Turkey’s Prime Minister is Top Publicist for Armenian Genocide

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Turkey’s Prime Minister is Top Publicist for Armenian Genocide

By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

Two years ago, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the Prime Minister of Turkey, he brought a fresh perspective to the country’s many long-standing domestic and foreign problems, including the Armenian Genocide. Rather than parroting the worn-out denials uttered by his predecessors, he approached the demands for the recognition of the genocide issue with caution. He did not dismiss them off-hand and did not claim that the genocide was “a baseless allegation.”

Since then, there has been a gradual, unwelcome shift in the attitude of the Turkish Prime Minister on this issue. Ironically, as the international pressure on Turkey kept mounting for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and as more and more Turkish scholars and journalists started calling on their government to face the truth about the extermination of the Armenians, Mr. Erdogan began to abandon his guarded approach, adopting the denialist position of his predecessors. He has gone from expressing uncertainty as what really happened in 1915 to stating that he is confident that no genocide was committed against the Armenians. Incredibly, Mr. Erdogan is calling for a commission of historians ostensibly to find out what actually took place in 1915, while being so sure that absolutely nothing had happened to the Armenians.

How could one explain such a serious shift in Mr. Erdogan’s position on the Armenian Genocide? One plausible explanation is that he is caught between conflicting pressures by the European Union demanding a total overhaul of the country’s laws and domestic hard-liners who accuse him of making “too many concessions” to meet the EU requirements. Mr. Erdogan may have wrongly calculated that he could shore up his domestic support by taking a tough stand on a number of issues, including the Armenian Genocide, without alienating the Europeans.

Regardless of Mr. Erdogan’s intentions or actual reasons for his erratic behavior, one thing is certain: In recent months, he has done more (albeit inadvertently) to attract the attention of the world to the issue of the Armenian Genocide than all Armenians in the homeland and the Diaspora put together. Here is a short list of some of the Prime Minister’s recent efforts in this regard:

-- He sent a much-publicized letter to Pres. Kocharian last month, suggesting the formation of a joint Turkish-Armenian commission of historians to investigate the facts of the Armenian Genocide. Mr. Erdogan was trying to give the EU the impression that Turkey was making serious efforts to resolve this issue. To create such a false impression, Mr. Erdogan eagerly disseminated copies of his letter to many foreign capitals, including Washington, thereby publicizing worldwide the Armenian Genocide issue.

-- Mr. Erdogan’s next self-defeating act was the critical comments he made to the Russian and Polish presidents during a reception in Moscow last month after their countries’ parliaments had recognized the Armenian Genocide. Mr. Erdogan’s harsh words probably left a bad impression on both presidents and reinforced in their minds the significance of the Armenian Genocide issue.

-- In retaliation for Pres. Kocharian’s speech, thanking the countries that had recognized the Armenian Genocide, Mr. Erdogan reacted by making harsh remarks on the issue of the Armenian Genocide, during the Council of Europe Summit held in Warsaw earlier this month. He thus impressed upon the leaders of 46 European countries, once again, the importance of this issue.

-- Mr. Erdogan then announced that he would launch a major counter-attack against “the 15 countries” (should be 19) that have recognized the Armenian Genocide. He announced that the Turkish Parliament would expose the genocides committed by these countries. He also threatened to sue these countries in some undetermined court. This would be a momentous development for the Armenian Cause. For the first time, the Turkish government would be confronting the entire world, thus truly internationalizing the demands for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Should the Turkish Parliament condemn these 19 countries, they could in turn pass more anti-Turkish resolutions, after which Turkey could forget about ever joining the European Union.

To make matters worse for Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan proudly told the leadership of his political party last week that his top aides had advised him not to respond to Pres. Kocharian’s remarks on the Armenian Genocide during the Warsaw Summit. Mr. Erdogan boastfully said that he ignored the advice of his foreign policy experts and did the exact opposite!

Armenians hope that Mr. Erdogan would continue not to follow the advice of his top aides and remain in power for a very long time. Should Mr. Erdogan carry out his threatened lawsuits against these 19 countries, he would be doing more to globalize the issue of the Armenian Genocide than anything Armenians have managed to do by themselves in the last 90 years!

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