The Lost Homeland, Indeed
By: Apo Sahagian
Ever since I could remember, I’ve always been around the Armenian Genocide April 24th demonstrations staged in front of the Turkish Consulate in Jerusalem, shouting slogans for recognition, cursing the state denial of Turkey, and singing revolutionary songs knitted with the memories of the lost homeland. For me the demand for recognition by Turkey was inflamed by the hope that, once after recognition, Armenia and Turkey would sit around a table and discuss the issue of justice: “what now?”
Naturally, if such a situation did come to unfold, there would be scores of Armenians attaching the obligation of compensation with the return of Western Armenia. But before banging on the table and ordering the realignment of borders, there is a bit of reflection that is necessary before stomping our feet and roaring for the restoration of Van, Mush, and Ararat under Armenian rule—no matter how right and reasonable.
Somewhere in our decades-long struggle for Genocide recognition and subsequent justice, we seem to have overlooked the changes that transpired in the lost homeland. Not only were these changes not addressed properly, they still seem to be avoided; and that act of evading will do nothing but sadly blind the hopeful Armenians whom desire to resettle the Armenian nation in the lands we consider our cradle of civilization.
Though the Ottoman Turks were not successful in wiping out the Armenian nation from the face of the earth, they did have a significant success that came to light only after the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the following years of the Republic of Turkey. They were successful in their genocide of Western Armenia, the land. The painful truth is that Western Armenia is indefinitely lost. It is impossible to imagine Armenian authority established there within the foreseeable future—or even the unforeseeable future. The facts on the ground impede our national desires from ever being materialized if Turkey one day decides to right the wrong and return Armenian lands to Armenia.
There are somewhere between 12-14 million Kurds residing in lands we passionately call Western Armenia. The Kurds are themselves busy with a national struggle for independence, or at least a more extensive autonomy than the present one offered to them by the Turkish state. Make no mistake that the nationalist Kurdish movements, fueled by the wish for independence, will fiercely defend their claim on many Western Armenian lands, especially Van and Mount Ararat. It seems that for years, Armenian nationalists have known that if such a situation unfolded where Western Armenia is to be returned to Armenia, the Turks would no longer be our number one adversaries; rather, the Kurds and Armenians will be caught in a confrontation. Yet, this possibility of a Kurdish-Armenian conflict has been swept under the rug for the moment, while both parties are still dealing with Turkey.
However, I’d like to state that Armenians have already lost this conflict over Western Armenia. If Armenia did get the lands returned to its sovereign rule, the country will have to face the national aspirations of 14 million Kurds. These aspirations will inescapably be opposed by Armenians, and low and behold, the occupation of the Kurdish people will begin.
Living in Jerusalem has given me a foresight into what would transpire if Western Armenia was put under the authority of the Republic of Armenia. And I fear that that potential-scenario will unintentionally turn Armenia into the Israel of the Caucasus. I don’t mean the good Israel that is equipped with a decent healthcare system, an unshakeable prosperous economy, or a place of sanctuary for many refugees fleeing the slaughters of Africa. I mean the other Israel that carries out the daily occupation of the Palestinian people, whom have their own national aspirations for independence.
The outnumbering Kurdish population will surely put up an armed resistance towards Armenian rule, but it is safe to say that Armenia’s organized military will overcome the Kurdish opposition. But it will not overcome the Kurdish presence. Similar to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (a land which holds biblical and historical meaning to the Jewish people where Palestinians reside by the millions), Armenia will have to occupy Western Armenia, a land which holds national and historical meaning to the Armenian people where the Kurds reside by the millions.
Occupation of a people is an ill and a state-evil that cannot be justified no matter what. Thus, occupation is not the way, and should not even be considered for a minute.
Western Armenia holds almost 14 million Kurds—Kurds that wish for a free Kurdistan from Northern Iraq to Southern Turkey, and also northeastern Syria. Indeed there are a few thousand Hamshen Armenians and an allegedly one million ‘hidden’ Armenians in Western Armenia. But these numbers don’t stand a chance against the strong 14 million of the freedom fighting Kurdish people. Hence, Armenia, on the day of receiving the returned lands of Western Armenia, will have to cede the lands to the Kurdish national aspirations. Demography, the most crucial element in this matter, is against the Armenian dream of having Western Armenia back.
On a more pragmatic and practical level, there can be solutions to satisfy both the Armenian and Kurdish contradictory aspirations. Mount Ararat and an outlet to the sea should be given to Armenia, the former because of its unspeakable and infinite attachment to Armenian culture, and the latter for the basic reason of opening Armenia’s trade routes. In return, the Kurds will be able to establish a free independent Kurdistan with the promise of granting autonomous Armenian provinces within the newly-independent country. This is not the ideal solution for the inescapable conflict that will rise if Turkey ever decides to relinquish Western Armenia, but it is a basis on which to start contemplating.
For the many whom believe that occupation is an unnecessary exaggeration and will not come to be, they should think once more about perhaps offering Armenian citizenship to the Kurds of Western Armenia. In such a future, Armenia’s population will still be outnumbered by the Kurds, and through elections (taking advantage of their new citizenship), the government and the state of Armenia will be altered, as the Kurdish political figures will win overwhelmingly. This latent fate should be averted, for the sake of the Republic of Armenia.
And for others whom deem population transfer as a means for a solution, let it be known to them that a transfer of a population (distinct from yours and in the context of conflict) is absolutely inadmissible and tantamount to genocide. Whether a neo-fascist Armenian is convinced that the Kurds should abandon the Caucasus and return to their Mesopotamia, or another zealous nationalist does not see anything wrong and immoral in simply relocating the Kurds to a Kurdish state in Northern Iraq, forced population-transfer is inhumane and an insult to the history of Armenians; that is beneath us.
It is by national misfortune, an unpreventable reality, and a sad patriotic heart that I say to all Armenians that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide cannot deliver territorial compensation favorable to the current Armenian veracity. With that in mind, the Armenian nation should concentrate its efforts in territories where Armenians do actually reside—the Republic, Kharabagh, and Javakhk. Western Armenia will always remain in our hearts and minds, but not in our hands. It’s a truth we have yet to face.
This article is not meant to picture a bleak, somewhat semi-apocalyptic future for Armenia; the article is based on assumptions only, and is heavily anchored by the actions of Turkey—if Turkey returns Western Armenia to Armenia. Similar to John Mearshheimer’s controversial article ‘Back to the Future’ in which his assumptions are exclusively cemented in specific future actions of the US in Europe, my article follows the same pattern of heavily relying on the specific future actions of Turkey. However, that is an ‘if’ that is far from materializing, and there are many other factors that have not been taken into account in this article. Nonetheless, what I tried to detail out is a brief, general idea of what is most likely to transpire if, and only if, Turkey hands over Western Armenia to Armenia. Suffice to say, that is a future scenario that should be handled and facilitated cautiously and pragmatically…not ideologically.
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