Turkish anger, Armenian fears: reactions to Biden's 'genocide' recognition
In Turkey, majority and opposition parties, Erdogan’s supporters and opponents are against Biden. Turkey’s Armenian minority keeps a low profile amid tensions. Sources told AsiaNews that the issue is “complex and sensitive”, that the “political and instrumental use” of the word must end.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – The decision by US President Joe Biden to recognise the Armenian genocide under the Ottoman Empire in 1915 has had inevitable repercussions in Turkey.
In a country divided over (almost) everything, the term is something that unites majority and opposition parties, supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and those who oppose him.
For this reason, Turkey’s Armenian community is keeping a low profile, fearful that it might become the target of Turkish anger.
Turkey’s Ministry of Justice responded to the US president with a statement saying that there is no legal ruling that qualifies what happened in 1915 as “genocide”.
“Taking into account the Genocide Convention, to which our country is a party, and the case law of the International Court of Justice interpreting this agreement,” reads the statement, “the statements of the American president have no legal significance.”
“Baseless statements, made for purely political reasons, throw dirt on the glorious history of a nation that has lived for centuries with righteousness and the rule of law.”
For Turkish authorities, President Biden gave a new reading of history to please pro-Armenian lobbies hostile to Turkey, which, while acknowledging massacres and violence as part of a civil war in Anatolia, strongly denies the use of the word “genocide”.
For their part, Armenian Turks prefer to keep a low profile. As a young man interviewed by L'Orient-Le Jour put it: “Discretion is part of our way of life.”
The fear is that the 60,000 Armenians still leaving in Turkey may somehow become the object of popular revenge in case too much emphasis is placed on the issue.
“From an early age, we learn not to speak Armenian on the streets,” he explained. “There are differences of opinion in Turkey on everything, but when it comes to the Armenian question, they are all united.”
Yetvart Danzikyan, editor of the Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, notes that every year on the eve of 24 April, the day of commemoration of the massacres of 1915, a “climate of tension” prevails. This fear has increased since the assassination of the paper’s former director Hrant Dink.
A government source in Turkey, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told AsiaNews that the genocide is “complex and sensitive” issue, which has also been used “in an anti-Turkish way.”
“On this matter, some authoritative historians in Turkey do not recognise what happened as genocide. This is a historic debate, which must not be trivialised, with an emblematic and symbolic aspect.”
The central issue is the idea of “meddling” in the “internal affairs of the country”. It ends up “sparking reactions across divisions that do not only concern a part.”
“We should distinguish the scientific debate, to be encouraged in the appropriate forums, from the political use that is made of the event, because no one denies the massacre of the Armenians,” the source explained.
“The basic issues should be discussed, more than the term genocide itself, but the central question is whether or not it is possible to talk about it freely in Turkey today. This is the question: Can we freely discuss if genocide took place?”
In a context of deep tensions, the Catholic Church in Turkey is trying to reduce tensions and seek a meeting point.
“Even the Armenian Catholic Archbishop Boghos Levon Zekiyan emphasises that it is useless to get bogged down around the word, because it has become only a sterile matter.
“A constructive exchange cannot be undertaken by using this word as a banner in favour or against. We must end the political and instrumental use of the word.”