On April 10, the Italian Parliament approved a motion recognizing the so-called Armenian genocide to give it international resonance. Namely, the author of this move was Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini's Northern League along with the proposal submitted by its representative Paolo Formentini, who got the approval from all other parties with the exception of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia. Indeed, the signatories are members of the anti-system Five Star Movement, the far-right Brothers of Italy and surprisingly it appears that of some Democratic Party's (PD) members are marking a sort of turnaround against Turkey. However, this recent action opens, for the first time, a sort of crack in what has been considered both by Turkey and Italy as a "more than special friendship."
In the past, the Italian Parliament had never urged the commemoration of the Armenian massacre. A misunderstanding arose in 2000 when a motion including – just in the premise and not in the body of the text – a resolution of the European Parliament on the recognition.
In 2004, the former ambassador of Italy to Ankara, Carlo Marsili, solved the misunderstanding by deleting Italy from the list of countries recognizing the massacre as genocide. Later on, in a letter dated April 30, 2010, former Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, pointed out that the Italian government does not recognize the "Armenian genocide" and that the resolutions of the parliaments should not act on behalf of the rule of governments either on issues strictly concerning dated historians.
In this regard, the most prominent Italian historian, Sergio Romano, in an article published in the mainstream newspaper Corriere della Sera on April 30, 2011 pens that: "Democratic states and parliaments do not have the task of writing history... We must instead have the right to support – like did the historian Bernard Lewis in front of a French court – that the expression 'genocide' is not appropriate and that those crimes suffered by the Turkish-Armenians in 1915 were instead massacres."
Nowadays, even though the Italian government follows a line of historical analysis of facts with no bias, the political narrative has changed. The Italian political landscape is, indeed, fractured along different lines. With its populist and nationalistic rhetoric, the League is becoming dominant domestically with aspirations of leading a new rightist alliance at a European level.
Just a day before the approval of the parliamentarian motion, Matteo Salvini gathered the leaders of some other European parties in Milan under the slogan "Towards the Europe of common sense. People look up."
On the brink of European elections, his main aim is to change the balance of power within the European Union. Supported by some right-wing colleagues from other countries such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the Finns Party and Anders Vistisen's Danish People's Party, Italy's Northern League acts like the architect of a "new European dream."
"The goal is to become the first European group, the most numerous. We aim to win and change Europe," stated Salvini, adding "as far as I am concerned, Turkey will never enter the EU. Never."
Furthermore, a tweet reads, "Turkey is not and it never will be EUROPE. The accession process has to be canceled, it must be definitively stopped." It seems that by standing mainly on identity-based principles, the "Europe of common sense" project has legitimized and further domestically reinforced the current political rhetoric. Hence, behind the draft submission to the Italian Parliament, there are not just ideological assumptions, but political calculation.
Nevertheless, although Italy's League's initiative could be coherent with its political manifesto, what surprises most is the new alignment of the opposition center-left Democrat Party (PD). In the past, the PD has always supported a neutral and friendly approach toward Turkey, but this time it urged the backing a motion proposed by its main political rival, whose policies are constantly under scrutiny.
In other words, affected by a sort of loser syndrome, the PD has demonstrated its unresolved limits in developing an effective political language. Legitimized as well by the current narrative of the European Parliament, which previously invited all member states to recognize the so-called genocide in an April 15, 2015 resolution, the Democrat Party has instead openly opted for a bandwagon strategy to keep some influence and some margins of leverage both in the domestic and European arena.
In short, mutual political interest has been the engine of the motion, which likely will not be approved by the Italian government. Indeed, due to the strong bilateral ties, there is room to believe that realpolitik will prevail. As it was already underlined, the friendship between Turkey and Italy is not being debated. It is a relationship that, among the other things, is based on long-standing understanding and respect.
* Assistant professor at the University of the Turkish Aeronautical Association, Ankara