EAFJD Executive Director Heghine Evinyan gave an interview to the Turkish ARTI TV, for its journal “European Agenda”, prepared and presented by Lilit Gasparyan on 29 May 2020. Heghine Evinyan primarily commented on Erdogan’s recent statement where he called Armenian and Greek lobbies “evil forces that Turkey will continue to fight against”. A number of other questions concerning the Armenian Genocide and Turkish-Armenian relations were discussed.
Here is the full interview in English.
Q: The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Armenian and Greek lobbies “evil forces” that Turkey will continue its fight against. How do you interpret Erdogan’s statement?
Answer H.E: First of all, of course such statements are anything but helpful. Let us understand what the Armenian lobby is and who it actually consists of because there is a lot of mystification around it. As a matter of fact, the Armenian lobby is nothing more and nothing less than a number of grassroot organizations consisting of active citizens of various counties across the globe. In our case these are European citizens with Armenian heritage, the overwhelming majority of who are volunteers and simply people who are involved in the democratic processes in their home countries. So, the Armenian lobby consists of citizens, who are actively involved in civic activism and are legitimately and openly using the instruments that a democracy provides in order to make their voice heard and thus influence the political agenda in their countries. In this sense there is absolutely no difference between Greenpeace activists and the activists of the Armenian cause, in other words the Armenian lobby.
Therefore, by demonizing the Armenian lobby, Erdoğan in fact attacks democracy, civic activism and freedom of expression as such. And in the case of the European-Armenians it simply means attacking the value system that many European democracies pride themselves in.
It is interesting to pay attention to the wording he uses. He calls the Armenian and the Greek lobbies “evil powers.” So, as I already mentioned, by demonizing, President Erdoğan plays with primal human instincts, notably with fear. He simply seeds fear in the Turkish society and in a way also propagates hate speech towards these groups of people. Unfortunately, this cannot lead anywhere meaningful or constructive.
I think it is important that the Turkish society knows who the Armenian lobby actually consists of. As I already mentioned, its overwhelming majority are activists who are successors of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. These are simply active citizens who demand justice for what happened to their families, to the Ottoman Armenians and who are there to say: “Turkey cannot deny the Armenian Genocide because I am the living proof of the consequences of the Genocide.” They are there to tell the story of their family and say that Turkey cannot deny the fact that their grandparents were forced to leave their homeland and end up thousands of kilometers away from their home, often as orphans and the soul survivors of their families. They are there to say that Turkey cannot deny the fact that their whole family was uprooted. And so they demand that after the devastating consequences of the Armenian Genocide at least things are called with their names.
Q: Can you be more specific? What are the main activities and goals of the European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy ? – in order to understand what the Armenian lobby is doing.
The European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy (EAFJD) is a Pan-European grassroots umbrella organization with chapters in thirteen European countries that represents a significant part of the Armenian diaspora in Europe. Throughout the years the European Armenian Federation has established itself as the main diaspora organization in Europe advocating for key Armenian issues in the European Union, its institutions, member states and international fora, such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
The EAFJD’s work is focused on the EU foreign policy in the Eastern Partnership countries (in particular in the South Caucasus) and in Turkey.
Using various tools of transparent grassroots advocacy, parliamentary and cultural diplomacy, the EAFJD advocates for stronger and more dynamic ties between the European Union, its Member states and the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Artsakh (or Nagorno Karabakh). We also advocate for the safety and the fundamental right of the people of Artsakh to determine their own present and future and to live in peace and dignity. And of course, we advocate for the recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide and as just reparations.
Being a grassroots organization, the EAFJD also fosters the vitality as well as the political and civic activism of the Armenian communities across Europe. The EAFJD also carries out independent international short-term election observations missions based on OSCE/ODHIR methodology.
Q: You mentioned cultural and parliamentary diplomacy. Based on your experience, how do you think the problems between the Armenian Diaspora and Ankara can be resolved?
I think that an open and honest discourse, dialogue are the way. No reconciliation can take place without acknowledging the truth and speaking it out. The truth, however ugly it is, is the remedy and the bridge to any kind of reconciliation. It is the in fact the path to liberation. There must a genuine willingness to listen to each other.
The Turkish state must stop its state policy or propaganda of denialism of the Armenian Genocide. This should start with schools, for instance. The way history has been taught in Turkey for about a century and is still being taught leads to general indoctrination, so that the majority of the Turkish people either do not know that not so long ago there was a significant indigenous Armenian population in Turkey or they actually believe that the Armenians all of a sudden decided to leave their homes. But how often do they actually ask the question: how come a nation who has been living somewhere for millennia all of a sudden disappears or decides to leave one day.
The Turkish society has the right to know the truth about the foundations of the modern Turkish state, however painful this may be. They should be able to openly ask questions about that period of Turkish history and challenge the dogma expressed in the state propaganda without being called traitors or without being persecuted. The Turkish state must finally stop instrumentalizing fear.
Q:Tomorrow, if you had the opportunity to meet with a high-ranking Turkish official, what would you say and ask first?
I would ask what their vision of Turkey actually is. How interested are they really in having Turkish citizens who are aware of their rights , who are not afraid of thinking freely and expressing themselves freely?
What we have been witnessing in the past years, what is going on nowadays and the way the backbone of the Turkish intelligentsia, civil society that had taken decades to develop, has been brutally broken by Erdogan’s government, unfortunately does not leave much space for optimism. I would also ask, how helpful is it to constantly challenge the right to existence of a neighbouring country, in this case Armenia.
Q: For some time now, an important part of intellectuals and society in Turkey is commemorating the Armenian Genocide. What is your relationship with that segment of the society?
We are on excellent terms with all the representatives of the Turkish society who have not chosen the path of blind denialism, among them there are many representatives of academia, journalists, activists. In fact we are grateful to these brave people, who very often putting in danger their lives, have been advocating for the truth, have been raising awareness in the Turkish society and advocating for thee recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish state. These people are democrats at heart. They are people who genuinely believe in human rights and true reconciliation. And they have been doing this because they know that the Turkish society needs the recognition of the Armenian Genocide at least as much as the Armenians need it. They know that it would function as some kind of deep surgery which is painful but which ultimately leads to a healthier and stronger Turkish society. Besides, this would certainly contribute to raising Turkey’s reputation in the world. This goes without saying.
Unfortunately, many of these people have been forced to leave Turkey and are in exile nowadays. For instance, such bright individuals as Professor Taner Akçam, Ragip Zarakolu cannot live in Turkey any more, otherwise their lives would clearly be in danger. The Erdogan government continues harassing them even when they are abroad. For example, the persecution against Ragip Zarakolu continues.
The EAFJD has also been in touch with political organizations. For example, upon the invitation of HDP, our organization has twice carried out election observation missions in Turkey, during the general elections in 2015 because the EAFJD has the know-how to carry out such election observation missions.
But of course, with the crackdown of the Turkish authorities on democracy in the country and all those standing up for it, the situation has become much more complex for us.
Q: Hrant Dink thought that the Armenian issue could be resolved only between Turkey and the Armenians and was not in favor of third party diplomatic and parliamentary interventions. What do you think about this?
Hrant Dink was an extraordinary person and intellectual who was able to reach peoples’ hearts, make them reflect on history, who had the wisdom and the charisma to make a change. He was a person who was capable of breaking stereotypes and building bridges of trust while speaking out the truth. And unfortunately, we saw what happened to him. This was the reason why he was perceived as a danger by the Turkish authorities and Turkish nationalists. And was finally tragically assassinated.
Indeed, nothing can replace a direct and honest communication between the peoples. But the conditions for this communication have to be there. The Turkish authorities have been and are pursuing a denialist policy and seeding fear, punishing the handful of Turkish people who still dare to speak out. And we all know that denialism is the last stage of a Genocide.
The Turkish authorities should know that as long as they pursue this policy of covering things up, not allowing a genuine and open discourse, threatening the Republic of Armenia or Armenians and questioning the right of Armenia to exist, the Armenians have no choice but continue to raise awareness and seek justice elsewhere.
Besides, the Armenian Genocide is a crime against humanity, so it concerns also the rest of the world. And the world also still has lessons to learn from. We do absolutely need to raise awareness about what happened – about the Armenian Genocide. And the international community must be aware of it and draw consequences, since any crime that is not punished, is doomed to repeat.
Q: According to you, will the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border be a positive development?
Indeed, opening of the borders without any preconditions would be a very positive step. It would enable to have a more dynamic people-to-people contact, break the stereotypes which is crucial to overcome deep-seated fear and simply have favorable and normal neighborly relations. It would certainly have economic benefits both for Armenia and the Eastern part of Turkey.
But of course, it is clear that Turkey has to openly deal with its past, recognize the Armenian Genocide and being the legal successor of the Ottoman Empire, also undertake responsibility for what happened. It is also clear that acknowledging the historic truth or demanding justice should never be a bargaining chip for anything, because it would simply mean sweeping things under the carpet, which is neither a sustainable solution nor it is a healthy way of dealing with the this painful part of our history.