NO YOU CAN’T
By Raffi K. Hovannisian
OBAMA’S TEST AND TURKEY’S TIME
Yerevan-A couple of sentences in a non-binding resolution, passed
by the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee on March
4, softly reaffirming the genocide of the Armenian people and the
forcible dispossession of their homeland has got Turkey threatening
the world, the US administration complicitly trying to hush Congress
by blocking a vote on the floor, and many Armenians celebrating a rare
moment against the odds. The Swedish parliament’s March 11 decision
to recognize and then its prime minister’s extraterrestrial apology
to Turkey have only raised the stakes.
But there is nothing to celebrate.
The Armenian people lost more than a million souls and their ancient
patrimony in what US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau,
a full generation before Raphael Lemkin coined "genocide," described
in 1915 as "race extermination." The US National Archives-together
with those of Great Britain, Canada, France, Italy, and even Germany,
a close Turkish ally at the time-comprise thousands of eyewitness,
diplomatic, consular, and military documents which attest to this
first genocide of modern times.
On the balance of commemorative bills and declarations, therefore,
lies the integrity of Western civilization-not the perennial Armenian
quest for recognition and redemption or even Ankara’s long-standing
policy of shameful denial.
If President Obama and Secretary Clinton want to renege on their
previous commitments and so continue their predecessors’ realpolitik
in effective mockery of the exemplary American record, it’s their
prerogative. This resolution and the annual April 24 statement offered
by the president are opportunities for THEM to set AMERICAN history
straight and to pay due tribute to the US and European ambassadors,
consuls, relief officials, servicemen, and missionaries who bore
witness and worked relentlessly but ultimately helplessly to prevent
the Armenian genocide.
Other than that, such initiatives and the standard Turkish response of
blackmail and double jeopardy serve only to trivialize the unrequited
crime against humanity which opened the twentieth century. As a
grandson of four survivors, I lose nothing more if Mr. Obama trumps
his own history and his own conscience by not calling Genocide by
its name. It is he who must decide whether "yes we can" was, like
the White House, an end unto itself.
For Washington, Ankara, and other capitals in alliance, it is high
time to uncover a few fundamental truths, whether they are self-evident
1. By the vice of genocide the Armenians were fully and finally
uprooted from their heartlands, which remain to this day under
Turkish dominion. Despite the beginnings of a civil-society movement
in Turkey to face history and seek reconciliation through truth,
the leadership of state continues to reap the fruits of genocide by
denying it, criminalizing the very use of that term, laying strategic
pipelines across its killing fields, and asserting its existing de
facto borders with Armenia despite the de jure frontier that was
demarcated by T. Woodrow Wilson’s arbitral award and issued under
presidential seal in November 1920.
2. Accordingly, Turkey has no standing to impose its preconditions
of choice-removal of genocide recognition from the international
agenda, ratification of the existing boundary as negotiated by the
Bolsheviks and Kemalists behind Armenia’s back in 1921, and the
gifting of Mountainous Karabagh to Azerbaijan-upon the establishment
of diplomatic relations with the modern-day Republic of Armenia. If
Ankara wants in good faith to turn a new page with Yerevan, then it
should do so by immediately lifting its unilateral blockade of Armenia,
exchanging notes and then ambassadors, and building confidence to
resolve the array of outstanding issues between them.
This cannot and will not happen through the signature and ratification
of condition-laden protocols with an Armenian administration that
lacks public mandate and basic democratic credentials.
3. Either the two neighboring nations move forward without the positing
of any preconditions whatsoever or, if the Turks really insist on
them, the Armenians must retrieve the symmetry of process and put
all of their positions on the table as well. These might include
remedies, available under customary or conventional international law,
of genocide acknowledgment, atonement, remembrance, and education;
a comprehensive inventory and restoration of the Armenian cultural
heritage; a guaranteed right of return for the progeny of genocide
victims and survivors; a full restitution of properties to the original
owners or their rightful heirs; a final territorial adjudication and
provision of sovereign access to the sea.
If the parties prefer and possess the requisite self-confidence, they
can entrust the whole package to the International Court of Justice.
4. Turkey has no ethical basis or maneuver room to pontificate about
"occupation" except in the context of its own dispossession of the
Armenians, Kurds, Assyrians, Yezidis, Alewis, Greeks, and Cypriots.
As for the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh, whose constitutional
foundations are even firmer than Kosovo’s or Abkhazia’s, it achieved
its post-Stalinist decolonization by referendum held in compliance
with both international and controlling Soviet law and then was
forced to defend it against Azerbaijan’s Turkish-supported but
nonetheless failed war of aggression. If ever the rule of law
really exists, Mountainous Karabagh has earned its independence
and the right to be recognized-through legitimate liberation, not
Ottoman-style occupation. It appears today that the specter of military
conflagration, threatened daily from Baku and between the lines from
Ankara, could overcome the fragile cease-fire in place since 1994.
5. In all events, Germany and its postwar example of cleansing remorse,
reparation and then leadership constitute the appropriate point of
departure. The Genocide and world inaction to punish its perpetrators
begot the Holocaust. Coming full circle, Turkey and its contemporary
generation ought to consider taking the German high road before it’s
As we approach April 24 and the great American proclamation on its
95th passing, these simple points might better inform policy and give
a more meaningful ring to the words we use, the passages we recite,
and the values we hold hallow.
Raffi K. Hovannisian, Armenia’s first foreign minister, currently
represents the Heritage Party in parliament.