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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.

What happened?

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.

By David Ignatius  | April 23, 2010; 2:26 PM ET
Categories:  Ignatius  | Tags:  David Ignatius  
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Comments

One thing that David got wrong about a crucial fact in this article. He got wrong the fact that the Turks were already placing preconditions as to signing the protocols and normalization that was unacceptable to Armenia. Sargysian, in his naivete, thought that the United States and Turkey were sincere in normalizing relationships. Boy, what a stupid and sappy move on his part!!!!

Posted by: KiazerSouze | April 23, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

The Armenians should bear in mind that Erdogan's government is the best friend they are likely to find in Turkey. His political enemies are also the most bitter opponents of apology or reconciliation with Armenia.

America's approach is foolish and unhelpful. There's no domestic political downside for Erdogan in giving up on Armenia - all the pressure on him towards normalisation was international pressure. But that needs to be gentle and steady, like the wind that drives a sailing ship. Push too hard - ie genocide resolutions - and something is likely to snap.

Posted by: Bud0 | April 23, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

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,"
---------------------------

Typical turkish two-faced politics.

Posted by: thor2 | April 23, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Turkey and Armenia will never be friends. Firstly, the Armenian genocide by Turkey in 1915 will never be forgotten by Armenians because it was a genocidal extermination of Christians by the Ottoman Turks. Now Turkey - after signing a reconciliation pact with Armenia, it made that pact conditional of Armenian return
of the territory of Nagorno Karabagh to Azerbaijan - because, again, Azerbaijan is Muslim, while Armenia is Christian!

Reality Check! Turkey supported the breakout of the province of Kosovo by Muslim Albanians from Christian Serbia. Now it objects to the breakout of the Christian province of Nagorno Karabagh from Muslim Azerbaijan!
Excuse me, but what are the standards of sovereignty of a country under International Law? Muslims living
in higher numbers in a Christian country can declare independence and carve out their own state, as Kosovo did with the blessing of Turkey, while Christians majorities in a province, like Nagorno Karabagh in Azerbaijan cannot? Unless those double standards are eliminated, there will never be a reconciliation
between Turkey and Armenia.

When the Turkey and Armenia Pact was signed, I predicted on a comment published in BBC that it will fail.
That was widely celebrated in Armenia, and widely attacked by Turkish readers. But I feel vindicated now.

Duplicity in relations among nations produces enmity, hostility, and even wars. And peace pacts signed under the clouds of duplicity, and under continuous Christian-Muslim enmity don't succeed. Such pacts only bring to the surface the enmity that the passage of time cannot cure! Religious enmity that passes on from one generation to another! Nikos Retsos, retired professor

Posted by: Nikos_Retsos | April 23, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu talks about "zero problems" with Turkey's neighbors. However, I am still wondering why 37,000 Turkish troops equipped with no less than 360 M48 U.S.-made tanks are still unlawfully occupying 36% of the territory in the independent Republic of Cyprus despite numerous UN Security Council resolutions to the contrary. I am also wondering why armed Turkish Air Force (THK) combat aircraft routinely violate Greek air space over the Aegean Sea and conduct mock bombing missions against Greek-inhabited islands in the Aegean. Simply put Mr. Davutoglu, please put your government's deeds where your mouth is.

Posted by: LEP2 | April 23, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

From my point of you, one should not weigh Turkey and Armenia on the same scale. Considering the fact that Turkey is still one of the most important ally of US in the region and absolutely should not be offended. Everthing must be evaluated by considering the conditions of those times. Nothing can happen without reason.

Posted by: kenanbozkurt2002 | April 23, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

As an Armenia-American, it is important to me to call it what it was: genocide.

Whether or not we "offend" Turkey does not matter to me.

Posted by: thinker16 | April 23, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Once again, Pelosi's stupid stab at foreign policy condemning Turkey for an event a century ago is blowing up in our face.

Without Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey would be a province of Greece. That is what England had planned after WWI. Churchill was humiliated for losing to the Turks at Gallipoli.

Posted by: alance | April 23, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

alance: Ataturk was only person who saved Turkey from being divvied up after WW I. Without Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey would not exist. It would be divided between Greece and Armenia.

Hey, that's a great idea. Let's do it! Let's give Armenia some nukes and let them teach the Turks what it means to be on the receiving end of genocide. It'll do them good.

Posted by: Garak | April 23, 2010 7:28 PM | Report abuse

The simple and unpleasant fact is that Turkey is becoming increasingly barbarian in nature, a point overlooked in the American, but not in the European media. Turkey kills Kurds on a daily basis. ON A DAILY BASIS. It is becoming increasingly antisemitic and reactionary.

It has a debt to the Armenians. And then there is the matter of Cyprus.

Now, why, again, is the EU picking on Turkey?

Posted by: FarnazMansouri | April 23, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Look David;

I love both countries, but the Turks owe Armenians, as an ethnic group, and not just as a nation, a real apology. What the young Turks did to the Armenians was the kind of genocide that people have trouble forgetting.

Tell someone who has no grandparents to forget their murder. Tell American Indians to just "get over" Wounded knee. At least some Americans have apologized for that atrocity -- the Turks haven't. Not only have they not apologized, but they take revenge on people who even bring the subject up.

If Germany were still run by the Nazis and had never apologized for the Holocaust, that would be comparable. And it is comparable. When Hitler talked of his final solution he cited the Armenian Holocaust as a model he could improve on. The Turks did it the old fashioned way, with mobs, and rocks, and knives, and guns.

And the rest of the world has been repeating the "Oh just forget about it, move on, nothing happening here" ever since.

No the rest of the world should not forget the Turkish Genocide of the Armenians. Not because the Turks are evil people, but because "forgetting" is too easy, and mass murder is too available as a State Solution. The risk is that failure to confront the past involves the risk of repeating it. Indeed the Turks have been treating their Kurds nearly as badly as they treated the Armenians. Given the slightest pretext and it could happen again.

Posted by: chris_holte | April 23, 2010 11:03 PM | Report abuse

"Turkey supported the breakout of the province of Kosovo by Muslim Albanians from Christian Serbia"

Funny comment, let's see: the Catholics and the atheists stayed with the Serbs?

Stop such an idiot, 'Greek' or a mix of Albanian Arvanite, Vlachs and Orthodox Turks that make the modern Greeks.

Posted by: Alban1 | April 23, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

Free american media is all propaganda
1)apartheid israel is "the only democracy in the middle east"
2)Apartheid wall is a "security fence"
3)jewish only colonies built on palestinian lands are "settelemnts"
4)Dictatorships of the middle east like saudi, kuwait, egypt are "moderate governments"
5)"WMDs" of iraq
6)Americans have no idea who rachel corrie is
........

Posted by: MumboJumboo | April 24, 2010 12:00 AM | Report abuse

turns out the entire saga of "reconciliation" was a fodder for a land grab by Muslims.

... and everyone opposing... is an obstacle to peace.

Imagination isn't a friend of Hitlers. Lucky for us their blitz - criegs still require some significant cache infusion, even with our health fund in tow.

Who is next to be shorted to shore up their account to pursue insatiable need in wars, Goldman?

Posted by: Miron1 | April 24, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Has it ever occurred to David Ignatius that after invading Iraq, we discovered it was a mistake, continued the occupation, while 1.3 million Iraqi's have died according to official Iraqi government count.

Anyone expecting an apology from the U.S.? Not in my lifetime!

Posted by: dave57 | April 24, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." 'that is one good reason why Armenians should hesitate before dealing with an unrepentant Turkey. The world is full of peoples in denial: Japan has yet to admit its criminality during World War II, particularly to its own people. Iran, Hamas, the PLO, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Middle East generally is full of people who deny the Holocaust happened, or who insist that the CIA and/or Israel is responsible for the al Qaeda attack on 9/11.

Posted by: sailhardy | April 26, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

I wished that armenians including Ignatius are wiser.

Armenians are stuck with 1915 and really can't continue their life. That's why Armenia is so poor today. And the fact that Armenians have good publicity in the US means especially famous armenian-americans crying and begging for the recognition as a cheap negotiation trick until they get what they want each and every day. I wonder what will be Armenia's agenda if they didn't have the 1915 stories? How will they explain their current state of poverty today ? Yes, of course it is very easy to play the facts and blame the Turks, and doing nothing economically useful for Armenia while living in excellent conditions in America.
We, Turks, have double the facts, proofs than Armenians that 300.000 Turks were killed during 1915 against almost the same number of Armenians.
So, don't ever expect us to apologize once both sides agree that both parties' losses are equal!!!

Posted by: neseisik | April 26, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

I don't think 21st century Turks owe Armenians an apology any more than I, a European-American whose great-grandfather actually fought in the Indian Wars, owe any kind of apology to Native Americans. These things, while terrible, are in the past, and nobody alive today bears any responsiblity for them.

If our Congress feels so irrationally compelled to pass genocide resolutions (because, of course, they have nothing else on their plates they ought to be concerned with), then the Turks should likewise pass a resolution or two condemning the more sordid aspects of American history.

And they we can all call it a day and move on.

Posted by: Itzajob | April 27, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

When Hitler was planning his annihilation of Poland in 1939, he knew Turkey had never been held accountable for what their Ottoman forefathers had perpetrated against its Armenian populace during World War I. Hitler said at the outset of World War II, “The destruction of Poland has priority. The victor will not be asked afterwards whether he told the truth or not. Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?” And so it goes...

Posted by: kaym1 | April 27, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

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