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Peace at home, peace in the world

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“A Just Memory For All”, Article by H.E. Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, 4 May 2014

History is replete with squandered opportunities. The challenge for policy elites is to assess in real time the risks inherent in missing these historical reflection points. I had a sense back in 2009 when I was traveling to Zurich to sign a set of Protocols with the government of Armenia that we were heading towards such a critical juncture. These protocols were to christen the period of normalization in Turkey-Armenia relations with a significant and positive impact for the whole of the Caucasus. Some unexpected difficulties threatened to derail the whole process at the last moment, and had I been able to share my thoughts at those key moments , I would have underscored the exact same principles set out last week by Prime Minister Erdogan in his historic message on the events of 1915 concerning the relocation of the Ottoman Armenians. It is with this in mind that I believe we now have the opportunity to recapture the dynamic of engagement and conciliation that eluded us in 2009.

Relations between Turks and Armenians date back centuries. As the Ottoman Empire expanded, Turks and Armenians interacted in a multitude of ways. Armenians were among the best integrated communities in terms of enriching the social, cultural, economic and political life of the Empire and added untold value to the Empire’s development throughout cycles of warfare and peace.

The influence of Ottoman Armenians in intellectual and artistic circles cannot be overstated. Works of many Ottoman musicians might not have survived had not the Armenian musician, Hamparsum Limoncuyan, introduced a style of solfége. Tatyos Efendi, Bimençe, and Gomitas are all well-known classical Armenian music composers who made outstanding contributions as well. Edgar Manas, another Armenian, orchestrated the national anthem of Turkey. Ottoman architecture of the 19th century was marked by works commissioned by the Ottoman Sultans to Armenian architects, most notably builders of the Balyan family. Well-known landmarks of Istanbul - such as the imperial palaces of Dolmabahçe and Beylerbeyi - are attributed to the Balyans, as are several significant mosques along the Bosphorus. Ottoman Armenians were also appointed to key positions in the bureaucracy. One of my predecessors, Gabriel Noradunkyan, served as Foreign Minister of the Ottoman Empire between 1912 -1913 and was a prominent Armenian figure in international affairs.

The power of the Ottoman Empire declined continuously in the 19th century. The loss of the Balkan provinces was a striking defeat which resulted in mass atrocities, expulsion and the deportation of Ottoman Muslims. A series of ethnic cleansings in the Balkans pushed millions eastward, transforming the demographic structure of Anatolia and leading to the destabilization and deterioration of communal relations there as well. During the period of disintegration in the Ottoman Empire approximately 5 million Ottoman citizens were driven away from their ancestral homes in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Anatolia. While much of Western historiography tells us of the suffering of the dispossessed and dead Ottoman Christians, the colossal sufferings of Ottoman Muslims remains largely unknown today outside of Turkey.

It is an undeniable fact that the Armenians suffered greatly in the same period. The consequences of the relocation of the large part of the Armenian community are unacceptable, and, as I have said before, inhuman.

What is also true is that the ongoing dispute over why and how the Armenian tragedy happened, sadly, continues to distress Turks and Armenians today. Communal and national memories of a pain, suffering, deprivation and a monumental loss of life continue to mark relations. Competing and seemingly irreconcilable narratives on the 1915 events prevent the healing of a trauma that keeps the Armenian and Turkish peoples apart. What we share is a “common pain” inherited from our grandparents.

National memories are important and must be respected. However, could Turkish and Armenian narratives not come closer together, could a “just memory” not emerge? Believing that this can happen, Turkey proposed the establishment of a joint commission composed of Turkish and Armenian historians to study the events of 1915 in the archives of Turkey, Armenia and third countries. The findings of the commission, if established, would bring about a better and fairer understanding of this tragic period and hopefully contribute to normalization between Turks and Armenians.

Offering condolences to the descendants of Ottoman Armenians with compassion and respect is a duty of humanity. Circumstances may change, but the work of compassion must continue. An almost 100 years’ long confrontation has proven that we can neither solve the problem nor prescribe a remedy unless we start listening to and understanding each other. We must also learn to respect, without comparing sufferings and without categorizing them.

Adressing my Ambassadors few years ago at the annual Ambassador's Conference, I called for a change to Turkey's "concept of diaspora", I told them that all of the diasporas having roots in Anatolia - including the Armenian diaspora - is our diaspora too, and should be treated as such with open arms. Though many of our diplomats still mourned their friends and colleagues taken by ASALA terrorists, I am proud to say that they welcomed these instructions with enthusiasm and without any wish for revenge. They knew that we would ‎better cherish the memories of the dead if we could bury hatred altogether.

Everybody, in effect, can become partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice is done for others it will not be done for us.

I appeal to all stakeholders, policy shapers and creative thinkers to seize this moment, and to join us to reconstruct a better future for Turkish-Armenian relations. The statement by Prime Minister Erdogan is an unprecedented and courageous step taken in this direction. I believe now is the time to invest in this relationship. But we can only succeed if this endeavor is embraced by a wider constituency intent on leaving their mark on a historical process of reconciliation. Turkey stands ready.