1999) Patriarch Mutafyan and the Armenian version of 301 : Part I & II

Part I
September 26, 2007

No doubt, the settlement of the notorious Armenian-Turkish dispute principally revolving around the “Armenian genocide” is indeed imperative. Yet, I regret to say that prospects for a resolution do not look promising. In almost every discourse, those made by Westerners in particular, it has become highly fashionable to talk about the need for reconciliation with the past. But nobody has clarified so far what reconciliation with the past means. What indeed are the prerequisites of this vague and abstract concept? What does the Armenian side understand from reconciliation? Last but not least, should it be unilateral, meaning that it should only apply to the Turks?

For reconciliation, in the very meaning of the concept, there must be a reciprocal willingness. More importantly, reconciliation depends ultimately on civil society, not governments. Thus, as long as the following question remains unanswered, I unfortunately do not believe that it is realistic to talk about a Turkish-Armenian reconciliation: Have our beloved Armenian friends managed to reconcile with their past, or are they, too, in a state of denial and blindly trying to convince themselves that they are only victims without any guilt?

Yes, reconciliation--but for all!

I unfortunately do not believe that the answer to this question is “yes, they did,” because of four simple reasons: First of all, for outspoken Armenians, the “activists,” any resolution to the dispute means nothing more than unconditional surrender of Turkey. They live in a world of illusions. The overwhelming majority of messages my Armenian readers are sending to me precisely exemplify this mindset. I sometimes cannot believe my eyes when I see the content and substance of these messages profoundly removed from reality. As I said previously, they even have the temerity to ask the Turks, on behalf of myself, to “get out of their homeland.” I do not believe such a line of thinking is anyhow ready for compromise. Without compromise, however, there will be no resolution.

Secondly, the Armenian institutions that are thought to represent civil society on the Armenian side are not helpful. Those inside Armenia are obviously under the strict control of the government. Given the character of the Armenian regime today, I do not believe that they can act independently. Those of the Diaspora, on the other hand, believe that they are the first and foremost forbearers of the “national cause.”

Thirdly, the “genocide” has become an essential part of Armenian identity. Our Armenian friends themselves admit that memory, after all, has been the stronghold of Armenian identity. The “genocide” is what is assumed to be uniting them. This phenomenon alone makes them persistently ignore the other side of the coin. This is pretty obviously a dead-end street because when any imperial rule collapses multiple versions of memory spontaneously arise, each forming and mobilizing respective national memories of the successor states or former subjects. Any reconciliation of conflicting memories, in turn, presumes a gradual dialogue of memories, since each party inherently sticks to its own version of communal victim-hood. Thus, the more our Armenian friends put forward their memory, the more the Turkish people stick to its own version of communal victim-hood.

Finally, neither side is tolerant to critical thinking. The Turkish government has rightly been criticized for a while now over Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. Our Armenian friends, however, are not immune to such a “mental barrier.” Just a little example in that regard: I have had a great deal of respect for the Turkish Armenians' Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan II ever since I heard him say, at a symposium held in Kayseri last year, that it is unethical for Armenians and Turks “to ignore each other's responsibility or completely put it on the other side although responsibilities weren't equal in the brutal consequence.” His noble approach to the controversy profoundly purified from potentially combustible human instincts such as revenge indeed serves as a valuable road map for constructive and healthy dialogue between these two peoples.

Last week, however, his presentation at Georgetown University in the United States, entitled “The Impasse between Turks and Armenians Must Be Broken,” was postponed allegedly due to “logistical conflicts.” Yet, it later came out that the main reason for the postponement was actually strong pressure from the Armenian Diaspora organizations in the U.S., the influential Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) in particular, which is for a long time at odds with the conciliatory attitude of the patriarch concerning the “Armenian genocide.” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian portrayed the patriarch “as a virtual hostage,” and argued, “The patriarch, whose life has been threatened on many occasions will, as he has in the past, be forced to follow the Turkish government's line.” Yet, do you not think, that this attitude might also be regarded as something akin to an Armenian version of 301? Do you not think that it could be seen as an Armenian version of the article's criminalizing “insulting Turkishness and betraying the Turkish national cause?”

We shall continue tomorrow with "Turkish perceptions" and with some suggestions.

Part II
September 27, 2007

The Turkish perceptions

The Turkish-Armenian reconciliation has actually long before become a battlefield of politics, rather than a matter of ethics.

The West's one-sided and biased involvement makes the situation more complicated. There is an urgent need for empathy, but the parliamentary resolutions will merely justify respective standpoints, further closing the doors to dialogue. If I were a U.S. or European authority I would certainly be pondering why the patriarch, in his said speech, might have criticized the great powers of the time, ranging from France to the U.S., since they bore “a responsibility” as well.

At present, no sensible Turk underestimates the extent of the tragedy suffered in these lands over the last two centuries. The recollection, however, does not come easily because it inherently causes a kind of self-defense reflex. Turks perceive the insistence on reconciliation with the past as being politically-motivated.

Turkish mistrust becomes strengthened. In fact, here emerges another question which, unless answered, makes me pessimistic with regard to prospects for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation: Can societies reconcile with their past when they increasingly feel insecure?

In such a milieu, my suggestions to the Turkish state for addressing the Armenian allegations would include the following steps:

I. Short-term: Immediately convene the Turkish Grand National Assembly to formulate a national declaration, to be signed by all political parties in and outside of the parliament, reaffirming that the Armenian "genocide" allegations are baseless and unacceptable, adding that Turkey is ready to pay the consequences of its alleged “denial” whatever they may be; organize an inter-governmental institution with the participation of relevant branches of government to deal affectively with the Armenian allegations and the West's ignorance; increase your international efforts for a joint commission of historians; and, do not open the border unless Armenia announces that it agrees to work out the resolution to Azerbaijan's occupied territories as well as Nagorno-Karabakh.

II. Medium-term: Encourage the development of a network of citizen groups or NGOs to promote understanding and prevent popular venting of anger among societies; create a war dead memorial where Turkish people can pay their respects to the victims of World War I, including to those of Armenian descent; call for a working group of scholars to draft history textbooks that will prevent both sides from using textbooks that promote xenophobia and nationalism; institutionalize high-level reciprocal visits.

III. Long-term: Work on formulating legislation similar to that in Germany that restricts “hate speech” toward non-Muslim citizens of the country.

After seeing what Patriarch Mutafyan, both among the Turks as well as Armenians, has had to go through, I am saddened to say that one cannot be optimistic about solving this Gordion's knot. I find this particularly disheartening as I believe this dispute can only be solved by actions of such brave people as the patriarch.
End Of part II


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