The huge asymmetry between Turkey and the Armenian diaspora
When Armenians in the former Republic of the Soviet Union were discussing declaring independence, some objected to it, saying that the moment Armenia declared independence Turkey would attack and kill Armenians.
This anecdote was told to a group of journalist and academics last week by an Armenian who was present during these discussions. He also revealed that in 1992-93, when Russia stopped sending supplies, the Turkish government allowed the Europeans to send supplies via the closed Turkish border. “Turkey saved us from starvation,” he said.
He talked about that incident within the context of the exaggerated prejudices that are still very strong among Armenians, who believe that Turks are waiting for any opportunity to harm them. In other words, he was trying to show the discrepancy between the reality and the conviction.
The discrepancy between the conviction and the reality during the Cold War can be explained, to a certain degree, by the fact that there was no free flow of information behind the Iron Curtain. But such discrepancies are harder to explain in the information age.
In Turkey, fortunately, the gap between the conviction and the reality on what happened in 1915 is narrowing. The speed with which it is narrowing might not be satisfactory to many Armenians, but after decades of nothing moving, the wheels of change are turning. They are gaining speed with each day.
Compared to 10 years ago, there is tremendous change. There is less denialism and more questioning of what happened. Even on the official level there has been recognition of the sufferings of the Armenians, reflected in the statement issued by the prime ministry on April 24 last year.
When Turks talk about this important change, the reaction of the Armenians usually says that it is too little, too slow.
One hundred years after the tragedy, perhaps their impatience can be understood. Nevertheless, after nearly 100 years of a Turkish position based on “we have done nothing wrong,” the degree to which this understanding is changing should be appreciated.
The change in motion should at least be known by the Armenian diaspora. But it seems that they are not too aware of it.
Why is it important that they should know?
It is important because if they are aware of it reconciliation will be easier. If you see that your interlocutor is making an effort to change their “red lines,” it is easier to build a dialogue.
So as much as change is taking place on the Turkish side, one wonders whether there is any change in the stance or narrative of the Armenian diaspora.
It is not easy to answer this question, because the Armenian diaspora is not a monolithic entity.
Armenians tell us that views about expectations from Turkey differ - from simple apology to the return of land. It seems that this is also valid for the younger generations, who keep a sense of common purpose.
However, there does appear to be one significant new factor in the Armenian camp: The large number of Armenian diaspora members visiting Turkey. “This is important for the humanization of Turkey. Turks become real and Turkey becomes real,” said one Armenian living in the U.S.
We need a change in the perceptions and convictions on both sides for a lasting reconciliation. For now, the change on the Turkish side has more momentum than the change on the Armenian side.