I continue to be amazed and dismayed by the short-sightedness of the Turkish political class when it comes to dealing with the Armenian genocide. Case in point is Ankara’s outraged reaction to the French National Assembly passing a bill to make it “a crime to deny the deliberate and systematic destruction of the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire during World War I.”
Why does Turkey insist on poisoning its relations with important countries over this historical issue concerning something that happened nearly 100 years ago?
As it happens, the Turks probably have a decent case to make that the slaughter of Armenians was not intended, as was the Nazi Holocaust, to wipe out an entire race, so perhaps it doesn’t meet the technical definition of “genocide.” But it was still a terrible war crime, so why argue about technicalities?
The current government in Ankara could simply say that it was not responsible for these acts committed by the Young Turks in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire–another state altogether, albeit one sharing some territory with the modern Turkish state. Prime Minister Erdogan could then express sorrow for what happened, in spite of having no responsibility for it, and, as a humanitarian gesture, even offer to pay some restitution to victims’ families–something modern Turkey is certainly wealthy enough to afford. In a stroke, Turkey would win a PR victory instead of having to fight a losing battle over a side issue that detracts from modern Turkey’s central concerns.
What does Turkey gain from its obdurate attitude? Nothing that I can tell. It appears to be simply the triumph of emotions over reason, something that is not exactly unheard of in international relations but which usually exacts a steep price. Surely Turkish leaders should be smart enough to see that by now.