What Did Kocharian Actually Say About Demanding Territories from Turkey?

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What Did Kocharian Actually Say About Demanding Territories from Turkey?

By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

Three months ago, Pres. Kocharian made a rare appearance in front of students at Yerevan State University. After his official remarks dealing with the state of affairs in Armenia, the President responded at length to more than 20 questions from the students. The President's answer to one particular question made headlines both in Armenia and Turkey. It dealt with the possibility of Armenia demanding territories from Turkey following its recognition of the Armenian Genocide. This is a very sensitive issue that has serious repercussions not only on Turkish-Armenian relations, but also on the efforts of third parties trying to nudge Turkey into recognizing the Armenian Genocide. The question of whether the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Turks may lead to Armenian territorial demands from Turkey is discussed widely not only in Ankara, Washington and Paris, but also among Armenians worldwide.

Some Armenians say that they would be satisfied if the Turks simply admitted that genocide was committed against the Armenians. In other words, if the Turks stopped denying the Genocide, Armenians and Turks could then turn a new page in their relationship. Most Armenians, however, maintain that Turkey's admission of the occurrence of the Genocide is not sufficient at all. That would not wipe away the cataclysmic consequences of the murders committed against the Armenian nation. They believe that today's Turkish government has the responsibility of making amends for the losses suffered by the Armenians. They contend that Turkey must return the confiscated properties and assets to the descendants of the victims of the Genocide, give back the historic Armenian territories, and finally, pay financial compensation for the murder of 1.5 million Armenians.

Those who would be satisfied by the mere recognition of the genocide often lecture other Armenians about the realities of the modern world and the fact that it would be unrealistic to expect Turkey to return any territories or pay compensation to Armenians. They also question if Armenians demanding the lands would be willing to relocate to Western Armenia (Eastern Turkey), should the Turks agree to return these mostly desolate lands.

Those who make such minimalist demands do not understand that while it is highly unlikely that the Turks would make amends for the Genocide anytime soon, voluntarily giving up one's historic rights would ensure that Armenians would end up getting nothing. Pres. Kocharian understands well the sensitivity of this issue ever since he got himself into hot water several years ago when he responded to a similar question from a prominent Turkish reporter. At that time, the President was severely criticized by Armenians from around the world for having supposedly said, according to the distorted transcript of the Turkish reporter, that Armenia had no territorial demands from Turkey. The problem was compounded by the fact that despite the uproar about the President's alleged statement, his aides never bothered to release to the public his actual words. They let the Turks misrepresent to the world and to Armenians worldwide what Pres. Kocharian had actually said. A similar misrepresentation of the President's words occurred earlier this year. Once again, Pres. Kocharian's statement was distorted by the Turkish media. Here is what the President actually said as it was broadcast on Armenian State TV, on April 11, 2005. I have translated his words from Armenian into English:

"We have never raised in the name of any governmental body the issue of any territorial demands. We have today on our foreign policy agenda the issue of the recognition of the Genocide. What legal consequences that would have, is an issue for future presidents and future political officials. But we must also be realistic, and from that perspective, our expectations and reality should not be too different. When they become too different, one can get subsequently disillusioned. The more realistic we are, the less the probability of subsequent disillusionment. We should now consistently struggle for the recognition of the Genocide. Regarding the second segment of that issue, the less we talk about it now, the better for us." The Turkish press distorted the President's statement by reporting him saying that Armenia had no demands from Turkey. Regrettably, Armenian newspapers both in Armenia and the Diaspora reported these Turkish distortions as facts.

Readers should note that Pres. Kocharian was careful to avoid acknowledging that Armenia had territorial demands from Turkey, while just as carefully refusing to state that Armenia did not have such claims. Given Armenia's many current political and economic problems, clearly this is not the right time to make territorial claims from a powerful and hostile neighboring state. Pres. Kocharian is correct in neither asserting such demands nor in giving them up.

Armenians have to wait until such time when Armenia is strong enough to act on those demands. As everyone knows, territories are not freely given. They can only be taken by force or diplomacy backed by strength. The time for that is definitely not now!

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