To base any argument on hypothetical questions is a dangerous game. Yet we play that game all the time to devise solutions to certain scenarios.
One of those hypothetical questions is what Armenians can or should do if ever present day Turkey comes to recognize the Armenian Genocide. You may hear many answers by different Armenians, betraying an uncertainty that the Turks are counting on.
Of course, we may cross that bridge when we come to it. But it looks like we have a long way to go before we face that kind of situation. Turkey will go to any conceivable and inconceivable length to deny the Armenian Genocide with the full realization of the consequences. It is a daily battle with Turkey to force it to admit its guilt: cases in point even today are the airing of the Armenian Genocide documentary on PBS, Turkey's insistence on censoring the movie version of Antonia Arslan's The Partridge Farm, partially funded by the Council of Europe, and the recent symposium in Turkey about the events in Anatolia during World war I, where Prime Minister Erdogan announced that Turkey has nothing to be ashamed of in its history. The list of denials continues as new situations arise.
Just a few days ago Hikmet Ozdemir, who is the head of the Armenian Research Center at the Turkish Academy of History, announced in a TV interview that "Armenians can wait a thousand years before Turkey recognizes the Armenian Genocide". The ironic response to this Turkish official must be: If Turkey can wait for one thousand years at the gates of Europe, so can the Armenians.
There is a conspiracy to sanitize the present day Turkey by drawing a distinction with its Ottoman past. Politicians believe that it is the safe way to handle the issue, and even some Turkish scholars subscribe to the principle of "responsibility without guilt".
That is historically incorrect for many reasons:
A) The present day Republic of Turkey is the beneficiary of the usurpation of historic Armenia by its Ottoman ancestors. The Founder of Republic of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, continued the genocide that the Ottomans had begun by destroying Armenian communities in Smyrna and Cilicia and by attacking the fledgling Republic of Armenia, which had to surrender by signing the Treaty of Alexandrapol in 1920.
B) The Republic of Turkey has continued, and continues to this day, the cultural genocide by actively pursuing a policy to eliminate archeological and architectural Armenian monuments in occupied historic Armenia. It continues also a policy of intimidation, emasculation and discrimination against the remaining decimated Armenian community in Turkey, i.e., the 1948 wealth tax, denying Armenian history in Armenian schools and confiscation of community property.
C) Official Republic of Turkey brought the ashes of Talaat Pasha, the perpetrator of the genocide, from Berlin and built a monument in his honor on Freedom Hill, thereby assuming the responsibility of his crime against humanity.
D) The Republic of Turkey is currently blockading Armenia to strangulate it out of existence. Even the late President Turgut Özal threatened Armenia by reminding its people that the "lesson of 1915" needed to be sufficient for Armenians not to mess with Turkey and that a few bombs across the border would be enough to destroy Armenia.
E) Continuing the denial of the genocide by Ottoman Turkey the present Republic directly assumes the responsibility of that crime.
When the Federal Republic of Germany was forced to pay reparation to the victims of the Holocaust, it was out of the question to argue that the perpetrators were the Nazis; therefore, the successor republic was absolved of any responsibility.
When it comes to responsibility and compensation, the present day Turkish Republic must be held fully accountable.
Empathy, sympathy and humanity have no place in politics, nor has the concept of justice, because truth and justice are fashioned along the interests of the mighty. The Armenian Genocide remained mostly unrecognized until today because it was not in the interest of great powers to raise it. On the contrary, they had all the reasons to suppress it, to please the "faithful ally". The only time the victims are remembered is when the interests of the victims coincide with the interests of the major powers. And Armenians need to watch those windows of historic opportunity and to act.
Today Turkey is a candidate for the European Union. In order to qualify to enter into the club of civilized nations, it has to adapt to universally accepted norms of civilization, by respecting human rights, correcting its political blunders, ending its aggression against Cyprus, and by coming to terms with its bloody history.
It is not enough for Prime Minister Erdogan to announce that Turkey has nothing to be ashamed of in its history, when more than 20 countries have passed resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Indeed, Turkey has something bloody in its history to be ashamed of. And Europe has been stipulating Turkey to cleanse itself before joining the Union.
This requirement places Turkey against a wall, the wall of justice.
On the other hand, Armenians have kept the issue alive for nine decades, and now that issue resonates in the political posturing of the European countries.
In the process Armenians have also enlisted the support of prominent statesmen and scholars. Today, most courageous advocates supporting the Armenian Genocide forcefully are scholars like Yahuda Baur, Yair Auron, Izrael Charny and others. We have to step back and realize that these scholars are going against the stated policy of their government to uphold the historic truth. Therefore, they need to be treated radically different than former Foreign Minister of Israel, Shimon Perez, who announced twice that the Armenian "tragedy" cannot be qualified as genocide.
The Jews have an honorable tradition of recognizing "righteous Gentiles" for their deeds. It is incumbent upon Armenians to recognize these valiant scholars as "righteous Jews".
This brings us to the question of our headline: "what if Turkey recognizes the Armenian Genocide?"
This question will put our ranks in disarray, because faced with reality many Armenians will come up with different positions.
Armenians in Turkey will give a deep sigh of relief and they will ask not to be bothered any further.
Many Armenians detached from history may react the same way, rationalizing that we demanded recognition for ninety years and we received it; therefore the case must be closed.
It will be up to the government of Armenia to design a policy for the world Armenians to follow. President Kocharian's response to CNN-Turk that the Turks must not construe recognition of the genocide as a legal pre-condition for reparation does not go far enough.
The compensation and reparations must not be based on the present conditions of Armenia and the Armenians, but on historic justice.
A million and a half destroyed lives today would amount to at least the number of Kurdish population of Turkey – 16-20 million. Therefore, the Turks will be accountable for the lives of 16-20 million would-be Armenians who fell victim to their crime.
No one can bring back to life those murdered in cold blood, but their properties can be compensated at today's values.
The trickiest issue is that of territorial settlement. The Turks argue – and some naive Armenians take the bait – that since the present Republic of Armenia is being depopulated, who would settle on the lands of historic Armenia, in the hypothetical case that they are retuned tot he Armenians?
In the first place, Armenia's depopulation is the function of Turkish pressure and blockades, which is the continuation of the genocidal policy of that country. If Armenia is being depopulated, the onus is on the forces behind it and not on Armenians who are forced to abandon their homeland.
Also, no generation has the right to forfeit their ancestral homeland, because they are accountable to posterity.
Therefore, the recognition of the genocide by Turkey is not an end in itself; it may be the beginning of the end.
Next time the question arises "what if Turkey recognizes the genocide?" we must be prepared and armed with historic facts to deal with the question. Many of us live in free democratic countries in relative affluence. That fact should not blur our vision, nor substitute for historic facts.
And when and if the issue is raised, we must have a certain degree of unanimity to face that historic challenge.
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