Armenian diaspora furious at ‘dialogue’ with Turkey
The age-old genocide row pits Armenian versus Armenian
The Armenian diaspora is finding itself increasingly at odds with its homeland in the wake of determined efforts by the country's main political parties to normalise relations with Turkey.
Armenian president Serzh Sarkisian is expected to sign an accord with its bitter enemy and neighbour Turkey at a summit in Switzerland on October 10. The 'protocols', as they are called, have two fairly modest aims: to establish diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey, and to develop new links in areas such as trade, the environment and education.
However, one clause has caused outrage among Armenia's diaspora. The controversial text obliges the two nations to "implement a dialogue on the historical dimension... including an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations".
Needless to say, the "historical dimension" refers to the issue which has dogged relations between the two countries for almost a century: the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
This atrocity, which Turkey refuses to acknowledge as a genocide, resulted in the deaths of up to 1.5 million people at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during and after the First World War.
Feelings among the Armenian diaspora - the direct descendants of the genocide's refugees - are so strong that President Sarkisian felt the need to embark on a bridge-building world tour of Armenian communities. Many of the diaspora also object to a clause in the protocols recognising the current border with Turkey, which occupies the territory from which many of their families fled.
Sarkisian's tour has taken him to Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Beirut and the southern Russia town of Rostov, where it ended on October 7. His talks with diaspora leaders were blighted at every stage by protests - except in Russia.
In LA, around 12,000 people turned out to show their feelings to Sarkisian on his way to meet prominent Armenian-Americans. Many held banners reading: "Armenia is not for sale" and "Don't betray us".
Steve Dadaian of the Armenian National Committee described the meeting to Asbarez, an Armenian-American newspaper: "[Sarkisian] was unprepared to discuss the text of the agreement. This is the emperor's new clothes tour - he's naked and he's expecting everyone to say 'you look great'. It was sad."
Armenia will benefit economically from an end to Turkey's crippling 16-year economic blockade; a fact that ensures support for the protocols from the country's main political parties. But Sarkisian is desperate to avoid angering the diaspora, which accounts for 70 per cent of the worldwide Armenian population (only around three million of the global 11 million population actually live in Armenia), and losing their patronage.
The diaspora, for its part, is loathe to drop its campaign to force Turkey to recognise the Armenian Genocide.
There is an argument, however, that a successful "dialogue" with Turkey - resulting in the Turks actually recognising the genocide - is the last thing the diaspora wants because it would destroy its sole raison d'etre.
One Armenian-Lebanese at the Beirut demonstration told BBC news: "The Armenian diaspora survives on the genocide, and there are a lot of worries about what's going to happen once the genocide is recognised. Is the diaspora going to survive? It gives them a cause and an identity, and they will lose both." ·
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