Turkey’s Inglorious Past

Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Image credit: 
Poster Collection, UK 1484, Hoover Institution Archives
Image credit: 
Poster Collection, UK 1484, Hoover Institution Archives

The centenary of the start of the “Meds Yeghern” (Great Calamity)—the Turkish genocide against the minority Armenian Christian population of the Ottoman Empire—has come at an awkward time for the government of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. How much he would have preferred to have had the world concentrate on the 100th anniversary of Turkey’s genuinely brave resistance against Winston Churchill’s brilliant but doomed scheme to force Turkey out of World War One. Churchill had wanted to attack Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) through the Dardanelles, the narrow sea lane connecting the Aegean to the Black Sea, which also separates Europe from Asia. He failed spectacularly, in part due to the exertions of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Yet instead of Turkey’s triumph at the Dardanelles dominating the news cycle, the intervention by Pope Francis, who unequivocally described the Armenian Massacres as “a genocide,” once again forced the global spotlight onto the darkest chapter in the history of modern Turkey. As over 1 million Armenians perished in the Massacres, and in the most horrific circumstances, the Pope was undoubtedly correct in using the G-word as a matter of historical record and moral nomenclature. Yet that hasn’t prevented Erdogan reacting with wholly predictable malice and viciousness. Despite having taken place one hundred years ago, as this series of “Military History in the News” so very regularly shows, time means next to nothing when it comes either to collective memory or human nature.

Other countries can face up to their acts of past cruelty and openly apologize for them: Germany has apologized for Hitler; Britain for the Irish Potato Famine and Amritsar Massacre; South Africa for Apartheid; the United States for Slavery, Japanese wartime internment, and its treatment of the Native American, and so on. Yet Erdogan remains in a state of denial over the atrocities, and viciously lashes out at those who assert them to be the historical facts they undoubtedly are.

In response to the Pope’s intervention and the European Parliament’s recognition of the genocide, Erdogan said that it would “go in one ear and out the other” and that the 100,000 Armenians presently working in Turkey are not citizens, and thus “We can deport them, even if we haven’t yet.” Since most Ottoman Armenians died during their “deportation” to the Syrian desert, he was (surely deliberately) adding gross insult to a century-long injury.

Not what one would hope for from a NATO ally, even a rapidly Islamicizing one.