Time for Turkey and Armenia to forget

President Barack and the EU Presidency have urged Turkey and Armenia to reconcile and build relations after about a century of tension. If we push aside our collective memory (Armenia) and collective forgetfulness (Turkey), we will have the chance to bond.

The barriers to reconciliation in this case are basically collectivist pride. Armenian President Sarkisian said that the matter of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the naming of it a genocide, is not up for discussion. In other words, he is living in the past. I do not see any reason to deny that the Armenian Genocide was less than a genocide (over one million Armenians died, some systematically and in the most brutal fashions), but I see equally little purpose in the symbolic naming and labeling of historical events. Of course, many Armenians would feel some form of catharsis if a high official of Turkey used the word “genocide” to describe the actions of a group of long-dead soldiers and rulers of a different regime but a coinciding nationality. But how could one truly feel the pain of something that happened years before one was born? Only by imagining it.

Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, for the same reasons, should have no problem saying that his country (actually, its predecessor) committed genocide nearly 100 years ago. After all, what responsibility could he or any of his living compatriots possibly bear? But collective pride restrains much human progress. In the eyes of millions or perhaps billions of people, the nation state has become an idol, the cardinal source of identity and legitimacy. What one does, one does for one’s country. And apparently, 100 years is not long enough for a country to admit it has done wrong.

Political battles are being fought in parliaments around the world to recognise or deny the Armenian Genocide. Why? About twenty countries officially recognise that it was a genocide. Why not more? Conversely, why is it important that they do so? If we could only let sleeping dogs lie, they would stop hurting. Instead, we use history to create enemies that pose no threat, or deny facts for fear of losing face.

Diplomatic talks between top officials in Turkey and Armenia continue in every conceivable venue, from the World Economic Forum to the nuclear security summit. There are other issues between the two states, but this one will loom in the background of any negotiations over the others. I may be jumping the gun, but I think it is inevitable that Turkey will officially recognise and apologise for the Armenian Genocide. Armenians are looking forward to that day. I am looking forward to the day no one cares anymore.


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