Nothing Personal: Turkey’s Top Ten Challenges

Foreign Policy Journal
April 19 2009

Nothing Personal: Turkey’s Top Ten Challenges

April 19, 2009
by Raffi K. Hovannisian

YEREVAN, Armenia – That an Armenian repatriate, American-born into a
legacy of remembrance inherited from a line of survivors of genocide
nearly a century ago, feels compelled to entitle his thoughts with a
focus on Turkey – and not Armenia – reveals a larger problem, a gaping
wound, and an imperative for closure long overdue on both sides of
history’s tragic divide.

The new Armenia, independent of its longstanding statelessness since
1991, is my everyday life, as are the yearnings of my fellow citizens
for their daily dignity, true democracy, the rule of law, and an
empowering end to sham elections and the corruption, arrogance and
unaccountability of power.

`Generation next’ is neither victim nor subject, nor any longer an
infidel `millet.’ We seek not, in obsequious supplication, to curry
the favor of the world’s strong and self-important, whose interests
often trump their own principles and whose geopolitics engulf the
professed values of liberty and justice for all. Gone are the
residual resources for kissing up or behind.

And so, with a clarity of conscience and a goodness of heart, I expect
Turkey and its administration to address the multiple modern
challenges they face and offer to this end a list of realities, not
commandments, that will help enable a new era of regional
understanding and the globalization of a peaceful order that
countenances neither victims nor victimizers.

1. Measure sevenfold, cut once: This old local adage suggests a neat
lesson for contemporary officials. Before launching, at Davos or
elsewhere, pedantic missiles in condemnation of the excesses of
others, think fully about the substance and implications of your
invectives. This is not a narrow Armenian assertion; it includes all
relevant dimensions, including all minorities. Occupation, for its
part, is the last word Turkish representatives should be showering in
different directions at different international fora, lest someone
require a textbook definition of duplicity. Maintain dignity but
tread lightly, for history is a powerful and lasting precedent.

2. Self-reflection: Democracies achieve domestic success, applicants
accomplish European integration, and countries become regional drivers
only when they have the political courage and moral fortitude to
undergo this process. Face yourself, your own conduct, and the track
record of state on behalf of which you speak. Not only the success
stories and points of pride, but the whole deal. Be honest and brave
about it; you do possess the potential to graduate from decades of
denialism. Recent trends in civil society, however tentative and
preliminary, attest to this.

Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish
soldiers, 1915.

3. The Armenian genocide: Don’t revise history; recognize the
historical record and take responsibility. There is a wealth of
evidentiary documentation, more than sufficient to disarm the various
instruments of official denial that have been employed over the years.
But this is only the paperwork. The most damning testimony is not in
the killing of more than a million human souls in a manifest execution
of the 20th century’s first genocide or, in the words of the American
ambassador reporting at the time, `race extermination.’

4. Homeland-killing: Worse than genocide, as incredible as that
sounds, is the premeditated deprivation of a people of its ancestral
heartland. And that’s precisely what happened. In what amounted to
the Great Armenian Dispossession, a nation living for more than four
millennia upon its historic patrimony was in a matter of months
brutally, literally, and completely eradicated from its land.
Unprecedented in human history, this expropriation constitutes to this
day a murder, not only of a people, but of a civilization and an
attempt to erase a legacy of culture, a time-earned way of life. This
is where the debate about calling it genocide or not becomes absurd,
trivial, and tertiary. A homeland was exterminated by the Turkish
republic’s predecessor and under the world’s watchful eye, and we’re
negotiating a word. Even that term is not enough to encompass the
magnitude of the crime.

5. Coming clean: It is the only way to move forward. This is not a
threat, but a statement of plain, unoriginal fact. Don’t be afraid of
the price tag. What the Armenians lost is priceless. Instead of
skirting this catastrophic legacy through counterarguments or
commissions, return to the real script and undertake your own critical
introspection and say what you plan to do to right the wrong, to atone
for and to educate, to revive and restore, and to celebrate the
Armenian heritage of what is today eastern Turkey. Finally take the
initiative for a real reconciliation based on the terrible truth but
bolstered by a fresh call to candor.

6. Never again: The rewards of coming to this reality check far
outweigh its perils. What is unfortunately unique about the Holocaust
is not the evil of the Shoah itself, but the demeanor of postwar
Germany to face history and itself, to assume responsibility for the
crimes of the preceding regime, to mourn and to dignify, to seek
forgiveness and make redemption, and to incorporate this ethic into
the public consciousness and the methodology of state. A veritable
leader of the new Turkey, the European one of the future, might do the
same, not in cession but in full expression of national pride and
honor. My grandmother, who survived the genocide owing to the human
heights of a blessed Turkish neighbor who sheltered little Khengeni of
Ordu from the fate of her family, did not live to see that day.

7. The politics of power: Turkey’s allies can help it along this way.
Whether it’s from the West or the East, the message for Turkey is
that, in the third millennium AD, the world will be governed by a
different set of rules: that might will respect right, that no crime
against humanity or its denial will be tolerated. The Obama
Administration bears the burden, but has the capacity for this
leadership of light. And it is now being tested.

8. Turkey and Armenia: These sovereign neighbors have never, in all
of history, entered into a single bilateral agreement with each other.
Whether diplomatic, economic, political, territorial, or
security-specific, no facet of their relationship, or the actual
absence thereof, is regulated by a contract freely and fairly entered
into between the two republics. It’s about time. Hence, the process
of official contacts and reciprocal visits that unraveled in the wake
of a Turkey-Armenia soccer match in September 2008 should mind this
gap and structure the discourse not to disdain the divides emanating
from the past, but to bridge them through the immediate establishment
of diplomatic relations without the positing or posturing of
preconditions, the lifting of Turkey’s unlawful border blockade, and a
comprehensive, negotiated resolution of all outstanding matters, based
on an acceptance of history and the commitment to a future guaranteed
against it recurrence.

9. Third-party interests: Nor should the fact of dialogue, as
facially laudable as it is, be exploited as an insincere justification
to deter third-parties, and particularly the U.S. Congress, from
adopting decisions or resolutions that simply seek to reaffirm the
historical record. Such comportment, far from the statesmanship
expected, contradicts the aim and spirit of rapprochement.

10. The past as present: The current Armenian state covers a mere
fraction of the vast expanse of the great historical plateau upon
which the Armenians lived until the surgical disgorgement of homeland
and humanity that was 1915. Accordingly, as improbable as it seems in
view of its ethnic kinship with Azerbaijan, modern-day Turkey also
carries the charge to discard outdated and pursue corrective policies
in the Caucasus. This high duty applies not only to a qualitatively
improved and cleansed rapport with the Republic of Armenia, but also
in respect of new regional realities.

On the road to inevitable self-discovery, Turkey, its future with
Armenia, and their immediate neighborhood have come to form one of the
planet’s most sensitive and seismic tectonic plates. Integrity,
equity, and a bit of humility might help to save the day. And our

Raffi K. Hovannisian was Armenia’s first minister of foreign affairs
and currently represents the opposition Heritage party in the National

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