Armenia and Turkey, overcome by history
This week, the horrors of the past once more extinguished hopes for the future, as Armenia and Turkey demonstrated that they have yet to find a way to resolve the burden of the history they share.
Just ahead of April 24, the day on which Armenians commemorate the genocide of 1915, Armenia announced that it was suspending all efforts to normalize relations with Turkey. “We consider the current phase of normalization exhausted,” Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan said.
The opportunity to move forward had seemed tantalizingly close. Last week, when the leaders of the two countries were in Washington for the nuclear summit, President Obama tried to do some useful mediation and pressed them to implement an accord they signed in October. “If you pull out, you let the other side off the hook,” I’m told he advised Sargsyan, who indicated to the White House that he would stick with it.
Obama made a similar pitch to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan, suggesting that normalization made sense as part of Turkey's policy of regional security. When I later asked Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu about the prospects for normalization, I was encouraged. "We don't want the politicization of history," he said. “We want reconciliation of memories” of 1915, so that Turkish suffering during World War I is recognized along with that of Armenians. Turkey wants “zero problems” with its neighbors, he continued. “We want to have a prosperous Armenia next to us.” Davutoglu’s comments sounded pretty sensible to me, and my reaction was to think: Okay, now it's time for Armenians and Turks to get on with it and make normalization a reality.
Basically, Sargsyan finally decided that he had waited long enough. He had taken a political risk in even broaching the subject of normalization. When he conceded to Turkish calls for an international commission to examine the anguishing events of 1915, he angered many in the Armenian Diaspora, who argued that the present government had no right to barter over historical events for the sake of normal trade and diplomatic relations. And when Sargsyan’s concession got him nowhere with Turkey, the pressure on him increased.
You might think Turkey would have taken “yes” for an answer on its longstanding proposal for the commission. But the Turks became irate over a U.S. congressional resolution calling for recognition of the genocide. They briefly pulled their ambassador from Washington and let normalization with Armenia stall.
Tempers have since cooled, but Turkey has refused to move forward on normalization until resolution of the feud between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the status of Nagorno Karabagh, a disputed region in the South Caucuses. Sargsyan, feeling pressure from all sides, finally pulled the plug.
In this tug of war between the past and the future, my instinct is to look ahead. I say that as a proud Armenian-American who lost members of his own family in the genocide of 1915. I think America and the world must call these events by their true name, which is genocide. But history is not a weight that the living must drag along behind them in perpetuity. The events of 1915 call for us to mourn, but also to live.
| April 23, 2010; 2:26 PM ET
Categories: Ignatius | Tags: David Ignatius
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