BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Some may have expected that the recent mass protests and unrest in Turkey would preoccupy its leaders with internal problems, distracting them from other important developments, such as Armenian Genocide issues. Regrettably, this has not happened.
As tens of thousands of demonstrators angrily protested throughout Turkey, expressing their dissatisfaction with Erdogan’s dictatorial rule, foreign ministry officials continued to pursue their routine denialist tasks, countering any and all efforts by other states to reaffirm the reality of the Armenian Genocide.
There were three such instances of Turkish reaction in recent weeks:
1. The Turkish government reacted harshly when Pope Francis acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, calling it “the first genocide of the 20th century.” The Pontiff was speaking during the June 3 visit to the Vatican of a delegation of Armenian Catholics. Although Pope Francis had made similar remarks in the past while serving as a Cardinal in Argentina, this is the first time he referred to the Armenian Genocide since his recent papal election.
The Turkish foreign ministry was quick to lodge a formal protest to the Vatican, expressing its “disappointment” at the Pope’s statement. Vatican’s Ambassador in Ankara was promptly summoned to the foreign ministry and told that the Pontiff’s remarks were “absolutely unacceptable” and could harm bilateral relations. An unnamed Turkish official even suggested that the Pope’s upcoming visit to Turkey might be in jeopardy after his remarks on the Armenian Genocide!
Rather than backing down, the Vatican made matters worse for Turkey by announcing that Pope Francis planned to visit Armenia on April 24, 2015, to perform a requiem service at the Centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.
In view of the denialist mindset of Turkish officials, it is understandable that they would be displeased with the Pope’s factually candid and morally uplifting statement. After all, the Pontiff is not only the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church, but also a head of state. Yet, there was no need for the Turkish foreign ministry to get so agitated, since the Vatican had recognized the Armenian Genocide twice in 2000 and 2001.
Turkish officials don’t seem to realize that by overreacting to acknowledgments of the Armenian Genocide, they are inadvertently promoting the very cause they are trying to undermine! Indeed, the Turkish condemnation of Pope Francis’ statement on the Armenian Genocide was reported by the media worldwide, helping to further publicize the facts of the Armenian Genocide. Ankara’s real intent in slamming anyone around the world who dares to speak out on the Armenian Genocide is to discourage all others from issuing similar statements, particularly in view of the upcoming Centennial in 2015.
2. The Greek Parliament also angered the Turkish authorities earlier this month when the ruling New Democracy Party, lifting a page from the French legislature, introduced a bill to punish xenophobia and denial or distortion of genocides recognized by Greece, such as the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. Violators of the proposed law would face up to three years of imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 to 20,000 euros. The Greek Parliament recognized the Armenian Genocide in 1996. Even though there has not been any public statements by Turkish officials against the newly introduced resolution, it is almost certain that pressure is being applied through Turkey’s ambassador in Athens and other diplomatic channels.
3. Ukrainian Parliament members Arsen Avakov of the opposition Batkivshchina ‘Fatherland’ Party, and Vilen Shatvoryan and Nver Mkhitaryan of the ruling Party of Regions introduced a resolution on June 6 for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Azernews reported that Azerbaijanis living in Ukraine protested outside the Parliament against this resolution. Also, a letter signed by several Azerbaijani organizations in Ukraine was sent to President Victor Yanukovych, claiming that the resolution is “of serious concern to the Turkic-speaking people of Ukraine, especially Azerbaijanis… and a serious blow to Azerbaijan and Turkey.” According to well-informed sources in Ukraine, the Turkish government is behind the Azeri protests, including the strong reaction from Mustafa Dzhemilev, Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars and a member of the Ukrainian Parliament.
Despite the persistence of domestic instability, Turkish officials have continued to project their denialist policies around the globe, interfering with the internal affairs of other states. One would hope that the international community would reject the Erdogan regime’s pompous and arrogant attitude, as it is being rejected at home by large segments of the Turkish population.