Monday, April 13, 2015

Say "soykırım" and move on

I'm not sure why the Turks are so determined to stop anyone from calling the Armenian genocide "genocide", unless there is a well-founded fear that they would be billed for reparations.

Assuming reparations is not it, fighting the fight against "genocide" makes no sense. Other countries have atrocities in their past, probably all of them do if you look hard enough. That's not to minimize genocide, but rather to emphasize the horror that is human history. I'm not sure if the U.S. has ever officially referred to what was done to Native Americans as "genocide," but the U.S. government does not go nuts and do things like recall its ambassador whenever anyone uses that term.

If its about protecting their national image, that's a battle the Turks have already lost. Outside of Turkey, I don't think there is any real controversy over whether Armenians were intentionally killed because they were Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Every time that Turkey makes the news protesting the characterization of those events as "genocide" it both reminds the world that the Armenian genocide occurs and it casts the modern Turks as the villains as genocide-deniers. If the Turks want to improve their image, they should admit what happened in 1915.

There are still ways for the Turkish government to avoid responsibility even if it admits the historical fact. The Turkish Republic did not exist until 1923 (or arguably 1922, when the Ottoman Empire was abolished). The Armenian genocide was on the Ottoman Empire's watch, a political entity that no longer exists. While acknowledging the historic fact of the Armenian genocide would also tar some of the Turkish Republic's founding fathers in the atrocity, other countries have handled similar historic truths. I already made the comparison with the genocidal policies of the U.S. government towards Native Americans, but allowing historians to make those claims, and other no-longer controversial claims about the American founders' treatment of African slaves has not damaged the U.S.'s standing in the world. Israel has not been harmed by the new historians.

The Turks can do it. It will not threaten the integrity of their state to admit the Armenian genocide occurred. I think it would ultimately improve their image internationally as they would cease being a nation of genocide deniers. It would also open the door to improved relations with Armenia, their neighbor. Finally, it would stop the Turks from wasting time and political capital on this non-controversy. Their diplomats could work on solving actual problems and advancing modern Turkey's interest instead of throwing tantrums whenever the wrong person utters the g-word.