By Bruce Fein
Resident Scholar, Turkish Coalition of America
The ongoing high-level efforts between Turkey and Armenia to normalize relations, including establishing diplomatic relations and opening the land border between the two countries, have received President Obama's imprimatur during his recent visit to Turkey.
While the negotiated resolution of any conflict is a desirable goal, the Turkish government would be wise to weigh the public's expectations of this dialogue with existing realities, which will affect the immediate and long-term outcome of bilateral developments between the two countries and Turkey's relations with the United States and Azerbaijan.
First, there is a dichotomy of interests among the Armenian stakeholders in this dialogue. The interests of the Armenian Diaspora, even different Diaspora organizations, the American political establishment and Armenia are divergent. The increasingly boisterous voices in the Armenian Diaspora which object to the Armenian government's engagement with Turkey; the dismissal of the bilateral process by U.S. lawmakers who carry the Armenian lobby's torch in Congress; as well as the full blown campaign by all Armenian advocacy and lobby groups in furthering their legislative, educational, political and public affairs agenda in the U.S.and elsewhere, are proof of this divergence.
On the other hand, the Turkish community abroad, particularly in the U.S., has by and large voiced support of the Turkish government's dual approach that manifests itself in engaging in diplomatic efforts to normalize relations with Armenia on the one hand, and in committing to accept the findings of an impartial international commission that will address the contested period of Armenian-Ottoman history and the "genocide" question, on the other.
However, supporting the process does not mean turning a blind eye to competing Turkish interests and other realities. There are wide-spread concerns among Turks and others that Turkey will lose much and gain little from the entente it labors upon with Armenia. Without a doubt, the most significant loss Turkey may endure from this process, particularly from opening its land border with Armenia, could be estranging its natural strategic ally, Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has shown significant reaction to Turkey's perceived "de-linking" of the continuing Armenian occupation from its negotiations with Armenia.
Those in support of normalizing relations with Armenia frequently allude to the potential spillover effect this will have on a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict and also stem the "genocide" campaigns by the Armenian Diaspora. However, others argue that the economic effect of a closed land border with Turkey is the only incentive for Armenia to engage in a meaningful dialogue with Azerbaijan on lifting its occupation. Some Azeri analysts argue that removing this sanction may deprive Armenia of any incentive for peace and leave Azerbaijan with no option but a new war.
The Turkish-Armenian dialogue is known to have been advocated by successive U.S. administrations as a way to "pacify" the Armenian lobby and to weaken the incessant congressional efforts for U.S. recognition of the "Armenian genocide," a development that would most certainly damage U.S.-Turkey relations.
However, pursuing this advice without addressing the underpinnings of the global Armenian campaign against Turkey will most certainly result in great disappointment for Turkey.
The "Armenian Genocide" narrative is an existential narrative for the Armenian Diaspora. It has become the glue that bonds the community across social, economic and political lines. Perpetuating this narrative and activating the community around legislative, educational, philanthropic and political endeavors has become the lifeline for Armenian Diaspora organizations, including the Armenian Church. Hatred against modern day Turks and Turkey has become an identity strengthening tool, particularly employed toward young Armenians, and examples of this hateful behavior against ordinary Turks abound.
It is in this area where Turkish analysis about the Armenian Diaspora's state of mind, its wide-reaching agenda and impact seems to be most deficient. The benefits that Turkey expects from rapprochement with Armenia can not be achieved as long as the Armenian Diaspora's realities are ignored. Unless Armenia and other interested parties can engage the Armenian Diaspora in this process and help bring about fundamental changes in the community, the "genocide" issue will remain at the center of their agenda. Consequently, Turkey's outreach to Armenia will have no effect on the Armenian Diaspora and its international agenda against Turkey, including its lobbying of the U.S. Congress and the Administration.
Bringing about change in the attitudes of the Armenian Diaspora needs to focus on:
* Stopping hate: It is clear to everyone who follows the Armenian Diaspora that the pursuit of genocide recognition has turned into a campaign of hate against Turkey and modern day Turks. This hatred has been manifested in worldwide terrorism and the murder of 40 Turkish diplomats; the continuing adoration of these killers, as well as ongoing harassment and intimidation of Turkish Americans. More troubling, is the fact that hate against Turkey seems to grow among many young Armenian adults who hold more severely hateful perceptions of Turks.
* Defending academic freedom and stopping intimidation and harassment of scholars: The Armenian Diaspora has successfully created an aura of intimidation in academia through their consistent vilification of scholars, who do not agree with the Armenian narrative of history. By slandering any scholar who deviates from the Armenian narrative as a "genocide denier" and attempting to deny such scholars access to academic and public platforms, the Armenian lobby is effectively stifling more research and debate on this history.
* Exposing Armenian "buy-out" of scholars: Armenian foundations and wealthy Armenian Americans are pouring money into American universities to support scholars, including Turkish ones, whose positions corroborate the Armenian narrative. The existence of "Armenian Genocide" study centers at leading U.S. universities rests on the largesse of such Armenian donations. Research in this area has effectively been turned into an Armenian funded cottage industry.
* Advocating the opening of Armenian Archives: Opening all Armenian archives to independent scholarly review will unearth the complete narrative of Ottoman-Armenian history, including the Armenian independence movement and revolt.
* Stopping foul play: Armenian Diaspora groups must be held accountable to stick to the same rules that apply to all advocacy groups. Many of them have not. The best example of such foul play is the Armenian National Committee of America, which is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for possible violations of its legal status and other U.S. laws governing lobbying.* Exposing the futility of political lobbying: The Armenian Diaspora lobbyists have invested much stock and capital in lobbying efforts to legislate history. Turkey must unequivocally state that it is an Armenian Diaspora illusion that such third country political pressures can force Turkey to accept their narrative and issue an "apology," opening the way for other demands by the Armenian Diaspora such as reparations or territorial claims.
* Looking forward: The Armenian community can gain tremendously by looking forward and reaching out to Turkey as their heritage country. Turkey and Turkish civil society should extend a hand of friendship toward the Armenian Diaspora. Turks, by and large, hold no animosity toward Armenians and will embrace Diaspora Armenians warmly. The rich Armenian culture continues to be part of Turkey's culture, its music, art, architecture, folklore and cuisine. These common bonds can be revived and the Armenian Diaspora, not Armenia, can herald this revival.
* Ending Armenia's isolation: The Armenian Diaspora has played a significant role for Armenia. However, the Armenian Diaspora's efforts cannot replace the economic and political benefits of normalizing Armenia's relations with its neighbors, particularly Azerbaijan, and integrating the country into the economic and strategic regional framework. The Armenian Diaspora in the United States, in particular, should be the advocate of moving Armenia away from Russia and Iran and closer to Turkey and the U.S.
* Believing in dialogue: The current Turkish government has long extended a hand of friendship and reconciliation toward the Armenian Diaspora and Armenia in its invitation to form an international historical commission. Turkey's invitation and willingness to support such a comprehensive effort and to accept its findings may not remain valid forever. The Armenian Diaspora should unclench its fist and take this hand, as it is the only way for peace and reconciliation.