Below is the full text of a report by Mark Chenian (reproduced with thanks) of a round table luncheon discussion hosted by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council which took place at the California Club on 27th March 2006 in the presence of an invited audience. The guest speakers were GÜNDÜZ S. AKTAN, former Turkish Ambassador to Japan and Greece, and ÖMER ENGIN LÜTEM, former Turkish Ambassador to the Vatican and Director of the Armenian Research Institute.
Turkey’s entry into the European Union, for which talks began last October, may be eased by support from an unlikely source: Armenia, where the Turkish bid has met with a cautious welcome. In fact, over the past few years, a number of moves on both sides have indicated a melting in the long diplomatic freeze between Turkey and Armenia. Yet both countries retain echoes of the Ottoman dynasty that survived for 600 years and whose dominions extended from the Danube through the Levant to Algiers. And they share a mutual history, including Armenian claims of Genocide at the hands of the Ottomans in 1915 and continuing up through the present time, to the sealed Turkish-Armenian border and the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.
To discuss the future of Turkish-Armenian relations, we are pleased to present the views of two Turkish diplomats and scholars: Gündüz Aktan and Ömer Engin Lütem.
Gündüz Aktan, a career diplomat, served as Turkey’s ambassador to Japan and Greece, after spending his early career in Paris, Nairobi, and New York. From 1985 to 1988 he was an advisor to late Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Özal, and later assisted in the writing of Mr. Özal’s book, The Turks in Europe. He has been a member of the Turco-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), and has written on Armenian issues and international law.
Ambassador Ömer Engin Lütem began his diplomatic career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1957, serving in Turkish missions in France, Germany, Italy and Libya. He served as General Director of Intelligence and Research and was later appointed Turkish Ambassador to Bulgaria. He went on to serve as Turkish Ambassador to the Vatican, and as the Turkish Permanent Representative to UNESCO. He is now the Director of the Armenian Research Institute.
Please join us for a unique opportunity to hear Turkish perspectives on one of the most persistent of Europe’s dilemmas, the relationship between Turkey and Armenia.
The above luncheon was an event scheduled during a two-week tour in the United States of the two ambassadors. Quoting directly from April 8, 2006 Turkish Daily News.com (TDN.com), the purpose of the tour was described by ambassador Aktan as:
“In order to take part in a series of meetings on the Armenian question I took a two-week trip to the United States together with Ambassador Ömer Lütem, director of the Research Institute for Crimes against Humanity (İKSAREN). Our aim was to meet with small groups of Turks living in the United States who are well educated, fluent in English and interested in the Armenian question. We wanted to give them seminars on the 1915-1916 incidents, distribute CDs to them containing documented information on the issue and try to ensure that they would be able to defend their views on their own. We had already made similar trips to a number of European countries.”
“Whenever they have failed in their attempts to block these meetings, the Armenians have tried to prevent Americans and fellow Armenians from attending. When these efforts did not work they took the path of ensuring that handpicked Armenians who could argue with us would attend the lecture at the University of Chicago and take part in a luncheon meeting at the World Affairs Council.”
As the invitation reads, these luncheons are for members of Board of Directors and the International Circle (IC) and their guests, and contrary to the claim/implication of the ambassador Aktan in the same TDN.com, I was not “handpicked” by any one. I have been associated with the LAWAC for almost three decades and on this particular day, I was a guest of a non-Armenian IC member.
At the luncheon, twenty five were in attendance, including the two ambassadors as well as the Los Angeles Consul General of Turkey, A. Engin Ansay and his deputy. The luncheon was chaired by the President of the Council, Mr. Curtis Mack.
President Mack welcomed the Excellencies to the LAWAC and invited the attendees around the table to introduce themselves. Before inviting the guest speakers to make their presentation, he briefly introduced the guests and the day’s topic for discussion.
Ambassador Aktan started with his thanks and gratitude for the invitation and the opportunity to address the distinguished forum on a very important subject/issue for Turkey.
Speaking from bullet point notes, the thrust of his presentation is reflected in the following direct quote from the same TDN.com,
‘On these occasions it became clear why the Armenians avoid meeting with us, calling us “denyers”: The Armenian theses are even weaker than they are sometimes believed to be. They become greatly upset when they are confronted with documented evidence of the population figures attesting to the size of the Armenian population in 1914 and at the end of the war. Under the circumstances, they cannot insist that 1.5 million Armenians were killed. Similarly, they can hardly deny that they had been a “political group” that aimed to ethnically cleanse the Turks in a sizable part of eastern Anatolia and waged a war with the aim of setting up their own independent state there. It is no secret that “political groups” are not among the groups protected under the U.N. Convention on Genocide. They cannot object when we point out that the transfer of population in 1915 was not the only reason or the most important reason for the deaths, that there were other factors that took a far greater toll: inter-ethnic clashes, regular warfare, epidemics and the way the civilians kept fleeing from one place to another as the armies advanced in the battle zone. They find it hard to respond, especially when it is pointed out that the Armenians massacred half a million Anatolian and Azeri Turks in the insurgencies and as they retreated with the Russian army.’
‘The only thing they do is to refer to the archives of foreign countries, claiming that missionaries and people like Morgenthau cannot have lied. We asked them then why they were wary of taking their cause to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. In what seemed to be a pre-arranged way of behaving, they all acted as if they did not hear the question. This issue, which we have kept referring to in our articles in Turkey, is the Achilles heel of the Armenian cause. Those Americans who had been convinced that an Armenian genocide had occurred were appalled to see the way the Armenians were afraid of taking this issue to court.’
‘The main problem seems to be those Armenian youths who have been convinced by others that during the transfer of population the Armenians had been subjected to the kind of cruel behavior one could only “see” during fits of hallucination.’
At the table, the Ambassador concluded his remarks by saying that Genocide is a clearly defined legal term; it should be applied and handled accordingly. Governments and Parliaments are not the forums to decide Genocide. The only competent forum is the International Court of Justice (I C of J). He emphasized that Turkey is willing and ready to go to I C of J to settle the Genocide issue, but the Armenians are afraid to do so.
The meeting opened for discussion. President Mack thanked the Ambassador for his remarks and followed with the question, “What is the solution, where do we go from here?”
In his answer, ambassador Aktan repeated that the I C of J in The Hague is the proper venue to settle this issue, and that the Armenians should stop influencing governments and parliaments around the world with Genocide Resolutions.
Discussions from around the table followed. One individual (non-Armenian) challenged the interpretation of the facts by the ambassador. He stated that what transpired in 1915-1916 with the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire is Genocide and Turkey should accept that.
The Ambassador did not agree with the above.
“Your Excellencies, if this luncheon was sixty years ago, your colleagues sitting in your chairs would have denied that there ever were Armenians in Asia Minor. Now today’s presentation should be considered a major progress, where Armenian existence was not denied. But Turkey still has a long way to go” was my opening line of an exchange that followed.
“Today’s Turkey faces some major self inflicted problems. Borrowing from the Koran and the Bible, where it is stated that ‘in the beginning there was GOD’, today Turkey declares that ‘in the beginning there was ATATURK’. That places the beginning of Turkey in 1920. Generations of Turks, Mr. Ambassador, your generation and the ones that followed, over seventy million Turks are misled by their governments with the education of their own history. This arbitrary choice of ‘beginning’ has put Turkey in a dilemma; that is, how does a Turk face and explain events in his history that predates 1920, such as the Armenian Genocide that started in 1915.”
“Mr. Ambassador, today’s discussion was labeled ‘Turkish-Armenian reconciliation’. In my opinion, if there is any reconciling to be done, first and foremost, is for Turkey and seventy million Turks to reconcile with their own true and full history. I realize that this is a monumental task. And therefore, I suggest that instead of wasting your very precious and valuable time on touring with the kind of presentation that you made earlier, the Turkish government should mobilize all intellectual assets that is at her disposal and available both in and outside Turkey, to devise a strategy in how to re-educate seventy million Turks. The Armenian Genocide that started in 1915 is not the only major hole in your history. You do know them and should address all of them.”
“Last October Turkey formally applied to join the European Union and was granted a window of fifteen years to achieve that task. At the end of this process it is understood that Turkey will be joining Europe and not the other way around. I personally hope that Turkey will succeed to join EU with the required clean slate. I believe that it is within the means of Turkey to reconcile with herself and justly resolve the very sad chapters in her history, such as the Armenian Genocide and Cyprus. Beyond that, Turkey has great challenges in the economic field. That’s where her energies should be spent in that fifteen year window.”
The ambassador replied with an agreement that it is true and essential for Turkey to reconcile with her history and he added that he realizes the challenge. He repeated that he was essentially in agreement with what was said, except for the fact that the above statement did not address the I C of Justice demanded by Turkey and the avoiding of the Armenian side.
“Mr. Ambassador, as was stated earlier, Turkey has come a long way, from absolute denial that there were Armenians in Asia Minor to today’s discussion. You know very well how over the years, both on strategic and tactical basis, the Turkish arguments have evolved and changed. From no Armenians ever existed; to Armenians left by themselves for better lands; to deportation for military necessity; to disease and wartime hardship; to unauthorized random murders; to killings as wartime propaganda; to mass killings; to massacres; to population exchange of Armenians and Muslims; to the provocation and treachery thesis; to civil war; to empire-wide revolution; to Turkish Genocide perpetrated by Armenians; and the line goes on and on… All this to ‘muddy the water’ for non-expert observers and avoid the admittance of the fact that the events started in 1915 by the Ottoman Turkish government WAS GENOCIDE!”
The ambassador did not agree with the above characterization. In an attempt to conveniently dilute the asymmetry of and vastly unequal Ottoman Turkish government machinery on one hand and episodes of Armenian resistance and self defense on the other, he mentioned the uprisings in Van, Sassoun, Zeitun; the war activities on the Russian front as prime examples of ‘ongoing civil war’ that prompted the Ottomans to ‘save themselves with deporting and massacring the Armenians.’
“Mr. Ambassador, what I just heard from you reminds me of a Turkish word ‘bazaarlik’, translated as bargaining in the bazaar. Not to repeat myself, all these overloads of excuses and ever-changing arguments tantamount to a ‘bazarlik’, with the single-minded aim of Turkey to fight against the label of Genocide to the Armenian experience, where Genocide is defined as ‘… acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a nation, ethnic, racial or religious group…’, and settle with labels like massacres and atrocities with no such implications.”
“All this ‘bazaarlik’ would not have been necessary except for the fact that the UN framed Genocide in International Law with special determination to punish the crime with justice and restitution. In the Holocaust case, the crime was executed in Europe, and therefore punishment and restitution could have been in funds. In the Armenian Genocide case, it was perpetrated in occupied Armenian lands. And therefore the punishment and the restitution have to be in funds and land. This specter of some form of compensation including territorial loss is the core of Turkish denial, hence the ‘bazaarlik’.”
“Mr. Ambassador, there are two fundamental laws of nature, physics, that apply. One is the law of gravity and the other the law of irreversibility. The law of gravity will pull the Turkish side to the truth, truth in history. As was mentioned earlier, you have come a long way. Eventually, you will get to the truth. It is the law of nature. And in this process, through the second law of nature, the law of irreversibility, you are already discovering that history cannot be reversed, or re-written.”
“Until very recently the Turkish line of argument went like, ‘the so called Armenian Genocide belongs to history and it is for the historians to decide.’ Well you personally know very well that on your own initiative, a forum of neutral legal scholars examined the Armenian experience in the Ottoman Empire starting in 1915 and concluded that it was Genocide**. Now you are out on a tour, through ‘bazarlik’, trying to bargain for something less than Genocide.”
“The Armenian side understands why all this ‘bazaarlik’ is for. The 1948 UN convention clearly defines Genocide as a STATE CRIME. The author of the term and the inspiration behind the convention, the Jewish legal scholar Raphael Lemkin, used the Armenian experience starting in 1915 in Ottoman Turkey to define the State Crime of Genocide. Mr. Ambassador, how can one dissociate the term Genocide from its definition? So please give up this exercise in futility. If I were a consultant to the government of Turkey, I would advise, for the next fifteen years, to redirect all assets and energies towards meeting the requirements for European membership, that is meeting the economic standards with a ‘clean slate’. This clean slate includes recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
At this point, the Consul General of Turkey in Los Angeles, A. Engin Ansay came in the discussion. He stated that Turkey’s membership to Europe is not the standard by which Turkish policy is conducted. He added that Turkey recognizes her important role in the region and the importance of friendly relationship with her neighbors. He described Armenia as a poor country with her economy, and how friendly relationship with Turkey can improve that situation, implying that the resolution of the Genocide issue, meaning the Armenian side dropping the insistence on the word Genocide, will open the Turkish doors to Armenia and help the country’s economy.
“Mr. Consul General, what you just did was to “dangle a carrot” to the Armenian side implying economic benefits, another ‘bazaarlik’. If Turkey is genuinely interested in the welfare of Armenia, then her membership in Europe is very helpful for the region, including Armenia. Armenia herself is destined to Europe. She can achieve that through the short route, the southern shores of the Black Sea that is through Turkey, or the long route, the northern shores of the Black Sea. So Armenia has a vested interest to see Turkey join Europe. The economic prerequisites and the ‘clean slate’ mentioned earlier will accelerate the benefits to the region.”
“As you know, the European concept is based on no internal borders. In that window of fifteen years on the way to Europe, while Turkish leadership re-educate the seventy million plus population, the territorial compensation should be put in the European context. In other words, with the eventual Armenian membership into Europe, the new borders between Armenia and Turkey will become internal borders in the European Theatre.”
Ambassador Lutem stated that taking the case to I C of J is the way to accelerate the resolution and repeated that the Armenian side is afraid and avoiding The Hague.
“Mr. Ambassador, I am not aware that Turkey has officially taken the Armenian Genocide case to I C of J and I am also unaware that the Armenian side has not agreed. It is interesting to learn which official entity on the Armenian side was officially contacted by the government of Turkey on this issue?”
“You correctly claim that Genocide is a criminal law concept. I am not a lawyer, but I know that discovery phases precede trials. As I mentioned earlier, Turkey reconciling with her own history will be the most important component of that discovery phase. Through that discovery phase I am confident that with the help of the laws of nature mentioned earlier, the Turkish side will end up with the truth. And when Turkey does so, they will find out that the Armenian side, for the last ninety-one years have been ‘waiting for them on the steps of the Court’. And therefore, by definition, when both parties, on the steps of the court agree on the truth, then there will be nothing left to argue inside the chambers.”
“Parallel to criminal judicial system, where the committed crime is against society/the people and by proxy the government takes the criminal to court, Genocide is a State Crime against Humanity, and Humanity as a Whole take the Perpetrator State to court. I am not sure if it is up to the Armenian and Turkish sides to ‘settle the case’ by themselves. Humanity as a whole has a vested interest in the application of justice and the punishment that follows.”
At this point, a Turkish American stepped in the conversation. He had earlier introduced himself as a naturalized citizen and lived in the States for about twenty-five years. He claimed that he represented the Turkish Diaspora, and objected to any reconciliation between Turkey and Armenians. He went on to state that two and a half million Turks were killed, and the Turkish Diaspora had a say at the table and will not accept any deals. He reminded the table that several colleagues of the Consul General were gunned down by Armenian terrorists several years ago.
“Sir, first, I am observing a typical Diaspora behavior. Emigrants, when they leave their homeland, freeze in their minds the country the way they left. Sir, what you just describing is no more the state of affairs and thinking in Turkey today. I am sure the Ambassadors do not accept your twenty-five year old discredited characterization. Today’s Turkey has moved forward from where you left the country.”
“Second, I am not sure where you got your facts and numbers. This is the LAWAC. Where the two Ambassadors are sitting today, world leaders and history makers sat before them. That kind of irresponsible and unfounded declaration is not acceptable in the bazaar, let alone in this distinguished forum.”
“And third, you claim the two and a half million Turkish deaths. Can you elaborate when they died, where they died, how they died, who killed them and how they were killed? When you answer these questions to yourself, you will find out that, Armenians had nothing to do with that.”
“Again, you remind me of a lesson that every first year law school student learns, namely, ‘when the law is on your side, you argue the law; when the facts are on your side, you argue the facts; and when neither the law nor the facts are on your side you try to create a confusion, very much like ‘scrambled eggs’. Sir, nobody is buying your scrambled eggs.”
Soon after, President Mack thanked the Excellencies and the participants. The luncheon was adjourned.
Before departing I had a chance to have a short chat with ambassador Aktan. He asked me if I believed that the Armenian Genocide issue could ever be resolved. I replied that as a person I was an optimist and I believed in what I said at the table, that it will be resolved in the way I described. He did not believe that it will ever happen. In reply, I reminded him that just a couple of decades ago no one believed that the Soviet Union will be dissolved…
The next morning in the LAX American Airlines terminal, on my way to Detroit through Chicago, I saw in the distance the ambassadors with their entourage checking in on their way to the next conference in Chicago. I hoped that they would be on my flight. Unfortunately they must have been on a later flight.