Ohannes Kilicdagi

Ohannes Kilicdagi

Turkish-Armenian Border: The Enmity of Peoples

Not every individual of a group can be an enemy to every individual of the other group. Neither is there an intergroup enmity that is immutable or ineradicable. If so, what does building peace based on the premise of “the enmity of peoples” mean?”

Last week, when reading Garo Paylan’s statements regarding the Turkey-Armenia border, the opening of that border, and the naming the crossing “Hrant Dink,” I paused at one particular sentence. Paylan said, “Turks, Kurds, Azeris, and Armenians cannot be enemies of one another.” This is undoubtedly a good-natured statement aiming to boost morale and seeking the establishment of a permanent peace, but is it the right starting point? Could it be that this statement fails to serve the lasting peace it aims at, precisely because it is based on an incorrect or unrealistic assumption or assessment? Is it perhaps more accurate to base our endeavor for peace on the premise of “the enmity of the peoples” rather than the “fraternity of the peoples?”

It is necessary to clarify the matter of “enmity.” Let me first say that when I say “enmity,” I do not necessarily mean being in an active or violent conflict. Perhaps enmity is too strong a term here, but what I intend it to mean is negative feelings and prejudices between peoples. I am using “enmity” here in a manner close to “animosity.”

Of course, ethnic groups are not entirely enemies of each other. In that respect, Paylan is correct. That is, not every individual among an ethnic group can be an enemy to every single individual of the other group (but by that same logic, neither can they be brothers or friends). Neither is there an enmity between groups that is immutable or ineradicable, or which comes from the beginning of time and will last in perpetuity. If so, what do I mean by building peace based on the premise of “the enmity of peoples?” This can be expressed in several ways, one of which is the following diagnosis: Although not shared by every individual, there are strong negative feelings and prejudices between the groups in question, and these will not disappear overnight. It is necessary to see, recognize, and acknowledge these, and to establish the right political and social mechanisms for peace accordingly. In other words, I am talking about accepting the possibility (or even the reality) that “Turks, Kurds, Azeris, Armenians can be enemies of each other” and therefore build your home fit to weather storms, not just sunny days. Of course, everyone wants hostility and animosity to come to an end, but since this will be neither easy nor quick, the main issue is to establish mechanisms that will prevent these sentiments from morphing into active conflict. Neither is it necessary for contact between groups to be suspended to ensure that animosity does not turn into conflict. On the contrary, contact should be increased while security mechanisms are simultaneously established. I do not have ready answers as to what these mechanisms are; but, for example, being able to socially and politically isolate segments of each group that fuel hatred within that group can be one such path.

In order to establish a peaceful political and social order, the words "love one another" are often uttered. Who can say "no" to the existence of love? Of course, one only wishes that everyone could love each other, but love does not come about based on a simple wish. Moreover, as I said above, there is no practical equivalent or possibility for peoples and ethnic groups to love each other collectively. Moreover, we do not have the luxury of time to wait for negative feelings to dissipate and for love to prevail in the relationships between groups. If one also considers that love is fickle (what you love today, you may not love tomorrow), it will be clear to see that it is not a logical task to establish a social order which is expected to operate in peace and stability on the basis of love itself. Then, if we are to talk about the predominance of any emotion in the relations between ethnic groups and peoples, that emotion — not only in Turkey but also in many parts of the world — is fear, hatred, and anger as opposed to love. These feelings lie at the root of all genocides, whether large or small in scale. Massacres, pogroms, and genocides occur because groups fear and hate each other in such a manner (this is not the only reason, of course, but our topic and aim here is not to list all the reasons).

In short, what is critical is not to love each other or to be “brothers,” but to be able to agree on what can be done and is acceptable with regard to rules and procedures; that is, to have consensus on what are legitimate or illegitimate courses of action. So, the essential matter is to define boundaries — not those of countries, but those of actions.

* This article was originally published in Turkish here.

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