30 April 2021
So many assumptions have been made regarding the possible reasons of the US President Joe Biden’s recognition of the 1915 killings of Ottoman Armenians as genocide. Yes, he had promised to do so during his election campaign but recent frost in Turkey-US relations over the Russian missiles and the second Karabakh war also seem to have given Biden a bit more licence to make the genocide designation official.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan called Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev immediately after Biden’s statement on April 24. The two leaders must have known by heart why this statement came 106 years after the events, not 50 years later or a hundred years later, not last year, but this year! This is the year following the second Karabakh War, in which Azerbaijan with the support of Turkey got back its territories that were under Armenian occupation.
Even though Azerbaijan was taking back its own internationally recognised territories, after a 30 years-stalemate in the Minsk process, Armenians as expected took out the good old massacre card, linking the two separate cases, the ‘Armenian Massacre’ in the Ottoman times and the second Karabakh war, saying that Turks’ aim was to ‘continue the Armenian massacre.’ There were numerous statements, letters and petitions by the Armenian scholars, combined with social media attacks on Azerbaijan and Turkey, with this assertion, since the beginning of the war in October last year.
Photos showing the plight of Armenians were not only published online but according to the sources close to US State Department, were also on the desk of the US President before his genocide statement.
Few of the photos circulated widely in the US administration were from the museum inaugurated by President Aliyev in Baku on April 12. Unfortunately, Aliyev were showing off the captured Armenian equipment; an arch made from helmets of killed and captured Armenian soldiers being the centrepiece. These disturbing images and the earlier boastful behaviours of Aliyev naturally must have added insult to injury.
As a president who came to power with a few promises, including the promise of cleansing the US of Donald Trump, Biden did what he had to do from human rights perspective presented to him.
THE FINAL NAIL IN THE COFFIN OF THE MINSK GROUP
From geopolitical perspective, up until Biden’s genocide statement, Azerbaijan, annoyed with the deployment of Russian troops on its territories, was still talking about the possible role of the US in the final settlement of the question as Turkey’s strong NATO ally and a fair country. Similarly, Turkey had been calling for a wider Minsk summit to bring a lasting solution to Karabakh.
Previously, Emmanuel Macron’s France, one of the three co-chairs of the Minsk Group, had already discredited itself in the eyes of Azerbaijanis as a ‘neutral peacemaker’ by openly supporting Armenians during the second Karabakh War.
That is why, when the Minsk group’s French and American co-chairs visited Azerbaijan President in Baku in December, Aliyev gave them the cold shoulder, saying, ‘the status-quo in the region has changed and Azerbaijan had to resolve the decades-long conflict itself.’
The Minsk Group, which was supposed to find a peaceful solution to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh was indeed in the throes of death for 30 years. Looking at the latest outrage in Azerbaijan, Biden seems to have put the final nail in the coffin of the Minsk Group. Whether the call of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to President Aliyev on April 28 will revive the dead is yet to be seen.
NEED FOR RECONCILIATION
Even though Armenians believe that they were massacred in Ottoman times and recently in the second Karabakh War, the two has nothing in common except this very belief, which is contradicting with the fact that Armenians occupied Azerbaijan’s territories through military aggression.
However, what happens in the Caucasus does not mean Turkey should overlook at Ottoman Armenians’ calls for justice. I believe in reconciliation between the communities through the research of the truth and settlement. Otherwise, people will continue to live with resentment.
It may be even easier to start from more recent massacres and war crimes happened in early 90s in Azerbaijan, namely in Khojali in 1992 or in the southern cities from Agdam to Zengilan in 1993 when hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis were forced to leave their homes under the Armenian gunfire.
This could be much easier to prove as the perpetrators of those atrocities are still living and the victims are still suffering the consequences, let alone the presence of millions of photos and films. Even I have dozens of photographs showing the burning towns and plight of the displaced Azeris as I was working as the UN Information Officer in Baku between 1992-1993 and had participated in numerous missions to the front lines in flames and the horrible refugee camps.
A settlement of these more recent cases may also help build trust between the communities and may lead to reconciliation between Turks and Ottoman Armenians.
WHAT DOES THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE POSTCARD TELL US?
There may be people who would be tempted to compare the death tolls and reject the above proposal. Well, every death is a tragedy. Equally tragic are lies meant to fuel hatred.
Many in the West must be familiar with the postcard Armenians send to people all around the world every 24th of April. Underneath, it is written ‘it is the photograph of a pile of human skulls of the Armenians killed by the Turkish in 1915.’ It seems that the postcard can be purchased online too…
When you google The Apotheosis of War you’ll see the same picture in the form of a painting this time: a painting by the Russian war artist Vasily Vereshchagin. It is part of a series of paintings, in which Vereshchagin painted a pile of human skulls on the barren earth, as he imagined the aftermath of a Mongol attack on Samarkand in 1220. Painting was produced in 1868, long before 1915 and actually is exhibited in Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
So apparently, Armenians in the absence of any concrete proof took the photos of this painting and convinced the world it was the photograph of the genocide. On some of these postcards, there is a bird on the left of the skulls, on others, on the right. Armenians pretend that the photograph was taken from different angles but in reality it is just because of the way they printed the photo of this 19th century painting.
What does this tell us? It does not tell us, horrible things did not happen to Armenians during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. If I have to make a judgment based on this postcard, I can only say that the Armenian stories and photos need to be taken with a pinch of salt. As this proverb tells us, we should not believe something we are told, because we believe it is unlikely to be true.
Saying this, I would not like to hurt the feelings of my beloved Armenian friends. Perhaps, in a campaign, such manipulative tactics are even understandable but if we, the outsiders, are to judge others based on photos, we should make sure they are authentic.
NOT A GOOD TIME
Whatever the reason behind Biden’s genocide statement was, its timing was unfortunate. If we go a few years back, let’s say to 2005, in Turkey there were people competing with each other to apologize for what happened to Armenians in the First World War. A lot of water has flowed beneath the bridge since then and nationalism reached its peak in domestic and international politics.
Today, in Turkey, forget about the apology, it is even hard to say anything less then condemning Biden’s move. Even, the main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu found Erdoğan’s reaction soft. Similarly, in the west, slightly question the ‘Armenian genocide,’ you are at least downright categorized.
So, what could be the benefit of this statement in Turkish-American relations at such a volatile time, rather than hurting the feelings of a country who is very sensitive on the issue and who have been openly calling for the research of the matter by international historians for years?
Looking at all the reactions in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia, it did not serve anything rather than fuelling nationalism. And as we all know, nationalism spearheaded by politicians leads to catastrophe and it is the ordinary people who suffer underneath.