BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
For many decades Turkish officials have outright denied the occurrence of the Armenian Genocide. In recent years, however, some Turks have made the excuse that today’s Turkish Republic is not responsible for the Armenian Genocide because it was committed by the Ottoman Empire, a defunct state.
With this pretext, the issue is no longer whether genocide was committed or not, but who is responsible for it. Those who use this justification, claim that the Republic of Turkey is neither the successor nor the continuation of the Ottoman Empire, but a new and separate state!
This argument has gradually grown weaker as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began speaking and acting as an Ottoman Sultan! Two weeks ago, the Turkish leader made matters worse for his country when he, according to The Times of London, asserted that “modern Turkey is a ‘continuation’ of the Ottoman Empire — a direct contradiction of Ataturk’s ideology, which cast the Imperial era as backwards, stale and to be discarded and forgotten rather than celebrated.”
By stating that Turkey is a ‘continuation’ of the Ottoman Empire, Erdogan effectively concedes that today’s Turkey is responsible for the actions of the Ottoman Empire. In other words, the Republic of Turkey, which inherited the Ottoman Empire’s assets, also inherited its liabilities!
To confirm his allegiance to the Ottoman dynasty, Erdogan attended a ceremony earlier this month to mark the centenary of the death of Sultan Abdulhamid II, the ‘Red Sultan,’ who has been rehabilitated by the current government. Erdogan conveniently ignored the fact that the Red Sultan had ordered the killing of 300,000 Armenians from 1894 to 1896, known as the Hamidian massacres. As reported by The Times of London, “The descendants of one of the last Ottoman sultans are to be given Turkish citizenship, ending almost a century of outcast and ostracism.”
According to The Times of London, “Abdulhamid II ruled from 1876 to 1909, and was much maligned in Kemal Ataturk’s modern Turkish republic for his authoritarianism, anti-Westernism and clampdowns on the media. Yet, in the era of President Erdogan he has been rehabilitated. A television series, ‘Payitaht’, which depicts the life of Abdulhamid in glowing terms has been lauded by Mr. Erdogan as essential viewing for Turkish youths to find out about their country’s history…. ‘We see Sultan Abdulhamid II as one of the most important, most visionary, most strategic-minded personalities who have put their stamps on the last 150 years of our state,’ Mr. Erdogan said. ‘We should stop seeing the Ottomans and the Republic as two eras that conflict with one another.’ Abdulhamid died in 1918 and at celebrations for the centenary this week, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that he would personally oversee the granting of citizenships to the family.”
Arrogantly, Erdogan then warned that U.S. soldiers in Northern Syria would soon receive the ‘Ottoman slap,’ according to Reuters. He was “referring to a half-legendary Turkish martial move that involves a potent open-palm hit, resulting in a one-hit knockout or even skull fractures and death.” An illustration published by the pro-government Turkish media shows Pres. Donald Trump receiving an ‘Ottoman slap’ by Pres. Erdogan. Furthermore, Reuters quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu stating that Washington was backing the YPG [Kurdish forces in Syria] because it shared the same “Marxist, communist, atheist” ideology!
Returning to the issue of whether the Republic of Turkey is a brand new and separate entity from the Ottoman Empire, Prof. Alfred de Zayas, an international law expert, explained in an essay titled, “The Genocide against the Armenians 1915-1923 and the relevance of the 1948 Genocide Convention,” that a ‘successor state’ is responsible for the crimes committed by its predecessor regime. Moreover, a state that is a ‘continuation’ of a previous entity is even more responsible because there is no difference between the two, as admitted by Erdogan two weeks ago.
In addition, Alfred de Zayas quoted in his study Prof. M. Cherif Bassiouni stating that “In international law, the doctrine of legal continuity and principles of State responsibility make a ‘successor Government’ liable in respect of claims arising from a former government’s violations.” Prof. de Zayas concluded that “the claims of the Armenians for their wrongfully confiscated properties did not disappear with the change from the Sultanate to the regime of Mustafa Kemal.”
Finally, Prof. de Zayas affirmed that “the principle of responsibility of successor States has been held to apply even when the State and government that committed the wrongs were not that of the ‘successor State.’ This principle was formulated, inter alia, by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Lighthouse Arbitration case.”
We can conclude that Pres. Erdogan, by affirming that today’s Republic of Turkey is the continuation of the Ottoman Empire, has inadvertently admitted that Turkey is responsible for the genocidal, territorial and economic damages caused by the Ottoman Empire to the Armenian people. Erdogan’s confession should be presented as evidence when demands emanating from the Turkish Genocide of Armenians are submitted to the World Court.