The Political Football Continues

By Edmond Y. Azadian

As soon as the World Cup was over in Rio, the political version of the game resumed in Armenia’s backyard, with the ball being the Armenian Genocide.

Of course, eventually the issue of the Genocide appearing in the political and international news is beneficial, especially on the eve of the centennial. But we need to sort out who is taking advantage of the complex situation of world politics and how that can impact Armenia’s standing on the issue.

With Armenia wrapped up in its local politics as well as its hardening relations with Iran and Russia, it does not seem to have the global reach to take part in the Middle East discourse.

It is not the first time that the Armenian Genocide has been rendered into a political football; of all possible quarters, Ankara is becoming the “defender” of people against whom genocide is perpetrated. And, of course, this gives an opportunity to Turkey’s adversaries to point out Turkey’s own skeletons in the closet, meaning the Armenian Genocide.

Under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey rose to the position of an international political player, albeit, some of its feats were based on rhetoric and cheap populism. Especially, the Arab street throughout the Middle East was hungry for the feast of bravura Mr. Erdogan was providing. He converted his popularity not only into political dividends but also economic opportunities.

“Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu wins accolades among hawks with Israel’s assault on Gaza,” said Mahir Zeynalov, a journalist at the English-language Turkish daily, Today’s Zaman. “There is another leader who benefits from the tragedy in Gaza: Turkey’s prime minister who is skilled at exploiting Arab causes for his own political ambitions. Now, it is time for Arabs to reject another leader who only makes empty promises for political ends.”

Indeed, Erdogan’s “heroic” march in the Arabic popular imagination began in Davos in 2009, when he had a fallout with Israel’s President Shimon Peres and walked off the stage, accusing Israel of committing Genocide against the Palestinians. His popularity skyrocketed in the Muslim world with the Mavi Marmara raid, which incurred 10 casualties at the hands of Israeli forces.

While Erdogan was duping the Arab public, Turkish-Israeli military contracts remained intact and the trade volume increased from $3.4 billion in 2008 to $4.4 billion in 2011 and exceeded $4 billion in 2012. It is reported that foreign trade between Turkey and Israel has increased 27.6 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013.

In the meantime, Erdogan’s son was continuing his lucrative business in Israel. And Kurdish oil, running illegally from Iraq to Turkey, was being sold to Israel.

With the Israeli raids on Gaza raging, Mr. Erdogan has, once again, resorted to his mantle as the defender of the Palestinian cause. “They curse Hitler morning and night,” Erdogan told thousands of supporters in the Black Sea city of Ordu. “However, now their barbarism has surpassed even Hitler’s.”

Erdogan had already invoked Hitler on July 15 to criticize an Israeli lawmaker. On July 18, he accused Israel of attempted “genocide” in Gaza. Israel ordered the withdrawal of diplomats’ families from Turkey last week after anti-Israel demonstrations there.

Even if Erdogan’s rhetoric has lost its luster in the Arab world, it continues to retain its value as domestic currency in his electoral campaign.

The Israeli government has retaliated against Erdogan’s accusations by invoking the Armenian Genocide. Indeed, Arutz Sheva ( reports that “Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz of the Likud Party hit back at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after the latter accused Israel of attempting ‘systematic genocide’ of Palestinians in Gaza.” In 1915 the Turks massacred a million and a half Armenians and he accuses us, who are fighting his friends in Islamic movement, of genocide? Who wants a relationship with such a person?”

Of course, this is a necessary quote for all journalists and historians who deviously often characterize 1915 as “what Armenians call a genocide.” But Mr. Katz’ statement will remain a self-serving disingenuous sound bite if he does not go further by bringing the Armenian Genocide issue before the Israeli parliament.

For Mr. Erdogan, the time of reckoning has also come in the Arab world. He was the darling of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. During former president Mohammed Morsi’s administration, and even before, Turkey had built inroads in Egyptian society and had permeated academia to produce a number of articles in the news media and books in scholarly circles promoting Turkish views on the issue of the Armenian Genocide. Now, the tables have turned; not only are newspaper articles being published but scholarly debates are conducted on TV screens providing objective documentation on the Armenian Genocide. And Mr. Erdogan has been demonstrating his genius in provoking such rebuttals to his statements. Last week, he lambasted Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi as an “illegitimate tyrant” and said Cairo could not be relied upon to negotiate a truce with Israel.

A news item on responds to Erdogan’s statement once again, referring to the Armenian Genocide: “Dr. Ayman Salama, professor of law and member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs said that Turkeys’ prime minister has made clumsy statements blaming the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and insulting the Egyptian political system. He further pointed out that it is surprising that Erdogan speaks of tyranny in Egypt, forgetting the centennial of the horrible genocide of the Armenians in the 20th century, committed by Erdogan’s Ottoman grandparents.”

As we can see, the issue of the Armenian Genocide has become a political currency in the turmoil of the Middle East and Armenians have no way of capitalizing on it.

The war in Gaza and the crash of the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine are two major events dominating the news and the Genocide issue is popping out of nowhere when politicians need to settle scores. However, it has become a marginal issue rather than one that can stand on its own in the global landscape.

If we had a strong and organized diaspora, serving as an extension of Armenia’s foreign policy establishment, we could bank all these developments and derive dividends for the Armenian cause.

At this crucial junction of history, the diaspora remains rudderless and Armenia can hardly deal with its own challenges, much less right a historic wrong. And thus we are allowing history to bypass us yet again.

Meanwhile, the political football continues.