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Talking Turkey

Optimize Blog - March 20, 2010 - 0 comments

So Turkey is feeling rather hurt by criticism of the alleged failings of its government back in 1915  – when hundreds of thousands, perhaps more than a million, Armenians died when they were deported by the Ottoman Empire. Recently both the US and Sweden have voted that this was in fact genocide, joining the other 20 or so countries that have already declared it as such.  Successive Turkish governments including the current one have refused to acknowledge the issue as genocide and today around 170,000 Armenians still live in Turkey with more than 70,000 as Turkish citizens.
Turkey argues that there was no premeditation to erase and destroy in whole or part the Armenian people and therefore under this definition it cannot be classed as genocide.  Turkey admits that atrocities were committed and it was a time of war and massive European instability but, ultimately, few were actually held to account at the time. Many Armenians died from disease and starvation.
So what are the political ramifications and what has an event which took place in 1915, during World War 1, got to do with the world today?
We know that Turkey is hoping to join the EU but the EU has previously stated that this piece of Turkey’s history will not prevent it from joining.   The White House actually opposed the US Congress resolution which was narrowly approved earlier this month.  Similarly and also this month, the Swedish government opposed the resolution put forward by the opposition party but nevertheless ambassadors have been withdrawn and harsh words have been said.  Today we hear that the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Erdogan, is considering deporting the 100,000 Armenians living in Turkey illegally back to their own country.   Until now Turkey has turned a blind eye to those Armenians without Turkish citizenship who generally fulfill the low paid roles in the Turkish economy.
Turkey plays a key role within NATO as a bridge into the Islamic world and one which remains crucial as we witness the current issues around Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.   The effective lobbying by Armenians living in those countries who are promoting genocide resolutions, is creating tension that could conceivably create problems such as facilitating the eventual strategic withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan.
It may be difficult to envision Turkey creating problems for the US and others but, nevertheless, it is fascinating to witness the impact that the use of a single word – genocide – can have on current political circumstances,  especially when it relates to a period almost 100 years ago.
Armenia has no such diplomatic requirements of Turkey and therefore any thawing in relations is hardly likely to be helped by the recognition of the horrific treatment of its people as genocide and we wonder what good such recognition brings in practical terms.
Should we be surprised at Turkey’s stance?  After all the Ottoman Empire was overthrown and the post revolution generation may well feel that they can hardly be held responsible for what happened.   What we are witnessing is an elementary fact of human psychology: the phenomenon of individual and collective defensiveness.
When people feel completely secure and among friends, they find it easier to be frank and open about misdeeds which they, or people close to them, have committed.
However,  it is not uncommon for defensive behaviours to proliferate or for tensions to rise when someone feels wrongly accused or nervous of the consequences of the accusations…  Compromise is tough when emotions for both Armenia and Turkey run so deep.

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