Saturday, October 31, 2009

Armenia–Turkey relations & Genocide

BBC reported on 10-10-2009:

" Turkey and Armenia have signed a historic accord normalising relations after a century of hostility. The deal was signed by the two foreign ministers after last-minute problems delayed the ceremony in Switzerland. Under the agreement, Turkey and Armenia are to establish diplomatic ties and reopen their shared border.

The accord has been met by protests in Armenia, where many people say it does not fully address the 1915 killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians(Armenian Genocide)".

The World’s Fact Book - Armenia
Armenia prides itself on being the first nation to formally adopt Christianity (early 4th century). Despite periods of autonomy, over the centuries Armenia came under the sway of various empires including the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman. During World War I in the western portion of Armenia, Ottoman Turkey instituted a policy of forced resettlement coupled with other harsh practices that resulted in an estimated 1 million Armenian deaths. The eastern area of Armenia was ceded by the Ottomans to Russia in 1828; this portion declared its independence in 1918, but was conquered by the Soviet Red Army in 1920. Armenian leaders remain preoccupied by the long conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated region, assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s by Moscow. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, ethnic Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also a significant portion of Azerbaijan proper. The economies of both sides have been hurt by their inability to make substantial progress toward a peaceful resolution. Turkey closed the common border with Armenia because of the Armenian separatists' control of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan in its war with Armenian-backed ethnic Armenians in the mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Former Soviet Armenia and NATO-member Turkey have no diplomatic ties, but a relationship haunted by the World War One killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks(refer as Armenian Genocide), a defining element of Armenian national identity.

Armenia supports ethnic Armenian secessionists in Nagorno-Karabakh and since the early 1990s, has militarily occupied 16% of Azerbaijan - Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) continues to mediate dispute; over 800,000 mostly ethnic Azerbaijanis were driven from the occupied lands and Armenia; about 230,000 ethnic Armenians were driven from their homes in Azerbaijan into Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh; Azerbaijan seeks transit route through Armenia to connect to Naxcivan exclave; border with Turkey remains closed over Nagorno-Karabakh dispute; ethnic Armenian groups in Javakheti region of Georgia seek greater autonomy; Armenians continue to emigrate, primarily to Russia, seeking employment

Unemployment and poverty remain widespread. Armenia's economic problems are aggravated by a trade blockade, imposed by neighboring Turkey and Azerbaijan since the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. The conflict over the predominantly Armenian-populated region in Azerbaijan overshadowed Armenia's return to independence in 1991.

Full-scale war broke out the same year as ethnic Armenians in Karabakh fought for independence, supported by troops and resources from Armenia proper. A ceasefire in place since 1994 has failed to deliver any lasting solution.

In the wake of the 2007 assassination of Armenian intellectual Hrant Dink by a Turkish nationalist, and the ensuing scandal in which his killer was exalted as a hero by the policemen who had detained him, tens of thousands of Turkish citizens marched throughout the country in protest. The subsequent diplomatic thaw saw Turkish President Abdullah Gül become the first ever Turkish leader to visit Armenia and the announcement of a provisional road map for normalizing diplomatic ties.

In 2009 the foreign ministries of the two countries said that they would begin talks for formal diplomatic recognition.

It announced on October 10, 2009 that both countries had agreed to establish diplomatic relations. The agreement signed at a ceremony in Zurich, Switzerland, would establish diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia and open the joint border, which was sealed after the 1993 Armenian invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh. The enclave is inhabited primarily by ethnic Armenians.

The obstacles to normal diplomacy

The two obstacles between the normalization of diplomatic relationship between the two countries are:

1.Armenian campaign to have the mass killing of ethnic Armenians by Turkish troops in 1915 categorized as genocide, a term successive Turkish governments have refused to accept.

In that Turkey seems to have been successful. The protocol it is signing agrees that the "historical dimension" will be studied by a bilateral commission, to which international experts will contribute. The committee of historians should decide whether the killings were genocide. The Armenian-Turkish agreement calls for a panel to discuss "the historical dimension" of the killings, including "an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations."

2. The disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, a state with close ethnic links to Turkey. When, in 1993, ethnic Armenian forces took control of large swathes of territory around the enclave, the Turkish government closed the border with Armenia.

In practice, Turkish negotiators have put the issue aside, viewing it as a parallel process which is being handled through mediation by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It is not mentioned as a condition for signing the protocol formally establishing diplomatic relations.

Note: On 11-10-2009(Sunday), Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised the Azeri government that border will not be reopened until the conflict is resolved, and Armenian forces withdraw from Azeri territory they have been occupying outside the enclave(ref: Yahoo News,11-10-2009).

The mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915-18 is still a huge issue here. The fact that Turkey has not recognized them as a systematic "genocide" is very painful, especially for those who are descended from the victims of the deportations and executions.

The protocol mentions no pre-conditions for Turkey to officially recognise genocide before ratifying it. That has struck a nerve with those in the wider Armenian diaspora and here in the homeland.

why does the Armenian government want to pursue rapprochement at all, given all the controversy?

1. Armenian President Serge Sarkisian has come under mounting pressure from the European Union to make progress. He was strongly criticized by the West in 2008 after the authorities orchestrated a violent crackdown on pro-opposition demonstrators in Yerevan after a presidential election they say was rigged. Analysts say he now needs a foreign policy success to boost confidence in his leadership. The political career prevail over national agenda on Armenian Genocide.

2. There is great will on the part of the US and the EU to move things forward in terms of rapprochement. The obvious factor is the large reserve of oil and gas resources of the region near Caspian Sea, and the regional security. Armenia will be under heavy diplomatic pressure from them.

3. As a landlocked country, Armenia cannot afford in the long term to keep its borders closed. Currently, trade with Turkey relies heavily on Georgia for transit. Its border with another neighbor, Azerbaijan, remains closed since the two went to war over the region of Nagorno Karabakh in the 1990s and Armenia would probably benefit economically from an open border with Turkey.

Feedback from Armenians

Armenia is very poor, and its people have much more immediate concerns to be worried about. However most people in Armenia feel their landlocked country has been too isolated since the Turkish border closed and are ready for it to reopen.

Armenia has a huge diaspora and has always experienced waves of emigration, but the exodus of recent years has caused real alarm. It is estimated that Armenia has lost up to a quarter of its population since independence, as young families seek what they hope will be a better life abroad. Armenia is primarily a source country for women and girls trafficked to the UAE and Turkey for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation; Armenian men and women are trafficked to Turkey and Russia for the purpose of forced labor(ref: The World’s Fact Book by CIA)

The Armenian diaspora are not happy with the signing. Revealingly, most of the best-known reflections of the killings, in music and literature, were produced outside Armenia. In France, and especially the US, Armenians have excelled in science and commerce, and have a vocal presence in politics and the judiciary. This leads Turkey and its allies to speak of an "Armenian lobby", which they say exerts disproportionate influence.

But among the diaspora, the mass killings in 1915 are the seminal event of modern Armenian history, something that binds together what is one of the world's most dispersed peoples.
Indeed, many diaspora Armenians passionately believe that the killings define latter-day Armenian identity. And it is the diaspora, rather than Armenia itself, that drives the effort to have those killings recognized internationally as genocide.

A member of the National Council of the Armenians of Western Armenia, chief representative of Western Armenia in a UN forum on indigenous peoples Armenak Abrahamyan says that the protocol “On Establishing Diplomatic Relations” commits Armenia to recognizing its existing border with Turkey, which, according to him, is an act of forgetting Western Armenia. According to Abrahamyan, as an indigenous people, Armenians are entitled to make a territorial claim under a corresponding UN resolution.
“This protocol means that Armenia gives up its historical Armenian lands. It means that the history of Armenia is completely changed and the rights of Armenians of Western Armenia do not exist and that there was no genocide,” says Abrahamyan.The National Council of the Armenians of Western Armenia was set up in 2004 in Shushi, Karabakh, with the goal of uniting Western Armenians from all over the world.

“If Western Armenia is returned to Armenia, then Armenia will face the Kurdish issue. What will we, less then three million Armenians with our mentality of leaving for Los Angeles, do against 15 million Kurds?” says Gagik Keryan, Head of the Chair of Political Science at the Yerevan State University.

The Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Genocide led to the forcible deportation and massacre of the majority of the Ottoman Armenian population between 1915 and 1917.

The term "genocide" was coined by Raphael Lemkin (1900–1959), a Polish-Jewish legal scholar, in 1944, firstly from the Latin "gens, gentis," meaning "birth, race, stock, kind" or the Greek root génos (γένος) (same meaning); secondly from Latin -cidium (cutting, killing) via French -cide. Lemkin introduced the word genocide in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944). After World War II, he learned that some 40 members of his family, including his parents, had been killed in the Holocaust. Raphael Lemkin, who would later coin the word "genocide," is born into a Polish Jewish family in 1900. His memoirs detail early exposure to the history of Ottoman attacks against Armenians (which most scholars believe constitute genocide), antisemitic pogroms, and other histories of group-targeted violence as key to forming his beliefs about the need for legal protection of groups. Some scholars said that the word "Genocide" was derived from Armenian Genocide.

A legal definition is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). Article 2 of this convention defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

The Genocide of the 20th century included:
7. Bosnia-Herzegovina: 1992-1995 - 200,000 Deaths
6. Rwanda: 1994 - 800,000 Deaths
5. Pol Pot in Cambodia: 1975-1979 - 2,000,000 Deaths
4. Nazi Holocaust: 1938-1945 - 6,000,000 Deaths
3. Rape of Nanking: 1937-1938 - 300,000 Deaths
2. Stalin's Forced Famine: 1932-1933 - 7,000,000 Deaths
1. Armenians in Turkey: 1915-1918 - 1,500,000 Deaths

That is no denial that Armenian is historically the resident of the region, and its native land was taken by nomadic invaders. For three thousand years, a thriving Armenian community had existed inside the vast region of the Middle East bordered by the Black, Mediterranean and Caspian Seas. The area, known as Asia Minor, stands at the crossroads of three continents; Europe, Asia and Africa. Great powers rose and fell over the many centuries and the Armenian homeland was at various times ruled by Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Mongols. In the eleventh century, the first Turkish invasion of the Armenian homeland occurred. Thus began several hundred years of rule by Muslim Turks. By the sixteenth century, Armenia had been absorbed into the vast and mighty Ottoman Empire. At its peak, this Turkish empire included much of Southeast Europe, North Africa, and almost all of the Middle East.

But by the 1800s the once powerful Ottoman Empire was in serious decline.As the empire gradually disintegrated, formerly subject peoples including the Greeks, Serbs and Romanians achieved their long-awaited independence. Only the Armenians and the Arabs of the Middle East remained stuck in the backward and nearly bankrupt empire, now under the autocratic rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid.

By the 1890s, young Armenians began to press for political reforms, calling for a constitutional government, the right to vote and an end to discriminatory practices such as special taxes levied solely against them because they were Christians. The despotic Sultan responded to their pleas with brutal persecutions. Between 1894 and 1896 over 100,000 inhabitants of Armenian villages were massacred during widespread pogroms conducted by the Sultan's special regiments.

But the Sultan's days were numbered. In July 1908, reform-minded Turkish nationalists known as "Young Turks" forced the Sultan to allow a constitutional government and guarantee basic rights. The Young Turks were ambitious junior officers in the Turkish Army who hoped to halt their country's steady decline.

Armenians in Turkey were delighted with this sudden turn of events and its prospects for a brighter future. Jubilant public rallies were held attended by both Turks and Armenians with banners held high calling for freedom, equality and justice.

However, their hopes were dashed when three of the Young Turks seized full control of the government via a coup in 1913. This triumvirate of Young Turks, consisting of Mehmed Talaat, Ismail Enver and Ahmed Djemal, came to wield dictatorial powers and concocted their own ambitious plans for the future of Turkey. They wanted to unite all of the Turkic peoples in the entire region while expanding the borders of Turkey eastward across the Caucasus all the way into Central Asia. This would create a new Turkish empire, a "great and eternal land" called Turan with one language and one religion.

The decision to annihilate the entire population came directly from the ruling triumvirate of ultra-nationalist Young Turks. The actual extermination orders were transmitted in coded telegrams to all provincial governors throughout Turkey. Armed roundups began on the evening of April 24, 1915, as 300 Armenian political leaders, educators, writers, clergy and dignitaries in Constantinople (present day Istanbul) were taken from their homes, briefly jailed and tortured, then hanged or shot.

Next, there were mass arrests of Armenian men throughout the country by Turkish soldiers, police agents and bands of Turkish volunteers. The men were tied together with ropes in small groups then taken to the outskirts of their town and shot dead or bayoneted by death squads. Local Turks and Kurds armed with knives and sticks often joined in on the killing.

Then it was the turn of Armenian women, children, and the elderly. On very short notice, they were ordered to pack a few belongings and be ready to leave home, under the pretext that they were being relocated to a non-military zone for their own safety. They were actually being taken on death marches heading south toward the Syrian desert.

Most of the homes and villages left behind by the rousted Armenians were quickly occupied by Turks who assumed instant ownership of everything. In many cases, young Armenian children were spared from deportation by local Turks who took them from their families.

Individual caravans consisting of thousands of deported Armenians were escorted by Turkish gendarmes. These guards allowed roving government units of hardened criminals known as the "Special Organization" to attack the defenseless people, killing anyone they pleased. They also encouraged Kurdish bandits to raid the caravans and steal anything they wanted. In addition, an extraordinary amount of sexual abuse and rape of girls and young women occurred at the hands of the Special Organization and Kurdish bandits. Most of the attractive young females were kidnapped for a life of involuntary servitude.

The death marches, involving over a million Armenians, covered hundreds of miles and lasted months. Indirect routes through mountains and wilderness areas were deliberately chosen in order to prolong the ordeal and to keep the caravans away from Turkish villages.

Food supplies being carried by the people quickly ran out and they were usually denied further food or water. Anyone stopping to rest or lagging behind the caravan was mercilessly beaten until they rejoined the march. If they couldn't continue they were shot. A common practice was to force all of the people in the caravan to remove every stitch of clothing and have them resume the march in the nude under the scorching sun until they dropped dead by the roadside from exhaustion and dehydration.

An estimated 75 percent of the Armenians on these marches perished, especially children and the elderly. Those who survived the ordeal were herded into the desert without a drop of water. Others were killed by being thrown off cliffs, burned alive, or drowned in rivers.

The Turkish countryside became littered with decomposing corpses.

(source: Extract from

According to Rafael de Nogales, Ottoman commander of the artillery at Van Resistance, the Armenians’ posture was defensive and in response to the massacres being committed in villages surrounding Van. Also, Armenians were being forcibly relocated from Zeitun in March 1915, months before the Tehcir Law was passed. Further massacres and deportations occurred during the closing stages and immediate aftermath of WW1. The modern Turkish government has always systematically denied or rationalized the killings of Armenians during the Ottoman period, inflaming Armenian resentment in Armenia and around the world. Once a pillar of the Dashnagtzoutiun, Hovhannes Katchaznouni, the first prime minister of Armenia, stated in his parting address at the Party congress in 1923 Bucharest: "At the beginning of the Fall of 1914 when Turkey had not yet entered the war but had already been making preparations, Armenian revolutionary bands began to be formed in Transcaucasia with great enthusiasm and, especially, with much uproar."

In recent years the Armenian Genocide has been increasingly discussed in Turkey, at conferences and universities,since the law does not prevent debates on the topic. Even though freedom of speech and freedom of thought are guaranteed by Turkish law due to the nature of Article 301, people claiming an Armenian Genocide can be accused of calling the nation "killers" and thus "insulting Turkishness". Over eighty authors have faced prosecution for "insulting Turkishness"; Kemal Kerinçsiz, an ultra-nationalist lawyer, is responsible for at least forty of them, and his group Büyük Hukukçular Birliği ("Great Union of Jurists" or "Turkish Lawyer's Union") for most of the rest.

(source: wikipedia)

Please also read Chronology of Armenian Genocide at the official site of The Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute,

Despite the silence of Armenian Genocide, Armenia agreed to diplomatic relationship. This is partly because the economically and energy deprived Armenian need an avenue to improve its economy. The border opening of the landlocked country will boost the economy for the well being of its people and country. Goodwill and politic prevail over historical national agenda(of Armenian Genocide). It is also the external pressure from EC and USA to normalize the diplomatic relationship of the two countries due to the geopolitic(of petrol and gas resources). The historical feeling of the past will took a back seat. The Turkey on other hand is eager to join the EC, which is an incentive for her to normalize relationship.

We just hope that Armenia will not be a casualty again for the global politic. The hidden agenda of the EC and USA is the rich resources of oil and gas at the Caspian Sea which lies above one of the world's largest groups of oil and gas fields. We can only pray that the new found relationship will bring peace to the region,this is provide that the superpowers have more concern for the poor countries and play less ugly global politic. Pray that this region, Asia Minor will not be future Middle East.....geopolitic, source of war...

Related articles/references:

1. Q&A: Armenian genocide dispute , by BBC 10-7-2008,
2. Armenian diaspora bound by killings , by BBC 12-10-2006,
3. Turkey's Armenian dilemma , by BBC 27-2-2007,
4. Armenia and Turkey normalise ties, by BBC 10-10-2009,
5. Armenia–Turkey relations,
6. Turkey: Armenia must pull out of Nagorno-Karabakh, yahoo news dated 11-10-2009
7. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.:
8. The Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute official site:

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