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Prof. Roger Smith’s Open Letter to President Sarkisian

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Below is an open letter sent by Prof. Roger Smith, the chairman of the Academic Board of Directors of the Zoryan Institute, to President Serge Sarkisian, in which he highlights his concerns regarding the protocols.

Sept. 30, 2009

Dear President Sarkisian:

The protocols for establishing diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey, although intended to help normalize relations between the two countries, raise serious questions about the process, and contain pitfalls, which I have set out below for your kind consideration.

My interest in the protocols arises from being a scholar of genocide studies for most of my career, a founder of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, chairman of the Academic Board of Directors of the Zoryan Institute, and a recipient of the Movses Khorenatsi Medal last year, awarded by you, Mr. President, for my “considerable contribution to the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”

I and other scholars, who have no personal, ethnic, or political motive for affirming the Armenian Genocide, feel we must point out one significant aspect of the protocols, the clauses that call for:

a dialogue on the historical dimension with the aim to restore mutual confidence between the two nations, including an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations

and

the establishment of an intergovernmental bilateral commission which shall comprise subcommissions for the prompt implementation of the commitments mentioned in operations paragraph 2 above in this protocol.

Does “the historical dimension” article refer to the Armenian Genocide, and does the “intergovernmental bilateral commission” article refer to a historical commission? If not, then how can Armenia hope to have normal relations with Turkey while ignoring a major cause of the tension between the two countries? If so, then they are a source of grave concern, because there is a broad scholarly consensus that genocide unquestionably occurred in the case of the Armenians.

You are well aware, Mr. President, that numerous distinguished historians, political scientists, sociologists, legal scholars, and authoritative institutions around the world have investigated the genocide many times over, issued academic publications, and even made public declarations. These scholars have devoted their professional lives to conducting scientific research with the highest levels of academic integrity. As a result of their work, scholars have identified the Armenian Genocide as the archetypal case of modern genocide, whose pattern has many similarities with subsequent cases. Therefore, any commission that purports now to conduct “an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives” in effect dismisses all of the extensive research that has already been conducted for decades and implies that none of it was impartial or scientific. This is offensive to all genocide scholars, but particularly non-Armenian scholars, who feel their work is now being truly politicized.

I am sure you can appreciate that they have no confidence that a politically organized commission would not compromise historical truth, especially considering the imbalanced power relations between Armenia and Turkey. This assessment is particularly exacerbated when one considers the following:

1. The national archives of France, Great Britain, and the United States, as well as Turkey and its wartime allies Germany and Austria, to name only a few, are full of incontestable documentation of the genocidal intent and nature of the annihilation of the Armenians.

2. The historical records of the official investigation by a Turkish military tribunal in post-war Turkey, recently published, based on authenticated, official Turkish documents, found irrefutable evidence of centrally organized mass murder against the bulk of the Ottoman Empire’s own Armenian citizens. The prosecutors were Turks, the judges were Turks, and most of the witnesses were Turks, including high-ranking military officers.

3. The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), reviewing the Armenian case for the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), concluded that “the Events, viewed collectively, can thus be said to include all of the elements of the crime of genocide as defined in the Convention, and legal scholars as well as historians, politicians, journalists, and other people would be justified in continuing to so describe them.”

4. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has stated repeatedly that Turkey would never accept there was an Armenian Genocide, and even if a historical commission found that the Armenian case is genocide, it is argued, Turkey would just ignore the decision, as it did the report of the ICTJ, which led to the resignation of all the Turkish members of TARC.

But most importantly, Mr. President, the scholars are concerned that a historical commission would embolden those who would consider perpetrating genocide in future years by showing how easily genocide can be relativized, especially by the powerful.

In 2001, the Zoryan Institute issued a rare public commentary about Turkish-Armenian relations, in which it stated:

Normally, dialogue is the first step towards the possible resolution of any conflict, and therefore reconciliation. The participants in a dialogue generally need to define the key issues which divide the parties and establish a process by which the dialogue will be conducted. There must be a sincere desire for mutual understanding and willingness to accept the factual issues in contention, even if emotionally highly charged….

Turkey does not have the capacity to enter into a process of dialogue to define the key issue of the genocide. Even if genocide were to be affirmed by “an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives,” Turkey would not be able to accept this, as it is currently bound by a strict penal code that makes it illegal for anyone from Turkey to even mention the Armenian Genocide. Therefore, was the negotiation of the protocols, so long in the making, done all this time in bad faith?

If not, then perhaps what is required is a modification of the wording in the protocol referring to the “historical dimension,” or a modification of the Turkish penal code, which currently criminalizes discussion of this subject, to make the protocols viable.

If such modifications are not possible due to diplomatic pressures at this time, then perhaps it would be prudent to stage the process so that discussion of the “historical dimension” is deferred. This would allow the people of both countries, but especially Turkey, the opportunity to demonstrate “a sincere desire for mutual understanding and willingness to accept the factual issues in contention, even if emotionally highly charged.” In the meantime, Turkey and Armenia could proceed with the establishment of a diplomatic exchange, which, in itself, would be a major step towards reconciliation.

Yours respectfully,
[signed]
Roger W. Smith, Chair, Academic Board of Directors
Zoryan Institute

14 Comments on Prof. Roger Smith’s Open Letter to President Sarkisian

  1. avatar David Boyajian // October 1, 2009 at 3:32 pm // Reply

    Professor Smith’s letter is generally welcome, of course.

    Funny, I have yet to hear even one Armenian American academician criticize the Protocols to any appreciable degree, specifically the part about establishing a joint commission to decide whether “there was ever a genocide or whether, on the other hand, Armenians ever did naughty things to Turks and thus deserved to be massacred” (oh, excuse me – Armenia says that the commission will NOT be charged with doing THAT.  Right.  As if Armenia’s leaders words are suddenly to be trusted.)

    Still, one can understand the silence of Armenian American academicians.  Look, they’ll get to travel free of charge to wherever the “Joint Commission for the Study of the Genocide That Never Happened, and Even If It DidHappen, Present Day Turkey is Not Responsible” is going to meet, and get free food and lodging too.   They’ll get to talk incessantly, and perhaps the Turkish genocide deniers on the commission will buy their books, autographed by the author, of course.

  2. When entities in Armenia charged that Western academics, including Diasporan
    Armenian ones, were following a narrative that did not recognize how truly
    far back Armenian history went, the Diasporan Armenian academics were quick
    to formulate a petition denouncing such charges. When a Turkish scholar
    bought an old, rare Armenian book in Armenia and was prevented by customs
    from removing it from the homeland, Diasporan Armenian academics were quick
    to formulate a petition denouncing Armenia’s treatment of this Turkish
    scholar.  Now, when the Sargsyan and Erdogan administrations are putting the
    Armenian Genocide itself put up for historical debate, where are these Diasporan
    Armenian academics? Where is the denunciation? Where is the petition? Along
    comes a group of Armenians who take it upon themselves to formulate a
    petition and put it under the noses of Diasporan Armenian scholars for the
    scholars to sign! Does this not seem backward to anyone? Is there anyone left
    who thinks Diasporan Armenian scholarship (and Armenian academic
    associations and institutes) are not controlled?

  3. Harry…

    I am afraid you are 100% correct… The more I hear and see how these protocols are handled and how our own government acts, I believe everything and most likely everyone is controlled by some sort of power…

    It is just heart breaking to know that one own’s actions and words are controlled by filth, lies, and screcrecy…

    Hope that God will punish those that are part of this…

    G

  4. These protocols are very dangerous, not only for the future of Armenia, but also for the present. With no insult to Pres. Serzh Sarkisian, these protocols are behind his comprehension. I see huge dangers for the nation and the continuation of Armenia’s existence. These protocols should have been studied by historians, political scientists, legal scholars, and other experts hired by Armenia. Armenia does not have the resources or the experience of handling such sophisticated protocols prepared by many political forces. These protocols are not just between Armenia and Turkey. I won’t be suprised if Turkey offers opening universities in Armenia to educate Armenians along with huge numbers of Turkish students. And they will offer many more. Turkey will have many ways of ending the existance of Armenia not far from the future.

  5. avatar Gevorg Der-Galestanian // October 9, 2009 at 10:56 am // Reply

    THIS IS ANOTHER GENOCIDE AGAINST TRUE ARMENIANS AROUND THE WORLD, SPECIALLY DIASPORA THERE,
    THIS IS ALERT! THIS IS WARNING! ” THERE IS NO ARMENIANS IN ARMENIA ”
    THIS PEOPLE WILL SELL THIER DIGNITY AND FAMILY FOR DOLLAR,

    DO NOT LET THIS SHAMEFUL ACT OF SELLING ARMENIA BY BUNCH OF IDIOTES HAPPEN YOU WILL REGRET LATER WHEN IS VERY LATE,

    POPULATION IN ARMENIA IS CONSIDER ONLY IN YEREVAN,
    I AM IN YEREVAN AT THE MOMENT AND ONLY VERY SMALL GROUP OF PEOPLE CARE WHAT IS HAPPENING AND THE ONE WHICH ARE ACTIVE THEY HAVE NO KNOWLEADGE WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO THEM AND POLOTICAL PARTIES ALL SILENTED AND HARDLY ANY ONE WANTS TO JOIN DASHNAKTSOUTION AND THEY ARE THE ONLY GROUP WHICH HAVE ORGNIZED DEMONSTRATIONS,

    I WILL REPORT MORE LATER,

    BUT PLEASE LET ALL YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS TO ORGNIZE DEMONSTRATIONS IN FRONT OF ALL USA, GB, FRANCE, ITALY, GERMANY, SWISS, UN, RUSSIAN EMBASSIES AND CONSULATES,

    BY THIS THE ARMENIANS WILL LOSS THIER LEGAL RIGHTS ON OCCUPIED TERITORIES BY TURKY BASE ON SERVES TREATY AND WILLSONIAN ARMENIA BORDERS,

    DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU ARMENIANS IN DIASPORA

    KHACHKAVOR GEVORG,
    Yerevan – Armenia
    Oct. 09, 2009 - 8:00 PM,

    ” THE ONLY TIME YOU and I AGREE TO OPEN THE BORDERS IS WHEN TURKY RECOGNIZEZ ARMENIA WITH PRESIDENT WILLSON’S DRAWN BORDERS AND ACCEPTING 1915 GENOCIDE OF ARMENIANS ”

    GDG    

  6. avatar Caren Khachatrian // October 9, 2009 at 9:27 pm // Reply

    “I am afraid you are 100% correct… The more I hear and see how these protocols are handled and how our own government acts, I believe everything and most likely everyone is controlled by some sort of power…” Gayane and Harry wrote.

    Yeah, that power that keeps scholars from speaking out and young Armenians and actually people of any descent from rising up and becoming scholars in America is this (current) American life. It’s the way this system bogs people down, enslaves them and makes sure that they do nothing but work to pay bills and debts off. We, personally I, have stopped “living” and have turned into some machine that must only struggle to secure some future for myself and family. The current system seems to have a mandate of keeping its citizens so busy that they will not have time to think or congregate. And they lead us to believe that this is all an accident.

    I suppose that readers of this comment who already don’t feel the way I do - my rant may appear to be just that - a rant but I truly believe that this singular focus on money and wealth which has consumed the world is going to ruin every positive thing in our lives. And, I definitely believe that this is something that a certain class of disrespectful, greedy people is forcing upon all of us.

    I wish us all Good luck.

    And again sorry for diverging off topic but I think that the root cause of the problems mentioned here is what I am talking about.

  7. Caren…

    You are definitely right on the dot… MONEY, POWER, WEALTH.. these are all that we strive for in this country.. I can’t stress enough how this propaganda machine pushes its citizens to work like slaves and think only about paying bills and debts… You are correct in saying that it can ruin what is good and positive in our lives.. However, that money and wealth if used in the right way can make things right and just.. Unfortunately, those who come upon this money, power and wealth by corruption and lies.. the foundation is never going to be honest, righteous and justifiable.. THe end outcome will be disaster.. the same disasterous situation we, our nation, our land, and our lives in.

    You are absolutely correct Caren..

  8. avatar Caren Khachatrian // October 10, 2009 at 10:40 am // Reply

    I appreciate the solidarity and just wish we had a solution. Actually, technology in the form of free or really cheap energy can help unshackle us somewhat. The prices of all goods are tied to energy since production, mining and even transportation are all “energy”. So if that is free prices would be tied to labor and IP and that would resemble a barter system much more which is a good thing I think. (Back to basics.) no more worries about oil or gas or air conditioning/heating, a very different life basically.

  9. I am pleased the protocols have been signed. Of course, as the grandchild of Genocide survivors I want to see the genocide acknowledged but the welfare of the people of Armenia is paramount. Breaking the stranglehold around Armenia is an important contributor to the long-term viability of that country. I’m pleased our country (USA) played a major role in brokering these protocols that pave the way to an open border.

  10. That’s it. Good bye dear Armenia.

    Anyone who knows Turks can imagine the next 10 years. Turks will flood Armenia and take over everything. Because they are Turks and because history – yes, history! – has demonstrated over and over again, that nothing but guns – if at all – could stop Turks from spreading to every possible human habitat in the world.

    I see a lot of criticism towards diaspora Armenians. But actually, same on you Yerevantsis! Why didn’t you folks go out in masses of hundreds of thousands and protested? Yap, always blame the diaspora, but in this case, the blame is to be borne by the Armenian Armenians. It is unbelievable how you don’t seem to care about anything else than money. Even the Dashnaktsutyun is a joke in Armenia.

    Just to tell you: if the contrary happened in Turkey, the Turks would shoot Erdogan immediately.

    Good bye, dear Armenia. All is lost now.

  11. avatar Caren Khachatrian // October 11, 2009 at 9:03 am // Reply

    Don’t be so pessimistic Ardashir. For a small country we are tough and our brethren are spread all around the world watching very carefully. 

    Having the borders open doesn’t portend to absolute demise. Many countries that are not on good terms still maintain “open” borders. I think that these borders will mainly be used by our side and not so much their side and we have a lot more to gain from this than they do.

    And let’s not forget that just as these borders were opened they can be shut again. And it isn’t exactly the open borders that critics have a problem with, it is the weak negotiations and other points of the deal.

    Godspeed.

  12. To Caren:  I agree with you.. even though opening borders may be beneficial for the Armenians, the protocols are not strongly and confidently written and it could be closed anytime…  however, these protocols that suppose to help Armenia, will not help Armenia in the long run.. not at all… and

    To: Gary… if you think US helped these to help your ancestors and the future generation.. you are completly wrong.. US has nto done ANYTHING for nothing.. there is a gain for US for doing this.. They help those that will benefit them in the future.. They care less about Armenia.. Armenia is nothing to them.. so by acting like the peace loving, democratic beast is nothing but fake pretenses.. I despise that about this county.. they are all after their own gain.. regardless if the end result is destroying a nation and culture that were present for centuries.. by disrespecting all those who fight for what is right, and just.. unfortunately, US did nothing but helped the perpetrator to win this battle and use these protocols to win the WAR… trust me, Turkey will flood his roots into Armenia and will turqatsnel everything in our country.. That is exaclty what they wanted from the start..

  13. Dear friends,

    The only good is going to come out of the signing of the protocols is for the United States and its Allies. Mark my words; I give Armenia 10 years to start selling businesses in Armenia to our lifelong enemies (the Turks).
    90% of all Armenians living in Armenia today they don’t care who is buying their factories and where is their food coming from. The country is already  being sold to the highest bidder, watch and see what is going to happen once the border opens.
    Imagine an Armenian going to work everyday in Armenia only to be getting a joke of a check from some firm whose headquarters are in Ankara.

    Good Luck My fellow Armenians God bless us all.

  14. TO: THOMAS.. I hate to say this but you are absolutely correct in saying that Armenia will no longer feel, taste, look and be Armenia in 10 years… It is unfortunate that our people living in Armenia dont’ care anymore.. THey are solid cold toward what happens to the country because they lost hope, their belief in their govt and the only thing on their mind is to feed their family with nothing money that they get from the govt. Their survival is the main priority and they will just go with the flow.. unfortunately we went with the flow for toooo long and that is why we are in this situation..bayts de inch karanq anenq?  The govt dont’ respond to our pleas, they dont’ respond to the dissapproval of the things the govt does.. They basically treat us like nobodies..why? why such a non responsive attitude from our govt?  There has to be a hidden agenda to all this. there has to be..I feel sick into my stomach when I remember what just happened and what will happen..

    God be with us.. and God knows that I will fight until the end.. no matter what.. and hope our people will do too.. DON”T GIVE UP..

    G

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