Creating an Environment for Change Through Turkish-Armenian Dialogue
By Kaan Soyak/Co-Chairman of TABDC
The Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council (TABDC) has been one of the main advocates for creating official and unofficial dialogue between the Turkish and Armenian governments, as well as expanding contacts between the two communities.
Both governments were reluctant when first approached by TABDC in 1997 to engage in such dialogue. Nevertheless, TABDC\’s initiatives to sponsor “people to people” exchanges have contributed to creating an environment whereby many business leaders, journalists and government officials have made significant contacts with each other.
In my opinion, it would never be a waste of time for the Armenian Diaspora to talk directly to Turkish government officials and to the Turkish people. Senior officials in Turkey want direct dialogue with Diaspora Armenians. However, they need confidence and trust, which is currently absent.
In considering approaching both Turkish officials and private individuals, Armenians must realize that the Turkish people are exactly the same as the Armenian people. They are like twins in their behavior and in their way of thinking. Many of my Armenian and Turkish friends\’ ancestors used to live together in the same hometowns. Turkey is the motherland of Armenians and Turks, where they lived together for centuries.
Today, the soil is crying and waiting for Armenians to come back, talk with the local people and live in peace. Why do I have to bring a handful of soil from these lands to my Armenian friends in the US? Why don\’t they come and feel the soil with their own hands? I know Armenian-Americans will not move back to Anatolia and start a new life there. But, why don\’t they consider visiting the land they once shared with Turks for centuries and re-energize themselves? Perhaps we can all work together to bring our common land back to its glorious days.
Recently, an exhibition was opened in Istanbul devoted to Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century. A record number of visitors attended this exhibition. It once again showed how a mature Armenian community lived in the empire and what role it played in our collective society.
The more Armenians get involved at all levels of discussions with Turks, the more they will be able to help the Turkish public learn about the contributions of Armenians in the past. I consider the absence of Armenians from Turkey to be a loss in our quality of life. We were once a successful community — a great nation — when we were together. We were such a mixed society that no one in Turkey today even remembers the names of his or her ancestors.
I don\’t want Armenians to leave this dialogue to third parties. This is our joint motherland. Armenians should go back there and tell all the Turks about their story; explain to them the suffering of their families; and ask openly the reason why so many innocent people were killed in 1915. This is the hard road that we need to take to prepare the environment for our two governments to take the politically difficult steps forward.
The Armenians\’ hesitation for dialogue helps benefit third parties who don\’t care about our region and are only pursuing their own agendas and personal interests under the guise of reconciliation between Armenians and Turks.