If one good thing has come out of the recent US and Swedish resolutions calling for the recognition of the events of 1915 as “genocide,” it is the rush of ambassadors in Ankara in dispatching urgent communiqués to their governments to explain what perils lie ahead for the prospect of approving the protocols signed between Turkey and Armenia.
“I sent a long letter to my government and attached a copy of the protocols to draw attention to the historical commission to be established after the agreement [goes] into effect which would examine the veracity of the claims raised by both sides,” said one European ambassador. She said her recommendation was to “stay away from getting involved in [voting on] a unilateral genocide resolution, which would complicate matters more, but to instead give the protocols a chance to sort out disagreements over history.”
The ambassador was right to point out that resolutions like the Swedish and American ones actually put the fate of the protocols in danger of rejection in the Armenian and Turkish parliaments. But the damage was already done, and the strong reaction from the Turkish government, which feels its efforts were not appreciated, forced foreign diplomats in Ankara to seek ways to control the damage.
The Italian Embassy issued an urgent statement denying a report that included Italy in a roster of countries whose parliaments had adopted similar resolutions. Norway distanced itself from neighboring Sweden, whose parliament recognized the events of 1915 as genocide with a margin of only one vote. “There is no legal evidence that the events of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire were ‘genocide’,” Norwegian Foreign Ministry representative Kjetil Elsebutangen said.
When the Catalonian parliament approved a similar resolution last month, Spain’s ambassador to Turkey, Joan Clos i Matheu, immediately issued a statement saying that the recognition of allegations of the Armenian genocide by the parliament of Catalonia does not reflect the opinion of Spain regarding the issue.
The United Kingdom downplayed a brief discussion on the issue in the House of Commons, saying it has no impact on the government and that the issue will hardly come to a vote now, if ever. We know many other European countries have privately relayed assurances to Turkey that they will not consider Armenian genocide resolutions in their respective parliaments at this time.
This was hardly a new one for Turkey. We have seen similar waves in the past during which the Armenian diaspora tried to push the national parliaments hard to adopt resolutions recognizing genocide. It did not go anywhere except that it made the job of the executive bodies more difficult. France, for example, is still hurting from passing a genocide recognition resolution as French companies have been blacklisted and are denied lucrative government contracts in Turkey. When Canada tries to push for increased commerce between itself and Turkey, the genocide resolution comes up in almost all government meetings, giving an unnecessary headache to many.
But this time the equation changed dramatically, when Turkey, on its own initiative, embarked on normalization with Armenia and committed to opening the border and restoring diplomatic relations. To his credit, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was right when he said the path leading to signing the protocols was being walked mostly on Turkish momentum. The current government could have left the issue frozen for many years, just as its predecessors had done, but Ankara pushed for normalization along with revitalizing the Minsk Group to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
If the case was an imposition from the outside, we Turks would not accept it easily but would refuse to cave in under pressure despite the government agreeing to go along with it. A case in point is Parliament’s rejection of a government request to allow US troops to transit Turkish territory at the start of the 2003 Iraq War. Another case is Cyprus, where Turkey has long resisted any outside pressure to settle the dispute. The government suspended talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) because of the latter’s intransigence on how to allocate the budget surplus expected in 2010. Dialogue and presenting a convincing case to Turkey are the only way to go on almost all international issues challenging Turkey.
It seems most of our European partners have come to realize the fact that Turkey would be an invaluable asset in their corner and are afraid of hurting national interests in commerce and security. That would, however, not preclude them from privately relaying their concerns on a number of issues. That is healthy dialogue. But, for the time being, genocide resolutions in national parliaments are backfiring and actually put at risk the protocols achieving their intended goals.
The only countries that can solve the dispute over what happened almost 100 years ago are Turkey and Armenia. They have finally started to do something to resolve that by agreeing to establish an independent joint commission. Let them work it out and urge the parties to steer clear of getting involved in parochial interest groups from derailing the process.