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  • Istanbul Convention and 'Socially Constructed Gender'

    20 April 2021 Many women are expected to play the role of weak creatures in this society. But as we know from countless successful women, including the accomplished daughters of President Erdoğan, this is far from true. These are socially constructed roles, which we should try to fight against if we want to turn Turkey into a better society. I have been lulled for a long time: Did not know what to think, what to write on anything in Turkey, as all the news we see on TV or papers seemed as part of a perception management campaign and I did not want to make a mistake by constructing any opinion on biased news reports. But there is one issue, that is women’s rights, on which no provocative news report can blur my sight. The news of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention wreaked havoc in Turkey, especially among women’s rights activists, lawyers, and any person who is even remotely aware of the violence against women and children rampant in Turkey. Via this midnight Presidential decree withdrawing Turkey from the Convention, claiming that it had been ‘hijacked by the LGBTI+ community,’ the government may believe it has created the turmoil it sought. Like many political commentators, I would have liked to say that the Turkish government wants to create an artificial agenda to cover up its real agenda. However, a ‘violence against women agenda’ is as real as the ‘economic decline agenda’ in Turkey, as the official data clearly shows. For the rest of the article, published on Duvar English on 01 April 2001 and learn more on what Istanbul Convention really means for Turkey, please visit : https://www.duvarenglish.com/the-istanbul-convention-and-socially-constructed-gender-news-56896

  • POWER OF WORDS AND PHOTOS

    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.

  • BIDEN UPSETS ARMENIANS THIS TIME

    7 May 2021 US President Biden is on the horns of a dilemma… Recently, he was condemned by Turks and Azerbaijanis following his recognition of ‘Armenian Genocide.’ This time, Armenians condemn him for extending a waiver to Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, allowing US military assistance to Azerbaijan that was originally banned over Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Two days after the genocide statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, sent a notification to the US Congress certifying that such assistance to Azerbaijan would not “undermine or hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan or be used for offensive purposes against Armenia.” Former President Donald Trump had not touched the Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act for the first two years of his presidency. It was only after two years passed, he waived Section 907 and that waiver had ended at the end of March this year. During their election campaign Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had given two promises to their voters. One was ‘the recognition of Armenian Genocide’, which was kept, and the other was ‘not to extend the waiver of 907 ever again’, which has just been broken. So, did Biden administration renew its Caucasus policy and if so, why and how? WHAT IS FREEDOM SUPPORT ACT AND WHAT IS SECTION 907? The Freedom Support Act and especially Section 907 of this Act are known by heart in Azerbaijan even by grandmothers since its enactment in the US in 1992. The Freedom Support Act (Freedom for Russia and Emerging Eurasian Democracies and Open Markets Support Act) is an act passed by the US Congress. President George W. Bush had signed it into law later in 1992. Through this act, many programmes and projects have been created to foster growth and create jobs in the former Soviet republics. US State Department coordinates all these activities. However, Section 907 excluded Azerbaijan from this process in response to Azerbaijan's blockade of Armenia during the first Karabakh War between the two countries. In 2001, the Senate adopted an amendment to the Act that would provide the President with the ability to waiver Section 907. And American presidents, including Trump, have provided more than 400 million USD of military and security aid/loans to Azerbaijan since then. And Armenians have always been complaining about this. WHY BIDEN FOLLOWS TRUMP’S FOOTSTEPS DESPITE HIS PROMISES? There may be two reasons behind this move. Firstly, the US Administration might have liked to make a gesture to Azerbaijan, following the outrage over Biden’s Armenian genocide statement in this country. Indeed, Biden’s statement had shadowed US’ role in the Minsk group as an objective co-chair, in the eyes of the Azerbaijanis. So, US Administration may be trying to revive the Minsk process and its role in it; thus opting for protecting its status and influence in the Caucasus rather than distancing itself from the region. Secondly, Russia’s hegemony in the region was presented by the US intelligence agencies as a threat to US national security in the House and Senate public hearings on 14 April. After a more than two-year break caused by tensions between the intelligence community and former President Donald Trump, the Senate Intelligence Committee's Worldwide Threats hearing, in which country’s intelligence agency chiefs present the global threats, was held for the first time since January 2019. So this year, not surprisingly, Russia was one of the threats mentioned, among others like China, Iran and North Korea. By lifting the obstacles in front of military assistance to Azerbaijan, the US seems to opt for joining the arms race in the region, ‘in order to protect its national security’. Armenians on the other hand interpreted this move differently. Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian said, in a statement, ‘American recognition of the Armenian Genocide comes with responsibilities, among them not arming or abetting Azerbaijan’s drive to complete this crime.’ In the Armenian mindset, the second Karabakh War started in September 2020 was the ‘continuation of Armenian genocide by Turks.’ (See my previous article on this for the details of this approach) ARMS RACE WHILE THE KARABAKH CEASEFIRE IS ALREADY FRAGILE A US State Department spokesperson, who spoke to the Hill, said that ‘US security assistance programmes in Armenia and Azerbaijan are designed to enhance regional stability and are carefully monitored to ensure they do not hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the conflict. However Azerbaijan and Armenia are in a fragile ceasefire, since it was brokered by Russia on 9 November. Despite Russia’s peacekeeping efforts, frictions continue with small scale local armed groups occasionally violating the ceasefire. Both Armenian and Azerbaijani governments continue to blame and threaten each other after each skirmish. And no significant progress has been made in realizing a durable peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia until now, even though with the ceasefire agreement the two sides had agreed to solve their problems peacefully in 5 years time. Yet, as the agreement leaves many aspects of the conflict uncertain, unresolved and at risk for further violence in the future. IS THERE A PEACEFUL WAY FORWARD? Looking at the recent national security debates in the US, it seemingly aims to counterbalance Russian activities in the region rather than escalating the conflict. But it is important what Russia reckons about this… For example, would it use American involvement as an excuse not to leave its military base in Karabakh, even though the ceasefire agreement envisages the withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping troops from Azerbaijan in five years time? It would be best to find a political solution to the conflict in this period, so that Russian peacekeepers would not be needed in the region. Yet due to the unresolved nature of the disputed territory, neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia take initiative to address the economic and infrastructural issues, which in fact could help a peaceful settlement if they were addressed, as employment opportunities, living standards, social system and infrastructure in the region are crumbling and due to these problems, the Azerbaijanis, who were displaced by the Armenian army 30 years ago, still could not go back to their homes and rebuild their lives. Despite the security risks, if the communication, diplomatic relations, foreign investments, infrastructure and economic activity in the region can be developed with the inclusion of Karabakh and Armenia, especially in the cooperation on energy sector, confidence among all sides, together with regional stability and cohesion, may be increased. The US, either together with Turkey and Russia or within the Minsk Group, may also play a constructive role here. This is the best-case scenario for all in the region, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey. The worst-case scenario is that Armenia perceives the current ceasefire agreement unfavorable to its interests. Given its increasing arms imports and continuing allegations of cultural genocide carried out by Azerbaijan in the Karabakh region, Armenia breaks the ceasefire, retriggering armed conflict that pulls all involved into a wider conflict, in which all people in the region lose except the current and future arms dealers.

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