On the day marking the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey, Russian President Vladimir Putin pays a visit the Armenian capital Yerevan, while the speaker of the Russian parliament, Sergei Naryshkin, is visiting the Turkish capital Ankara.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. Photo: RIA Novosti
April 24, 2015, marks 100 years since the start of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey – the first genocide of the 20th century, during which more than 1.5 million Armenians were killed. On this day in 1915, Constantinople saw the start of mass arrests and executions of the Armenian population, including the intellectual, religious, economic and political elites.
While still a student at Lvov University, Raphael Lemkin, a young Polish lawyer of Jewish origin, set about researching the mass annihilation of ethnic groups. In 1944 he coined the term “genocide,” and applied it to the mass extermination of Armenians.
The idea of avenging the crime committed by the Turkish government was the only consolidating factor for Armenians scattered around the world and who were, until the 1990s, deprived of statehood. Having miraculously survived, erstwhile friends and neighbors found themselves oceans apart.
The numerically large Armenian diasporas from the United States to Uruguay, from France to Syria, are a direct consequence of 1915. Today, there are four times as many Armenians living outside the country as in it.
The killing of Armenians in 1915 also marked the start of the subsequent mass extermination of Greeks and Assyrians, who had lived in their historical homeland for thousands of years, and Molokans (Russian Old Believers) at the hands of the Turkish government. The world was silent then as it is today, when Christians around the world are again being killed simply for being Christian.
Since 1965 countries from all corners of the globe have started the process of recognizing and condemning the Armenian Genocide. The first to do so was Uruguay. As of today, most of the civilized world, including Russia, has recognized and condemned the atrocities of the Turkish government in the early 20th century. For the first time Pope Francis held a mass in memory of the 1.5 million Armenians killed 100 years ago, and used the word “genocide” to describe the actions of the Turkish authorities.
Yet one century on, humanity still flinches at describing murder as murder. Even now, 100 years later, Turkey denies the crimes that were committed. To begin with, Turkey did not even mention the killing of Armenians. Later, it spoke of the deportations that took place. Today, Turkey accuses Armenians of refusing to fight in the First World War against Russia. Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman army did indeed side with the Russian Empire, and separate Armenian units were established in the Russian army. But that is hardly surprising, since to imagine Armenians taking up arms against Russians requires much imagination.
Beyond this blatant pretext, the true reason for the extermination of Armenians and Greeks can be found elsewhere, quite possibly their religious affiliation. The killing of Armenians in 1915 was the first attempt to wipe out an indigenous Christian population in its ancestral homeland, and similar attempts are being made across the entire Middle East as we speak.
The question of the Armenian Genocide has long ceased to exist in a purely historical context, and is now very much part of the political landscape. The historical fact of the murder of 1.5 million Armenians is, it would seem, no longer doubted even by Turkey. What concerns Ankara more is that recognition of the crimes committed would spark compensation claims from descendants of the victims and destroy the entire ideological basis of the Turkish state.
Ever since the Justice and Development Party came to power, Turkey’s foreign policy doctrine has been founded on the concept of “neo-Ottomanism,” as framed by the current Prime Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu. Turkish diplomats take every opportunity to voice undisguised delight at the revival of Ottoman traditions in Turkey.
Ankara has decided to deviate from the path of Europeanization in favor all-out Islamization, which has not only narrowed the chances of it ever recognizing the Armenian genocide, but also poses a threat to the Christian communities of Syria, Iraq and other countries in the region, where terrorist groups are operating with the direct or indirect support of Ankara.
All this has created a special backdrop to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Moreover, it is symbolic that on the very same day, April 24, Turkey plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli operation in grand style, with invitations extended to various heads of state [the near year-long Gallipoli operation was an important chapter in the First World War and a major failure for Britain, France and other allies seeking to capture the Bosporus and Dardanelles. It ended with the withdrawal of foreign troops from Turkish soil. – Editor’s note].
It is the first time in 100 years that the campaign will be marked on April 24, since it has no relation to this date whatsoever. The Dardanelles operation lasted from February 19, 1915, through January 9, 1916, and the Turkish government clearly wants to overshadow the event that will be taking place on the other side of the border.
Armenia has invited representatives from a broad sweep of nations to attend the 100th anniversary of the tragic events. However, Armenians themselves have been interested in one question only: Will Vladimir Putin – who is probably seen by many Armenians as their national leader to a greater extent than their current President Serzh Sargsyan – make the trip to Yerevan?
For Russia, Armenia is altogether unique, since it is the only country of the former Soviet Union that post-1991 never considered any scenario for its own development that did not involve a union with Russia.
Turkey, meanwhile, is hosting Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament. After all, Turkey is a major trading partner for Russia, and its biggest competitor in the Caucasus and the Middle East, two regions of vital importance for Moscow.
It makes no difference if Turkey is governed by nationalists or Islamists – the former will seek to annex the North Caucasus because it is home to a large Turkic population, the latter because Muslims live there. For that reason, many commercial projects with Turkey will always be a form of tactical cooperation against the backdrop of the strategic standoff between the two countries.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.