Turkey misses its chance with Armenia
Hrant Dink's assassination provided a key opportunity for Turkey to mend relations with its neighbor.
February 7, 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (California)
By Vartan Oskanian
ANKARA HAS LET a rare moment pass. Three weeks after the assassination of acclaimed Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, it appears the Turkish authorities have grasped neither the message of Hrant's life nor the significance of his death.
In the days immediately following Dink's shocking death, allegedly at the hands of a fanatic Turkish nationalist, we in Armenia and others around the world wanted to believe that the outpouring of public grief would create a crack in the Turkish wall of denial and rejection, and that efforts would be made to chip away at the conditions that made the assassination possible. We all hoped that the gravity of this slaying and the breadth of the reaction would have compelled Turkey's leaders to seize the moment and make a radical shift in the policies that sustain today's dead-end situation.
However, after those initial hints at conciliation, the message out of Ankara has already changed. Last week, according to the Turkish media, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there can be no rapprochement with Armenians because Armenians still insist on talking about the genocide.
The prime minister is right. Armenians do insist on talking about the genocide. It's a history-changing event that ought not, indeed cannot, be forgotten. However, we also advocate a rapprochement. And one is not a precondition for the other.
Dink was an advocate of many things. Chief among them, he believed that individuals have the right to think, to talk, to explore, to debate. Dink knew that if the authorities would just allow people to reflect and reason aloud, share questions and search for answers, everything would fall into place. Eventually, through public and private discourse, Turks would arrive at genocide recognition themselves.
Equally, he also believed that there must be dialogue between peoples, between nations — especially between his two peoples, the Armenians and the Turks. He himself was a one-man dialogue, carrying on both sides of the conversation, trying to make one side's needs and fears audible to the other.
Unfortunately, Turkey's policy of keeping the Armenian-Turkish border closed has resulted in a reinforcement of animosities. Dink was one of many Armenian and Turkish intellectuals who understood that there needs to be free movement of people and ideas in order to achieve reconciliation among neighbors. But Turkey insists on maintaining the last closed border in Europe as a tool to exert pressure on Armenia, to make its foreign policy more pliant, to punish Armenians for defending their rights and not renouncing their past. Armenia, on the other hand, has no preconditions to normalizing relations.
This hermetically closed border combined with a law that prevents Turkey from exploring its own history and memory (by criminalizing truth-seekers such as Dink) have created a world in which Turks can't know their past and can't forge their future. They can neither explore old memories nor replace them with new ones.
Three weeks ago, our grief was mixed with hope. Today, Turkish authorities continue to defend Article 301, the notorious "insulting Turkishness" statute used to prosecute even novelists who depict characters questioning Ankara's official line on the genocide. And there is no mention at all of the continuing damage caused by a closed border.
If Turkey can't seize the moment, it should not be surprised when others do. Last week, a resolution was introduced in the U.S. Congress to affirm the U.S. record on the Armenian genocide.
The Turks will say such a resolution is not needed. They will say that they've called for a joint Armenian-Turkish historical commission to discuss the genocide, and they don't need third parties. But recognition of the Armenian genocide is no longer a historical issue in Turkey, it's a political one. Dink would wonder how "on the one hand, they call for dialogue with Armenia and Armenians, on the other hand they want to condemn or neutralize their own citizen who is working for dialogue."
Dink was courageous but not naive. Still, he could not have predicted this kind of "neutralization." The brutality of his killing serves several political ends. First, it makes Turkey less interesting for Europe, which is exactly what some in the Turkish establishment want. Second, it may scare away Armenians and other minorities in Turkey from pursuing their civil and human rights. Third, it can frighten into silence those bold Turks who are beginning to explore these complicated, sensitive subjects in earnest.
I prefer to think that more noble political ideals will be served. Hrant Dink will remain an inspiration for Armenians who share his vision of understanding and harmony among peoples and for Turks who share his dream of living in peace with neighbors and with history.
Vartan Oskanian is minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Armenia.