Turkey this Sunday vehemently rejected the recognition as genocide of the massacres of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 made yesterday by the president of the United States, Joe Biden, and has summoned the US ambassador in Ankara to convey its formal protest. As reported by the Foreign Ministry, Deputy Minister Sedat Önal told the ambassador, David Satterfield, that Washington’s declaration “lacks a legal basis” and is “unacceptable”, in addition to representing a “wound in relations [bilaterales] that will be difficult to repair ”. However, experts believe that it will not really affect relationships that are currently going through one of their worst moments too much, and that Turkish complaints will cease in a short period of time.
“We reject and condemn the declaration of the President of the United States on the events of 1915. Politicizing history is not a rational or moral act. It is a shame that the United States succumbs to interest groups and distorts historical facts, while distancing itself from a partner and member of NATO, ”criticized Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin. He and other members of the ruling party have urged Washington, if you want to find genocides, “look into your own history.” Virtually all the opposition – with the exception of the pro-Kurdish HDP party and some formations of the extra-parliamentary left, which do recognize the Armenian genocide – have condemned Biden’s statement in equal terms. Some commentators have even called for the closure of US military bases in Turkey, but no government representative has supported this proposal, which, on other occasions, they had also used as a threat.
The Turkish authorities reject the name “genocide” as it is a legal term created at the end of the Second World War and therefore consider that it cannot be applied to previous events. However, unofficially, the Turkish leaders have come to call genocide the killings of Muslim peoples – for example, the Circassians – at the hands of the Russian Empire or in the Balkans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. .
Official historiography in Turkey has evolved from completely denying the massacres of Armenians in 1915 to placing them in a context of ethnic disintegration, chaos and cleansing (for example, between the 19th century and 1923, up to five million Muslims and Turks were expelled from the Russian Empire and the Balkans into Ottoman territory, and hundreds of thousands died). Since 2015, every April 24, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan extends a message of condolences to the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul for the massacres of 1915: “I commemorate with respect the Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives in the difficult conditions of the World War I and I extend my condolences to his grandchildren. “
The word “genocide” has always struck like a sword of Damocles in relations between Turkey and other countries, with threats that a recognition could damage bilateral ties. However, the reality is that after the initial tantrums, relationships have returned to their course after a few months. This has happened with the thirty countries that officially recognize genocide, such as Germany, Italy, Russia or Venezuela.
“It is the most contained response that Turkey could give,” tweeted Ian Bremmer, president of the political risk company Eurasia Group, stressing that Ankara has not even called its ambassador in Washington for consultations and has not suspended the meeting that Biden and will hold. Erdogan next June during the NATO summit, an alliance of which both are partners.
This meeting between the two leaders was agreed last Friday when Biden telephoned Erdogan and had his first conversation with the Turkish leader since his election as US president. In that conversation, the US president alerted his Turkish counterpart that he would use the word genocide in his statement of April 24, the date on which – in 1915 – dozens of Armenian intellectuals were arrested from Istanbul and, for Armenians, marks the beginning of deportations to the Syrian deserts and of genocide.
Relations between the United States and Turkey are going through one of their worst moments in the last half century, but that June meeting could serve to begin to redirect the situation and address the issues that really separate the two countries: the support of Washington the Kurdish-Syrian militias that Ankara considers terrorists; the future of the Russian S400 missile system acquired by Turkey and for which the US has imposed sanctions; Turkey’s expulsion from the F35 fighter manufacturing program and pending sanctions on a Turkish bank for its use to circumvent US sanctions against Iran.