image of jerusalem 2015

How many straws does it take to break a camel’s back?!
Let me be clear: I am not an Armenian who seethes at the very mention of Turkey, who refuses to talk to Turks and eat in their restaurants, or worse harbours visceral anti-Turkish sentiments that gnaw my conscience or erode my political behaviour.

26 October   |   2015   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

On the contrary, I have often striven to be principled but pragmatic when it comes to Armenian-Turkish relations and to the thorny issue of the Armenian genocide that remains an open sore after a whole century.

My maternal grandfather - who used to be my exemplar if not also my lodestar in some sense - would probably turn in his grave today if he were to read this piece. Why? Because he lost most of his family during the genocide of 1915 and even witnessed some of the sadistic killings by Turks and Kurds. He never tired from reminding me that he already was a refugee at the tender age of four, fleeing Ottoman Turkey to Lebanon, and then to Palestine and finally to Jordan. So most of his family lost their lives and properties in Ottoman Turkey, and then again in mandated Palestine when they were forced to flee their houses and businesses in Talbieh in 1948 until my grandfather eventually put down roots in Jordan and became one of the first millionaires of this tiny kingdom. Mind you, history has also turned on its head because those territories in Jordan became later not so much a new Palestine but rather the endemic occupied territories.

Why do I canter down nostalgia lane today?

Some readers might well be aware that the EU Commission in Brussels has been working on a proposal for a “structural EU-wide resettlement scheme” in March 2016 that could well see 200,000 migrants drawn directly from camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon and distributed across the EU bloc. But this massive resettlement plan requires Turkish cooperation. So the EU is hoping to cajole Turkey - unrealistically, in my view, given the parliamentary elections on 1 November - to play a bigger role in checking the flow of “migrants” into Europe.

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan at the regal Yildiz Palace (Yıldız Sarayı) in Istanbul on 19th October, she tried to gain his good will (and perhaps nudge the chances of his AKP Party in the forthcoming elections) by promising also that her government would breathe new life into the country’s stalled accession negotiations with the EU in exchange for Turkish assistance. As such, she expressed readiness to open Chapter 17 and fix benchmarks for 23 and 24 - three areas (or chapters) that make up the membership talks. A candidate for EU membership since 1999, Turkey has opened only 14 out of 35 chapters since 2005 and closed only one.

Anyone who watched that meeting - and I did on ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen) - would have noticed Chancellor Merkel’s squirming as she was welcomed into the opulence of this presidential residence and invited to sit in one of the overpowering gilded chairs. Compare this with the minimalist simplicity of the German government offices and even with President Joachim Gauck’s Schloss Bellevue Palace in Berlin. No wonder the German press - always incisive but also courteous - dubbed the couple as the Queen of Europe and Sultan of Turkey.

But this is not the sole direction that my sense of despair takes today since all this is no more and no less than realpolitik and Germany -perhaps also the Chancellor herself given the increasingly pungent criticisms of her refugee policies within Germany - was trying to alleviate the panic stations that have rung in some European countries as Syrians and others knock stubbornly at the doors of Europe.

Indeed, what galled me also is that President Erdoğan had a list of demands to which he tied his support for EU plans. The financial and political incentives aside, they included lifting visa restrictions for Turkish nationals by the summer of 2016 and - here comes the clanger - an EU-wide change on the recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Truly sad that one century after those wilful massacres, the Turkish president cascades from hardcore politics to legal ethics and appends the rejection of the Armenian genocide as one demand for supporting EU entreaties. For a country that ranks 149 out of 180 in the press freedom index of the watchdog Reporters without Borders, this was beyond the pale for me. It vividly defied my moderation since the Turkish interlocutor remains obdurate in his denial of this historical chapter and drags his fears into his basket of demands.

Couple this persistent tunnel vision on the Armenian “Question” with the alarming propensity to describe Kurds - following the victory of the pro-Kurdish HDP Party in the parliamentary elections of 7th June, as well as the terrorist attacks in Suruc on 20th July and Ankara on 11th October - as “Armenians” in order to compound the insult from the perspective of the Turkish psyche makes me wonder whether my grandfather was not wrong and that my inclusive concepts of moderation as well as conflict resolution are no more helpful than singing in the wind!

Was this the last straw that broke my back? I truly hope not, but …

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2015   |   26 October


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