lundi 16 juin 2014

Tentative de dialogue arméno-turc : la balle est dans le camp de l'Arménie

Armenia should constructively consider PM's proposal by Şükrü Elekdağ*

June 02, 2014, Monday/ 17:18:24

I believe that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's April 23 statement on “the Armenian issue” reflects a rational, humane, peaceful and reconciliatory approach.

It also shows that Turkey is not shunning the truth and is not afraid of confronting its past. That was evidenced in his remarks: “… we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren. Regardless of their ethnic or religious origins, we pay tribute, with compassion and respect, to all Ottoman citizens who lost their lives in the same period and under similar conditions.” However, his statement should not be taken as a step toward recognition of the Armenian allegations and a concession; nor should it be viewed as a unilateral apology.

The functional side of the full statement is that the conditions for the aspired-to peace and reconciliation between the parties are clearly laid out. These conditions include the establishment of a joint historical commission by the parties to reveal the facts of the 1915 incidents and analyze the findings in light of the applicable legal framework. The decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on the Doğu Perinçek case, which rejected “the existence of a general consensus” on the Armenian genocide allegation and maintained that this is a controversial issue, allowed Ankara to adopt a bold initiative for peace with Yerevan.

Parliament's declaration for the formation of a joint historical inquiry

The prime minister's expression of regret for the lives lost by Armenians and other Ottoman people in the conditions that prevailed during the period of 1915 is another striking part of the statement. As for the humane approach in the statement, we should note that Parliament also adopted the same approach in a declaration unanimously adopted on April 13, 2005. The declaration extended a hand of peace and amity to Armenia and referred to the following justifications for the establishment of a joint historical commission.

 “The Parliament believes that both Turkey's and Armenia's interests are best served in the reconciliation of the Turkish and Armenian peoples, who lived in peace and mutual tolerance for centuries on the same land, to save them from being hostage to deep prejudices stemming from the war years, and in the creation of an environment that will enable them to share a common future based on tolerance, friendship and cooperation.

“The government and the opposition parties have made a proposal to that end, which aims to shed light on historical facts through scientific research so as to prevent history from continuing to be a burden for these two nations. By this move they have proposed to establish a joint commission by Turkey and Armenia composed of historians from both sides, to open their national archives without any restrictions to research and to disclose the findings of this research to world public opinion. The proposal further specifies that the commission can carry on its research in the archives of other related countries and that the parties will determine the establishment and working methods of said commission.

"Parliament fully supports and approves this historic proposal. The cooperation of the government of Armenia is a must for the implementation of this initiative. To this end, unless Turkey and Armenia rely on a common perspective on historical facts, the inheritance that both sides will leave to their children and future generations will be nothing other than biases, enmity and sentiments of revenge.
"Wisdom and logic command Turkey and Armenia not to be afraid of destroying taboos and to face their history by discovering all the aspects of the human tragedy they experienced together. This is the way to prevent the past from overshadowing our present and future.

Parliament underlines the fact that the proposal of the Turkish Republic should be considered, in essence, an initiative for peace. If Armenia wants to establish good neighborly relations with Turkey and develop a basis for cooperation, it should not hesitate to accept Turkey's proposal for a joint historical evaluation.”

Diaspora's attitude

The positive impression generated by Turkey's bold and peaceful initiative to set up a joint historical commission in the international arena should be underlined. This impression is confirmed by the joint declaration of 97 parliamentarians from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the decision by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the remarks by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and American Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone that the establishment of a joint commission would contribute to the achievement of reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian nations.

 The Armenian diaspora strongly opposed Turkey's proposal for the establishment of a joint commission, as it would undermine the credibility of their allegations. For this reason, the provision on the creation of a joint commission, which has been strongly supported and promoted by Turkey, was the main issue during the deliberations on the twin protocols concluded on Oct. 10, 2009 in Zurich between the Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers. This provision has also played an important role in the obstruction of the ratification of the protocols as well, because nationalist and militant Armenians as well as the diaspora fiercely opposed this proposal, asserting that the Armenian genocide is a historically established fact not open to further research and negotiation.

ECtHR: Genocide allegation is controversial

 In light of this antagonistic stance, one is inclined to ask what sort of development took place that accounts for the Turkish side's hope that its proposal for the establishment of a joint commission might be practically viable.

This development is the ECtHR judgment in the Perinçek case. Swiss courts had convicted Perinçek over his remarks that the Armenian genocide allegation was a lie, basing their decisions on the contention that there exists “a general consensus concerning the legal characterization of the events in question as genocide.” But the European court, in its judgment on Dec. 17, 2013, rejected the Swiss courts' view and stressed that the Armenian genocide allegation was controversial for three reasons.

 First, it pointed out that it would be very difficult to identify a general consensus, as there were differing views even among the Swiss political organs themselves. The Swiss Federal Court itself had acknowledged that there was no unanimity in the community as a whole concerning the legal categorization in question. Furthermore, only about 20 states out of 190 worldwide had officially recognized the Armenian genocide, and such recognition had not always been extended by the governments of those states but from their parliaments, as was the case in Switzerland.

Second, the court rightly recalled that the notion of “genocide” is a precisely defined legal concept. According to the case law of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, “genocide” requires that the acts in question must have been perpetrated with the specific intent to destroy not only certain members of the group but all or part of the group itself (dolus specialis). As a result the court, noting that genocide is a very narrow, difficult-to-prove legal concept, stated that it was not convinced that the “general consensus” on the existence of the Armenian genocide to which the courts of Switzerland referred in convicting Perinçek was consistent with such very specific points of law.

Third, the court expressed doubts on whether there could be a “general consensus” on events such as those at issue here, given that historical research was by definition open to discussion and a matter of debate, without necessarily giving rise to final conclusions or to the assertion of objective and absolute truths. In this connection, the court's underlining the fact that Armenian claims cannot be compared to the Holocaust, clearly distinguishes the case from those concerning the denial of the crimes of the Holocaust committed by the Nazi regime, as those crimes have a clear legal basis established and proven by an international court.

Outcome of appeal is doubtful

 As can be seen from the above, the ECtHR rejected the Swiss court's assertion that the Armenian genocide is a matter of “general historical and scientific consensus” whose existence had to be considered established as a matter of fact and could not be challenged in court -- even though the issue had not been adjudicated by a competent judicial authority. The court also set aside any contention of legal equivalence of the “Armenian genocide” with the Holocaust, since there had been a clear legal basis for the recognition of the Holocaust as genocide. The Holocaust was unambiguously established as fact and defined as a crime by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, whereas no such valid judicial finding has so far been made in respect to the Armenian situation.

Switzerland decided to appeal the ECtHR ruling on the Perinçek case. The Swiss Federal Office of Justice announced on March 11, 2014 that the ECtHR's Grand Chamber will be requested to review the ruling in order to clarify the scope available to the Swiss authorities in applying Swiss criminal law to combat racism. However, the appeal for review remains pretty weak, because it does not offer new findings or arguments. Furthermore, it is really a remote possibility that the Grand Chamber will challenge the above-mentioned three arguments that the court's judgment is based upon.

In the light of these newly emergent conditions, the diaspora and Armenia need to switch to a more realistic approach vis-à-vis Turkey's proposal suggesting the establishment of a joint commission.

Government's acceptance of my proposal for creation of a joint commission

I have been proposing the establishment of a joint historical commission between Turkey and Armenia since the 2000s, in my talks with high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; however, arguing that this is a fairly risky move, they did not adopt this proposal. I have continued to subscribe to this view since being elected as a Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy in the elections on Nov. 3, 2002. Following several meetings with then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, he, despite objection by the ministry bureaucracy, concurred that this was a fair, constructive and humane approach and that it would take Turkey to a better position in the dispute. Most important, he persuaded Prime Minister Erdoğan that this project was an appropriate initiative. I also got the approval of then-CHP Chairman Deniz Baykal on this matter. The proposal thus resulted in a sort of miracle, as it brought together the prime minister and the chairman of the main opposition party, who were not on very good terms, for a meeting in the office of the prime minister at Parliament on March 8, 2008. The prime minister reviewed the proposal, but he still had some questions in mind. Subsequent to my briefing, in a joint press conference, Erdoğan and Baykal announced the proposal to establish a joint historical commission in the context of the peace initiative vis-a-vis Armenia. With this initiative, they demonstrated that Turkey is not afraid to confront its past and that they expected the same attitude from Armenia in the name of peace and friendship. Parliament unanimously adopted this proposal on April 13, 2005.

What wisdom and reason require

 Armenia should positively consider this initiative launched by Prime Minister Erdoğan in order to extract Turkish-Armenian relations from where they have been stuck for 99 years.

Unless this is done, it will not be possible to free Armenians from a consuming preoccupation with victimization and usurpation and Turks from the feeling of being the unfair target of a worldwide conspiracy of calumny and slander. And in that case, it would be a fantasy to suppose that these two nations could ever achieve reconciliation and peace.

For this reason, a contemporary approach based on wisdom and reason must be achieved by exposing all aspects of the human tragedy that befell Turks and Armenians to daylight and by confronting the historical facts and accepting them. Peace will inevitably be born out of this trauma. *Dr. Şükrü Elekdağ is a retired ambassador, former undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and former deputy for the Republican People's Party.
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