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Museum G-Brief

ARMENIAN GENOCIDE AND FEARS OF MODERN TURKEY

In occasion of the 70th anniversary of Molotov-Ribbentrop pact
signed in August 23, 1939

by Hayk Demoyan

25.08.2009

poster

One of the Armenian demonstrators, in Yerevan Opera square in 1988 with a poster saying:
“Lenin-Ataturk, 1921, Molotov-Ribbentrop, 1939”
At first blush, one may ask what is the relation between Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (where Poland was divided between Nazi Germany and Soviets, and Baltic states came under Soviet rule), and the Armenian-Turkish issue? Historical evidence clearly shows that the approbation of such agreements by Bolsheviks initially occurred 19 years before this Nazi and Bolshevik fatal Pact.

In the late 1920s, the secret agreements between Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey and Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik and Kemalist troops, jointly launched military aggression against the Republic of Armenia. As a result of this war, Armenia was forced to sign humiliating agreements with both aggressors and as a result ceased to exist shortly afterwards. Eastern territories of the Republic of Armenia were annexed by Turkish troops and later were attached to the Republic of Turkey. The larger part of Armenia was Sovietized by Russia and became a part of the USSR in 1922.

The Bolsheviks also supplied Kemalist forces with the necessary ammunition and weapons, as well as gold to fight the Allies, to wage a war against Armenia and push back Greek troops. This same scheme worked later on as well. Before and after signing Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviets provided the necessary training and raw materials for Nazi armies to fight Allies in Europe.

Thus, Armenia became the first victim of Bolshevik crimes committed in the earliest stages of their partnership with the Kemalists. The mutual deal to divide Armenia became a precedent for other similar solutions, particularly the above mentioned Molotov-Ribbentrop deal, which drastically changed the whole security environment in pre-WWII Europe with subsequent heavy consequences.

The modern Turkish Republic, heir of the Ottoman Empire, accepted many traditionally and historically formed values and fears from its predecessor. Those are in regard of the past, state and nation building, and especially in issues related to the ethnic minorities.

So what are those fears of Modern Turkey in regard of the Armenian and Armenian genocide?

The Treaty of Sevres: The “Sevres Syndrome” plagues Turkish leadership from the very beginning of the establishment of the Turkish republic. Even Turkey’s NATO membership and close military and political partnership with leading Western powers, especially USA, have not eliminated the complexes and fears of modern Turkish leaders and society today. The Treaty of Sevres, signed on August 10th, 1920 delineated the borders of the Armenia and Kurdistan as separate states, which comprised many eastern territories of modern Turkish Republic, historically known as ‘Armenia’. Turkey succeeded in escaping the ratification and implementation of the treaty even after the arbitrary decision of then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in November 1920, due to diplomatic and military maneuvers of Kemalists, who played double games with Allies and Bolsheviks that time. The question of the legitimacy of this agreement from the point of view of international law, still is open, and could be a subject for the final conclusion of the serious and unbiased legal experts’ commission.

Treaty of Lausanne: One may think that Turkey appeared victorious after signing the Lausanne treaty in 1923, by which Kemalists escaped from the responsibility for Armenian genocide and all other violations against the Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire using the Realpolitik approaches of the Western powers regarding to the ‘Armenian question’. Lausanne treaty was the contradiction to Sevres Treaty, but even poor wording acknowledging minority rights in this Treaty, were violated by Turkish rulers from the very moment it was in force.

A single fact-finding mission could confirm that Turkey violated the existing international treaty while intentionally destroying and annihilating thousands of Armenian, Greek and other religious minorities’ worshipping places and cemeteries, instead of reconstructing and enabling their use by minority representatives as it is regulated by the Lausanne Treaty.

Modern Turkey is responsible for eliminating early Christian civilizations on the territory of Asia Minor. The consequences are very heavy: nearly 5000 (five thousand) early Christian monuments, of which three thousands are of Armenian identity, are lost forever because of the State policy of destruction in effect within last 80 years. It is a crucial task for UNESCO to send a fact finding missions in Turkey to prepare a list of damaged, converted and fully destroyed Armenian, Greek and other Christian worshipping places and cemeteries. Turkey shall have to carry the responsibility for the presented undeniable facts of the intentional destruction of those monuments. (for more on this subject see http://www.genocide-museum.am/eng/cultural_genocide.php)

The current Turkish attempts to Anatolize (simply re-naming all existing monuments with names of Anatolian origin) every cultural and historical monument on Turkish soil is quite understandable. This is a soft way of hiding or at least blurring the identities of unique and separate civilization markers of the local cultures, bearers of which were killed, deported or are currently in the exile from their native lands.

Treaty of Kars: Moscow and Kars agreements signed between the Bolsheviks and Kemalists in 1921 finally divided the zone of influence in the Caucasus through strategic partnership that lasted until the end of 1920s. The legal aspects of those treaties are fully contested since the treaty was signed between the Kemalists and Bolsheviks - two parties, unrecognized by the international community and, particularly, by the League of Nations. The Bolsheviks in Moscow pressured the Soviet Republics of Armenia and Georgia to sign and ratify Kars Treaty, which is absolutely illegal in terms of the international law. It is high time we establish bilateral relations between Turkey and Armenia to set up a commission of legal experts to examine of the legitimacy of the Turkish-Armenian borderline according to the international law.

Turkey has already signed agreements with Azerbaijan and Georgia to establish bilateral relation, and while doing this she violated even the contested Kars Treaty, since the recognition of the region of Nakhichevan as a part of Azerbaijan contradicts the Kars Treaty, which states that Nakhichevan will be under the protection, but not a part of Azerbaijan. In continuation of the Stalinist crimes, the Karabakh region also was attached to Azerbaijan a year after the annexation and division of Armenia, this time under the direct pressure of Josef Stalin.

Today, Turkey can not be regarded as a complete State since the large part of the country’s border is not a legitimate one and, continue to be contested since Ankara rejects to establish bilateral relations with Armenia according to basic UN documents on the establishment of interstate relation.

Armenia: Just the word “Armenia” triggers a reaction in Turkey. It is a reaction of self-preservation, conspiracy theories and fear of responsibility and its consequence. The Armenian genocide issue is a dangerous one for Turkey in many aspects: it eliminates the basic knowledge or drastically changes the overall representation of modern Turkey’s history. Reviewing history is always dangerous, especially in heavily controlled societies. But the process is ongoing despite the all attempts to oppose it and to develop new and more sophisticated denialist approaches and strategies. Undoubtedly, the genocide issue is a huge blow not only for the national dignity of Turks and Turkey, but it creates a dangerous corrosion of all state-building myth of Turkey, a scenario we witnessed in case of the Soviet Union in its last years.

Current Turkish discourses on the ethnic belonging on the individual or group level and attempts to revise petrified views on the social and ethnic construction of the Turkish society is yet more evidence in the dangerous degradation and ongoing collapse of the Kemalist strategies. The only institution, which still adopts outdated formulas and methods of national unification, is the Turkish army. The lack of modern applications toward modern threats and challenges have turned Ataturk’s legacy as a main obstacles toward the democratization of Turkey and its full European integration.

The vulnerability of Turkey

The ongoing developments around Turkey-Armenia talks clearly revealed the fragility of the external and internal situation in and around Turkey. The Cold War-ist tradition in politics and aggressive political rhetoric is still preserved among the political and military decision makers in Turkey.

Armenian-Turkish dialogue, the initiative of the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, clearly showed how Turkey still suffers from conspiracy theories and fears of the elimination of constant taboos created from the very onset of the Republic. The summer of 2008 held a major problem for Ankara: how could they cancel the Armenian Leader’s invitation to visit Armenia? A year later Turkey has another problem: how keep its border closed with Armenia, yet convince the Armenian President to visit Turkey? One could conclude that we are now faced with a “Turkish question” in the process and that process is a creation of all the above-mentioned paradigms.

Another fear of Turkey among many others lays in the issue of economic strengthening of Kurdish citizens as a result of their potential business activities triggered by the border trade. This could be regarded as a real anathema for Turkish leadership, which is in delicate position and currently attempts to catalyze the solution of the Kurdish issue, having in mind coming challenges.

Anatomy of the Turkish rhetoric on reconciliation

“Deportation of 40,000 Armenian migrants from Turkey?” This is not Sultan’s or Young Turks’ statements, but the rhetoric of current Turkish leaders, who prefer to repeat it on every occasion in order to force Armenia to accept Turkish preconditions. One may wonder how Turkish leaders tolerate tens of thousand Turkish illegal migrant workers in Israel, a country accused by the Turkish government for the implementation of genocidal policies.

The harsh and threatening rhetoric of Turkish leaders is not a new. In 1993 President of Turkey, Turgut Ozal threatened to ‘throw couple of bombs on Armenia’, since the latter ‘did not learn lessons of what happened in Anatolia’ (direct hinting on the Armenian genocide). Now softened a little bit, open challenges toward Armenia and strikes are replaced with the threats to kick out some 40,000 Armenians working migrants from Turkey.

Turkey still has a propensity to attach the issue of its diplomatic settlement with Armenia with the existing conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh. But at the same time she ignores the existence of the similar issues with its other neighbors, particularly with Cyprus. To open its borders with Armenia Turkey found herself in fear of loosing its kin country Azerbaijan, making herself some kind of hostage of Azeri politics and behaviors.

Consequences and opportunities

The consequences of the Armenian genocide as well as the destruction and expulsion of other Christian subjects from the former Ottoman Empire gave needed opportunity to establish modern Turkish Republic. That is, modern Turkey is a consequence of the genocides of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians. Indirect proof of the creation of the Turkish state at the expense of the minorities is the ongoing suppression of Kurdish and other minority rights. The basic documents, which designed the overall philosophy of the establishment of Turkish republic right 90 years ago, such as Sivas and Erzerum Congress’ Resolutions, clearly showed that the Kemalists simply continued the policy of Young Turks in regards to the Christian subjects of the Empire, this time not only opposing the return of deportees and deporting survived returnees from their native places.

The policy of Turkey toward Armenia clearly reveal not only Turkey’s power status regarding Armenia, but that they also prefer to talk with their landlocked neighbor from a position of force, which is close to the military action, as it is evident in the joint blockading of Armenia by Turkey and Azerbaijan. It also shows how the modern Turkish political elite are absolutely comfortable with the consequences of the Armenian genocide.

Official Turkish policy and rhetoric in this regard show that:

a. the elimination of the Armenian population as a consequence of Ottoman policy of genocide gives modern Turkish leadership an upper hand in effective blockading and pressuring of Armenia without any opposition from the Armenian community, which now represent only marginalized and oppressed community in Istanbul.

b. Despite the attempts to create a big Turkish melting pot of different ethnicities, ongoing debate and discussion on origins indicate the failure of the Kemalist approaches towards making a pure Turkish nation-state. Turkey’s opposition to open its borders with Armenia has its basic but crucial explanations in this regard also. The main concern of Turkish journalists visiting Armenia is in search of survivors, those who still are alive and remember the genocide. The explanation is simple: the critical stage of the generation change and full Turkification of the different ethnic identities did not occur yet in Turkey. Many generations in the Eastern Anatolia still remember their Armenian ancestry and any contact with them could challenge basic policies of the Turkish state in the Turkification policies. The fear of possible reestablishment of the broken kin ties between relatives separated by genocide doubles these fears.

c. Thirdly, for the modern leadership of Turkey, just as for their predecessors, the real anathema is new appearance of the Armenians in the ‘cleared’ territories. Turkey has a psychological problem here not only in terms of ‘sins of genocide’ or a failure if its full implementation, but it clearly reveals the continuity in the policies of treatment of Armenians by different Turkish political regimes.

To summarize it is important to note that for decades long Turkish nation-building myths have been cracking. Among the many pages of the created history, Turkey feels it is very urgent to revise and reevaluate the story of the Armenian genocide. The level of official denialist campaigns is on a stage which challenges Turkish national dignity and image on the international scene.

A fatal quote:

«Armenians have no right whatsoever in this beautiful country. Your country is yours, it belongs to the Turks. This country was Turkish in history; therefore, it is Turkish and it shall live on as Turkish to eternity...» (Ataturkun Söylev ve demecleri, Ankara 1961, v. 1, p. 126).

It is very time to say our strict NO to these words of Ataturk! Anatolia was and must be a homeland for Turks, Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and Kurds. This psychological conclusion could be the best and only way of reconciliation and elimination of all the consequences of Ottoman genocides.


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Murad Kyurikyan - one of the famous figures of Hunchak party from Sebastia. He was arrested in 1915. After being subjected to unimaginable sufferings for 40 days,he was violently killed. Victim of Armenian Genocide.

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