Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

Remarks by David L. Phillips
Monday, April 24, 2017

Times Square, New York City
April 23, 2017


It is an honor to be here today. I thank the Knights and Daughters of Vartan for inviting me.

The so-called special relationship between Turkey and the United States rests on two fallacies. Turkey is a secular democracy, and Turkey is an indispensable member of NATO.

Turkey is not secular. Nor is Turkey a democracy. Last weekend’s sham referendum is proof of Turkey’s tilt towards dictatorship under President Tayyip Erdogan.

Nor is Turkey an indispensable member of NATO. The North Atlantic Alliance is more than a security partnership. It is a coalition of countries with shared values. If NATO was established today, Turkey would not qualify as a member because it is Islamist, anti-American, and a gross violator of human rights.

I have always believed that problems can be solved through dialogue. From 2001 to 2004, I chaired the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission. TARC’s work represented enormous progress addressing the Armenian Genocide. TARC facilitated participation of both sides in a legal opinion recognizing that the UN definition of genocide fit the Armenian experience. TARC also facilitated the agreement of joint recommendations to concerned governments on how to establish and improve relations.

In 2009, the Armenian and Turkish governments signed protocols to advance their relationship by establishing diplomatic relations, lift the Turkish blockade of Armenia, and address unresolved problems.  Armenian President Serge Sarkisian stood by those agreements. Erdogan reneged, refusing to submit the protocols to parliament for ratification.

Dialogue is not a substitute for progress. It takes two to talk. Dialogue is impossible when one side wants to subordinate and humiliate the other. Erdogan is not conciliatory. He uses anti-Christian and anti-Armenian rhetoric to mobilize his nationalist base.

Erdogan should be judged by what he does, not only what he says.

  • The Erdogan government is currently seeking to control the election of a new Armenian Church Patriarch in Istanbul.
  • It has reversed prior trends toward objective education on the millennia old Armenian history in Turkey.
  • The Armenian Church used to own over 5,000 churches and religious institutions in Turkey. Today it has less than fifty.
  • The government plans to replace destroyed minority neighborhoods in the Southeast with condominiums, resettling Syrian refugees, making them citizens and AKP supporters.
  • Turkey foments violence in Nagorno-Karabakh. It plays an unhelpful role in US and international efforts to resolve peacefully the conflict.

The US and Europe should see Turkey for what it, not what it may have been or we wish it were.

  • The EU should suspend Turkey’s candidacy negotiations and provide clear benchmarks for renewing talks.
  • NATO should establish a compliance review mechanism to evaluate whether members meet their democracy commitments. If Turkey fails, its NATO membership should be suspended.
  • The US should reject Turkey’s extortion over Incirlik Air Force Base and develop alternate facilities in Iraqi Kurdistan, Jordan, Kuwait and at British bases in Cyprus.
  • Washington should support the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate Erdogan for war crimes against the Kurds, and lay the ground for accountability.

Today is Yom Ha-Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day for Jews worldwide. We remember those who perished and those who resisted. Hitler addressed the Waffen SS to declare the Holocaust: “Who today remembers what happened to the Armenians?”

During one of the TARC meetings, an Armenian participant recounted how his mother told him he was lucky to grow up with aunts and uncles because in her family of Genocide survivors, she had neither. I remember Elie Wiesel telling me how his little sister Tzipora perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The world turned its back on atrocities in the 20th century. Atrocities must not be allowed in the 21st Century. Silence is complicity. Your work and presence here today is so important.

We remember Armenians who perished. We call it Genocide. “Never again” must have meaning for their memory, for Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, Yazidis in Iraq.

We stand in solidarity with all people who suffer genocide, atrocities, and crimes against humanity.

David L. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights.