Tag Archives: Turkey

Why Genocide Recognition Matters

I was having a discussion with my friend who asked me about the importance of historical and political recognition of the Armenian genocide. “Should people want governments around the world making official statements acknowledging the intentional destruction done by the Athenians during the Peloponnesian Wars?” The difference between the Armenian Genocide and ancient destruction is that there are still victims of the former and their healing is stunted by the active denial of the Genocide.

The reason that the Armenian Genocide matters in modern-day politics is 1) recognizing genocide helps the victims and possible future victims and 2) because the government of Turkey and certain sectors of the Turkish community actively work to silence or punish those that raise the issue.

Recognition helps make any victims whole, whether genocide victims or victims of any other massive crime. When (the lack of) law cannot provide compensation, at least recognition acknowledges to the victims that the world knows they have suffered and provides some solace. Recognition can also help limit the creation of future genocides as the famous Hitler quote of “Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?” implies. To engage in human rights is to take a victim-centered approach—to empower those that have been disempowered—and to learn what the victim wants and needs. If the victims want recognition, then it’s not a dismissible idea. Considering the stream of people passing my window to go to the Genocide Memorial, expected at many hundreds of thousands of people today, the Armenian people have made their desire clear.

Feelings of solace and peace are difficult to obtain when some people deny the existence of the genocide and actively attempt to persuade others to their side. The primary culprit here is the Government of Turkey, which has long denied the Genocide. Turkey has pressured Canada to essentially “unrecognize” the Genocide and has frozen all political ties with France when it almost passed a law criminalizing genocide denial. It’s because of Turkey that US Presidents are unwilling to use the word Genocide, even when they accept all events as true. It’s clear that denial of the Genocide is a key part of Turkey’s foreign policy.

Just as criticizing the policies of Israel is not anti-Semitism, criticizing the policies of Turkey is not to hate all Turks. Turks are often unable to learn about the Genocide as speaking open discussion of the genocide often leads to criminal sanctions. Turks learn about the massacres and deportation from government approved history books that paint the Turks as protecting their homeland from inside elements that wanted to destroy it. Unfortunately, the Turkish government also tries to alter the history books of other nations. Are modern Turks responsible for all the horrible things some of their ancestors did? “No, but they are responsible for realizing that they benefited and continue to benefit from those actions and institutions, … and to try to fix that shit.”

Recognition wouldn’t be painful for Turkey, just dangerous for its political leaders. Some people think that Turkey should compensate Armenians like Germany does for the Jews, but with almost no relevant international law on the subject in 1915, no one could force Turkey to provide compensation except for property that was taken from Armenians in violation of Turkey’s domestic law. Recognition would actually ease the pressure Turkey gets from many countries and would allow them to redirect a lot of their diplomatic resources. The only pain would be for the leaders from hard-line elements that flatly reject the Genocide. Unfortunately, fanatical people are the result of a biased history education, so they’ll have to be challenged at one point or another. Fortunately, there are people working on how to resolve this issue as smoothly as possible.

What can non-Armenians and non-Turks do about this situation? Recognize the Genocide as a genocide, regardless of the threats and accusations hurled at them by genocide deniers. That is the way to do justice to the countless victims of history.

Placing Flowers at the Genocide Memorial during the candle-lit march on the night of 23 April.

Placing Flowers at the Genocide Memorial during the candle-lit march on the night of 23 April.

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Well that was fast: Flights from Yerevan to Van Cancelled

I reported earlier about the new flights from Yerevan to Van that will beginning in April. It seems that those flights are now cancelled. The official rationale for the cancellations is they were cancelled because of a low numbers of passengers, which is an odd explanation as the flights have yet to start. I personally know a dozen people interested in taking one of the first flights (including myself). And, I’m sure as the tourist season begins in Armenia, more and more tourists would make the trip to Van as well. The official agency that killed the flights is the Turkey’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation, which makes it almost certain that it was high-level politics that killed them.

In further bad news, Armavia, the national airline of Armenia, declared bankruptcy and grounded all their flights starting tomorrow.

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Armenians Under Attack in Istanbul

A number of Armenians in Istanbul have been attacked lately. These attacks are likely racist hate crimes as one of the victims, an 85-year old woman, was found dead with a crucifix carved into her chest. Amnesty International has called on the Government of Turkey to investigate these crimes as possible racism or potentially be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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Destruction of Ancient Armenian Structures in Turkey

A new documentary claims that Turkey is destroying ancient Armenian structures and that only 2-3% of the pre-1915 cultural monuments are still standing. If the Government of Turkey is actively destroying these structures, then that’s as bad as Azerbaijan purposely destroying the Julfa cemetery. What’s more likely is that the Government of Turkey is doing nothing to protect the structures and letting them be destroyed by the elements and vandals, which is still a huge shame. It would be a huge improvement in the relations between Turkey and Armenia if Turkey protected these cultural landmarks.   Note that the documentary is in Armenian.

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Whitehouse Petition: Open the Turkish-Armenian Border for Syrian Refugees

There is a new petition to seek an open Turkish-Armenian border for Syrian refugees. While it’s questionable how much Obama can push Turkish policy, it would be a breakthrough if Turkey opens its borders to allow refugees to cross into Armenia. It’d be a win for Turkey to not have to support as many refugees, a win for the refugees that want to get to Armenia, and a win for Armenia who likes to remind the world that their side of the border is still open. Turkey loses only if you view their foreign relations with Armenia in a zero-sum game: if Armenia does better, Turkey must do worse.

Opening the border for refugees would shave off 270 km (169 mi) from the trip to Yerevan from Gazantep, the nearest Turkish city to Aleppo. And, refugees won’t have to make a detour through Georgia.

The current path through Turkey and Georgia refugees must take to Armenia, and the shorter direct path available if the border is open to them.

The current path and the shorter more direct possible path of refugees to Yerevan.

At publication time, the petition is only at 150 signatures, and is unlikely to get to the 25,000 goal to obtain a Presidential response.  Regardless, if this petition draws enough media attention so that the right people in Turkey or the State department see it, that might be enough. There hasn’t been any serious discussions on opening the border since the 2009 accords fell apart. Turkey owes NATO for its Patriot missiles, and opening the border for refugees shouldn’t cost NATO much political capital and lays the groundwork for either a permanently semi-open border or even a fully open border in the future.

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Pictures: Istanbul!

My pictures from Constantino– Istanbul are up!

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24 October 2012 · 4:59 am

Genocide Recognition

One of the constant issues on Armenia’s foreign policy agenda, especially for the Diaspora, is genocide recognition. Currently, 21 states in the world recognize the Genocide with countless sub-national entities (e.g. US states). To Armenians, the minimal recognition is the equivalent to state-level Holocaust Denial and must be corrected immediately.*

The big limiting factor on recognition is the pressure from Turkey. Turkey criminalizes recognition of the Genocide and fines people that speak only about it. Turkey is also a populous state, geographically strategic, a NATO ally, a regional powerhouse, growing economy, supporting the West’s view on the Syrian conflict and generally is a state you’d rather have on your side than against it. In contrast, Armenia is a tiny corrupt landlocked country that doesn’t even have a domestic violence law.

While the US is still disappointing Armenia, there has been movement in France and Israel on recognition.

In December 2011, the French National Assembly passed a bill that would criminalize the denial of officially recognized genocides, which includes the Armenian Genocide. This was the second time that the National Assembly took on this topic. In 2006, the National Assembly passed a similar bill but it died in the Senate. This time, the Senate also passed the bill. In response, Turkey suspended military cooperation and threatened to pull out of joint economic deals. Much to Turkey’s pleasure the French Constitutional Court struck the bill down.**

Round two began with the Socialist Hollande promising to bring back the bill in March and Hollande winning the presidency in May. After his election, Hollande promised that the genocide law is on the table but it faced “constraints.” At the same time, Hollande is opening a “new page” in Turkey-France relations by being the first French President to visit in 20 years. In response, Turkey dropped their sanctions and resumed military ties with France. While the Armenian community in France is quite vocal, it’s unclear how much Hollande will pursue the law when it comes with such high geopolitical costs. There are still members of the National Assembly that are working on passing the law, but it’s unclear if they’ll need or have the president’s outspoken support. [Update from July 7: Looks like the law is dead. Update from July 9: Now it looks like the law might make a come back.]

The other state where things are moving is Israel. Israel’s Knesset spent a session discussing whether to recognize the Armenian Genocide. As with France, Israel hasn’t wanted to strain relations with Turkey, but after the Gaza flotilla raid, those relations are already pretty strained. While it may seem natural for the Jewish state to recognize another genocide, the Anti-Defamation League didn’t recognize the Armenian Genocide until after protests in 2007 and is still against official American recognition.

Also important for Israel is its relationship with Azerbaijan and Armenia’s relationship with Iran. Israel and Azerbaijan are close and recognition will undoubtedly anger Azerbaijan (I apologize for the link to a blatantly anti-Armenian website). At the same time, Armenia is never ever going to do anything that could anger its ally Iran. With such little geopolitical benefit and much cost, it’s not surprising that Israel hasn’t and likely won’t recognize the genocide anytime soon.

* Please note that I have no interest in engaging in a historical discussion about whether or not there was an Armenian Genocide.

** For the record, while I am in favor of official recognition of the Genocide, I’m very hesitant to apply criminal sanctions to speech. The American approach of absolute protection of speech protects an excessive amount of socially detrimental speech including genocide denial. The American logic is that good speech can’t be separated with the bad and that no one should be able to judge what is good or bad speech. This, in my opinion, is too cautious of an approach and protects too much detrimental speech for the amount of positive speech that is protected.

Legitimate good-faith attempts to better understand history, which can include challenging core beliefs if those beliefs aren’t supported by evidence, should be protected. My worry is that criminalizing certain speech could stifle too much of this good-faith speech. A more balanced approach is to not criminalize certain speech but not to protect it (e.g. hate speech can be unprotected but not criminal).

The Genocide Memorial in Yerevan

The Genocide Memorial in Yerevan

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