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December 25, 2011, Sunday

Turkey and France: Hitting true and false notes

When things become “national causes,” writing about them is hardly easy, for a huge emotional cloud has settled on them. For Turks, the Armenian issue is something like the “Palestinian cause” for Arabs. Therefore, with minor exceptions, the Turkish way of handling the Armenian issue is very melodramatic.

Indeed, it is normal for the Turkish government to react to noise from France on this subject. No matter what the historical facts, how this issue is being handled by the French parliament is totally depressing. There is no doubt that what the French parliament did is totally wrong. However, endless talk on how the French are mistaken is a waste of time. How Turkey deals with the issue is much more important. And I am not sure that the Turkish government's way of dealing with it is correct.

First, Turkey should not even intimate economic boycotts and the like. There are many Turkish companies that prosper in projects with their French counterparts. Governments have no right to punish investor citizens for political reasons. Instead, it is a duty of governments to protect the economic interests of their citizens, even amidst political crises. Indeed, the political punishment of business interests in Turkey may alarm prospective foreign investors.

The Turkish politicians' discourse in this instance should be analyzed carefully. Actors use political discourse to persuade, not to deter. So “reminding Sarkozy of his father's wrongdoings in Algeria” makes no sense. Worse, such a discursive method may even ricochet. Besides, it is not politically polite. Similarly, it is not wise for the Turkish government to declare that from now on Turkey will work at publicizing the French atrocities of the past in the various African countries. Other states should not be given the impression that the cost of rapprochement with Turkey is tension with France. In any case, such strategies contradict Turkey's own thesis of “leaving history to the historians.”

There is a French-language university in Turkey. Like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk himself, most secular modernist intellectuals were/are Francophones. Kemalism itself can be defined as a result of French-style modernization in Ottoman Turkey. Unlike the Irish or American Enlightenment, the French one was very elitist and anti-religious. This was adopted rigorously by the architects of Turkish-Kemalist modernization. And this tableau presents, albeit with sundry differences, in countries like Algeria, Tunisia and Senegal. Therefore, Turkey should not underestimate France's capacity of generating soft power. Instead of unrealistic agendas like “making known French atrocities everywhere,” Turkey should devise more sophisticated long-term strategies that increase its soft power in many countries. Doing that, Turkey would become a country that can implement proactive strategies to manage various issues, instead of being its present reactive self that is led by the initiatives of competing countries.

The recent developments in France once again confirm that Turkey should solve this problem through direct dialogue with Armenia. Paradoxically, the “genocide business” is not a lucrative theme for Armenia. While other states intervene, Armenia's isolation in the region will increase. Without an effective connection with Turkey, Armenia has no realistic alternative to painful isolation.

As academics, we always warn our students against stereotyping analyses, conspiracy theories and generalizations. However, here is one simple question: Why are the many states that support the Armenians with regard to the events of 1915 totally silent on the occupation of Azerbaijani territory by the Armenian state? The answer, even though it may sound like a stereotyping response, is as clear as this: double standards. Or, for potential critics, let's put it as a theoretical construct -- one that extends Kant's “democratic peace” theory, which posits that democracies rarely go to war against one another: When it comes to “the rest,” Western democracies assume the legitimacy of being inconsistent, unfair and, of course, selective.

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