BY JOSHUA KUCERA
ANKARA—Turkey is reportedly linking its purchase of a multi billion-dollar air-defense system to whether the bidder countries recognize the Armenian genocide.
That news, reported by a number of Turkish media, is the latest unexpected turn in the multi-year saga over the arms deal. The original bidders for the deal were companies representing the United States, Europe, China, and Russia, giving the program the air of a geopolitical litmus test. When Turkey announced that it planned to give the Chinese company the contract, it faced a barrage of pressure from its NATO allies who were concerned that linking that system with NATO air defense equipment already in Turkey could expose NATO secrets to China.
All along, Turkey has denied that there was any political subtext to its decision, saying that its choice of China was related solely to questions of price and the fact that China would hand over more of the technology to Turkey. Now, though, that appears to have changed. With the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide approaching in April, Ankara is reportedly waiting to see how the various bidders mark that event.
“Rumors in political circles in Ankara said that no decision will be made over the missile defense system winner before [April 24] since Turkey wants to first see France and the U.S.’s position on the 1915 incidents,” reported the pro-government Daily Sabah. “An agreement may be made with China if the U.S. and French administrations take a ‘pro-Armenian’ stance.”
Hurriyet Daily News has reported the same thing:
“’We have agreed with the government leaders not to rush to a decision any time soon,’ one defense procurement official said. ‘A decision before April 24 is out of the question.’
“A senior diplomat confirmed that Ankara first wants to see the U.S. and French positions on the ‘genocide claims’ before awarding a sizeable contract ‘to a bidder potentially from one of these countries.’
“’How these countries observe the centennial of the events [of 1915-1920] will be an important input for our final decision,’ he said.”
And a “top government official for defense and security issues” told newspaper Defense News last month: “One imminent political deliberation is whether the US Congress will recognize the alleged Armenian genocide in April. We will wait Congress’ move before making a decision on the contract.”
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Ministry of Defense has said that whichever system it buys will not be linked to NATO’s. That would seem to open the door for buying the Chinese equipment. But it also has extended the deadline for the Chinese, American, and European bidders until the summer — as Defense News notes, the sixth time it has made such an extension.
It’s not clear whether official recognition of the Armenian genocide has any more chance to get through Congress this year than it has before. But arguments like Ankara’s have held sway in the past: in 2010, a coalition of American defense contractors wrote a letter to Congress arguing against genocide recognition: “Alienating a significant NATO ally and trading partner would have negative repercussions for U.S. geopolitical interests and efforts to boost both exports and employments.”
But the U.S. bid was relatively unlikely to win; the second-place offer, after China’s, was that of Eurosam, based in France, a country which not only recognized the genocide but even criminalized genocide denial.