Collusion and Delusion


By Edmond Y. Azadian

On the eve of the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, there was a whirlwind of facts and factors about the unhealed wounds — the anticipation of President Trump’s statement, Robert Fisk’s revival of the 1919 Turkish acknowledgement of the facts, Taner Akçam’s confirmation of Ottoman bureaucracy’s coding system, Samantha Power’s belated apology, the sale of Washington’s erstwhile Armenian Genocide Museum property, and to top it all, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s conciliatory message to Armenians.

All those elements are in a whirlwind and one has yet to hit the bull’s eye and get the job done once and for all.

Armenians are jaded with the hypocracy of the world, to President François Hollande’s last-minute call for the criminalization of denialism and wreath-laying ceremony of presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron in France.

To begin with, President Trump’s statement, Armenians had almost given up on any positive move from the White House, given the reticence of Trump’s predecessors to honor their pledges to recognize the Genocide. However, there was a glimmer of hope. Granted, as a presidential candidate Mr. Trump did not make any commitment on the Genocide issue, ignoring it altogether. But with unpredictability being a hallmark of Trump’s policies, some had hoped for a positive development. But this time around, Mr. Trump uncharacteristically followed the script.

Traditionally, every year a high-power Turkish delegation visits Washington on the eve of April 24 to warn the US administration of the consequences of recognizing the Armenian Genocide on Turkish-American relations. This year, that visit was made to the Pentagon by Turkey’s Minister of Defense Fikri Isik. The visit lasted 24 hours and certainly it carried on top of the agenda the issue of Genocide recognition. But the official occasion was cited as Turkey’s appeal to the US to stop supporting the Kurds in Syria.

To convey a subtle message to Washington, another minister in Ankara simultaneously announced that Turkey had just completed negotiations with Russia to purchase advanced missile systems, and that for the moment, sealing the deal was on hold. The discreet blackmail certainly led Pentagon planners to reach out to the White House. What transpired behind closed doors was that Mr. Trump would refrain from using the term genocide in return for Mr. Erdogan’s conciliatory statement. This is a rerun of an old-fashioned scenario, which has its precedent when the White House was able to avoid the issue, heralding a false breakthrough in Armenian-Turkish rapprochement, which in the end never materialized.

This year, this compulsory game can serve well Erdogan’s beleaguered administration, which is isolated internationally and strained domestically, both suffering as a result of the recent referendum in Turkey as well as the brutal war being waged against the Kurdish minority.

Erdogan’s concession would be fully compensated by Washington’s refusal to use the term Genocide. Had Mr. Trump broken tradition by using the word genocide, that would have set the issue on an irreversible course, leading to a domino effect. Israel and other countries could have followed soon, isolating Turkey in its obstinate denialism.

Thus, we can see the collusion between Washington and Ankara, which may lead Armenians to have the delusion that Mr. Erdogan means business.

Washington can afford to play this deceptive game with Turkey with impunity, because it has already gauged the political clout of the Armenians in the US. It is true, Armenians are not politicized enough to use the policy of carrot and stick with any candidate or incumbent.

Therefore, the message is there; if we want change in the policy, we need to mobilize and politicize the community. Because, in politics, change will never come out of charity or historic fairness.

Mr. Trump has not pledged anything to the Armenian community, therefore, he comes out honest by default.

But the courageous British journalist Robert Fisk lambasted Mr. Trump in an article in the UK daily, The Independent, even before the White House released its statement.

Fisk begins his article with the following: “Well, it’s now Trump’s moment of masculinity. Will he — or will he not — have the guts to call the 1915 Armenian Genocide a genocide? A small matter for a guy who’s shooting from the hip across the Muslim world, you may say. But he congratulated the Caliph Erdogan on winning his dictatorial referendum and I doubt Trump has the courage to offend him this month by telling the truth about the slaughter of one and a half million Armenian Christians during the First World War.”

Referring to Erdogan’s inordinately conciliatory message, which we suspect was the outcome of a deal struck in Washington, we can only characterize it as cynical, because it is not accompanied by a promise of any positive and tangible action.

Turkey’s alienation from the West has created a need for a charm offensive, with the first target apparently being the Armenians. Certainly, such outreach to other nations will follow if Turkey does not wish to become a pariah state among civilized nations. A columnist in the Daily Sabah has set the next stages of that charm offensive.

“It is our common objectives for these two peoples, who have shared the grief and happiness for centuries, to heal the wounds of the past and strengthen people-to-people ties,” said Erdogan.

There are no specific indications leading to define those “objectives.” Erdogan himself has threatened to expel Armenian guest workers from Turkey. Those threats certainly do not contribute to meeting those “objectives.”

He further states that Turkey has taken steps “to heal the wounds of the past” and strengthen the ties between the two peoples.” This statement certainly sounds hollow, while at the same moment, the Turkish military is preparing for joint exercises with the belligerent forces of Azerbaijan on Armenia’s borders.

Mr. Erdogan could cite at least one single step to justify his statement. Where and when were those steps taken that no one is aware? Has there been compensation to the Armenians or has there been a plan to preserve Armenian architectural gems within the borders of present-day Turkish Republic?

Most cynical of all is the following statement: “We have no tolerance for the alienation and exclusion of our Armenian citizens and for a single Armenian citizen to feel second-class.”

The Turkish government’s treatment of the Armenians leaves the latter with nothing but the feeling of a second-class citizen. To begin with, why would Armenians’ passports describe the citizen as “non-Muslim?” The wealth tax in the 1940s with its deadly consequences was designed only for Armenian and Greek “second-class” citizens. Similarly, the government-sponsored pogroms of September 6, 1955 targeted these two groups.

Mr. Erdogan’s credibility would be restored only if he removes the hateful characterization of Armenians in history textbooks used by all children, including Armenians in Turkey.

Mr. Erdogan has issued his proclamation out of political expediency. In fact, it is not addressed particularly to the Armenians. It is mostly directed to the West to demonstrate its good faith and show that minorities are treated fairly in Turkey. Armenians being the weaker party have no choice but to wait with anticipation that Erdogan’s words are followed by solid actions.

However, in light of the Turkish blockade of Armenia and war of words with that government as well as military support to Azerbaijan, only the most naïve can believe that something positive many emanate from Erdogan’s statement.

Otherwise, everything remains a delusion, derived from a collusion between the policies of Ankara and Washington.