Scholar and editor of the Armenian Review Asbed Kotchikian: “Although the stubborn refusal to use the term ‘Genocide’ continues, I observe a more genuine effort to normalize relations with Armenians and Armenia.”
Photograph: Berge Arabian
Boğaziçi University and TÜSİAD (Turkish Industry and Business Association) jointly organized a conference titled “Discussing the Tragedy of 1915 on its 100th Anniversary: Meaning, Memory and Politics’ on 11 November. One of the speakers at the conference was Asbed Kotchikian of Bentley University. In his speech, Kotchikian presented the views of US Armenians in the framework of the different views and approaches of Turkey regarding the recognition of the Genocide, the 100th anniversary, and the expectations and demands of Armenian circles to establish dialogue with Turkey, and we talked to him about the view of the Armenian Diaspora in the US regarding the 100th anniversary of the Genocide, and the change in Turkey’s approach to 1915.
What are issues Turkey should pay attention to regarding the Armenian Diaspora in your view?
As I stated in my speech, the Armenian side will be reluctant to take a step towards Turkey as long as the term ‘Genocide’ is not used. Also, although this might seem unfair, according to Armenia, Turkey should compromise more, and take more precautions to provide security for Armenians because it is economically and politically more powerful. The Diaspora also refuses an approach that equalizes the Genocide with the tragedy experienced by the Muslim population that came from the Balkans and the Caucasus. They believe that by equalizing two unrelated issues, the perception is weakened of the environment and conditions of the Genocide against the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
What is the role of the Armenian Diaspora in the US regarding Turkey’s 2015 policy?
The US Diaspora, which includes groups such as the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA), is acting according to its usual principle. This is the approach that involves introducing a third side to put pressure on Turkey so it recognizes the Genocide, this third side being the US. The rise of the Islamic State, the recent developments in Syria and Iraq, and Turkey’s hesitant stance in providing support to coalition forces, are presented by Armenian groups as ‘evidence’ to the American government to prove Turkey is an unreliable partner and that it needs to be put under pressure to recognize the Genocide.
Is 2015 only a symbolic date for you, or could it really become a turning point?
100 years may be a symbolic period of time, but it also symbolizes a search for justice that has now continued for a century. I doubt 2015 will be different than previous years, or than 2016, other than a large conference and demonstration, and some extensive activities. Although the discussions are slowly progressing from genocide recognition to issues like compensation, the sense of injustice cause by Turkey’s refusal to assume responsibility of the policy of destroying Armenians during the Ottoman period continues to be the real driving force for the Diaspora.
What is your view of the change in Turkey’s 1915 policy?
After taking part in the event jointly organized by TÜSİAD and Boğaziçi University, I had the impression that there was interest in Turkey to understand the Diaspora’s demands regarding 2015. In other words, Turkey is concerned about decreasing the impact of the 100th anniversary, or at least, preparing for it. The great interest in trying to find out what Armenia and the Armenians want from Turkey is part of the process of change Turkey has undergone in the past decade. Although the stubborn refusal to use the term ‘Genocide’ continues, I observe a more genuine effort to normalize relations with Armenians and Armenia. The difficulty Turkey faces is that this is a relatively new process, and that both the government and civilian society are undergoing a great change. As for the Armenian side, there is an increasing impatience caused by Turkey only taking slow steps regarding this issue. What’s more, Armenians often perceive the steps Turkey takes as insufficient and insincere.
Who is Asbed Kotchikian?
Professor Asbed Kotchikian has for 15 years taught on the Middle East and the Soviet Union at the Department of Global Studies at Bentley University. Kotchikian has lived for long periods and extensively travelled in both regions, and has written articles, and given lectures and conferences on identity, the transformation of transnational groups (Diaspora), foreign policies of smaller and weaker countries, and regional developments in the Middle East and Eurasia. Asbed Kotchikian is also the author of the book ‘The Dialectics of Small States: Foreign Policy Making in Armenia and Georgia’ and serves as the editor of the peer-reviewed journal Armenian Review.