Monday, May 2, 2005

Last month, Armenians worldwide remembered a sad chapter in history, when many of their ancestors perished during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire.

In the midst of these remembrances, Armenian activists urged political leaders, legislatures and nations to recognize their suffering on terms they alone have defined.

As Armenian calls for recognition of their tragedy grow louder, Turks around the world are also remembering, albeit in a silent manner. They recall not only their forebears who perished during the same years in war-torn Anatolia but also compatriots targeted by Armenian terrorists in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Indeed, during the First World War, hundreds of thousands of Turks and Armenians died as a result of the Armenian revolt in the Eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire. The cataclysmic war-borne forces of disease and famine also played a great role in this human suffering. This was a grievous time for both sides.

We should therefore acknowledge the grief and sadness felt by present generations of Armenians over the terrible losses suffered by their parents and grandparents. The same compassion must be extended to the Turkish people.

While it is important to recognize and respect the emotions evoked by past memories, we cannot let our unreconciled views of a specific era dictate our present or our future. Indeed, our history is also replete with centuries of friendship, fraternity and mutual respect between Turks and Armenians.

The imperatives of good neighborliness, common sense and mutual interests demand that Armenia and Turkey — and their expatriates around the world — come to terms with the past and move forward in renewed friendship and harmony.

Let’s opt for the positive, for the reasonable and for what will bond our peoples in mutual acceptance. This can only be achieved through open and honest dialogue.

That is why Turkey has made a multipronged effort to engage the Armenian side in dialogue. Our scholars have tried to sit down with Armenian colleagues. Turkish leaders and officials meet with their counterparts from Armenia. Even third parties in the United States and Europe have worked to bring together Turks and Armenians to discuss their past.

None of these initiatives or contacts has yielded progress. This is understandable because such dialogue is painful for both sides after so many years of diametrically opposed monologues. But these efforts must not be abandoned, as results will come only through development of mutual trust and confidence through regular discourse.

Today, we have before us an unprecedented initiative that may finally lead both sides toward reconciliation. In a letter to Armenian President Kocharian earlier this month, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan proposed establishing a group of historians and other experts to study the events of 1915 not only in the archives of Turkey and Armenia, but in all relevant archives. Their findings would then be presented to the international community. The Turkish parliament has endorsed this unprecedented opening by our government in clear demonstration of a national will to close the issue based on an impartial assessment of the facts.

If this opportunity is seized, the 90th anniversary of the 1915 events might also mark a historic and positive turning point in Turkish-Armenian relations. President Bush expressed the same hope in his annual message to the Armenian people on April 24.

After years of disagreement and troubled relations, it is time for one-sided agendas to be replaced by open, introspective and results-oriented dialogue. This will require bold leadership.

Turkey has taken an important first step in this direction. We hope our Armenian neighbors will test our commitment, join in this endeavor and seek the common understanding we both should desire. Once a process is under way, there will be no turning back until the truth is known. That is what we all need.

Ours is a shared history, and the tragedies of this difficult chapter belong to both our peoples. Closure, therefore, can only come by reconciliation between us. No amount of third-country advocacy or outside interference will lift the burdens of history — or provide such an opportunity for both our peoples to look together toward a peaceful and prosperous future.

O. Faruk Logoglu is the ambassador of Turkey to the United States.

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