Turkish-Armenian issue held hostage by third parties
There are now just a few days until April 24, the date on which Armenians all around the world remember the victims of the tragic events of 1915 — the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Needless to say, these events are a controversial matter in Turkey and Armenia, as Armenians describe them as “genocide,” while Turkey denies this and says that both Turks and Armenians were killed.
As they do every year, the events of 1915 have dominated the political agendas of some European countries. Rather than taking steps to aid the normalization of ties between two estranged neighbors, they prefer to further complicate the matter. Last week, both the Italian and French governments made decisions recognizing the so-called Armenian genocide. French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed that April 24 would be a day of commemoration after the decision was first announced in February. A day earlier, Italy’s Chamber of Deputies passed a motion recognizing the “genocide.” Turkey strongly criticized the stances of both Paris and Rome, saying that France needed to look at its own dark history in Africa and that Italy’s move “fuels political populism.” Also last week, members of the US House of Representatives presented a new resolution on the recognition of the “Armenian genocide.” It was supported by more than 70 congressmen.
It is not new for Western countries to feed the theme of “genocide” every year prior to April 24, threatening Turkey with its recognition and playing with the issue to fit their own domestic agendas. The matter itself is a complicated one that the two nations do not agree on. However, the interference of third parties, with their own hidden agendas, not only manipulates the historical facts for domestic political gain, but also undermines the tiny chance for normalization between the two neighbors.
“Armenian claims being continuously put forward before elections or in the context of anti-Turkish sentiments clearly reveals the political nature of these claims and their incompatibility with historical facts,” read a statement from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Turkey accepts that many Armenians were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during the First World War, but it says the figures are inaccurate and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated. Ankara has previously called on parties to open the archives of 1915 and proposed the creation of a joint commission of historians from Turkey and Armenia, plus international experts, to tackle the issue, which Yerevan opposes.
Turkey accepts that many Armenians were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during the First World War, but it says the figures are inaccurate and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated.
Bringing up the matter publicly both harms the European countries’ relations with Ankara and hinders the prospects of open discussions between Ankara and Yerevan. Thus, such an atmosphere makes it difficult for the two nations to come to an agreement.
One also should not neglect the role of the Armenian lobby in pressuring Western countries to take an anti-Turkey stance regarding the events of 1915. There is significant pressure exerted by the Armenian lobby, which has engaged in intense competition with a quietly growing Turkish lobby. Although the Turkish diaspora is far greater in number than Armenia’s, the Turks preferred not to turn the matter, which is something that should be left to historians, into a political issue.
It is likely that, without the Armenian lobby’s behavior, Turkey and Armenia could work out their problems more easily. Secondly, as someone who has visited the country twice, it is safe to say that the Armenian diaspora is far from the realities of Armenia, which is facing serious economic and social problems due to both its internal issues and the fact it is surrounded by neighbors who have mostly closed their borders. The million-dollar question is whether the Armenians who live in poverty in their home country are of the same opinion as the diaspora, which should be promoting its nation’s interests abroad.
Allow me to conclude with the words of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was assassinated by an ultranationalist teenager outside his office in Istanbul in 2007: “There is no meaning in a state or government recognizing the issue under pressure from the outside. Because those who need to see the truth are not states but peoples... States have no conscience, but societies and peoples do.”
- Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz