Reported by Rev. Fr. Vertanes Kalayjian, Archpriest and Edward Alexander
In the July consecutive issues (#26 July 14, 2012 & #27 July 21, 2012) of the Massis Weekly, an organ of the Armenian Social Democratic Hunchakian Party, was published an interview-article about a meeting held between the leaders of the traditional Armenian political parties and the Foreign Minister of Turkey. It is an interesting and educational report that those who are interested in the Hay Tad should read. After reading the said article by Avedis Demirjian, we thought we should report about that other meeting which was held 26 years later in the Capital of the USA, here in Washington, DC.
Here it is.
In mid-June of 2003 a meeting initiated by Mr. Ecvet Tezcan, Ambassador and General Director for Intelligence and Research within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, was held with a few prominent members of St. Mary Armenian Apostolic church community in the Washington, DC area and myself, as the Pastor of the church. The others were: Mr. Edward Alexander who had years of diplomatic experience having served as the chief of the Armenian section of the Voice of America and later in the State Department as a diplomat in various capacities; Mr. Vartkess Balian of blessed memory, a much revered and devoted member of the church in leadership positions both in the church and the AGBU; his equally dynamic and involved wife, a leader and activist Mrs. Rita Balian. The latter graciously agreed to make their residence available for the meeting. This was not the first time that the Balian residence was the venue for such meetings. Even before the final establishment of the Embassy of Armenia, the Balian residence had become an unofficial venue for such meetings with ambassadors, congressmen, senators and governmental delegations from Armenia and elsewhere. Both their hospitality and rich collection of rare Armenian art on display made their residence conducive to such meetings.
The meeting started with Amb. Tezcan informing us that the proposal to meet with Armenian Diaspora figures in the United States, in order to ascertain their thinking on Turkish-Armenian relations had originated with him and had received the full support of the Turkish Government.
He went on to underline his government’s position that the establishment of an independent Armenian state had motivated Turkey to make every attempt toward normalization of relations, but with Armenian-American insistence on initial recognition of the Genocide, the process was not advancing. He pointed out, however, that discussions between Turkish and Armenian officials taking place in their respective capitals reflected good intentions on both sides.
It was understood as well, and it was made very clear by the Armenian group, that no Armenian community in the United States could speak to issues that were clearly in the domain of official Armenian-Turkish negotiations betHaving said that much, our group maintained that the Diaspora Armenians still hold Turkey responsible for what had happened in the years from 1800-1923, particularly the mass deportations and killings that culminated in the Genocide.
Further, there are some other fundamental issues that need to be brought to the table, not the least of which are all the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty with respect to minority rights. It was brought to the ambassador’s attention that this very meeting was taking place thousands of miles away from our ancestral lands and homes as a direct consequence of the Ottoman and Young Turk Governments’ policy of deportations and killings. This opened the door to remind Amb. Tezcan of the individual family odysseys that, in one case, started from Kotahya from where the Balian grandfather and other members of the family started to be “relocated” in Kirkouk (present day Iraq) and from there to Dera’a, Syria just south of Damascus. From there, encouraged by the French, Armenians went back to Adana only to be deceived once again and be deported a second time by the forces of Mustafa Kemal, the “Father” of present day Turkey.
“Mr. Ambassador, you are in the presence of survivors of the genocidal policies of your government,” he was told. “To start goodwill negotiations or even a simple dialogue, we need to have some confidence-building acts or events before we start. And we do not need long stretched-out diplomatic negotiations, because it is all within the power of the Turkish Government. One stroke of the pen will do it, especially with the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty which Turkey has signed.”
As a starter it was underlined also that the need for the government to stop harassing and remove the bureaucratic red tape in dealing with the Armenian Church and the Armenian schools in Turkey. This act alone will go a long way in confidence-building. We were also aware of, as much as the Turkish government is, that, along the path of joining the European Union, the Turkish government needs to recognize the Armenian Genocide, and deal with the solution of the Cyprus issue. The lively discussions continued and consisted of responses to provocative questions with no holds barred, although the atmosphere was always cordial and civilized. The scope of the discussion was wide: Turkey’s obstructive policy of denial; the plethora of evidence in Armenian and European archives, unknown to the Turkish generation; the resurging involvement of Armenian youth in Genocide awareness of Turkish destruction of the Armenian cultural monuments and churches in Anatolia and elsewhere.
Each of these and other themes were explored, sometimes in minute detail, the Armenian side emphasizing that it represented no particular political party or faction but only the conscience of five generations. The meeting concluded with the hope that a rapprochement could be reached with an exercise of reason and respect for the interest of both sides. When asked, however, whether his initiative represented some glimmer of hope in Ankara toward conciliation of the major issue dividing the two nations, Ambassador Tezcan stated flatly that the Turkish Government would never recognize the Genocide. In response, one of the members of our group answered with equal solemnity that the road to Turkish membership in the EU would be equally difficult, if not impossible.
After his return to Turkey, in a follow-up note, the Ambassador stated: “Dear Mr. Alexander, believing that a thorough exchange of perspectives is crucial for the establishment of a fruitful dialogue, I would like to express my thanks for the meeting we had during my visit to the USA in early June .”
The following year, in a message relayed through Mr. Timur Soylemez of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, Ambassador Tezcan proposed another meeting with our group to be held in April of 2004. We conveyed our regrets to him for not being able to respond to his invitation for the following reasons:
1. As it must be evident, April was not the most appropriate month to have such a dialogue;
2. We still cling to our optimistic hope that the Turkish Government will come forth with genuine confidence-building gestures of goodwill intentions towards issues that are vital to us, the Diasporan Armenians;
3. We look forward to Turkish Government recognition of the Republic of Armenia and the lifting of all blockades;
4. We await all of these positive developments and to continuing our dialogue for the common good of both the Armenian and Turkish people.
There was no follow-up response and the dialogue ended there.