THE SHIFTING FOCUS OF THE ARMENIAN CAUSE
The issue of the Armenian Genocide did not manifest any regular political expression until the late 1960s. The Armenian Cause, as it has come to be known ( Hai Tahd in Western Armenian; Hai Daht in Eastern Armenian), followed mass demonstrations in particular in 1965. That was the 50th year marking the arrest of notable Armenians in İstanbul on April 24, which heralded the massacres and deportations that followed Surprisingly, rallies took place in Yerevan in Soviet Armenia in 1965, running contrary to the antinational policies of the USSR. It did not take long for communities within the organized Armenian diaspora to take on the mantle of genocide recognition as their primary raison d’être. 1
At that time, an Armenian genocide was a nonissue as far as Turkey was concerned. No such thing happened, according to the official line. The past Armenian presence in Anatolia and whatever remained of the meager contemporary one was strongly suppressed. Genocide denial, in fact, encompassed the denial of any Armenian cultural heritage in Turkey. Kemalist nationalism was still the mainstay of the country, after all -- including for the Armenian population: April 24, 1965, also saw a public event in İstanbul, led by a former parliamentarian of Armenian background, Berç Turan. On that day, around 25-30 Armenians placed wreaths at the memorial to Atatürk and the revolution in Taksim Square, denouncing commemorations in communities elsewhere in the world to “the 50th anniversary of the unpleasant events that took place during Ottoman times.” 2
Until the 1990s, then, it was recognition and recognition alone that was the primary agenda item for the organized Armenian diaspora. Having authoritative bodies -- most often national legislatures -- pass resolutions recognizing the massacres as a genocide and calling on Turkey to do the same was considered a success for relatively small community groups in which entire operations were often being run by a handful of dedicated, volunteer individuals.
Distinct from parliamentary resolutions, Armenian Studies had begun to grow as a separate discipline in the Western world even before 1965, reaching beyond its niche among scholars of the Near East or Middle East or Oriental Studies. 3 Many areas of interest in Armenian Studies later overlapped with Diaspora Studies and, still later, the study of genocide or comparative studies of genocides. Over the course of the past three or four decades, Armenian and Turkish points of view have sparred in the academic realm as well, far away from legislatures or desks of high-level officials in capitals around the world. 4
Another side of the Armenian Cause -- confined to
the 1970s and 1980s -- was a bloody one. A number of assassinations and other acts of violence took place, in particular against Turkish diplomats and Turkish interests around the world, during the course of those two decades. The Turkish position on the Armenian Genocide did not budge, even with all the headlines. However, the only time the Republic of Turkey ever formally engaged with the organized Armenian diaspora was as a result of these violent acts. In 1977, a secret meeting took place in Zurich between then-Turkish Foreign Minister İhsan Sabri Çağlayangil and leaders of the so-called “traditional” Armenian political parties with a diaspora presence -- the Armenian Revolutionary Federation ( Tashnagtsoutiun or Dashnaktsoutiun), the Social Democrat Party (Huntchakian) and the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party ( Ramgavar). 5 Nothing came of it. But it is noteworthy that violence was the only means by which Ankara’s attention was ever seriously attracted by any Armenian organization.
The violence by those Armenian groups came to an end as the USSR began to unravel and resources and energy were directed towards the armed conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and the newly independent Republic of Armenia. A new generation of Armenian diaspora activists, benefitting from the experience of their predecessors, added new elements into the Armenian Cause in the 1990s: High-level relationships between the host country and the new Armenian state, including trade and aid packages, advocacy for the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and, conversely, advocacy against the Republic of Azerbaijan. The Armenian Genocide issue did not go away, of course. On the contrary, especially during the presidency of Robert Kocharian in Armenia (1998-2008), state-level support was given to include the Armenian Genocide on the official diplomatic agenda, as the increase in the number of related official documents during that era shows. 6
REPHRASING AND REFRAMING THE NARRATIVE
Over the past decade, however, one can notice a change in the narrative.
First of all, within Turkey itself, mention of the massacres is no longer considered taboo per se. At the very least, it has become acceptable within a wider circle than ever before. The Turkish position has gone from outright denial to a new formulation, that of “shared pain” or “common pain.” Certainly the death of numerous Turks or Muslims during the World War I
Mount Ararat (Ağrı Dağı) is a national symbol for the Armenians.