Commentary: The Armenian Genocide: A Political Bargaining Chip


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenians had always assumed that the world had to empathize with our fate as a victim nation and support us in our battle for the recognition of the Genocide. Therefore, it took a long time to wake up to the harsh realities of international diplomacy.

No individual nor nation would support a victim unless they see a selfish interest in the plight of the victim. This axiom has been true all through history. And the Armenian elite has failed to see that Europe and Russia have pursued a course of self interest, even before the Genocide, whenever they decided to intervene in the Ottoman rule, to improve the lives of subject nations.

They were after capitulations or business concessions from the sultans. Neither our Christian faith nor our Europeanized culture have played any role in major powers’ interest in the plight of Armenians.

A case in point was the San Stefano conference of 1878. At that time Russia had captured almost all historic Armenian territories, and a very favorable treaty was signed. It was too good to be true for the Armenians. But a few months later, Russia had to yield at the Berlin conference in the face of British determination to push back Moscow from the control of warm-water seaports.

That diplomatic game continues to this day. Before the accession negotiations began with Turkey, the European Union insisted on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide as a precondition. However, in recent talks, no mention is made of the Genocide. Europe has softened its stand on Turkey’s admission to the EU, and the 27-member union has no unified political stand on the issue, allowing Turkey to use one member country against another, thus promoting its own agenda.

With tremendous economic and military assistance during the Cold War the West created a political monster, which today dictates their agenda, not only in the Middle East, but also in other sensitive areas of the world. Unfortunately, Russia as well — our traditional ally — has been caught in this diplomatic game.

Political realism dictates that we demonstrate the relevance of our interests to the major powers, to promote our case.

In recent months, the Genocide issue has generated some interest in a number of world capitals. Indeed, several weeks ago, the Turkish press reported that US President Barack Obama has threatened Prime Minister Recep Erdogan — during the latter’s visit to the White House — that the US may pass the Genocide resolution in the Congress, should Ankara continue dragging its feet in approving the Protocols signed in Switzerland last October 10. Although the Turkish press does not enjoy high credibility, but some talk must have gone on between the two leaders about Armenian-Turkish relations. Even if we consider the reports in the Turkish press entirely true, then Mr. Obama’s threat has not made any effect on the Turkish leader, who made a statement, following the White House meeting, once again denying the Armenian Genocide.

A similar scenario was also repeated in Moscow, where Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan was visiting recently, to convince Kremlin leaders to pressure Armenia for concessions. The two positions right after the meeting reflected a stark contradiction. While Prime Minster Putin emphasized that there should not be a linkage between the Karabagh issue and Armenian-Turkish relations, Erdogan challenged his views immediately and dismissed Putin’s position by stating: “No matter what people think, the issue of the Armenian-Turkish relations is mutually connected with the Nagorno Karabagh issue. We have repeatedly announced that the improvement of the Armenian-Turkish relations depends on the settlement of the Karabagh issue.”

Diplomatic circles believe that Mr. Erdogan has not been able to convince leaders in Washington and Moscow to pressure Armenia, but his arrogance is enough to make us believe that he can get away with murder and survive in the diplomatic world.

Now a new development has been emerging between Israel and Turkey where the Armenian Genocide may become a political football once again.

Ever since the shouting match in Davos between Erdogan and Shimon Peres, the two countries have been drifting apart. While Turkey has enhanced its stature in the Islamic world, through its war of words, in reality a strategic alliance with Israel remains intact. The debate, however, is moving in other areas where the Armenian Genocide enjoys renewed interest.

Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, shamelessly denied the Armenian Genocide, driven by political expediency, to please Turkey. He may live to regret holding that position, which unfortunately still remains his country’s official policy.

Armenians have never been tempted to respond in kind, by giving credence to any scholar or political leader who denies the Holocaust. Nor have they assumed that policy to be shared by all the Jews, because we know there are strong voices in Israel who not only dissent, but also fault the government’s policy.

Robert Fisk, the courageous Middle East correspondent of Britain’s Independent newspaper, has visited Israel recently, from where he writes: “But the times are changing. For ever since Turkey began shouting about Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza a year ago, prominent Israeli figures have suddenly rediscovered the Armenian Genocide. Who are the Turks to talk about mass murder? Has anyone forgotten 1915?”

Then Fisk reports, quoting prominent Armenian representative George Hintlian, that for three decades, no documentary on the Armenian Genocide could be shown on the Israeli TV so as not to offend the Turks.

“Then, adds Mr. Hintlian, suddenly last year important Israelis demanded that a documentary be shown. Thirty Knesset members supported us. We always had Yossi Sarid of Peace Now, but now we have got right wing Israelis.” The major Israeli papers have begun to define the Armenian Genocide as the “Armenian Shoah.”

No one can guess how far this tug of war will continue. The truth is that Turkey cannot alienate Tel Aviv forever because that may cause a domino effect and influence also the US position.

For the Armenians it is an ironic dilemma, because Israel is a crucial country in promoting or blocking the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. But the political game is being played to wash the Palestinian blood with Armenian blood.

Then comes the ultimate question, which appears at the end of Fisk’s article: “And glory be, if the tables haven’t changed again! Turkey and Israel have made up and become good friends again. Yossi Sarid anticipates this — Let us assume that Turkey will renew its ties with Israel. Then what? What then? Will we also renew our contribution to the denial of the Armenian Holocaust?”

A very valid question. However, any observer of the zigzag politics of the Middle East cannot help but to have a cynical view of the situation and believe that yes, anything can happen.

But haven’t we learned to play the underdog?