When will Turkey’s rulers realize that they cannot have it both ways?
They cannot bask in the glory of their Ottoman legacy while refusing to deal with its historical burdens.
For them, the past century may be merely a “parenthesis” to be closed, to be replaced with a “new era of restoration”. They may belittle the efforts of past governments to build a new identity, distinctly different than which was Ottoman, calling it “a commercial break” in the history of the Ottoman Empire.
For the descendants of more than a million Armenians, victims of mass deportations and killings a century ago, that catastrophic chapter of the history was never closed. It was neither a “parenthesis” nor a “commercial break”.
Turkey is a UN member country that have ratified the 1948 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide but rejects the events of the 1915 to be recognised as such.
One can contest and dispute the legality of the term in relation to events of the last years of the Ottoman Empire. In Turkey, not only successive governments but also the wider public have rejected the term “genocide” while every passing year more and more countries recognise it as such.
On the 100th anniversary of the 1915 mass killings of Armenians, we have expected this long-standing and unresolved dark chapter of recent history to be uncovered internationally, but none of us expected Turkey to display this level of incompetence to foresee, validate and understand both the past and the present.
First, there was a rather foolish attempt to schedule the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli battle on the 24th April, the day Armenians honour their victims, instead of the long-accepted Anzac Day of the 25th.
Then, despite the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s frantic efforts to lobby, The Pope spoke of “the first genocide of the 20th century”. Turkey seemed unprepared for this. The ambassador to the Holy See was recalled. The Minister responsible for European Affairs, a veteran diplomat-turned-politician, Volkan Bozkir, reminded us that the Pope was an Argentine and he seemed to reflect his country’s dark past. “Argentina was a country that welcomed the leading executors of the Jewish Holocaust, Nazi torturers, with open arms,” Mr Bozkir said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did what he knows best. He scolded the Pope and warned him not to repeat his mistake again.
Not to be outdone, his Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu went one step further and declared the Pope a member of the “conspiracy”, of an “evil front” targeting Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). As usual, he reminded Pope Francis of the glories of the Ottoman Empire and its benevolence in providing refuge to Sephardic Jews who fled the Iberian Peninsula.
They shouted and scolded. Threatened, warned and mocked.
All the same, The European Parliament on April the 15th, voted with a significant majority in favour of a resolution calling Turkey to recognise the Armenian genocide.
Hours earlier, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said whatever the decision, it would “come in from one ear and go out from the other” . The Foreign Ministry responded to the European Parliament decision saying that they did not take it seriously. Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will be sent to lobby Washington D.C just before the crucial date of 24th April.
We have to be realistic and recognise that the government’s approach in this matter is not that far removed from the majority view in Turkey. Both among the AKP supporters and the nationalists siding with the opposition, increasing pressure on Turkey to recognise Armenian genocide will create a backlash. Just before the general election, for such an emotional and historically manipulated subject to become an issue is somewhat unfortunate because it will not be conducive neither to a just solution for the Armenians nor towards an honest evaluation of their past for the Turks and Kurds.
This post is also available in: Turkish