3081) ‘Divide et Impera’: The Turkish-Armenian Protocols, by Marc Mamigonian

© This content Mirrored From  http://armenians-1915.blogspot.com The Armenian Weekly, April 2010 . .

In the discussions surrounding the Turkish-Armenian protocols that have taken place throughout the last year, there has been a disappointing, yet hardly unforeseeable, tendency to oversimplify matters and draw a clear-cut picture with “practical,” pro-protocols Armenians on one side, and “hawkish” diaspora “fanatics” who are dead-set against the protocols and any normalization with Turkey on the other side. We can see this as a minor refinement of the well-worn discourse of the Bad Armenians and the Good Armenians that we have come to know and some have come to love, or at least to make good use of.

As the Turkish scholar Taner Akcam has aptly described this discourse:

According to the defensive strategies developed by our intellectuals, the ‘bad’ Armenians aren’t the ones in Turkey or the ones in neighboring Armenia. The ‘bad’ Armenians are the ones in the diaspora because the ones who keep ‘insisting on recognition of the genocide’ are actually they. In other words, instead of directly stating that the problem has to do with defining Armenians as ‘the bogeyman’ and ‘bad,’ they accepted those definitions but changed the object of those definitions; instead of saying Armenians are ‘bad,’ they stated that the diaspora is ‘bad.’ In conclusion, the mentality that predominates in Turkey continued unabated in our intellectuals and continues to do so.1

In recent discussions, it is the critics of the protocols who have become the “bad” Armenians, then, and interestingly enough, some Armenians who had previously been lumped into the “bad” category because of their emphasis on genocide recognition as such now find themselves, due to their support of the protocols, transformed (perhaps only temporarily) into “good” Armenians.

This leads us to Kerem Oktem’s article “The Armenia-Turkey process: don’t stop now” on OpenDemocracy, which was in turn a response to articles by Vicken Cheterian and Juan Gabriel Tokatlian.2

It is interesting to note that while Oktem rightly decries a reductionist understanding of “the highly cosmopolitan Armenian diaspora” as a univocal entity when, in fact, there is on the protocols, as on other issues, a wide array of opinions (both pro- and con- as well as within the pro- and con- “camps”), he seems to fall into the hardly less reductionist trap of equating those who oppose the protocols with those who oppose any normalization, of presenting those who oppose the protocols as a nationalists and those who support them as humanists. In other words, we have not really moved beyond the categories of Bad Armenians and Good Armenians—we have just done some rebranding.

In the former category, clearly, Oktem has placed the political party the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), which has been vocally opposed to the protocols. Oktem writes of the ARF that “it has become trapped in the cage of an old-fashioned, if virulent nationalism: retribution, compensation, and transfer of land to Armenia are central to its vocabulary.” He contrasts this with the “humanist organizations” the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the dioceses of the Armenian Churches of America, and the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA)—groups that support “normalization” even though genocide recognition “might be the first casualty.” He does not define what he means by a “humanist” organization.

What is at issue here is not these organizations per se or the merits of their respective approaches to the protocols as such (or to other issues), but rather how they are being depicted and deployed to suit a version of the Good Armenian/Bad Armenian discourse. The Armenian Assembly, in particular, is regularly grouped with the Bad Armenians due to its long record of working for genocide recognition and lobbying for the U.S. to pass resolutions affirming the genocide—work that it shows no signs of abandoning and that has long been the sine qua non of the Bad Armenian.

It is true that to support the protocols is to support “normalization,” at least as it is defined by the protocols. But it does not follow that to oppose the protocols is necessarily to oppose any sort of normalization, unless one believes that the protocols represent the only possible route to normalization. Oktem also appears to lump together all critics of the protocols as virulent nationalists—which is barely an improvement on lumping together the entire diaspora as Bad Armenians. It is no wonder, then, that he cannot reconcile the fact that “serious observers such as Juan Gabriel Tokatlian and Vicken Cheterian” also take a stance against the protocols. It seems he simply cannot imagine any “serious” critique of the protocols, any critique that is not rooted in “virulent nationalism.”

But there is an obvious solution to his confusion: Just as there are people and organizations who support the protocols more or less uncritically and those who support them with serious reservations, so, too, are there people and organizations who are in favor of normalization but who oppose the protocols either in whole or in part for one or more of a variety of reasons—that is to say, it may be that their concerns about this or that aspect of the protocols are so strong that they cannot support them. Is it so inconceivable that a “serious observer” might hold such a view?

Furthermore, it is fair to say that one “political persuasion” (read: Dashnak) is more uniformly critical of the protocols, but it does not follow that all who are critical are of the same political persuasion; some, in fact, have close connections with organizations that have publicly stated their support for the protocols, and many (most?) have no political or organizational ties or loyalties whatsoever. Some critics, as should be obvious, are not Armenian.

Nonetheless, Oktem crafts a sharp distinction between the “nationalist” Armenians who oppose the protocols mainly because they hamper genocide recognition and the “humanist” Armenians who support the protocols even though it means sacrificing genocide recognition. Yet the ABGU and the other organizations that issued a joint public statement said clearly that they do not support the protocols at the expense of genocide recognition—declaring that there “should be no question that we also continue to stand firmly with the Nagorno Karabakh Republic to ensure its freedom and security as well as with all those working for universal affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.”3

Oktem concludes that opposition to the protocols is motivated by fear among those who “have long used the genocide to scare critical minds into conformity, to rule over their flocks as they pleased, and to claim the right to speak in their name” that they will lose their power. He does not seem to consider other things that would cause reasonable people not to support the protocols. For example, as he himself says, “The joint historical commission, which the second protocol proposes, is indeed a bad compromise, if not a complete sell-out.” Would it not be a reasonable or “serious” stance to advocate normalization without such a “bad compromise”? For some, clearly, the proposed commission is too high a price to pay, for reasons that have been well expressed by Roger Smith among others.4 Is such a stance incomprehensible and incompatible with “serious” thinking?

It is striking how similar some of Oktem’s points are to those in a column by Cengiz Aktar in Hurriyet entitled “The Armenian Initiative and the Hrant Dink Case,” in which he nearly proclaims the end of nationalism in Turkey.5 Aktar, one of the initiators of the 2008 “apology campaign,” also observes that “[o]wing to the protocols, differences have surfaced within the diaspora—clear evidence that it never was a monolithic entity.” Evidently, if nothing else, we have the protocols to thank for this breakthrough in perception. However, “Within the diaspora, there are a limited number of people who are making a lot of noise. They do not care about the future of the Armenian Republic, make unrealistic demands and claim that it sold out the diaspora.” It is self-evident, apparently, that anyone who is critical of the protocols must “not care about the future of Armenia.”

Aktar, too, contrasts the “unrealistic,” “uncaring” noisemakers with “a silent majority that is calm and sober enough to grasp the importance of the protocols,” which he identifies with the AGBU. He does not, of course, say how he knows it is a silent majority.

Aktar then gives a short quote from the statement from the AGBU Central Board of Directors: “[The protocols] mark a significant moment in the history of relations between the Armenian and Turkish peoples. It presents major ramifications for both the government of the newly independent Republic of Armenia and the Armenian nation worldwide.”

There is nothing controversial in these words. They state the obvious: The protocols are “significant” and present “major ramifications.” Such language could derive from either a declaration in favor of the protocols or one against them. There is no dispute over whether the protocols are “significant” or present “major ramifications.” The dispute is over what the significance is and what the ramifications are.

It is revealing to read the entire AGBU statement in the context of the sharp “nationalist” vs. “humanist” distinction that has been drawn (see the AGBU statement here: www.agbu.org/pressoffice/article.asp?ID=626).

For example, after favorably noting the “pragmatic policy [of the Armenian government] in its negotiations with Turkey,” it goes on to state: “However, as practical as such a policy may be, it should not be implemented at the expense of the inalienable rights of the Armenian people. We believe the authorities in Armenia, as administrators of the state, must be guided by the same pan-national goals and aspirations in making these difficult and far-reaching decisions. The documents establishing diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey touch directly or indirectly upon the Armenian Genocide and our territorial demands. While we understand the importance for the Republic of Armenia to have normal diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, including Turkey, we believe that the inviolable Armenian Case in its broadest sense and the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide should transcend any diplomatic consideration” (emphasis mine).

And then towards the end: “AGBU unwaveringly adheres to its national policy of supporting the homeland and safeguarding the inviolable rights of the Armenian nation, and its historical, material and cultural legacy” (emphasis mine).

If such language as appears in bold above were used in a statement against the protocols, would the “humanist” tag be stripped away and replaced with the label “old-fashioned, if virulent nationalism”? Or should one assume that Aktar and Oktem are fully in support of these aspects of the statement?

It is interesting to see how organizations that have hitherto mostly been lumped together as part of the powerful, nationalistic Armenian Diaspora lobbying machine are now being distinguished among. Noisy nationalists over here! Sober humanists over there! Oktem asks the rhetorical question, “Is it possible that the highly cosmopolitan Armenian diaspora, in 2009, can or would speak with a single voice?” He answers with a resounding “No!” But the more complete inferred answer from both his and Aktar’s commentaries appears to be “No! It speaks with two voices!” An optimist might view that as an improvement of 100 percent!

It appears that, within the current revised Good Armenian/Bad Armenian schematic, if you support the protocols and talk about “the inalienable rights of the Armenian people” you are a “humanist.” But if you do not support them and talk about “the inalienable rights of the entire Armenian Nation” you are a “nationalist.”6

You are a “humanist” if you support the protocols and say “we understand the importance for the Republic of Armenia to have normal diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, including Turkey, we believe that the inviolable Armenian Case in its broadest sense and the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide should transcend any diplomatic consideration.” But you are a “nationalist” if you do not support the protocols and say, “As neighboring states, Armenia and Turkey are bound to take steps to normalize relations [but] neighborly relations can be established between the two countries only when Turkey recognizes the Armenian Genocide and reestablishes the rights of the Armenian people.”7

If you support the protocols, it is “humanistic” to refer to “the inviolable rights of the Armenian nation.” But it if you do not support the protocols, it is “nationalistic” to refer to “the unwavering rights of the Armenian people.”8

And there is “humanism” in “our territorial demands” if you support the protocols, but “nationalism” if you oppose the protocols and mention “the dispossession of Western Armenia.”9

Again, this is not about the AGBU, ARF, AAA, Armenian National Committee, etc. The point to be made is not that the so-called “nationalists” are really “humanists,” or the so-called “humanists” are really “nationalists.”

The point to be made is about how problematic it is to divide up Armenians along such lines. It is about recognizing a trap that is part of the legacy of imperialism. The Romans had a name for it: Divide et impera.



1. Taner Akcam, “Armenia, diaspora, and facing history,” The Armenian Reporter, posted Nov. 28, 2008 on www.reporter.am/go/article/2008-11-28-armenia-diaspora-and-facing-history.

2. Kerem Oktem, “The Armenia-Turkey process: don’t stop now,” posted Oct. 14, 2009 on www.opendemocracy.net/article/armenia/the-armenia-turkey-process-don-t-stop-now. Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, “Armenia and Turkey: forgetting genocide,” posted Oct. 12, 2009 on www.opendemocracy.net/article/armenia/armenia-and-turkey-forgetting-genocide. Vicken Cheterian, “Armenia-Turkey: genocide, blockade, diplomacy,” posted Oct. 13, 2009 on www.opendemocracy.net/article/armenia/armenia-turkey-genocide-blockade-diplomacy.

3. “Joint statement of major Armenian-American institutions welcoming the president of the Republic of Armenia,” posted Oct. 1, 2009 on www.aaainc.org/index.php?id=755.

4. Roger Smith, “The Politics of Genocide and the Turkey-Armenia Protocols,” The Armenian Weekly, posted Oct. 24, 2009 on www.armenianweekly.com/2009/10/24/smith-the-politics-of-genocide-and-the-turkey-armenia-protocols/.

5. Posted Oct. 16, 2009 on www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=initiative-towards-armenia-and-the-hrant-dink-murder-case-2009-10-16.

6. “ARF-ER Issues Statement After Meeting with Sarkisian in New York,” Asbarez, posted Oct. 4, 2009 on www.asbarez.com/71458/arf-er-issues-statement-after-meeting-with-sarkisian-in-new-york/.

7. “ARF Bureau Issues Announcement on Protocols,” The Armenian Weekly, posted Sept. 2, 2009 on www.armenianweekly.com/2009/09/02/arf-bureau-issues-announcement-on-protocols/.

8. Ibid.

9. “ARF-ER Issues Statement After Meeting with Sarkisian in New York,” Asbarez, posted Oct. 4, 2009.


ssaya said...

Reply Comments:
1- I agree with the remarks of the writer about "hawkish diaspora" writers, who have always stood and will stand against any efforts of normalization of relations, because this will stop the "Genocide named cow, from producing cash milk" on which so many feed themslves giving only crumbs to Armenia.
2- Taner Akcam is no scholar, but is "his Master's Voice" for which he is paid and pushed
forward as a Turkish scholar instead of an old "convict and turncoat". So far, Akcam produced a lot of loud mouth but not "a shred of reliable proof". He is not a truth defending industrious scholar, and he will not read or evaluate works of neutral or anti-Armenian writers; not even Armenian historians like Nassibian, Lalaian, Pastermadjian, Dasnabedian, or authentic American-British documents.

2- I suggest that the writer reads posting # 3088 and others if necessary and familiarize himself with "monumental documents and not history build on palavers".

3- I offer to ask apology of all readers of this blog, if the writer or any other mouth piece of the diaspora, can refute any of my excerpts in my book or the multitude of articles on this blog.

Thera are plenty trouble-hate-revenge mongers who are after their own narrow personal intersts and which needs the "fire of feud" so that their soup stays warm and they can eat!

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