BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
The Prime Minister of Turkey Receb Tayyip Erdogan has reportedly issued a confidential decree (No. 2007-18) on July 3 banning the use of the term "sozde" (alleged or so-called) when referring to the Armenian Genocide.
The news of this "secret" directive was made public on July 19 by Turkish "Ulusal Kanal" TV and its website and reposted on several other news sites since then. Turkish denialists reacted angrily to this decree, accusing the Prime Minister of undermining their efforts against the Congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide.
Turkish officials and reporters never fail to refer to the Armenian Genocide as the "so-called" or "alleged" genocide, thus casting doubt on the mass killings of Armenia’s by the Turkish government, 1915 to 1923.
According to Erdogan’s decree, henceforth the Armenian Genocide should be described in official statemen’s and public discourse as the "events of 1915" or "Armenian allegations regarding the events of 1915."
The Prime Minister’s office has reportedly sent this decree to all state institutions, including all ministries, governors, mayors, universities, courts, and the General Chief of Staff.
Erdogan is said to have stated in his decree that he was taking this action on the basis of a resolution adopted by the Council of Europe in February 2005. This probably is a reference to a recommendation by several Turkish non-governmental organizations in February 2005 to cleanse Turkish textbooks of "xenophobia, machismo and ultra-nationalism." The proposal was the result of a three-year study funded by the European Commission. Ulusal Kanal explained that the Council of Europe had called on Turkey to refrain from using certain disparaging words and phrases in referring to Armenia’s and Greeks in Turkish textbooks.
The European Parliament has adopted a number of resolutions since 1987 urging the government of Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide, if it wished to join the European Union. However, the EU has not made such recognition a requirement for Turkish membership.
Erdogan has reportedly ordered that his decree remain confidential, while mandating its implementation by all officials and society at large. In the coming days, it remains to be seen whether Turkish government officials and the media will indeed stop referring to the Armenian Genocide as "alleged" or "so-called," especially Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, who makes frequent denialist statemen’s on the Armenian Genocide.
If the news of this decree proves to be accurate, it would be widely criticized by Turkish denialists, while being hailed by Europeans as a sign of progress by Turkey on the taboo subject of the Armenian Genocide.
It is noteworthy that when Prime Minister Erdogan first came to power, he made cautious statemen’s when asked about the Armenian Genocide. Notably, he did not deny the fact of the Armenian Genocide, but simply stated that "these events" must be researched or looked into to find out what really happened.
Immediately, the Turkish military establishment and ultra-nationalists began accusing him of being too pliant in accepting "imposed terms" for joining the European Union, and not reacting strongly against Kurdish and Armenian deman’s. In response, Erdogan started taking tougher positions against EU membership requiremen’s, the Armenian Genocide, claims for Kurdish autonomy, the Cyprus conflict, and Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians. The Prime Minister wanted to show his hawkish opponents at home that he was just as good a Turk as his critics and that they were wrong in accusing him of compromising Turkey’s national interests.
On the Armenian Genocide issue, he went from saying that he did not know what really had happened in 1915, to denying outright that genocide had taken place, claiming that the Turkish nation could not have committed such a heinous crime. Ironically, while repeatedly denying the facts of the Armenian Genocide, he was, at the same time, suggesting that a commission of historians be formed to study whether such a crime had been committed.
It remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Erdogan, following his party’s major victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, would be much less sensitive to the accusations of his opponents. His newly-revealed decree on banning the term "alleged" Armenian Genocide could be an early sign that the Prime Minister now feels politically strong enough to take more liberal and daring positions on a number of thorny domestic and foreign policy issues, including the Armenian Genocide.