Every now and again, Turkish ministers and diplomats go on what appears to be a search for the historical soul of Anatolia. Calls are made, invitations are written, conciliatory public overtures are carefully recorded and published, and superfluous historical commissions are proposed—all, ostensibly, in the name of repairing relations with Armenians. That each of these heart-wrenching gestures happens to occur with the approaching of April 24th, or some other small threat to the feelings of Turkish conservatives, should not betray a small amount of calculation on the part of Turkey. In fact, the gestures are timed atomically, their sunrises and sundowns, with the events. They are designed as a means to obfuscate and distract, to purchase time. And often enough, they are done so successfully. For hypnosis seems to affect thousands of Armenians and liberal-leaning Turkish intellectuals who get sucked in each time as if never before.
In your Turkish-language editorial in the July 7 issue of Milliyet, you expressed the hope that Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s three-step plan, if properly implemented, will result in a road toward pan-Anatolian reconciliation. Are you affected by this hypnosis, too, Asli? Make no error in judgment, the man is not sincere, and this three-phase plan is nothing more than a bigger carrot dangling from a bigger stick that will disappear by magic on April 25, 2015. It is nothing more than a way to ensure indefinite suspension of Armenia’s pain, all the while looking good and proactive for Hilary Clinton, Obama, and other Turkish houseplants.
If this sounds cynical, go and review the last 10 years’ worth of diplomatic overtures and pay close attention to the wording. Each one is reservedly conciliatory, highly generalized—often to the point of meaninglessness, and ultimately self-serving on Turkey’s part. Each is an offer for Armenia and its diaspora to come forward to meet under the frame of equitable symmetry, and yet the symmetry can never be equitable.
And each has as its goal to tailor a brand new suit for Armenia—one too tight to fit any remuneration in its pockets, one so shiny as to distract from the deterioration of its religious monuments in Anatolia, and one chained to a pocket dictionary of acceptable terms for the events of 1915-17.
Davutoglu knows well what is at stake. Let him make a concrete proposal for reparations, and dispense with abstractions about prodigal children coming home, and from these vampiric invitations for fireside chats about pain over common foodstuffs. Turkey has actually very little to lose by opening the border; or by allowing Armenia access to the Trabzon port; by rebuilding and returning our religious sites to the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul; by compensating the descendants of deportees and genocide victims; by returning confiscated properties to the descendants of their owners, etc. These are small gestures. But any attempt to forge a new language of obfuscation will fail, both among Armenians who will accept nothing without the word “genocide,” and among Turkish nationalists who will smear it down the walls of the court.
Turkey will not be genuinely forthcoming about these things. I do not, therefore, even begin to share your optimism in the approach of 2015, Asli. Nor do I hold out for anything from a country that speaks of redefining “diaspora” while Kurds are still by many referred to as “Mountain Turks,” and where Article 301 continues to thrive not as a government conspiracy but as public imperative. Turks everywhere still revere Talat and Enver, Nihal Atsiz and Alparslan Turkes as national heroes. And do not forger the “Ittihat” (union) in Ittihat ve Terakki. Your country is founded on it. Davutoglu simply cannot be taken seriously if he means to challenge the Ittihatists; if he is serious, his family has my advance condolences.
And what could he possibly mean by “kapilarini acacak”? (opening the doors) Who is invited, and to what would they come back? Falsified textbooks, murdered newspapermen, throngs of football hooligans chanting the name of an assassin (they are all Oguns, indeed), and dead churches? What is Akhtamar now? A museum. What do you put in museums? Dead things. Who prays at Ani? Only the Nationalist Action Party. We are invited to join them in this? Delightful. Why not invite Zulus to a reenactment at Blood River? Why not invite German Jews home to celebrate Kristallnacht with skinheads?
Davutoglu is at least right about one thing: Turkey is not Germany. Turkey has no Willy Brandt to fall on his knees in the Warsaw ghetto. It has only hidebound intellectuals and the own-tail-chasing of nth-generation Ittihatists. They are the meningitis in your country’s spine. Imagine Germany attempting a presumption as self-serving as Davutoglu’s “just memory” Does “adil hafiza” (just memory) mean doubly “obfuscation”? Does recognition of the Shoah sideline the losses of German life? Why do the Hutus not ask for “just memory”? Why does only Turkey seek to share its culpability over baklava? These are questions I would very much like to see Minister Davutoglu own up to.
In 1915, the destruction was deliberate and systematic, just as it was in Nazi Germany and Rwanda and Kosovo and Cambodia. And in none of these places was there an absence of internal threat—real or imagined—to the integrity of the state. There is no need for a new word to describe the events of 1915-17.
When the smoke has cleared and the mirrors have shattered, and the hypnotist’s coin has been stored away, perhaps you will see that your foreign minister’s overtures are a Queen’s Gambit and a thin sham: He offers nothing but what he offers himself.