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Will Ankara surprise the world on April 24?

YAVUZ BAYDAR

Well, folks, come April, “G-word” season is here — but this time with a big gong.

One of the greatest chapters of shame written by the leaders of these tormented lands exactly 100 years ago remains fully open, before our eyes, 100 years later, leaving all the wounds in the hearts and minds of the Armenians also fully open.

As the centennial commemoration of the great Armenian tragedy approaches, the descendants of Armenians who were subjected to severe acts of genocide by the Ottoman army, their local collaborators — local militia and tribes, Turks, Kurds and others — are wondering whether Ankara will express some form of regret or remorse for what took place in history after all this time.

Will the Turkish government also acknowledge some responsibility for the systematic, aggressive denial and massive cover-up of the crimes against humanity that took place in 1915-18?

The silent majority in Turkey seems, well, indifferent to the anniversary. But for Ankara, April 24 continues to occupy the agenda, with a question in bold: Will US President Barack Obama use the G-word this time? Nothing else seems to matter.

Put two counter-dynamics in the picture of “realpolitik” as well:

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to which he attaches all of his hopes for a power grab — has now realized that one should not rock the boat of the nationalist part of the electorate at all. Erdoğan has for a long time deliberately returned to the template of denialist state rhetoric, at times using language against Armenians bordering on hate speech. In a move that was easily exposed as sufficiently populist, he is now preparing the nation to celebrate the World War I victory of Gallipoli on April 24. The previous day marking the battle was on March 18.

Needless to say, it came as a delightful piece of news for all of the denialist forces within the state, as well as nationalists of all ranks.

The counter-dynamic to this lies with the US Congress. After a period of deterioration in Turkish-American relations, members of Congress were subjected to severe attacks by Erdoğan, who called them “hired” by a “parallel structure,” a murky term he believes exists. The resentment Erdoğan caused, along with other rifts with Washington, has created momentum to pass a resolution in favor of acknowledging the events of 1915 as genocide, which may be difficult for the White House to ward off this time.

As with many opportunities to transform society, Erdoğan could have brought Turkey to reconciliation — social and political — but the nationalist in him awoke, emboldened by huge victories. He — if you ask me — demolished his opportunity by preventing the signing of protocols with Armenia. This has slowed down the social processes in Turkey of understanding and internalizing the malicious affects of the genocide.

Optimistic Armenians and Turks were falsely encouraged by the written message Erdoğan’s office released last year, in April 23, which in shy terms expressed condolences for the families of the victims of the tragedy.

It is known by now that it was a strongly “watered down” text, and even with that minimal content it created a stir among the top echelons in Ankara. The fact that Erdoğan never uttered a word about it, nor was asked, explains the “strained state of mind” in the capital.

Thus, friends of reconciliation, lower your expectations to the minimum this year as well: Ankara has not changed.

In fact, there are those who argue that there are strong forces who are pushing for a reversal. My Armenian colleague Aris Nalcı wrote that “[The official] Turkey is now returning to its factory settings,” pointing to the recent production of state and AKP rhetoric with a bold emphasis on denial.

There are strong signs indeed of resuscitating the evil ghosts of the past. Last week, a flurry of “copy paste news” activity was registered in pro-government media outlets, all of which told us that the ASALA, an Armenian terrorist group, was “reborn” and that it is now sending letters of threat to all the countries that accepted the AKP government’s invitation to take part in the Gallipoli anniversary on April 24. The “story” smells strongly of fabrication and exposes, in worrisome ways, the backslide the AKP has taken

Today’s Zaman

 

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