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August 28, 2007, Tuesday

Turkish-Armenian formal dialogue may ease pressure on Turkey

Some 18 of the world’s countries, from Argentina to Canada and across the Atlantic to Europe recognize the World War I-era incidents in Ottoman Turkey, which culminated in the deaths of many Armenians as well as Turks, as genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks against the Anatolian Armenians. The threat of the US Congress recognizing the events as genocide also remains.

US-based Jewish organization the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) reversal last week of a long-term policy labeling the events genocide caused serious uproar in Turkey, which rejects the label of genocide for the World War I events.

Upon the Turkish reaction, ADL Director Abraham Foxman allegedly distanced himself from his organization’s decision. But the ADL’s policy reversal should be seen as a serious blow to Turkey, since the ADL has in the past acted as an important lobbyer for Turkey, countering efforts by Greek and Armenian lobbies to influence Congress.

In the meantime both the Turkish public and the Turkish state largely perceive a close bond between Israel and Jewish communities all over the world. As Turkish Ambassador to Israel Namık Tan put it, “In the eyes of the Turkish people, Turkey’s strategic relationship with Israel was not with Israel alone, but with the whole Jewish world. The Turkish people do not make that distinction.”

Tan went on saying that the American Jewish organizations were just that -- American Jewish organizations. But “we all know how they work in coordinating their efforts [with Israel].” (Jerusalem Post, Aug. 27, 2007)

Tan hinted that Jewish organizations are strongly influenced by Israel and that those strong bonds between the two also have a serious effect on relations between Turkey and Israel. In the recent past, two strains that have occurred in the Turkish-Israeli relations played a significant role in the US Jewish lobby’s behavior.

For example Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s description of Israeli aggression against the Palestinians in 2004 as “state terror” played a factor in poisoning Turkey’s relations with the US Jewish community, Israel -- a strong ally of Washington in the Middle East -- and with the US.

Then came Turkey’s hosting exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal last year in Ankara. He was the target of an unsuccessful assassination plot by Israel during his attendance of an Islamic group’s meeting in Turkey in 1997.

In return Turkey has been uneasy over Israel’s alleged training of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga in northern Iraq following the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Back in 1997 remarks by Ehud Toledano, Israel’s candidate for ambassador to Turkey, over his recognition of Armenian genocide allegations, resulted in a diplomatic row and ended with Toledano’s rejection of the post in Ankara.

Nevertheless, feeling the heat, mainly from the Jewish lobby, over his remarks on Israel’s aggression against the Palestinians Prime Minister Erdoğan appeased the Israelis by awarding a $185 million unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) contract to Israel prior to his visit there in 2005.

In fact the Turkish military has currently been using an Israeli-made UAV leased from Israel in its efforts to trace Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists concentrated in Turkey’s southeast.

At the end of the day, neither of the two countries, characterized by Turkish Ambassador Tan as democratic and secular states in the Middle East (Azeri Press Agency, Israeli Bureau, Aug. 28, 2007) can benefit from animosity toward each other.

But the crucial question is: For how long will Turkey spend the majority of its energy and money countering Armenian genocide allegations, which have been increasingly recognized by more and more countries?

Almost 92 years have passed since the tragic events of World War I. But during those years Turkey has preferred to keep quiet on the allegations rather than launching a serious effort to prove its own case backed by documents that show the events concerning the Anatolian Armenians were tragic, but did not constitute genocide.

It was only in 2004 that Turkey made a breakthrough on the Armenian genocide allegations, when Prime Minister Erdoğan announced the creation of a “committee of historians” to be composed of both Turks and Armenians and to be opened to third parties if necessary to investigate the genocide allegations.

Since then we have not heard any positive response to this offer from neighboring Armenia. Nor has there been any serious effort made by the US to convince Yerevan to contribute to the committee.

On the other hand, as the unfortunate tendency to label the World War I events as genocide continues, the usefulness of the activation of such a committee alone is questionable.

But if Turkey opens its border with Armenia and starts diplomatic relations with its neighbor, whose independence it recognized in 1991, coupled with activating the committee of historians, it may create a chance for less pressure to be exerted on it regarding the genocide allegations.

Such a move may also encourage the Armenians to lessen the pressure exerted upon Yerevan by the strong Armenian diaspora.


The abbreviation PEJAK, used for the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan in my column published in Today’s Zaman on Aug. 23, 2007, should read PJAK. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

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