ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES FOR PEACE AND SDGs OF THE GENEVA FORUM
UNITED NATIONS, GENEVA
11 to15 December 2017
Statement of Souren Seraydarian, Chair, National Congress of Western Armenians (CNAO/NCWA)
As of the second half of the 19th century, Turkish nationalists-- whether they bore the Ottoman, Ittihadist "Young Turks", Kemalist or Islamist flags-- pursued an aggressive policy of transforming Asia Minor to the heartland of the Turkish Nation with little or no consideration for the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-faith character of the population. In addition, through orchestrated Turkish government misinformation, manipulation, nationalist, religious, and ethnic pretexts there emerged an atmosphere of distrust and hate among the different populations of the common homeland. As a result, the peoples of Asia Minor (our common homeland) lived apart, sometimes in conflict, described by Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink as "two different closed people, two distinct neighbors".
Dink was the publisher and editor of the "Agos" bilingual (Turkish and Armenian) newspaper which advocated truth and reconciliation. He was assassinated in Istanbul on 19 January, 2007. His legacy may be summarized in one sentence: "justice through reconciliation, truth, dialogue and democracy".
We all suffered huge losses; were subjected to deportation, genocide, crimes against humanity, loss of public and private property, loss of identity and cultural heritage and, above all, loss of homeland and citizenship. We have struggled for justice since we were subjected to this man-made calamity. We have done so separately and sometimes in contradiction of one another.
It is high time we got together to define and enumerate our losses, our claims, and legal rights. We have to do so to draw the lines of a common objective for justice, human rights and peace and define the need for reconciliation.
The National Congress of Western Armenians, an NGO representing the rights of the descendants of Armenians (former citizens of the Ottoman Empire) initiated on the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Hrant Dink a conference of the peoples of Asia Minor. The conference, held in January this year, was attended by representatives of civil society organizations, political parties and members of parliament from four countries. The participants dealt with the following topics: democracy; dialogue; justice; human rights; and reconciliation. The conference decided to put aside differences and focus on the defense of the common rights and common values of the peoples of the region. The conference was a first step to shed light on the issue through historical, legal and political means.
Subsequently, several working groups/panels in addition to an expert group were established to deal with the following topics:
Common History: legal and human rights, information and political vision. The aim wasn't to organize a front against any nation or an ethnic group and certainly not against the Turkish Nation which represents an integral part of the population of the region. The approach of the conference, followed by two further conferences in Paris and Beirut was pragmatic and eschewed emotionalism. Politically realistic, they took into consideration the complex and volatile geopolitical situation in the region. Finding a common denominator is not easy and requires a dialogue of the persecuted and discriminated indigenous populations of Asia Minor and former Ottoman citizens within each community, between several communities (ex: Armenians and Kurds) and finally a dialogue among all communities.
The obvious question: are participants and the representatives of civil society organizations and political parties from six countries dreamers? Certainly not. Overcoming the past and recognizing the crimes committed can lead to reconciliation and the establishment of a state where the rule of law prevails, where all citizens and former citizens who wish to return to their homeland independently of their ethnic, social and religious origin have the same rights and duties. In other words, a society that recognizes the moral, cultural and linguistic particularities of each group is the only path to peace and justice in the region. There is no other path. The alternative is the continuation of conflict ,instability and perpetuation of absence of justice.