Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia
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Tel: (374-10) 52-35-31
Email: [email protected]
H.E. VARTAN OSKANIAN
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
At the SECOND CONVENTION OF EUROPEAN ARMENIANS
Brussels, October 15, 2007
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
On behalf of the people and government of Armenia, and as a descendant of
genocide survivors, I would like to express our appreciation for the efforts
of those who passed this resolution 20 years ago. It has been an interesting
coincidence that this anniversary comes at a time when the US Congress, too,
is considering a resolution and there is much talk about the value — or
danger — of third parties engaging in what are said to be old historic
issues. In that context, I want to thank those who recognized the immense
moral and political value of rejecting genocidal behaviors and criminal
policies which are not in anyone¹s national interest nor in humanity¹s
Let me say at the outset that the Republic of Armenia, the Government of
Armenia, the Armenian people around the world would gladly have done without
this distinction. It goes without saying that we would have preferred NOT to
be the victims of Genocide, we would have wanted NOT to be sufferers who
are often blamed for their own fate, but after having such a fate visited
upon us, we would certainly have NOT wanted to have been swept aside by the
pages of history, and today we do NOT want to be accused of having national
aspirations which are at odds with international interests.
But the international community has the capacity for more than one message.
The international community can indeed carry on its business, develop
coalitions, fight off threats and dangers, including the threat of genocide,
and none of this should come at the expense of recognizing and condemning
genocide anywhere, anytime – in Darfur in the 21st century, or in the
Ottoman Empire in the 20th century.
The value of the 1987 resolution is that it did more than recognize and
condemn the Genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Believing as it did
that the Armenian issue and the question of minorities in Turkey must be
re-situated within the framework of relations between Turkey and the
European Community, the European Parliament extensively and thoughtfully
laid out all the facets of this complex issue including recognition of the
rights of the Armenian minority which still lives in Turkey, and recognition
of the need to move Armenians and Turks towards understanding and
This resolution also revealed political common sense. The message of the
resolution was: a country aspiring to join Europe must look like Europe, act
like Europe, imagine and see like Europe. It must view history for what it
is – the product of political and social tensions of the time – and it must
accept its own role in that history, learn from it and move forward, as
Europe has done.
Turkey ignored that message. Worse, just half a decade later, when
independence came to all the Soviet republics, including Armenia, Turkey
ignored a huge opportunity for a new start. Turkey refused to establish
diplomatic relations with Armenia, and two years later closed the border,
hoping perhaps that Armenia¹s vulnerability and fragile statehood would
force it to renounce its past and with it, any possible claims for
The country that could have been, should have been, the regional leader, the
bridge between Europe and Asia, the bridge across the Black Sea, the bridge
between the past and the future, that country abdicated its responsibility,
because of unfounded fears.
What is it that Turkey is afraid of? We have asked that question often, and
particularly so this last week. We don¹t know. We are certainly not the only
neighbors in the world who have had, and who continue to have, a troubled
relationship. Troubled memories, a tortured past, recriminations, unsettled
accounts and the enduring wounds of victimhood plague the national
consciousness of peoples on many borders.
Let¹s hear the Turks out. Their fears, their concerns, their excuses, their
accusations, have been ringing loudly all week.
First, they insist that labeling the events of 1915 as genocide is an insult
to the Turkish people. It seems to me that a mature society that believes in
free speech is beyond insults. But be that as it may, it can safely be said
that the Turkish state created its own image, its identity, its modern
history based on something less than reality. They boast of 1000 years of
statehood, but they choose to assume only the glory of the Seljuk and
Ottoman periods and not the burdens. Their textbooks lack the context that
explains what befell the Ottoman Empire¹s many minorities, the Greeks,
Kurds, Jews and Armenians among them. Now, with that gap in public
knowledge, they are afraid that the their own people will be insulted by the
truth. But they are not the only country or the only people which has had to
come to terms with the undesirable contradictions at the base of their
statebuilding process. The United States, France, Russia, Germany all have
had to deal with the consequences of the an unconscionable past. And all
have survived and flourished. Turkey cannot be afraid of being insulted,
afraid of being asked questions, afraid of looking in the mirror.
Second, Turkey insists that Armenians are trapped in the past. Actually it
seems to us that the opposite is true. We do not forget the past, we do
honor the victims and the survivors, but we don¹t make the past, the
recognition of the past, a precondition for normalizing relations today and
moving forward tomorrow. Turkey does. Turkey somehow expects that Armenians
will renounce the past in order to appease Turkey and arrive at open
borders. So who is living in the past? Who is making the present and the
future conditional on the past? Who is allowing the dreaded past to
confound, complicate and generally determine our collective future?
Third, Turkey fears that what will follow recognition will be even more
costly and more damning. Turkey must de-link history from politics.
It is a political reality that both Turkey and Armenia exist today in the
international community with their current borders. It is a political
reality that we are neighbors and we will live alongside each other. It is a
political reality that Armenia is not a security threat to Turkey. And
finally, it is a reality that it is today¹s Armenia that calls for the
establishment of diplomatic relations with today¹s Turkey.
Turkey¹s idea to resolve these issues about the past is to form a historical
commission which it says is the best way to resolve our historical
differences. Our answer is threefold.
First, really, let¹s face it: outside of Turkey, the question is not a
historical one – the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the
International Center for Transitional Justice, Raphael Lemkin, archives in
countries the world over have established the historical veracity of the
Genocide. Second, the penal code restrictions and their discriminatory
application, especially to minorities, and especially to Armenians and those
who dare to explore Armenian issues, has become frightening, and would
certainly prohibit an open, healthy discussion about what have come to be
called the events of 1915. Look, after the world inside and outside Turkey
stood up to protest the murder of Hrant Dink last January, the son of the
slain Hrant Dink has now also been convicted, again under Article 301, again
for publishing an interview of his father¹s, the same interview for which
Hrant was convicted, and which created the atmostphere of intolerance that
resulted in his assassination, an assassination that has yet to be
persuasively and persistently concluded. The threat hanging over the head of
Hrant Dink¹s associates and successors cannot be ignored. Third, there are
no diplomatic relations between the two countries and the border is closed
between us and a discourse under those conditions would be hard to imagine.
However, if Turkey indeed wants to discuss 1915, Armenia will be ready to do
so at a governmental level, if relations between our two countries have a
semblance of normalcy. At a minimum, with open borders. You see, we have
experienced a decade-long series of efforts by Ankara to engage Armenia in a
process, for the sake of showing the world that there is some ongoing
process, and that third parties need not engage. The most insignificant,
inconsequential meetings are held up as signs of progress. Let me be clear:
short of movement on the border, there is no other measure of forward
movement in our relations. Any other call will not be taken seriously.
Armenia believes there is simply no reason to keep the border closed. Closed
borders are not normal. Countries not at war with each other do not maintain
closed borders. There is nothing in the current history of Armenia and
Turkey that warrants closed borders. It is the unsettled memories of the
past against which it has slammed shut the door between us.
Armenia believes that Armenia and Turkey must confront those memories and
histories. Armenia believes that there is no history in a vacuum, making it,
assessing it and overcoming its obstacles the two sides have to do together.
Armenia believes that Turkey must open the borders so that our people will
interact to create new experiences to replace the old memories.
Armenians believe that today¹s Turks do not bear the guilt of the
perpetrators, unless they choose to defend them and identify with them.
Armenia believes that Armenians and Turks, together with the rest of the
modern world, can reject the actions and denounce the crimes of the Ottoman
Empire. Turkey and Armenia together must exorcise the demons of the past.
Turkey itself must summon the deep force of humanity and goodness and must
renounce the deed, its intent, its consequences. And we, the descendants of
the victims must exhibit the dignity, capacity and willingness to move on.
If anyone thinks that genocide is only a matter for the past, that it is
indeed to be forgotten, they are not only wrong, but they do not understand
the security implications for living alongside a strong, unrepentant
neighbor, and the safety implications for those living within that society
that has not come to terms with its past.
I fear the ignorance that prompts those in positions of influence to label
irrelevant the attempts of responsible leaders to bring some semblance of
normalcy, morality and responsibility to relations between neighbors.
I fear the reactions of a world power that counts on an ally whose
allegiance is conditional.
I fear there will never come a time that is the right time for the world to
tell the government of Turkey, or any government for that matter – remember
Darfur – that it has a responsibility to acknowledge such crimes.
Genocide is the ultimate crime against humanity. It is the extreme abuse of
power. The human rights challenge facing all of us is to be able to
recognize that a government has the capacity for such immorality and
inhumanity, and that particular governments have indeed committed genocide.
The political challenge is to call things by their name, to acknowledge that
genocide is not just mass murder, not just massacre and deportation, but the
betrayal of the responsibility of custody by the very people entrusted with
insuring the security of their own population. Thus it requires a different
kind of response, a different level of reaction, an unorthodox solution
commensurate to the extraordinary crime.
Twenty years after the European Parliament¹s call for condemnation and
reconciliation, with even greater urgency, we repeat the call. The burden is
on us all.
When next the Parliament discusses this issue, we can only assume that
Europe will expect that a Turkey which is serious about EU membership, which
is indeed able to juggle the complex relationships that EU membership
entails, will have to come to terms with its past, and to open borders with
As you see, third parties still have a huge role to play.
Parliaments and congresses must continue to insist that there be morality at
the starting line and the goal line of all our foreign policies and foreign
relations. It is essential that administrations and executive bodies not
bend the rules, nor turn a blind eye or lower standards. Instead, let the
international community consistently extend its hand, its example, its own
history of transcending, in order for us all, to move on to making new