Davutoglu’s ‘New Beginning’ at a Dead End

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(Editor’s Note: Due to a series of weather-related issues, certain errors crept in last week. One was a missing paragraph from the commentary by Edmond Y. Azadian, which rendered its point moot. We are reprinting the commentary with the missing paragraph. We apologize for the error.)

By Edmond Y. Azadian

The literacy rate is not high in Egypt, but the people there are endowed with an innate sense of humor. Sometimes, they can encapsulate major political developments in simple anecdotes. One such anecdote began circulating when Anwar Sadat succeeded Gamal Abdel Nasser as president. The story goes that on the first day that the new president is driven to his office, the presidential limousine comes to a crossroad and the driver asks the new president which way he prefers to be driven, since Nasser preferred to go to the left. Sadat answers: “Signal left and turn right.”

Today, we are confronted with the same kind of politics with Turkey. While blockading Armenia, helping the murderous Azeri regime to continue its bellicose posture and denying the Armenian Genocide, Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu calls for “a new beginning with Armenia.”

Mr. Davutoglu himself orchestrated the charade of organizing the centennial celebrations marking the Gallipoli campaign, specifically stating that the purpose of it was to counter the centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.

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Adding insult to injury, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a cynical invitation to President Serge Sargisian to attend the Gallipoli celebration, creating a theater of the absurd in his foreign policy. President Sargisian answered with a powerfully-worded response outlining the hypocrisy of Turkish policy toward Armenia.

Many critical commentaries were published in the world press and some even in the Turkish press. But one article which appeared on January 19 in the Independent newspaper published in England hit the nail on the head. It was written by the most erudite Middle East correspondent of the paper, Robert Fisk. Any Armenian group that is interested in acting in a significant way to counter the Turkish propaganda machine must deliver Fisk’s article to all 102 heads of states who have been invited by the Turkish government to attend this fictitious celebration.

Besides being an awkward attempt by Turkey to silence the centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, it is an insult to the forces of the invited guests, because Turkey lost the entire war in 1918. What is the significance of one battle? It is more significant to celebrate the little known Battle of Arara, in Palestine, on September 19, 1918, when the Allies crushed the Ottoman and German forces, causing them to retreat to their ultimate defeat. In that one battle, 5,000 Armenian volunteers from the US and elsewhere fought in the Armenian Legion.

Returning to Mr. Fisk’s article, the headline tells all: “Gallipoli Centenary Is a Shameful Attempt to Hide the Armenian Holocaust.”

“This is not just diplomatic mischief. The Turks are well aware that the Allied landings at Gallipoli began on April 25 — the day after Armenians mark the start of their genocide, which was ordered by the Turkish government of the time — and that Australia and New Zealand mark Anzac Day on April 25. Only two years ago, then-president Abdullah Gul of Turkey marked the 98th anniversary of the Great War battle on March 18, 2013 — the day on which the British naval bombardment of the Dardanelles Peninsula began on the instructions of British First Lord of Admiralty Winston Churchill. At the time, no one in Turkey suggested that Gallipoli — Canakkale in Turkish — should be remembered on April 24. The Turks, of course, are fearful that 1915 should be remembered as the anniversary of their country’s frightful crimes against humanity committed during the Armenian extermination.”

Gallipoli being marked as a battle in a lost war has its own mysteries yet to be uncovered. While fighting the Ottoman Army, the British government was overly concerned that its erstwhile enemy-turned-war-ally Russia was moving closer to the warm waters of the Mediterranean, having already occupied some territory on the eastern border of the Ottoman Empire. Previously, the British policy was to deny that access to the Russians and now they were delivering the Russian dream on a silver platter. Therefore, at the expense of intimidating Churchill they “lost” the Gallipoli campaign after a face-saving effort vis-à-vis their Russian allies.

The other anomaly is that Australians and New Zealanders converge every year in Istanbul to celebrate the Gallipoli campaign as if thanking the murderers of their grandparents. This is the perverse reading of history.

Turkey’s “magnanimous” leaders, in celebrating the centennial of the Gallipoli campaign, have refused to extend an invitation to Australia’s New South Wales legislature, which has passed a resolution to recognize the Armenian Genocide, injecting a drama within another drama.

After orchestrating the Gallipoli carnival, Mr. Davutoglu turns to the Armenians and, with a straight face, offers a “new beginning.” Here is what he states: “Having already underscored the inhumane consequence of the relocation policies essentially enforced under wartime circumstances, including that of 1915, Turkey shares the suffering of Armenians and with patience, and resolve, is endeavoring to reestablish empathy between the two peoples. Our April 23, 2014 message of condolences, which included elements of how, primarily through dialog, we may together bring an end to the enmity that has kept our relations captive, was a testament to this determination. Only by breaking taboos, can we hope to begin addressing the great trauma that froze time in 1915. For its part, Turkey has transcended this critical threshold and relinquished the generalizations and stereotypical assertions of the past.”

Of course, there is tremendous improvement in the veneer of the Turkish message to the Armenians. It is a message very different than the one delivered by former Turkish President Turgut Ozal, who threatened Yerevan with a few bombs, because “they had not learned their lesson in 1915.” It is a much more positive one than the one delivered by the dictator Kenan Evran who challenged Armenians by saying, “If you want land, come and take it. Land can only be taken by blood.”

But in essence, the Turkish message does not change much. Rather than admitting the undeniable fact of the premeditated genocide, Mr. Davutoglu plants a time bomb in his message when he characterizes the genocide as “relocation policies enforced under wartime circumstances.”

Far from being rejectionists, Armenians have to give some credit to the AK Party’s policies, which introduced a measure of tolerance in the country. After being embarrassed and ridiculed worldwide, the Turkish government stopped enforcing Article 310 in the penal code against “insulting Turkishness.” Then prime minister, Mr. Erdogan apologized to the Kurds for the Dersim massacres and began to negotiate with Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Oçalan to resolve the Kurdish issue. During the presidential election, he was able to lull the restive Kurdish minority and may continue that way, until the parliamentary elections, when the Kurds can contribute to his success. This may lead to changes in the constitution to extend his presidential powers. But the patience of the Kurds is running out, because most of the promises have not been delivered yet.

Armenians can embarrass Turkey, at best, in its foreign policy, but the Kurds have a knife at the throat of the Turkish government. Any insurrection may lead to Turkey’s territorial disintegration, and we know that next-door Kurdistan is thriving in Iraq and Kurds are fighting for their turf in Kobani, Syria.

In modern history, Turkish policy has suffered relapses and another return to the days of September 6 remains a possibility.

When the Protocols collapsed, Mr. Davutoglu blamed Armenian intransigence. He stated that had Armenia taken a symbolic step by returning one or two regions in Karabagh, an agreement could have been reached. Now, turning the tables, we may ask Mr. Davutoglu himself to take those concrete actions rather than offering empty rhetoric, to see if Armenian-Turkish relations will indeed enjoy a new beginning.

It is reported that when Talaat Pasha attended the 1400th anniversary of the creation of the Armenian alphabet, which came to be in a burst of creativity, he was accompanied by Armenian members of parliament, including Krikor Zohrab and Vartkess, as well as other dignitaries. The Armenian leaders detected some tears in the eyes of Talaat Pasha at the sight of the rejuvenation of the Armenian culture. Little did they know that Talaat, in his heinous mind, was brooding to devour an entire nation.

Devoid of any concrete action, Mr. Davutoglu’s message contains a drop of Talaat’s tears. Talaat Pasha is still alive in Turkey with his remains reverently resting in Hurriyet-i Ebediye Tepesi, Istanbul, with 15 other streets and boulevards named after him in Ankara and Istanbul, and especially with the Talaat Pasha Organization still active with its virulent leader, Dogu Perinçek. How would the world feel if another Perinçek emerged in Germany organizing an Adolf Hitler Society?

With all these perils on their way, Davutoglu’s “new beginning” has already met its dead end.