By Igor Siletsky
A large number of historians and 18 nations including Russia, Canada, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile and powers in the EU agree with Armenia that the Ottoman Empire slaughtered 1.5 million of its ethnic Armenians in 1915, leaving Turkey with hardly any Armenians left at all. They also agree that the slaughter amounted to genocide. Turkey disputes both the death toll and the nature of the 1915 events. It argues the killings were part of WWI, in which Turks also died, and had nothing to do with genocide.
In the latest turn of the dispute, Turkey has recalled its Ambassador from France after the Lower House of the French Parliament passed a bill to make it a criminal offence to deny that the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire almost 100 years ago amounted to genocide. Speaking in Istanbul Friday Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also accused France of unleashing genocide during the independence war in Algeria, where French forces are believed to have killed 15 percent of the country’s population.
If the French bill is passed by the Senate, France will have as many as two genocide denial bans – one applying to the Nazi Holocaust of the European Jews, and the other to the Ottoman slaughter of the Armenians. Offenders will face at least a year in jail or a 45-thousand-euro fine. By pushing through the latter ban, Sarkozy is delivering on his 2007 campaign pledges to France’s influential Armenian community.
Dr Boris Dolgov of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences also sees a link to France’s next presidential elections:
“The French government argues that Turkey cannot be allowed to join the European Union as long as it refuses to recognize its responsibility for the 1915 genocide. In fact, however, Sarkozy’s party is seeking to boost his support base in the next presidential elections in 2012 by an estimated half a million Armenian votes in France.”
Nor is Turkey prepared to climb down. We have an opinion from Dr Alexander Sotnichenko of the Moscow-based Institute of the Middle East:
“Turkey is highly unlikely to admit that is has something like the Holocaust on its national conscience. Indeed, admitting its responsibility for the slaughter would revive Armenia’s claims to the parts of Turkish territory that became Turkey under the 1921 peace treaties signed in Moscow and Kars. It would also lead to massive compensation claims.”
Turkey’s current row is with France. The two previous ones were with Sweden and the United States. In its row with Sweden, Turkey recalled but subsequently returned its Ambassador to Stockholm. In its spat with the US, it recalled but subsequently returned its Ambassador to Washington. The recall followed a committee resolution in the US Congress to regard the 1915 slaughter as an instance of genocide. The return followed a speech by Barack Obama on Slaughtered Armenians Memory Day on April 24th in which he carefully avoided using the word ‘genocide’. Observers believe the current row between Turkey and France will eventually follow a similar scenario.