I write this with tongue in cheek, but given not only Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declaration that Zionism is a crime against humanity but also because his Turkish constituency has rallied around him, it is important that Turks consider the implication of Erdoğan’s efforts to de-legitimize the State of Israel and the Jewish nationalist enterprise.
Erdoğan combines religious intolerance and partisan anger at the Arab-Israeli conflict to conclude that are Jews unworthy of the same rights as Muslims, and Israel is unworthy of the same status of Turkey. Perhaps it is Turkey that has been born in blood. Certainly, the casualties that have arisen as a result of Turkish nationalism have been far greater.
At its roots, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a dispute over territory where two nationalisms overlap. The same is true in Turkey. Kurds living in Diyarbakir have about as much desire to be part of Turkey as Palestinians living in Nablus have to be part of Israel. While the Israel-Palestinian conflict has claimed thousands of lives, the number of Palestinian casualties does not come anywhere near those of the Kurds in Turkey. And while the Turkish government complains when an Israeli jet destroys a house in which bombs are built or a terrorist lives, never does Erdoğan reflect on the fact that the country which he leads has razed hundreds of Kurdish villages and continues its wanton and illegal aggression across the border into Iraq. If Hamas is a legitimate entity, then certainly the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is. When Erdoğan embraces Khaled Meshaal, should he wonder why the French government allowed senior PKK officials to operate from Paris?
The suffering of the Kurds, however, does not come anywhere near comparing with the plight of the Armenians in the decade prior to Turkish independence. Turks and Armenians can argue over whether the slaughter of Armenians was pre-planned and coordinated and therefore merits the designation “genocide,” but they cannot argue about whether up to a million Armenians perished at the hands of Turkish forces (and Kurdish irregulars operating at the time alongside the Turks). If Erdoğan believes Israel represents original sin and must cease to exist, perhaps he would like to set an example of reversing historical fact by granting to Armenia the lands in eastern Anatolia from which the ethnic Armenian population was cleansed? Perhaps he would like to return Constantinople to its rightful owners? Perhaps it is time he pays reparations to the Cypriots whose country the Turkish army still occupies?
There is a pot and there is a kettle, but in this case, they do not compare. Now, let me be clear: The point of this provocative post is not to question Turkey’s right to exist, nor to try arbitrarily to undo more than a century of history. Trying to reverse history or implement one side’s ‘justice’ quickly becomes reductio ad absurdum. Mr. Erdoğan should recognize, however, how dangerous to Turkey it could be to embrace de-legitimization of states and nationalist causes.