NOTES ON THE WAYS TO SOLVE THE ARMENIAN QUESTION
Garbis Altinoglu, 6-8 April 2010
The Armenian question or rather the Turkish-Armenian question is a very complex and deep-rooted one and as historical experience has demonstrated cannot be solved through simple formulas. This understandably emotionally-loaded question cannot be solved without considering,
a) the historical background of the Armenian genocide, that is the nature of Turkish-Armenian relations in the second half of the 19th century, the tragic events of 1915-16 themselves and the aftermath of 1915-16;
b) the traumatic experience of Ottoman-Turkish ruling circles during the long and painful decline of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century and its approaching break-up during the first decades of the 20th accompanied by the almost systematic intervention of the so-called Great Powers (British Empire, Tsarist Russia, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary etc.) in the internal affairs of Turkey; (1)
c) inflow of millions of impoverished and ethnically cleansed Muslim immigrants to Anatolia in the second half of the 19th century and the first 15 years of the 20th, as a result of the formation of new national states in the Balkans and the gradual occupation of the Caucasus by the Tsarist Russia; (2)
d) the ideological and political endeavours of Ottoman-Turkish ruling circles to form a “Turkish nation” out of the Muslim peoples of the gradually crumbling Ottoman Empire;
e) the formation and rise of a new Armenian bourgeoisie and the economic, political, cultural factors accompanying this process, including its impact on the traditional relationship of the Armenian community with the Ottoman rulers;
f) the roles of the so-called Great Powers vis-à-vis “the Eastern Question” and their rivalries for markets, raw materials and political-military influence at the time.
I do not pretend to present a comprehensive analysis of this question here. I only would like to draw attention to its complexity. Imprisoning one’s attention solely on the tragic developments of 1915-16, taking the genocide as an isolated event and ignoring the greater picture will inevitably engender a subjective and one-sided perception of the Turkish-Armenian question and this approach in turn will lead to simplistic or naïve proposals for the solution of the problem. I could enumerate the establishment of reconciliation or joint research commissions, the opening up of Turkish-Armenian border crossings, the revival of original Armenian (or other) names of geographical places, restoration of the remains of Armenian architecture, such as Akhdamar, the increase of commercial, cultural etc. relationships between Turkey and Armenia among such proposals. Such steps might, of course, serve to alleviate the tensions between Turkish and Armenian peoples and contribute to the adoption of a more cool-headed attitude on both sides. To this list I could add the opportunistic proposals of several writers who advise Turkish ruling circles to blame the massacres or genocide solely on the CUP (=Committee of Union and Progress/ Ittihat ve Terakki) led by Enver, Talat and Jemal pashas and move on. (3) Proponents of this hypothetical scenario wish and expect the emergence of more open-minded and cooperative Turkish rulers who will play the role of the reasonable partner. “Everything would be so nice if the Turks could be far sighted enough to express their grief or regret on the tragic events of 1915-16!” However, apart from being unrealistic and impracticable, such proposals, gloss over the complexity of the Turkish-Armenian question and do not and cannot bring about a genuine reconciliation. None of the various fractions of Turkish bourgeoisie will ever accept the fact that modern Turkey was built on the almost total liquidation of the Christian minorities of Anatolia and the devastation and ruin of the towns, villages and neighborhoods they had occupied.
Yes, above all, one has to understand the fact that the formation of modern Turkish nation has been based on the genocide of Armenian people (and a similar destruction of Assyrian people and the massacre and deportation of Greek people) who had been living in Anatolia for thousands of years and the seizure of almost all of their land and all other material wealth. At the moment these non-Turkish peoples are almost extinct in their ancestral land. Destruction of these peoples was not an accident of history, nor was it the unexpected result of spontaneous decision related to the needs of the war. Several researchers have demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that the leading members of the CUP had been planning the liquidation of Christian peoples of Anatolia even before the First World War. (4) In fact the Armenian genocide of 1915-16, carried out with the support of German imperialists, have been the culmination of a long anti-Armenian campaign of intimidation, land seizures, state-sponsored terrorism and massacres that had begun in the 1870s, that is long before the establishment of the rule of the CUP. Before proceeding further, I want to remind the reader of the fact that the Turkish Republic founded in 1923 after the Turkish war of independence (1919-22) is to a great extent a continuation of the CUP regime both in terms of policies and personnel. The groundwork for the war of independence led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was prepared by the leaders and cadres of the CUP many of whom fought together with him notwithstanding certain factional and personal frictions and conflicts. In fact the main aim of this so-called war of independence was to convince the Allies (the British, the French, the Italians) not to treat the Turks too harshly, to lobby them for the rejection of the “unjust demands” of Armenians and Greeks who longed for revenge and restitution of their material losses. (5)
These two historical events (the formation of modern Turkish nation and the genocide of Armenian people) are inextricably intertwined with each other. It was in this way and with the active support of the Ottoman-Turkish state apparatus and under its leadership that the nascent Turkish bourgeoisie implemented its primitive accumulation. Therefore, the Armenian genocide has played a very important role in the constitution of the Turkish national psyche, despite the fact it’s very existence is hotly denied by Turkish ruling circles and their intellectual yes-men; it, however, is driven to the collective subconscious of Turkish society and considered a taboo subject. Understandably, the impact of this tragedy constitutes an essential part of the Armenian national psyche as well. It is a very rare event even when measured against the standards of our very violent modern times in the course of which humanity has witnessed and continues to witness the deaths of hundreds of millions of people in wars, civil wars, massacres and genocides and as a result of sanctions and embargoes.
It is not difficult to comprehend the still very much alive quasi-colonialist mentality Turkish ruling circles maintain towards all non-Turkish peoples who are or were under the rule of their Ottoman forefathers. Despite appearances and the impressions of most outsiders to the contrary, in many respects Turkish Republic has been a worthy successor to the Ottoman Empire which was not only a “prison”, but also a “slaughterhouse of nations.” During the almost nine decades following the establishment of the Republic, Turkish ruling classes have conducted a policy of violent repression and discrimination towards the Kurdish people and continued to ethnically cleanse the already the greatly dwindled Christian minorities through state terrorism. However, one has to concede the fact that the hostility Turkish ruling classes feel towards the Armenian people is qualitatively different from their hostility towards other oppressed ethnic and religious communities, such as Kurds, Assyrians, Alevites etc. Even today, that is almost a century after the Armenian genocide Turkish reactionaries and chauvinists continue to use the term “Armenian” as an invective and perceive everything Armenian as a potential or actual threat and enemy. The fact is that the Armenian genocide is the real reason behind the the unquenchable hate and hostility Turkish ruling classes exhibit vis-à-vis the Armenian people. Mentioning the name “Armenian”, let alone that of “the Armenian question” itself reminds them of the great sin their forefathers have committed from the 1870s through the 1920s. This general feeling of hate and hostility permeating all classes of Turkish society, makes the solution of the Turkish-Armenian question very complex and difficult. The case of Hrant Dink, an Armenian progressive journalist killed in broad daylight on 19 January 2007, can be considered a living proof of this mentality. Later it became apparent that the “security” forces knew about the coming murder and did nothing to prevent it. Besides some high-level members of the police and the gendarme were themselves involved in the planning and execution of this infamous act. More than three years on the real forces behind the murder have not been apprehended. Turkish ruling circles did not bother to listen to the very moderate messages Dink tried to convey to them. Why? Because they were determined to destroy and nip in the bud all efforts at a Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. In retrospect one can say that Dink himself was too naïve politically and greatly underestimated the extremely reactionary character of the Turkish ruling classes.
Turkish ruling circles have developed certain political and psychological defense mechanisms in this respect, some crude and some a bit more refined. One of them has been the preservation of an almost complete censorship on the discussion of this subject throughout the history of the Republic. Until recently, academicians and intellectuals did not even dare to air their views on this subject; those who a few years ago tried to organize symposia or discussions on the fate of Ottoman Armenians or wanted to express their grief over the plight of this people were publicly censured by government ministers, systematically harassed by the chauvinist press and threatened with prosecution. A second one has been the adoption of an aggressive attitude towards all Armenian aspirations whether they relate to conceding the grave crimes committed against the Armenian people or the very moderate and just demands of Turkish Armenians. In this case, Turkish reactionaries try to blame the Armenian nationalists and the Armenian people and play the part of the victim while in fact they have been the aggressor. (One cannot but remember the Nazi Germany which felt “threatened” by Czechoslovakia and Poland in the 1930s and the US which felt “threatened” by Vietnam in the 1960s and Iraq in the 1990s and nowadays feels “threatened” by Iran!) According to this argument Armenians had rebelled against the state, had stabbed the Turk in the back and forced him to take certain measures to “protect” himself. (6) A third one has been focusing the attention of the public opinion on the plight of Anatolian and Balkan Muslim Turks in the period under consideration. It is true that millions of Muslim Turks lost their lives and many more were wounded during the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 and the First World War. But how can one blame the Armenian nationalists or the Armenian people for the outcome of the adventurist policies of the CUP which allied itself with imperialist Germany and took the country to the slaughterhouse of the Great War in the hope of recovering territory it had lost to the Balkan states?
The impact of the Armenian genocide on the Turkish national psyche has also contributed to the emergence and prevalence of a very aggressive brand of Turkish nationalism, which in turn has proved to be a huge obstacle to the solution of “the Kurdish problem” among other things and greatly curbed the overall democratization of the country. This exaggerated nationalism of the Turkish bourgeoisie betrays a hidden fear, a feeling of uncertainty and lack of legitimacy; it is as if it doesn’t feel sure about its sovereignty over this ancient land, which has been acquired through grave crimes. Constant proclamations and warnings by the Turkish authorities of the “indivisibility” of Turkey, of the “inviolability” of its borders, of endless plots of “external forces” to weaken and undermine Turkey etc, bear witness to this mentality. One only should take note of the extremely rigid attitude of Turkish ruling circles in dealing with the fate of 20 million-strong Kurdish nation to see this mentality in action. For decades they have denied even the very existence of the Kurdish people as an ethnic group, have suppressed all manifestations of Kurdish national identity and culture, have striven to drown in blood all Kurdish resistance against national oppression and systematically terrorized, killed and massacred Kurdish civilians, intellectuals and community leaders. They have consistently stood for armed confrontation, while the PKK has several times offered to cease fire, declared unilateral ceasefires times and again since 1993 and called and worked for the peaceful solution of this question. All the efforts of the Kurdish side to secure the peaceful solution of the question, however, have been either ignored or rejected by Turkish ruling circles. Turkish reactionaries have always demanded the total and unconditional surrender of the PKK, without any pledges for democratic reforms and been bent on the destruction of all institutions of Kurdish people, including their legitimate parliamentary parties. (7) Doubtless to say, at the root of this sort of extreme chauvinism and militarism lies the barbaric mentality the Turkish Republic has inherited from the Ottoman despots and CUP murderers.
* * * * *
The Turkish-Armenian question can only be solved through a radical transformation and reconstruction of Turkish society. Such a transformation and reconstruction cannot be effected without the overthrow of the chauvinist Turkish bourgeoisie and the military and the seizure of political power by the exploited working masses. The workers and other exploited toilers alone, led by a party fighting all forms of oppression, exploitation, repression and discrimination can carry out such a radical upheaval and in the process can face the reality of the Armenian genocide and accept the fact that the Turkish Republic was built by a bunch of mass murderers, state terrorists and thieves.
Of course such an approach does not exclude or reject the role of the struggle for partial demands which might help to deal blows to Turkish chauvinism and political reaction. However, I once more have to emphasize the fact that, not even the most liberal and “democratic” fractions of Turkish property-owning classes can and will question the bases of the Turkish Republic; none of them hesitates or will hesitate to stir up anti-Armenian, anti-Greek, anti-Kurdish feelings and prejudices to distract the attention of the working masses from internal or external problems. In this sense, there is an unbreakable tie with the social liberation of the exploited Turkish working masses and their ideological liberation from the bonds of Turkish chauvinism. “No nation can be free” said Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “if it oppresses other nations.” In other words, a genuine peace and reconciliation and a true democracy can be achieved only through a common struggle of the downtrodden peoples of Anatolia against their tormentors and through their internationalist revolutionary education. Here, the key question is the revolutionary re-education of the Turkish working masses who for decades have been indoctrinated in the spirit of suspicion, animosity and hate towards other peoples and first and foremost towards the Armenian people.
This is all the more necessary in view of the fact that, certain fractions of Turkish bourgeoisie in alliance with the US and Israel have been fanning the flames of Kurdish-Turkish confrontation for years. On the other hand, one of the most important preconditions of a genuine Turkish-Armenian reconciliation is the recognition of the national identity and legitimate rights of Kurdish people. So, the Armenian people cannot but oppose the vicious national oppression of Kurdish people by the descendants of CUP murderers.
Furthermore, the Armenian people will not truly be able to settle accounts with the perpetrators of the genocide without opposing and fighting against all instances of national oppression and social injustice throughout the world. The great injustices done to the Armenian people will not be remedied through lobbying the American senators and statesmen whose hands are stained with the blood of tens of millions of people in almost all parts of the globe; these injustices will not be remedied through appealing to German statesmen, descendants of German colonialists and imperialists responsible for the genocide of the Herero people, partially responsible for the genocide of the Armenian people, to a great extent responsible for the initiation of First and Second World Wars, responsible for the Jewish holocaust and for the killing of more than 20 million citizens of the Soviet Union and so forth. These “masters of the world” led by the US, have shed and/ or been shedding the blood of the peoples of Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia; they are making preparations to attack Iran under the guise of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and they are working overtime to start the flames of the Third World War, which may lead to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people through the use of nuclear weapons, deal a very hard blow to the material and cultural accomplishments of humanity and do enormous harm to the natural environment. To seek the support of such powers and their leaders, for the recognition of the Armenian genocide is both wrong and immoral. Besides, as historical experience has demonstrated times and again, it is useless. Whatever “Armenian resolutions” their parliaments pass, these powers do not give a damn about the Armenian people and the tragedy this people have lived through; they have long been and are accomplices, allies, protectors and commercial partners of Turkish reactionaries despite frictions and disagreements between the two sides on some issues.
Consistent democratism and the genuine interests of the great majority of the Armenian people requires them,
a) to take an unequivocal stand against the wars of aggression conducted at the moment mainly against Muslim peoples of the world by the US, Britain, Germany, Israel and their allies,
b) to take an unequivocal stand against ongoing attempts at widening the imperialist war to Iran on the pretext of opposing the proliferation of nuclear weapons,
c) Not to allow US, British, German, French and other imperialists to exploit the question of “the Armenian genocide” to further their criminal plans and
d) To strive for the withdrawal of Armenian troops in Afghanistan and the rejection of any Armenian participation in the future in such wars of aggression. (8)
(1) Taner Akçam has mentioned the fact that the Ottoman Empire had lost 85 percent of its population and 75 percent of its possessions between 1870 and 1920. (“Türk-Ermeni Barışmasında Atılması Gereken Adımlar”, April 2005) To this observation one might add that after the defeat of the Empire at the end of the First World War, even Anatolia was in danger of being colonized by Britain, France, Italy, Greece and divided between Armenians, Pontic Greeks, Kurds etc.
(2) According to a source, around four million Muslims were forced to come to Anatolia between 1855 and 1914. (Emin Akdag-Hasim Söylemez, “Sürgün Yurdu Anadolu”, Aksiyon, 24 May 2004) Along with the massacre and deportation of Christian minorities during the first two decades of the 20th century, this giant wave of migration altered the demographic composition of Turkish mainland decisively in favor of Muslims.
(3) To blame the Armenian tragedy only on three leading pashas of the CUP and to absolve Ottoman-Turkish ruling circles of their crimes would be tantamount to blaming the initiation of the Second World War and the Jewish holocaust only on Hitler and his close associates and absolving German monopoly capitalists and state apparatus of their crimes. However, this has been and remains a favourite trick of almost all bourgeois politicians and writers in their efforts to absolve those “distinguished” moneybags who supported the Nazi terrorists.
(4) A prominent member of the CUP, later prime minister and president Jelal Bayar had once told about the discussions in the CUP government and war ministry about the liquidation of Christian minorities. “… the main subject of the secret meetings” had said Bayar “was the liquidation of non-Turkish masses who are situated at strategic junctions and are open to negative external influences.” (Suat Parlar, Osmanlıdan Günümüze Gizli Devlet, p. 78) Besides, even before the Great War, that is in the spring of 1914 the CUP leaders forcibly deported around 130,000 Greeks from the Aegean region and seized their possessions.
(5) Turkish nationalists, who refrained from antagonizing the Allied powers, clearly expressed their anti-Armenian and anti-Greek positions at the Erzurum Congress (held in July-August 1919) and at the Sivas Congress (held in September 1919). “A provisional administration shall be formed in Eastern Anatolia” the resolutions of the Erzurum Congress said “to prevent the Greeks and Armenians from trampling our motherland.” (Sabahattin Selek, Anadolu Ihtilali, p. 274) At the time, however, several regions of Anatolia and Istanbul were under the occupation of British, French, Italian and Greek armies.
(6) Armenian nationalists should be criticized for allying themselves with Tsarist Russia during the First World War. They also should be criticized for collaborating with the occupation forces and taking part in revenge actions after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. But these instances of unjust actions cannot in any way compared with the protracted Turkish state terrorism which culminated in the Armenian genocide. On the other hand, under the conditions of an oppressive and despotic state which regularly terrorizes its subjects, oppressed nations have a right to defend themselves by force of arms. Even the United Nations itself recognized this right in its General Assembly Resolution A/RES/3246 (XXIX) of 29 November 1974 and I quote:
“3. (General Assembly- G. A.) Reaffirms the legitimacy of the peoples' struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle;…”
(7) For further information on the anti-Kurdish policies of Turkish ruling circles go to http://www.koxuz.org/anasayfa/node/5619
(8) In 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, Armenia had deployed 46 troops under Polish command there. Later this presence was extended by one year at the end of 2005 and 2006. This contingent was withdrawn on October 7, 2008.
In January 2010, 40 Armenian soldiers were sent to Germany to undergo four-week training. In February 2010 they were deployed to Kunduz province of Afghanistan and at the moment are serving there under the command of the German military.