Turkish Review - - FRONT PAGE - NAREG SE­FE­RIAN

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


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.

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