By Tony Halpin
The political battle in the United States over recognition of the Armenian genocide boils down to a simple calculation: is the cost in spoilt relations with Turkey outweighed by respect for the memory of 1.5 million victims?
President Obama promised during his election campaign to recognise the massacres of 1915-23 as genocide at the annual commemoration on April 24, saying: ?I believe that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence . . . As President, I will recognise the Armenian Genocide.?
He ducked out last year, arguing that he was supporting the historic ?football diplomacy? that led Armenia and Turkey to sign protocols establishing diplomatic relations. Those protocols, which include a planned commission on historical issues, are now bogged down by objections in Turkey, adding to fears in Ankara that Mr Obama will keep his pledge this time. US presidents routinely mark April 24 with statements acknowledging the massacres while bowing to Turkish demands not to label them ?genocide?.
George W. Bush called them ?historic mass killings?, President Clinton settled on ?deportations and massacres?, while Mr Obama used the Armenian term ?Meds Yeghern? or ?Great Catastrophe?.
Ankara has warned that US recognition would seriously damage relations. It argues that the slaughter that took place as the Ottoman Empire crumbled during the First World War was not genocide but part of a civil conflict that killed between 300,000 and 500,000 Armenians and a similar number of Turks. As Nato?s only Muslim member, with an important US air base at Incirlik and involvement in key American defence projects such as the troubled F35 fighter jet, Turkey has numerous cards to play.
But while it continually threatens Nato allies with repercussions, relations with Russia, which has always recognised the Armenian genocide, have never been warmer. Pragmatism in cosying up to its principal gas supplier apparently trumps the tub-thumping employed in the US.
The British Government has been similarly spineless on the Armenian question, despite ample contemporary evidence, as a recent study, by Geoffrey Robertson, of Foreign and Commonwealth Office evasiveness showed. It refuses even to allow the Armenian genocide to be mentioned on National Holocaust Memorial Day for fear of upsetting Turkey.
The irony is that modern Turkey is not being blamed for the past. Armenia has recognised its current borders and has repeatedly stated that it has no claims on land in eastern Turkey that once formed western Armenia.
Reparations will be an issue for the reconciliation process. But for the dwindling number of survivors and millions of descendants in Armenia?s global diaspora, Turkish recognition of their suffering and an apology would be the most valuable reparation of all.
Source: The Times, London, 05 March 2010