Archive for the 'Turkey' Category

Assyrian Organization Demands Autonomy in Iraq


The largest international Assyrian organization has convened its convention in Australia. The result of Assyrian Universal Alliance’s (AUA) 26th World Congress is a declaration which, in part, calls on Iraq to create an Assyrian autonomous region, demands land return from the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq and calls on Turkey to recognize the WWI genocide against Greeks, Assyrians, and Armenians.

Interestingly, the declaration calls for official recognition of Assyrians as Iraq’s indigenous peoples. The declaration, nonetheless, doesn’t claim the same in Turkey, Syria, and Iran, where modern Assyrians have previously claimed indigenous connection. It seems that AUA wishes to concentrate its efforts on a particular goal – mainly an autonomous region in northern Iraq. But given their small numbers (estimated at under a million), Assyrian’s righteous claim has little translation in Iraq’s realpolitik. Some even argue that Assyrian demands for autonomy in Iraq are a dangerous play in a region where Kurds and Sunni Arabs contest for power and control.

I don’t see a clear-cut solution for the Assyrian problem in Iraq, but I think a complementary relationship with both Kurds and Sunni Arabs is in the best interest of the Assyrians at this time.

Background on Assyrians: Known by different names, the indigenous peoples of Mesopotamia are often called Assyrians, Syriacs, Arameans, Chaldeans, Nestorians, Syrianis, Jacobites, and Phoenicians. Not all of the above choose to be called Assyrian, the general name often given to all these groups, and a more inclusive term, Chaldeans-Assyrians-Syriacs, has been emerging. The most active groups, nonetheless, consider the entire nation – Assyrians.

A small, stateless indigenous peoples spread between Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran, Assyrians are a little known nation with a recent history of persecution and even genocide. The likely descendants of the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians, modern Assyrians are an ancient Christian people who have survived for centuries. Surrounded by not just states but also by other stateless groups such as the Kurds, the history and problems of Assyrians are little known, discussed, or talked about.

According to various estimates, there are roughly four million Assyrians around the world. Less than two million live in their ancestral lands of what is now northern Iraq. As a result of the two Gulf wars, the number might have actually dwindled to less than a million there. In Syria, there are an estimated of 800,000 Assyrians, 74,000 in Iran, and less than 25,000 in Turkey. The largest diasporas are in the US, Armenia, Brazil, Lebanon, Russia, Sweden, and Australia.

Neo-Ottomanism and its official chief

Photo: The Armenian Reporter

Amid attempts to establish relations with Armenia and further its influence in much of the Middle East, Turkey has a new Minister of Foreign Affairs: Ahmet Davutoglu.

In the words of The New York Times:

In a major cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, Ahmet Davutoglu, the official who has shifted Turkish foreign policy toward a greater focus on the Middle East, was made foreign minister. Mr. Davutoglu previously served as a foreign policy adviser to the prime minister.


According to the Turkey-based Hurriyet, “Ahmed Davutoğlu advocates a foreign policy based on ‘zero problems with neighbors’ in line with what he terms the Ottoman identity of Turkey’s past.”

While ‘zero problems with neighbors’ suggests normalizing relations with Armenia – which has been blockaded by Turkey for almost all of its post-USSR existence – Davutoglu may not be the moderate some media make him to be.

In fact, Foreign Policy makes the claim that Turkey is attempting to become a cultural hegemon in the Islamic world and a regional power in the ancient Ottoman boundaries:

…Not only is Turkey sending emissaries throughout the region, but a new vogue for all things Turkish has emerged in neighboring countries. The Turkish soap opera Noor, picked up by the Saudi-owned MBC satellite network and dubbed in Arabic, became a runaway hit, reaching some 85 million viewers across the Middle East. Many of the growing number of tourists from Arab countries visiting Istanbul are making pilgrimages to locations featured in the show. In February, Asharq Alawsat, a pan-Arab newspaper based in London, took note of changing attitudes in a widely circulated column, ‘The Return of the Ottoman Empire?’

The article calls now-Foreign Affairs Minister Davutoglu the person behind “neo-Ottomanism:”

The mastermind of this turnaround—‘neo-Ottomanism,’ as some in Turkey and the Middle East are calling it—has been Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister’s chief foreign-policy advisor. In his 2001 book, Strategic Depth, he argued that in running away from its historical ties in the region, Turkey was also running away from political and economic opportunity. His strategy has paid off, literally, for Turkey. Trade with the country’s eight nearest neighbors—including Syria, Iran, and Iraq—nearly doubled between 2005 and 2008, going from $7.3 billion to $14.3 billion. And, from being on the verge of war with Syria a decade ago, Ankara is now among Damascus’s closest allies in the region […].

Nationalism is nothing new in Turkey. Yet for much of the last century, it has meant rejecting the country’s Ottoman history. Today it means claiming it.

Is solving the problem with Armenia – the darkest spot of the imperial heritage – the return to the future of Ottomanism for Turkey?

Whatever the case, the Armenian issue is a priority for “neo-Ottomanism.” In fact, it was Davutoglu himself who perhaps convinced President Obama, despite latter’s adamant stance up to that point, not to use the g-word while talking about the Armenian Genocide. As the Armenian Reporter detailed in March 2009:

Ahmet Davutoglu, senior foreign policy advisor to Turkish leaders, last week met with U.S. officials to discuss President Barack Obama’s visit to Ankara and Istanbul on April 5-7.

After meeting Mr. Obama’s national security advisor Jim Jones on March 19, Mr. Davutoglu told Reuters that he could not say what the Obama administration’s intentions were with regard to the president’s pre-election pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide […]

Mr. Davutoglu suggested that U.S.-Turkey relations were ‘in a historic era where our policies are almost identical on all issues,’ Associated Press reported him as saying on March 19. He added that the Armenian Genocide issue ‘could be debated from a historical perspective, but should not hijack the strategic vision of Turkish-American relations or Turkish-Armenian relations.’


During a visit to Washington shortly before the presidential elections, Mr. Davutoglu insisted that Turkey wants ‘to have best relations with Armenia,’ and ‘good relations’ with Armenians in the diaspora.

Davutoglu comes across as a moderate, but was he appointed to this position because he was able to convince Obama not to use the g-word?

Much of the discussion about the recent development of Turkish-Armenian relations has been about ‘strategic culture.’ That is, annalists look at foreign policy as a dynamics of internal and external developments: how societal moods – in this case nationalism – reflect or shape discussions, how leaders make decisions based on national interest as defined or contested by different groups, etc. More importantly, questions of whether Turks or Armenians are “honest” in the developments or whether a piece is “really possible” amid the history of genocide are often raised. Culture, and its implications on policy, are taken for granted.

It is common for foreign policy analysis to think of state actions as a “group” action, deeply reflective of domestic change or conflict. Much of this may be true for the Armenian-Turkish developments, given that more Turkish citizens seem to be open to dialogue, that Turkey wants to broaden its influence in the region, and that Armenia seeks a more economic viable future. All of the above, and other factors, are true, but strategic culture creates stereotypes, homogenizes governments, and leaves little room for change. Armenians talk whether they should trust “the Turks,” vice versa.

Individuals like Ahmet Davutoglu seem to be influential and leading the charge. He is, what researchers call, a goal-driven leader who clearly has a vision of making Turkey an uncontested regional power – even if such an attempt includes normalizing relations with ancient foe Armenia. But Turkish leaders, for that matter leaders of regional-hegemon-wanna-bes, are commonly instrumentalist – using nationalism to advance their often personal goals. It remains to be seen whether Davutoglu will be willing and able to broker an opening of the Armenian-Turkish border, which will hopefully open the door for Turkey to face its past in order to have a better future.

Perhaps it is in the interests of ‘neo-Ottomanism’ to recognize the Armenian Genocide?

The recession-proof genocide denial industry

Looking for a job? How about making $35,000 a month?

Well, only if you are a former speaker of the US House of Representatives and you want to work for the Turkish regime to deny the Armenian genocide.

In the words of The Hill:

The Turkish government has signed another prominent former congressional leader to join its K Street team.

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and others at his firm, Dickstein Shapiro, are working on a $35,000-per-month contract for Turkey, according to records on file with the Justice Department.


One issue Hastert and others lobbying for Turkey will have to deal with this year is a congressional resolution that defines the killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks in the early 1900s as genocide. The Turkish government opposes the resolution and has lobbied against it every time it has been introduced in Congress.

The irony, of course, is that Armenian lobbies are indirectly benefiting their enemies by pushing so hard for the genocide resolution through Congress.

Maybe the lobby should prioritize solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for one year and put the genocide resolution on hold for a while? If they do so, Hastert and other political sell-outs will no longer be recession-proof – and a return of the resolution in one or two year would meet an unprepared opposition.

Obama: Turkey Performance Satisfying

Barack Obama didn’t pronounce “Armenian Genocide” in Turkey, but he said the following in front of the Turkish parliament:

…An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens.

I say this as the President of a country that not too long ago made it hard for someone who looks like me to vote. But it is precisely that capacity to change that enriches our countries…

Another issue that confronts all democracies as they move to the future is how we deal with the past…our country still struggles with the legacy of our past treatment of Native Americans.

Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there are strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. While there has been a good deal of commentary about my views, this is really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive…

Earlier in Turkey, during a press conference, Obama had the following Q&A with his hometown newspaper Chicago Tribune’s Christy Parsons:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. As a U.S. senator you stood with the Armenian-American community in calling for Turkey’s acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide and you also supported the passage of the Armenian genocide resolution. You said, as President you would recognize the genocide. And my question for you is, have you changed your view, and did you ask President Gul to recognize the genocide by name?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, my views are on the record and I have not changed views. What I have been very encouraged by is news that under President Gul’s leadership, you are seeing a series of negotiations, a process, in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a whole host of longstanding issues, including this one.

I want to be as encouraging as possible around those negotiations which are moving forward and could bear fruit very quickly very soon. And so as a consequence, what I want to do is not focus on my views right now but focus on the views of the Turkish and the Armenian people. If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage them.
And so what I told the President was I want to be as constructive as possible in moving these issues forward quickly. And my sense is, is that they are moving quickly. I don’t want to, as the President of the United States, preempt any possible arrangements or announcements that might be made in the near future. I just want to say that we are going to be a partner in working through these issues in such a way that the most important parties, the Turks and the Armenians, are finally coming to terms in a constructive way.

Q So if I understand you correctly, your view hasn’t changed, but you’ll put in abeyance the issue of whether to use that word in the future?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I’d like to do is to encourage President Gul to move forward with what have been some very fruitful negotiations. And I’m not interested in the United States in any way tilting these negotiations one way or another while they are having useful discussions.

While some Armenians seem unhappy with Obama’s statement – there is now a SHAME ON YOU OBAMA Facebook group – I find Obama’s words tactfully affirmative. He indirectly said that genocide took place but that he won’t use the word “genocide” in Ankara as far as Turkey can demonstrate that there are fruitful negotiations for “full” normalization with Armenia which will itself, hopefully, result in genocide recognition. Specifically, he stated that 1) You know that I think Turkey committed genocide but I won’t use the word genocide since 2) there seems to be real hope for normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations, 3) but Turkey needs to demonstrate that the normalization is process is real and that the normalization is a “full normalization”, and (4) the latter should automatically include genocide recognition by Turkey. In Turkish professor Taner Akcam’s words, “[Obama] really pushed the borders, in a very positive and very smart way.”

Moreover, his comparison of the Native American experience – which is clearly an experience of genocide in the eyes of Turks – was also to the point (not mentioning that it was exactly what I had suggested to do in an earlier post :D).

There can be a lot more said about Obama’s handling of the situation. I am personally satisfied with the way he handled the issue given the place and time restrictions.

Obama’s Genocide Dilemma: My Solution

In several days, Barack Obama will visit Ankara. In largely Muslim Turkey, America’s popular president is still a favorite. But how will Obama deal with a human rights issue he has long considered a matter of principle?

President Obama will undoubtedly be asked by journalists in Turkey of his views about a newly introduced Congress bill recognizing the WWI Armenian Genocide.

How will he react? How should he react?

Scenario A: Obama will avoid public questions about the genocide. Asked by reporters if he supports the congressional resolution, Obama will stay away from comment or say he doesn’t oppose it. This is what many Armenian-Americans hope for: if Obama stays out of the genocide resolution, it will pass. But by staying out from such a vibrant development, Obama will let Congress undermine his authority as foreign policy chief. He can’t afford Congress run the show.

Scenario B: Obama will acknowledge in his reaction the Armenian Genocide (like he did in 2005 in Baku when confronted by angry Azerbaijani journalists) and try to justify the move. Obama will have limited time and much pressure in his reaction. It won’t be a good articulation and he may regret the consequences. He can’t afford ruining a press conference in his first foreign policy trip.

Scenario C: Obama will say he doesn’t support the resolution, condemn the Armenian Genocide but use the most elegant linguistic exercise to avoid usage of “genocide” itself. If his does this, he will mimic George W. Bush. Obama can’t afford being George W. Bush.

Is there hope for genocide recognition without nationalist backlash in Turkey and without undermining the presidency in the US? Yes there is – but there may be one and only one option: Obama needs to be proactive.

Most scenarios on Obama’s handling of the Armenian Genocide issue are of reactive measure: how he will respond and what he will answer. Instead, Obama needs a proactive approach.

In his Turkey speech before the Q&A, Obama should talk about honor and genocide. He should say the following:

“I represent one of the best stories on earth, one of the best countries in history, and of the most proud places in the Universe. And the country I love more than anything else has its dark sides. You see, America was founded on the corpses of its native people who were subjected to genocide and destruction. Acknowledging this fact doesn’t make America a worse place. In fact, it is by recognizing history that Americans can claim greatness. It is my hope that the great people of Turkey will do the same – acknowledge and denounce the destruction of the Armenian community during WWI who, like Native Americans, saw genocide and destruction.”

Many Turks have justly noted that America should see its own problems before denouncing others’. If Obama recognizes the genocide of Native Americans in Turkey, he will maximize the chances of finding an audience ready to listen and accept. And after that speech, there won’t even be a need for a congressional resolution.

Turkey: Official Numbers on Armenian Deaths

The New York Times has an interesting article which details the publishing of a WWI official Turkish source saying that 972,000 indigenous Armenians “disappeared” in the Ottoman Empire between 1915-1916.


According to a long-hidden document that belonged to the interior minister of the Ottoman Empire, 972,000 Ottoman Armenians disappeared from official population records from 1915 through 1916.

In Turkey, any discussion of what happened to the Ottoman Armenians can bring a storm of public outrage. But since its publication in a book in January, the number — and its Ottoman source — has gone virtually unmentioned. Newspapers hardly wrote about it. Television shows have not discussed it.

“Nothing,” said Murat Bardakci, the Turkish author and columnist who compiled the book.

The silence can mean only one thing, he said: “My numbers are too high for ordinary people. Maybe people aren’t ready to talk about it yet.”

For generations, most Turks knew nothing of the details of the Armenian genocide of 1915 to 1918, when more than a million Armenians were killed as the Ottoman Turk government purged the population. Turkey locked the ugliest parts of its past out of sight, Soviet-style, keeping any mention of the events out of schoolbooks and official narratives in an aggressive campaign of forgetting.

But in the past 10 years, as civil society has flourished here, some parts of Turkish society are now openly questioning the state’s version of events. In December, a group of intellectuals circulated a petition that apologized for the denial of the massacres. Some 29,000 people have signed it.

With his book, “The Remaining Documents of Talat Pasha,” Mr. Bardakci (pronounced bard-AK-chuh) has become, rather unwillingly, part of this ferment. The book is a collection of documents and records that once belonged to Mehmed Talat, known as Talat Pasha, the primary architect of the Armenian deportations.

The documents, given to Mr. Bardakci by Mr. Talat’s wife, Hayriye, before she died in 1983, include lists of population figures. Before 1915, 1,256,000 Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire, according to the documents. The number plunged to 284,157 two years later, Mr. Bardakci said.


Interestingly, according to the article, Mr. Bardakci’s grandfather was a member of Talaat Pasha’s Union and Progress Party, the organization that committed the genocide. While Mr. Bardakci says the extermination was not a genocide (maybe because he doesn’t want to be sued?), it is still interesting that he would publish a record that will not be helpful, to say the least, to the “denialist community.”


Still, it is a measure of Turkey’s democratic maturity that the book was published here at all. Mr. Bardakci said he had held the documents for so long — 27 years — because he was waiting for Turkey to reach the point when their publication would not cause a frenzy.

Even the state now feels the need to defend itself. Last summer, a propaganda film about the Armenians made by Turkey’s military was distributed to primary schools. After a public outcry, it was stopped.

“I could never have published this book 10 years ago,” Mr. Bardakci said. “I would have been called a traitor.”

He added, “The mentality has changed.”

Turkish Father Sues Education Ministry over anti-Armenian DVD

Turkey may be in denial when it comes to human rights and particularly when it comes to the Armenian Genocide. But there are some prominent Turkish dissidents who are sick and tired of nationalist propaganda. In an unprecedented move, a Turkish father is suing the Education Ministry of his country for showing a DVD in class denying the Armenian Genocide.

In the words of The Times, London:

A father is suing the Turkish Education Ministry for forcing his 11-year-old daughter to watch a “racist” and “disturbing” film countering claims that Ottoman Turks committed genocide against Armenians in 1915 with graphic allegations of Armenian atrocities against Turks.

The landmark case takes on what human rights activists have called the State’s militarist policy of brainwashing Turkey’s schoolchildren to the point of racist paranoia, aiming to preserve a nationalist status quo criticised by the European Union, which Turkey is keen to join.

“My daughter was very disturbed and frightened by the documentary and kept asking me if the Armenians had cut us up,” said Serdar Kaya, an ethnic Turkish doctor, who is suing the ministry and the child’s school for inciting racial hatred.

“There are many mass graves, bones and skulls in the DVD. They have interviewed old grandads who inspire confidence and compassion. When they say things like ‘They cut off his head’ and ‘They used it instead of firewood’, that is bound to stay with the children,” Serdar Degirmencioglu, a psychologist, told the Armenian newspaper Agos when news first broke that the documentary was being shown to primary school children – including ethnic Armenian Turks.


Turkey: US State Department Report Doesn’t Use the Word Genocide

US State Department’s 2008 Human Rights Report on Turkey doesn’t use the phrase “Armenian Genocide,” despite both Hilary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s campaign promise to recognize the Armenian genocide as such.

UNESCO: Western Armenian and Homshetsma Armenian Disappearing

An interactive map of endangered languages, showing 2,500 out of 6,000 tongues at risk, has been released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Among 18 languages at risk in the Republic of Turkey are Western Armenian, the language of Ottoman Empire’s indigenous Armenians who were almost entirely eliminated during WWI, and Homshetsma, the language of some Islamized Armenians, considered a distinct dialest of Western Armenian, yet has classical and medieval Armenian at its roots but also has heavy Turkish and Arabic influence. Many of the Homshetsma speakers survived the Armenian Genocide unlike those who spoke Western Armenian. Homshetsma is also listed as at risk in the Republic of Georgia.

The full list of languages at risk in Turkey are:
Cappadocian Greek (Turkey)
Gagauz (South Balkans)
Homshetsma (Turkey)
Judezmo (Europe)
Mlahso (Syria)
Mlahso (Turkey)
Pontic Greek
Ubykh (Turkey)
Western Armenian (Turkey)

The full list of languages at risk in the Armenian Republic are:
Pontic Greek
Suret (otherwise known as Suryaya Swadaya, Lishana Aturaya, Lishana Kaldaya, Suryani, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Neo-Syriac, Christian Northeastern Neo-Aramaic)

The full list of languages at risk in Azerbaijan are:
Juhur (Caucasus)
Udi (Azerbaijan)

The full list of languages at risk in Georgia are:
Bohtan Neo-Aramaic
Homshetsma (Caucasus)
Homshetsma (Turkey)
Pontic Greek
Udi (Georgia)

Instead of Looking in the Mirror, Turkey Calls Israeli Ambassador

Weeks after an angry exchange between Turkey’s and Israel’s leaders over the attack on Gaza, things are not getting better between the two Middle East allies. In CNN’s words:

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned Israel’s ambassador to the Turkish capital of Ankara on Saturday to issue a formal complaint over a top Israeli commander’s reported remarks criticizing Turkey.

The complaint is part of the escalating war of words between the two regional allies, stemming from Turkey’s outspoken criticism of the recent conflict in Gaza.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said Saturday that it had requested an “urgent explanation” from Ambassador Gabby Levy for recent remarks reportedly made by a top Israeli military commander.

According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi told an international conference that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan should “look in the mirror” before criticizing Israel.


The “mirror” indeed, is the oppression of Kurds and genocide of Armenians that Turkey refuses to accept. It is also Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s relationship with Sudan’s criminal president, Omar al-Bashir, who hopes his Turkish friend will get him off the hook from being arrested over the genocide in Darfur.

But the “mirror” also shows – at least until recently – Israel with its eyes covered standing next to Turkey, closing its eyes on the Armenian genocide and other violations by the Turkish government so long as the latter doesn’t bring up the issue of Palestinians.

Unfortunately, it is the flash from CNN that is blurring the mirror for its readers. A flash so simplifying everything that it’s hard to tell what Israel and Turkey are talking about.

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