Davit Safaryan

Denial of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey as an Obstacle for Normalizing Relations with Armenia


By Davit Safaryan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

After the Armenian parliamentary elections of June 20, the issue of establishing official relations firstly with Azerbaijan and then with Turkey has risen again. Consequently, the specialists and those dealing with this problem are trying to understand whether the contacts between Armenia and Azerbaijan under Russian auspices could lead to some tangible prospective. Russian President Vladimir Putin is obviously consistent in his efforts to re-launch routes of communication and international transportation through the South Caucasus for the sake of economic development. We have already stated in our previous article in the Mirror-Spectator in early August that re-opening of communications between Armenia and Azerbaijan may be followed by the re-opening of the border and re-launching of rail- and motor ways with Turkey. Therefore after 2009-2011 the package of issues connected with the settlement of Armenia’s relations with Turkey, establishment of diplomatic relations and re-opening of the communication ways actualizes anew. In this analysis we’ll try to see what hinders solving this problem from the end of the 44-days war up to the present.

Where are the ‘Anadolu’ Armenians?

The denial of the Armenian Genocide, supported on the state level in Turkey since 1923, is intended to disallow any remedy against Armenian claims for their infringed rights as a result of international pressure. It is well known that official Turkish propaganda denies the reality of Armenian Genocide and does not even permit discussing that question on an official level.

Of what are the Turkish authorities afraid? They have an inner fear that as a result of international (Western) pressure, provisions of the Sevres Treaty concerning territorial concessions to Armenians, their deportation in 1915-1923, recovery of their destroyed or confiscated wealth (or some monetary reparations in its stead) may arise again sometime in the future. And though currently, at the beginning of the 21st century, over a century after the Armenian Genocide, the present Republic of Armenia has no way to compete with the Republic of Turkey, whether by might or potential, or fight against it, the process of official recognition and international condemnation of the Armenian Genocide pursued by Armenia is perceived in Turkey as a subconscious threat to its fundamental territorial integrity and security.

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To this day, Turkey cannot answer the question of the civilized West that if there is no Armenian Genocide, then where are the 2 million Anatolian (historical West Armenia and adjacent areas) Armenians. Turks say that there have been 1 million, not 2 and the number of deported to the Syrian desert did not exceed 300 thousand. Well then, where are the others?

For the first time, in 2009 Turkish propaganda admitted in official media that about half a million Muslims inhabiting in eastern Turkey have an Armenian background. They are called now “covert” Armenians in Turkey. According to non-official data their number is more than a million. In a Muslim state governed by a party sharing the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamization of those Armenians cannot be perceived negatively. But there is an insurmountable contradiction between the Turkish Muslim worldview and one of the qualifications of the genocide: namely that forced conversion is also a form of genocide. This claim will never be admitted in a Muslim country.

The Turks try to answer the question where and why the Armenians went, deserting the land that was their home for 4.5 thousand years by a counterargument — Turkey’s tacit approval given to Armenians from Armenia and settling there. There are many interesting and notable approaches in this respect, which should be understood. There are no official data about the Armenian citizens leaving for Turkey. Ten years ago, they through that the number varied between at least 20,000 to maximum 40,000 people. The official agencies of Armenia had neither the possibility nor the desire to deal with the issues of legal protection for Armenian citizens settling in Turkey. Never in present-day Armenian reality has the question of the infringement of the Armenians’ rights in Turkey ever been brought up.

Such Armenians were considered in Turkey as a resource to be actuated whenever the Armenian Cause was touched upon. Thus, Tansu Çiler, Turkey’s prime minister at the time, as well as her political successors, have many times threatened to deport the Armenians that have settled in Turkey if Armenia continues “abusing” Turkey or blaming it for the pursuance of Armenian Genocide. During the past 20 years, Turkish officials have always overestimated the number of such people, declaring that the number of Armenians in Turkey exceeds 100 thousand. An interesting detail here is that in the course of their gross propaganda the Turkish leaders confuse 50 thousand Turkish Armenians residing in Istanbul and the mainly labor migrants entering Turkey from Armenia.

And finally, the Sevres syndrome, alongside a great desire not to concede the Turkish fatherland at any cost to any one during the past century, have always been grave reasons for a strictly negative attitude towards Armenians. Fifteen years ago, an American organization had initiated a public opinion poll in Turkey for the purpose of clarifying which peoples are mostly disliked in Turkey. And the response was not unexpected: the most disliked were Armenians, the second were the Jews and the third, Americans. Our sociologists following the development of this problem say that no such poll was held recently simply because there was no need.

We have to understand that the expenses incurred by the Turkish authorities for the denial and hushing the question of the Armenian Genocide are far more modest than the means required for possible reparations that may logically arise if Turkey recognizes the Armenian Genocide. That is why although the official recognition of the Armenian catastrophe as Genocide pronounced by the US President Joe Biden on this April 24 was a strong blow for Turkey still it lacked enough pressure that might disarm and compel it to look otherwise at this painful question.


Turk-Azerbaijani Cooperation in Denying the Armenian Genocide

As we know, Turkey and Azerbaijan are closely cooperating within the ideological frames of “One nation, two states.” Long-term monitoring of the Turkish and Azerbaijani press led us to believe in the existence of confidential arrangements and complementary activities in the field of the Armenian Genocide denial. Turkey has eradicated not only the concept of Western Armenia but also the Armenians from there. Yet the concept of Eastern Armenia or Russian Armenia, part of which is occupied by the current Republic of Armenia, is still preserved. Azerbaijan’s demand to return the Azerbaijani regions that passed under Nagorno-Karabakh control after the first Artsakh war was supported by many in the world because modern international relations are based on the standoffish idea of territorial integrity. All of this became obvious during the 44 days war. However, during the past 20 years it was not the only goal of Azerbaijan.

Official Baku has never concealed that it considers the area of the former Yerevan Khanate (along with Yerevan and eastern part of Gegharkunik and Zangezur) as a territory belonging to historical Azerbaijan and has many times asserted its claims for this region. Let us try to get at what is concealed behind this bellicose and expansionist rhetoric.

We insist that it is based on a mutually agreed-upon Turkish-Azerbaijani line that Armenians must be compelled to renounce any claims for historical Armenia. Actually, it appears that Western Armenia is just a part of the Turkish fatherland as the Turkish leaders of the past 300 years had been claiming while Eastern Armenia is a territory held by the Shia khans. After getting back its seven districts, Azerbaijan did not stop its animosity and hatred towards Armenia. It seemed that we could already reach some arrangements about peace and establishing normal relations. None of it!

A state built on violence and Armenophobia continues displaying the same work style, waiting for some signals from somewhere to have the best ever positions in peace negotiations. All of this could be a game if it were not accompanied by human contingencies, destruction, and tensions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani borders. Thus, in this situation there are several processes going in parallel with each other that are passing like red threads but not related out loud, while efforts for a sustainable peace are still applied. Evidently Turkey and Azerbaijan aim at working out some adaptation mechanisms for the US and other European countries against the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

Azerbaijan has accepted the thankless task of justifying Turkey at any cost, aiming to provide a service for its elder brother suffering from moral and psychological discomfort in the international process of Genocide recognition. At the same time, the Turks working from the position of Realpolitik and the Azerbaijanis that have become strengthened during the past 10 years cannot understand in their activities why the great states are able to reach their goals through the exercise of violence, force, pressure and arms, while Turkey and Azerbaijan cannot. Because in the process of satisfying their appetite with respect to Armenia (interrupted by the Soviet interlude) they meet a complication formulated as follows: the recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide is one of the priorities of Armenian foreign policy aimed at prohibiting the repetition of that tragedy in respect of Armenians and ensuring their safe life in the super-complicated region of the South Caucasus. That is why Turkey and Azerbaijan will do whatever possible to remove this obstacle, so that this complication cannot hinder their expansion throughout the entire South Caucasus and turn this region into an efficient and fail-safe bridge between Turkey and Central Asia.

It seems Armenia should seriously consider an internal political consensus about the questions to be negotiated with Turkey when the time comes and the problem ripens. The collective political and national thinking of Armenia and its diaspora does not have much time to ruminate and discuss this seemingly insolvable tangle of questions, but we cannot simply sit and look at the development of processes in our region. Our political thought is in demand today and the state should encourage such discussions ensuring the participation of the representatives of the diaspora.

Davit Safaryan, PhD in History, was born in 1989 in Yerevan, Armenia. Graduate of the Department of Turkic Studies, Faculty of Oriental Studies of the Yerevan State University (bachelor and master degrees), post-graduate of the Institute of Oriental Studies, NAS RA, co-author of one monograph and author of a number of articles, and participant of international conferences, he worked at the National Assembly of Armenia, Ministry of Diaspora, Noravank Scientific-Educational Foundation and at the provost administration of Yerevan State University.


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