Those Who Want Reconciliation Versus Those Who Seek Justice
While I anticipated that Turkish denialists would be unhappy with my last column, “Armenians Demand Justice, Not Recognition,” I did not expect that among my vocal critics would be “liberal” Turkish scholars and their Armenian cohorts.
Within minutes of my column’s posting on “armworkshop” -- a website based at University of Michigan that advocates reconciliation (but without any consequences) between Armenians and Turks -- a plethora of reactions started pouring in.
A Turkish scholar, Erol Koroglu, threw the first stone by sarcastically calling himself a “stupid” Turk. He was responding to my statement that denialists Turks “cleverly” refuse to recognize the Armenian Genocide in order to preempt further Armenian demands for restitution and return of land.
Two “reconciliationist” Armenian members of the “armworkshop” immediately chimed in. Sebouh Aslanian of Columbia University said he agreed with Dr. Koroglu about “this unfortunate editorial.” Aslanian went on to say, “Mr. Sassounian does not have the authority to represent all (or even most) Armenians. He is certainly not representing me,” even though nowhere in my column I had claimed to represent Mr. Aslanian or anyone else. The next posting on the “armworkshop” came from businessman A. Nurhan Becidyan, formerly of Turkey. He said he agreed with “Sebouh that Harut Sassounian is not representing all Armenians.” Neither Aslanian nor Becidyan gave an explanation as to why they disagreed with my column and why they were opposed to Armenians receiving compensation for their losses.
Even more bizarre was the comment posted on “armworkshop” by Prof. Halil Berktay, an otherwise respected Turkish scholar and an outspoken critic of the Turkish government’s denialist policies. Not satisfied that only two Armenians had disagreed with my contention that Armenians should demand justice, Prof. Berktay tried to provoke more Armenians to say that they disagreed with me: “And where are the Armenian voices, groups, organizations, etc., to loudly and explicitly oppose him [Sassounian]?” he wrote. “To dissociate themselves emphatically from this ‘3-R’ position and to take a public stand against it?”
Mr. Aslanian, in a second e-mail, said he agreed with Prof. Berktay. “It would be reassuring if more Armenians who usually remain SILENT on the sidelines and are complacent step up to the plate and at least say ‘NOT IN MY NAME,’” he wrote.
Prof. Dennis Papazian refused to bite the bait and instead suggested in his “armworkshop” posting that a conference be organized on this topic to see “the variation of opinion within the Armenian and Turkish communities.”
Prof. Ann Lousin, the chair of the Genocide Research Project Committee of the Armenian Bar Association, wrote in her posting that she wanted Ankara to reflect the truth about the Armenian Genocide in Turkish textbooks. She wanted Armenian churches and monuments identified as such and Armenian churches given “some compensation.” She said: “Beyond that, there should be room for debate.” She also wrote that she did not want the house her grandparents owned in Sis in which her father and his siblings grew up. “I would like to be certain that the Armenian cemetery in that city, where my ancestors (hopefully) lie undisturbed, is well-kept-up and free of vandalism, that the seat of the Catholicos above the city is recognized as such, etc. There were four Armenian churches in Sis in 1910 -- two Apostolic, one Protestant, and one Catholic. I know there aren’t enough Armenians there to justify renovation and reactivation, but I would like the buildings, if still standing, identified as such,” she wrote.
Ragnar Naess, all the way from Norway, came to the defense of this writer’s column. He posted on the “armworkshop” the following comment: “Of course from a standpoint of general ethics, Mr. Sassounian’s words cannot be contradicted…. I would even say that people murdered and properties stolen more than 100 years ago might be compensated for. So I envisage that Mr. Sassounian in the name of general morality wants a general process of justice regarding all who had relatives murdered and properties stolen in the final phase of the Ottoman Empire.”
Prof. Ugurhan Berkok asked the following interesting question to the “armworkshop” members: “Beyond the politics, ethics and morals, I have some legal questions on this RRR discussion. Forget about R1 [Recognition] for a moment and concentrate on law. Can’t victims’ descendants file claims under current Turkish laws? After all, deportation is acknowledged by the Republic of Turkey. Now assume R1. No political (legally non-binding) statements to the effect of ‘no claims will be made’ are credible because R1 will legally enable victims’ descendants to make claims. Thus Sassounian’s opinion is in fact reality, whether the intention is there or not because no organization can coerce individual descendants to sign legally-binding ‘no-claim’ promises. Thus the three R’s are not legally splittable. Am I not right?”
In addition to the postings on the “armworkshop,” many Armenians from around the world wrote directly to this writer expressing their agreement with him. Here are some examples:
Dikran Abrahamian (Canada): “What Mr. Sassounian presented in his column is a platform -- clear and concise. I wish our political entities would adopt and start working on it in earnest, and not waste their energy, money and the outpouring of volunteers in other directions.”
Benon Sevan, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General (Cyprus): “Most heartfelt congratulations on your column which puts the right emphasis and provides the direction towards which we should all strive and not simply demand recognition of the Genocide…. I take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation for your excellent and courageous columns.”
Bagrad Nazarian (London): “Sassounian’s column is a new and welcome departure…. The Armenian state/government must formally and effectively mobilize the entire nation (INCLUDING THE DIASPORA into the Armenian state structures) on this issue and speak and act on its behalf at international courts and tribunals (The Hague, UN, etc.). Why haven't we as a nation -- INCLUDING THE DIASPORA -- debated this issue at the state level involving the whole nation -- including the Diaspora -- and worked out its unshakable and real de jure position, not just a token and very inadequate and almost meaningless ‘international recognition of the Genocide?’ Surely the Armenian government/parliament can establish an Armenian Genocide Reparations Commission (along the lines of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission which successfully buried Apartheid) to formally assess and ascertain the extent and nature of our losses, the role of the ‘international community’/the Great Powers, their unfulfilled promises, and formulate the ways and means of calling Turkey to account? It’s high time we stopped (both in the Diaspora as well as in Armenia) treating this most important national issue as an academic/scholarly issue for various university departments or a tactical and token foreign policy issue, a sort of an international ‘loves me loves me not’ game whether this or that parliament will recognize the Genocide!”
Mihran Keheyian (London): “I totally agree with Mr. Sassounian’s analysis and strategy on the Armenian Genocide. We should pursue it as a state no matter how long it takes. We should also make moves in order to activate the Sevres Treaty.”
Maurice Kelechian (San Jose, CA): “Sassounian opened Pandora’s Box! Not only is he shaking the Turkish foundation by its entirety, but also rattling the Armenian cage which seems trapped in its own cage or running like a hamster in a never-ending loop of genocide recognition -- instead of dictating the day after…. His sharp pen is piercing the fake Turkish shield that is always trying to hide or misguide the taboo subject, forgetting how their next-door neighbor, the mighty Soviet Union, fell apart without firing a single shot! It fell apart because truth was chipping at its foundation, and that is exactly what is going to happen to Turkey sooner than later…. Mr. Sassounian is indirectly creating a fusion of Turkish and Armenian reality which neither one of them is happy with. His single-handed effort is illuminating the darkest demand of Justice! But my question remains why is he the only one who has been able to get out of this never-ending loop and is able to analyze it realistically from a distance and figure out the full picture of Justice?”
David Boyajian (Newton, MA): “Sassounian’s column demonstrates once again that he is not only a fine writer -- perhaps the best Armenian American writer and investigative journalist today -- but also an opinion leader. I agree with him that we must move beyond mere genocide ‘acknowledgment.’”
It is noteworthy that hardly any Armenian, even among armworkshop’s reconciliationist members, responded positively to Prof. Berktay’s attempt to incite a large number of Armenians to repudiate this writer’s column outlining Armenians’ just demands for restitution and return of their usurped lands.