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Genocidal crisis in the making

Saturday 10 February 2007, by Yusuf Kanli

Source : TDN

What was feared ever since the dual Democratic victory in U.S. Congress has become reality. Pro-Armenian lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday introduced a resolution calling for the recognition of World War I-era killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

The resolution, sponsored by Democrats Adam Schiff of California and Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Republicans George Radanovich of California and Joe Knollenberg of Michigan, has garnered written backing from more than 140 members in the 435-seat House of Representatives. The move to Democratic control of Congress and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s backing for genocide recognition has increased the chances of the resolution’s successful passage.
The George W. Bush administration, as well as the Jewish lobby, will perhaps do whatever they can to block it, but the Democrats may insist on this issue to teach Bush a lesson on the changed real politik in Washington – very much like the 1975 arms embargo resolution, adopted despite the opposition of the then U.S. administration.

Once and once only

The Armenian resolution is like a gun that can be fired only once. This issue has been exploited so much over the past decades, and Turkey forced to make such compromises over the years to avoid it, that perhaps its adoption will indeed be a service to Turkey in the long run, though in the immediate future we would be bound to have a serious crisis in Turkish-U.S. ties.
Even the most liberal of Turks cannot accept the description of the sad events of the first quarter of the last century, which produced immense sufferings to large segments of the Ottoman society of the time, as “genocide.” As members of a society proud of our past treatment of our minorities; after generations of history education that concentrated on nothing but the glorious victories of our nation; as descendants of Mehmet the Conqueror who issued that famous imperial edict ordering full respect to non-Muslim people of occupied territories; and as a result of thousands of other factors that are all related to the pride and honor of the Turkish nation, Turks cannot accept that their ancestors might have committed a heinous act on part of a population under their administration. The closest they may get it the acknowledgement of the sufferings of the Armenians and a show of empathy after the murder of a Turkish-Armenian journalist; attending the funeral chanting “We are all Armenians.”
There is a mental barrier. We may produce a long list of reasons trying to explain that what happened was not a systematic or state-sponsored effort to annihilate the Armenian element of the population of this land. The war with Russia. The collaboration of local Armenian gangs with the aggressor. The need to relocate the local population that aided and abetted the enemy. The ethnic confrontations between local Armenian, Kurdish and Turkish gangs. More Turks than any other minority, including Armenians, died in the violence produced by ethnic gangs due to the disruption in state authority as the empire crumbled. We can continue this list and cite hundreds of reasons more…

Prospects for a joint history commission

However, at some point we have to accept that immense suffering was weathered by the population in the eastern provinces, particularly by the minorities, during those painful years of the dissolution of the empire. Acceptance of this fact, irrespective of whether what happened is described as a genocidal development or not, is the sole way of starting reconciliation efforts. Furthermore, this is also a must for us to begin a process of making peace with our own history.
Because of our “over sensitivity” for decades the Turkish state did nothing comprehensive on the issue and left international public opinion to be shaped by Armenian allegations. Only lately has this country started taking some meaningful initiatives, such as opening the Ottoman archives and Turkish academics researching that period. The real and meaningful political opening, however, came only very recently when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with the support of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), made a call to Armenia to launch a joint history commission, open to international historians, that would work under the aegis of the United Nations. That constructive move, however, has not yet been answered positively by Armenia, still unprepared to open a discussion on the “genocide” issue on grounds that such a discussion would cast doubts in the international community on the “reality” of the Armenian allegations.
Lately we have heard information – which could not be independently verified – that the Armenian administration has started tilting towards accepting the Turkish offer, provided a second commission is established to examine all “outstanding” issues between Turkey and Armenia and Turkey opens its border gates, allowing landlocked Armenia to have access to international trade. However, the move at the U.S. Congress will unfortunately have a backlash here in Turkey and may kill all such prospects of improved relations between Ankara and Yerevan.
This is a crisis in the making.

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