genocide recognition. We have started developing a mindset that the act of Genocide acknowledgment constitutes the objective of our political work targeting Turkey.
Needless to say–we should not underestimate the importance of Genocide acknowledgment and the works undertaken toward that end. Yet–at the same time–we cannot ignore the fact that our understanding of the Armenian Cause is not limited to the recognition of the Armenian genocide. The Armenian Cause has its comprehensive definition–wherein the fundamental objective is to obtain complete human–territorial–political–economic and legal restitution for the Armenian people. In this sense–restitution forms the foundational premise for the acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide.
Perhaps there is a need to refresh our memory about the development of the work for our political cause. From the beginning the issue of territorial–material–and human restitution has been at the core of the definition of the Armenian Cause and its objective. At the time when Armenia was under Soviet totalitarian rule and the survivors of the genocide–scattered around the world–were occupied with the immediate organization of the diaspora communities–the work for the Armenian Cause fell on the political leadership of the diaspora.
During this time–we had not yet achieved the level of popular participation in our political works. People had confined themselves to the commemorative ceremonies of the Genocide and had entrusted the political leadership with the task of pursuing our political claims. However–both the people and the leadership had no doubt that the objective of the Armenian Cause was to achieve territorial–material–and human restitution for the Armenian people. Based on this–for decades the Armenian political leadership pleaded international organizations and major powers through diplomatic relations and memorandums–demanding territorial–material–and human restitution for the Armenian people.
In 1965–the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Armenian genocide marked the beginning of the popular claims for restitution. The Armenian people in Armenia and the diaspora not only commemorated the event together–but also appealed in unity to the world for the restoration of its usurped national and territorial rights. The objective of this demand was very clear. From the homeland to the most remote communities of the Diaspora–the Armenian people demanded their lands. For the Armenian people–recognition of the Armenian genocide could not possibly satisfy its claim for rights. The Armenian Cause could only be resolved justly with the complete reestablishment of the usurped rights of the Armenian people–with the return of the occupied Armenian homeland to its rightful owners.
The popular struggle to regain our ancestral lands had its natural evolution. Demonstrative activities led to the politicization of the Armenian people. The awareness of conflicting interests became a part of popular political reasoning. In turn–this awareness expanded the quality and reach of our political work. We prepared with the expectation for an extended struggle–where we encountered an unperturbed Turkey and its supporting cast of major powers. Soon–walls of silence were erected against Armenian claims. To break down these walls–young Armenia’s were compelled to resort to our revolutionary traditions. They were able to open up cracks in the walls and make the voice of Armenian claims heard.
After 1985–somewhere and somehow–the priority of our claim for territorial restitution was eclipsed. Instead–we began gradually to focus on the agenda of Genocide recognition. This development took place without fully examining or taking into account the negative consequences or ramification to our territorial deman’s. We can–of course–reason that the work for Genocide recognition also implies the restitution of territorial–material–and human rights for the Armenian people. Yet how much of this reasoning corresponds to the reality of our efforts for recognition? We have to clarify–emphasize–and publicize its suggested implication in order to register our and Turkey’s awareness that complete restitution of Armenian territorial–material–and human rights constitutes the foundation of the Armenian genocide acknowledgment.
Otherwise–if we leave the impression that genocide recognition is an end in itself–we will encounter two certain obstacles in the years ahead.
The first concerns our new generation. By separating Genocide recognition from its restitutional foundation–our new generation will develop the conviction that the objective of the Armenian Cause will achieve finality through the acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide. Should Turkey accept its genocidal act and apologize to the Armenian people–it will be very difficult for us to reeducate and prepare our young generation for the next phase of struggle for restitution.
The second involves Turkey and other concerned powers. In the political and legal world–a claim or a complaint is accepted and decided on by its contents and deman’s. When our claim lies solely in Genocide recognition–then our claim will be viewed in that context and the rendered decision will be limited to our demand for recognition only. Thus–in the case where Turkey recognizes and accepts the Armenian genocide–our subsequent claim for restitution will become untenable. Both Turkey and other concerned powers will deny our deman’s based on the reasoning that the issue of restitution was not part of the initial claim for recognition.
We should not pretend to be naive. Not only Turkey–but also many countries that claim to be friendly to us–prefer to limit the Armenian Cause to the objective of Genocide recognition. After all–without the prospects of restitution–the acknowledgment of a criminal act is both harmless and uneventful. Paraphrasing the old adage–sticks and stones may break our bones–but words alone will not hurt. Thus–Genocide recognition without restitutional consequences is a toothless proposition that may be acceptable to Turkey and other concerned powers–and sooner rather than later become reality. In that event–we will face a political fait accompli–where we will be forced to start anew our struggle for restitution.
So–if acknowledgment of genocide is not a self-serving objective–then we have to define and expound its foundational purpose and openly own and advocate that purpose. To do this–we have to ask ourselves: What objectives do the Armenian people intend to achieve through Genocide recognition? The answer is very short and simple:
First–the objective of Armenian genocide recognition is the return of the occupied Armenian homeland by Turkey.
Second–Genocide recognition is a means aimed at the reestablishment of justice and restitution of material and legal rights of the Armenian people.
Third–through Genocide acknowledgment–truth will be established to heal the collective grief and dignity of the Armenian people.
It has not been and will not be an easy task to pursue and achieve these foundational targets of the Armenian Cause. But–without the acceptance and inclusion of these targets–the act of Armenian genocide acknowledgment will be rendered aimless. It is very simple–for tactical concerns–for us to separate these targets from our efforts for Genocide recognition–but we can not turn it into a strategy by prolonging that separation over decades.