An interesting strategy is being deployed on the chessboard of international politics. Next year is the 100th anniversary of the genocide of Armenians in Turkey.
Against all expectations, Turkey’ s Prime Minister Erdogan has suddenly apologized to descendants of Armenians for the 1915 mass killings of Armenians, both Christians and Jews. His predecessors had turned a deaf ear to overseas and local Armenians’ demands for apologies. However, the Turkish PM made no mention of ‘genocide’ in the sympathy he expressed to Armenians, arguing that it all happened in a historical context of the First World War.
Yet, it was a most horrendous genocide that marked the beginning of the 20th century. It took place in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the defeat of Turkey by Russia. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had set up a new ‘secular’ state and his government decided that the basis of the new ‘secular’ state was that it should be home to only one community, and for that to happen Armenians should be exterminated. It was written clearly and directly in telegrams sent to mayors of every town and village that they should carry out the plan of extermination in their respective districts.
The telegram recommended that all Armenians should be executed irrespective of sex and age, and there should be no problem of conscience. It was Turkey’s ‘Final Solution’, 25 years earlier than Hitler’s extermination plan in Germany. The other reason apart from the peculiar ‘secular’ agenda was that Armenians, Christians and Jews, were counsellors at the court of the fallen emperor, and were held responsible for the collapse of the empire.
It was a time when all communities from Lebanon to Turkey used to live peacefully side by side. Armenians became scapegoats for the country’s loss of glory and prestige. So the Turkish soldiers who returned after their defeat by Russia vented their rage on Armenians by slaughtering them in the villages on their way back home. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of the Turkish nation, paradoxically founded a nation which fit in with the European concept of nation but one which is based on a single ethnic group.
Descendants of Armenian survivors, if you happen to meet them in Europe, will tell you about the horrors of the massacre. One Jewish woman related how her mother was given up for dead after being stabbed by a Turk, but survived and later managed to escape to France. She lived in France with that scar on her head for more than two decades; then the Nazis came and embarked her on a train…
In the early 80s Turkey was a peaceful country, and the people could hardly be described as being ‘religious’ at all. So it seemed to me then. Today it is a different story under a non-secular government. It used to be a country where religion hardly mattered, and it was an open society, as I personally experienced for having lived there for a year in 1981. It has now changed beyond recognition.
One may ask whether the conscience of the Turkish PM been suddenly awakened regarding the recent regrets he expressed over the massacre of the Armenians in 1915. No. He has been pressurized by US President Obama to pacify relations with Armenians and Kurds. Not exactly for the sake of human rights or the ideal of liberty. But mainly as a condition to boost Turkey’s growing ambition to revive its leadership of the Muslim world, supported by the Muslim Brotherhood. The same brotherhood is not supported in Egypt by the US. The US strategy is the pacification of all communities under a strong Turkish leadership.
Why Turkey? To counterbalance Russia’s rising assertiveness in the region, and to use Turkey to dampen Iran’s ambition in the process. So it’s geopolitics at work, divide and rule in the Muslim world, and the US playing global cop… Nothing new under the sun.
In his crusade to address human rights issues, Obama is also coming to the rescue of the Rohingyas in northern Burma, giving in to pressure from lobbies undoubtedly. No major nation in South East Asia has budged a finger to consider the plight of the Rohingyas so far, abiding by Myanmar’s request that others refrain from meddling into its internal affairs. Obama is pressurizing the Myanmar government to consider the Rohingyas case as a precondition to US aid to Myanmar. The Balochs in Pakistan are not on the list of the US compassion to persecuted minorities; neither are others.
* Published in print edition on 25 April 2014