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QUESTION: The 90th Anniversary of the Genocide was marked by a
number of activities in Armenia and in the Diaspora. You participated
or observed many of them. Do you have any thoughts about these

ANSWER: This certainly was a special year. I think we can talk about
it more openly now that the main activities are over.

It is heartening of course to see our people and our young
generations continuing to respect the memory of the victims of the
Genocide in an increasingly organized and unified way.

I do have questions in my mind, nonetheless, regarding some aspects
of this process.

The silent march to Tzitzerkaberd, the main event in my view, has
been one of the most solemn, dignified and moving experiences any
person could live through since the monument was erected in 1967. It is
a collective spiritual experience, a form of communion with the
victims. Some of that solemnity and dignity was lost this year, it
seems to me; with banners and slogans, at times it seemed as if it was
a political demonstration. I think there are more appropriate places
for that. The show of respect for the memory of the victims, which is
the purpose of the march, and the contemplative nature of the monument
require a more serene presence.

I am not sure also that billboards marking the anniversary in the
main streets of Yerevan were appropriate. Billboards advertise or sell
things. Do we need to advertise or sell the Genocide?

More generally, we have to think of the direction in which we in
Armenia and the Diaspora are going as far as our relations with the
international community are concerned. Is the Genocide our only concern
in our relations with our neighbors, with other countries? If that is
the case, then why not demand that countries like Germany, France, the
United Kingdom, and Russia recognize first their responsibility in
creating the conditions for a genocide before they recognize that of
the Ottoman Empire?

Furthermore, is a country “pro-Armenian” if it recognizes the
Genocide? The current atmosphere lends to that view. What if France,
for example, recognized the Genocide but pressured Armenia to make
concessions on Karabakh that Armenia cannot make on its own? What will
we tell France? That it is not pro-Armenian? Is it possible that this
single issue may blind us to what else is going with regard to a number
of others we have to settle with the international community.

There is also the danger that the Genocide issue may be used by
other powers-just as the “Armenian Question” was historically-to settle
their own accounts with Turkey, accounts that have little to do with
the Genocide, thus reducing the memory of our victims to an element in
their games, an element that would be used and abused, picked up and
dropped at their will, not ours? Doesn’t that make us vulnerable to
dangerous manipulations? Doesn’t that mean turning over the key to our
policy making -to our sense of success and failure, in fact our
agenda-to others who have no compunction manipulating us?

At the end, the question is: Is the “victim” psychology and the
political program that ensues from it the way we as a state and as
Diaspora want to relate to the world? However righteous and even
comfortable that may make us feel, we must at least ask the question.

The world may or may not owe us something. But it certainly will not
give us everything we want. Historically, it has given little.

QUESTION: Is there an alternative strategy?

ANSWER: I think we have come a long way since independence in
Turkish-Armenian relations. Changes in Turkey on the societal level and
even failed attempts at establishing dialog have contributed to an
atmosphere within which increased dialog with Turkish citizens may be
equally, if not more productive. We have to recognize that ultimately
it is the people of Turkey we have to address on this issue. It is
their historians and scientists, their teachers and journalists, and
their young generations who we must help to come to terms with their
history. In the long run, it is the more effective way. It is not the
easiest task. But if we are serious, it is the people of Turkey that
must understand and assess their history. That would be true
recognition. That requires an understanding on our part as to why it is
that not only successive governments of Turkey that have denied the
Genocide, but also Turkish society by and large. That requires
recognizing changes in Turkish society that have been opening
opportunities for us in the last two decades or so. That requires
recognition of the value of the policies of independent Armenia’s first
administration that did not define Turkey as an enemy and created an
environment for a critical view of Turkish history and political
structures from within. That requires recognition of the efforts of a
number of Armenian scholars who have been in a dialog with their
Turkish scholars for a number of years now. But I am not sure this is
convenient to many on our side. I am certain that we have much to gain
by framing the issue of Genocide recognition as a problem for Turkish
society and democracy and little to gain by making it a European or
Western issue.

The most recent events in Turkey testify to the validity of such a
strategy. Over thirty scholars supported by three universities, one of
them a state university, took it upon themselves to organize a
conference on the Armenian Question. Some in the government intervened
and made it difficult for the scholars to meet. Nonetheless, we must
recognize that we have entered a new phase in our relations with Turkey
since independence and that new phase has also coincided with changes
in Turkey. We must adjust our direction.

QUESTION: The 90th Anniversary activities included an International
Conference in Yerevan in which you participated. Any comments on the

ANSWER: Yes, I participated in the deliberations on the second day,
since I had to attend a workshop on Security and Democracy in
Tzaghkadzor the first day, a workshop that had been decided upon before
I received the invitation. I was asked to chair the last session, on
the Turkish-Armenian relations.

From what I could observe that day, the conference had a large
number of high quality, international participation with many dignified
presentations, particularly touching upon the international dimensions
and the legal aspects of the question of Genocide. A number of
questions were raised and hopefully will become subject to public

The conference did have some problem areas. The participants
included high level international figures with their concerns, as well
as academic, public and political figures with theirs. Combined with a
very large audience, it was impossible to pursue lines of thought and
sustain debate in a manner that satisfied the participants or the
audience. Nonetheless, it was commendable that the issues were framed
beyond the confines of the Armenian case. The participation of
international figure such as former President Lech Walesa of Poland and
Juan Mendez, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General on the
Prevention of Genocide, and of internationally recognized scholars,
especially legal experts, gave much weight to the Conference.

QUESTION: There were a number of issues raised during the session
you chaired which were not properly explored. Professor Richard
Hovannisian, for example prefaced his presentation with a statement
that recent events vindicated the position of Armenia’s first Foreign
Minister– his son Raffi Hovannisian–with regard to Turkey. Professor
Rouben Safrastyan argued that the policies of President Ter-Petrossian
were misconceived since Turkey’s policy toward Armenia being of a
“coercive” nature. Do you agree?

ANSWER: First, I find Professor Hovanisian’s personalized comments
inappropriate for an international conference on the Genocide, as I
made clear at the end of the session. Raffi is a person with many
qualities, continues to contribute to Armenia’s political life and he
will continue to do so. He is not the issue in question.

On a technical level, with regard to Raffi’s tenure as Foreign
Minister, it is clear that if a Minister disagrees with a President,
who is the elected official constitutionally responsible for foreign
policy and has the right to define policy, then for a minister to
conduct policy contrary to that defined by the president is
unacceptable in any government. I ascribe that incident to youthful

As for Professor Safrastyan, it is not clear to me when he started
thinking in the direction he stated. Rouben was part of my analysis
group; he was the senior expert on Turkey. He fully participated in the
discussions we had, contributed to policy making and even accompanied
me twice I believe when I went to Ankara for negotiations. I do not
remember him having any reservations or raising any objections
regarding the policy that was decided and conducted. If he had any
objections he could have raised them then and may be we would have
benefited from his expertise. It is possible, of course, to revise
one’s views; but in that case it would have been better for him to
acknowledge his role in the policies he is now criticizing. If a person
is in a position where he can make a difference and does not do so, one
would have to question his behavior. I have difficulty evaluating his
later criticism and question his reasons for his earlier silence or his
criticism today.

More importantly, the assessment of the first administration’s
policies toward Turkey-by Professors Hovannisian and Safrastyan or by
others-requires a more serious and responsible analysis than was
offered by any of the participants.

Armenia’s policy then and in its essentials now is based on the
principle that the ultimate security and prosperity of a country,
especially one with Armenia’s characteristics, depends on normal
relations with all of its neighbors. I think that the history of this
republic proves that. Neighbors provide the most likely threats or the
most likely opportunities. The purpose of foreign policy is to minimize
the first and reach out to the second. All else ensues from this
principle, all else is a matter of tactics.

Simple principles guiding foreign policy have practical
consequences. One does not only have enemies but also makes them. This
implies that we must take responsibility for our actions and inactions,
for our words and for our silences. For our policies. If our policies
don’t make a difference because Turkey will be an enemy eternally or
because the only fact that counts is that its predecessor state, the
Ottoman Empire, committed genocide, then we should not think about
policy, then freedom to think and to elect and independence become
irrelevant. That is an escape from responsibility. What would that have
meant for an Armenia whose economy had collapsed with the USSR, an
Armenia in an energy crisis, under a full blockade from Azerbaijan and
involved in the Karabakh war?

Now let us assume for a moment that we had based our policy on a
completely different principle. Let us assume that we had brought
Genocide recognition to the forefront of our policy and treated Turkey
as the eternal enemy because it had not recognized the Genocide; and
that we poured all our energies into that battle. What would have been
the result?

It is true that we were unable to achieve our ultimate goal,
relations were not normalized as a result of our policy. Under the
circumstances, it was not to be easy. Yet, we must also take
responsibility for that; it is not all Turkey’s fault. Our occupation
of Azerbaijani territory, especially beginning with Kelbajar was the
major factor in that failure. Whatever our reasons for doing so, the
fact remains that we took such action which was seen as deeply
suspicious and reprehensible from Turkey’s point of view. And should
our policy be assessed only by the standard of full success, i.e., the
establishment of normal relations? Isn’t it important that under the
circumstances Turkey showed much restraint during the war when its
ethnic cousins were losing the war with dire consequences for hundreds
of thousands of their citizens?

Perhaps more important is the example of the wheat supply situation
in Armenian in the fall of 1992, when the Abkhaz war interrupted the
only open rail link that brought wheat to Armenia. At that time Armenia
produced only 40% of the wheat it consumed annually; and even that was
endangered because of the economic disruptions. Turkey could have
refused our request to open the Kars-Gyumri rail line to bring in the
100,000 tons of wheat the European Union had pledged to Armenia. Turkey
did not refuse our request and the border was opened for that purpose.
It became possible to pass the horrible 1992-1993 winter without famine
in Armenia. Would that have been possible if our policy had been
different? Is famine what the victims of the Genocide would have wanted
us to condemn our people to with the possible loss of Karabakh as a

The unfortunate fact is that such views are being expressed by
historians who should know the history of the First Republic and who
should be able to situate policies and actions in the context of
history and not in the abstract world of wishful thinking.

No, I do not agree with my colleagues. As deeply as the issue of
Genocide recognition touches us all deeply and angers us, the existence
of the state of Armenia and the survival, security and prosperity of
the living-especially those living in that state and Karabakh– remain
the highest value. I don’t think the victims of the Genocide would have
wanted it differently. New martyrdom is not the only or even best way
to respect the memory of those who perished.

QUESTION: One other issue came up during that last session which you
chaired. The secretary of the HH Dashnaktsutyune, Kiro Manoyan, thought
this conference was an improvement over the one you had organized ten
years ago on the 80th Anniversary, since his party was absent then and
was represented now.

ANSWER: That was more amusing than serious, I thought, since his
comment raised more questions than it answered. Ten years ago, when we
had initiated the idea of an international conference on the 80th
Anniversary and organized it, there were no parties represented in the
conference, since we did not see the Genocide as a party issue. On the
other hand, no party other than his was invited to this one. I do not
have an answer to this one.

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