Turkey Prepares for Genocide Centennial

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

 

The year 2015 is around the corner, and Turkey is watching that date and preparing itself with visible apprehension. It is a challenge for Turkish leaders as it is a challenge for the Armenians. It is an open question which party will reach the finish line first.

 

The Genocide centennial will be a watershed in history, but which party’s case will win most points remains to be seen.

 

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As the Turks prepare to face the challenges of that landmark anniversary, Armenians have yet to come up with a master plan — either in Armenia or the diaspora — though hopefully it will be done

collectively.

 

Contrary to Hitler’s cynical remark in the 1939 about who remembered then the annihilation of the Armenians two decades earlier, today the world is more aware than ever about the Armenian Genocide. Some 20 countries have adopted resolutions or laws about acknowledging the Armenian Genocide, but most importantly, Turkish scholars and the media have cracked the wall of silence and have been educating their public about the undeniable historic facts. But, mind you, with all the rhetoric of those scholars and journalists who have spearheaded the apology movement, none of them has advocated giving out any compensation. Although their position is diametrically opposed to that of the government, both positions coincide when it comes to the issue of compensation.

 

In preparation for the centennial, the Turkish government has been putting out feelers. We cannot rule out that even journalist Hasan Cemal’s appearance in a recent panel in California making some pleasing remarks to the Armenians, even using the term “genocide” was of that nature.

 

Another feeler appeared in the Turkish newspaper, Sabah, which was reporting a government announcement that some representatives may take part in April 24 commemorations in an effort to overcome psychological barriers between Armenia and Turkey and engage in a dialogue with the Armenian Diaspora.

 

But most revealing of all are the pronouncements of the foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who first announced that the year 2015 will be a year to deal with Armenian issues. That announcement may be interpreted in many ways. It may mean that we will bury the Armenian Genocide issue under some cosmetic gestures, or we will deal with it head on.

 

The foreign minister gave an interview to CNN-Turk, on March 26, which mostly consisted of artfully spinning a web of diplomatic duplicities, many of them open to interpretation. While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already “resolved” the Genocide issue with outright denial, the foreign minister instead speaks of understanding the Armenian pain, reciprocally expecting Armenians to understand their pain, as if the World War I Turkish casualties had been caused by the Armenians. He already begins the dialogue on the wrong foot. His argument begins with false premises, when he says what is “deportation” for Armenians it is “Dardanelles” and “Sarkamish” for us, comparing apples and oranges.

 

The Ottoman Turkish Empire was crushed in a collision with European and Russian Empires and it suffered war casualties, which had nothing to do with the Armenians. In fact, many Armenians drafted in the Ottoman Army were killed at the Gallipoli campaign.

 

Mr. Erdogan is carried away with supreme demagoguery, when he claims that no Genocide was committed by his ancestors, challenging Armenians to produce one single piece of proof, knowing full well that any challenge to his claim will land the challenger in jail by virtue of Turkey’s penal code (Article 310), even if that challenger is Turkey’s only Nobel Prize winner.

 

But the foreign minister is a more suave scholar who knows that Turkey’s outright denial has brought nothing but embarrassment in the past, therefore, he has put a smile on Turkey’s foreign policy, although a foxy one. Therefore, he delves into a lengthy explanation, presenting some falsehoods as historic facts.

 

“We would like to settle our relations with Armenia and the diaspora. For that we should not place all Armenians in one category, and assume that they all have one-sided views, that way perhaps a new radical era of reconciliation opens up in front of us,” says the minister, getting into more dangerous waters when he makes his historic references about Turkish-Armenian relations, that “they have co- existed for 10 centuries, extending to the Battle of Manzikert [1071]. Until the beginning of the 20th century the relations have been extremely peaceful and harmonious. No matter how much we may resort to legal and political means, the important thing is to overcome the psychological barrier.”

 

Only a cynical diplomat can make those statements with a straight face, overlooking the historic facts, where Armenians had the status of raya (slave) and the Turks were the slave masters. Beginning with the insurrection of Zaitoun in 1862, all the way extending to the uprising of Mush and the Hamiddian Massacres of 1894-96, there was anything but “peaceful and harmonious” coexistence between these two peoples.

 

Despite all these seemingly soothing remarks, Turkey reacted angrily when the Argentinean Judge Norberto Oyarbide ruled on April 1 that the Turkish state “committed the crime of genocide against the Armenian people” based on his 12 years of research.

 

In light of that reaction, one can conclude with certainty that the Turkish government has not moved an inch towards the goal of reconciliation and all the rhetoric is intended towards two purposes: a) to derail, once more the use of the term “genocide” in President Barack Obama’s 2011 statement on Martyr’s Day commemoration; b) to prepare for the challenges of all Armenians in making 2015 a significant year for the recognition of the Genocide.

 

The Turks are already armed for 2015. They have certainly prepared their diplomatic, scholarly and political arsenal to defeat any Armenian onslaught.

 

Then, where is our master plan? Even the fate of the Genocide Museum in Washington is in limbo and it may not open in 2015.

 

Granted, many individual and group activities have been undertaken to produce scholarly books, to erect monuments and to launch political campaigns but an overall plan has yet to shape up. The Turks are ready for the challenge. Are we?

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