AGBU President Addresses Normalization of Relations between Armenia and Turkey


PASADENA, Calif. — On Friday, October 16, AGBU President Berge Setrakian and members of the AGBU Central Board of Directors attended a special forum at the AGBU Center here. The event was attended by leaders of AGBU’s chapters and committees in Southern California and it provided local Armenian Americans the opportunity to ask about AGBU’s position in support of the Protocols for the Process of Normalization of Relations between Armenia and Turkey.

The following are the key issues discussed during the event and Setrakian’s responses to the questions.

Q: AGBU was one of the first organizations that took a stand in support of the Armenia-Turkey normalization process, and it was also one of the five signatories of a joint statement in support of the process. Why did AGBU extend its support to the initiative of the Armenian government?

Berge Setrakian: In connection with the normalization process of relations between Armenia and Turkey and the opening of the borders, we believe that the president of the Republic of Armenia has exercised strong leadership and a realistic understanding of the state of affairs of regional and international diplomacy. He has acted as a responsible leader taking a bold and somewhat difficult step forward.

We know that this process was not easy to engage, as it represents significant challenges for the President and for all Armenians. We believe it is important for the Armenian authorities to have the trust, support, and feedback of the people in order to be able to negotiate from a position of strength, and face any difficulties ahead. We all know that this will be a long and arduous exercise, which will involve hard choices and diplomatic maneuvers that Armenians will have to understand in order to navigate. Though the end result is still unknown, the initiative and the attempt to resolve our issues at hand are worth a genuine effort. We must remember the past and fight realistically for our rights, while looking forward to build a strong future.

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Q: How do you evaluate the Republic of Armenia president’s visit to the diasporan communities and don’t you think that this issue has caused division among our people and threatens to disconnect Armenia from the diaspora.

BS: The recent visit of the president of Armenia to the main communities and organizations of the diaspora presented an opportunity for sincere and sometimes heated exchange of viewpoints by various sectors of the Armenian Diaspora. In the final analysis, we believe that President Sargsian will weigh all the various arguments and concerns and decide a course of action that reflects the best interests of Armenia and Armenians.

It became apparent from the perspectives conveyed about the initiative for the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey that the Armenian Diaspora, insofar as its notion of the status quo is concerned, is not a monolithic society and it is not possible to force it to act like one. However, it is necessary to distinguish between diversity regarding procedural issues and positions on matters of principle.

Differences in approach to the issues at hand should all be respected, and do not necessarily mean a split when there is unanimity concerning the ultimate outcome. We, for instance, take a pragmatic stand and believe that in this era of global geopolitics it is more realistic for us to try to pursue our rightful demands through diplomacy and direct negotiations with neighboring states, rather than through other means, which, so far, for almost a century, have not yielded any concrete positive results.

Q: You mentioned that the protocols do not constitute preconditions yet they set predetermined steps charting the process of opening the borders and normalization of bilateral relations. Don’t you feel that at least three items of the protocols imply potential concessions regarding the issue of the Genocide, Armenia’s territorial demands of Turkey and the ongoing negotiations regarding the status of Karabagh?

BS: We all understand that the protocols regulating the process of normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey are the result of lengthy negotiations involving Armenia, Turkey, and other states that have a stake in the geopolitical developments of the region. The current documents are not perfect and should be viewed as a possible compromise reached between the parties involved. However, what they primarily signify today is the fact that they put Turkey under the obligation to open the borders and pursue the development of normal diplomatic relations between the two countries prior to any further steps.

We are well cognizant of the fact that Turkey is a state that committed genocide against the Armenian people and has consistently and systematically denied it for the past hundred years. It has conducted a hostile policy with regard to the Armenian people and Armenia. Over the past 15 years, through the closing of the borders, it has exerted pressure on the Republic of Armenia to force it to relinquish the pursuit of the issue of Genocide recognition, as well as the independence and self-determination of Karabagh. We have no doubt that when the development of relations takes its course, according to the dispositions of the protocols, Turkey will continuously try to push its own agenda in connection with the issues at hand. However, faced with that possibility, the solution is not the refusal to negotiate and the isolation of Armenia; rather, it is the promotion of dialogue, as a modern civilized nation exercising diplomatic expertise and using the leverage of the international powers that have a stake in the outcome.

It has been repeatedly confirmed by the president of Armenia and the major mediating nations that the process of normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey are not conditioned by the process of determining the status of Karabagh. This process has no negative bearing on its independence, security, and right of self-determination. The people of Karabagh and Armenia have fought hard and their leaders will under no circumstance forfeit their territorial rights and their claim for self-determination.

As far as the matter of Genocide recognition is concerned, if the Turkish parliament ratifies the protocols, Turkey will be forced to realistically face the existence of the Genocide issue after ignoring it and attempting to distort it over the past hundred years. In the final analysis, in connection with the Genocide issue, the process that may drive the Turkish people to become aware of, explore and acknowledge the historical reality of the Genocide and consequent reparations, is equally, if not more important than the recognition by other countries.

The commission referred to will constitute a forum where both sides can share, and either party will be able to walk away if a fair and just solution to the recognition of the genocide is not reached.

The issue of the existing borders is determined by the international community of nations and Armenia faces the reality of having inherently accepted these borders through its membership in the UN or the CIS.

Again, Armenia will not be able to affect the resolution of the issue of territorial demands and legal borders by isolating itself from the international diplomatic stage. As a full-fledged legitimate state, it is by participating in negotiations and promoting dialogue in defense of its demands that Armenia will pursue its historical rights. The pulling together of the energies of all Armenians towards such a process will be more productive than a dismissive stance.

A contract is never a perfect document. It is the result of negotiations between parties pursuing their respective interests. I would like to reiterate, that in this era of globalization, Armenia cannot isolate itself. That would lead to eventual disintegration. It is through self-confidence, the creation of stable legal and economic structures for an independent and democratic statehood, and opening additional paths in a free-market economy that Armenia will be able to face the challenges of our times.

Armenia cannot ignore the importance of the involvement of Russia, the US, France and other powers in this process — powers that have long supported Armenia and its interests. This is a negotiation those parties endorse, making it highly imprudent for Armenia not to engage and refuse to be part of the process.

Q: Why did AGBU, a non-political organization, choose to be involved in this matter, which is perceived as political in nature.

BS: The Armenian General Benevolent Union is a non-political all-Armenian organization. By its very nature, issues of Armenian national interest such as the survival and security of our people, development and prosperity of Armenia, and the preservation of our heritage and identity with all that it entails, have been at the core of its existence and mission.
All along its history, AGBU’s policies and activities have necessarily involved civil political involvement. The Armenian General Benevolent Union was instrumental in pressing for a number of Armenian claims during the international political negotiations in the aftermath of World War I and during the tenure of the first Armenian Republic. Boghos Nubar Pasha headed the Armenian National Delegation at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Later, during the Soviet period, AGBU maintained, as a Diasporan Armenian organization, a representation office in Armenia and its representative was victimized by the regime; nevertheless, Boghos Nubar undertook major projects in Armenia, including the establishment of major medical and educational facilities in Yerevan, and developing the ambitious plan of the town of Nubarashen, tirelessly working through the operational and political challenges for its construction.

Years later, Calouste Gulbenkian, then President of AGBU, was instrumental in negotiating with representatives of the French Mandate in Lebanon and Syria, the establishment on a permanent basis of Armenian refugees, including the creation of Bourdj Hammoud, Ainjar and numerous other Armenian quarters.

During the presidency of Arshag Karageozian, in 1946 the AGBU financed under difficult political circumstances the repatriation of more than 100,000 Armenians to Armenia. It was a major political effort with a historical impact for the future of our nation. It was later the foresight of Alex Manoogian to continue AGBU’s support of the motherland through the treacherous years of the Cold War. Creating infrastructure strengthened Armenia through its independence while preserving and promoting the Armenian identity and heritage in the diaspora.

During the presidency of Louise Manoogian Simone, AGBU was one of the first organizations to come to the aid of Armenia after the catastrophic earthquake of 1988. Those efforts helped to maintain our cultural and religious infrastructures and strengthen the newly-independent Republic of Armenia. The organization further extended its support to Karabagh in its struggle for independence and self-determination.

AGBU continues to play a critical role in Europe by developing awareness about the historical rights of Armenians in the Republic of Nagorno Karabagh, through collaboration with scientific research organizations and international political forums.

At this juncture, it is not unusual but, in fact it is AGBU’s duty to speak up and express its viewpoint on the Armenia-Turkey Protocols.

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