Today's Zaman, Turkey
Nov 30 2014

Turkish citizenship for Armenian diaspora good for normalization

November 29, 2014, Saturday/ 17:00:00/ OSMAN Ã`NALAN

The normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations starts with honest,
responsible dialogue and concrete steps taken by the Turkish
government toward Western Armenians -- descendants of the former
Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire -- such as an offer of
citizenship, says a diaspora Armenian, who believes Turkish civil
society should encourage the state to take responsibility and
facilitate any such initiatives.

Sevak Artsruni, secretary-general of the National Congress of Western
Armenians (NCWA), an international NGO with headquarters in Paris,
says that if the Turkish government offers citizenship to Armenians
who wish to return it will be a step forward, provided these citizens
are given full political, cultural and civil rights. Artsruni said
this step must be immediately followed by others: laws and decrees
concerning so-called abandoned property must be canceled; cadastre and
civil state archives must be opened; Armenian churches and cultural
institutions must be returned; the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and the
Constitution must be revised, not only for the Armenians, but to make
Turkey a country where all citizens have equal rights and where the
rule of law and justice prevail.

In an interview with Sunday's Zaman, Artsruni said that if you read
the books and newspapers, or study statements of Armenians in the
Ottoman parliament, you will discover a basic will to see their
Ottoman homeland transformed into a more democratic, more liberal,
more harmonious state.

Emphasizing that most Armenians may not welcome the offer of
citizenship, Artsruni believes it is still a step forward in
relations. Moreover, he is of the opinion that Turkey has to take the
step without expecting a joyful reaction from Armenians as it needs to
solve the Armenian issue most importantly for its own sake and for its
own development as a democratic, just and free state.

Underlining the importance of civil society organizations, Artsruni
said the more progress that is made, the greater the ability to
involve constructive goodwill in the common endeavor to achieve peace,
progress and harmony. `We should mobilize people of good sense on both
sides,' Artsruni added.

Artsruni criticized the existence of Article 301 in the TCK, under
which writers like Elif Å?afak and the late Hrant Dink have been tried
for insulting Turkishness or the Turkish nation, and said that no
matter what label is given to the organized mass killing and
deportation of Armenians in 1915, the most important issue is to offer
appropriate legal and economic reparations for the loss of Armenian
lives and property and to create a favorable context for the
rehabilitation of all victims of Turkish ultra-nationalism.

According to Artsruni, the 100th anniversary of the events of 1915 is
a chance to change Armenian sentiments from hate, revenge and
frustration into dialogue and constructive, responsible approaches to
the Western Armenian problem. On the eve of the centenary, the Turkish
state should initiate an open and official discussion with NCWA with a
sincere and courageous effort, added Artsruni.

Turkish-Armenian commentators and groups representing diaspora
Armenians consider the granting of Turkish citizenship to the
descendants of the Armenians who left Turkey during the events of 1915
as a key means of initiating a process of reconciliation, all the more
so if accomplished ahead of the 2015 commemoration.

Some steps have been taken to revive the Armenian initiative, boosted
by remarks from then-Foreign Minister Ahmet DavutoÄ?lu that showed
tentative support for reconciliation between the two countries,
including the Armenian diaspora. During his visit to Yerevan in
December 2013, DavutoÄ?lu said Turkey never supported the deportation
of Armenians in 1915, which most Armenians define as `genocide,' and
described the deportations as an inhumane act of which it is
impossible to approve. The Armenian diaspora and Armenians living in
Turkey found the remarks a belated but significant step that showed
Turkey's willingness to come to a solution.

DavutoÄ?lu's speech was followed by a historical first for the Turkish
Republic; then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄ?an extended his
condolences to the grandchildren of Armenians who lost their lives in
1915. His surprising statement came on April 23, 2014, ahead of the
Armenian commemoration on April 24 of the events they describe as
genocide under Ottoman rule. The demand for Turkish citizenship was
lauded again in January 2013 by some Armenian diaspora groups that
visited Ankara. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in April 2014 that
they look at the demand positively and may complete the work before
April 2015.