BRIDGING THE DIVIDE BETWEEN TURKEY AND ARMENIA
by Aydemir Erman
National Post (Canada)
April 24, 2007 Tuesday
It is unfortunate that today, April 24, has become a day when Armenian
groups annually remember the human suffering of only the Armenian
population during the First World War. The commemoration events often
take the form of anti-Turkish rallies that hinder the expression of
hope that Turkish-Armenian relations will develop positively. After
all, Turks and Armenians peacefully coexisted for centuries inside
the multiethnic Ottoman Empire, with mutual respect and trust. In the
late Ottoman period, Armenians served as ministers of foreign affairs,
finance, public works, postal services and other departments.
The tragedy that befell the peoples of the dissolving Ottoman state
in the First World War, and in the period leading up to it, took a
heavy toll on them all, including the Turks and Armenians. Millions
of Turks perished as the Ottoman territories were all lost, except
for parts of Anatolia.
What took place as that war wore on is the subject of continuing
debate and accusations. One telling piece of evidence is a recently
rediscovered report by Hovhannes Katchaznouni, the first prime minister
of the short-lived Armenian Republic of 1918-1919, which he wrote in
1923 for his fellow members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
"In 1914, Armenian volunteer units organized themselves and fought
against the Turks," he said. "We had no doubt that the war would end
with the complete victory of the Allies: Turkey would be defeated
and dismembered ? We embraced Russia [in its invasion of Turkey]
Under these circumstances, the Ottoman government decided to relocate
large numbers of Armenians away from the war zone. The Armenian prime
minister did not, of course, condone the deaths of so many in this
process. But his insider’s account reveals the complexity of the
situation and the inappropriateness of the label "genocide."
Almost a century later, the collective memories of the two peoples
indicate different versions of history. And this discrepancy seems
to be the main impediment that prevents Turks and Armenians from
normalizing their relationship today.
In the absence of a scholarly or legal consensus on the matter,
the Armenian side has fought the rhetorical battle through political
channels. Despite the absence of new historical findings, we therefore
see parliamentary resolutions and declarations in countries such as
Canada, where the strong Armenian diaspora enjoys a near-monopoly
over the debate. Analogies are drawn between the Holocaust and the
events of 1915. This is deeply unfair both to Jews and Turks.
To say that is not to deny or belittle the great human suffering that
Armenians experienced (along with Turks). But that does not mean that
the Armenian suffering should be called genocide, nor that anyone who
dares to question the popular Armenian narrative should be labelled
as a denier. The passing of judgment on such a crime needs to rest
on the basis of factual knowledge, sound historical investigation
and a decision by a competent legal body.
One way to overcome the problem is to study these claims
dispassionately. Turkey has proposed to Armenia to form a joint
commission of historians, archivists and other experts to investigate
the issue, free from propaganda, and to share the findings with the
international community. Unfortunately, the Armenian side prefers to
avoid such a study, perhaps because they believe their version already
prevails among the public — so why risk this popular support with a
serious study? Consequently, the proposal is brushed aside as a mere
tactical ploy by Turkey.
Such evasion ought not to satisfy more inquisitive minds. Despite
the sympathy felt for certain ethnic communities with painful pasts,
the Canadian government has expressed its support for the proposal
and called on Armenia to take part in this joint study.
Turkey is a significant regional power politically, economically and
culturally. Armenia can benefit much from co-operating with Turkey.
This is possible, if not overnight, then gradually. For its part,
the Armenian diaspora should find a way of perpetuating its identity
without spreading distrust of Turks and Turkey.
Non-co-operation between Armenia and Turkey is a pity. For Turkey,
it is a missing link in its overall positive regional relations. For
Armenia, it is a serious mistake with a great opportunity cost.
– Aydemir Erman is Turkey’s ambassador to Canada.