PRESS AND INFORMATION DEPARTMENT
Government House # 2, Republic SquareYerevan 0010, Republic of Armenia
Telephone: +37410. 544041 ext 202
Fax: +37410. 562543
Speech by H. E. Vartan Oskanian
Minister of Foreign Affairs
At a Commemorative Evening
Brussels, April 25, 2007
Thank you Mr. du Vivier, for sharing this evening with us and conveying
your message from the halls of Brussels. And thank you Sergey and
Lusine. Sergey graciously accepted my invitation to join us this evening,
because I knew well that Sergey's message will resonate in this
hall and stay with us as the context for an evening of commemoration.
This is an evening of commemoration, much like those that are being
held in nearly every major city around the world this week. It is a day
of remembrance much like those that have been held every year for
the last half century.
But over these years, and especially since independence, the nature
and the purpose of our remembering have changed.
I would like to speak with you today not just about our past, but about
our future. I want to set the record straight about what we want for our
people, our country and our neighborhood. And I want to do that here
in this European capital that is the symbol of unity and not divisiveness.
Today, I want to talk about what we remember, how we remember and
how the reasons for remembering have evolved, just as our communities,
our country and the world around us have evolved. We have had a difficult,
painful past that we will continue to remember and honor. But let me be
clear, we don't want to live in the past. We want to reconcile with the
past, as we forge a future.
In Aleppo, Syria, where I grew up, remembering rituals consisted mainly of
gathering to hear the stories of someone who had suffered things we could
not really imagine. Aleppo was the end of the road for those who were
deported and marched thru the deserts. This is where those with no hope
of returning to their homes set up ramshackle, flimsy refugee camps,
trying to cope with enormous loss, with wounds that refused to heal.
I think back now at our nave efforts to lessen the grief of the survivors
by encouraging them to forget and not to speak of their experiences. We
did not understand that their lives and outlooks, memories and
experiences were forever traumatized. That is how they lived, how they
raised their children, how they interacted with the societies and countries
in which they found refuge. This we learned years later, as we read about
Holocaust survivors trying to cope.
Only when solitary memories were transformed into formal, community-
wide tributes, did the survivors begin to feel that their own individual
histories of horror had significance beyond the personal. Remembering
became a shared activity, a commemoration. Decades later, programs
such as Remembering the Cambodian Genocide, and the Remembering
Rwanda Project served the same purpose.
For Armenians, commemorations became the outlet for the disbelief and
outrage at how this historical event deeply affected our way of being in
the world, our sense of personal and collective identity. This was a new
generation, no longer victims, a generation that had come to understand
that what had been done had been done not to 1.5 million individual
Armenians who comprised 2/3 of a nation, but to an entire people who
had been massacred, uprooted, deported and whose way of life, whose
culture and history, had forever been altered. And all this, by
For a long time, we memorialized these events by ourselves.
We were left alone because there were two versions of history
the official and the alleged. The acknowledged and the denied.
The Ottoman Empire that fell was succeeded by a Republic
with an immaculate, almost divine, self-image. Such murderous
acts and their tolerance could not fit within this self-definition.
Therefore, a new history was invented in which these acts
never happened. The crimes were never committed. The records
of their own military tribunals were ignored, the eye-witness
reports of missionaries and diplomats were disputed.
Our history became the Oalleged truth. Their history was the official
truth. And since the official truth had the backing of the entire state
apparatus, ours became the forgotten genocide.
Occasionally, some would raise their voices against forgetting, and for
condemnation. In 1987, Mr. du Villier and others introduced a resolution
at the European Parliament, calling the events of 1915, Genocide. Since
then, a host of countries have joined us in recognition and in
These commemorations are very critical in the face of growing threat of
genocide in the world today from Bosnia to Rwanda to Darfur.
Commemoration is a way of countering the distortion of history,
countering the subversion of truth by power.
Commemoration is the victory of truth over expediency.
Commemoration is a condemnation of the violence.
Commemoration is a call to responsibility, and therefore to prevention.
Commemoration is an acknowledgement of the past, and even the
present, but not an obstacle to the future.
And herein lies the irony , I don't want to say impasse in our relations
today, with Turkey.
We cannot build a future alone. But neither can we build a future
together with a neighbor that is disingenuous about the past, our
This Monday's International Herald Tribune carried an advert that
also ran in many major newspapers around the world. It is a perfect
distillation of Turkey's willful blindness to historical and political
processes surrounding it. Just as it succeeded in creating a new
history for itself, it wants the world and us to dismiss all other
histories not in line with its own.
Turkey calls for Armenians to agree to a historical commission
to study the genocide. Not because none have ever convened,
but because Turkey does not like their conclusions! Reputable
institutions such as the International Association of Genocide
Scholars, the International Center for Transitional Justice have
seriously studied these historic events, independent of political
pressures, and independently arrived at the conclusion that the
events of 1915 constituted Genocide.
Does Turkey want to go shopping for yet another commission,
hoping for different results? It has gagged its writers and
historians with a criminal code that punishes free speech.
What does it expect these historians to study? And with a
closed border between our two countries, how does it expect
these historians will meet to explore this topic? This is why we
wonder about the sincerity and usefulness of the historical
Despite these obvious obstacles to serious scholarly exchange, we have
agreed to an intergovernmental commission that can discuss everything,
so long as there are open borders between our two countries. If Turkey
need discussion, we are ready to cooperate. But we don't want
discussion for discussion's sake; we don't want discussion of the past to
replace today's vital political processes that are essential for us, for
Turkey, for the region. Yes, we want to explore and understand our
common past, together. But we don't want that past to be the sole
link between our peoples and our countries. We don't want that
past to condition the future.
We, the victims of Genocide, have not made Turkey's recognition
of that act conditional for our present or future relations. Turkey,
however, wants Armenians in and out of Armenia to renounce our
past, to understand their denial of our past, as a condition for
moving forward. Who is trapped in the past?
I welcome the words of a Turkish intellectual who has said, I am neither
guilty nor responsible for what was done 90 years ago. But I feel
responsible for what can be done now.
I, too, believe that we must distinguish between the Ottoman
Empire and today's government of Turkey. But I must say that
although that is possible to do when speaking of the events of
1915, it becomes increasingly difficult to do when speaking
about the denial of the Turkish state today.
As Elie Wiesel said, the denial of genocide is the continuation of
genocide So, how do we distinguish between the two states, if the
ideology that is put forth and defended is the same?. This policy of
denial is both intellectually and morally bankrupt. And it is costing us
all time. The later they get around to making a distinction between their
stand and that of their predecessors, the harder it will be to dissociate
the two regimes in people's minds.
It is absurd that 92 years later, Turkey can say, in public, that the
Armenian allegations of genocide have never been historically or
Armenians were one of the largest minorities of the Ottoman Empire.
Where did they go? Is it possible that all our grandmothers and
grandfathers colluded and created stories? Where are the descendants
of the Armenians who built the hundreds of churches and monasteries
whose ruins still stand today? What kind of open and honest discussion
is possible with a government that loudly and proudly announces its
renovation of the medieval Armenian jewel of a church, Akhtamar in
Lake Van, while it carefully, consistently, removes every reference to its
Armenianness from all literature and signs?
What is Turkey afraid of?
It is a political reality that Armenia is not a security threat to Turkey.
It is a political reality that both Turkey and Armenia exist today in the
international community with their current borders.
Today, as the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia, as the
grandson of genocide survivors, I can only say that Armenia and
Turkey are neighbors who will remain neighbors. We share a border.
We can only move forward together.
There is no national history in a vacuum. It can neither be created nor
transcended in a vacuum. For France and Germany, England and
France, Poland and Germany, in order to transcend their histories of
conflict, they had to transcend the past together to transform their
future. That, too, can only be done together.
Not always does history give mankind a second chance. In this
neighborhood, with our neighbors, we have a second chance.
We can make history, again, by transcending boundaries and
opening the last closed border in Europe and moving forward,
Europe , the premise of Europe and the legacy of Europe is the
distinct promise of our age. Europe is where one takes from the
past whatever is necessary to move forward. Europe is where
former enemies and adversaries can dismiss and condemn
actions, policies and processes, but not peoples. Instead, people
in Europe move from remorse to reconciliation, and embrace
the future. This is precisely what we want to do in our region.