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Why Armenians cannot 'get past' the genocide

Allowing Turkey to continue its denial of the 1915-1918 genocide is too high a price for Armenia to pay for normalized relations.

October 15, 2009|By Karnig Dukmajian

Just as The Times expressed in its Oct. 13 editorial, "Turkey and Armenia: reconciling history," I believe that it's in both countries' interest to restore diplomatic ties and open their shared border. However, I cannot help but question the logic of The Times' appeal to Armenians and Turks to "get beyond" the issue of the Armenian genocide -- especially when the editorial board shares the concern of Armenians that the establishment of a commission to study the genocide is "simply a means for Turkey to continue denying history."

For Armenians, there is no "getting beyond" the issue of the genocide. Turkey's denial of the genocide, for which it has gone unpunished, is an injustice all Armenians must live with every day.

Imagine this: Suppose Israel and Germany share a common border, as Armenia and Turkey do. Suppose also that Germany has not recognized that the Holocaust took place; that Germany admits only that some Jews died in "civil unrest" during World War II, and that Germany claims that Jews also killed many Germans. Suppose West Germany did not pay 3 billion marks in reparations to Israel (which it did in the 1950s and '60s), renovate deserted Jewish synagogues across Germany or establish memorial parks where concentration and extermination camps once stood. Suppose then that 16 years ago, Germany unilaterally decided to shut its common border with Israel in solidarity with a third country with which Israel went to war, and that its stated purpose of such action was to cause Israel economic strain. And finally, suppose that after much international pressure, Germany has decided it will reopen the border but only if Israel agrees to make several concessions, including partaking in a commission to study whether the Holocaust actually took place and making territorial concessions in its unresolved conflict with the third country.

These circumstances would justifiably outrage the international community. But today, no one shares in the Armenians' outrage as they continue their long march on the road to justice alone.

Turkey and Armenia should establish diplomatic relations, but it should not come at so high a price for Armenians. Turkey's calculated campaign of choking Armenia's economy -- after having nearly annihilated its people less than a century ago -- and subsequently seeking concessions in return for reopening the border should be unequivocally condemned by all Western democracies. Instead, the foreign ministers of the European Union, the United States, France, Switzerland and Russia were on hand in Zurich last week to applaud the lopsided agreement signed by Armenia and Turkey.

For Turkey, this is another victory in its efforts to erase the genocide from the world's memories, a campaign it prosecutes both within its own borders (a national law makes it illegal to insult the Turkish nation, which the government uses to prosecute those who speak truthfully about the genocide) and abroad by working to stop further international recognition of the genocide. For the West to applaud the agreement reached by Turkey and Armenia, presumably due to geopolitical gains, is to condone sweeping under the rug one of the world's worst unpunished crimes.

It is highly offensive to suggest that Turkey and Armenia "get beyond" the Armenian genocide. To "get beyond" an issue, one must first face it. It is impossible for either Turkey or Armenia to "get beyond" the Armenian genocide because Turkey has not yet faced its crime.

Karnig Dukmajian lives in Tarzana.

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