Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More Resolutions, More Troubles

Three significant developments unfolded in the past two weeks in regard to Armenia. One, on March 12 the Swedish Riksdag voted by a margin of one vote to define the 1915 massacres of Armenians genocide in a non-binding resolution that the Swedish government has flatly denounced. Two, Obama Administration officials in the State Department have backed off affirmations that the genocide resolution passed in the House Foreign Affairs Committee will not come to a floor vote. Three, Prime Minister Erdogan, in an interview with BBC's Turkish-language service, seemed to threaten to crack down on undocumented Armenians working in Turkey.


Following the unexpected March 12 vote, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Sweden, Zeygun Korkuturk, and Prime Minister cancelled a trip he was planning to make to Stockholm on March 17 to sign a strategic partnership with the country that would resemble partnerships already in place with Spain and Italy. The partnership has been put on hold despite assurances from the Swedish government that the resolution has no legal bearing nor will it be adopted as official policy by Sweden's center-reight government. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt assured Turkey that they thought the resolution unwise, and adopted the Turkish government's position that genocide resolutions passed by foeign parliaments threaten reconciliation with Armenia. Significantly, the Swedish genocide resolution did not limit itself to the Armenian community living in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, but also recognized atrocities committed against other Christian communities. This week the Swedish government announced that it would be providing financial assistance to Turkey to help it along with the EU accession process, including increased funding to Turkish civil society groups. Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Gunilla Carlsson said, “Turkish EU membership is strategically important for the European Union. Sweden is in a position to provide support in connection with these needs and can help strengthen civil society by supporting organizations working for the rights of minorities and other groups in need.”

United States

Turkey has yet to send back Ambassador to the United States Namik Tan though three weeks have passed since the U.S. House committee vote on March 2. Erdogan has said that he wants a clear signal from the United States that the resolution will not be passed, and still publicly blames the Obama Administration for not doing more against the resolution. Yet, so far the Obama Administration has proven unwilling or unable to send such a clear signal. At an event held at the Brookings Institution, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon said Congress was an independent body and that "they are going to do what they decide to do." Gordon did echo the Turkish government's position that the resolution is an obstacle to reconciliation. Following an invitation to a summit on nuclear energy to be held on April 13-14, Erdogan said he will not be attending, indiciating that he will send someone lower in the government chain-of-command. With Turkish officials still unwilling to visit Washington in the current climate, the American-Turkish Council and the Turkish-American Business Council have pulled the plans to hold their annual conference on April 11-14. Similarly, the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TUSIAD) called off a trip to the US that was scheduled for March 16-17. An issue of some curiousity occured when Virgina Foxx, who heads the Congressional Turkey Caucus, told Turkish journalists that House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Howard Berman had told her that the resolution would not move to a floor vote, though Berman strongly denied that such a message was made. When Tan will be sent back to Washington remains unclear, though all eyes will be turned to Washington as April 24 approaches. For an understanding of the genocide resolution's place in American politics, see former Ambasador to Turkey and Century Foundation Senior Fellow Mort Abramowitz' piece in The National Interest.

Perhaps Some of Us Are Not So Armenian After All

In the heat following the Swedish resolution, Erdogan's inclusion to brin undocumented Armenian workers in Turkey into the discussion earned the prime minister domestic and international condemnation (see interview, in Turkish). Erdogan remarked,
Look, there are 170,000 Armenians in my country -- 70,000 of them are my citizens, but we are managing [tolerating] 100,000 of them in our country. So, what will we do tomorrow? If it is necessary, I will tell them, ‘Come on, back to your country.' I will do it. Why? They are not my citizens. I am not obliged to keep them in my country. I mean these are [defenders of the Armenian claims of genocide], their attitude is affecting our sincere attitude in a negative way, and they are not aware of it.
For an excellent report on the Turkish reaction to Erdogan's remarks, see Ayse Karabat's reporting in Today's Zaman. From Karabat:
Leaving aside foreign policy considerations, civil society organizations criticized Erdoğan's remarks on several grounds: first, he mentioned Armenian Turkish citizens together with the citizens of Armenia, and secondly, he was using foreign workers as a tool of foreign policy and neglecting the humanitarian side of the problem.

But Suat Kınıklıoğlu, deputy chairman of the AK Party Foreign Affairs Committee, underlined that Erdoğan was trying to explain that Turkey tolerates the irregular Armenian workers. “As has been known for many years, there are Armenians illegally living and working in Turkey, and as a reflection of our goodwill and efforts toward normalization which started in 2005, we do not really touch them.

We tolerate them and take their difficult circumstances into consideration. In particular, we are not questioning their status due to the acceleration of the normalization process in Turkish-Armenian relations. The prime minister needed to draw this fact to people’s attention, especially now, when resolutions have been accepted which damage normalization. I think Turkey’s magnanimity is being ignored,” he said, and added that the prime minister did not mean he would immediately send those workers back to their country.

Öztürk Türkdoğan, the chairman of the Human Rights Association (İHD), said Erdoğan’s remarks could easily be considered a “threat” and as discrimination. “These remarks could lead some people to think that to expel people is a 2010 version of forced migration. This mentality is far from human rights-oriented thinking. People have the right to work, and this is universal. There are many Turkish workers all over the world; does it mean that Turkey will accept their expulsion when there is an international problem? Secondly, these remarks are discriminatory; there are many workers in Turkey of different nationalities,” he said.
As Karabat goes onto examine, the 100,000 number Erdogan gave the BBC is also quite controversial. A recent study by the Eurasia Partnership Foundation puts the number at between 12,000 and 13,000 Armenian citizens working in Turkey, and CHP leader Deniz Baykal, citing numbers from the Ministry of Labor, put the number at an estimated 14,000. BDP member Ufak Uras also criticized the remarks: “The prime minister’s remarks reflect the deportation concept of the 21st century. While we consider similar remarks as racist or xenophobic when directed to Turkish immigrants living in Europe, it is unacceptable to talk in this manner about the immigrants in our country."

The press' reaction was also quite strong, the Armenian newspaper Agos running the headline, "A Lot of Unionists, But No Progress" (see Today's Zaman columnist Sahin Alpay on the media reaction, as well as his inclusion of more positive statements Erdogan has made on the Armenian Question). Arguing that his comments were taken out of context, Erdogan blamed the media for inflating/maliciously reporting the story.

31 Turkish NGOs signed a joint condemnation of Erdogan's remarks, from which Bianet extracts the following points:
* Nobody abandons the place where he/she was born for insignificant reasons; and nobody stays in a country where they cannot find work.

* The Armenian immigrant workers have the right to humane treatment just as anybody else.

* It is unacceptable to make thousands of defenseless people subject to bargaining in order to dismiss the decisions that might be taken by third countries parliaments.

* Erdoğan is the Prime Minister of a country that alleges to bring together civilizations, to sort out the quarrels and normalize relations with Armenia which are international demands. In these terms, Erdoğan's statement carved out a huge contrast.
For another hearty response to Erdogan's comments, see the Armenian Weekly's Katchdig Mouradian's post on a blog he is writing to chronicle his experiences as a member of an American delegation of analysts and commentators visiting Turkey organized by Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV). Also worth a glimpse is Today's Zaman columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz's look at the work of Turkish historian Taner Akcam. In his column, Cengiz excerpts part of a leter Akcer addressed to Erdogan and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, part of which I have excerpted here:
Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Arınç, the answers to the problems that are the legacy of 1915 can’t be found in the denialist policies of Veli Küçük, Doğu Perinçek, Şükrü Elekdağ and Yusuf Halaçoğlu. Don’t search for the answers there. You won’t get anywhere repeating the chorus they’ve been singing for 95 years. They are your adversaries on the issue of 1915, just as they are when it comes to the Kurdish issue and the issue of the military’s place in politics. You cannot construct your response to 1915 by holding rank with those who want to drag the country into chaos, who murdered Hrant Dink, who have planned massacres against Christians and who have been plotting coups against you.

“If you are going to respond to 1915, you need to search for an answer different from the answers given by Ergenekon or by those who plotted the coups. To do this, you should follow your Muslim roots in Anatolia that have grown alongside your party and take a closer look at what these roots did during 1915.

. . . .

Mr. Arınç, you can’t build a future on the backs of murderers. You can build a future on the backs of those righteous Muslims in Anatolia who challenged the murderers. In the same way that you can’t resolve today’s problems by supporting Hrant’s murderers, the ‘Samasts’ and the ‘Veli Küçüks,’ you won’t get anywhere supporting the murderers of the Hrants of the past. The answers to 1915 can’t be found in the answers of Doğu Perinçek or Veli Küçük. They are members of the Ergenekon gang that killed Hrant Dink; it’s natural that they defend the murderers of the Hrants of the past. Let the ‘Veli Küçüks’ defend the murderer Samast of today and the murderers Talat, Enver and Kemal of yesterday. Your place is not at the side of Veli Küçük. Your duty is to stand by the side of the ‘Haji Halils,’ to stand up for those Muslims who put themselves and their families at risk by opposing the massacres.
As for the status of the protocols, which seem most certainly dead in the water, Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan continues to accuse Ankara of using the genocide resolutions as another pretext not to introduce ratification. With the prime minister's most recent remarks, ratification might indeed prove all the more difficult in Armenia, the diaspora and Armenian nationalists having been handed a huge propaganda gift.

UPDATE I (3/24) -- Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc announced plans to make new policies ensuring that the children of Armenian immigrants receive proper education in Turkish schools.

Also, TUSIAD has announced that it will send a delegation to the United States after all. The visit will occur April 19-20, just days before Obama will issue a statement addressed to the Armenian community on April 24 in which all eyes will be on the American president to see if he uses the word "genocide" to label the massacres of 1915. Last year, he chose to refer to the events as the "Great Catastophe (Metz Yeghern in Armenian)," a phrase many Armenians have for years used, and which recently some Turks have employed, albeit quite controversially.

UPDATE II (3/26) -- Prime Minister Erdogan has announced that Korkuturk will return to Stockholm next week. Also, Today's Zaman columnist Etyen Mahcupyan, with whom Bulent is likely to disagree, argues that the reaction of the press and of some AKP supporters was quite critical of Erdogan. From the column:
The prime minister’s unfortunate remarks served as a litmus test that brought to surface the change in Turkey. All media organizations reported his remarks along with interviews with Armenians. All human rights associations condemned Erdoğan, and perhaps as a more important indication, Muslim readers sent messages protesting or criticizing him. This incident indicates once again the risks before the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Today, the AK Party does not face serious competition in the political spectrum, but its supporting demographic are freeing themselves more quickly from the party.
And, on the issue of formerly Armenian property:

If, in addition to this policy of denial, Turkey shows extraordinary resistance to returning the properties that belonged to the foundations of non-Muslim minorities, this possibility of attaching the “genocide” label to the incidents will increase further. This is because the story of 1915 and its aftermath is not only one of the people who were displaced or killed, but also one of a community whose cultural assets and properties were usurped. Turkey not only refuses to carry the burden of the dead people, but also continues to hold a handful of their properties as spoils. This inevitably adds credence to the genocide-still-continues discourse.

UPDATE I (4/2) -- Erdogan announced that Tan will be returning to Washington next week. The primme minister also confirmed plans to attend a summit on nuclear proliferation to be held April 12-13.

1 comment:

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Look, all these people you quote might be saying the right kind of things but they are mainly saying it in English and to foreigners. Let's see them say this in Turkish Zaman (especially somebody like Cengiz, who's mainly preaching to the choir in Today's Zaman). I mean of course treating illegal residents of a particular nationality like hostages is sickening, but English-speakers don't really need to hear any of this, AKP's base and the base of organized groups such as Gulen's do. The discourse needs to be happening in Turkish and in publications that AKP's base reads -- and not just in some token columns either.

There's a very odd phenomenon that I have been noticing. People pay lip service to democracy and such, but the bulk of the worthwhile discourse -- with the kind of brain power that this society can use -- about such things seems to be happening in English. The EU-funded NGOs seem to publish for Brussels and sane and sensible stuff appear in English language dailies (with 10k circulation at best) etc. I do realize that it is unpleasant to engage the crowds and perhaps somewhat dangerous to talk in Turkish, but under the present scheme the money and talent flow from abroad is causing the local talent to shift their attention to interacting with and pleasing the foreigners. If the model is that the Turkish and the foreign elite will find electable people and then influence them to do their bidding, this makes sense. If that's the model, though, you can throw away all the democracy talk, and -- perhaps justifiably -- call those who resort to that kind of rhetoric unpleasant names.

It is possible, of course, I'm not getting it. If so, I welcome enlightenment.