Is ‘Reconciliation’ Compatible With Justice?

By Lucine Kasbarian

June 2, 2010

On Wednesday May 12, at the Armenian Library and Museum of America
(ALMA) in Watertown, Massachusetts, editors Emil Sanamyan of the
Armenian Reporter and Khatchig Mouradian of theArmenian Weekly spoke
about their recent trip to Turkey sponsored by TEPAV – a Turkish
think tank that has recently been promoting Turkish-Armenian relations.

TEPAV is funded by TOBB, the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges
of Turkey.

ALMA Executive Director Mariam Stepanyan welcomed the audience after
which moderator Marc Mamigonian, Academic Affairs Director of the
National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), opened
by noting that there was no formal title for the evening’s program
because the trip was not necessarily part of what would be termed
“Turkish-Armenian reconciliation or relations.”

Mamigonian said the reason is “not because we can’t trust the Turks
or because Turks are all alike, or because of any other negative
stereotype that Armenians reject when applied to themselves.” Such
stereotypes, he continued, “would be as ignorant as assuming that
the Turkish government’s position on Armenians is the same as the
Turkish people’s position.” The latter, Mamigonian continued, “has
changed somewhat, though such profound changes as their recognizing the
Armenian Genocide haven’t happened yet.” From his disjointed remarks,
this writer concluded that Mamigonian may have been trying to warm up
the audience to the idea of “reconciliation,” as the evening’s program
seemed, in most respects, to be an attempt to convince attendees that
new efforts to establish “Turkish-Armenian relations” were underway.

Prior to editing the Armenian Reporter, the Baku-born Sanamyan was
employed by the Armenian Assembly of America, which works closely
with the US State Department. While his initial impression of TEPAV’s
invitation was that it was “intended to be a brainwashing trip,”
Sanamyan noted that, by trip’s end, if that had been the intent it was
“done in a very advanced and unnoticeable way, and this experience was
by far a greater opportunity for the visiting delegation than it was
for the hosts.” He also said that influential Turkish organizations
had arranged for the delegation to meet with high-level government

It is unclear if Sanamyan realizes that the trip was the Turks’
way of trying to butter up Sanamyan and Mouradian, give them the
soft-sell and make them feel important. According to TEPAV’s website,
the rest of the delegation was comprised of journalists and policy
experts from the Wall Street Journal, The New Republic,,
Foreign Policy, National Security Network, The Century Foundation, and
New America Foundation – all of which generally promote policies from
a US government establishment perspective. Did it occur to Sanamyan
and Mouradian that two Armenians fromcomparatively small newspapers
fit in rather awkwardly with this group?

Did it not also seem strange to the two that they would be invited
to join a delegation headed by former US Ambassador to Turkey
Morton Abramowitz, a notorious genocide denier? When asked later
what was going through their minds when they accepted the invite,
Sanamyan replied that “Abramowitz’s views have evolved.” However,
Abramowitz’s dispatches about the trip, available,
demonstrated otherwise. Why did Sanamyan defend Abramowitz, who still
opposes the US Congressional Genocide Resolution?

Sanamyan said he returned from the trip “looking at” what he called
‘the Armenian-Turkish experience’ “in a new light.” He said, “The
Armenian-Turkish experience for Armenians is the Genocide, while the
Armenian-Turkish experience for Turks is terrorism and the Genocide
resolution.” This writer must ask: Are such generalizations accurate?

And was Sanamyan saying that these alleged “experiences” are simply
two equally valid sides of the same story? His comments seemed
to contradict Mamigonian’s introductory remarks about spurning
stereotyping. Sanamyan gave an example of how ” ‘the weight of history’
is present in Turkey.” In the Foreign Ministry building, he saw
“a plaque dedicated to Turkish diplomats slain by Armenians during
the terrorism period.” Sanamyan also said he was “irked somewhat”
as he traveled along “Talaat Pasha Boulevard,” named after one of
the masterminds of the Genocide.

By raising the points above, Sanamyan seemed to be trying to step
into the role of intermediary by throwing a bone to the Turkish as
well as the Armenian communities in an effort to equalize history. It
is also not clear what Sanamyan has seen in “a new light.”

During the junket, Sanamyan said, “very little politics were discussed,
but lots of hospitality was extended.” He made a point of telling the
audience how lavish Turkish hospitality was. Sanamyan described Turkey
as “popular with Hayastansi tourists and Armenians in Russia.” Was
Sanamyan’s purpose to emphasize that the Turks were not hostile but
instead shared a culture of hospitableness with Armenians?

Did he wish for us to conclude that Armenian tourists from Russia and
Armenia appear to have no beef with Turkey, and thus it was high time
for the Diaspora to follow suit?

The TEPAV website notes that the delegation met with President
Gul, Foreign Minister Davutoglu, Foreign Ministry Ambassador
Sinirlioglu, Deputy Undersecretary Yenel, US Ambassador to
Turkey Jeffrey, Turkish political party leaders, and the
Turkish-American Business Council, among others. This and the
subsequent reportage of the other delegates show that the trip
may have been more political than Sanamyan indicated. (Dispatches
published by some writers in the delegation are available here:

Instead of traveling to Cappadoccia with the delegation, Sanamyan and
Mouradian were flown to Kars and Ani. There, hoteliers explained that
local Turks hoped the border with Armenia would open soon, that the
locals would benefit, and that “Diasporan tourists such as yourselves
would visit.”

To this writer, it sounded as if TEPAV and TOBB were trying to keep the
Turkish-Armenian Protocols alive by touting the alleged benefits of a
border opening so that the Armenian journalists would convey that to
their Diaspora. We can take Sanamyan’s words as a clear signal that
the Turkish government is still dangling the promise of a border
opening before Armenians, even though many Armenian economists,
policy analysts, politicians and others have expressed skepticism
that a border opening would benefit Armenia’s economy, people, and
national security.

Sanamyan was taken to an Armenian church in Kars that had been
converted into a mosque. Most of its Christian elements had been
removed. He observed that the Turks took great pains to avoid using
wording on any signage that would identify the Armenian origin of the
structures around Kars and Ani. Even so, Sanamyan said, “there seems
to be effort from the Turkish government to change this.” A former
mayor of Kars supports Turkish-Armenian reconciliation “so that,”
in Sanamyan’s words, “Turkey can develop business in Kars.” What this
writer heard is that “reconciliation” is good for the Turkish economy
and public image. But is it good for restorative justice for Armenians?

Sanamyan showed a slide projection of the unfinished statue in
Karsdedicated to “Turkish-Armenian Friendship.” The 100-foot high
sculpture of two human figures facing one another looked more like a
confrontation between combatants. Even Sanamyan himself admitted he
didn’t like the monument, but called it ” a good effort.”

Visting the Akhorian (Arpa-Chai) River near Ani was “the reason we
came,” said Sanamyan, as TEPAV/TOBB have “a dream to restore the
ancient bridge between Turkey and Armenia as a symbol of friendship.”

Sanamyan said that Ani had the potential to become a major tourist
destination. Though he noted that Turks had removed many of the
Armenian inscriptions and motifs on ancient monuments “to neutralize
the history of the place,” Sanamyan said that “real things that weren’t
done before [in Ani] are being done, even if it is a slow change.”

Sanamyan closed by saying that the “new elite” in Turkey in the last
10 years is looking for “a new modus operandi.” “Since Turkey wishes
to become one of the largest powers in the world,” Sanamyan said,
“they view the Armenian issue as something that world powers can use
against them. And so it is seeking different avenues to cope with
the Armenian issue.” Sanamyan’s presentation and parting words only
emphasized what has been obvious to this writer and others: The only
“change” is Turkey’s strategy. It hopes that by acting conciliatory
it will improve its image and the economy of an impoverished region
using income generated from the descendants of evicted Armenians.

“Reconciliation” advocates seem to think that Armenians can be
persuaded to sacrifice their dignity and quest for justice in exchange
for visitation rights to Turkish-occupied Western Armenia. Stripping
sacred cities of their Armenian identity and converting them into
tourist destinations with the intention of extracting wealth from
Armenians does not correct historic injustices, respect the humanity
of the Armenian people, or their indigenous rights on those lands.

Under such circumstances, is it accurate to call the junket to Turkey
a “remarkable event,” as ALMA’s Stepanyan and NAASR’s Mamigonian did
in their introductory remarks?

Khatchig Mouradian, editor of the Armenian Weekly and a doctoral
candidate in Holocaust and Genocide Studies under Prof. Taner Akcam at
Clark University in Massachusetts, began by stating that he wouldn’t
repeat what his articles had already described about the trip. He
said that during the delegation’s meeting with Davutoglu, the foreign
minister “laid out a massive plan for engaging the Armenians.”

Presumably, Davutoglu has now turned his gaze on the Diaspora. Will
he make a mess of that, too, as he did when he engaged Armenia through
the Protocols?

Mouradian said he attended the April 24 demonstrations in Turkey,
the largest of which attracted two hundred people. One such event
was an annual vigil by the Kurdish mothers of sons and daughters
lost in the fight against the Turkish army. The mothers and others
held photos of their children as well as of Armenian intellectuals
slain in 1915. The latter photos were provided by Ragip Zarakolu,
the Turkish publisher/human rights activist.

Nearby were other demonstrations: one by Turkish genocide deniers and
another by progressive Turks. The latter displayed banners about the
“shared pain” that they claim Turks and Armenians experienced in
1915 and other times. Of the second demonstration, Mouradian noted
that a bystander may not have discerned that Armenians, not Turks,
had been the real victims of genocide. A third gathering featured
speakers talking openly about the Genocide.

ouradian said that the main reason he went to Turkey was to attend
the “Armenian Genocide and its Consequences” conference organized
by the Ankara Freedom of Thought Initiative. Initially cancelled,
it eventually went forward because, said Mouradian, the government
did not wish to be seen as censoring such a high-profile conference
while allegedly seeking rapprochement with Armenia. The conference
was attended by some two hundred people under tight security and
featured scholars from Turkey and the Diaspora. Among the panelists
were Worcester State College Prof. Henry Theriault and Mouradian,
who said that it was the first time in Turkey that a conference
“discussed the history of 1915, confiscation of Armenian properties
and reparations.”

According to Mouradian, panelist Sevan Nishanian, a Turkish Armenian
scholar and Agos newspaper contributor, became livid after hearing
Prof. Theriault discuss reparations. Nishanian disavowed reparations,
saying that he himself desired only that a street in Istanbul be
named after the slain Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Nishanian
admonished the Diasporan Armenian panelists: “As guests, you can say
what you want and then leave. We who live in Turkey must deal with the
consequences.” Apparently, Turkish intellectual and panelist Temel
Demirer then scathingly called Nishanian himself “a non-issue and a
dead end.” Demirer went on to recount the ways in which the Turkish
government, Turkish companies and Turkish individuals benefited from
the seizure of Armenian property during the Genocide.

As Sanamyan and Mouradian fielded questions from the ALMA audience,
one person asked if the panelists felt that they were being “used
for PR value” by their Turkish hosts. Another asked why the panelists
agreed to go on a junket that had been arranged like a “stacked deck.”

Yet another asked whether it was the job of Armenians to play
psychotherapists to Turks, who must face their own history. Both
speakers justified the trip by saying that nothing could be gained
by staying away.

Another audience member asked why Armenia’s geopolitical importance
to the major powers was often erroneously minimized by Armenians
themselves. Sanamyan argued that Armenia’s importance does not play
as much of a role in US policy as do “our loud mouths that make it
relevant in the American political process.” Another person inquired
if during the trip the two journalists “asked about reparations and
land return.” Mouradian replied that “at almost every meeting, the
Turks deflected the question, instead making remarks such as ‘We have
so much in common. Our home’s engraved door was made by an Armenian.

Our peoples both eat dolma.'”

Sanamyan added that “the reality is that Armenians lost those lands and
that the Treaty of Sèvres is not a valid treaty,” to which incredulous
laughter could be heard from some in the audience.

“How do we proceed when an unrepentant Turkey still poses a threat
to modern Armenia?” was another question. Neither panelist gave a
clear answer. Yet another audience member asked, “Turkish propaganda
is changing, and is more sugar-coated. How do Armenians deal with it?”

Mouradian responded, “the tactics have changed but the [Turkish]
strategy is the same. We must challenge their discourse. We can’t
talk about the Genocide only in the context of [building] democracy
[in Turkey] but also justice. You must make your points at every

When audience questions revealed skepticism of the trip’s success
and value for Armenians, Mouradian accused questioners of concocting
“conspiracy theories” while sitting comfortably in their homes in the
Diaspora. He added that their unfounded criticisms offend “activists
who have spent time in prison for protesting against the Turkish
state. ” He said it was “an insult to those who critique this process
by saying there is a right and wrong way of doing things.” It seemed
as if Mouradian was saying that privileged Armenians and others may
participate in and criticize current Turkish-Armenian dialogue methods,
but that the Armenian community-at-large was not allowed to critique
the privileged few or articulate their disapproval. Mouradian went
on to reprimand members of the audience, shouting, “Your comments
disregard any change that is going on in Turkey! We must stop talking
to ourselves! Armenians must realize that not every Turk has his belly
button attached to the Turkish nation! We must help Turks take real
steps. There is no constituency in Turkey talking about reparations.

Only when it’s an issue in Turkey can we expect major foreign policy
changes by Turkey. The Genocide started in Turkey, and it will be
resolved in Turkey!”

Mouradian’s outburst seemed unconstructive. Journalists and community
leaders should welcome questions and concerns from the Armenian public.

In describing his and Mouradian’s roles during their Turkey trip,
Sanamyan added, “We don’t represent the Armenian community. We are
channels conveying information.” And yet, Sanamyan is the editor of
a newspaper co-owned by Armenian-American multi-millionaire Gerald
Cafesjian, who also co-owns TV, radio and other media with government
officials in Armenia. And Mouradian edits a newspaper representing
the largest Diasporan political party.

Mouradian added, “We didn’t negotiate anything or negotiate anything
away.” Yet, in this writer’s opinion, when there is a scarcity of
popularly elected leaders in the Diaspora, it’s not always clear who
represents us and our interests. That leaves the door open for any
Armenian, regardless of his views or aptitude, to become an emissary
and a de-facto negotiator. More and more, Diasporan Armenians are
talking to world leaders. Is dialogue with Turkey appropriate at this
time? Are we prepared for it? Do we have a clear agenda and strategy?

Who speaks for the Diaspora?

All of this leads to some fundamental questions: In the absence
of a rigorous pursuit of justice by the Republic of Armenia,
what is the collective Armenian agenda? What are our national
goals vis-a-vis Turkey? Have the traditional Diasporan political
parties and organizations spelled out their agendas, and are they
actively pursuing them? Do most Armenians feel comfortable having
the established organizations represent their interests?

In the final analysis, what was to be gained and lost from this trip?

Do journalist junkets and conferences that engage the Turks serve
the Armenian national interest? Aside from the reparations panel,
are such trips propaganda victories for Turks? If this was a “fishing
expedition,” did Armenians learn anything new, or present “the Armenian
position” to Turks in a persuasive way?

For several years now, we’ve been told that Turkey is changing. In
that time, we’ve endured the assassination of Hrant Dink by a Turkish
national, Turkish perfidy surrounding the Protocols, Turkish claims
that Genocide resolutions harm “reconciliation” efforts, Turkish
preconditions regarding Karabagh and Western Armenian territorial
claims, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s threat to deport Armenians,
and more.

If Turkey is changing, why are we not seeing that change – or honest
dealings – in the government’s policies, actions and negotiating
stances? Turkey continues to erase and rename Armenian cities,
eradicate Armenian elements and symbols from their surroundings and
remove references to the existence of Armenians. These actions tell
us that genocide is still ongoing even after the physical elimination
of a people has occurred. If Turkey is to be trusted at this juncture,
it must halt the genocide still in progress today.

The TEPAV junket demonstrated that the Turkish government is neither
repentant nor ready to face history. Turkish officials look upon the
“Armenian issue” as a war that needs to be won, not an opportunity
to come clean and join the family of civilized nations.

Mamigonian in his opening remarks said that we should not generalize
that “we can’t trust the Turks.” But in view of the above actions by
Turkey, how can Armenians develop a trusting attitude?

And while we are on the subject of trust, where is the openness
that should exist among Armenian political parties, organizations,
the press and the communities they serve? Transparency and trust
are sorely lacking. For example, a number of public events have been
organized for the Armenian communities of the eastern United States in
which individuals such as Hasan Cemal (grandson of Genocide mastermind
Cemal Pasha), Turkish historian Halil Berktay, and even the great
granddaughter of US Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau, Pamela
Steiner, have participated. In their talks, one or more have spoken
about “joint historical commissions,” “Turkish pain,” and against
territorial claims, among other things. These events have upset
and even re-traumatized Armenians. Why have Armenian organizations
collaborated with individuals who carry such messages to us?

Perhaps the most helpful thing that came out of the ALMA event was
the realization that the ill-fated Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation
Commission’s (TARC’s) “Track II Diplomacy” is back in effect. Only
this time, our Armenian organizations are on board – but without the
knowledge or consent of the Armenian Diaspora.

From: A. Papazian

You may also like