Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
Friend or Fascist?
By David G. Young
Washington DC, October 16, 2007 --
The outrage over America's resolution on the Armenian genocide has exposed the ugliness of Turkey's lingering fascism.
When an American congressional committee voted to use the word "genocide" to describe the 1915 Turkish massacre of Armenians, it was hardly a pioneering move. The horrible events of 92 years ago are widely known. Historians have documented them, Armenian-American refugees have offered abundant personal accounts of the genocide, and any traveler who has seen the hundreds of abandoned Armenian Orthodox churches in eastern Turkey gets a clear picture of a society vanished from recent history.
Given that the ethnic cleansing of Western Armenia is an accepted fact that occurred so long ago, and that the perpetrating Ottoman Empire no longer exists, you might think that a resolution acknowledging the genocide would get nothing more than a yawn from Turkey.
But you'd be wrong. Far more interesting than the resolution itself was Turkey's reaction. It immediately recalled its ambassador in Washington, and began furiously lobbying for the resolution's defeat before the full House of Representatives. A top Turkish foreign policy advisor, Egemen Bagis, even threatened sanctions against the tiny part of Armenia that the Turks didn't manage to eliminate.1 Protests in the Turkish streets indicated that the country's people -- educated with frighteningly nationalistic Turkish dogma -- really don't believe that the genocide took place.
Clearly, Turkey has a pretty big problem. It's not just that Turkey denies the genocide, but it continues to behave brutishly toward its remaining minorities, in a way that has hardly changed from the fascist era.
Turkey's president is currently seeking a resolution in parliament to invade northern Iraq to attack Turkey's minority Kurdish rebels based across the border. While these rebels have a bloody track record of their own, the separatist movement developed in response to the country's repression of the Kurdish minority. Until recent years, Turkey denied the Kurds' very existence -- despite being 20 percent of the country's population2 -- and labeled them "mountain Turks" who had forgotten their true language. To this day, Turkey outlaws conducting business in the Kurdish language, and only last year began allowing Kurdish language television and radio broadcasts for a mere one hour per day.3
Turkey is unrepentantly fascist in its treatment of its minority populations, and in dire need of reform. But as recent events have shown, America's genocide resolution is only making matters worse by inflaming Turkish nationalism and putting the country on the defensive.
America must deal with Turkey as one would deal with an alcoholic friend. It is counterproductive to denounce such a person a drunk before a group of his colleagues. A much better approach is to discuss the problem privately, in a friendly location, making it absolutely clear that you are offering your friend support to overcome his problem, but you will no longer stand by and accept continued destructive behavior.
So it should be with Turkey. American diplomats should privately inform Turkey that it must come to terms with the Armenian genocide of 1915 and move toward a public admission. Further, it must reform its society away from its ultra-nationalist past, acknowledge its minority populations, and grant them full political and civil rights.
Until it does so, the American government should make clear that it will not tolerate any incursion into Iraq to attack Turkey's Kurdish rebels, and doing so would be considered an attack on American forces. America should also tell Turkey it will cease supporting Turkey's European Union candidacy until it greatly improves the civil rights of its minority citizens.
If Turkey then chooses to end its friendship with the United States in order to retain outdated fascist ideas and policies, then so be it. But it should do so after calm, considered deliberation rather than after a public shouting match brought on by an act of a self-righteous Congress whose condemnation is 92 years overdue.
Related Web Coumns:
Yes to Islam, No to Fascism, April 29, 2007
Neither Loyalty, Nor Morality
1. Associated Press, Iraqi Vice President in Turkey, October 16, 2007
2. CIA World Factbook, Turkey, October 4, 2007
3. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2007, December 2006