Turkish Intellectuals Reflect on Obama’s Visit, Armenian Issue

Turkish intellectuals–from progressives to hardliners–I interviewed on the eve of President Obama’s visit to Turkey believe that the U.S. administration will firmly support the dialogue between Turkey-Armenia, but will not recognize the Armenian Genocide. Many progressives, however, expect Obama to pressure Turkey to allow free discussion of the Armenian issue.

According to The Economist Turkey correspondent Amberin Zaman, “The Obama visit will reset the parameters of Turkey-U.S. relations that were reduced–under eight years of the Bush administration–to a cynical focus on the security relationship driven by the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Turkey’s strategic role as a the main hub for logistical supplies flowing to US troops based there.” She adds, “This policy came at the expense of human rights. With its own record blemished by atrocities committed in Iraq, U.S. criticism of Turkey’s human rights record carries no moral weight. This will and must change with Obama. This means closer scrutiny of Turkey’s treatment of its ethnic and religious minorities and scrapping laws that, among others, criminalize free discussion of the horrors inflicted on a once vibrant community of Ottoman Armenians who lived across Turkey.”

In turn, historian Halil Berktay expects from the Obama administration “positive, affirmative support for steps oriented to a Turkey-Armenia reconciliation; approval of and rewards for a unilateral opening of the Turkish-Armenian border; as well as any other trust-building measures.” He also expects that Obama will not say “anything explicit on U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide,” but will, instead, “advise that this is best solved by Turks and Armenians; advise that total freedom of speech and scholarship inside Turkey (and Armenia) is crucial in that regard; also advise, as gently as possible, that at the end of the day, countries are better off recognizing and admitting bad things in their past rather than burying or denying them (but that such recognition should not be forced on them from the outside).”

Journalist and scholar Ayse Hur thinks that Obama will refrain from acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. “For the sake of the great strategic goals of the U.S., he will not use the word ‘genocide.’ Instead, he will insist on opening the Armenian-Turkish border and establishing good neighborly relations.”

Human rights activist and journalist Baskin Oran believes that “Armenia-Turkey relations will be normalized (embassies and borders opened) [even] without Obama’s visit.” It is possible, however, that Obama’s visit will strengthen the Turkish government’s hand “against the nationalist opposition,” he adds.

Kemal Cicek from the Turkish Historical Society–the guardian of Turkey’s official thesis on the fate of the Armenians in 1915–says, “The U.S. policy will not be different at all. The U.S. administration will keep the balance between the two countries [Armenia and Turkey], but will not please the Armenian diaspora by using the ‘g’ word in his presidential statement on April 24. Moreover, we are expecting that the U.S. President will support Turkey’s proposal to establish a joint historical commission for studying the events of 1915-1916.”

According to human rights activist and journalist Ayse Gunaysu, Obama should not encourage Turkey “to continue its policies of denying the Armenian Genocide and injuring the memories of the victims and their grandchildren all over the world.” She added, “The Turkish authorities and also business organizations and other private or public institutions are making calls to President Obama not to pressure Turkey for the recognition of Armenian Genocide.  They don’t represent me and they don’t represent many people who think like me. I am a Turk and I do believe that Turkey should officially recognize the Genocide.”

Gunaysu concludes, “We often hear from such official and semi-official entities that accusations of Genocide is an insult and an injury to the Turkish people. I am a Turk and I feel insulted and injured by the denial of the Genocide.

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