Genocide claims push Turkish-Armenian ties into a stalemate

Published 24.04.2017 23:41
Updated 02.05.2017 15:34

Monday, yet another anniversary of the 1915 incident, referred to as "a conflict during World War I" by Turks and "the first genocide of 20th century" by Armenians, was left behind. The events were familiar; the Armenian people, in their own country, and diaspora were seen commemorating the events while calling on the Turkish government and world leaders to recognize the "genocide," whereas President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on the other side, sent a message to the Turkish-Armenian community emphasizing "the mutual sorrow" between the two communities. What is common in both countries is that their people focus on the wording used by the world leaders - particularly that of U.S. President Donald Trump - to describe the incidents.

A genocide, a massacre, or maybe a "meds yeghern;" an Armenian word meaning "great calamity," which was used by former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 to keep a neutral stance, despite the dissatisfaction of both Turks and Armenians.

Ultimately, on the 102nd anniversary of the incidents, there was no signal for new reconciliation, similar to what took place nine years ago between Ankara and Yerevan when relations became stuck on "genocide claims."

"Even if Turkey and Armenia reach a terminological agreement on how to describe their mutual past, it does not necessarily mean that there will be a reconciliation between the two governments," Tal Buenos told to Daily Sabah, a scholar who focuses on the use of the term genocide and PhD candidate at the University of Utah.

"For a sustainable Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, not only would the Armenian national identity have to become less dependent on the genocide claims but the distancing from the genocide accusations will have to become evident in its effect on Armenian political ambitions as well, specifically in relation to the Armenian conquest of Azerbaijan's land and the Armenian attitude toward Turkey's eastern territory," he said.

A significant development in the normalization of relations between the two countries began in September 2008, after then-Turkish President Abdullah Gül's visit to Armenia upon accepting an invitation from his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan to attend a football match between Armenia and Turkey's national teams.

A year later, in October 2009, two protocols were signed to rebuild diplomatic and bilateral relations.

The protocols proposed an impartial scientific examination of historical records and archives, as well as the mutual recognition of boundaries in order to restore confidence between the two nations, in a bid to find solutions to existing problems.

At the time, the Turkish government sent the protocols directly to Parliament for approval, while the Armenian government submitted the protocols to the constitutional court, which ruled that they did not abide by the nature and wording of the country's constitution, which says, "The Republic of Armenia stands in support of the task of achieving international recognition of the 1915 Genocide in Ottoman Turkey and Western Armenia."

The relations have not given any signal of improvement since then, but to the contrary, both countries turned to the era of exchanging criticism. Eventually, in January 2010, the Armenian government announced that it froze the approval process of the protocols.

Five years later, the protocols were completely withdrawn by the Armenian parliament.

Buenos emphasized that the genocide discourse on 1915 has prevented the Turkish and Armenian governments from sharing a narrative on what happened to the Ottoman Armenians.

"Currently, the genocide scholarship has a hold of world public opinion regarding the matter, and this has created an environment of historiographical contention and competition between Turkey and Armenia," he said.

He added that a change requires work toward opening up the discussion by considering aspects that go beyond World War I, such as "the offenses that foreign powers committed against the Ottoman government through their influence on the Armenians during a time of peace and the power that has provided the infrastructure for the systematic popularization of the notion that the Armenian suffering was genocide."

However, obstacles facing the current relations between Ankara and Yerevan are not entirely confined to the 1915 incidents.

The conflict regarding the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which began in 1988 and has continued since Armenia annexed the disputed territory in 1993, is another matter still waiting to be resolved.

Turkish public opinion is unlikely to tolerate an administration that takes steps towards Armenia without a proposed solution to the issue; especially during the volatile situation between Baku and Yerevan that may take a nosedive.

Buenos said that aside from the possibility of giving Turks and Armenians a chance to settle their differences, a greater understanding of the Ottoman-Armenian experience might prove helpful in resolving the ongoing, violent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and mapping the direction of a clear criminal code among nation-states.

"If Turkey would participate in an effort to construct internationally acceptable rhetoric on this critical juncture in the modern history of government-civilian relations, then it could become a force in the advancement of international law," he concluded.

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