The definition of justice for the Armenians in Turkey
Many Armenians around the world think in unison when it comes to their demands and goals in regard to the Armenian Genocide. It is often understood that recognition and reparations of the genocide have been the motto of many Armenian organizations throughout the world who have sought justice. This has provided the international community a suitable understanding of what justice means in regards to the Armenian Genocide and what it may entail.
However, as we will soon discover, justice for one community may not been the same for another. The diaspora has become an ever-changing entity with a mixture of different opinions and ideas regarding this issue.
New to the mix is the Armenian community of Turkey. This community, which has been historically isolated from not only the diaspora but the Republic of Armenia as well, has recently offered its own take over what the definition of justice should be. Many diasporans may not know however, that this definition is a far cry from their conventional understanding of justice. This gap of knowledge is critical, and, over time, it will inevitably cause a very big disappointment for the diaspora and the recognition of the Armenian Genocide at large.
In the past decade, Turkey has made some significant reforms when it comes to free speech and basic democratic rights. The Armenian Genocide has since been an open topic of discussion and Armenian newspapers have openly used the term ‘Genocide’ to describe the events that occurred in 1915. People are not being penalized under Article 301 anymore, and commemorations at the Taksim square that take place every year on April 24 have become an annual routine.
As a culmination of this, the Armenian discourse in Turkey has become increasingly assertive and demanding; often times, this has lead to discussions about justice and reparations and whether or not the community agrees with the diasporan notions of recognition. The Armenian leaders in Turkey have made it very clear that they confute the diaspora’s model of justice and that their community should not be considered a diaspora by all means.
The Armenian community of Turkey continues to live on the lands their forefathers have been living in for thousands of years. Many in the community today sees their lives in Turkey as a continuation of this heritage, while the diaspora sees their own lives on Turkish soil as a remnant of a tumultuous past.
Understandably enough, the Armenian community in Turkey already has what the diaspora wants: reparations. This means that the community is able to live on the lands of their ancestors and reap any sort of benefit from it. This contrasts the situation of the Armenian communities outside of Turkey and Armenia. Though not entirely their fault, the communities in the diaspora have long been outside of their historical homelands and have subsequently forgotten what it means to live on them. The underlining demands the diaspora has placed forth are intended to reconnect with all that has been forgotten and receive a certain compensation for the pain and suffering that went along with it.
However, the diaspora’s push for this agenda has made the Turkish Armenians reluctant to join the broader scope of Armenian genocide recognition. Nevertheless, the diaspora is inclined to believe that this fermentation of genocide discourse in Turkey will ultimately yield the results they aspire.
So what do the leaders of the Armenian community in Turkey actually want?
Let us begin with the late Hrant Dink, who considered Turkey, rather than Armenia, his sacred homeland. Dink notoriously believed that issues concerning the Genocide would be solved through internal rather than external pressure. However, contrary to popular belief, Dink never believed in Genocide recognition and has never made a statement alluding towards anything of that nature. He was especially critical of the strategy deployed by the Armenian diaspora of pressuring Western governments into its recognition.
Furthermore, when asked during a conference held in Burbank shortly before his death about reinstating the Treaty of Sevres, Dink responded whimsically by saying that he already lives on those territories anyways. He often celebrated the notion of Armenians remaining in Turkey by stating, “Yes we’re Armenians, we do want this land, but not to take it away, just to be buried deep inside.”
Dink, being the optimist he was, saw reparations as a process of rebuilding. He believed rebuilding not only came in the form of renovating churches and schools, but renovating the damaged ties between the two communities due to history and politics.
This model of thinking has been reasserted by writer and etymologist Sevan Nisanyan, who picked up where Dink left off. Nisanyan was the only Turkish Armenian that spoke during one of the most important conferences regarding reparations and justice pertaining to the Armenian Genocide. The conference, which is considered the first of its kind in Turkey, has been extremely important for Turkish and Armenian scholars alike in determining the exact nature of reparations and what its assessment necessitates.
Nisanyan was quick to object to any sort of reparations, and any sort of talk appeared to disgruntle him. Nisanyan considered reparations as a dead-end, and noted that such an approach is unjust, unacceptable, and would open the door for further conflict between Armenians and Turks. Additionaly, Nisanyan stated that it is useless for a tax-paying citizen of Turkey such as himself. He concluded by saying that reparations should be more of a moral or symbolic gesture rather than financial reimbursement. He argued that sponsoring a unilateral approach favoring solely the Armenian community would be damaging to Turkish-Armenian relations at large.
Other leading Genocide historians such Taner Akcam have also objected to such demands of reparations. Akcam, a leading Turkish scholar on the Armenian Genocide, believes that the losses during the genocide can never be fully reprimanded. In a 2013 speech held in Toronto, he categorically ruled out full reparations for the genocide. However, Akcam did outline various procedures the Turkish government may utilize in order to compensate the loss for the genocide.
“There are several ways to compensate,” he said. “Turkey, for example, can open the port of Trabzon for Armenian exports and imports without any taxation.” Ultimately, Akcam believes that reparations should not come in the form of land grants, but in making the current boundaries “meaningless”. Additionally, in a recent interview with the Zaman newspaper, Akcam asserted that reparations may come in the form of granting Turkish citizenship to Armenians who have roots in Anatolia and restoring some of the churches.
It is very difficult for the Armenian diaspora to work jointly with these movements that may or may not favor recognition, but more importantly, categorically oppose reparations. The diaspora is now developing an illusive understanding of recognition movements in Turkey and the repercussions of this can be disappointing to say the least.
To better understand the needs and desires of those in Turkey is to better understand where the movement is heading in its entirety. As time goes by, the Armenian Genocide is being approached in a more pluralistic interpretation. The unilateral approach of recognition, reparations, and restitution is now diversifying into many different branches which more often than not have become antagonistic. But, regardless of the different viewpoints and conceptualizations, one thing remains certain: “Justice,” as Dink famously wrote, “will be the water that will find its crack for us all.”