One simple act can spare Turkey international grief

Sandy Smith's picture

As Turkey and France appear headed for a split over the French government's move to make denial of the Armenian genocide a crime, Ankara forgets that it can make a simple gesture that would head off this and similar actions worldwide.

It consists of a simple sentence, and it would read something like this:

"The government of the Republic of Turkey wishes to express its sincere regret to the Armenian people for the role its predecessor played in the deaths of more than 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1918."

There. That was easy, wasn't it?

No use of any politically sensitive terms. No abject chest-pounding. Just a simple apology for the first crime against humanity of the 20th century.

The trouble is, even this is still beyond the capacity of Turkey's leaders to deliver. That's because delivering it would require the country to examine its own past in a way it has been unwilling to do.

Many Turkish intellectuals, journalists and opinion leaders have lent their voices to growing calls for just such a national soul-searching. But so far, the calls have fallen on deaf ears in Ankara. The official position of the Turkish government remains that the deaths were the result of a civil war in which both sides committed atrocities.

Yet the evidence that has come to light in the years since the campaign shows that if the deaths were the result of a civil war, that war was incredibly one-sided. There is plenty of evidence relating to forced relocation of Armenians, mass starvation, and other acts consistent with an effort to wipe out the Armenian population of the eastern Ottoman Empire, and no evidence of similar moves on the part of the much smaller Armenian population.

When similar acts have occurred in more recent times, we have labeled them genocide: The massacre of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda. "Ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans. We need not reach all the way to the Holocaust for parallels. Yet the Turks continue to object to the use of the term.

They should be free to object. They should not be free to act as though nothing happened, or that they bore no responsibility. An apology would acknowledge that responsibility and do much to restore Turkey's standing with the nations of the West.

Image source of Turkish PM: Wikipedia

Add new comment