Turkey and the Armenian Genocide

Yesterday I noticed there was a lot of chatter on the internet about the Armenian genocide which took place in 1915. Denial of the Armenian genocide is a criminal offence in France, and I’m not about to get myself chucked in jail, deported, or ceremoniously guillotined in front of the offices of Turkish Airlines by doing any such thing. And the same goes for the comments: when the blade is about to be dropped, my bleatings that “It was my commenters!” will fall only on the deaf ears of the man about to cut the rope, so behave you lot. (Especially you, TNA!) Besides, regardless of the law I am woefully ill-informed to comment on the matter of what occurred, when, and how.

What I want to say is that the issue has come down to a solitary word – genocide. Armenia and a good few other nations want Turkey to acknowledge that genocide took place, whereas the Turks themselves take issue pretty much only with the use of this particular word. The problem is, even moderate Turks aren’t much in the mood to concede on this point, it’s not just the raving, ultra-nationalist fans of Erdoğan who are being stubborn. From what I understand, the issue holds such significance that any politician willing to concede on this particular word would be committing political suicide: Turkey has staked its national pride on it, and it’s not going to budge.

Part of the problem is there isn’t really a solution. In the case of other seemingly intractable issues (Northern Ireland, Crimea, etc.) there is always a compromise involving power sharing, land swaps, etc. as well as formal apologies and acknowledgements. On the issue of the Armenian genocide and the use of that particular word there is not much room to compromise. No acknowledgement from Turkey that does not include the word “genocide” will be accepted, and Turkey won’t acquiesce to using the term. There is no more room to meet in the middle.

Often these things are solved with the passage of time. I am reliably told that the animosity between Greeks and Turks has lessened considerably as the older generations died out and the younger ones weren’t sure what all the fuss was about. But a hundred years on and the Armenian genocide isn’t going away, in part because Armenia defines itself so much on this issue and they have a powerful lobbying ability (I’m not saying these are bad things, I’m simply pointing out facts). The Armenians aren’t going to drop the subject, and the Turks aren’t going to concede.

Perhaps in a few more generations Turks will have evolved politically and socially to the point where they no longer consider this a trench worth fighting to death in, but the way things are moving with Erdoğan I expect things to get worse before they get better. Either way, it’s not going to be resolved any time soon.

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