Editorial: Turkey, Genocide, and Emporer's Cloths
By Vahagn Avedian

February 24, 2009
Uppsala, Sweden

Turkey, Genocide, and Emperor's Cloths

Talking about the Armenian Genocide, its recognition and Turkey's denial, I'm only reminded of Emperor's cloths. The evidence is there, the scholarly community has recognized it, most of the countries around the world talk about the "mass killings of over one million Armenians", but yet it seems that Turkey still insists on the policy of "observe, but please don't talk about it" and the bystanders are too embarrassed to speak up and point the obvious error.

With April 24 approaching, official Turkey has got its annual hiccup, even though it is somewhat more acute this time. Ever since it became clear that Obama, who openly recognized the Armenia genocide while a US Senator, would win the presidential race, official Turkey has repeatedly cautioned Washington about the consequences of a recognition of the genocide. Whether President Barack Obama will actually fulfill his pre-presidency recognition of the Armenian Genocide is still an open issue and many would not be surprised if he would conveniently divert from his election promise. April 24 will show if Obama's "change" will also extend to altering of the policy of his predecessors, all vowing to recognize the genocide while running for office, but yet, one after the other failing to do so once in office.

But, what is more astonishing, is the self-righteousness of the world community in general, pointing finger and call on the perpetrator to confess, while they are the very nourishing force behind perpetrator's denial. Turkey has fully exploited this, and continues to do so, pushing towards 94 years of successful denial of the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish denial has developed and evolved throughout the past 94 years, changing and adapting to the prevailing argumentation and the situation of the world community. Lucrative rebuilding contracts and access to mine and oil fields after WWI, NATO outpost right on the border to the archenemy Soviet Union during the Cold War, air bases during the "war on terror", and "the bridge to the Muslim world" for EU are just some of the winning cards Turkey has played skillfully to make the annoying issue of the Armenian Genocide to go away. But, with the initiation of the EU membership negotiations, Turkey seemed to distance itself more and more from USA, approaching the big happy European family. However, when the negotiations turned out to be not as smooth as Turkey had hoped for, the attention has started to shift over to the old Turkish policy of leading its own sphere of power, preferably an IU (Islamic Union) instead of EU.

The latest change of strategy is, however, two-folded. The first is the "neo-Ottoman" policy of the current Turkish administration, well demonstrated at Davos, when Prime Minister Erdogan acted as the champion of the Islamic world, chastising its only and foremost ally in the region, Israel, for the treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza. It is quite safe to say that Israel did not see that one coming, and Israeli officials did not dwell too much before playing the ace in their hand, telling Ankara to take a good look in the mirror before they go and accuse someone for committing genocide.

The second strategy change was born with the coining of the now famous "football diplomacy". What seemed as a welcomed step towards reconciliation process when the Armenian President Sargsyan invited his Turkish counterpart Gül to watch a football game between the two neighbors in Yerevan, was soon transformed into yet another tool in the Turkish denial arsenal. "Do not jeopardize the delicate reconciliation process between Armenia and Turkey by recognizing the genocide! Instead, let the two nations solve the issue among themselves." This latest Turkish argumentation á la Emperor's cloths simply suggests to look the other way. You know about the genocide, you know about the evidence and the recognition by the scholarly community, but we prefer that you don't talk about it. And how can Turkey achieve this, if the foreign countries do not partake in this little game of denial? Well, they cannot. Take Sweden for instance. In June 2008, the Swedish Parliament refused to recognize the Armenian Genocide, based upon the recommendation of the Foreign Department. The good old arguments of "disagreement among experts", "a matter for historians, not parliaments" and the "non-retroactive nature of the UN Convention" were stated as reasons. That IAGS (International Association of Genocide Scholars) has recognized it as genocide, that the Holocaust is recognized as genocide even though it too took place prior to the creation of the UN Convention, a petition signed by over 60 renown genocide scholars calling on the Swedish Parliament to no abuse the name of science in their denail, were issues that the MPs were not able to contradict during the debate. One of the arguments reads as follows: "The Committee shares the view which the Foreign Minister of Sweden and the Expansion Commissioner of EU has expressed – that, in the current situation, it is hazardous to disturb a beginning and delicate national process." Thus, I asked what kind of democracy is it that EU and Sweden wish to promote and nourish in Turkey? How could suppression of the truth be beneficial for the development of the democracy in Turkey? Why does EU and Sweden want to let Turkey go naked while everyone points at it and laughs but no one wants to point out the obvious error? This is nothing but simply making Turkey a huge disservice.

Since it became clear that Obama would win the election, Turkish officials have flown in shuttle traffic back and forth to Washington and released statements about the harms which a possible US recognition of the Armenian Genocide could cause. Notwithstanding, there is nothing new in this. The syntax has changed, but the semantics of the denial remains the same: Turkey does not wish to open Pandora's Box, looking into its troublesome past, leading to many unpleasant revelations. By the way, what could such a reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey result in? Bearing in mind that the academic world has established the reality of the Armenian Genocide, among others via the resolutions of the IAGS, an Armenian backing down from the demand for recognition and rewriting history in Turkish favor should be out of the question. This brings to the second possible alternative, i.e. Turkey eventually recognizing the reality of the genocide. In that case, why would an American or Swedish recognition of an established fact make a difference for the same process in Turkey? Should we be afraid that the truth will hurt the feelings in Turkey? Does not the truth suppose to set you free? Furthermore, the longer this charade of denial continues, and the longer the Turkish state is allowed and supported by such countries as USA and Sweden to write its own version of the history, the harder it will get for the Turkish society to face the reality.

Salih Booker, the former Executive Director of Africa Action, said the following in the documentary Screamers: "Why does genocide continue to happen in the 21st century? Because those who committed them in the 20th century got away with it. Hitler said 'Who remembers the Armenians?' More or less, as if the Sudanese Government stands up and says: 'Who remembers the Armenians?'" His words received top level acknowledgement when Turkey was indirectly recognized as the champion of such denial. The recognition came when the Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, during his visit to Turkey in early February 2009, asked Prime Minister Erdogan to block any possible attempts against Sudanese President al-Bashir that might come to the agenda of the United Nations Security Council, concerning the latter being accused for committing genocide in Darfur. Sudan would ask all members of the Security Council for this favor, but Turkey was special. Turkey's denial has made the Armenian Genocide a de facto "successful genocide", a term which, among others, the Swedish historian Klas-Göran Karlsson uses for describing the first genocide of the 20th century, the "prototype" of the 20th century genocides. Turkey has not only accomplished a fully successful cleansing, getting rid of the Armenians, but it has also succeeded with the even more difficult task: evading every responsibility and accountability for the genocide. By remaking the empire into a republic, Mustafa Kemal made sure that Turkey kept all Armenian lands, properties, and assets without risking to be accused of having committed a genocide, since present-day Turkey can, from international legal perspective, not be held accountable for something that another regime/government committed. Thus, it could be justifiable to say that Turkey could author a manual entitled "How to Commit a Genocide and Get Away With It", whereby the first copy could be sent to Khartoum.

As for the issue of the approaching April 24, President Obama should be told that we followed the election race in USA and heard all the promises and the buzz words during the campaign. We all heard and know of "Change we believe in" and "Yes, we can!" The genocide recognition might not be as important as the impending financial crisis, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and many other issues that the Obama administration has to tackle, but it gathers momentum as we approach the 94th commemoration day of the 1915 genocide. Will Obama stand for the change he advertised during the election? Will he speak out about the naked Emperor? The answer will be disclosed in April 24 and we like to believe that he stands for the change, but I would think that an American recognition would surprise the Armenians equally as it would embarrass the naked Turkey.