A Hundred Years On, Armenian Genocide Reverberates
A Hundred Years On, Armenian Genocide Reverberates
Upholding the Ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia
Upholding the Ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia 1 minutes

A Hundred Years On, Armenian Genocide Reverberates

Turkey’s foreign relations, particularly with European capitals and Washington, have been plagued for decades by the debate of whether to use the term genocide in reference to the massacres and forced relocation of the Armenian community of Anatolia from 1915 to 1918.

The debate has led to an annual drama around the Armenians’ memorial day, April 24, with Ankara confronting Armenian campaigns over symbolic statements. This year, on the centenary of 1915, Pope Francis joined the fray, reflecting that the mass killings are now “widely considered the first genocide of the twentieth century.” 

The top echelons of the Turkish government and foreign ministry declared the papal statement a distortion of history, discrimination against Turks and Muslims, and inconsistent with legal and historical facts. Some also deemed it part of an international campaign against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Ankara continues to consider the use of the word genocide a hostile act. That reflex runs counter to the tone of empathy, freer debate, and an expressed eagerness for an unbiased examination of history that has crept into the government’s statements in recent years.

A year ago, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the prime minister and now president, offered condolences to the grandchildren of those Armenians “who lost their lives in the context of the early twentieth century.” He acknowledged that the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire suffered “inhumane consequences” during World War I. This year, on April 20, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reiterated those condolences.

While welcomed by many, critics perceive this approach as an effort to equate the pain of Armenians with that of Muslims before and during the war, and an abnegation of the Ottoman government’s responsibility for the atrocities its authorities committed against Armenians.

The nationalist vote is up for grabs in this June’s general election, leaving the incumbent AKP especially wary of being seen as bowing to foreign parliamentary resolutions.

In the past decade, the Turkish public debate over history has opened up. Among intellectuals, the use of the term genocide is no longer rare. As taboos have been broken, many individuals’ stories have surfaced, humanizing the debate. Meanwhile, engagement with liberals in the Armenian diaspora—including scholars, artists, and the descendants of Ottoman Armenians visiting as tourists—is changing hearts and minds among more and more Turks.

It is factors like these, rather than foreign parliamentary resolutions, that will help put an end to decades of denial about the destruction of the ancient Armenian communities of Anatolia.

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