1626) Nobel Laureates Appeal Causes Mixed Reactions

The appeal signed by 53 Nobel Laureates called on the government of Turkey to end discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities and abolish Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which makes it a criminal offense to "denigrate Turkishness." Laureates also call on Armenia to reverse its authoritarian course, allow free and fair elections, and respect human rights.
The EWF, which was established by Elie Wiesel and his wife, Marion, soon after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, is one of the most influential nongovernmental organizations in U.S. decision-making circles. The executive director of the EWF, David Phillips, spoke to the Turkish Daily News and shared his opinion on the topic.

When asked, how the endorsement of the resolution accepting Armenian claims of genocide in the U.S. Congress would affect the EWF's call for normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, Phillips responded: “If the resolution passes there will initially be some serious concern in Ankara and in Turkish circles about that.” According to Phillips there are two parts to that question. “First, how would the passage affect Turkish-Armenian relations and then how would it affect Turkish-U.S. relations,” said Phillips. David Phillips thinks that there would initially be resentment in Turkey if the U.S. Congress adopts such a resolution. However, he believes that Turks are able to get beyond initial bumps in the road and recognize what is in their national interest. “So I do not think that the U.S.-Turkish relationship is at risk in any way, shape or form,” Phillips adds with a smile

As far as Turkish-Armenian relations go, “It is hard to say,” Phillips admits. He thinks that the important thing is to recognize that the two countries are neighbors and that they have a shared future. “In an era of globalization where national borders are less important, to keep the Turkish-Armenian border closed for normal travel and trade is not in the interest of either Turks or Armenians.”

Phillips mentioned that the EWF did not mention the Armenian Genocide Resolution in a letter to the U.S. Congress by Nobel Laureates. Yet in the letter the Nobel Laureates urged the governments of Turkey and Armenia to open the Turkish-Armenian border thereby improving economic conditions on both sides of the border and enabling human interaction, which is essential for human understanding. They also called on the governments to accelerate bilateral contacts and the establishment of full diplomatic relations. They supported practical projects between civil society representatives that address shared problems. “Totally independent of what goes on in Capitol Hill, we think that it is important for mature leaders in Armenia and in Turkey to recognize that the two countries have more common interest then divisions.”

The EWF's mission is rooted in the memory of the Holocaust since Wiesel himself is a Holocaust survivor. Thus the main question of whether the events of 1915 can be labeled genocide since the word is closely linked to the Holocaust remained in the minds of many Turks. “I refer you to the legal analysis by the International Center for the Transnational Justice. Because some of the Ottoman rulers knew when they deported Armenians from Eastern Anatolia many of them would die, those events satisfy the criteria of intent. Therefore the use of the term Armenian genocide is appropriate to characterize the events,” Phillips said. The EWF's appeal also suggested a legal approach to address the gap in national perceptions over the Armenian genocide. Furthermore it noted that the Genocide Convention has never been applied retroactively and, therefore can not be used as the basis for reparations or territorial claims.

Phillips concluded his words by saying that no matter what, it is going to be difficult for both sides to interact with each other about the 1915 events. “What is important is that Turks and Armenians take a deep breath and focus on the present situation without obscuring historical truths that have been validated through the International Center for Transnational Justice study that affirms that the events constitute genocide.”

This week Baki Ilkin, permanent representative of the Turkish Mission to the U.N., wrote an editorial to the New York Times in response to the newspaper's article that identified the 1915 events as genocide. He said, “Those tragic events took place in time of war, and both populations suffered extensively. As such, describing these events as “genocide” is unacceptable. Indeed, if it had been “genocide,” how was it possible for the Armenians living in other parts of the Ottoman Empire to survive? In fact, there is still a large Armenian Turkish minority in Istanbul that enriches our cultural diversity.”

Ilkin in his conclusion also confronted Phillips. “If the Armenian authorities are certain of their accusations, then they should be able to accept Turkey's proposal to set up a joint commission of historians, including those from third countries, to examine all the available documents and to reach a public decision on what really happened. Turkey has nothing to cover up. We are ready and willing to face history. We expect the same from the Armenian side.”

April 19, 2007
NEW YORK – Turkish Daily News

Nobel Laureates Call For Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation
The laureates recognize that coming to terms will be painful and difficult. Progress will not occur right away. Rather than leaving governments to their own devices, however, affected peoples need to engage in activities that promote understanding and reconciliation

Seven years ago I asked a group of prominent Turks about Turkish-Armenian relations. My query was met with silence. No one was prepared to discuss what happened to the Armenians of Eastern Anatolia during the final years of the Ottoman Empire. Much has changed since then. Many Turks are discussing their shared history with Armenians and an increasing number refer to the events as the “Armenian genocide.” The taboo on discussing Armenian issues was broken by the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission, which was established in 2001. The assassination of Hrant Dink in January 2007, which was mourned by both Turks and Armenians, further underscored the need for reconciliation between Turks and Armenians, as well as for freedom of expression in Turkey. Two weeks ago, fifty-three Nobel Laureates released an appeal to the peoples of Turkey and Armenian calling for tolerance, contact and cooperation. The appeal urges civil society to advocate steps by the governments of Turkey and Armenia to overcome distrust and divisions that affect relations between the two peoples.

Open the borders:

Organized by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, which was established after Professor Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1986, the appeal of Nobel Laureates calls on Turks and Armenians to: - Open the Turkish-Armenian border. An open border would greatly improve the economic conditions for communities on both sides of the border and enable human interaction, which is essential for mutual understanding. Treaties between the two countries recognize existing borders and call for unhampered travel and trade.- Generate confidence through civil society cooperation. Turks and Armenians have been working since 2001 on practical projects that offer great promise in creatively and constructively dealing with shared problems. The governments should support such efforts by, for example, sponsoring academic links between Turkish and Armenian faculty, as well as student exchanges. - Improve official contacts. Civil society initiatives would be enhanced by the governments' decision to accelerate their bilateral contacts, devise new frameworks for consultation, and consolidate relations through additional treaty arrangements and full diplomatic relations. - Allow basic freedoms. Turkey should end discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities and abolish Article 301 of the Penal Code, which makes it a criminal offense to “denigrate Turkishness.” Armenia also should reverse its own authoritarian course, allow free and fair elections, and respect human rights.The appeal is forward-looking. However, reconciliation can not occur unless Turks and Armenians find a way to overcome the huge gap in perceptions over the Armenian Genocide.

Urging the governments:

I use this term deliberately as the 2003 “Legal Analysis on the Applicability of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to Events which Occurred During the Early Twentieth Century” concluded that, “At least some of the [Ottoman] perpetrators knew that the consequences of their actions would be the destruction, in whole or in part, of the Armenians of eastern Anatolia, as such, or acted purposefully towards this goal and, therefore, possessed the requisite genocidal intent. The Events can thus be said to include all the elements of the crime of genocide as defined in the Convention.”The analysis also concluded that, “The Genocide Convention contains no provision mandating its retroactive application. To the contrary, the text strongly suggests that it was intended to impose prospective obligations only on the states party to it. Therefore no legal financial or territorial claim arising out of the Events could successfully be made against any individual or state under the Convention.”The legal analysis offers a way forward, which addresses the core concerns of both Armenians and Turks. The laureates recognize that coming to terms will be painful and difficult. Progress will not occur right away. Rather than leaving governments to their own devices, however, affected peoples need to engage in activities that promote understanding and reconciliation while, at the same time, urging their governments to chart a course towards a brighter future. ………….

David L. Phillips is the executive director of The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.


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