The tragic events in eastern Anatolia in 1915 continue to roil not only Turkish-Armenian relations, but the international community and Turkish-American relations as well.
For more than 25 years, Yerevan and the Armenian diaspora have lobbied to have the events in the wartime Ottoman Empire labeled as the 20th century’s first case of genocide, a definition that successive Turkish governments have furiously lobbied against. Now the issue seems set to appear before The Hague’s International Court of Justice and Permanent Court of Arbitration.
At issue is the February 2001 genocide resolution adopted by France, which concisely states: “France publicly recognizes the Armenian genocide of 1915.” It was a largely symbolic act, since it did not allow for the prosecution of those who deny that the 1915 massacre was genocide. At the time Ankara was furious, but despite the dispute, trade between France and Turkey grew 22% in 2002 and by 2006 had increased 131% (Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2007).
The issue has never really gone away, however. Last week veteran Turkish diplomat Sukru Elekdag, from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), brought up the issue following talks at the French parliament, where he was part of a Turkish Grand National Assembly delegation. Elekdag suggested that France should reconsider its legislation under the terms of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. “We can go to the Internal Court of Justice with France and ask whether the law adopted in France in 2001 is in compliance with the agreement in 1948 and whether the 1915 incidents constitute genocide.”
Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Elekdag expanded on his observations, saying, “What would the authorized court rule if we assume that the UN Convention could be implemented retrospectively? … It is obvious that the court will rule that the French parliament is not authorized to make such a decision, and it will also have to announce that the UN Convention cannot be implemented retrospectively due to the principle of legality. This means that the 1915 incidents cannot be described as genocide. If the ICJ makes such a ruling, then Armenia’s genocide allegation will entirely collapse” (Today’s Zaman, February 5).
Elekdag, a former foreign ministry undersecretary and former ambassador to the United States, has a history of opposing international efforts to label the events of 1915 as genocide. Speaking at the “Turkish-Armenian Relations and 1915 Incidents” symposium at Ankara’s Gazi University in 2005, he declared, “The Armenian diaspora’s accusing Turkey of genocide is a legal crime” (Anatolian Times, November 25, 2005).
Having attempted to battle the decision in the media, the Turkish government is now set to take its case to The Hague. Ankara will argue that since France’s genocide resolution was not based on any French court decision, then the French National Assembly’s decision should be based on a prior ruling by an international court. Elekdag told Hurriyet, “There is no international court ruling on the Armenian so-called genocide allegations. Is the French parliament a court? France is thus in the position of having disregarded the 1948 UN Convention” (Hurriyet, February 4).
Turkey will propose that Ankara and Yerevan each select three judges, who in turn will select a chairman. The panel will review Turkish archival material as well as the Dashnak (Armenian Revolutionary Federation) Party archives in Boston, Armenian Patriarchate archives, and those of foreign missions in the Ottoman Empire at the time to determine the validity of their documents. The survey will be followed by an extensive forensic survey of possible contributory factors such as demographics and disease, ending with testimony from relevant parties.
Even if Turkey succeeds in its Hague appeal the issue is hardly likely to go away for Ankara, as many EU politicians insist that Turkey must recognize the Armenian genocide before it can join the European Union.
The issue has also crossed the Atlantic. On January 30, 2007, U.S. Congressmen Adam Schiff (D-CA), George Radanovich (R-CA), and the co-chairs of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) introduced a resolution to recognize the Armenian genocide, which was only tabled in October after furious lobbying by the Bush administration (see EDM January 23, October 12, 17, 2007). Undeterred, Congressional critics in the House of Representatives recently introduced a new resolution condemning the January 19, 2007, murder of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink (Panarmenian.net, February 5). Furthermore, Democratic presidential candidates Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton have both stated that, if elected, they will recognize the Armenian genocide.
The imbroglio seems to be a classic case of political posturing versus historical reality, and the only certainty is that the issue seems unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.