23 August 2006
Q. Until now, everyone has spoken about the latest developments. Only you have remained silent. For you, what is the significance of the resolution passed by France? Have you reached your goal?
A. This was, first of all, the goal of the Armenian community of France – to reach genocide recognition through the French Senate. In my opinion, the French Senate has affirmed and passed judgment on that which took place at the beginning of the century. Of course, I can only applaud the French legislature. But that is France’s business.
Q. Are you satisfied with the decision?
Q. That’s all?
A. I believe I fully responded to your question.
Q. It has been announced that the year 2001 will be Armenia’s year. This year, is the matter going to pass other legislatures as well? What’s your first objective? They say that an upcoming target is to see this pass the US Congress. Is such talk accurate?
A. Who has announced that 2001 is to be Armenia’s year or the Armenian year?
Q. Armenians of Armenia and the Diaspora have announced that 2001 is to be Armenia’s year. If we look at the streets, that number is celebrated everywhere.
A. That refers to the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity as a state religion being marked this year, and not anything having to do with declaring it an Armenian year having to do with the Genocide.
Q. They say that this year, the US Congress and other legislatures are to pass genocide-related resolutions. Is that true?
A. I believe that the Armenian community of the US will this year attempt to continue the process which was actively moving forward in 2000. I also believe that is the right of Armenian-Americans: as US citizens, they have a right to deal in this way with their legislative body, and to resolve certain issues.
Q. I see, but there is one thing that I don’t understand. Who directs this international campaign? You, that is, Yerevan, or the Armenian Diaspora? Who controls this process?
A. You know, during the more than 70 years of Soviet rule, official Yerevan probably never dealt with this issue. Nevertheless, there has always been a process seeking Genocide recognition, and the Armenian Diaspora had been very actively engaged in that process. We must also accurately characterize this situation: Diaspora Armenians are fundamentally those people who were victims of those events, or more correctly, their descendants, and they can’t remain indifferent towards this matter. After independence, it was incumbent on the Republic of Armenia to formulate and, to express its position on that important issue. This was done by me, at the UN as well, it was done in Istanbul in fact, during the OSCE Summit.
Q. The question is important, that’s why I’m repeating it. You say that at the time of the Soviet Union, no one in Armenia did anything about those assertions. The Diaspora was occupied with that matter, and they were the descendants of the victims. You are saying that when you came to power, you took control of that matter, you pushed it to the forefront?
A. This matter is both Armenia’s matter and the Diaspora’s. I believe it is also generally an international community matter because we are speaking of events which, we are deeply convinced, must be judged, by the international community. It is not a question of whether this matter must be directed by one individual or one center. This process is a parallel process. Yes, I have a role in it, but I don’t direct either the Armenian-American community or the French-Armenian community.
Q. Do you wish to say that Yerevan is not in control, the Diaspora is doing what it’s doing, and you are only helping?
A. I can’t imagine how, with what levers, I, as President of the Republic of Armenia, can bring pressure to bear on the US Congress. Of course that’s not possible. But, let me repeat that this is a process that proceeds in tandem, it is not a question of controlling or directing. Even if Armenia did not become involved in this issue, the Diaspora would have, still. It is simply that joint efforts are more effective, for obvious reasons.
Q. Fine, let’s put aside the issue of who is leading. It’s clear that the process is moving forward, and decisions are being taken in different countries, and in those decisions, Turkey is being found guilty. For that reason alone, I’d like to ask two questions: One, These assertions have what end in mind? Two, What comes next?
A. If any individual or nation attempts to defend its dignity, is it necessary that this be done with other consequences or expectations in mind, or is it by itself adequate justification for taking such a step? As for our relations with Turkey, we understand that relations between our two states will not lead to any new legal status after the Genocide is recognized. That’s not what we’re talking about. Today, we are concerned with reclaiming justice. For the Republic of Armenia, for me, personally, this is more a moral issue. I know that in Turkey some think that now, if the Genocide is recognized, then Armenia will definitely present Turkey with territorial claims.
Q. That’s just what I wanted to ask. Our people are saying Armenia is applying pressure on us now, and after this, what is Armenia going to want – compensation, territory?
A. That’s exactly the question I’m answering. For Turkey, recognition of the Armenian Genocide will not necessarily lead to legal consequences regarding the Republic of Armenia.
Q. You are saying that if Turkey recognizes the Armenian Genocide, Armenia will not demand of Turkey either reparations or territory, is that right?
A. The Republic of Armenia will not have the legal basis for making such demands. The question is not whether we do or don’t desire to raise this issue, or whether I do or don’t have such a desire. The issue is that Genocide recognition does not create the legal bases to allow Armenia to present certain demands before Turkey. I am surprised that Turkish attorneys themselves have not provided the Turkish government with such counsel and such an assessment. It would have been possible to approach this matter much more easily
Q. I understand but the question is this: You don’t trust Turkey, and Turkey doesn’t trust you. In your Constitution, there is such a point, in the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s program, there is such a point. Now, you are saying that we don’t have such a demand, but tomorrow, you’ll be gone, another person will take your place, and that other person will say I haven’t said that, Kocharian has, but we demand and we want …
A. We are speaking about relations between states. Issues of this kind are regulated also by international law. Political parties, including influential ones, can have such demands in their programs, but I repeat, it is not Turkey’s recognition of the Genocide that will create legal consequences – in this case, the consequence being demands by Armenia. It is another matter whether the descendants of the victims of the Genocide can attempt to resolve compensation issues, in certain matters, through the courts. But I repeat, they can do that today as well. It is not the recognition of the Genocide that will lead to such consequences.
For example, if a Diaspora Armenian appeals to a Turkish court and presents documents which prove that during those years a certain amount was being held in a certain bank, and today this plaintiff is its legal heir, what verdict should the Turkish court reach today regarding this man’s rights, independent of Genocide recognition? If the Turkish court rejects this appeal what if a European court is approached? Today, those forums exist. I want to say that it is not Turkey’s recognition of the Genocide that may lead to such specific claims by individual citizens.
I think, actually I’m convinced, that regarding Genocide recognition, the atmosphere that has been created in Turkey is not commensurate to the consequences for Turkey.
The best solution, which in my opinion would remove all such problems would be for Turkey to open its archives, to ask forgiveness for all that has happened. You can label that as non-genocide, but in any case, mass murders have taken place, and people have been deported. The kind of Diaspora we have today is the consequence, first of all, of the events of 1915. And, I repeat, with one simple step, Turkey is in a position
to categorically change today’s Armenian-Turkish relations, and the future of those relations.
Q. Then, if Turkey were to accept the Armenian Genocide and ask forgiveness, then Armenia would not present claims for compensation and territory. That’s your objective – that Turkey open its archives and ask forgiveness for that fact?
A. Yes, that’s the first goal, and today that is more a matter of morality and dignity.
Q. Do you say that this is a legal matter or a historical matter? Is this a problem for historians?
A. No. I don’t agree with that point of view, that this is a matter for historians. If we had any doubt as to whether a Genocide took place or not, whether it took place in 1915 or not, then it would be a problem for historians. We have no such doubts nor does the international community. The fact that not all of them have recognized the Genocide has more to do with Turkey’s non-commensurate response today, and not with any doubts regarding the historical facts.
Let’s attempt to theoretically imagine the following: Let’s assume that Turkey itself recognized the events of 1915, perhaps characterizing it differently, but it recognized the Genocide and asked the Armenian people for forgiveness. And let’s assume that I want, or any political party wants to come forth with territorial demands. How? What are we to say? Don’t such matters require that they be presented in the form of legal documents? The state doesn’t have the bases to present such an issue.
Q. But Armenians go to other parliaments and say that it was Genocide, when you don’t have adequate evidence.
A. Oh, there is plenty of evidence. The entire Diaspora is evidence.
Q. So, you point to the entire Diaspora as evidence, but you don’t have legal evidence? Is that it?
A. It’s not that we don’t have legal bases because we don’t have documentation to prove whether the Genocide happened or not. That’s not the issue. We have plenty. The archives of Germany, the UK and the US alone, the documents that the Diaspora has collected are sufficient. That’s not the problem. The problem is that those events have taken place in Turkey, and the Republic of Armenia did not exist at that time, and today’s Republic of Armenia is not the heir to those lands. I don’t know under what system I can present a complaint, saying that "certain events transpired there, and you must give me those lands." I can’t imagine how I am to make that formulation.
Q. You mean legally?
A. Yes, of course, legally.
Q. That means that you are saying that you have no written evidence where it is written, let’s kill all the Armenians, let’s commit genocide against the Armenians. You mean documents in the Ottoman archives.
A. No, no. You are repeating the same thing. We do have them.
Q. You do?
A. Yes, we do. It is not proving that is the problems.
Q. You consider that it’s a matter of legal rights?
A. Yes, the rights of a state.
Q. Fine, I understand. Can the Armenian parliament pass a resolution stating that "we have no territorial or compensation demands of Turkey?"
A. Armenia has a Constitution which defines Armenia’s borders, and the number of its administrative regions. In any case, until today, no official agency in Armenia has made such declarations or presented such decisions. Armenia is a serious state. We understand that we can’t take any steps which fall outside legal foundations. In this matter, we must try to distinguish the approach of the state, the legal approach, and the emotional approach from one another.
Q. The Parliament has still not passed any resolutions defining the Armenian-Turkish border.
A. We have been speaking about Genocide recognition. And the idea is this. Turkey’s recognition of the Genocide will not lead to such legal consequences. Territorial issues can arise only within the framework/provisions of the Treaty of Sevres which was never been enforced, in any case. However, I repeat, these issues exist on different planes.
Q. Do you wish to say that the Treaty of Sevres is over, we can put it to one side?
A. No. I wish to say that recognizing the genocide will not lead to legal consequences. Such consequences can arise from the Treaty of Sevres. In this case, the question of genocide recognition is not directly tied to the Treaty of Sevres, genocide recognition will not in any way revive it. And, on the contrary, if Turkey recognizes the Genocide, and actually apologizes to the Armenian people, then I am convinced that this atmosphere of relations, this process will evolve completely differently. Simply in a human and positive sense. There is no doubt that Turkey is a large, strong state. And size and strength are also achieved through nobleness and goodwill. A strong nation and a strong state must find it in them to see the truth with open eyes, and to judge it accordingly. The strong person is always able to ask forgiveness, it is the weak one who is afraid, who is hesitant to apologize, because he has complexes and expects, thinks that by asking forgiveness or accepting something, he is in some way demonstrating weakness.
Q. You’re right. In order not to misunderstand, I would like to ask you once again. You are saying that the time for the Treaty of Sevres is passed, and it has been set aside?
A. I’m not dealing with the Treaty of Sevres, and I’m not saying that its time has or has not passed. The fact is that when the Soviet Union was formed, it did not stand by the Treaty of Sevres, and signed another treaty to which Armenia was not a party. Let me say again, that is a different matter, on a different plane. Separate these two issues from each other. How do you see this? How can Armenia realistically demand territory of Turkey under today’s conditions?
Q. We are speaking with the President of Armenia on very important matters. That is why, Mr. President, I would ask to once again ascertain what has been said, and to generalize.
You are saying that you have no territorial or compensation demands of Turkey. That is associated with the Treaty of Sevres, which is no longer in force, and that in the Diaspora there are people who can desire compensation, and today desire compensation, but Armenia as a state has no compensation or territorial claims of Turkey. Is that it?
A. No. I would ask that you express my formulations more clearly. I am saying the following: Genocide recognition by Turkey will not lead to legal consequences for territorial claims. If in Turkey there is concern that genocide recognition, or that generally a more temperate, balanced approach to this matter can bring about such consequences, then I am saying that such consequences will not result from such a solution to the problem.
The Treaty of Sevres may present the opportunity to examine such issues, however, the treaty was not implemented, was not activated because of certain historical events, and Armenia, the state, has not, until today, raised any issues related to that treaty. Realistically assessing today’s situation, I can’t imagine how this expression of the sentiments of the Armenian people can be brought to life through concrete steps.
Q. Last Question. There is some confusion in Turkish public opinion. According to Turkish public opinion, there was internal war in Anatolia in 1915, and I believe that as well. At that time, the Ottomans were strong, they won, if the Armenians were strong, they would have won. According to Turkish public opinion, in order to secure the territorial integrity of their country, the Ottomans made a decision to deport the Armenians, and in the implementation of that decision, 500-600,000 Armenians died and Turkey accepts this. Turkey sympathizes, but does not apologize.
You say that 1.5 million people were killed (and where that many people lived in Anatolia, I don’t know, but that’s a different matter) and you characterize that as genocide. Turkish public opinion does not accept that as genocide and asks why should we ask forgiveness for something we haven’t done.
A. If you accept, if Turkish public opinion accepts that 500-600,000 Armenians were actually killed and a much larger number deported, can’t that be called genocide?
Q. But that was reciprocated, it took place during war, and Turks, too, died.
A. I believe that you can’t point to a genocide that did not take place during wartime. That which took place in Turkey took place not just in 1915, but also during the reign of Sultan Hamid, also at the turn of the century, and earlier, there are other examples as well. There was an organized approach, and it naturally did take place during the war, by taking advantage of the opportunity war presented. And, it is natural, that the Armenians could have had a position.
One should pick up the UN’s Genocide Resolution, study it point by point and attempt to evaluate whether that which took place then, in Turkey, fits within the framework of that resolution or not?
Even if you consider that that was not genocide, is it possible to apologize for whatever happened or not? Let me repeat that all those events in the world which have been labeled genocide or something similar, have all taken place during a time of war, in preparation for a war, or in post-war conditions. There is no justification in saying that if there was a war, it is possible to deport an entire people, families, women, children, drive them to the desert of Der Zor, cut them off from their homes, their homeland. Is it possible to apologize for this?
Q. Turkish public opinion differs from your perspective. In conclusion, I’d like to say that our program may serve as a call to the Turkish people, the president, the prime minister, and other officials. What do you have to say directly to them?
A. This is a pointed issue and I understand that it is perceived differently in Turkey and I don’t wish, in this case, to turn the dialogue, which still does not exist into a mediated one. I’m convinced that we will still have an opportunity, and that Armenia will have dialogue with Turkey.
I would wish to say just one thing that is probably for both the Turkish people and the Turkish leadership. We are neighbors, and it is clear that neither Turkey nor we are going to change our geographic location. I believe that we must both be concerned about creating good-neighborly relations. I am convinced that relations for the future must be built on the right foundations, and we can’t forget that which has happened. Turkey’s step would benefit the improvement of relations, their development, and would remove the tension which exists today.
We have heavy issues which we have inherited from history. Armenia’s independence was followed by the blockade. By whom? Turkey. Why? Because of undefined relations with Azerbaijan. Our relations began on a completely different plane.
Q. In order for there to be no problems, let me repeat that the President of Armenia said that if Turkey were to recognize the genocide, Armenia would not present Turkey with demands. If there are demands, they would be from the Diaspora, Armenia would not push forward the issue of territories and compensation.
A. I said the same thing from the podium of the Council of Europe a few days ago.
Interviewer: Mehmet Ali Birand