The history of the Armenian people has been an ordeal of suffering, tragedy, and genocide. In this millennial series of misfortunes, however, never has the nation invited destruction upon itself.
But today it stands at the brink, with a small group of improperly elected leaders apparently racing toward a forsaking of both identity and interest.
With the stroke of a pen, the Armenian president and his foreign minister have crossed the line of danger and dignity; in Zurich, Switzerland on October 10, 2009, they resigned from a long-standing national quest to preserve the fundamental rights, security, and integrity of an ancient land and its native heirs.
The signing of the two diplomatic “protocols” between Armenia and Turkey might indeed constitute the latest entry in the ledger of crimes committed, and covered up, against the Armenian nation.
Core Values are Not Commodities
As a servant of the Armenian nation, reflecting both prior office and present opposition, I am appalled by this latest offense. As an Armenian citizen, for many years denied that honor by successive authorities, I ache as the soul of our nation is traded away for illusory promises of “good will” and “open borders” with Turkey.
Our vital values, from our collective responsibility as heirs of the Genocide to our individual expression of liberty and belonging, are not commodities. That unrequited murderous conception of 1915—the original plan to drive to extinction the Armenian people, the Armenian homeland, and so the Armenian species—is one of the principal sources of our modern identity, just as its equitable resolution is the anchor of our future national security.
This is Duplicity, Not Diplomacy
What will “open borders,” a courtesy commonly extended at no cost to all civilized nations, cost the Armenians?
Of course every Armenian seeks peace, prosperity, and good-neighborly relations. But what we have in these protocols is only an expensive illusion of them.
The ends, generally stated, are sound: Open borders and normal diplomatic relations among neighbors are pure and prudent goals. But the means we use must be as pure and prudent as the ends we seek. Unfortunately, the secretive diplomatic process launched by the Armenian and Turkish administrations is defective at the fundaments, sourced as they are in bloody soil, where a pronounced asymmetry of power survives to this day.
First, the protocols stipulate that Armenia relinquish its lawful historic rights and extend an unlimited de jure recognition of Turkey’s de facto borders, which were drawn and defined on the very basis of the eradication and violent dispossession of the Armenian people from its ancestral heartland. In so doing they demand, and have received, the Armenian presidency’s endorsement of that fantastic crime against humanity which has deprived generations of Armenians of its civilization, heritage, and patrimony.
Second, the protocols entail a joint condemnation of terrorism, yet fail to include any corresponding renunciation of the broader criminal outrage of genocide.
Third, the protocols impose a requirement for a “dialogue on the historical dimension” of relations. This measure, representing a unilateral attempt at imprisoning the Armenian genocide in a bilateral echo chamber, not only challenges the untouchable veracity of the Genocide, but secures the complicity of the Armenian state in absolving Turkey of any responsibility for its genocidal actions.
Once these terms are brought to life, absolutely little will remain of the legitimate expectation to secure Turkey’s and the world’s reaffirmation of and redemption for the Genocide. Turkey will forever deflect and delay liabilities for its genocidal acts by leveraging the infinite and inconclusive nature of the bilateral “dialogue.”
Normalization or not, these protocols move us not one inch toward reconciliation, that pure and total communion based on the truth—a brave recognition of all aspects of shared Turkish-Armenian history, including the great genocide and national dispossession of the Armenian people.
The Protocols in the Proper Perspective
In all the pomp and circumstance of diplomatic “breakthroughs,” we cannot forget that the burden of “normalization” rests, as it always has rested, with the Turkish republic. The decisions to close the border with Armenia and to withhold normal diplomatic relations—violations, both, of all viable international norms—were decisions that Turkey made and realized on its own. Hence, each of the Turkish “concessions” reflected in the protocols represents only the most basic minimum commitment of a decent and civilized country.
Turkey’s bare and stated readiness to open borders and normalize relations—the extent of its responsibilities in the framework of the protocols—is, therefore, a non-event. No international initiative should have been necessary for those moves. And that Turkey has made that determination now—only after accepting the sacrifice of an entire nation—deserves not praise but continued skepticism in the substance behind its diplomatic flourishes, whether they relate to the European Union or broader geopolitical objectives.
From Protocols to Parliaments
Now that the Armenian and Turkish sides have signed these protocols, the second stage, of ratification, is set for the parliaments at Yerevan and Ankara.
Regrettably, dispensing with a parliament’s traditional role of advice and consent in the foreign policy of state, the executives have imposed a prohibition on amending or altering these protocols in any way. While this stands in clear contradiction with democratic standards and practices, it also denies the public and its members in each country the right to exercise or engage their opinions in this process. This extraordinary methodology flies in the face of customary diplomatic practice, which calls for the establishment of official relations through a simple exchange of notes.
The scheme here is plain, perfectly tailored, and aimed at tying down for good history’s loose ends. Soon the Armenian National Assembly, too, will be called upon to bear complicit responsibility in giving legislative validation nearly 90 years after the fact to the illegal Bolshevik-Kemalist pacts which crowned the genocidal process and sought to seal the fate of the Armenian nation.
What is more, not content with pursuing this official acceptance of Turkey's long-standing occupation of the Armenian homeland, its leaders will continue audaciously to abuse every turn of the ratification process in order to deflect their own culpability by linking implementation of the protocols and lifting of the Turkish blockade with what they pitch as the “occupied territories of Azerbaijan.” Clearly, that would be a disingenuous and inapposite reference to the freedom-loving people of Mountainous Karabagh, its odds-defying liberation and constitutional decolonization from the Turco-Stalinist legacy, and its resultant territorial integrity.
In the final analysis, Armenian and Turkish citizens have been refused both voice and choice in determining the outcome of an immensely significant process that will forge the future course of both countries. This is especially distressing, because on the judgments to be made in the coming weeks and months shall turn the fate of generations to come—and their imperative to face history, remember collectively, and bridge in earnest the great Turkish-Armenian divide.
Raffi K. Hovannisian
October 12, 2009