Appraising Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation

Editorial, 8 December 2014

On Nov 17, 2014, the e-zine Jadaliyya published an interview with Dr. Anny Bakalian conducted by Dr. Sinem Adar titled  “Armenian Diaspora Tourism in Turkey.”

This conversation between a Turkish and Armenian academic seems designed to introduce Muslim audiences to the history and experience of Western Armenians before and after 1915. One aspect of the interview appears to be to defuse enmity between Turks and Armenians by showing how their ancestors allegedly shared a common heritage prior to the Genocide.

Interviewee Bakalian recounts her family history in Western Armenia and Cilicia; her participation in pilgrimages to these lands; and answers questions about her thoughts and experiences as a descendant of Armenian exiles. Bakalian’s comments will undoubtedly inform Muslim readers about Armenian history.

Intellectual exchanges such as this are welcome, but they also present problems. The successful implementation of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation seems to require that both sides presuppose common historical and cultural attributes that are not necessarily accurate or complete. Indeed, this interview at times risks equalizing the culpability of Armenians and Turks for antagonisms existing before and after the Armenian Genocide.  A few instances that point to this include the following comments from Bakalian:

·      That many Armenians in 19th century Cilicia and parts of W. Armenia spoke Turkish as their ‘mother tongue.’ Turkish may have been the Lingua Franca, given that occupied peoples were using the dominant, official language of the Turkish Empire, but to call it the mother tongue of the Armenians is inaccurate and disingenuous.

·      That Armenians had a “shared culture” with Turks that included cuisine, music and Khoja stories. Had Bakalian mentioned that many indigenous traditions were appropriated or destroyed by centuries of harsh Turkish occupation, this would render the picture in a different light…that of Armenian tourists witnessing the co-optation and weakening of their suppressed culture.

·      That Armenians from Lebanon in the 1980s wishing to travel to Western Armenia would have encountered the refusal of a Turkish visa because The Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) was murdering Turkish diplomats. Were all Lebanese Armenians wishing to travel refused a Turkish visa? Was the mention of ASALA in the interview done to equalize purported “shared pain” between Turks and Armenians, without mentioning that the assassination of diplomats is an inevitable tactic of the disenfranchised and dispossessed? Was it necessary for Bakalian to refer to a Tashnag ancestor and his descendant as “defiant” — which smack of the derogative terms used to justify the Turkish narrative that Armenian revolts were responsible for the Genocide?

·       That “some Armenians really want an apology from the Turkish government [for the commission of genocide]. Some people would be happy to receive a personal expression of regret.”  While this reflects Bakalian’s personal opinion, it does not represent a position to which the entire global Armenian community adheres, nor does an apology suffice or portend a larger political solution. To her credit, Bakalian ends the interview by saying that  “if the Turkish citizens lobby their government to change the policy of genocide denial, they may eventually achieve this [acknowledgment]. Ultimately, the onus is on the Turkish people, beginning with the intelligentsia.” Unfortunately, Bakalian stops at governmental acknowledgment as a proposed final solution.

·    That “witnessing the villages, towns, and cities of their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents reconnects [Armenian] travelers with their roots and heals displacement. The trip [to Western Armenia] is psychologically therapeutic not only for the travelers, but also for Diaspora Armenians back home. When the pilgrims return to their everyday lives, they share their experiences and impressions with their family, friends, and community. While family stories of Turkish atrocities are not forgotten, the new narratives offer the promise of closure.” Many Armenians do not agree with Bakalian’s opinion that tourism to occupied Western Armenia is the “healing” solution for exiled Armenians and their descendants. In fact, some might consider traveling to areas cleansed of Armenians and their culture a form of re-traumatization, especially when Turkish state policy is still one of full-blown denial.

There have been, in the last 20 years, a number of misconceptions inherent in the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process. Reconciliation begs the question of whether and under which circumstances a victim group with little support from the international community should: engage with an unrepentant perpetrating nation; share responsibility for their victimization in exchange for dialogue; and if the process puts the appropriately greater onus on the dominant perpetrator group.

This interview became a springboard for our compiling a list of misconceptions, presented below.

Ten Key Presuppositions of Turkish-Armenian “Reconciliation”

1) That reconciliation rectifies an estrangement between peoples who were once co-equal citizens and good friends residing within a tolerant Ottoman Empire.  False.  Armenians were generally second-class citizens in an oppressive environment.

2) That both peoples are equally responsible for their rift, for what caused and perpetuates it, for establishing a peaceful resolution, and have equal power to do so. False. Turkey was the perpetrating state; Armenians were the victims. The power asymmetry still holds today.

3) That cultural exchanges to ‘bridge misunderstanding’ can overcome historic hostility; such exchanges are enough to help two sides reach an equitable solution to their problems; and if exchanges cannot lead to restorative justice, they could minimize or supplant it. False.  There are real political issues that separate Turkey and Armenia: Turkey’s closure of the border, Turkey’s attempts to interfere in the Artsakh/Karabagh issue, and Turkey’s pan-Turkist ambitions to expand to the East.

4) That apologies by Turks in regard to the Armenian Genocide – individually, collectively or on a government level — may speak for all concerned and will finally resolve the problem.  False, as financial and territorial reparations are also necessary to completely make amends for the unprecedented act of genocide committed.

5) That it is up to Armenians to work hand-in-hand with Turks to educate and transform Turkish society (whether this ultimately helps the Armenian Cause or not) and that only such transformed Turks from within Turkey (rather than international pressure upon Turkey) can establish lasting peace with Armenians.  False. Armenians should not be placed in the position of being the Turks’ psychiatrists.

6) That interminable exchanges, dialogue and dissection of history should take the place of Armenian political activism for reparations and restoration or, at the very least, should persuade political entities to neutralize reparations  efforts.  False. Dialogue in perpetuity could indefinitely delay and defuse restorative justice.

7) That the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border is not being pursued to satisfy the political ambitions of the West, but rather, is being pursued because it is solely beneficial to the parties involved.  False. The West has much to gain by an opened border, including the East-West transport of Western-controlled Central Asian energy resources and political and military penetration by NATO. Incentives presented to Turks include improving their international image and boosting the impoverished Turkish economy. For Armenians, besides some unproven economic gains, purported incentives are that simply visiting Western Armenia will, in and of itself, satisfy and give closure to those who carry genocide trauma and the desire to permanently return to W. Armenia. This may, in fact, complete the act of genocide.

8) That motives for reconciliation are the same among Turks and Armenians. False. Some Turks may wish to correct historic wrongs. Others wish to achieve economic gain; improve a tarnished image; build democracy in their own nation; and neutralize the reparations movement. Some Armenians may truly seek restorative justice. Others wish to obtain career opportunities and advancement, access to power and personal fame.

9) That the majority of Turks of today are liberal thinkers and entirely unlike the Turks of the past. And that the reconciliation movement is widespread and has great public support.  False. The intellectual class that recognizes the Armenian Genocide makes up a small percentage of the Turkish population. The recent, racially motivated Turkic assassinations of Armenians such as Hrant Dink, Sultan Aykar, Marissa Kucuk, Sevan Balikji and Gurgen Makaryan are still fresh, as are the invasions of Kessab and the bombing of the Der Zor Memorial.  The reconciliation movement is not extensive and does not have widespread public support. The same group of individuals are participating in the reconciliation process again and again, only sometimes with their identities concealed.

10) That so much has changed in the past 100 years and that, aside from a hostile, paranoid Armenian Diaspora, Turkey is of no particular threat to Armenia.  That those Armenians who question the asymmetry of the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process are fanatics who harbor hatred for Turks, do not wish to see progress, and are preventing Armenia from making peace with Turkey. False. Those who point out the power asymmetry between Turkey and Armenians should not be silenced or marginalized.  Diaspora Armenians are looked upon as hostile interventionists who will spoil Turkish-Armenian initiatives. In truth, the Diaspora represents the direct outcome of the genocidal process and the main aggrieved party who remains stateless and without reparation or restitution.

We urge those who wish to see meaningful dialogue between Turks and Armenians to consider the points above. On the eve of the Armenian Genocide Centennial and as reconciliation initiatives proliferate, every Armenian must ask him or herself the following: “Do I believe that the Armenians should abandon the dream of returning to the indigenous lands and properties stolen from Armenians, or should Armenians cherish their dream the way Martin Luther King, Jr. did, and for which he paid with his life? His followers have not given up that dream despite all of the hardships and ridicule.

Let us assume that there are high-minded Armenians who are invested in the “reconciliation” process as a means of restoring the lost homeland of the Armenians and seek a way to establish a foothold in Western Armenia. If this is so, they must take into account that today’s Assyrians invited to repurchase and resettle into their ancestral properties in their historic homeland, confiscated during the (still-ongoing) Genocide, are once again being ousted from “modern” Turkey.

Related Material:

The Case for Self-Reconciliation

  1. Returning to the Estates

    Are there Armenians in their right mind who think that they will be allowed to go back to their properties in Turkey and be allowed to live there as Armenians?

  2. Dialogue and Negotiation

    Thank you for this excellent editorial. I hope more and more Armenians heed its wise conclusions and avoid joining the axis of fake reconciliationists for professional or partisan gain.

    The Armenian Genocide has continued unabated for 100 years, and no Armenian should be "dialoguing" with even lay Turks until the blanket denial, occasional killings, systematic hate speech, and occupation of Western Armenia come to a complete end. 

  3. Pan-Turkism Still the Goal

    "Yes" to reconciliation, in the context that has been presented to the Armenians, has problems. Armenians in the arts, who are participating in reconciliation (artists, filmmakers, photographers, actors, musicians, writers, chefs, even some academics), may not understand the political ramifications of their participation. Regardless of the Genocide, Turkey is still dedicated to expanding to the east and penetrating and overrunning Armenia–just as it tried to do in 1915.

  4. The More Things Change

    The more things change, the more they stay the same….1915 and 2015.

    Paramaz, the Hunchagian activist, writer and advocate of reform for the government of the Ottoman Empire, spoke his last words to the court at his May 1915 trial before being hanged in the central square of Constantinople:

    "What was left that we Armenians did not already do for the welfare of this country? We accepted such sacrifices, we spilled so much blood and spent such energy to bring about a brotherhood of all through trust. And what did we see? Not only did you [the regime] condemn our gigantic efforts into sterility but also consciously pursued our annihilation. You encouraged crime and oppression and tried to silence every expression of protest. You started massacring us when one day we decided to do something to defend our dignity. You left us outside the protection of the law when we tried to benefit from the rights granted us by the truncated Midhatian Constitution.

    Gentlemen, judge people by their work, by their traditions, within the realm of their ideas. I am not a separatist from this country. On the contrary, it is this country that is separating itself from me, being incapable of coming to terms with the ideas that inspire me."

    (Translated by Jirair Libaridian and excerpted from "What was revolutionary about the revolutionary parties?" chapter in "A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire (Oxford)

  5. Reconcilliation: Our “common” cultural heritage

    The fact that the “common culture” of Turks and Armenians consists of some common dishes and the imposed Turkish language is meaningless. Statements to the contrary indicate the superficial understanding of what constitutes Armenian culture. In many areas of western Armenia the Armenian language and the expression of Armenian religion and culture was prohibited. Where is this common culture? Of perhaps 3,000 Armenian churches and monasteries in western Armenia how many are standing? Did the Turks destroy our “common” architectural heritage? Where are the thousands of religious and historical manuscripts? They were burned or otherwise destroyed. Did the Turks destroy our “common” literary heritage? When renovations were made at Akhtamar church and Ani, did proper archaeological excavations take place under international inspections to reveal details about our  “common” culture that built these edifices? No! Do Turkish textbooks describe ancient and medieval Armenian cultural developments? No! Enough of this foolishness.

  6. No to “Reconciliation”

    I hate to say this, but the "reconciliation industrial complex" depends on naive Armenians.

    Of course, Turkey and many other countries don't want true justice for Armenians.  They would prefer harmless "reconciliation" to let Turkey off the hook.

    These countries tell Armenians not to "hold a grudge" or be "obsessed with genocide."  In other words, they want Armenians to forget any notion of justice – reparations, territory etc.

    Nelson Mandela said that justice must come before reconciliation.  He was right.

    Problem is, once there is "reconciliation", as fake as it may be, there will never be justice.

    Armenian "reconciliationists" must work for justice FIRST.

  7. Timely editorial

    The reconciliation crowd is often naive, though some of them may mean well. Hopefully this editorial will enlighten them.

  8. “Reconciliation” Waste of Time

    "Reconciliation" is a waste of time. Do political work.

    Genocide acknowledgment without accountability is hollow and meaningless – acknowledgment alone is worse than denial.

    Turkey is accountable for the crime of genocide.

    Accountability is for land-acquired-by-way-of-genocide; accountability for reparation of the wealth of the Armenians acquired-by-way-of-genocide; accountability for restitution to restore everything Armenian that has been destroyed, erased, stolen, renamed, etc–by-way of-genocide; accountability for the lives of over 2 million Armenians brutally murdered by the Turkish State.

    As for "reconciliation", with all due respect, Armenians are not related to Turkish, nor do they belong to the same family, were never "together", nor belonged to the same religion, ethnicity or group; and there were no family relations to restore or reconcile under the genocidal Caliphate, genocidal Sultanate, or genocidal Ottoman, or genocidal Turkish State.

    The Turkish State has not only murdered humans, destroyed an ancient culture, civilization and rewritten history, but the Turks continue to legitimize the act as well as the racist ideology that led to the act of genocide.

    1. Reconciliation Versus Dialogue

      Dear Mr. Jololian,

      Reconciliation is a long term vision. Dialogue with the Turkish and Kurdish civil society is today a necessity in order to enhance the public awarness in Turkey that there was a physical, cultural and moral genocide . Unless there is awarness there will be no understanding for our claims for reparations, including restitution and compensation. We can not  afford maintaining the status quo for another century.

      I agree that justice should come before reconciliation. Before justice, however, there must be a dialogue based on confidence building measures to be agreed upon. These may include among others the abolition of Art. 301 of the penal code, the adjustment of the history books used in schools, the end of hate speech considering the Armenians as the main enemy, the revision or cancelation of laws and decrees concerning the  so called abandoned property of Armenians, the emancipation of Christian and islamized Armenians living in the territory of the Republic of Turkey and granting them equal rights and treatment etc. 

      If the dialogue leads nowhere the road to legal action in the European Court of Human Rights is open .


      Souren Seraydarian, Chairman of the NCWA.

      1. Reconciliation Wreckage

        Reconciliation Wreckage.

        We see yet another collection of Armenians who are hell bent on reaching out and reforming Turks.

        The Armenian state can and did reach out for normalization of relations with Turkey.   It is not the job of Armenians to reach out, educate, reform, play nannies and psychiatrists for Turks.

        The last time Armenians reached out to the Turks in 1908, they went dancing and hugging Turks in the streets of Adana, and only one year later they were all massacred.

        Armenians can better spend their time reaching out to Armenians and help develop and reform the Republic of Armenia and strengthen Artsakh.

        Here is a short explanation why the so-called "reconciliation" effort is a complete waste of time, quoted from "Ship of Fools: Turkey and the European Union":

        "Serious reforms were first attempted during Ottoman Turkey's Tanzimat (Reorganization) period of 1839 to 1876. Pushed by Europe, Turkey declared measures, quickly proven ineffective, to safeguard the rights of its subjects, including Armenians.

        A Turkish constitution was then declared in 1876 but suspended, along with parliament, just two years later. 

        Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin, signed in 1878 by the European powers, Turkey, and Russia, guaranteed the safety of Ottoman Armenians but was dead before the ink dried.

        Turkish "reforms" reached new levels in the 1890s with massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians.

        In 1908 came the "reformist" Young Turk party. Inspired by European ideals, it pledged liberty, equality, and fraternity. "Reform" culminated in the cataclysm of 1915.

        Turkey's next European-inspired "reformer" was Kemal Ataturk, who all but finished off the country's remaining Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian Christians, not to mention thousands of Muslim Kurds.
        He seized historical western Armenia, which Europe had promised to Armenians, and attacked the just-reborn Armenian Republic while Europe looked on.

        Ataturk's "reformist" legacy endures to this day: Genocide denial, the blockade of Armenia, and 80 years of military coups, human rights abuses galore, and even massacres, all tolerated by Europe."

        Today comes yet another collection of Armenians pledging "reconciliation" and "reform" with Turks.  This too will end in disaster if history is any guide.  Given Europe's wretched record regarding Armenians, there is little evidence that the EU or US will ever restrain Turkey against Armenia and Artsakh.

  9. Students in Armenia: No to Vacations in Turkey

    A student organization in Armenia has begun a campaign to discourage tourism from Armenia to Turkey. So much for the false notion that "no tourism to Turkey" is some kind of fantasy of the Diaspora. 

    No to vacation in Turkey: young people start campaign in Armenia
    December 22, 2014 | Social Հայ Рус "A1+" media outlet

    A group of young people today held a campaign in Armenia urging passers-by to avoid spending their vacations in Turkey. The group was carrying a poster that read ““No to Vacation in Turkey.”

    The campaign was organized by the Non-state Universities Student Center NGO in cooperation with the Youth Fund of Armenia and was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

  10. Immature Article

    Many of these points were not made in the article but regardless of that, the editor's view of Turkey and Armenian identity and issues is very immature and unnecessarily nationalistic. I am shocked by people who wish to stray away from any notion of reconciliation. Regardless, it sounds like one of the nationalist Armenian professors at the YSU who have no critical thinking skills about 'Armenians' and only think about security and Njdeh.

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