Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Narendra Mod (PTI)

Why It’s the Right Time for India to Give Turkey an Armenian ‘Gift’ for Its Stand on Kashmir

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Why It’s the Right Time for India to Give Turkey an Armenian ‘Gift’ for Its Stand on Kashmir

By Amitabh Singh

The Armenian Genocide has been recognized by 34 countries, but India is still weighing its options to balance out its relations with Armenia and Turkey, this despite the fact that Erdogan constantly targets India over the Kashmir issue.

April 24 marked the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. The first phase began on 24 April 1915, as young Turks arrested and murdered hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Istanbul (Constantinople then). The killings were not only limited to the massacre of Armenian Christians but also of Assyrians, Greeks, Yazidis and other non-Muslim minorities. An estimated 7-15 lakh [hundred thousand] Armenians were killed due to policies carried out by the ruling elites. The number of people killed was through large-scale massacres and exiling them into uninhabitable desert tracts of modern-day Syria to eventually perish without food and water. The killings continued even after the formation of modern Turkey led by its republican rulers. The accounts of the destruction and killings have been well documented mainly in the US and British archives by the Armenian diaspora, which is scattered throughout the world and outnumbers the population of Armenia, the most numerous in Russia, the US, France, among others.

It is one of the most brutal massacres recorded in modern world history. This widescale killing inspired Polish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, to conceptualize the term “genocide” and its eventual criminalization. Genocide, as described by Lemkin, does not refer only to the physical extermination of the people but also the extinction of the victims’ cultural, spiritual, and religious identity.

In Turkey, even after more than 100 years, any reference to the genocide is taken as an “attempt to denigrate national identity” and is punishable as per Turkish law. Turkey refuses to accept the term “genocide” because it happened between 1915 and 1917, and genocide as a legal term cannot be used retroactively. The popular perception amongst the Turkish population is that large-scale deportation of the Armenian population did take place as the Armenians had collaborated with Russia in World War I when the Russians attacked Anatolia. This event “might” have resulted in around 3,00,000 Armenians perishing in harsh and barren deserts of Syria. But the deportation was done as a punishment, and the resulting deaths were coincidental and were indeed not a “genocide” by any stretch of the imagination.

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Though Turkey has always rejected the idea that it was a genocide, the reaction to its acceptance by various countries has become sharper in recent years with Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the helm of affairs. Erdogan, as the President, after the failed coup of 2016, which has been by far the bloodiest coup in its history, has consolidated power within his presidency and has taken a firm position against it. Turkey, of late, is pursuing a policy of ‘Neo-Ottomanism’, jettisoning the idea of a secular state and a pro-Western orientation that has been the hallmark of Kemalist ideology, which also meant that the Army was the protector of secularism and pro-Western orientation of the Russian state.

Modern Armenia (Eastern Armenia), which was only a tiny part of a large country as claimed by the Armenian nationalists, did come into existence after the fall of the Czarist regime in 1917 but was short-lived. The genocide, as claimed by the historians, happened only in the Anatolian part of the Ottoman empire, termed the Western Armenia, where the majority of the Armenians lived. The genocide has also acted as a rallying point for the modern Armenian state in developing a national identity.

This genocide has been recognized by 34 countries in the world, mainly from Europe and Latin America, including Russia, which hosts the most significant Armenian diaspora. The US recognized the Armenian genocide in 2021. India is yet to recognize the genocide as it is still weighing its options to balance out its relations with Armenia and Turkey. By recognizing the Armenian genocide, the world will know the severity of the issue and its acknowledgement by contemporary Turkish society and state may also lead to demanding of reparations by the affected Armenian families and their descendants.

There is a pressing need for India to recognize the massacre. Turkey, under the leadership of Erdogan, has been criticizing India over the Kashmir issue. In UN General Assembly speeches, President Erdogan has likened the status of Kashmiris to Uighurs and Rohingyas, which have been vehemently protested by India both on the floor of the UN General Assembly outside of it. Interestingly, Pakistan is the only country in the world that does not recognize Armenia as an independent state, to please Armenia’s adversaries, Azerbaijan and Turkey. In 2019 Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Armenian counterpart Nikol Pashinyan on the sidelines of the UNGA meet after Turkish President Erdogan raised the Kashmir issue, raising the possibility of recognizing the Armenian genocide by India.

For decades, India’s foreign policy has been driven by the lowest common denominator principle, based on the idea of avoidance of risk. The political and foreign policy elites have always looked for the safer option, citing the realist idea of ‘national interest’. The outcome has been largely accidental and has been a “pragmatism by default.” Recognizing the Armenian genocide will, in a subtle way, project India’s arrival as a decisive power without displeasing any significant nation.

The writer is Associate Professor, Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal. This piece first appeared at https://www.firstpost.com.

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