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Turkey breaks into a sweat as Armenian Genocide centennial approaches

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In 2015 the world will commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide—the starvation, death marches, rape, torture and slaughter the Turkish government inflicted on its Armenian population during World War I.

Of course, the government of Turkey and most (but, to their credit and honor, not all) Turks furiously reject this story, and have an alternative narrative. They say, it was war, there were casualties on both side, it’s complicated, teams of historians need to the study the matter further . . . . Whether Kemalist or Islamist, Turkey’s government will not admit the truth. Turkey’s inability to courageously face its past is an ongoing source of tension with Armenia and others.

Turkey has fiercely opposed any attempt, anywhere, to recognize the Armenian Genocide. It’s had considerable success till now, as a strategic member of NATO, in stifling recognition. Its threats of diplomatic reprisals and strategic repercussions have so far scuttled U.S. Congressional resolutions, for example.

But the hundred-year anniversary of the genocide is around the corner. We can expect two things: (1) greater attention being paid, with more governments officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide, and (2) an increasingly frustrated and enraged Turkey trying to hold back the tide.

Here are some recent examples. Expect more to come.

In June, Pope Francis said, “The first genocide of the twentieth century was that of the Armenians.” He added that he wants to mark the hundredth anniversary in 2015 in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the Vatican ambassador for a dressing-down: “The importance of the Vatican avoiding taking steps that could irreparably affect our bilateral relations was emphasized.”

In Australia, New South Wales Legislative Council member Rev. Fred Nile pushed back when Turkey threatened to ban Australian politicians who support recognizing the Armenian Genocide from World War I ceremonies: “"As we head into the centenary years of the landing at Anzac Cove, it is not an act of friendship to declare that Australian parliamentarians who support motions recognizing aspects of Australian history are not welcome at the commemorations at Gallipoli in 2015.”

Because Turkey was a strategic ally in a hostile neighborhood, Israel used to downplay the issue of the Armenian Genocide, although many believed that the heirs to the Holocaust owed the Armenians solidarity. But the decade-old Islamist government in Ankara treats Israel as an enemy, and Israeli realpolitik is consequently fading in favor of the natural sympathy between victims of genocides. As a result, a Knesset committee debated recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

In April Turkey’s ambassador to Canada warned that the government’s embrace of the “genocide” label could damage relations: “It cannot be business as usual while accusing a nation of genocide.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was a strong supporter of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, and correspondingly irritated when it was pushed aside by the Egyptian military. Thus, Turkey was in an uproar when a Twitter account supposedly belonging to Egyptian interim president Adly Mansour tweeted: “Our representatives at the UN will sign the international document that acknowledges the Armenian Genocide, which was committed by the Turkish military, leading to the deaths of one million.” It turns out to have been a hoax, but since it’s such a plausible one, keep your eye on Egypt.

It’s not often noticed that Turkic peoples outside of Turkey often take the same line. When an Armenian Genocide bill was introduced in the Ukrainian parliament Mustafa Dzhamilev, chairman of the Crimean Tatar People’s Majlis, grumbled threateningly: “The number of Turkic nations in Ukraine is much greater than that of Armenians. The authors of the bill should be aware of the consequences its adoption could lead to.” Azeris living in Ukraine also protested: “The draft resolution will pose a serious threat to the peace and security in Ukraine.” The committee, apparently responding to the pressure, decided that the bill was “contrary to the reality.”

In Dusseldorf, Turks protested the fact that German textbooks recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Many countries are losing their fear of Turkey. However, the Obama administration is not on board. Obama is willing to talk about “massacres” and “atrocities,” but the “g-word” is off-limits. In 2017 there will be a new American president, so we’ll see what happens.

There is little doubt that Turkey will be increasingly isolated on this issue, and will lash out with increasing thuggish vigor.

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