PhD Przemysław Furgacz , PhD Przemysław Łukasik
Department of National Security of the College of Business and Enterpreneurship in Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski.
“Recognition of genocide by Turkey is for us a political and moral issue. The moral issue lies in giving satisfaction to the few still living victims and their descendants. Almost whole Armenian diaspora consists of the descendants. We are no different here from Jews and other victims. Politically, it is a matter of national security of the Republic of Armenia, because when you (Turkey) recognize it (Armenian genocide), the more we will trust you and we will not see in you a threat to the security of our country. Again, you will become a good neighbor. This will pave the way for reconciliation. “
Armenian Ambassador Shota Hovakimian in an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza, 14-15 June 2003, p. 23.
The hundredth anniversary of the tragic events, whose official commemoration took place on 24 April 2015, gathered in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, representatives of 60 countries of the world with Russia and France in the lead. Armenian President Serzh Sarkasjan expressed his gratitude to the representatives of the countries who by their presence reaffirmed their “commitment to human rights” and expressed that “after 100 years we still remember”. International procedures for recognition of the Armenian events of 1915-1916 as “genocide” divide the international community and raise Turkey’s objections. Currently, more than 20 countries recognize the term “genocide” including France, Russia and Germany (President Barack Obama has described the event using the Armenian word “Metz Yeghern” which is translated as a “terrible massacre” or “great misfortune”). For the same date the Turkish authorities designated the celebrations of the anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli or ANZAC Day, which is usually commemorated on April 25 (the date of the landing of the allied forces in 1915). Armenia considered it as “a cynical act” and yet another sign of “negation approach” of the Turkish authorities. Turkey categorically refuses to recognize the massacres of Christian Armenians as genocide. According to the Turkish it was not 1.5 million victims as suggested by Armenians, but 500,000. The reason was not also – according to Ankara – a conscious and deliberate act of the government of the Ottoman focused on annihilation of the entire nation, but the overall situation of war: fighting and hunger associated with the deportation of the Armenian population. Last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his condolences to “the descendants of the victims,” and stated that “the events of the First World War are the cause of our common pain. It is our hope and belief that the nations of the ancient roots and unique geography that have similar habits and customs will be able to talk to each other about the past in a mature way and commemorate together their losses in a decent way “. The Turkish authorities with “regret and disappointment” adopted the words of Pope Francis I, who during the Mass for the victims of the massacre of Armenians in April this year in the Basilica of St. Peter, called the event “the first genocide of the twentieth century” and criticized the “denial of evil”. The words of the head of the Catholic Church were considered as a “far from historic truth” and “not significant for the Turkish nation”. Turkey sparked a diplomatic storm, on the eve of theTHE anniversary, condemning increasing “racism” in Europe. Repeated practice has become also calling for a consultation or appeal of Turkish diplomats from countries that recognized the events of 1915-1916 as genocide.
History – causes and course of events
Assad Khatchikian, an Armenian historian writing about Armenia indicated that the country is held hostage to its history and geopolitical position. The causes of the events of 1915-1916 are just the history of Armenians and Armenia’s geopolitical position – the country is located in the southern part of the Transcaucasus, in the north it borders with Georgia, to the east and south-west of Azerbaijan, the west and the south with Turkey and Iran. “Its current territory partially overlaps with the area of ancient Urartu and Armenia (…) the State of Tigranes the Great reached the river Hens and the Caspian Sea to Arabia and Palestine, from Ecbatana to the Cilician Taurus”. Modern Armenia (orm. Hajastan) has an area of 29 800 km2, and the area of the Armenian highlands, which is enclosed by Pontic mountains, the Caucasus and Taurus, is 300 000 thousand km2. The history of the Armenian presence in Anatolia and the South Caucasus, in the absence of continuity of the state in this unstable region has enormous consequences for Armenia to this day, especially in the territorial dimension. Armenian Highlands, as they bear witness to this source Hittite, Assyrian, Persian and Greek, from the ancient times were inhabited by Armenian tribes. The process of forming the nation and statehood is 8th & 7th century BC when the tribes arrived from Phrygia and subdued the tribes of Urartu (the peoples of Urartu already lived around 3 thousand years BC in eastern Anatolia and their state collapsed in the 6th century BC under the pressure of Persia). After the collapse of the state of Urartu in the 6th century BC Armenian ruled the entire Armenian Highlands (Xenophon, Herodotus) and used one language (Strabo). In 189 BC the ancient Armenian state was created by Artaxias the First who built his capital in the valley of Ararat. In 66 AD the Armenian state ruled by the family Artaxiad formally became an ally of Rome. In order to maintain its independence it had to maneuver politically between Rome and neighboring Persia. In 301 AD when the King Tiridates the Third reigned and as a result of the St. Gregory the Illuminator’s initiative Armenia adopted Christianity and created Armenian Apostolic Church (in 317 AD Georgian Orthodox Church was founded). In 387 AD there was a division of Armenia into the eastern part under the influence of Persia and western under the control of Rome. The Arabic caliphate invaded Armenia in the late 7th and 8th centuries: “The Arabs abolished the privileges of the Armenian princes, looted, confiscated their possessions, piling new burdensome taxes”. As a result an uprising exploded and its suppression was followed by a systematic Arab colonization and the deportation of the Armenian population. In the 10th century Armenians under the native dynasty Bagratuni shed the Arab yoke, only to fall into the dependence on Byzantium less than a 100 years later. In the following centuries, the Caucasus and Eastern Anatolia was the region of competition between Persians and Ottomans. The victory of Sultan Selim the First in 1514 AD meant that Anatolia was within the boundaries of the Ottoman and the limit set then is today the eastern border of the Turkish state (in 1639 Armenia was divided into two parts: Persian and Arabic). The Ottomans built their empire on the doctrine of holy war but the state “may be known as a protector of the Orthodox Church and the millions of its followers. Islam guaranteed the life and property of Christians and Jews on the condition of obedience and paying a poll tax”. In 1461 AD Mehmed the Second created the Armenian millet with the bishop of Bursa Hovakim as the patriarch (Sultan also settled 70 thousand Armenians from the Crimea over the Sea of Marmara). The concept of the state, taken from the Persian Sassanid, assumed the imposition of high taxes on slaves, which was supposed to maintain, among other things a large army. Just laws were supposed to guarantee prosperity to the citizens and the ruler had to defend the subjects against the abuse of power, eg. an illegal collection of taxes (the most common source of complaints was caused by oppression and abuse of local authorities in the collection of taxes). According to Lewis Raphaeli, the residents of Rumelia and Anatolia paid 10-20% of the value of crops. Taxation of Muslims took the form of tithes, while non-Muslims paid a poll tax levied on each adult male. There were many charges at the same time served to an ad hoc basis as customs duties, patent, court fines. The charges were meted out to all by “generally unequal height” (the duty of 4% Muslims and 5% Christians) Armenians, the largest Christian group in the Asian part of Turkey, “were reasonable and law-abiding people” They were successful as bankers and traders (Armenians in the Ottoman era dominated trade in silk imported from Persia), but most lived in rural areas, leading heavy and modest life. The source of misery of Armenians would not be respected by the Ottoman laws, arbitrariness of the authorities, the tax burden and crowding out of the ground by the Turks and the Kurds (Kurdish Bey forced villagers to pay for example an annual tax – Kafir in exchange for security). The result of difficult political and economic situation of the Armenians were in the 16th and 17th centuries the waves of emigration to the Republic of Poland, and from the 18th century to Russia. At the same time there took place the first cultural revival of Ottoman Armenians. Armenian Benedictines from Venice discovered and published Armenian religious, literary and historical works (in 1666 the Armenian Bible and in 1794 the first Armenian magazine Madras were published). The modification of the language of the old and ancient Armenian language (Grabar) was accomplished by Khatchatour Abovian in an effort to commemorate the past glory of the Armenians. In the mid-19th century new Armenian intelligentsia concentrated in large urban centers wanted to fight with the lack of national consciousness in the provinces and began to form their organizations. Russia and its expansionist attempts against the Ottoman territories in the Caucasus became the turn of a key determinant in the history of the Armenians. The collapse of the Iranian Safavid empire expansion policy resulted in the stimulation of Turkey and Russia in the Caucasus. During the war in 1826-1828 Russia defeated Persia and annexed the Persian provinces of Yerevan and Nakhchivan with the mountain of Ararat. In new lands Russians created the Armenian circuit, encouraging the settlement of Armenians from the neighboring lands of Persia and Turkey. Russia received other provinces Transcaucasia Kars, Ardahan and Batumi after winning the war with Turkey in 1878. Armenians supported the Russian in the wars against the Ottoman Empire from 1828 to 1829 and from 1877 to 1878. Since the peace negotiations in San Stefano and Berlin the Armenian issue became a subject of a great diplomatic game between the superpowers. The Armenian delegation arrived in the German capital with the patriarch of Armenia Nerses, demanded wide autonomy, but received only promises “to improve and reform” in the Armenian provinces (Sivas, Erzurum, Mamuretulaziz, Diyarbekir, Bitlis, and Van) and guarantee of “security from Kurds and Circassians”. Armenians once again proved to be “unreliable element” for losing the other provinces of the empire and a threat to the authority of the Sultan of Anatolia. In 1891, Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) established the Kurdish cavalry Hamidije to protect the borders of Asia Minor, which was often robbed by Armenians and even Muslims. Regular killings of Armenians in the years 1894-1896 would result in the death of 300 thousand and the escape of 100 thousand. It also led to mass conversions to Islam of the entire Armenian villages.
“Since the spring of 1915 until the autumn of 1916 Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire became the victim of genocide, planned by the Central Committee of the Party of Unity and Progress, which played the decisive role in the government of the Ottoman; the crimes committed under the guise of deportation. These statements assume the genocide is a proven fact because describing those events regards them as crimes and indicates the perpetrators and the methods they use,” wrote Yves Ternon in the preface to the book “Armenians. History of a Forgotten Genocide” published for the first time in 1977. According to the author, execution orders were destroyed but there is a lot of indirect evidence, for example the testimony of the witnesses who managed to survive. The decision to murder Armenians was made among the five Young Turks leaders. The decision involved the arrest of the members of Armenian associations and killing them on the way to Mosul or Baghdad, as well as weapon’ confiscation, the deportation of the family. The executors of the murders were the Special Organization units, established in 1911. War Ministry and the police (in March 1915 verbally or by ciphers informed of the duties of the local commanders). According to the memoirs of Armenian villagers Khodorchur, lying north of Erzurum, since the fall of 1914 the Ottoman army interfered in people’s lives. They demanded the release of weapons, searched their houses also hindered contacts between the villages and made seizures of food and animals, which was the reason for hunger. Muslim friends of Armenians often warned them against the upcoming deportations and urged them to flee to Russia. The District Governor at a meeting in May 1915 announced the deportation of Christian residents and gave them seven days to prepare (he warned that if someone escaped to Russia the village would be burned). Armenians brought in such circumstances usually had to choose between: a refuge and hiding in inaccessible places such as mountains or forests, a rebellion against the command of deportation, fighting in self-defense or armed fight in order to escape to Russia. As it seems most of the residents of that village surrendered to deportation orders, and only few decided on the other two options. The reason for the deportation was concern about the loyalty of the Armenians who in previous conflicts with Russia sympathized with the state of the tsar. As the beginning of deportations Armenians recognize the symbolic date of 24 April 1915 and a telegram of the Minister of Interior affairs Talat Pasha, who ordered the arrest of members of Armenian associations. Talat Pasha is supposed to have said the following words spoken in September 1915: “The right of Armenians to live and work on Turkish soil is hereby completely deprived. Full responsibility for the decisions the government takes upon itself by ordering that not even the children in their cradles should be spared”. Deported by train or on foot they embarked on the road usually towards Syria and Iraq, they died of disease, starvation, exhaustion, attacks of bandits and marauders. Armenians were also attacked on their his return to homes after the peace of Brest in March 1918. The shocking practice was trade or kidnapping of Armenian children, as recounted an eyewitness to the events – Yervant Odian. Yves Ternon stated that “It is difficult (…) to provide the document constituting irrefutable proof of criminal intentions of the Turks “. He appealed to the three groups of documents: eyewitnesses, who “saw thousands of bodies strewn along roads and rivers flowing with the flow”; British “blue book” The Treatment of Armenians In the Ottoman Empire, 1914-1915 by Viscount Bryce and Arnold Toynbee (numbering 733 pages publication contains more than 100 testimonies of officials, missionaries, nurses) and Johannes Lepsius classified report on the massacre of Armenians. The trials in Constantinople in 1919-1920 to Young Turks leaders: Talaat, Enwar, and Nazym Jemal, who were sentenced in absentia to death, were to confirm criminal intentions.
Commemorating, politics of memory and relations with Turkey
In memory of the Armenian massacre and genocide in the Ottoman Empire in the years 1894-1923 led to the death of nearly 2 million Armenians. The memory of these events has long been stifled. It was mainly cultivated due to the remembrance of the Armenian diaspora, primary survivors of war deportation that mostly migrated west. The political situation in the region implied above mentioned silence. Soviet Russia and Turkey closed down together the Republic of Armenia (1918-1921) and then signed in March 1921 the treaty setting boundaries and friendly relations between the two countries. The Soviets fought against the leaders of the Armenian state – as nationalists dangerous for socialist ideals, and any anti-Turkish demonstrations against the progressive and friendly government in Ankara considered anti-state activities. As a result of the thaw in the 60s, genocide became the subject of the works of Armenian writers (Silvia Kaputikyans in the novel Midway contemplations called for “peaceful revenge” by “life beyond”). The 50th anniversary of the events on 24 April 1965. Became the reason for the manifestation of 100 thousand Armenians in Yerevan and is called the “national renaissance”. People in the demonstrations carried banners with the image of Ararat and inscriptions: “We demand a just solution to the Armenian issue”, “We demand the return of our lands.” At the turn of 1964-1965, at the request of the Communist Party and Armenian intellectuals, a resolution was taken to “the construction of the monument of the Armenian martyrs who died during the First World War” (at that time in the late 60s and 70s it was decided to build a monument to Heroes of Stalingrad Volgograd and the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow). Since 1965 annual funeral marches were held on the anniversary of the 1915 events (flowers were placed at the monuments following a minute of silence). After the Second World War, Armenians formed small statues and monuments such as the fountain in honor of the victims, which alluded to the traditional shape of the stone crosses (the tree of life motif carved or flowers). The focal point of the memory is the Genocide Monument, which is located outside the center of Yerevan, and is a chapel for the victims. In the center burns an eternal flame, and people lay flowers on the basalt pylons inclined towards the center. In the hollows along the longitudinal walls of the monument there are the urns with soil from the graves of the defenders of Armenians like James Bryce, Franz Werfel, Henry Morgenthau. The annual marches to the Monument of Genocide joining the collective memory, and the funeral rites have become a manifestation of national identity. The memory of the Armenian genocide until 1988 had a “dormant” nature. In February of that year, Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh opted for self-determination and separation from the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, and in response there was a pogrom of Armenian population of Sumgit. Events were to “wake up” the memory of the genocide. Following the establishment of Armenia’s memory became a component of foreign policy. An indication of this was the “football diplomacy” of Armenia and Turkey in 2008-2009, which involved the establishment of a historical commission for the implementation of dialogue, investigation into the historical sources and archives to support Armenian-Turkish reconciliation. It was promulgated, in January of 2015, at the Museum of Victims in Yerevan “Pan-Armenian statement on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.” The celebrations taking place this year under the slogan “We remember and we demand” were prepared by an especially established state commission. The aim of the event, as stated in the declaration, is the commemoration of the genocide, the expression of gratitude to both people and countries that recognize them and the fight against negation attitudes. The document points to the need “to condemn the illegal blockade imposed on Armenia by Turkey, the anti-Armenian attitude neighbor to the international forum and imposing preconditions that hinder the normalization of mutual relations.” Armenia expects Turkey’s recognition and condemnation of the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire, which is the first step for a historical reconciliation of Armenians and Turks. During the opening of the 12th Congress of the International Association of Genocide Scholars in July 2015, President Sarkasjan spoke about the role of Armenia as “outpost combat the crime of genocide”. He emphasized Armenia’s role as a center of research on crimes of genocide (International Forum “Against the Crime of Genocide” was held in Yerevan in April 2015, the forum in 2016 is to take place periodically every two years in the capital of Armenia). He expressed gratitude to the scientists and politicians who speak of genocide despite all kinds of difficulties and pressure that is exerted on them. Clearly he stressed that the genocide should be defined as a “crime” (genocide was planned and prepared in detail, the crime and the offender have a clear goal and a specific set of tools and ideologies built on xenophobia), not a “tragedy”. In 2007 was established Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group (Alfred de Zayas, Jermaine O. McCalpin, Ara Papian), whose chairman is Henry C. Theriault. Money for research was expounded by Armenian Revolutionary Federation- Dashnaktsutyun. In March 2015 the group presented the result of their work in the form of a resolution. This document provides a financial repairs claim from the government of Turkey. Money is to be a compensation for the death of a half million Armenians (1915-1923 Armenian Genocide), for the diaspora of the another million (1915-1918) and the invasion of eastern Anatolia and the liquidation of the First Republic of Armenia (1919-1923). The resolution states that most of the losses that the Armenian people suffered is permanent and irreversible: murder, torture, rape, destruction of social structures, the breakdown of family, trauma. In contrast, material losses that relate to movable property or real estate can be reimbursed and compensated. As part of the reparations resolution calls for: a trial of all the main perpetrators and recognizing the guilt of others; reimbursement of all existing property, compensation for the death and suffering of people, property damage, loss of cultural, religious and educational institutions. Authors of the resolution demand the recognition of the genocide and an apology; measures to rebuild and duration of nation, and descendants of victims (economic and political support to Armenia, whose development is blocked by anti-Armenian policy, eg. cutting of natural resources); rehabilitation of perpetrators society (removing legislation that hit the Turkish-speaking openly about the Armenian genocide). The resolution cites the legislation of the United Nations (2005 Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law; The UN Genocide Convention). The resolution requested the appointment of Armenian Genocide Truth and Rectification Commission, which would serve the consolidation of historical sources that may in detail show what happened (not whether it was or not because it is not under discussion), facilitate the Armenians and the Turks today to cope with the burden of truth and to encourage both sides to repair the existing Armenian-Turkish relations. An important support for the government of Armenia in the issue of international recognition of genocide offers the Armenian diaspora in America. Armenian Assembly of America was founded in 1972 and is raising awareness of Armenia, support for good relations US-Nagorno-Karabakh, humanitarian and development aid for the area. The aim of the organization is also to prompt security, promote prosperity, democracy, the rule of law, market reforms, and Armenia’s membership in international organizations as well as representing the interests of Armenians from Armenia and Karabakh over the world. Diaspora is seeking military support for Armenia in the form of $ 4.3 million for the financing of arms and military 1 million to support training and education. Armenian Assembly of America appointed in 1997 the Armenian National Institute whose main aim is the study of the Armenian Genocide. On ITS website you will find: source documents, photos, interviews, articles and other data concerning the massacre of Armenians.
In memory of the members of the diaspora “ancestral homeland” was seen for a long time as an idyllic “paradise on earth”, which they were deprived of by genocide and forced exodus. The identity of the diaspora was based and continues to be based primarily on memory and commemoration of violence and trauma. The establishment of Armenia as a viable state pleads for creation of a new discourse between Armenia and diaspora. the discourse which should – as pointed by the Armenians themselves – move away from the current focus on the past and trauma and focus on the priority which is the Armenian statehood, that is the good government and civil society. Diaspora supports Armenia by investing private funds in the development of road networks and hospitals, revitalizing churches and building museums. Some members of the diaspora support the ancestral homeland by transferring knowledge and skills important for the development of the country. diaspora organizations such as the Armenian Volunteer Corps or Birghtright Armenia (organizing trips to Armenia for the Americans having at least one Armenian grandfather) focus on humanitarian activities, and not on the slogan of the return of eastern Anatolia.
Turkish-Armenian disputations over the name, reasons, circumstances, evaluation, blame and responsibility for the genocide of Armenians had been a constant element of relations between the two states in the last century. Perhaps, it is the best example of how arguments about history could affect the current international relations. Both Yerevan and Ankara endeavour to force through their own narrative about the unfamous events from Anatolia. In the 1980s a very considerable battle had been fought out in the West, especially in the United States of America– this battle as a matter of fact lasts to these days. On the one hand, the influential Armenian diaspora went to great lengths to convince the U.S. and Western authorities and societies to its point of view as regards Armenia genocide. On the other hand, Turkish authorities tried to obtrude their discourse and standpoint over the controversial matters on the same subjects. Inescapably, it led to clash of influential lobbies. In the United States of America particularly active on this issue were two lobbying associations – Armenian Assembly of America and Armenian National Committee of America. On the Turkey’s part, Assembly of Turkish American Associations were carrying out the main propaganda fight with Armenians in the U.S. The strategy of Armenian lobbyists basically came down to concentration of their lobbying efforts on the U.S. Congress with particular attention to the representatives and senators from states where Americans of Armenian descent were relatively numerous. They, to some degree, succeeded – the Congress on two different occasions in April 1975 and in September 1984 enacted special resolutions that took up the question of Armenian genocide. Turks, on their part, focused on rejection of some of Armenian accusations. Concurrently, they used to emphasize significantly its strong and unwavered alliance with the West and the United States, its importance for the stability of the Middle East and for the ideological fight with the communist bloc as well as the commonality of interests between the Western powers and the Turkish Republic. In their argumentation Armenian lobby was more idealistic or ‘Wilsonian’ in contrast to Turkish lobby whose arguments were more pragmatic and realistic. A long-term Turkey’s ambassador to Washington, Şükrü Elekdağ, was very active in propaganda war with Armenia and, in consequence, he became one of the most hated figures among Armenian diaspora in the U.S. to the point when his life was endangered by dissatisfied Armenians.
Armenians at some point began to fund special departments in the U.S. colleges dedicated to the studies on the genocide of Armenians. Turks responded adequately – in 1982 on the U.S. soil the Institute of Turkish Studies was founded thanks to financial grant from Turkish authorities. During Cold War intelligence services of the United States and Turkey suspected that Moscow covertly sponsored and supported ASALA – a terrorist Armenian organization that often targeted Turkish institutions and diplomats. In 1982 a consul of Turkey was killed in Los Angeles in an act of clear terrorism perpetrated by two Armenians. That was a powerful argument for Turkish lobbyists who tried to get sympathy of the U.S. politicians and citizens in their dispute with Armenian diaspora. The murder was all the more shocking in the light of the fact that the consul, whom was Kemal Arikan, before his death tried to reach out in secrecy to the Armenian diaspora in California in a sort of a very infant stadium of a process of mutual reconciliation. The assassination of Turkey’s diplomat was a turning point in the Reagan’s administration policy as to the Armenian genocide. If before the assassination, the White House slightly was prone to favouring the Armenian side in the dispute, after the assassination sympathies changed. Ankara succeeded in connecting the question of Armenian genocide with terrorism, at least for some time. To many U.S. citizens the problem of Armenian genocide became too dangerously close to terrorism. As a culmination of this shift in August 1982 in the official Department of State Bulletin readers could read:
“Because the historical record of the events in Asia Minor is ambiguous, the Department of State does not endorse allegations that the Turkish government committed a genocide against the Armenian people. Armenian terrorists use this allegation to justify in part their continuing attacks on Turkish diplomats and installations.”
The U.S. diplomacy unequivocally renounced the acknowlegdement of mass murderers of Armenians in 1915-16 in Turkey as an act of genocide. It was a severe blow to Armenian diaspora and an unambiguous success of Turkish government. Nevertheless, the propaganda struggle between two nations still continued. Actually, the propaganda fight in the U.S. only intensified. Armenians doubled their efforts for making the word “genocide” an acceptable and common name in the America as a description of tragic events of years 1915-17. In 1990 a lively and stringent debate on this issue took place in the U.S. Senate. Once again Turkish lobby won over and the proposed resolution that was favourable with Armenian viewpoint was rejected.
Interestingly, the Turkish government did not oppose to the use of the term “Armenian genocide” before the late 1970s. Since then, instead of a kind of neglecting of this problem, Ankara changed strategy and began proactively protest against the use of this formulation in official resolutions and speeches. According to some Turks calling the infamous events in Anatolia in 1915-17 a genocide was a long-term threat for territorial integrity of their motherland. Many Turks truly believed that after the recognition of the validity of the term “genocide” new much more serious and dangerous demands toward Turkey from Armenians will ensue. Ankara was (and even to these days is) sincerely afraid of hypothetical further demands for financial or even territorial compensation for Armenians. What is especially interesting, Ankara managed to play out its position of a solely Muslim power that was allied to Israel in its fight with Armenian diaspora. AIPAC – probably the most powerful ethnic lobbying group in America – opposed the resolution recognizing the genocide of Armenians. It seems that partly it was a result of the desire on the part of Jewish community to reserve a special status of Holocaust. Maybe the best summary of the stance of Israeli political elites as regards the genocide of Armenians are the following words of a well-known Israeli politician Simon Peres:
“We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy what the Armenians went through but not a genocide.”
At the time of expressing the word Peres was a foreign minister of Israel.
On October 11th, 2007 the Commission of the Foreign Affairs of the House of the Representatives of the U.S. Congress passed a resolution number 106 that in diplomatic words condemned Turkey for the genocide of Armenians. This action irritated Turkish authorities substantially and undoubtedly was one of the main reasons for worsening the bilateral U.S.-Turkey relations. Interestingly, the White House of George W. Bush tried hard to preclude the congressmen from passing the contentious resolution. The matter was controversial among the U.S. political elites to the point when several former secretaries of state wrote and released a special letter in which they opposed the resolution and warned the congressman that its enaction will entail many negative ramifications for the U.S. diplomacy. The then Turkish president Abdullah Gül and a special delegation of Turkish parliamentarians tried to convince congressmen to desist from any plans of enaction the resolution but of no avail. Turkish society was outraged. The matter of resolution made the newspaper headlines in Turkish press for many days, if not weeks. Unequivocally, this action was interpreted as a serious failure of Turkey’s diplomacy which may only encourage passing similar resolutions by other countries. Such a course of events would be a nightmare for Turkish ministry of foreign affairs. As a response for the act of the U.S. Congress Turkish ambassador to Washington was recalled for consultations. The relatively mild response was likely an effect of public and behind-the-scene actions of Bush administration which attempted to mitigate post-resolution anger of Turkish government and nation.
In 1987 the European Parliament passed a resolution recognizing tragic events in Asia Minor in 1915-17 as a genocide. In 1998 France enacted a similar resolution which led to a dire crisis in its relations with Turkey. Following the enaction of the resolution Turkish imports from France dropped significantly. A historical dispute had serious economic consequences for French business. In 2001 French recognized Armenian slaughter as a genocide. Later in 2006 French parliamentarians passed a law that de facto made any negation of the genocide of Armenians illegal. People who broke this law could be fined. Some observers of Turkey’s politics claim that Ankara could take revenge for the U.S. and France’s unfavorable resolutions by resignation from purchase of advanced air defense systems from their firms by preferring instead a Chinese offer. There are a lot of precedents for this kind of “retaliation” by Turkey. For example, after France’s recognition of genocidal character of Armenian massacres in 2001, Ankara broke the business deal for purchase of spy satellite with one of French companies and excluded another French firm from participation in a tender for the sale of tanks to Turkey. These incidents show that such historical disputes might result in a serious economic decisions and indirectly prove how important is the matter of genocide for Turkish nation. At the end of the first decade of the 21st century some attempts of a mutual Turkish-Armenian reconciliation were conducted. On April 2009 Ankara and Yerevan agreed on a so-called “road map”. Within this road map to reconciliation and normalization of relations between two states, among other things, a special committee made of historians from both countries was to be created in order to determine elementary facts concerning massacres of Armenians in years 1915-17. Yerevan in order to reach an agreement with Turkey obliged to put aside a question of genocide for some time. This step was heavily criticized by Armenian diaspora to degree when even accusations of treason emerged and public protests took place. The Obama administration supported and encouraged both sides of this historical disputation to advance in reconciliation process and welcomed it readily. Maybe the best example on how vulnerable are Turks to this issue is the case of one of the speeches of Barack Obama. Although the U.S. president did not use the term genocide – in blatant contrast from his pre-election promises – Turks were evidently dissatisfied, if not enraged, by the fact that in his speech Obama told about 1,5 million Armenians killed. This number is regarded by Turkish historians and politicians as vastly exaggerated. The then Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan felt obliged to protest.
The question of Armenian genocide can stir big emotions and political quarrels not only in big powers like the U.S. or France, but also among smaller states. In 2015 in Belgium the right-wing Christan-Democratic party, not without controversies, dropped the member of parliament of Turkish origin – Mahinur Ozdemir because she refused to celebrate with her party’s colleagues the 100th anniversary of massacres of Armenians with a minute of silence. After the pope Francis used the term “genocide” in one of his addresses Ankara recalled Turkish ambassador from Vatican. Turkish diplomats accused the pope of basing his speech on prejudice toward Turks.
Nonetheless, it is important to notice that not all Turks accept the same attitude as concerns the genocide of Armenians. On December 2008 a group of well-known Turkish intellectuals released a common letter in which they apologized Armenians for what they called “the Great Disaster” of 1915. Concurrently, they invited other Turks to accept the uncomfortable and brutal truth about Turkish role in the horrendous massacres. Turkish nationalists together with a group of about sixty former Turkish diplomats heavily criticized this letter and appeal. Despite this criticism, according to many observers, Turkish society matured to the recognition of its moral responsibility for the horrible crime. In 2010 in the 95th anniversary of the tragedy for the first time public commemoration of these events were arranged. Even Armenian historians admit that the situation in Turkey as concerns the readiness to face the dark aspects of Turkish history has been evolving in positive direction. Nowadays books with courageous theses on that issue are released in Turkey – 20 years ago it would be completely unthinkable. Without doubt, under the rules of the Islamic party AKP the attitude and stance of Turkish authorities toward Armenia and Armenian massacres mitigated to a certain extent, however, the process of this mitigation advances similarly to the pattern “two steps ahead, one step back”.
One may ask what are these steps? For instance, Ankara implemented laws thanks to which Armenians whose predecessors lived in Turkey may regain the Turkish citizenship. Another example is a consequent actions of removing statues and memorials of people associated somehow with the slaughter of Armenians, like Talat Pasha. There is also an obvious tendency in Turkey in recent years to rewrite history textbooks in such a way to take into account some of viewpoints of Armenians. By no means, these are revolutionary changes, but rather evolutionary shifts. Surprisingly for many, Turkey was one of the first states that recognized the independence of Armenia.
So far 25 states formally recognized the massacres of Armenians as a crime of genocide, usually through respective parliamentary resolutions. The trend is clear – more and more states prefer Armenian point of view than the Turkish one. This tendency seems to be unavoidable.
What is the prevailing official discourse as concern “the Great Tragedy” in Turkey? For one thing, Ankara displays Armenian accusation of a purposeful killing of 1,5 million Armenians by the then Turkish government as a groundless and nasty manipulation. Unfounded charges are purportedly an element of a widespread anti-Turkish (too some extent anti-Muslim as well) conspiracy. Turks claim that Armenian minority was at that time a kind of the fifth column of the Russian Empire. Armenians were disloyal towards the Turkish state wanting to first covertly undermine it and later overtly destroy it with the help of Russian aggressors. Turkish historians argue that Christian powers (Russia, but also the British Empire and France) intended to conquer, dismember and humiliate Turkey at the time. Armenians were the collective instrument by which the Christian powers wanted to achieve their malicious purposes. Armenians instead of loyalty to Turkish state chose the path of treason. Sankt Petersburg in cooperation with Armenians was going to expel or maybe even annihilate Turkey’s citizens of Turkish ethnicity as well as those of Muslim confession in a similar way as it occurred in the case of Circassians. Turkish authorities in those years did not intend to kill Armenians but merely to expel them in order to minimize the threat for the state but were unable to carry this operation out in a safe, orderly and victimless way. It must be necessarily emphasized that in Turkish historical consciousness the tragic fate of Armenians is strictly and inextricably bound with the European powers’ extremely unfriendly plans to partition, vassalize and enslave Turkey. This conviction of Great Powers secretly conspiring and patiently waiting for the convenient moment to partition Turkey, which is very widespread among Turkish nation, is sometimes called the Sèvres Syndrome. Turks perfectly remember how Stalin in 1945 wanted to annex Turkish part of Armenia as well as the southern part of former Batumi region to the U.S.S.R. Armenians played a crucial role in realization of these aims as well. To these days small and poor Armenia is regarded by Turks as the fourth most serious threat for their motherland.
Turks regard every charges of genocide levied towards them on the part of Russians, Americans, Belgians, Frenchmen and Britons as a manifestation of a giant hypocrisy on their part. Turks hint that every of the above mentioned nations has committed their own massacres or genocides in the past, very often on much bigger scale and not in self-defense. Russians killed and expelled hundreds of thousands Circassians in the 19th century aiming at annexation of extraordinarily fertile lands inhabited by them. Americans brutally conquered, expelled or killed many Indian tribes like Cherokees. Belgians cruelly annihilated millions of Congolese natives. Frenchmen brutally persecuted and killed, among others, Algerians (or Turkish prisoners of war during Napoleon wars in the Middle East). Britons induced famines in India and Ireland killing millions of people, etc. All these acts were not made in self-defense – from the Turkish perspective – in contrast to Armenian massacres. Turkish historians also point that Turkey immediately after the war judged and condemned in trial in Istanbul the former Turkish leaders that were (according to Turks merely to a certain restricted extent) responsible for Armenian massacres, again in contrast to many leaders of Christians nations who were never brought to justice, let alone sentenced for their horrible crimes against humanity.
Last but not least, according to most of Turkish historians, data given by Armenians as to the number of victims are decisively exaggerated which makes their reportedly good and clear intentions, at the best, questionable.
The Armenian-Turkish argument over the appraisal and proper description of mass murders of Armenians in Anatolia over the period of 1915-17 is perhaps the longest lasting continuous history dispute. It is also a rare example of how huge impact can have the disputation over occurrences from the distant past on the current relations between two nations and states. Though Turkish-Armenian negotiations on normalization finally broke down, they proved that both countries could reach an agreement in advantageous conditions. Such an agreement and reconciliation are not something unthinkable and unattainable. The negotiations in 2009 broke down due to the staunch opposition on the part of Azerbaijan – a close ally of Turkey – which found the normalization of the relations between Turkey – its main patron – and Armenia – its main enemy – as exceptionally harmful for its interests. If in the future Armenia and Azerbaijan reach some sort of agreement as for the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh (and recently some signs of such an incoming agreement appeared), it is all the more probable that Turkey would reconcile with Armenia over history. Both nations slowly but inevitably mature to reconcilement and rapprochement. Even though an unduly optimism as to the future of the mutual relation between these two feuding nations is inadvisable, the controversies are not, by any means, irreconcilable. The natural differences of opinions and standpoints between Turkish and Armenian societies should not be treated as absolutely irresolvable and unsurmountable.