After the Storm

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Political maneuvers, public actions and summit meetings leading to the 95th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide created an atmosphere of gathering a storm. Today is the aftermath of that storm and the scene is open for evaluation.

Turkey used its political clout for damage control, while the Armenian government and Armenians around the world used the opportunity to further develop awareness around the Genocide.

Demonstrations around the world — from Moscow to New York — certainly had their impact not only on the Armenian youth, but also non-Armenians. Statesmen from different countries certainly received a refresher course in history and they also offered remarks, indicating that the struggle for Genocide recognition was gaining ground.

Major newspapers, talk show hosts and editorial columnists covered the Genocide story, mostly in favorable terms. The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and KFI radio talk show host Bill Handel took President Obama to task for reneging on his solemn pledge to recognize the Genocide.

As anticipated, once again, President Obama avoided using the “g” word in order not to offend Turkey. One would wonder how a country like France is not scared of Turkey in adopting a law against genocide denial and the world’s only superpower gives in to Turkish blackmail. The excuse is that offending Turkey may jeopardize Armenian-Turkish negotiations, whereas, only pressure on Turkey can bear fruit.

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Turkey received what it anticipated as a result of threats and political maneuvers, although mixed signals came out of Ankara, with Erdogan expressing satisfaction that finally Washington had heeded to Turkey’s concerns, while the Foreign Ministry criticized President Obama’s statement as one sided and subjective.

The new development during this year’s commemoration was the participation of the Turks in commemorative events on the territory of Turkey itself. A human rights group held a vigil in Galataseray district of Istanbul and then the group moved to Haydarpasha train station — a symbolic location from where some 300 Armenian intellectuals were sent to the interiors of Turkey to be murdered. Human rights activist Eren Keskin announced that for 95 years they were being lied to and that they no longer believe those lies.

Simliar demonstrations were held in the Taksim quarter in Istanbul and in the city of Diyarbekir, while a symposium was held in Ankara on the Genocide.

Armenians in Turkey would not have dared to participate in such public protests but Turks are taking the initiative to atone for their history.

One of my previous columns was concluded by the following statement: “No one should be surprised if President Serge Sargisian returns empty handed from Washington.” And, indeed that prediction was reflected in the statement issued by Armenia’s president freezing the process ratifying the protocols.

The Washington Summit had served Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to lobby against the use of the word “genocide,” pretending that there were successful negotiations between Armenia and Turkey; yet, on the other hand setting preconditions to ratify the protocols.

President Sargisian said in his speech: “For an entire year Turkey’s senior officials have not spared public statements in the language of preconditions. For an entire year Turkey has done everything to protract the time and fail the process. Hence, our conclusion and position are straightforward.”

However, in deference to the urging of Presidents Obama, Medvedev and Sarkozy, President Sargisian did not scrap the Protocols altogether.

Turkey’s reaction was muted. Prime Minister Erdogan announced that “it is their business what they decide. We still remain committed to the letter and the spirit of Protocols.”

Some people in Armenia commented that President Sargisian’s decision was for domestic consumption. “Of all the possible choices the government opted for the worst” quipped former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, while the Dashnag party (ARF) appreciated the decision but they stated, “It was not enough. The Protocols had to be scrapped completely.”

This policy began with a football game and continues like a football game. Now the ball is in Turkey’s court. All along, the Yerevan administration’s argument, to the critics, was that in the worst case scenario, the Turks will be blamed should the protocols fail. Now it is incumbent on the Ankara government to explain to the major powers who developed and encouraged the protocols, why it has resorted to excuses and pre-conditions, when the Protocols anticipated none.

Although President Obama avoided the word “Genocide” by substituting it with “Medz Yeghern” he almost gave the full definition of the genocide in his skillfully-crafted statement.

There was no distinct battle won on the occasion of the 95th anniversary but there was incremental progress in the world news media and the extension of the struggle with in Turkey itself. The wall of silence had already cracked in Turkey and the issue of the Genocide had become a hot issue of national discourse. But today the Turks themselves have taken a giant step by demonstrating against denialism, and academic discussions have ensued among the Turkish scholars to provide Mr. Erdogan with documents, which thus far he has failed to find by asking, “bring me a single document that Turks have committed the Genocide.”

There is no prospect or hope to convince Erdogan and Turkish denialists, unless the Turks themselves muster the courage to carry the battle in Turkey.
And we hope they have started the process.

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