As the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide approaches, historian Taner Akcam suggests Turkey open its borders with Armenia as a step to normalize relations between the two countries. Talking to Today’s Zaman Akcam claims that the Armenian issue cannot be solved unless diplomatic ties are established.
Akcam, who describes the 1915 events as “genocide,” says that Turkey should stop wasting its time with the argument that 1915 was not genocide “by exploiting people’s ignorance about this matter and creating an unnecessary debate.” He argues that 1.2 million Armenians were forced to relocate under the rule of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) during the Ottoman Empire.
He also argues that thirst, hunger and diseases were among the main reasons for the deaths, but the groups that were forced to migrate were intentionally led to take the longer routes and were not provided water and food during their journey.
“Few people know this, but the Armenian genocide was one of the main reasons why the word “genocide” was first coined. Raphael Lemkin is the person who coined this word and admits that the Armenian genocide was decisive in this coinage,” Akcam said.
Asked how the Armenian issue can be solved, the historian said: “I think we should focus on a “Turkish issue” rather than on the “Armenian issue.” First of all, we, Turks, must learn to talk about what happened in the past. We must learn both what the truth was and how we can discuss it. To know the history and to talk about it are two different things. In my opinion, the first thing to do is to learn how this can be understood and share sorrows. We must be able to listen to Armenians as they talk about their heart-wrenching experiences.”
“On the state level, a government which really intends to solve this issue must first change its wording and style. The language of peace and fraternity is different from that of strife. First of all, a language that would facilitate the settlement must be created. To this end, the publications including official websites of certain ministries that are rife with hatred and animosity against Armenians must be shut down. The Board of Coordination for Combating Unfounded Genocide Claims, subordinated to the National Security Council (MGK), must be abolished. As long as there is such a board, it is a fancy to believe Turkey will launch an initiative about genocide,” he said.
“The second step is to open up border crossings. We can solve a past issue only by normalizing ties today. As long as the border crossings are kept closed and no diplomatic ties are established with Armenia, this issue cannot be solved. If people don’t know each other and if they don’t talk to each other, how will they settle a problem among themselves? Dialogue is a sine qua non component of communication among people. If Turkey opens up the border crossing with Armenia and calls it “Hrant Dink Border Gate,” this would be a good gesture,” the historian continued.
Taner Akcam believes the third step is to pay an apology. “In our time, heads of state and government pay apologies in connection with past tragedies. When they do, this does not humiliate them. Rather this boosts their prestige. Turkey must take this step. Given the fact it expected Israel to pay an apology for an attack against a vessel, Turkey should know that Armenians nurture similar expectations about the death of about 1 million people in 1915. This problem cannot be solved if the Turkish government does not accept the fact that 1915 incidents were a crime that cannot be defended ethically. For two societies and sides to make peace, Turkey must denounce the crimes against the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 and declare that those crimes were morally/ethically unacceptable.”
“The fourth step is to launch a number of moves to compensate for the past’s losses. In this scope, Armenians who have roots in Anatolia may be automatically granted Turkish nationality. Another step may be to recognize and promote the Armenian cultural heritage in Turkey. In this framework, religious, cultural and historical Armenian buildings may be renovated. Reviving the destroyed or damaged Armenian cultural heritage and civilization in Anatolia will be the best response to the past’s subversive mentality.
Another symbolic yet significant step might be to return the churches, buildings and fields seized in Çukurova region that belonged to Sis Catolichos Church, which is of secondary or even equal importance to Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin,” Mr. Akcam said.
“Another thing we can do is to raise awareness of people. To ensure public access to correct information and eliminate the negative effects of 100-year old brainwashing and denial policies, programs may be organized to inform the public, through participation of Armenian scholars, and via the press. Joint committees at various levels (Parliament, universities, etc.) between two countries may be established and civilian initiatives to boost relations may be developed,” he said.
As for the expectations from 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish historian said: “If Turkey does not seriously change its policies and if the US, the UK and Israel do not modify their stance, I don’t think anything special will happen. And there is nothing to suggest that these countries will change their position. I think people will conduct demonstrations and repeat the same arguments. And then April 25 will come.”