BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Turkish leaders made a serious tactical error in 2011. They were so preoccupied with countering the upcoming tsunami of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide in 2015, that they lost sight of the more immediate political storms facing them.
Armenians quickly capitalized on the Turkish blunder, managing to score a series of early successes: 1) the French Parliament adopted a bill banning denial of the Armenian Genocide, 2) the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on Turkey to return Armenian churches and other properties to their rightful owners, 3) an Israeli parliamentary committee held a public hearing on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and 4) a U.S. Federal Court may shortly issue a default judgment against the Republic of Turkey.
Facing a tenacious French President who refused to be intimidated by insults and threats, Turkey reacted with slash and burn tactics that aggravated its problems and undermined its bid for European Union membership. By withdrawing its ambassador from Paris, the Turkish government deprived itself of the services of a capable diplomat at a crucial time when the French Senate is about to take up the bill criminalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide. Judging from past experience, the Turkish Ambassador will be sent back to Paris soon, making his dramatic recall an exercise in futility and attracting the ridicule of the diplomatic community. If Turkey withdraws its ambassador every time a country recognizes the Armenian Genocide or adopts a decision contrary to Ankara’s wishes, it will isolate itself from the rest of the world.
Even more damaging to Turkey’s interests is the threat to boycott goods imported from countries that are deemed to be “unfriendly.” Turkey would simply damage its own economy by purchasing inferior products at higher prices from alternative sources. Moreover, should Turkey stop buying highly technical items such as passenger planes and advanced missiles from the few countries that make them, it will end up with an antiquated air transport system and a weakened military. In recent days, however, Turkish leaders have sheepishly withdrawn their bombastic boycott threats, after realizing that the World Trade Organization would impose severe penalties on Turkey for violating its membership obligations.
Turning to the House resolution on return of church properties, the Turkish government and its high-priced lobbying firms were caught flat-footed on how to counter such a delicate matter. After years of success in derailing Armenian Genocide resolutions, the Turkish side was clueless about fighting a motion that called for the return of church buildings and other properties to their respective Christian communities. Consequently, the resolution was approved by a vote of 43-1 in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and by more than two-thirds of the full House. This is the first time that the U.S. Congress has gone on record demanding that Turkey restore the rights of genocide victims beyond the mere acknowledgment of the Genocide. In the coming months and years, Armenians will be presenting an ever growing list of demands to international organizations, parliaments around the world, and the Turkish government itself.
The third positive development took place in Israel, when the Knesset’s Education Committee held an unprecedented three-hour public hearing on the Armenian Genocide, despite pressure from Turkey, its lackey Azerbaijan, and the Netanyahu government. This discussion, held in front of TV cameras, and not behind closed doors, is expected to continue at a later date. It is shameful that the Israeli government continues to obstruct recognition of the Armenian Genocide, perhaps hoping to regain Turkey’s trust and friendship. Rather than playing political games with mass murder, the Netanyahu government should acknowledge the truth of the Armenian Genocide for the sake of its own reputation.
The final salutary development is an expected default judgment to be issued by a U.S. Federal Court against the Republic of Turkey on two lawsuits demanding payment for Armenian properties confiscated during the Genocide. Such a judgment would be a stern warning to the Turkish authorities that they cannot continue to enjoy the ill-gotten gains from the blood money of genocide victims.
Long before the arrival of the Armenian tsunami in 2015, Turkey is increasingly confronted by pressures for greater human rights and Kurdish autonomy, and far-reaching Armenian demands, while experiencing acute problems with virtually all of its neighbors. A Turkish regime besieged with serious internal and external challenges is less of a threat to its own population and its neighborhood, and more likely to settle past injustices and present conflicts.