Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How to push Turkey to recognize Armenian genocide?

In years, April 24 of 2012 has been one of the calmest anniversary day of World War I-era killings of Armenians in 1915, which Armenians call genocide.

In sharp contrast to previous years, where Turkey invested much diplomatic effort in Western countries to push politicians to avoid uttering the word "genocide" while marking the 1915 tragedy, April 24 this year is silent. In previous years, Armenians worldwide were pushing the issue forward while Turkey was defiant, wasting too much of its energy and time for this. But no doubt Armenians are working tooth and nail to make a massive push in 2015, in the 100th anniversary of the tragedy, that will become a huge headache for Turkey and its allies. 

Armenian genocide is not a certified, proved and commonly accepted axiom like Holocaust or Rwandan genocide. It is also different from deliberate and open genocides such as Chinese mass killings by Japan in 1930s, Nazi Holocaust in Poland or French atrocities in Algeria. In all of these cases, a foreign invading army deliberately and systematically killed their enemies, regardless of their gender or age. 1915 tragedy is different and more light needs to be shed on this particular event to fully understand this piece of history. The primary reason why 1915 tragedy is not openly debated or discussed in public is both Armenia’s and Turkey’s refusal to do so. Turkey instead urges historians, researchers to investigate the matter and pledges to open its archives for such an initiative. It earlier said it is ready to accept whatever historians, also from Armenia, come up with as a result of the research.

Armenia says researching this matter will dilute the issue of genocide and will hurt feelings of relatives of victims. This is astonishing. What about feelings of Khojaly survivors, who have seen men, women and children killed in front of their eyes just only 20 years ago by Armenian forces in Western Azerbaijan? Why do Armenians today deny that such a tragedy even took place? Do Azerbaijanis feelings count when Armenians question one of the worst massacres in the post-Cold War period?

The matter is largely have to do with national pride of both states, much less what really happened in 1915 in eastern Turkey. It is simply unacceptable for Turkey to spin stories it has taught its students about the heroic struggle of its nationals during the War of Independence. Domestic politics also played a key role in blocking the discussion of such a sensitive issue and most nationalist political groups in Turkey are exploiting Azerbaijan’s war with Armenia to block such debates. But what to do?

The road map is simple: Turkey will be more open and compromising if Armenia decides to withdraw its troops from occupied Azerbaijani territories. It will create an unprecedented opportunity for Turkey and Armenia to bury a century-long hostilities and eventually openly debate what happened in 1915. In this case, Turkey won’t face nationalist backlash at home and pressure from Azerbaijan to compromise on this issue.

Turks and Azerbaijanis point to atrocities committed by Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh in early 1990s while they are trying to counter Armenian genocide claims. Occupation in Karabakh remains the biggest obstacle to solve this thorny genocide issue peacefully and rapidly. It should also be remembered that Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process in 2009, which also included the establishing of a commission made up of historians tasked with investigating the tragedy, collapsed due to the brewing nature of Armenian occupation of some 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory.

Unless Armenia ends its occupation of Western Azerbaijan, there is little hope, if any, Armenians and Turks will frankly discuss what happened a century ago and face their truly painful history where everyone suffered to a certain degree.

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