A panel of experts gathered at Clark University on Fri., Dec. 4 to discuss the protocols proposed as part of the effort to normalize political relations between the Republics of Armenia and Turkey. George Aghjayan of the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Central Massachusetts served as moderator. The speakers included Professors Taner Akcam, Clark University; Asbed Kotchikian, Bentley University; and Henry C. Theriault, Worcester State College. Clark’s Kaloosdian-Mugar Professor of Armenian Genocide Studies was the main sponsor, along with Bentley University’s Global Studies Department, the Friends of Hrant Dink, the Armenian Review, and the Armenian National Committee of Central Massachusetts. The Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies presented the panel and Director Debórah Dwork opened by reminding the audience that the center’s public service is directed toward building a more peaceful future through reconciliation and rectification of historic injustices.
George Aghjayan framed the protocol debate by describing the issues that have drawn particular scrutiny from the Armenian community. He focused on four concerns: The protocols do not endorse the Armenian right to self determination; restitution for Armenian losses in the genocide is not addressed; the border opening is an issue for Turkey alone as Armenia never closed its border; and the proposed historical commission offers no guarantee that there will be a full and frank accounting about the genocide.
Taner Akcam began the discussion with an endorsement of the protocols despite their flaws. He said Armenians are right to feel suspicious of Turkey because successive Turkish governments have been heir to a policy of denial that kept the Turkish population in the dark about the genocide. But in Akcam’s opinion, the protocols are like Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika. Gorbachev never intended to bring an end to the USSR, but his policies did just that. Similarly, the protocols will end the Turkish Republic’s denial industry. The old guard and the military have been pushed out of the Turkish political sphere. The burden is now on Ankara to determine whether to offer a tepid apology or embrace an acknowledgment of the genocide. New approaches are now needed to help Turks face their past.
Speaking next, Henry Theriault introduced the idea of a moral imperative to address historical injustices. Such an imperative exists for all perpetrator nations, including the United States. In his opinion, the protocols fail to state the simple fact of the genocide. More importantly, they do not recognize the fundamental inequalities between the nations. After decades of U.S. favoritism toward Turkey, it is unfair to expect the parties to works out issues alone with Armenia negotiating from a position of weakness. Theriault argued that decades of denial have allowed Turkey to consolidate its gains from the genocide. Moreover, Turkish gains are mirrored by Armenian losses. Reparations are needed to equalize the relationship and end the material benefits that Turkey continues to enjoy.
Asbed Kotchikian offered a geo-political view on the negotiations between Turkey and Armenia. Speaking as a political scientist, he described the shifting power balance in the Caucasus. In particular, he pointed to the growing role of Russia in the Middle East. The opening of the Turkish-Armenian border would allow Russia to penetrate Turkey. The border opening would accomplish two important goals for the Russians: increased influence over the resolution of ethnic conflicts in their satellite regions and the opportunity to control larger markets for their electricity and energy resources. Kotchikian closed by referring to the website “Justice not Protols,” but he added his own twist: “Justice and Protocols.”
A lively discussion following the presentation of their views allowed the experts to elaborate on their ideas. The complexity of the protocol debate suggests that continued discussion will remain lively.
For more information about this event, contact Mary Jane Rein, the executive director of the Strassler Center, by calling (508) 421-3745 or emailing [email protected]