ANKARA: Davutoglu To Armenians: I Do Not Deny Your Suffering; Come,

by Asli Aydintasbas

July 7 2012

[Translated from Turkish]

I went to Paris with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu for the Friends
of Syria summit. We had a long talk on the flight. I thought what he
said was important, but with a journalist’s cunning I decided to keep
that waiting for a day. While we had a long discussion with Davutoglu
about Syria on our way to Paris, the topic somehow switched to the
Armenian issue.

Do not say “what does the Armenian issue have to do anything here?”

The Armenian issue or the events of 1915, and the debate on how those
events need to be called, all continue to paralyse Turkey even after
100 years. Look at Hrant Dink, the relations with France that reached
a breaking point, the millions of dollars that are spent every year in
order to prevent the US Congress from saying “genocide.” And naturally,
the pain, the sufferance, and the nostalgia a body feels even after
100 years, caused by a limb that was abruptly cut off…

I understood from the foreign minister’s statements that on the eve
of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian incidents of 1915, there is
a brand new “overture” process that is being developed away from the
public eye. That is a three-step strategy.

The first step concerns feelings. For years, Turkey either denied
the Armenian incidents or looked down on the Armenians’ suffering
on the official level using arguments such as the “Hocali massacre”
or policies in the line of “If it happened to you, it happened to us,
too.” That is why, in my opinion, Davutoglu’s following statement was
important: “The Armenians are not facing a foreign minister who claims
that nothing happened in 1915. I do not call the incidents genocide,
but that is at the discretion of the individual. We must develop
a new language on the issue. We are not denying your sufferance, we
understand it. Let us get together and do whatever is necessary. That,
however, cannot be a unilateral declaration of guilt.” There is a
concept developed by Davutoglu called the “just memory.” It is based
on feeling the Armenians’ pain, and “not trying to shut them up.”

“We are not like the Germans. We do not have in our history ideas such
as pogroms or ghettos. The Muslims in the Balkans and the Caucasus
also have fears, concerns, and losses. Certain things happened causing
paranoia in people who feared that they would be exiled from Anatolia.

That, however, was not an ideological reflex that was caused by an
attempt to liquidate an entire race. It would be unacceptable to draw
an analogy between the Turks and the Nazis, and present them as a
murderer race. We cannot accept a unilateral declaration of guilt.

“I am looking at the glass that is half full. It is important to
say, albeit late, ‘I understand your pain; we will listen to the
Armenians.’ There is an effort for a joint declaration on the subject
while we are approaching 2015.”

The second step of the overture concerns redefining the word
“diaspora.” The foreign minister said that he sent a circular to all
the embassies in which he redefined the Turkish diaspora: “We consider
all those who emigrated from those lands, and not only the Turks,
to be the diaspora: the Armenians, Jews, Greeks, the people called El
Turco in Latin America, and the Arabs in Argentina… Those are our
people… Those are people whose culture and language resemble ours.”

According to this, the embassies will now open their doors to those
people who were once Ottoman subjects, they will contact them, and
they will even invite them to national days. The contacts with the
Armenian diaspora are said to have already started.

That is a very important evolution for a republican ideology that
tried to transform the empire’s difficult but rich heritage into a
“homogenous&q uot; Turkish race. Think of that overture together
with the statement Tayyip Erdogan made last week at the Assembly:
“Our history did not start in 1923.” Bureaucracy will probably have
a hard time to adjust. Those new notions, however, draw a parallel
to Turkey’s new regional claims.

The last step concerns the delicate diplomatic ties with Armenia.

Davutoglu kept recalling that the “protocols” – which have become
transitory – with Armenia are still “on the table.” Hillary Clinton
reportedly went to Armenia last month. Sarkisyan was reelected. What
is asked from him at the first stage is to withdraw from a very small
part of the Azeri lands that are under Armenia’s occupation. After
that, Turkey will open its borders, trade and investments will start,
and as a high-ranking official I interviewed said: “We will revive
Yerevan as we revived Arbil.” That is an attractive proposal for the
Armenians. For the Turks, it is a step that has no material value
but that will psychologically unite the separated souls and the lost
identities. Davutoglu says: “If you [Sarkisyan] want to contribute to
the solution of the Armenian issue, come and let us work together. We
wish the protocols could be implemented. I am still sorry about the
lost opportunities. We could have easily achieved a lot. That did
not happen because of psychological factors.”

What can I say? Perhaps it is not too late. Perhaps it will happen.

[translated from Turkish]

From: A. Papazian

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