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A Perspective Concerning Turkey-Armenia Relations in the 100th Anniversary of the Genocide

Sait Çetinoğlu
 Even if I start my talk,  saying  what I will express at the end of my speech, I’d like to underline an issue before beginning my speech.  I was asked to give a presentation about the relations between Turkey and Armenia, but this is nothing but shouting towards the empty space. In the 100th Anniversary of the Genocide, The Turkish Government enunciated during the 2014 budget discussions that they drew up a budget aiming to support  the denial industry in the framework of a 4-year-project. At the same time, Sevan Nişanyan, an Armenian intellectual, journalist, writer, linguist and experimental architecture master, who is outspoken about every matters, was sent prison for 4 years under the allegations of an abuse of law and various intrigues against him. Sevan Nişanyan is in the jail since January 2nd.  

Sevan’s captivity process beginning in Torbalı Open Prison on January 2nd, 2014 continued under very harsh conditions and in confinement on cold floor in Buca Prison. Then, he was exiled to Aliağa – Şakran T-Type Closed Prison and is in solitary confinement now.

While what he did in a forgotten mountain village of İzmir, called Şirince, should be protected and awarded by UNESCO, it was decided to ruin this opponent Armenian intellectual’s all masterpieces acclaimed all over the world, due to his academic writings, and now he is being held in the divestment conditions in a high-security prison as a result of an open-ended process of penalization; therefore talking about such relations is fantasy.   
The joint declaration by a group of Turkish and Armenian intellectuals in recent days isn’t much more a desire of interpreting favourably a fantastic dream rather than on insisting into  a hegemonic imposition and  an acquiescence to asymmetric relation.
We are expecting a state, which can’t afford  an opponent Armenian writer, to correct a 100-year-old injustice caused by itself! Sevan Nişanyan has been punished for being Armenian. His architectural works were decided to be ruined  because  being Armenian, after the decision of the Constitutional Court in 1964, Christians’ acquisition of properties was an exception. The fact that the president of the republic, who is also a jurist, didn’t consider Christians as citizens, but as foreigners is gloom and doom. Additionally, we are talking about a country where, from cradle to grave, the ideas ‘we are surrounded by enemies’ and ‘Turks do not have any friend or ally other than other Turks’ have control over the minds. Healing this mind-blindness is not an easy thing.
On April 23rd, 2014, Prime Minister Erdoğan issued a condolence message to the Armenians.  They asked me my opinion about it.  ‘The condolence was expressed to Armenians; so, they must answer it’, I said. It was answered by a sententious and wise question:  “How you can offer condolences to the persons you have killed?”
Asymmetry and hegemony… The relationship between Turks and Armenians is asymmetric and hegemonic. In fact, this had begun with Turkish conquest of Armenia hundreds of years ago. This conquest was frozen within the Ottoman Millet (nations) system hierarchy. The Millet system had made that imperial conquest permanent such that the fact that it is the essence of Armenian-Turkish relation had been repeated continuously. The Genocide didn’t change this relation, and, on the contrary, provided ‘this conquest’ to obtain continuity by converting from its state of static pressure  into a comprehensive destruction; This means the completion of the conquest in a most brutal manner and the colonization of historic Armenia by Turks and Kurds. Solution of “problem” is being prevented by this concrete complicity.  The Armenian lands were shared by Muslims. One reason of the fact that “Republicans”/Kemalists didn’t insist on the land reform until today, is the colonization of Western  Armenia and the sharing of her territories by Muslims. Second, today, Kurds came to power in West Armenia; the local power is in the hands of PKK/BDP, and the nearly half of the Kurdish population is under their control. Other half is under the control of AKP.  The primary  factor  which makes “the solution” difficult  is this structure of power relationship. Today, we can consider the process of the “peace” talks, which the central power (AKP) and the local power (PKK-BDP) try to continue, as the efforts to keep clear of the troubles arisen from a century-old-complicity and to slide around the “Armenian Question” before the “civilized” world in the 100th Anniversary of the Genocide. The start signal for this circumlocution had been given by Öcalan during his Newroz speech in 2013; and other PKK leaders, Bese Hozat being the first, had completed the rest with their discourses (e.g. Armenian lobby, Greek lobby or Jewish lobby).
The Armenian Genocide isn’t an abnormality, an aberration during the history of Turkey-Armenia relations, isn’t limited to the history and, hence, isn’t a thing which can’t be kept separate from the present situation. It is a point where İttihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti maximized asymmetry. In other words, the maximized hegemony has been continuing since the genocidal murders because nothing had been done to palliate the results of the Genocide.
In this regard, the post-Genocide relation has two remarkable relationships. First, the Armenians are facing an aggressive campaign of denial to the extent that they continue to become a conceptual and political problem for the Turkish state based on an exclusionist Turkish nationalism by refusing to obey anymore and by insisting on social equity and fundamental rights.  Second, such an unequal relation actually supports the Genocide by freezing so-far-acquired gains.  Even if Turkey put an end to the denial and other political actions against Armenians, this will prevent only the emergence of any further damages. Otherwise, it won’t mitigate the damages already suffered during the 1915 Genocide nor it will eliminate the asymmetry of status and power.
As is known to all, contemporary Turkey has been built on the basis of the military, political and other gains acquired during the Armenian Genocide. No figures and no statistics are able to express the level of the losses and sufferings.  Additionally, it is reality that Turkey still continues to benefit from the loss of size, status and power by her neighbouring country, Armenia.  Richard Hovannisian says that, even though the genocide happened, if the first Armenian Republic was not be exposed to the conquest and murders and long-term control of Kemalist forces, today she could become a vibrant, safe and economically strong regional power with her population of about 20 million.
There is a thought that forcing Turks to pay compensation owing to the fact that Armenian people were subjected to the genocide would disincline some well-intentioned Turks and that this would have a negative impact on any probable developments in the Turkish-Armenian relations. Even, a wave of anger could rise against Armenians because of their alleged aim of prejudicing to Turkey’s territorial integrity.  Armenians who couldn’t go to the grocer to buy bread because of Sevan Nişanyan’s having said few words about the prophet Muhammad last year,  were angrier ro Sevan rather than Muslims. Meanwhile, it should be noted that Sevan had received a 13,5 year-imprisonment for these 3,5 lines. That’s why Armenians are being asked to maintain a low profile and to postpone their demand for justice till an indefinite period: Turkey’s democratization. However, yes, the democratization can help increasing of the possibility of a more deeply dealing with the Armenian Genocide, but this is not enough to produce any transformation. Besides, the genes of Turkey and her ancestors Ottoman Empire aren’t accordant with a smallest reform, let alone democracy.
The claims for compensation are challenged on the grounds that today’s Turkish public isn’t linked whatsoever to  the Genocide, hence it isn’t fair to ask them to leave their lands which they might buy scarcely and barely a long time after the Genocide and to pay other direct or indirect damages. Here are three points should be considered: First, today’s Turkey and many Muslims (Turks and Kurds) are generating financial gains through the lands, commercial enterprises and other properties confiscated during the Genocide.
Second, even in cases where this first option is void and ones didn’t obtain any verifiable gains from the Genocide, it is important and necessary to analyze the injustice of the situation. If someone put forward that any payment of compensation wouldn’t be fair in terms of today’s Turks, he/she should take into consideration that the reason of this injustice isn’t Armenians, but is the Genocide perpetrators who had created the current situation of today. Those who put today’s Turks, Kurds and others in an awkward position are their own ancestors. More importantly, the main burden of the Genocide was laid on Armenians. The past is laying these burdens on Armenians unfairly who bear no relation to this subject-matter at the present. Even if Turkey presents the most excellent compensation package, today’s Turks will be have taken only a part of the burden shouldered by today’s Armenians.  Third, we mustn’t forget that those who assert that having born late would relieve them of collective responsibility are being regarded as NAZI by the civilised world.
Indemnifications for genocides and acts against humanity, such as colonialism, slavery, mass rape, ill-treatment, are part of remedial and corrective justice and one of the most important global political issues in the 21st century. Armenians’ claims for damages should be deemed as part of this global justice movement.  What we say also applies to all victim peoples of the 1915 Genocide process: Assyrians, Pontic and Anatolian Greeks,  Yezidis…
Surely, good relations between two countries are important. However, for the peoples, we can’t attribute always affirmative meanings to it. The bilateral good relation between Atatürk and Venizelos is the best example in this connection.  Here the asymmetric hegemony was ‘clinched’. For examples, we can’t tell that these good relations have been for the benefit of Greek People. 
To tell the truth, the relations between the states or by their representatives are not so important. What really matters, is the empathy and good relations to be built up with the victims. In this regard, I reserved the final part for the recognition of 1915 Genocide, on the compensation and  suggestions concerning how Turkey will get rid of this shame:
symbolic and principal recommendations
The below mentioned are symbolic and principal recommendations as to what is expected of Turkey as a minimal “gesture” in the march up to the 100th anniversary of the Genocide.
1-        Recognition, apology  and compensation
The first step in the process of the recognition of the first Genocide of the 20th century should be a sincere apology and the condemnation of the people bearing responsibility for the crime.
The memory of the Ottoman Armenians should be restored. For example, the Alemdagh neighborhood, where Maestro Gomidas lived, should be renamed after him.
There are symbolic buildings in today’s Turkey that have been forcefully confiscated from Christian citizens of the Ottoman Empire. For Example, as part of the first symbolic steps towards the recognition of the Genocide, the Kassabian family home, currently in use as the Presidential Place, should be returned to the decedents of the Kassabian family.  
2-        Put an end to Genocide denial
Call back and dissolve the state affiliated “committee set to fight against unsubstantiated allegations of Genocide”. Announce a decision to put an end to all activity directed at denying the Genocide. Eliminate the clause indicating the allocation of state funds in 2014 for Genocide denial.
3-        Passport and citizenship 
Make the Ottoman Armenians’ passport archives available and transparent. Put an end to the violation of civil rights and the expulsion of non Muslims. Reestablish the civil rights of all Western Armenians, grant Turkish citizenship to those wishing to obtain it. 
4-        Return and repatriation
Encourage and create a favorable environment for the repatriation for those wishing to transmigrate and live on their historical homeland. 
5-        Open the real estate archives and put an end to the imposed restrictions
Call back and eliminate the state decree forbidding access to passport archives. Also, dismiss the National Security Service decision. Open for research the Ottoman cadastre archive, digitalized by the Real Estate Registry and the Cadastre (tapu-kadastro), that remains closed.
6-        Make available the Ottoman archives, including the archive of the armed forces  
Make available to the public all Ottoman archives including the material at the disposal of the Armed Forces. Put an end to the limitations restraining research. Publish the archives in digital format.
7-        Abandoned property registry disclose
Publish in digital format and present to the decedents of the victims and scholars the archives of the 35 territorial commissions on the confiscation of abandoned property and its reassignment. As well, make public the decisions regarding the reassignment of Armenian property made by the commissions on abandoned property.  Prepare a list of the property that has formerly belonged to Armenians and has been reallocated to public organizations or individuals. Return the property or offer compensation to the decedents of its rightful owners.
Prepare a list of property that has been destroyed or has dilapidated in time though a lack of maintenance and offer compensation.  
Organize the disclosure and compensate for Armenian funds, gold, other precious items and documents that were kept in banks and have been appropriated by others.
Publish all these records in digital format.
8-        Property allocated to civil and commercial establishments.
Prepare the list of properties allocated to organizations, establishments, some parliament members, journalists and privet companies and banks for the development of their political activity and for the benefit of the perpetrator’s trade and industrial development. Take back the property or compensate for it.
9-        Property still under state disposal.
Prepare the list of property allocated to state bodies such as ministries, general administrations of establishments, Vakifs and municipalities and return the properties to the decedents of the rightful owners.
10-      Abduction of women and children.
It is necessary to disclose the lists of the names of women and children who have been abducted or gotten a hold of by other means or given to other families by the state. Also, disclose the telegram from 11 August, 1915 being kept in Ottoman archives, sent by the Interior Affairs Ministry to the different areas of the empire (vilayets), coded  «DH.ŞFR., nr. 54-A/382» which states that, “the inheritance of the children placed under the care of Islamized, married and trustworthy individuals will be retained while the inheritance of children whose parents  are deceased will be allocated”.
Disclose the list of families who appropriated the inheritance of the orphans as indicated by the telegram and prepare the list of the plundered property.
11-      Collective responsibility
To apologize and to accept the guild of the Genocide would be the main steps towards deliverance and lifting the stain of shame. Therefore, collective responsibility must be claimed 

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