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TARC: A Problem With a Solution

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The Armenian Mirror Spectator
Watertown, MA
September 15, 2001

TARC: A Problem With a Solution
by David Boyajian

The first thing you notice about the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), with its 6 Turks but only 4 Armenians, is that the Armenian side is not very good at arithmetic. And things go rapidly downhill from there.

For one thing, there's the word "reconciliation" and warm, fuzzy expressions such as "promote dialogue" and "reconciliation is a process not an event." Indeed, the commission, complete with a resident shrink, has some of the feel of a New Age encounter group. Apparently, the Western interests who have sponsored TARC are again trying to de-politicize Armenian issues by suggesting that they are emotional in nature and consist mainly of "hatred." Let us, therefore, remind ourselves, before TARC's brainwashing campaign shifts into high gear, that the Armenian Cause is a political matter: the Genocide, territory, restitution, and reparations.

And what are we to make of TARC's Turkish members? They could hardly be worse unless the commission were to dig up Talaat and Enver and seat them as its 11th and 12th members. Commission member Gunduz Aktan, for example, penned a Genocide denial article in the Turkish Daily News just three weeks after TARC was announced.

Yet another TARC member, Dr. Vamik Volkan, is a psychiatrist who has co-authored three books with a well-known Genocide denier, Princeton's Norman Itzkowitz. In their book, The Immortal Ataturk, the mass murder of Armenians is referred to merely as "the Armenian-Turkish troubles of 1916." In Turks and Greeks, another joint work, they approvingly quote another author: "There may have been cases when, by their avarice and treachery, the Armenians deserved the hatred of their Turkish neighbors..." And let us not be impressed by Vamik's "doctor" title. After all, the president of the denialist Assembly of Turkish American Associations, Orhan Kaymakcalan, is a medical doctor, as were several leading Turks, such as Shakir, Nazim, Resid, and others, who carried out the Genocide.

I point these things out because commission member Van Krikorian, chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America, has said of TARC: "Everyone is acting in good faith. No one is being a jerk." Genocide deniers never, of course, have "good faith" though they may "act" as if they do. No doubt, however, all six Turks have been quite charming and convincing in person.

To know who wants the Armenian Genocide issue to disappear is surely to know who first pushed the idea of TARC. Did the US State Department initiate it? "No, I wouldn't say that," says Van Krikorian in one interview, while in another he adds, "I would not like to talk about it now." As for the commission's funding, Mr. Krikorian says, "Some money is coming from the US."

It is revealing that for a commission that is supposedly a positive development, no one is willing to stand up and take credit for initiating and funding it. Sadly, this controversial commission may have been made possible because a few diasporan Armenians have become too close to, and been unduly influenced by, US Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh and the State Department.

But regardless of who launched TARC, it is clear that Turkey, the US State Department, and certain Western interests wish to use it to neutralize, rather than honestly resolve, those Armenian issues that they regard as potentially dangerous.

Turkey fears Armenian Genocide acknowledgment because it could lead to the public unearthing of large-scale crimes it has committed against, for example, ethnic Greeks, Assyrians, Alevis, and-perhaps most ominously-its large and restless Kurdish population. Anything that could split Turkey along ethnic lines threatens what it defensively terms its "unitary state." In particular, territorial questions surrounding both the Genocide and the Kurdish issue cast a shadow over eastern Turkey, which is that country's only direct path into the Caucasus and Turkic Central Asia. As a crucial land bridge, eastern Turkey is also important to the State Department and some Western nations because their post Cold-War strategy is to contain Russia along its southern borders through economic and political penetration of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Just as a Karabagh settlement would facilitate such Western penetration by opening the Armenian-Azeri border, so too would an Armenian-Turkish accord that opened the Armenian-Turkish border.

Yet were genuine political discourse on the Genocide to drag in Armenian and Kurdish territorial claims, eastern Turkey could become destabilized, thereby jeopardizing the State Department's entire strategy to contain Russia's southern perimeter. The destabilization of eastern Turkey, incidentally, more than concern about offending Turkey, explains the State Department's non-recognition of the Genocide. The Genocide issue is just too dangerous and must be neutralized, and TARC is one means to that end. That Turkey has joined TARC demonstrates the cumulative effectiveness of Armenian pressure. Unfortunately, that does not mean that the creation of TARC is a loss for Turkey.

In order to derail the consideration of Armenian issues by other nations, Turkey can now claim that it is engaged in sincere "dialogue" in TARC. In the US, the State Department will plead that Congressional Genocide resolutions would disrupt the commission's alleged progress. Turkey has, therefore, scored a minor success from TARC without having made any concessions whatsoever.

Another hazard is that the world will hallucinate that TARC is achieving progress when, in fact, its Turks will only be playing for time and stringing Armenians along. Each step by the commission-say, a cultural exchange or business event-will be hailed as "great progress" no matter how insignificant. Armenians will be told to wait patiently-months and even years-until the next step. In the meantime, Armenian attention will have been sucked into this very seductive black hole of a process, and Genocide acknowledgment will fade into the background.

Is TARC a plus for Armenians? So far, no, because having been created in secret it has exacerbated differences within the community. In addition, the controversy surrounding the commission makes for a weak start for the Armenian side in such a high-profile confrontation with a determined adversary.

Because the commission has been widely criticized, the reputations of its Armenian members and organizational supporters may now hang in the balance. Having backed itself, and been backed, into a corner, its Armenian side must deliver.

That leads to another danger: To "save face" and prove that joining TARC was the right thing to do, the commission's Armenian members and backers may unconsciously collude with the State Department and Turkey to produce results-any results-no matter how trivial or even harmful.

To keep TARC and the friction it has produced going indefinitely, the State Department will privately push Turkey to make minor concessions, and the commission's Armenians may feel compelled to play along. Though it is true that TARC's Armenian side cannot officially speak on behalf of Armenians, nevertheless the State Department and the West will ensure that the commission continues to have a high profile.

Will the Commission accomplish anything? Yes, it will probably sponsor cultural, business, and sports events, though to some extent such events already take place. On a more substantive note, some Turkish bank accounts or a few "abandoned" pieces of property that belonged to Armenians in the early 20th century may be "discovered" and returned.

The commission's "progress" will be shamelessly acclaimed by the world press in an avalanche of stories planted, of course, by the State Department, Turkey, and a few Armenians who want to tout the commission. We will see pictures of smiling TARC members hard at work. "Anonymous" senior State Department officials and Western diplomats will gush about the "thaw" between Turks and Armenians. Clergy will utter clichés about love and peace. Elie Wiesel, who has called TARC a "miracle," may make another naïve statement. The Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, which is moderating the commission, will issue cheery updates to enhance its own reputation. Finally, trumpets will sound, the Heavens will part, and God Himself will appear and endorse the commission.

Like any State Department-orchestrated propaganda campaign, the purpose is to create the appearance of progress, change people's expectations, and hope that policy changes follow. In the case of TARC, the purpose is to soften perceptions of the Genocide and related issues so that, eventually, they are somehow neutralized. Recall some similar State Department charades: Caspian Sea oil and gas riches are played up even as many major drillings continue to come up empty. The Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline deal, we have been told for four years, is all sewn up even though not one inch has been built and may never be. And the State Department and its media groupies ooze optimism after the Key West negotiations on Karabagh only to see those negotiations soon fall flat on their face.

The international con job on behalf on TARC is already underway. Is there a way out of this mess? Maybe. For most of the 20th century, Turkey has been remarkably successful in its negotiations because it has been ruthlessly firm no matter the cost. Whether on the Cyprus issue, Kurdish rights, the annexation of Alexandretta, water flow to Syria, Aegean Sea claims, human rights, or the Genocide, Turkey's strategy can be summed up in the little word it tells its adversaries: No. That is, Turks make maximal demands while conceding little or nothing. Crude, but it works.

Against this brick wall of Turkish intransigence and cunning, the I'm-a-nice-reasonable-moderate-civilized-Armenian approach will shatter into pieces. Instead, Armenians should emulate Turkish tactics. The commission's Armenians, using the "No" tactic that Turkey would itself use, must work with our own, not TARC's, specialists to lay on the table our complete set of issues for discussion-the Genocide, restitution, reparations, property, the Sevres boundaries, the massacres of the 1890s and 1909, historical monuments, denialist propaganda, everything-and accept no Turkish counterproposals whatsoever. Take it or leave it.

This will shock the Turks and the State Department, and a stalemate will result. The Turks will then probably walk out of TARC. If so, fine. Let them shoulder the blame. Armenians might take a public relations hit for being unyielding, but as the aggrieved party the right spin can handle that. The beauty of this approach is that the commission's supporters can rightly assert that the Armenian members are patriots who upheld our national rights, while TARC's critics will be pleased that Turkey failed to exploit us. Admittedly, this is not an easy tactic, and, furthermore, the commission's Armenians may not be temperamentally inclined toward it. In any case, a parallel strategy is needed.

Armenian organizations worldwide, including those that back the commission, must conduct a fresh drive, using imaginative new strategies, for recognition of the Genocide and awareness of the territorial and other issues. Such a drive would advance the Armenian Cause, reinforce our sense of common purpose, disorient Turkey and the State Department, and place the commission in the background.

Though the commission has rightly been criticized by Armenians, going negative only takes us so far. TARC has strong Western backers and will continue to be news unless Armenian organizations regain the initiative and prove that their approach, not that of TARC, will deliver the results that Armenians demand.

The Diaspora and Armenia must also review and sharpen their political agenda vis-à-vis Turkey. A more detailed and comprehensive set of strong demands will allow Armenians to act swiftly as future events unfold and to preempt ventures such as TARC. This is all, admittedly, much easier said than done, but there is no doubt that the Armenian nation will more than rise to the challenge ahead.

Article used with authors permission.