Decline in Israel-Turkey relations has Armenia back on the agenda
Until recent weeks, Israel was one of the few countries that resisted pressure from Armenia to recognize as genocide the 1915 events in Ottoman Turkey.
Turkey acknowledges the hardship suffered by the Armenians, but refuses to recognize it as genocide. In 1915, the Ottoman state was fighting allied powers in the Dardanelles and Russia in the east. Gangs of Ottoman citizens of Armenian origin were destroying the communications lines of their own army by blowing up bridges and cutting telephone lines. They were attacking ammunition stores and stealing arms to deliver them to the Russian army. When the measures taken by the state proved to be ineffective, the Ottoman government decided to relocate the Armenians to provinces far from the battle front. During this relocation, the civilian Armenians endured untold suffering because of the lack of transport, winter conditions, epidemics and attacks by relatives of the Muslim population that were massacred by Armenian terrorists.
The measures taken by the Ottoman government are based on the same logic as the measures taken by the US during the Second World War after the Pearl Harbor attack. The US government relocated and incarcerated in internment camps American citizens of Japanese origin who lived on the west coast.
The Republic of Turkey denies the claim that the Ottoman state committed genocide. The UN’s “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” defines it as an act committed “with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic or religious group.” Turkey says that the Ottoman state never intended to destroy the Armenian community. If it wanted to do so, it would have started by destroying the Armenian community in its capital, Istanbul, before doing so in the eastern provinces.
In Israel, the Knesset rejected a bill asking for the recognition of genocide in February. Another motion was tabled and was due to be debated last week, but it was withdrawn from the agenda despite strong support from Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein. His spokesperson said the motion was withdrawn “to avoid an embarrassment to the Knesset, because it was unclear there would be a majority in favor.”
Turkey acknowledges the hardship suffered by the Armenians, but refuses to recognize it as genocide.
The issue was due to be raised again yesterday, but Israel’s government postponed any vote until after Turkey’s elections on June 24 over concerns that its advancement could benefit Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The late President of Israel, Shimon Peres, explained Israel’s position on this subject in 2001, saying: “We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy what the Armenians went through but not a genocide.” This logic may have prevailed again, but the Azerbaijan factor may have played an important role in the current mood. Israel regards Azerbaijan as a strategic ally, important for its security. The motion may have been shelved for the moment, but the risk of it being brought back to the agenda will always remain around the corner as long as there are powerful supporters for it in the Knesset.
Sometimes Turkey considers Israel as a small country of 8.5 million inhabitants and ignores the role that it can play in shaping public opinion in the US and beyond.
A new milestone has now been reached with the frequent attempts made in the Knesset to bring the question back on to the agenda. And this happens at a time when Turkey has withdrawn its ambassador in Tel Aviv in protest against the clashes on the Gaza border.
Turkey’s isolation in the international arena has alleviated the pressure on national parliaments not to recognize the 1915 events as genocide. Exactly for this reason, Armenia and the Armenian diaspora worldwide have intensified their efforts to add new parliaments to those which have already recognized it.
As a result of the pressure by the Armenian diaspora, there has always been a tendency in the US Congress to recognize the Armenian genocide, and the State Department and the Pentagon used to try to counter this pressure in order to avoid harming Turkish-American relations. New US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that he will review this attitude and will not involve the State Department in what Congress does. For Turkey, this means losing another fortress in the US. There are very few congressmen that Turkey can count on to put their weight behind its case. This may be a by-product of the American Jewish community’s diminishing support for Turkey.
When several countries disagree with Turkey on various issues, this disagreement is reflected in almost all aspects of their relations. This is what happened in Israel and in the US. Turkey cannot protect itself from a hurricane other than with an umbrella.
- Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar