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Diaspora Should Counter Turkey’s Divide and Conquer Strategy

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By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Sept. 25, 2008

Armenians worldwide have been following with great concern sinister Turkish attempts at rapprochement with Armenia.

Their apprehension is based on several factors. The first is that Turkey has pre-conditioned its rapprochement with the demand that Armenia participate in a historical commission on the Armenian Genocide -- a devious stratagem to cast doubt on the long established facts of the Armenian Genocide.

Furthermore, Turkish leaders have publicly announced that their true intent is to let the world know that Armenians and Turks are engaged in serious negotiations on the Armenian Genocide, therefore, it is no longer necessary for the U.S. Congress or parliaments around the world to adopt resolutions on this issue.

Finally, Turkish leaders have stated that by making a separate deal with Armenia, they would be rendering the Armenian Diaspora and its demands irrelevant.

Nevertheless, in assessing the Turkish attempt at reconciliation with Armenia, one needs to keep in mind the following issues:

In the aftermath of the recent Russian-Georgian war, all countries in the region have re-evaluated their strategic interests. The opening of the Turkish border would reduce Armenia’s reliance on Georgian ports to import more than 80% of its supplies. To protect Armenia’s national security, the Parliament should immediately adopt legislation prohibiting foreign ownership of strategic resources, vital industries and real estate in sensitive border regions.

Turkey, on the other hand, has several reasons for wanting to improve its relations with Armenia: 1) Having normal diplomatic relations and an open border with all its neighbors, including Armenia, would help realize Turkey’s desire of becoming a dominant regional power; 2) To help bring economic prosperity to the most destitute regions of Eastern Turkey; 3) To provide an opportunity for Turkey to project its political and economic power across the Armenian border, all the way to the Central Asian Republics; 4) To downplay the charges of genocide from the Armenian Diaspora and third countries by establishing a historical commission; and 5) To facilitate Turkey’s entry into the European Union, since having open borders with neighboring states is an EU requirement.

The rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey is also being encouraged by Europe and the United States, because it would create an alternate land corridor for the unimpeded transport of vital oil and gas supplies from the Caspian region to the West. This new initiative also serves Russia’s interests, as the opening of the Armenian/Turkish border would diminish the value of Georgia’s Black Sea ports.

While it is understandable why Armenia and Turkey are seeking improved relations, it remains to be seen whether Armenia would be better off at the end of these deliberations, given Turkey’s extensive diplomatic experience compared to that of Armenia. After all, getting concessions from Turkey is not an easy task, as demonstrated by the lengthy and unproductive negotiations over Cyprus. What counts is the end result, rather than the process itself!

Rather than getting involved in acrimonious debates with Armenia’s leadership, we should acknowledge that Armenia’s interests may sometimes diverge from those of the Diaspora, and that the two would take different positions on some issues, given the differences in their status. Therefore, Diaspora communities should pursue their own agenda, independently from that of Armenia.

In order to counter Turkey’s attempts to make the Diaspora irrelevant, Armenians worldwide should continue their efforts to expose Turkish crimes against humanity and go beyond mere genocide recognition by expanding their activities to the following areas:

  • Pass resolutions in the U.S. Congress and European parliaments, seeking to defend the human rights of the Armenian minority in Turkey, particularly the rights of Armenian churches and schools;
  • Demand the lifting of an undeclared ban on Armenian citizens of Turkey to enter its diplomatic service or hold high-ranking military posts;
  • File lawsuits in the European Court of Human Rights and U.S. Federal Courts to force Turkey to return to the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople (Istanbul) the hundreds of Armenian church buildings confiscated by the Turkish government after the Genocide;
  • Seek the return of personal properties expropriated by Turkey;
  • Expose the muzzling of Turkish citizens under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code which makes it a crime to refer to the Armenian Genocide; and
  • Strongly counter all attempts by Turkish officials and their hired lackeys to deny and distort the facts of the Armenian Genocide.

Such actions would make it perfectly clear to Turkish officials that unless they deal directly with the Diaspora and reach a fair settlement on the damages emanating from the Armenian Genocide, they would continue to be hounded around the globe, regardless of any agreements they might have reached with the Armenian government.