Armenian Genocide recognition: Necessary but not sufficient

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

With the approaching Centennial of the Armenian Genocide in 2015, Turkish leaders are coming under increasing pressure from the international community to face their country’s sordid past and acknowledge the Genocide. Significantly, public statements regarding the Armenian Genocide were made in the last few days by heads of three European states: France, Germany, and the Czech Republic.

During his last month’s visit to Turkey, French President Francois Hollande, without using the genocide term, called on Turkish leaders to confront their history: “Memory work is always painful… but must be done. What we need is to carry out reconciliation through research and recognition of what has happened…. By recognizing the historical events you will be elevated not only in your own eyes, but also in the eyes of the world.” Pres. Hollande also held a private meeting with Rakel Dink, the widow of martyred Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

Similar wise counsel was offered last week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan: “Turkey must come to terms with its history.” Ironically, Erdogan was the one who brought up this issue by complaining that Germany was planning to allocate funds for the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial.

The President of the Czech Republic, Milos Zeman, went even further than the French and German leaders by actually using the term Armenian Genocide during Pres. Serzh Sargsyan’s visit to Prague two weeks ago: “Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. In 1915, 1.5 million Armenians were killed.”

While international pressure on the Turkish government is expected to become progressively more intense with the approach of the Genocide Centennial, Armenians should be wary not to be misled by such well-meaning, but at times, self-serving statements. If such pressures would prompt a Turkish leader to admit the Ottoman government’s guilt in committing massacres or even genocide, that would be insufficient to satisfy the just demands of the Armenian people. In fact the raising of expectations for Turkish recognition could be counter-productive because if and when Turkey does acknowledge it, everyone including Armenians may wrongly assume that their long-anticipated objective has been realized!

Several decades ago, when the world was still unaware of the basic facts of the Armenian Genocide, its recognition by the international community and the Turkish government was imperative. However, at this stage, when over two dozen countries, many international organizations, and the International Association of Genocide Scholars have acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, mere recognition is no longer the ultimate goal.

Rather than recognition, Armenians and all people of goodwill now seek justice for the genocide committed by Ottoman Turkish leaders. Just as Germany paid compensation to Holocaust survivors, the government of Turkey, as successor to the Ottoman Empire, has to pay billions of dollars in restitution, and return the stolen Armenian properties and occupied lands.

To strive for restitutive justice, Armenians should use every possible means — political pressure, economic boycotts, public protests, and lawsuits — to convince Turkey’s leaders that they would be better off to negotiate with representatives of the Armenian government and Diaspora, seeking a just resolution for this long-lasting injustice. As there are considerable disparities between the political, economic and military capabilities of the two sides, Armenians may not be able to obtain all their demands overnight, but should insist that Turkish officials offer them as much restitution as possible in a phased manner towards eventual full justice.

The just settlement of the Armenian Genocide issue would have many benefits for Turkey which would be hailed by the international community as a progressive and civilized country. Its leaders may even be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. Recognition followed by restitution would also facilitate Turkey’s entry into the European Union. Otherwise, the continued refusal to come to terms with the Armenian Genocide would prolong the Turkish people’s embarrassing predicament of being constantly reminded of the crimes committed by their forefathers and continuously humiliated before the entire world as genocide denalists.

Should Turkish leaders have the courage to resolve their Armenian conundrum, the Armenian people would finally begin obtaining long-awaited compensation for their losses, enjoy an economically and geopolitically more viable and secure homeland, with the expectation that a repentant neighbor would be more inclined toward peaceful coexistence.

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