Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Politics of (Recognizing) Genocide

Produced by the BBC, The Betrayed is a documentary that examines the matter of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey, and the efforts to have that genocide recognized in other countries.

The Armenian Genocide, beginning in 1915, was actually the first of what was expected to be a three-pronged program of ethnic cleansing in the declining Ottoman Empire. The plan was to first eliminate the Armenians, then eliminate Kurds, and eventually even eliminate Turkey's Greek population.

Perversely, the Ottomans used their next target, the Kurds, to massacre the Armenians, coercing entire battalions of Kurds to act as death squads.

Just as Turkey continues to deny the Armenian genocide, they also continue to deny the national plight of the Kurds. Despite the fact that Turkey currently occupies a large portion of historical Kurdistan (Iraq, Iran and Syria, occupy the rest), Turkey continues to insist that the land ever existed.

Turkey's Kurds have coped with their complicity in the Armenian genocide by casting it as a far-off event, occurring far beyond the boundaries of the formerly-Armenian villages populated largely by Kurds today.

Turkey has historically treated efforts to recognize the genocide as a diplomatic outrage. On some occasions, foreign countries have cowed to the pressure, agreeing to not recognize the genocide officially.

We may not like to admit it, but there very much are political considerations to whether or not a country will recognize that a genocide has occurred in a foreign country.

Over the last several years, scarecely-reported diplomatic progress with Syria was facilitated by Turkey, as Turkey helped Syria in its attempts to negotiate Trade Associate status with the European Union.

The original deal -- which would have helped to pull Syria out of Iran's orbit of influence -- was scuttled when the United States moved to isolate Syria as a terrorism-supporting state.

Efforts to formalize such a deal have resumed, but seem much less promising than before the 2004 intervention.

Recognition of Turkish atrocities could potentially jeopardize Turkey's invaluable role as intermediary between the Middle East and the Western World.

No one likes this -- nor should like it. But it seems that pragmatic politics can often trump historical truth in the lands of realpolitic.

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