Let my colleague Nigar Goksel and myself share some reactions to the recent US Congress resolution here. These are mainly from the Turkish press.
On 5 March 2010 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to the passing of the (non-binding resolution) in the foreign affairs committee of the US House of Representatives. The focus of his criticism was the fact that members of the US Congress voted on a historic event that took place almost one century ago:
“This is a comedy. For God’s sake, can history be looked at like this? Is it a politician’s job to look at history? Can those who gave a ‘yes’ vote in that assembly find Armenia’s place on the map? … The decisions that are made there do not bind us. With its history, its culture, its civilization, Turkey is a very big state. This country is not a tribal state. I am saying openly, the decision of the foreign affairs committee will not hurt Turkey at all. But it will hurt countries’ bilateral relations and interests to a large degree. We will not be the ones who lose. Those who think small will. Those who act with revenge and hostility will lose.”
The reaction of others in the government was similar, as Semih Idiz notes in his column in Milliyet newspaper on 6 March 2010:
“It was telling of the atmosphere surrounding this issue in Ankara that Murat Mercan referred to the happenings in the US Congress as ‘American comedy’ and Suat Kinikliogly said ‘we will show them that we are not a banana republic’. It is worthy of attention that when Davutoglu was asked ‘will you pull back soldiers from Afghanistan? Will you close Incirlik?’ he did not say ‘there is no need to go that far’ he said such issues would be considered, together with the opposition”
An article in Aksam newspaper (9 March 2009) has the title “They will demand land and reparations from Turkey”. It stresses another Turkish concern. It quotes an Armenian opposition politician, Giro Manoyan (ARF – the Dashnak Party):
“According to us, the current borders with Turkey are not legal. Historically, Western Armenia is ours … Armenia and Turkey have never agreed on the current borders … If Turkey will continue using Western Armenia as it does now it will have to pay for its use since 1915.”
Kadri Gursel writes in the daily Milliyet (7 March 2010) under the title “If that resolution passes no one will survive”. This looks at possible domestic political repercussions expected by the recognition of genocide by the US:
“If the resolution passes, AKP cannot get away. To save itself AKP will sacrifice Turkey-America relations. It will do this in the name of saving Turkey’s hurt pride and for the sake of showing a harsh reaction. So if the resolution passes, Turkey-US relations cannot survive … The resolution passing in the US congress would be a breaking point. The Armenian diaspora and Armenia will have won the battle they have been waging for 10 years to get “international recognition for genocide”. And Turkey will have lost the struggle to prevent “genocide recognition.” Resolutions in other parliaments will follow. … If this resolution passes the House of Representatives, the Turkey-Armenia normalization cannot be saved. When ‘Turkeys pride’ cannot be saved, neither can the ‘democracy axis’ because extreme nationalism will rear its head. Turkey’s relations with the West cannot be saved either.”
Gursel also notes:
“Unfortunately we have to take the reckless approach of ‘If it would only pass and we could get rid of it”, which has been voiced frequently in the past few days, seriously because recklessness is contagious.”
Ismet Berkan had presented such a position in an article in Radikal a day before (on 6 March 2010) under the title “If it would only pass and we be rid of it”. Berkan explains how in 30 years working in the media he has seen the same tensions return every year between February and April:
“I am bored of this by now. And I am sure everyone else who had to follow it for years is too. I remember the politician who told me in the 1980s ‘If it would only pass and couldn’t take Turkey-US relations hostage every year”. If it would only pass and end…. If there was no more theatre played, pretending as if Turkey-US relations are coming to a breaking point in the first months of every year. …The solution for this issue is not preventing the resolution. The solution lies with talking about the 1915 events openly … Supposedly it was not a “genocide” but a “forced deportation”. Ok, well, where did the Anatolian Armenians go? Did they evaporate? Did they get on rockets and move to the moon? Go to a village in Sivas and ask a villagers what happened to the Armenians. The villager will answer. Ask in Corum. In Maras. In Mus. In Bitlis. In Izmit.”
Engin Ardic explains in Sabah (6 March 2010) that the recurrent drama seems ridiculous because in the end the resolutions never pass:
“and then when it does not pass there will be screams about how we won and survived again. So if it does not pass the American Congress you are not responsible for forced deportation? … Since the US congress did not accept it, it did not happen …? So what if they accept the resolution? Are you going to declare war to America? Are you going to get out of NATO? Boycot American goods?”
On the same day, Bugun newspaper (on 6 March 2010 lays out the “risk scenarios” and makes a list of what it describes as “the issues that make the US need Turkey.” Included in this compilation is the leverage Turkey has over fueling needs and cargo headed to US troops in Iraq, the possibility of Turkey canceling military equipment tenders, the importance of Turkey in the nuclear crisis between Turkey and the US, the risk of Turkey not supporting the process of the US pulling out of Iraq in 2011. “The US has already been informed that the protocols signed between Turkey and Armenia will not pass the Turkish parliament,” the newspaper adds before concluding, under the subheading “who would loose”: When the risk scenarios are analyzed .. it is apparent that the US also seriously needs Turkey. The base of the strategic partnership or model partnership between Turkey and the US can collapse because of the Armenian genocide resolution”.
“(Some people say) ‘In any case every year 1915 is referred to as ‘the tragedy’ or ‘the great catastrophe.’ So why does it matter if it is called genocide?’ It matters a lot. First, the word ‘genocide’ has been turned into such a dynamite between Turks and Armenians that it being ignited will cause great damage. The Armenians will not be satisfied and comforted. They will instead have joy over a victory and ignite even more active campaigns and policies against Turkey. And on our side there will not be the feeling that “the balloon burst and hell did not break loose’ instead there will be a huge sense of victimisation, internal and foreign policy balances will turn upside down … Not just Turkish-American relations and mutual interests but many other things will be dynamited. A political earthquake of the magnitude of 9 in the Caucasus will shake the world. There is nothing to be underestimated about the ‘genocide’ claim. “
Then he explains that the gunpowder of the word ‘genocide’ can only be moistened through the development of Turkish-Armenian relations. “Don’t those who say ‘just rip up the protocols’ see this?”
Sami Kohen writes in Milliyet on 6 March that his is a test for the Obama administration: “If he succeeds in this he will prevent a serious crisis between Turkey and the US”. But, he adds at the end “it would not be rational to get mad at the Committee decision and sever cooperation or end initiatives that are in Turkey’s national interests.”
Mehmet Ali Birand writes on 6 March 2010 in Milliyet: “We are in such a dangerous period that, if it is not managed well, everyone in the game will lose … if it is not managed well, the genocide resolution can turn this region upside down”.
On 6 March Fehmi Koru writes in Yeni Safak under the title “America always wrongs”:
“Americans are great at interfering in others’ business. The last 50 years of world history is a history of US interference in some place or another. Americans invented the most refined methods to get results by using coups, insurgencies, economic depressions, political disruption. The Armenian resolution is an example of the US habit to interfere in other countries … the negotiations that have been ongoing with Swiss mediation for the past two years have led to positive developments between Turkey and Armenia that could result in leaving the problem behind us … Washington must not loose Turkey, which is intent on solving its problems with its neighbors trade a few thousand votes in California.”
Finally, let us recommend an article by Henri J. Barkey, The Armenian genocide resolution is a farce all around, (2 March):
“The House of Representatives has decided to make a problem from the past into a problem of the present. On Thursday, the House foreign affairs committee is set to launch its fruitless annual effort to declare that the 1915 massacre of over a million Armenians by Ottoman Turks was genocide. As in the past, the resolution isn’t likely to get very far. But this year, it portends great damage to the Obama administration’s attempts to rescue a fragile Turkey-Armenia reconciliation.
To be clear, the overwhelming historical evidence demonstrates that what took place in 1915 was genocide. But while some U.S. lawmakers feel strongly about the Armenian genocide resolution, most realize that no moral good can come from a label applied almost a century later. They support the resolution only to score points with the highly organized Armenian-American lobby. And they know full well that pressure from Turkey, which remains a critical U.S. ally, ultimately will prevent passage on the House floor.
The cynicism of this effort is matched only by the cynicism of the Armenians and the Turks. For Armenians, the genocide issue is of paramount concern, and Armenian populations in Europe have even supported laws punishing Armenian genocide deniers. Yet in 2007, Yerevan State University awarded an honorary degree to the No. 1 Holocaust denier in the world: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian president not only invited fellow deniers to Tehran for a “conference,” but he has systematically called for the destruction a member state of the United Nations. This clearly didn’t bother Armenian politicians who, in the interest of fostering ongoing friendly ties with neighboring Iran, decided to honor him. They must have been disappointed, though, when Ahmadinejad skipped a trip to Yerevan’s Armenian Genocide Memorial, citing important obligations in Tehran. Maybe he values his country’s relations with the Turks, or maybe he doesn’t believe there was an Armenian genocide any more than a Holocaust.
And what of the Turks? You’d think they’d be careful about throwing around a word like genocide. On the contrary, in a country where a Turkish citizen can be jailed for arguing that the Ottoman massacres were genocide, Turks will hurl that accusation at almost anyone else. The speaker of the Turkish parliament recently declared that the killing of 400 Azeris by the Armenians during the 1992 Nagorno-Karabakh war was genocide. Turkish politicians have on numerous occasions accused Israel of genocide in the occupied territories. And last year, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Chinese of committing genocide in Xinjiang, where interethnic riots killed 200 people. (He did, however, deny that the Sudanese government’s actions in Darfur were genocidal, on the grounds that “Muslims do not commit genocide.”)
The Turks, Armenians and the United States all dilute the meaning of the word genocide by playing politics with it. But the U.S. alone has the power to help broker an agreement that would make a meaningful difference in Armenians’ lives, by ending their economic isolation.
The Obama administration has been pushing for a deal that would normalize Turkish-Armenian relations and open the borders between them. Realizing the delicacy of the situation, Obama made a point to avoid “genocide” in his April 2009 statement commemorating the start of the massacres, instead using the Armenian expression “Great Catastrophe.” Unfortunately, Turkish leaders have shown signs of cold feet. And further antagonism would undoubtedly set back the process for years.
With that in mind, the U.S. Congress should drop its annual Armenian genocide resolution. And lawmakers worried about responding to Armenian-American constituents should focus their efforts on helping to mediate a reconciliation that would benefit Armenians. It’d be better if they used their power to end ongoing fights than to pick old ones.”
More to come …