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South Caucasus
Giro Manoyan, interview

Senior ARF party official Giro Manoyan speaks to TNA: The perfect plan would be the treaty of Sevres'

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF or Dashnaktsutyun), a member of Yerevan's ruling coalition, sees Turkey as a threat to Armenia’s national security. So what do the party say today about relations with Turkey? Why do they still call eastern Turkey "western Armenia"? Do they want to pursue claims in the hope these territories will one day be given back to Armenia? How do they try to legally justify this?

To discuss all these issues, I visited the ARF Central Bureau in the heart of Yerevan and met with Giro Manoyan, a senior member and spokesman of the bureau. Despite his patriotic, ultranationalistic stand, Manoyan is actually a Canadian citizen and doesn't want to get Armenian citizenship in the near future because Armenian law doesn't allow for double nationality. On Manoyan's computer I could see wallpaper symbolizing Harput, a once-important town on the Silk Road, near Elazig in southeastern Turkey. He told me that his grandfather and grandmother from his mother's side grew up in Harput. Before the World War I deportation when they were forced to leave they had lived in Harput, but were lucky enough to be saved by Turkish friends.

Here's what Giro Manoyan had to say to us:

TNA: If your party were to come to power single-handedly one day, what would be the main changes in Armenian foreign policy towards Turkey?

MANOYAN: Certainly the dialogue with Turkey would be (about resolving the problems between the two peoples and states) and that would entail not just recognizing the genocide but also trying to remove the consequences of genocide.

TNA: So you don't agree with Armenian President Robert Kocharian's words, (talking to Mehmet Ali Birand on CNN Turk five years ago) "A Turkish apology for genocide would the only goal for Armenia and nothing else"?

MANOYAN: Later he made a correction, he was misunderstood.


Many people in Turkey believe the tragedy of that time came from the unforeseen consequences of the Ottoman rulers' deportation orders. They believe this tragedy wasn't predominated or foreseen. Can't this be true?

In Turkey the problem had been kept in the dark, so that the people haven't been aware of their own history. I'm sure in those years there were a lot of Turks who not only disagreed with their government but also helped and saved the Armenians. One example is my maternal grandmother and grandfather who were saved by their Turkish friends in Harput. So genocide isn't something that the Turkish people have done, but the Turkish government has done. In the memoirs of many German generals or even Turkish officials you see this, they say that it was apparent that the intention was genocide.

What would be wrong with forming a commission of historians to study the issue, as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested?

Erdogan's suggestion was gathering historians and experts from both sides. What does this mean? It's not a bazaar that we will discuss on both sides, we will negotiate or discuss. In a way it means (we will put this history, we won't put this). I think history can't be discussed like that. Historians have characterized it as genocide, so it isn't a matter of historical fact (to be discussed.) The problem is that Turkish governments continuously deny what has happened in the past. I don't think it will be a surprise for any Turkish government what has happened. So the proposal for having a commission of historians and experts from both sides doesn't serve any purpose.

What's the issue? Is it genocide? But even if it's said that it's genocide, the question isn't solved yet. Was it genocide or not is a secondary issue. The fact is very clear; it is genocide, and what happens next? We should discuss all these issues. In his reply the purpose of Mr. Kocharian was this. It's a political issue for us, it's a security issue, because we're living with a neighbor which has done this before and we want to be sure that it won't happen ever again.


Recently some Turkish government officials suggested seeking international arbitration. How do you see this?

Arbitration happens when there's an agreement about what the disagreement is. In this case, I don't see any agreements about the disagreement. So what some retired ambassadors like Sukru Elekdag (CHP Istanbul deputy) and Gunduz Aktan are really talking about is the same thing, to create a situation to discuss the past. Things are really being done for propaganda, not for resolving the issue. First Foreign Minister Gul said this, but most of the young diplomats reacted because they know what happened in the past.

Anyway, establishing such a commission or going for arbitration would help, don't you think so? Because on such a platform, both sides would be obliged to talk about the truth and bring out the documents.

Not really, because the issue isn't whether it was genocide or not. The issue between the two countries is this: Armenian people lived in their homeland for thousands of years. But because of the genocide they're not there anymore. That's the problem we have to discuss. The genocide problem is a pressure on Turkey to talk, but Turkey isn't talking, and I think Turkey is really helping us in our efforts for genocide recognition.

What do you make of the disagreement about the issue among international historians?

Because there are some historians paid by the Turkish government, and there are historians not paid by the Turkish government.

Do you really believe that some historians rewrite history because they're paid?

Sure. They're paid by Turks, and some are still trying to keep their position unbiased. But again you too are putting me in a position like discussing history.


Certainly I have many questions in my mind too. But it's a shame Turkish-Armenian relations are deadlocked on that issue, don't you think so?

The genocide is one major problem, but not the only one. Look at the blockade too. So it's not an issue if the genocide happened or not, but it's an issue between two neighbors. One has been victimized; the other perpetrated it, but denies that it committed it. And then the victimized one is also being blockaded from everything. So what is Turkey is looking for? Turkey is looking for a very weak and poor neighbor, so for the genocide issue to be believed is a diaspora issue, Armenia is a very poor country and nobody cares about Armenia's demands. But this is wrong. Because a recent poll indicates that 53 percent of the population (of Armenia) is against opening the border with Turkey. The question is awkward like (do Armenians need to open their borders even if Turkey doesn't recognize the genocide?) The 53 percent says (no, we shouldn't open the borders). So trying to say that it's only a matter of the diaspora has failed.

How do you see the generations to come? Is it good to keep such a hostile stance between our two countries?

The hope is that Turkish society will realize that it can't really go on like that with all of its neighbors, because Turkey also has problematic relations with others. Hopefully Turkish society will eventually realize that it should resolve the problems within itself, otherwise I think the future will be darker.

How do you see the views expressed by former heads of your party? For example, during a 1923 party congress, Prime Minister Hovhannes Katchaznouni gave a speech blaming his own people and country for creating the conditions for deportation through insurrection and provocation.

His words were taken out of its context. Even if he is claimed to say those words, that such things happened, that won't diminish what happened in the past. This is only an opinion, not a fact. Such a speech doesn't diminish the crime of what happened. First, Turkey had to admit the crime and than it can discuss the reasons why the crime was perpetrated. Without saying this, blaming only the victim is very dishonest. Even if Turkey recognizes and agrees on genocide it's not the end. Some sort of compensation and restitution must be sought too.


So what concrete steps are you expecting from Turkey?

We want to solve the issue in the civilized manner which is to sit down and discuss the issues - what are the outstanding issues? Let's try to solve them. Armenia and Turkey aren't the only nations in the world with problems, but as I said there are civilized ways to solve them. Two-and-a-half years ago when the two foreign ministers (Gul and Vartan Oskanian) were going to talk in New York during the UN General Assembly to put some small steps forward to reach some sort of working situation regarding the border issue. But when the two ministers were talking I don't understand how come a Turkish Foreign Ministry official says, (whatever our minister says, doesn't count). This is what happened. So I think the day Turkish society really takes foreign affairs in hand and doesn't let others rule the matters for example with Armenia, this will be a starting point.

I wonder if we journalists really missed such an incident in New York. Do you really think it happened?

Yes, when the two ministers discussed that, the Foreign Ministry official came out and said this. If it's on the record, you can check it.

Do you expect your party to come to power as a majority in the near future?

The Armenian reality is this; I think there won't be a single ruling party here maybe for the next 10 years.

I observed a kind of hostile stance here towards the image of Turkey and Turks. Do you think this helps to ease problems?

We try to educate our youth about what happened in the past but we call on the responsibility of the Turkish government. The issue isn't Turkish people but the Turkish government. So if there's such an atmosphere, I think a lot of the blame goes to the Turkish government because of its stance regarding Armenia - as I said, without any reason the Turkish blockade is still on. How can one evaluate this?

Many people in Turkey think the local Armenian community is a bit like insurance. Whenever politics gets harsh, common sense comes out and warns the others reminding our Armenian citizens. So Turks in general don't have such hostility towards Armenians.

I would argue, but I'd also argue that the remaining community in Turkey, I mean the official Armenians in Turkey, we believe they act like hostages.


That's what you think?

Oh yes, otherwise how a patriarch not spell out what he really thinks, so I think it's a hostage situation. When they're out of Turkey, they commemorate the genocide, but when they're in Turkey they don't.

Do you think they're obliated by law to behave like that?

Not only by law, Article 301 is rather new, but with how the Turkish government acts regarding minorities in Turkey. Regarding at least official minorities I think yes, they act like hostages.

Referring to your comments about the consequences of recognition, what is your direct stand on territorial claims from Turkey? What would be the perfect solution for you?

Well according to our party, the perfect plan would be the Treaty of Sevres (of 1920, superceded in 1923 by the Treaty of Lausanne). The Treaty of Sevres in itself is really a concession on the side of the Armenians. We really have to own and discuss the issues. The results can be seen later. Regarding Sevres, I think it's the only document on the Armenian side. The only political and legal document, I mean.


Yesterday a journalist told me that his ancestors were from Van and he said they still have some property there but without any documents they can't prove this. I also see the Harput wallpaper on your computer. What would you like to say about these issues?

I'm sure most of the original copies of those documents are still being kept in the archives. I follow the Turkish media closely, and a while ago there was a discussion on this issue in those areas, but when some local officials were asked if they should send the copies of those archives to the central archives, they were told not to do so but keep them, because they're dangerous stuff, so they should keep them where they are.

We've been here with some Azeri colleagues, and they were trying to get some information about the Azeri genocide. Do you think if the genocide didn't happen to you, then it's not genocide? Don't you think this is a double standard?

I think they mean (the 1992 massacre in the Azeri town of) Hocali, I think we have to mention about Baku and other genocides against Armenians. But none of these can change what happened in historical Armenia. Which you reacted to it being mentioned as "western Armenia." I think we can't change history, so that's why it's still called "western Armenia." So trying to compare those issues isn't a serious approach. If the argument is that if that is genocide, if this isn't. No discussion can take place on that basis. Those things have happened, but trying to compare them brings us nowhere.

What are your expectations from the U.S. Congress after the Democrats' recent victory?

It isn't the matter of the victory of the Democrats, because the speaker of the House (of Representatives) was denying the issue all the time. Now he isn't there, and there's somebody else who voted in favor of these resolutions for the last two decades and she (incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sees the resolution will be brought to the full floor, let's wait and see.


Do you believe that one day a Turkish government will recognize the "genocide"? If not, will relations stay frozen?

I think that could only happen if Turkish society examines its own past freely.

Do you think the Armenians can examine their own past freely?

In Armenia especially during the Soviet times, we had the other way round till 1965, you couldn't find any study about the genocide.

What about today?

Of course we have had such a government minister and he said we shouldn't teach so much about genocide and he was the minister for education. But he never denied that there was a genocide; how to deal with the genocide issue is different but you can't find anyone in Armenia who would question the genocide.

But there seems to be some obsessions among the people. Four months ago, I went to Akhtamar Island in Lake Van and saw that Armenian Church perfectly renovated, but I couldn't convince my Armenian colleagues here that that is true …

As I understand, there won't be a cross on it.

I doubt that, because we have dozens of churches in Turkey and certainly there's no problem with crosses on them.

That's what I understand; when it is opened, we will see.

Nursun Erel - TNA
11 December 2006