By Nuray Mert
The pope’s use of the G-word and then the European Parliament’s vote to urge Turkey to recognize the “Armenian Genocide” angered not only the president and the government, but also the nationalist opposition and a majority of Turks.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan first condemned Pope Francis and then described the EU vote as an act of “enmity toward Turkey.” Although we leftist/democrat intellectuals are inclined to recognize the Armenian massacre as a “genocide,” and many of us have been using the G-word for some time, we should admit that the nationalists of Turkey have a point.
The point is that international condemnations of genocides, other massacres and mass sufferings are indeed politically motivated in most of the cases. Many can object to what the pope said when he defined the Armenian Genocide as “the first genocide of the 20th century,” but he did not dare mention the 19th-century genocide mass murders of the colonial powers. It can be considered timely for the European Parliament to more strongly note the Armenian suffering in its centenary. Nonetheless, turning a blind eye to so many other historical crimes almost justifies the minor powers’ objections that the big powers are using history to intimidate them. It is true that the powerful nations of the Western world are inclined to be more self-critical, but their self-criticisms sound more like expressions of benevolence and noble-mindedness than of shame.
On one hand, these objections should be taken into consideration. On the other, however, minor powers like Turkey never seem to comprehend the importance of self-criticism concerning their past; that is why they miss all chances to acknowledge their share of responsibility in the terrible events and moments of human history. Turkey and the Armenian massacre is one of the best examples. Turkey’s denial of genocide or of even the true extent of the Armenian massacres is always based on the accusation of treason – that Ottoman Armenians sided with the imperial powers, implying that they deserved what they got.
Nevertheless, Turks never think that, in the end, Ottomans allied with other (German) imperialists in World War I to save their own empire. Besides, Turkey does not want to admit that it was not only the Armenians who revolted and/or joined the Russian army, but the whole civil population suffered from deportations and massacres. As for many Armenian politicians, they supported the Second Constitutional regime hoping for autonomy, and most became alienated from Ottoman rule only afterward. By the way, the Arabs also allied with the “imperialists” and staged the Arab revolt against the Ottomans, but Turks never considered collectively punishing their Arab co-religionists (Thank God). There are many other historical issues that we have to discuss honesty, but we never recognize the fact that no matter who urges us, we should use the opportunity to acknowledge the truths of our troubled past to move forward.
Instead, Turkey has done everything to run away from the ghosts of the past. Now, Turkey is insisting that historical matters should not be politicized and should be left in the hands of historians. Nevertheless, the Turkish state was more than happy when Western powers and indeed historians turned a blind eye to Armenian suffering in order to foster good relations after the foundation of the new republic. There was also political motivation behind the courtesy of Western powers in the wake of World War II. Then, after Turkey became a staunch Western ally during the hot years of the Cold War, the big powers avoided angering Turkey by raising the Armenian issue. At the time, Turkey even managed to get away with the so-called “Conquest of Cyprus.” Therefore, Turkey seems to be all too happy at playing political power games, together with “Western hypocrisy” as far as it suits its interests.
Finally, the most important aspect of acknowledging and apologizing for the past is the show of willingness to avoid similar crimes or responses in the face of current challenges. All nations and societies, Turkey among them, need to use historical testimony to avoid possible future misdeeds. But we first need to be honest enough to be able to complain about the pope’s, the EP’s or others’ hypocrisy or injustice.