Commentary: Erdogan’s Apology Syndrome


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is angry again. He is rather furious this time around at Armenia’s president, Serge Sargisian. Many people believe that Erdogan is a master politician. But when his actions are analyzed, we find that, in fact, he is simply a juggler who can dramatize political situations to attain his goals.

Mr. Erdogan is angry because of a statement made by Armenia’s president during the youth Olympics in Armenia, answering a young man’s question regarding when can we liberate Western Armenia, including Ararat.

President Sargisian’s answer was extremely diplomatic, perhaps that further infuriated Mr. Erdogan that he could not catch Armenia’s president red-handed. In answering the youth, he said (translated verbatim): “That depends on you and your generation. Our generation defended Karabagh against its enemies.”

That statement has been distorted by Erdogan himself, the Turkish leadership and the sensationalist Turkish press, and it has been reduced into a more interesting sound bite that “we liberated Karabagh and your generation has to liberate Western Armenia and Ararat.” President Sargisian’s words may indeed have meant that, but diplomacy required a more tactful approach, which Armenia’s president exercised.

The way the Turkish side dramatized and orchestrated the issue, driving it to the brink of a crisis, is indicative that Mr. Erdogan’s manufactured “anger” was long in waiting, to trigger a diplomatic showdown to embarrass Armenia. But the Turkish prime minister’s bluff doesn’t always work and it didn’t this time around.

Prime Minister Erdogan was on his way to Baku, to mend fences with the Azeris, since it was rumored that his relations were getting tense with President Ilham Aliyev. Therefore, it was a most appropriate prelude to that trip to assuage the Azeri leader, make a macho announcement to an Azeri paper, and further repeat and elaborate on his statement in Baku, during a joint press conference with Azerbaijan’s president. He also added to his comment that “Karabagh is occupied by Armenia and we will pursue that issue to the very end.”

But the brunt of his “anger” was directed personally at Armenia’s president. Indeed, in a condescending demeanor Erdogan pontificated: “It is not becoming of a statesman to mobilize the coming generations with sentiments of animosity and hatred… Does this mean that tomorrow Turkish and Armenian youths will wage war against each other? We don’t accept all that. It is impossible to have that kind of presidential behavior, nor policy. Sargisian has committed a grave mistake. Now he has to apologize and take back his words.”

Erdogan’s salvo reverberated throughout the Turkish political hierarchy and the press, with a smooth orchestration, which reveals it was part and parcel of a foreign policy agenda to score points against Armenia.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc echoed his master’s voice, adding some more sound and fury as he stated: “Turkey is a powerful country. No one can set an eye on Turkey, nor to our mountains, nor to our fields or waters. We own these territories with the will of God. I warn Armenia’s President not to play into the hands of domestic politics. Look at Armenia — it is in economic trouble. One time they were starving and we gave them wheat; let them sober up. Let them stop from talking about Agri.” (The Turks call Mount Ararat, Agri, which means pain, because Mount Ararat is indeed a pain in their necks.)

The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued an official statement warning Armenia against making provocative statements and “educated” Armenia’s leadership in statesmanship through the following communiqué: “When peace efforts are in progress in the region, President Sargisian’s words indicate that he has nothing to do with peace. Any peaceful individual wishing reconciliation can learn a lesson from Sargisian’s words which were met with indignation.”

Of course lower-echelon functionaries allowed themselves harsher words. Göksel Gülbey, head of an organization engaged in falsifying Genocide history called “Committee to Fight against Armenian Allegations,” said, “We challenge Sargisian. Let him come and take Agri. We are here.”

The specter of the Treaty of Sevres will haunt the Turks to the end of history because deep down, they know the mountain does not belong to them. It will only continue to be an “agri” to them.

The political fight also degenerated into street slogans, where Turks demonstrated near Mount Ararat, hoisting banners, which read “Sargisian! Criminal!”

This charade was staged by Erdogan and his government to divert attention from mounting domestic and foreign pressures. Indeed, right after the June parliamentary elections, the Kurds declared autonomy in Diarbekir. Just a few days ago, the entire Turkish military brass resigned in protest. These two events represented the two bookends of a tug-of-war raging in Turkey — and Erdogan’s government is caught in between.

On the foreign front, the European Union elected the legitimate government of Cyprus to preside during 2012, angering Erdogan, who threatened retaliation. What particularly pertains to Armenians is the pressure exerted by the US State Department and the European Union to revive the stalled Protocols. In recent months, the West was very vocal that the ball is in Turkey’s court. To stave that criticism, Turkey ignited this diplomatic fireball, intending to corner Armenia diplomatically.

When the Genocide bill was adopted in France, Turkey threatened to cancel its military contracts, but a few months later it was business as usual.

Some cyber surfers have discovered that in the English section of Google alone, Erdogan’s name has been cited 17 million times and out of those, 1.7 million refer to “Erdogan asking for apology.”

Armenia is in good company when it comes to Erdogan’s demand for an apology. Of course, the crisis triggered by the Mavi Marmara incident is still simmering. Erdogan has been asking Israel to apologize for intercepting the Turkish boat and killing nine Turks on board. The demand for an apology was for the Mavi Marmara incident, which was coupled with a demand by the Turkish government to lift the blockade around Gaza. After winning some brownie points in the Arab world, Turkey has been soft-pedaling the Gaza blockade and is asking only an apology for the Mavi Marmara incident, which is nowhere to come. Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman is dead-set against that demand.

Last January, Erdogan clashed with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel when the latter visited Cyprus and criticized Turkey for occupying the northern third of the island. Erdogan began spewing fire and demanded an apology. Chancellor Merkel not only ignored the apology demands, but she later visited Ankara and in person proposed reforms and criticized Turkey for being slow in implementing the EU agreements. Erdogan bit the bullet and forgot about his previous demand for an apology from her, because he realized that beggars can’t be choosers; he needed Germany’s support in Turkey’s candidacy to the European Union.

Recently, an article in the Jerusalem Post ridiculed Turkey by saying: “Today Israel is not alone. There is another country which owes an apology to Turkey — that is, Armenia.” Concluding that article, the Post asked this succinct question: “Very well, who will now ask Erdogan to apologize for occupying Northern Cyprus?”

We see that neither statesmen nor the press outside Turkey take seriously Erdogan’s apology syndrome. Armenia can safely dump that demand in the dustbin of history, like Israel and Germany have done.

And for Mr. Erdogan’s information, it is the duty of future generations of Armenians to fight for the liberation of historic Armenia and Ararat, without apology!