On the eve of April 24, when millions of Armenians, politicians, and human rights activists around the world commemorate the Armenian Genocide of 1915, I would like to address issues concerning recognition of the Genocide, mainly regarding expectations. As Armenians around the world publicly demand as they have for over 50 years for Turkey to recognize the Genocide, it is important to ask a very important question that unsurprisingly no one can seem to agree upon an answer to: after recognition, then what?
For decades left-wing political forces representing Armenians worldwide demanded that Turkey accept its committing of genocide, then return its occupied historic Armenian lands to Armenia. This demand went hand in hand with the demand for a refounding of an independent Armenian republic, which was finally established in 1991 after the Soviet Union’s collapse, and is the second such republic in the 20th century. Armenia has been able to retain and defend its independence for 14 years now, enduring socioeconomic strain and a war with its neighbor over the disputed territory of Mountainous Karabagh. Now the pressure is on Turkey to finally recognize the Armenian Genocide before the eyes of the world, especially after 9 EU countries have publicly acknowledged the Genocide’s recognition, most recently including Poland and Germany, which even admitted partial responsibility in letting the Genocide occur. However, talk about subsequent land transfer is quieting.
Armenians cannot seem to answer the question the same way across the line. Nationalist Armenians still demand the return of ancestral lands to modern-day Armenia, while their respective political wings call for the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border and the promotion of free trade across it. Most businessmen demand that the border be opened without Turkey’s recognition of the Genocide, to increase their business and subsequent profits. But, as I have argued before, the border’s opening would result in a flood of Turkish goods on the Armenian market, thereby forcing out Armenian businesses from trade competition as their own products would not be able to compete with their more affordable and plentiful counterparts. Turkish goods are already dominant in all Armenian open markets as well as in stores—produce, canned food products, construction materials, and domestic goods are everywhere, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find non-Turkish products in Armenia.
I would argue that a new Genocide is just beginning, one in which Armenians, rather than falling by the sword, will be slowly transformed into being not necessarily Turkish but also not entirely Armenian. Turkish culture is already rampant, especially in the capital, as both Turkish radio and television stations are received with little interference. “Rabiz” music and social culture is a serious threat to traditional Armenian values and inherent culture, which has all but weakened significantly. By “rabiz” we mean a Turkified popular music, whereby the lyrics to popular Turkish music are translated to Armenian, and the singers emulate the vocal improvisational methods of Turkish song. Now “rabiz” is used to describe a male stereotype—big, burly men wearing dark clothing, carelessly driving sleek but old, newly painted European automobiles, and constantly chatting on cell phones that ironically enough blare “rabiz” music when they ring. Studies and investigations have revealed that Armenian women are being trafficked to Turkey and sold into prostitution, while some women voluntarily travel there to marry. The opening of the border will bring the further influx of Turkish culture, language, and, eventually, Islam. The oldest Christian nation in the world could one day soon fall at the hands of its own folly to the Turkish Muslim tradition, the very one it has defied for centuries.
Yet when the debate about the return of Armenian lands is raised, no consensus can be reached. Residents of Armenia expect Mountainous Karabagh to be eventually integrated into Armenia but have nothing to say about the return of ancient territorial lands to the west. Armenians already claim Mt. Ararat as their own despite the fact that the mountain lies just across the Turkish border. Diasporan Armenians are ever vocal about Genocide recognition by Turkey, although the tides of time as well as geopolitics have influenced many nations to recognize it, albeit with the relentless lobbying efforts of Armenians worldwide. But the return of lands is not discussed seriously anymore. Reparations for that matter have become forgotten, especially after an extraordinary lawsuit against New York Life was won only a few years ago, resulting in the repayment of thousands of insurance claims to the families of Genocide survivors as well as victims who had taken out policies on their properties while living in then Western Armenia.
Personally I do not see that the return of historic lands to Armenia—although the Armenian government does not call for any conditions in connection to Genocide recognition—as being realistic, as I am quite positive that no Armenian from the Diaspora would move back to his or her ancestral home to live, and such expectations are ludicrous. Expatriation to Armenia by diasporans over the last decade has been weak to say the least, the explanation for which cannot be readily surmised. One could argue that Armenians are too comfortable in their current homes and occupations and could not fathom moving to a former Soviet republic struggling along with newfound democracy, despite that it is the only thing they have to claim as their homeland. Others may have the opinion that Armenia as it exists today is not their homeland, as they come from “Turkish Armenia”—perhaps this argument is just another excuse to ignore the obvious. I can say without any doubt, from the experience I have had in dealing with Armenians politically, socially, and occupationally—both in Boston and in Yerevan—that Armenians would not know what to do with the return of Western lands. Armenians do not know what to do with Armenia as it exists now. Exodus continues, apathy thrives, and backs remain turned.
So when we talk about the Armenian Cause, let us be frank and honest with ourselves. Armenians expect Turkey’s acceptance of the Genocide as the final curtain to their cause—it is quite plain judging from the amount of effort communities still exert year long to remember the terrors of its past, without contemplating the challenges that lie in wake for tomorrow. Armenians should not expect anything more if they are not willing to work for it. And, naturally, there is the homeland that is in dire need of attention. Let’s wait and see some more. Perhaps the Diaspora will mobilize itself once again for Armenia.