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VIEW: Turkey, Armenia, and the burden of memory

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  • VIEW: Turkey, Armenia, and the burden of memory

    Daily Times, Pakistan
    May 19 2005

    VIEW: Turkey, Armenia, and the burden of memory

    -Charles Tannock

    The European Parliament is pressing for Turkish recognition of
    the Armenian genocide. It is also calling for an end to the trade
    embargo by Turkey and its close ally Azerbaijan against the Republic
    of Armenia, a reopening of frontiers, and a land-for-peace deal to
    resolve the territorial dispute over Nagorno Karabakh in Azerbaijan
    and safeguard its Armenian identity

    All wars end, eventually. But memories of atrocity never seem to
    fade, as the anti-Japanese riots now taking place in China remind us.
    The 90th anniversary of the Armenian massacres of 1915, ordered by
    the ruling Young Turks of the Ottoman Empire and carried out by the
    Kurds, is another wound that will not heal, but one that must be
    treated if Turkey's progress toward European Union membership is to
    proceed smoothly.

    It is believed that the Armenian genocide inspired the Nazis in their
    plans for the extermination of Jews. However, in comparison with the
    Holocaust, most people still know little about this dark episode.

    Indeed, it is hard for most of us to imagine the scale of suffering
    and devastation inflicted on the Armenian people and their ancestral
    homelands. But many members of today's thriving global Armenian
    Diaspora have direct ancestors who perished, and carry an oral
    historical tradition that keeps the memories burning.

    It is particularly ironic that many Kurds from Turkey's southeastern
    provinces, having been promised Armenian property and a guaranteed
    place in heaven for killing infidels, were willingly complicit in
    the genocide. They later found themselves on the losing end of a
    long history of violence between their own separatist forces and
    the Turkish army, as well as being subjected to an ongoing policy of
    discrimination and forced assimilation.

    Historically, the ancient Christian Armenians were amongst the most
    progressive people in the East, but in the nineteenth century Armenia
    was divided between the Ottoman Empire and Russia. Sultan Abdulhamit
    II organised the massacres of 1895-97 but it was not until the spring
    of 1915, under the cover of the World War I, that the Young Turks'
    nationalistic government found the political will to execute a true

    Initially, Armenian intellectuals were arrested and executed in
    public hangings in groups of 50 to 100. Ordinary Armenians were thus
    deprived of their leaders, and soon after were massacred. Many were
    burnt alive. Approximately 500,000 were killed in the last seven months
    of 1915, with the majority of the survivors deported to desert areas
    in Syria, where they died from either starvation or disease. It is
    estimated that 1.5 million people perished.

    Recently, the Armenian Diaspora has been calling on Turkey to face up
    to its past and recognise its historic crime. Turkey's official line
    remains that the allegation is based on unfounded or exaggerated
    claims, and that the deaths that occurred resulted from combat
    against Armenians collaborating with invading Russian forces during
    the World War I, or as a result of disease and hunger during the
    forced deportations. Moreover, the local Turkish population allegedly
    suffered similar casualties.

    Turkey thus argues that the charge of genocide is designed to besmirch
    Turkey's honour and impede its progress towards EU accession. There are
    also understandable fears that diverging from the official line would
    trigger a flood of compensation claims, as occurred against Germany.

    For many politicians, particularly in America, there is an
    unwillingness to upset Turkey without strong justification, given its
    record as a loyal NATO ally and putative EU candidate country. But,
    despite almost half a century of membership in the Council of Europe -
    ostensibly a guardian of human rights, including freedom of speech
    and conscience - Turkey still punishes as crime against national
    honour any suggestion that the Armenian genocide is an historic
    truth. Fortunately, this article of Turkey's penal code is now due
    for review and possible repeal.

    Indeed, broader changes are afoot in Turkey. The press and government,
    mindful of the requirements of EU membership, are finally opening
    the sensitive Armenian issue to debate. Even Prime Minister Recep
    Tayyip Erdogan, under increasing EU pressure as accession negotiations
    are due to begin this October, has agreed to an impartial study by
    academic historians, although he has reiterated his belief that the
    genocide never occurred. In France, the historical occurrence of the
    Armenian genocide is enshrined in law, and denial of its occurrence
    is regarded in the same way as Holocaust denial.

    The European Parliament is pressing for Turkish recognition of
    the Armenian genocide. It is also calling for an end to the trade
    embargo by Turkey and its close ally Azerbaijan against the Republic
    of Armenia, a reopening of frontiers, and a land-for-peace deal to
    resolve the territorial dispute over Nagorno Karabakh in Azerbaijan
    and safeguard its Armenian identity.

    Armenia, an independent country since 1991, remains dependent on
    continued Russian protection, as was the case in 1920 when it joined
    the Soviet Union rather than suffer further Turkish invasion. This
    is not healthy for the development of Armenia's democracy and weak
    economy. Nor does Armenia's continued dependence on Russia bode well
    for regional co-operation, given deep resentment of Russian meddling
    in neighbouring Georgia and Azerbaijan.

    There is only one way forward for Turkey, Armenia, and the region.
    The future will begin only when Turkey - like Germany in the past and
    Serbia and Croatia now - repudiates its policy of denial and faces up
    to its terrible crimes of 1915. Only then can the past truly be past.
    - DT-PS

    Charles Tannock is chairman of the European Parliament's Human Rights
    [url][/url] - [COLOR="Red"]Armenian[/COLOR] [COLOR="Blue"]Genealogy[/COLOR] [COLOR="Orange"]Forum[/COLOR]