Nov 30 2011

by Cem Oguz, head of the Turkish Center for Strategic and International

Nowadays, it has become highly fashionable to talk about the need for
reconciliation with the past, particularly if the issue in question
is the Turkish-Armenian relations. But nobody has clarified what
reconciliation with the past means. What indeed are the prerequisites
of this vogue concept? And should it be unilateral, meaning that it
should only apply to one side, namely the Turks?

Reconciliation requires a profound break with the past. When
any imperial rule collapses, however, 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 victimhood. In the Armenian case, the situation is more
complicated. Our Armenian friends themselves admit that memory,
after all, has been the stronghold of Armenian identity.

How then can this vicious circle which the respective parties suffer
from be overcome? By imposition from only one side, as our more
outspoken Armenian friends fervently wish? But I will pose another
simple question the answer to which is of grave importance for any
sort of healthy dialogue between the Turkish and Armenian peoples:
Have our Armenian friends managed to reconcile with their past, or
are they, too, in a state of denial and blindly trying to convince
themselves to be the only victims without any guilt? To put it more
bluntly, is anyone in Armenia, for instance, ready to objectively
discuss the Van massacre of 1915 or Khojaly massacre of 1992?

I unfortunately do not believe that the answer to this question is
"yes, they did," because of three 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. They still believe, for instance, one day
they will be able to kick off the Turks of their "homeland," namely
Turkey's eastern Anatolian provinces. I do not believe that 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. The "genocide" is what is assumed to be uniting them. Yet
the more our Armenian friends put forward their memory, the more the
Turkish people stick to its own version of communal victim-hood.

Indeed, for Turks, the recollection doesn't come easily because
it inherently causes a kind of self-defense reflex. At present, no
sensible Turk underestimates the extent of the tragedy suffered in
these lands over the last two centuries. However, I need to remind
all parties concerned that this tragedy is not one-sided. Turks, too,
were not immune to mass deportations, killings or having their property
confiscated by those who claim to have suffered such atrocities.

Sincere "impartial third parties," for instance, may read of the Turks'
own tragedy in Professor Justin McCarthy's book entitled "Death and
Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922."

Yes, the settlement of the Armenian-Turkish dispute is indeed
imperative. However, any resolution should be based on ethics but not
politics with cunning motives. There is an urgent need for empathy,
but the parliamentary resolutions our Armenian friends are keen on
will merely justify respective standpoints, further closing doors to
dialogue. And distorting the facts will eventually backfire on those
responsible for their fabrication.