INTERVIEW WITH ALEV KILIÇ, DIRECTOR OF CENTER FOR EURASIAN STUDIES (AVIM)
Historyoftruth.com: Mr. Kilic, first of all we would like to thank you for having an interview with us. Can you tell our readers about yourself and AVIM’s work?
ALEV KILIÇ: It will be my pleasure to answer your questions. I joined the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1969. From then onwards, I served in various posts throughout my career as a Turkish diplomat. I served as the Turkish ambassador to Federal Yugoslav Republic (Serbia now), Switzerland, and Mexico. I also served as the Turkish ambassador and permanent representative in the Council of Europe. Having retired in 2011, I became the Director of AVIM in 2013.
The Center for Eurasian Studies (AVIM) is an independent, non-profit think tank based in Ankara. In AVIM, we seek to advise researchers, journalists, policy makers and the broader community about the current political affairs in the regions that are strategically important to Turkey such as the EU, the Balkans, the Wider Black Sea Region, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. At AVIM, we attribute particular attention to the Balkans and the Caucuses in our studies. Within this context, we have a special interest in the controversial Turkish-Armenian relations.
We publish books and reports based on original research, conference proceedings, and policy briefs both in print and electronic format. We also share news and commentaries on our institution’s website and distribute a daily bulletin via email. Related to the Turkish-Armenian relations topic, we have been publishing one Turkish and one English language peer-reviewed journals uninterrupted since the year 2001 (Ermeni Araştırmaları and Review of Armenian Studies). Also, we publish a bilingual peer-reviewed journal titled International Crimes and History.
Historyoftruth.com: The 100th anniversary of “genocide” claims in 2015 was a very important year for both countries’ diasporas. What should we expect from 2016? How should the Turkish Diaspora prepare itself for this year?
ALEV KILIÇ: In terms of Armenians, 2015 was a special year in the sense that it was commemorated as the centenary of the tragic events that occurred in 1915. Any centenary has a great psychological effect in people’s minds. Therefore, Armenians wanted to capitalize on the “centenary effect”. They used every available resources and connections at their disposal to propagate their genocide narrative.
Meanwhile, Turkey and the Turkish Diaspora have carried out their own activities to explain their own views and truths about historical events. As the year comes to an end, how it ended up is that Armenians failed to achieve the grandiose objectives they had in mind.
There is no doubt that Armenians will continue to pursue their objectives in 2016. However, if 2015 did not deliver Armenians what they ultimately wanted, then 2016 will certainly not deliver it either. Armenians built up their energy towards 2015. We do not predict that they will be able to sustain this level of negative energy indefinitely. We continue to trust that 2016 will be the starting point where Turkish-Armenian relations will seek new avenues for reconciliation. 2016 should be the year where both Turks and Armenians need to contemplate on how to proceed further for a more prosperous and stable future.
The compulsion of the Armenian Diaspora is their dedication to pursuing and promoting their genocide narrative. With this obsession, they organize themselves and gather funds to take their case to politicians who lobby for their cause.
Our advice to the Turkish diaspora is to first study their history well, be prepared for prevalent prejudices, and nevertheless continue informing third parties of their side of the facts. Also, they must look for ways to better organize themselves socially, culturally, and politically to counteract Armenians’ political propaganda efforts.
Historyoftruth.com: What is AVIM’s plans for 2016?
ALEV KILIÇ: When 2016 starts, we will look back at 2015 to come to an overall evaluation about the events that occurred in that year and the trends that are occurring in Turkish-Armenian relations. Based on our conclusions, we will identify the outstanding issues in Turkish-Armenian relations and set realistic objectives about contributing to helping solve these issues. Of course, we will continue to expound on our views on historical events, publish related materials, and organize relevant events.
Historyoftruth.com: How is AVIM’s relation with other foundations and think tanks? Is there any cooperation between Turkish foundations about 1915 issue?
ALEV KILIÇ: As AVIM, we always maintain contacts with relevant university departments and institutions who are interested in the 1915 events. For example, in 2015, we organized several meetings (conferences, round table discussions, symposiums etc.) with various Turkish universities regarding this topic. Our doors are open to anyone who wishes to use our library; we facilitate interested peoples’ access to this issue. Also, we publish related articles and reports in our institution’s website.
Historyoftruth.com: The Turkish government, on many occasions, has proposed that Turkish and Armenian historians should come together and discuss 1915 based on official documents and historical facts, and that both Turkish and Armenian governments should accept the result that comes out from such a meeting. However, the Armenian government has never approached this proposal positively. So we know that this is not possible on governmental level. However, is it not possible for AVİM or universities to arrange such a meeting between two countries’ historians? Also, do you believe such an effort would solve the problem between two nations?
ALEV KILIÇ: The Turkish government has been very sincere in its offer to have Turkish, Armenian and other historians from other countries come together to share and compare historical documents, to shed light on past events. Turkey believes that it has nothing to hide about the Ottoman Empire’s past and expects other parties to behave in the same, open manner. However, the Armenian government has a very dogmatic approach to history. It believes that the Armenian version of history is indisputable truth. According to the Armenian government, therefore, any meeting amongst historians as proposed by Turkey would challenge Armenian government’s claim to indisputable truth. Consequently, it does not and cannot accept Turkey’s proposal.
Surely, AVIM or any university can use their own resources to gather various historians with such a concept. Such a gathering will naturally have a positive impact in better understanding past events. However, this would not have the ramifications that a state sponsored gathering would have.
Historyoftruth.com: Almost all Turks who live in foreign countries face the same question “What happened in 1915? Did Turkey commit Genocide against Armenians?” and actually many of our people don’t know how to answer to this question. Mr. Kilic, as an ex Ambassador and one of the most important experts about 1915 issue, how would you answer this question simply so people at the street could understand?
ALEV KILIÇ: The events that occurred in 1915 are a lot more complex than the way the Armenians prefer to present them. The Armenian narrative oversimplifies a complex chain of events, loses the time perspective, and is obsessively focused on blaming Turks for every tragedy that occurred in the Ottoman Empire at World War I.
It is true that Turks, but also actually Armenians, are not very knowledgeable about the events that transpired in 1915. In the place of facts, people’s minds are filled with hearsays, uncorroborated stories, and historical prejudices.
The answer to the question you posed about is not an easy one. Nevertheless, a concise answer would be this; in 1915, the Ottoman government enacted a temporary law on the resettlement of Ottoman Armenians away from regions where Armenian revolutionary committees were carrying out extremely violent and brutal insurrections against the state and these insurrections were carried out in collaboration with foreign powers (especially the Russian Empire). The Ottoman government had no intention of exterminating its Armenian subjects. However, inter-communal fighting within the Empire’s population (between Ottoman Muslims and Armenians), revenge killings, banditry, famine, and epidemics resulted in serious casualties for both the Armenians who were resettled within the Empire and the Ottoman Muslims. Both parts of the Ottoman population were part perpetrator and part victim. One thing is clear though; the legal term “genocide” is not appropriate in such an historical context. Calls made by foreign politicians and parliaments on Turkey to recognize the genocide narrative are legally and historically without basis.
Historyoftruth.com: What is Armenian Government’s benefit from the genocide claims? We don’t see that happening, but what would happen if the “Armenian Genocide” becomes recognized by other countries or the UN? Would Turkey face any penalty?
ALEV KILIÇ: The genocide narrative has become a source of identity and a cultural obsession for the Armenian people both in Armenia and in the diaspora. As such, any Armenian government feels obliged to bow to demands in this respect. Furthermore, the genocide narrative is a political tool by which Armenia seeks to gain from Turkey political and economic concessions. Also, the genocide narrative serves as a convenient tool for Armenia to divert the world’s attention away from its illegal occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory, because it allows Armenia to always play the role of a victim.
While it would have no legal validity and therefore no real effect, countries can recognize the genocide narrative. However, this would simply be a non-binding political opinion. Such recognitions are used by Armenians to create public opinion about their cause. In terms of the UN, it would be extremely unlikely for it to recognize such a narrative. Recognizing such a narrative would violate the 1948 Genocide Convention, which specifically indicates that only a competent international tribunal or a national court in which the alleged genocide took place can deem whether a genocide took place. The bottom line is, there is no competent court verdict regarding the events of 1915.
Historyoftruth.com: And how Turkey can put an end to these false claims on the international stage?
ALEV KILIÇ: At its core, the genocide narrative is a highly politicized tool to verbally harass Turkey and attempt to gain concessions from it by Armenia, and through Armenia, by a number of international players for political ends. In this respect, it would be unrealistic to expect such claims to end any time soon. Armenians have been propagating their genocide narrative for decades in various countries. Meanwhile, Turkey only began to react to such a narrative during the 1990s. By this time, the genocide narrative was already entrenched in various countries receptive to such narratives.
Turkey must help in the academic research on the events that occurred in 1915 and their publication in languages most prevalent in the world. Furthermore, it must come to the aid of those people who express their views opposing Armenian ones on events in 1915 and who end up getting legally harassed for expressing such views. A clear example of this is the recently concluded Perinçek v. Switzerland case that was seen at the European Court of Human Rights. The Turkish government presented an excellent case for why Mr. Perinçek’s freedom of expression should not have been curtailed. This case seen at the Grand Chamber of the Court was a significant blow to Armenian people’s attempt to silence anybody who dares to speak their mind against their genocide narrative.
In this respect, Turkey must use its political and economic weight to propagate the justified idea that rejecting the genocide narrative has nothing to do with denialism or racism against Armenian people, and actually has to do with a legitimate ongoing historical debate.
Historyoftruth.com: In the last few months Armenian armed forces started to violate ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia more often than before. Can we say that tension is increasing between Azerbaijan and Armenia and it might turn into a war? And where Turkey would stand if this happens?
ALEV KILIÇ: The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has ruined the relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Despite four UN Security Council resolutions against it, Armenia continues to illegally occupy Azerbaijan’s territory. It also attempts to present the Armenian administration in Nagorno-Karabakh as if it was a sovereign state, a claim which is recognized by no state (including Armenia) or international organizations, and which was recently debunked by the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling of the Chiragov v. Armenia case.
Both Azerbaijan and Armenia are engaging in significant military build-up. Armenia’s stubbornness to come to any constructive solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict keeps the tensions high between the countries. At the same time, both countries know that a war over this conflict would be bloody and destructive.
Turkey stands for a peaceful solution to this conflict. Turkey has encouraged the Minsk Group, of which she is a member, from very early on to expedite such a solution. I must admit, I am disappointed with the achievements of the co-chair activities of the Minsk Group due to their timid initiatives. The reaction shown to the annexation of Crimea has never been expressed for Armenia’s occupation.
Historyoftruth.com: What would you advice to Turkish American diaspora for defending Turkey’s thesis against Armenian Diaspora?
ALEV KILIÇ: The Turkish diaspora, including United States, must equip themselves with the knowledge about the general facts of the events that occurred a century ago and they should be politically active to counteract the political propaganda carried by the Armenian diaspora. I should add, however, that this is easier said than done. This needs to be done in a polite and constructive manner that refrains from categorizing Armenians or insinuating racist motives. It must be kept in mind that the genocide narrative has become a source of identity for the Armenian people and they will react very emotionally to ideas and people who do not agree with them on this issue.
Historyoftruth.com: Obama will have another April 24 speech at the White House before 2016 Presidential election. What is your prediction for this year? Will Obama use the word “genocide”?
ALEV KILIÇ: The United States has access to very rich historical archives and facts. No responsible statesman would, in my view, endeavor to alienate a friendly, allied country on a controversial, to say the least, narrative.
Historyoftruth.com: Can we have a last message from you for our readers and Turkish American community?
ALEV KILIÇ: We in Turkey are proud of our compatriots in the United States. I applaud them for their common sense, courage, and dignity in the face of a century-long prevailing defamation.
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