The Armenian Genocide

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Saturday January 03, 2009

President Abdullah Gül with President Serge Sargsian in Yerevan, September 6. Photolure.

It has been more than 90 years since 1915, but the unresolved legacy of the Armenian Genocide remains newsworthy. The Genocide remains the Armenian subject most frequently discussed by the world, more so than Armenia's contemporary security and development challenges.

This interest appears to be driven by three sets of factors: increased awareness of contemporary genocidal crises such as those in Rwanda and Sudan; the Armenian campaign for acknowledgement and amends; and the Turkish government's denial campaign.

In 2007, the Turkish public's reaction to assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and debates over the congressional resolution were the main news stories on the subject.

In 2008, the main stories were Armenia's renewed effort to reach out to Turkey, and Turkish intellectuals' "I apologize" petition, which led to passionate debates on the Genocide inside Turkey.

Turkish leaders offered mixed and sometimes contradictory remarks on Armenian issues.

Early in the year, they were quick to congratulate Armenia's new president, Serge Sargsian, on his election victory in February.

Turkey's President Abdullah Gül accepted Mr. Sargsian's invitation and in September made the first-ever visit by a Turkish president to Armenia. Turkish officials have since reiterated their desire to normalize relations with Armenia, but they also stuck to Turkey's pre-conditions: an end to the campaign for recognition of the genocide foremost among them.

On a visit to the United States in November, Turkey's top leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan characterized Armenian-Americans' advocacy on the issue as "cheap political lobbying," and in December he condemned the apology petition. Earlier in the year he branded Mr. Obama an "amateur" for his pledge to recognize the Genocide.

These developments were taking place in the context of the Turkish secular nationalist establishment's attempts to judicially ban Mr. Erdogan's ruling political party - efforts that continued through mid-summer - and the government's case against about 100 nationalist figures who were charged with an attempted coup - the so-called Ergenekon case that continued at yearend.

Meanwhile, Turkish foreign policy shifted its emphasis away from the country's pro-Western orientation and efforts to win a European Union membership.

Turkey's positions have become increasingly distant from those of the United States and closer to those of Russia and the Islamic world.

Ankara also successfully completed a multiyear campaign to win international support for a two-year United Nations Security Council seat.

Last May, when the first indications of newly elected President Sargsian's initiative on Turkey became known, the Armenian Reporter conducted a survey among Armenia experts, asking them, "In the next year or two, do you expect relations between Armenia and Turkey to improve, deteriorate, or remain unchanged?"

Nearly three-fourths of those who responded said they expected the relations to remain unchanged. And in terms of actual policies - Turkey's refusal to establish diplomatic relations, open its border with Armenia and an end to genocide denial - they were accurate so far.

Nevertheless, shifts in Turkey's rhetoric on Armenia were sufficient to make Azerbaijan nervous. Turkey's defection from Azerbaijan's campaign to pressure Armenia would spell an effective end to the efforts to alter the facts on the ground in the Karabakh conflict.

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