Wikileaks: Turkish nationalist leader to U.S.: recognize the Genocide already

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Tuesday April 26, 2011

Bahceli making his party's trademark sign of the wolf. trgundemtr.com

Washington - On April 24, 2009 leader of the hard-line Turkish nationalist party urged President Barack Obama to recognize the Armenian Genocide, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable made available through Wikileaks and first published by Taraf newspaper.

In a meeting held hours before Obama issued his first presidential statement on the Armenian Remembrance Day, Devlet Bahceli, who leads the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), showed unusual unanimity with Armenian American leaders who hoped that President Obama would honor his pre-election pledge and use the term Genocide.

MHP has its origins in the fascist Grey Wolves (Bozgurt) organization that has over the last decade emerged as a major political force in Turkey and is currently the third largest in Turkish Parliament. From 1999 to 2002, Bahceli was deputy prime minister in the government of Bulent Ecevit that preceded the current Turkish government.

Bahceli told James Jeffrey, the U.S. Ambassador in Turkey at the time, that "Whatever the U.S. is going to say, let it be said now" in President Obama's April 24 statement. Bahceli's stated position ran counter to Turkey's official opposition to recognition.

The nationalist leader said that "the US and Turkey were on a mutually-detrimental cycle, in which the months leading up to the April 24 Day of Remembrance fuel debate over whether it will be this year that the US president will utter the word "genocide."" He argued that the point of tension might finally be overcome with use of the term.

Jeffrey's analysis of the comments suggested that "Bahceli's challenge to the US to finally put the Armenian genocide issue to rest reflects a wide perception that genocide is being used as a political tool: a large swathe of Turkish society believes that the US intends eventually to declare the events of 1915 to constitute genocide, but maintains the fiction of debate as leverage in negotiations with the Turkish government."

At the same time, Jeffrey went on, "Bahceli's challenge is also undeniably self-serving; the MHP stands to benefit most at the polls from the emotional reaction that a U.S. recognition of an Armenian genocide would bring. He would lead the charge to trash relations with the U.S. were we to use the term "genocide.""

In fact, Bahceli "has been trying to make political hay, claiming the President's use of "Meds Yeghern" [Great Crime in Armenian - ed.] equates to "genocide" ever since the President's Armenian Remembrance Day message" was issued after the meeting with Jeffrey.

Nevetheless, Bahceli's position appears to have evolved substantially over just two years.  

In a February 2007 meeting with then U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson, Bahceli noted that "the Armenian genocide resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives is very upsetting for Turkey" and that "MHP expects a firm stance from the US" against the resolution, according to another cable published last weekend.

In spite of this apparent shift in at least part of the Turkish elite's thinking towards U.S. recognition of the Genocide, there has been little change in Washington's position on the issue. '

This year's statement issued by the White House on April 23 "once again betrayed promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide" Obama made as a presidential candidate, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) noted in a press release.

ANCA also singled out the use of the term "contested history" in the statement as "deeply offensive" and shameful."

President Obama's statement is below:

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 23, 2011

Statement by the President on Armenian Remembrance Day

We solemnly remember the horrific events that took place ninety-six years ago, resulting in one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.  In 1915, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed.  A full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all our interests.

Contested history destabilizes the present and stains the memory of those whose lives were taken, while reckoning with the past lays a sturdy foundation for a peaceful and prosperous shared future. History teaches us that our nations are stronger and our cause is more just when we appropriately recognize painful pasts and work to rebuild bridges of understanding toward a better tomorrow.  The United States knows this lesson well from the dark chapters in our own history.

I support the courageous steps taken by individuals in Armenia and Turkey to foster a dialogue that acknowledges their common history. As we commemorate the Meds Yeghern and pay tribute to the memories of those who perished, we also recommit ourselves to ensuring that devastating events like these are never repeated.  This is a contemporary cause that thousands of Armenian-Americans have made their own. The legacy of the Armenian people is one of resiliency, determination, and triumph over those who sought to destroy them.  The United States has deeply benefited from the significant contributions to our nation by Armenian Americans, many of whom are descended from the survivors of the Meds Yeghern.

Americans of Armenian descent have strengthened our society and our communities with their rich culture and traditions.  The spirit of the Armenian people in the face of this tragic history serves as an inspiration for all those who seek a more peaceful and just world. Our hearts and prayers are with Armenians everywhere as we recall the horrors of the Meds Yeghern, honor the memories of those who suffered, and pledge our friendship and deep respect for the people of Armenia.

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