JEFFREY BROWN: Some perspective now on history and today. Hrach Gregorian is an adjunct professor at American University and president of the Institute of World Affairs, a nonprofit organization that focuses on conflict analysis and post-conflict peace-building. And Soner Cagaptay is the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He’s the author of the recent book “The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty-First Century’s First Muslim Power.” Welcome to both of you. Let me start with you, Hrach Gregorian. . .
1915, I just want to fill in a little bit of the history. The Ottoman Empire is collapsing. What led specifically to the killing of so many Armenians?
HRACH GREGORIAN, American University: Well, I think there was a general feeling that the Armenians were not to be trusted.
And even before that, there was a policy of Turkification by the young Turks dating back to 1908. And the Armenians were viewed as a threat to Turkish identity and Turkish security. And there were orders to rid the country of the community.
JEFFREY BROWN: For Turks, this history is tied to the creation — the end of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern Turkish state.
SONER CAGAPTAY, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy: Precisely.
This was the — World War I, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed. And as the empire was collapsing, the government of the empire at that time decided to move the Armenians from eastern Turkey, where they lived, into Syria, so from one part of the empire to another part.
And the idea would be that they will away from the advancing Russian armies. The fear was that the Armenians would work with the Russian armies to undermine the empire. What happened next was a disaster. Thousands of — hundreds of thousands of people died, sometimes of famine and disease, but usually in the hands of irregulars, Kurdish irregulars and others who carried out attacks. And I think that’s really the pain — the core of the issue.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so to the core of the issue, is the extent of the killing disputed, or is it the intent, the intent, that word genocide?
HRACH GREGORIAN: Right. Right. It’s the intent. It’s not the extent.
The intent was to rid the country of Armenians. And it wasn’t a benign movement. It was under duress. And there was killing all along the way, killing and rape and pillaging and all kinds of massacres committed.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, again, is it a question of semantics over the word genocide?
SONER CAGAPTAY: A lot of people point at the sheer number of people who were killed and say that clearly this constitutes genocide. That includes many Armenians and people outside of Turkey.
But if you went to Turkey and asked the Turks what they thought, they would say that, while so many people died, you don’t see the Wannsee Conference equal of the smoking gun, the premeditated nature of this act.
And, therefore, the difference between being that of manslaughter and murder, that this is really not where — a case where intent is clear, I think that’s an argument that many Turks believe, as we saw earlier. But, of course, the question is, every death is a pain. And I think the Turkish government ought to apologize to the Armenians, so we can move forward.
JEFFREY BROWN: But the Turks do not dispute the number of Armenians, of victims?
SONER CAGAPTAY: The numbers are — I think there are people who will debate exactly what the precise number was, which is hard to say. The Armenian Patriarchate has different numbers. The Ottoman government has different numbers.
But that’s not really the issue, I think. As we said earlier, it’s not the extent of the death. It’s how they happened and whether they were premeditated that is at the crux of the issue.
JEFFREY BROWN: What’s your reading on why this has stayed in dispute for so long? What are the stakes here?
HRACH GREGORIAN: I think the stakes are quite substantial for the Turkish — for the Armenian people.
It’s a traumatizing event. It’s a defining event. And until it’s acknowledged and apologies are rendered, it will remain a defining moment. I think, for the Turkish government, there are three factors that prevent it from acknowledging and apologizing. The first is, it’s a shameful act and no government wants to admit to it.
The second is, there is some concerned about reparations and land claims. And the third is, there are — there are substantial nationalists, right-wing nationalists in Turkey that are violently opposed to such acknowledgment.
JEFFREY BROWN: And how strong are these factors? For example, the reparations issue, who’s pushing for that? What kind of claims would there be?
HRACH GREGORIAN: Yes. I think it’s difficult to know exactly.
I think, for the majority of Armenians now, 100 years hence, some of these claims, particularly the lands, are overblown. I don’t see Armenians living in Paris and New York and Los Angeles wanting to claim lands in Eastern Anatolia. It’s a symbolic thing, I think, more than anything else.
JEFFREY BROWN: What about as it’s seen from the Turkish side?
SONER CAGAPTAY: One issue is that these events happened in 1915, when the Ottoman Empire existed, and that empire exists no more. There is a new country called modern Turkey.
And a lot of Turks have a difficulty connecting their new country to an old empire. Although Turkey is out of the Ottoman Empire, there is no direct legal continuity. And people refute that. That’s one.
Second, many Turks, when you ask them about how they feel about the death of Armenians, they will say, maybe that happened, but you should also remember that 40 percent of Turks — Turkey is a country of 77 million people — have parents, 40 percent of parents who were expelled from the Balkans and from Russia because of their religion and brutalized during the process.
So, they fail to understand why there’s so much attention singularly on the Armenian suffering and not their own suffering. So perhaps the narrative has to be for the Turkish side, also about acknowledging their suffering, given that millions and millions of them were brutalized in the hands of Russians and the Balkan states.
JEFFREY BROWN: I wonder now, over 100 years later, do you see changes in the world attitude? You certainly see more world leaders speaking up recently. Do you see some, any possible changes of attitude here?
HRACH GREGORIAN: Well, I think there’s a greater propensity to acknowledge that this was an act of genocide.
Pope Francis having used that word explicitly, I think, is very important. And the fact is, Turkish newspapers today, one of the most important that my colleague will probably refer to, in bold Armenian letters, basically said, you know, we must acknowledge this.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, there are shifts happening?
SONER CAGAPTAY: I agree. I think we’re moving forward.
There are some really good positive signs. The Turkish prime minister expressed remorse for the descendants of the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire. There was a pretty important ceremony today in Istanbul at the Armenian Patriarchate attended by minister of cabinet of the Turkish government. That’s a first.
A Turkish newspaper which is as old as the republic itself, identified, therefore, with the very nature of the Turkish government or state, came out with an Armenian headline. There were Armenian demonstrators and ceremonies held in Istanbul today. These are things that could not have happened 10 years ago or even five years ago.
So, I think we are really at the crux of a better term of a relationship of Turks and Armenians, and slow movement, but nevertheless moving forward.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, very interesting, living History, right?
Soner Cagaptay and Hrach Gregorian, thank you both very much.
SONER CAGAPTAY: Thank you.
HRACH GREGORIAN: Thank you.
PBS, Apr 24, 2015