Is Turkish Citizenship Good for Normalization?

Osman Ünalan, Today's Zaman, 29 November 2014

Since its inception in December 2011 in Sevres, The National Congress of Western Armenians (NCWA, Արեւմտահայոց Ազգային Համագումար) has dedicated its efforts in fine-tuning the eventual declaration of Armenian claims vis a vis Turkey. A group of international lawyers and historians is preparing a memorandum concerning claims of descendants of Ottoman Armenians and the question of territory. The document will be ready by the end of this year and it will be presented to  attendees of a general conference to be held on March 28-29, 2015 in Paris. Interested individuals are welcome to attend and may contact the Congress via its website for further details.

The author of the below Today's Zaman and his interlocutor, the secretary-general of NCWA, speak about Turkish government offering citizenship to Armenians. The notion is not new and it has surfaced in public appearances by "progressive" Turkish intellectuals on many occasions in the past decade. So far it has received cold shoulder from Armenian diaspora circles. Keghart.com publishes the article with reservations.

The normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations starts with honest, responsible dialogue and concrete steps taken by the Turkish government toward Western Armenians — descendants of the former Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire — such as an offer of citizenship, says a diaspora Armenian, who believes Turkish civil society should encourage the state to take responsibility and facilitate any such initiatives.

Osman Ünalan, Today's Zaman, 29 November 2014

Since its inception in December 2011 in Sevres, The National Congress of Western Armenians (NCWA, Արեւմտահայոց Ազգային Համագումար) has dedicated its efforts in fine-tuning the eventual declaration of Armenian claims vis a vis Turkey. A group of international lawyers and historians is preparing a memorandum concerning claims of descendants of Ottoman Armenians and the question of territory. The document will be ready by the end of this year and it will be presented to  attendees of a general conference to be held on March 28-29, 2015 in Paris. Interested individuals are welcome to attend and may contact the Congress via its website for further details.

The author of the below Today's Zaman and his interlocutor, the secretary-general of NCWA, speak about Turkish government offering citizenship to Armenians. The notion is not new and it has surfaced in public appearances by "progressive" Turkish intellectuals on many occasions in the past decade. So far it has received cold shoulder from Armenian diaspora circles. Keghart.com publishes the article with reservations.

The normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations starts with honest, responsible dialogue and concrete steps taken by the Turkish government toward Western Armenians — descendants of the former Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire — such as an offer of citizenship, says a diaspora Armenian, who believes Turkish civil society should encourage the state to take responsibility and facilitate any such initiatives.

Sevak Artsruni, secretary-general of the National Congress of Western Armenians (NCWA), an international NGO with headquarters in Paris, says that if the Turkish government offers citizenship to Armenians who wish to return it will be a step forward, provided these citizens are given full political, cultural and civil rights. Artsruni said this step must be immediately followed by others: laws and decrees concerning so-called abandoned property must be canceled; cadastre and civil state archives must be opened; Armenian churches and cultural institutions must be returned; the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and the Constitution must be revised, not only for the Armenians, but to make Turkey a country where all citizens have equal rights and where the rule of law and justice prevail.

In an interview with Sunday's Zaman, Artsruni said that if you read the books and newspapers, or study statements of Armenians in the Ottoman parliament, you will discover a basic will to see their Ottoman homeland transformed into a more democratic, more liberal, more harmonious state.

Emphasizing that most Armenians may not welcome the offer of citizenship, Artsruni believes it is still a step forward in relations. Moreover, he is of the opinion that Turkey has to take the step without expecting a joyful reaction from Armenians as it needs to solve the Armenian issue most importantly for its own sake and for its own development as a democratic, just and free state.

Underlining the importance of civil society organizations, Artsruni said the more progress that is made, the greater the ability to involve constructive goodwill in the common endeavor to achieve peace, progress and harmony. “We should mobilize people of good sense on both sides,” Artsruni added.

Artsruni criticized the existence of Article 301 in the TCK, under which writers like Elif Şafak and the late Hrant Dink have been tried for insulting Turkishness or the Turkish nation, and said that no matter what label is given to the organized mass killing and deportation of Armenians in 1915, the most important issue is to offer appropriate legal and economic reparations for the loss of Armenian lives and property and to create a favorable context for the rehabilitation of all victims of Turkish ultra-nationalism.

According to Artsruni, the 100th anniversary of the events of 1915 is a chance to change Armenian sentiments from hate, revenge and frustration into dialogue and constructive, responsible approaches to the Western Armenian problem. On the eve of the centenary, the Turkish state should initiate an open and official discussion with NCWA with a sincere and courageous effort, added Artsruni.

Turkish-Armenian commentators and groups representing diaspora Armenians consider the granting of Turkish citizenship to the descendants of the Armenians who left Turkey during the events of 1915 as a key means of initiating a process of reconciliation, all the more so if accomplished ahead of the 2015 commemoration.

Some steps have been taken to revive the Armenian initiative, boosted by remarks from then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu that showed tentative support for reconciliation between the two countries, including the Armenian diaspora. During his visit to Yerevan in December 2013, Davutoğlu said Turkey never supported the deportation of Armenians in 1915, which most Armenians define as “genocide,” and described the deportations as an inhumane act of which it is impossible to approve. The Armenian diaspora and Armenians living in Turkey found the remarks a belated but significant step that showed Turkey's willingness to come to a solution.

Davutoğlu's speech was followed by a historical first for the Turkish Republic; then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan extended his condolences to the grandchildren of Armenians who lost their lives in 1915. His surprising statement came on April 23, 2014, ahead of the Armenian commemoration on April 24 of the events they describe as genocide under Ottoman rule. The demand for Turkish citizenship was lauded again in January 2013 by some Armenian diaspora groups that visited Ankara. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in April 2014 that they look at the demand positively and may complete the work before April 2015.

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