When European Union leaders meet in Brussels Dec. 14-15, the debate to admit Turkey likely will hinge on, among other issues, its failure to open its ports and airports to Cyprus, which opposes all talk of membership. The Netherlands, Germany, Austria and France are cool to admitting Turkey and are backing Cyprus.
Lingering in the background, though, will be the ghosts of the Armenian genocide, a crime Turkey has denied at every turn and is still "investigating" to this day.
As recently as March, 2005, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for an "impartial study" into the genocide as if the facts of the slaughter of a milion Armenians were ever in doubt.
When the "Young Turk" nationalists created the Republic of Turkey after World War I, they refused to punish the perpetrators of the 1915 genocide. Mustapha Kemal formed a new government in 1920 that forced the Allies to sign the Treaty of Lausanne, ceding Anatolia, home of the Armenians, to Turkish control. Two years earlier Anatolia had been parceled out to Italy and Greece after the Ottoman Empire's surrender to the Allies.
As author Elizabeth Kolbert put it in the November 6th The New Yorker, "For the Turks to acknowledge the genocide would thus mean admitting that their country was founded by war criminals and that its existence depended on their crimes."
"Turkey has long sought to join the European Union, and, while a history of genocide is clearly no barrier to membership, denying it may be; several European governments have indicated that they will oppose the country's bid unless it acknowledges the crimes committed against the Armenians."
So opposed is Turkey to discussion of the subject, when the U.S. Congress sought a resolution in 2000 to memorialize the Armenian genocide, Turkey threatened to refuse the U.S. use of its Incirlik airbase and warned it might break off negotiations for the purchase of $4.5-billion worth of Bell Textron attack helicopters.
President Clinton informed House Speaker /Dennis Hastert passage of the resolution could "risk the lives" of Americans and that put an end to the bill. Like his predecessor, President George Bush has bowed down to Ankara's wishes and issues Armenian Remembrance Day proclamations "without ever quite acknowledging what it is that's being remembered," The New Yorker points out.
The cover up denies Turkey's historic victimization of some 2-million Christian residents treated as second-class citizens by special taxation, harassment, and extortion. After Sultan Abdulhamid II came to power in 1876, he closed Armenian schools, tossed their teachers in jail, organized Kurdish regiments to plague Armenian farmers and even forbid mention of the word "Armenia" in newspapers and textbooks.
In the last decade of the 20th Century, Armenians were already being slaughtered by the thousands but systematic extermination began April 24, 1915, with the arrest of 250 prominent Armenians in Istanbul. In a purge anticipating Hitler's slaughter of European Jewry, Armenians were forced from their homes, the men led off to be tortured and shot, the women and children shipped off to concentration camps in the Syrian desert.
At the time, the U.S. consul in Aleppo wrote Washington, "So severe has been the treatment that careful estimates place the number of survivors at only 15 percent of those originally deported. On this basis the number surviving even this far being less than 150,0000"there seems to have been about 1,000,000 persons lost up to this date."
In our own time, the Turkish Historical Society published "Facts on the Relocation of Armenians (1914-1918"). It claims the Armenians were relocated during the war "as humanely as possible" to keep them from aiding the Russian armies.
In 2005, Turkish Nobel Prize recipient Orhan Pamuk, was said to have violated Section 301 of the Rurkish penal code for "insulting Turkishness" in an interview he gave to a Swiss newspaper. "A million Armenians were killed and nobody but me dares to talk about it," Pamuk said. Also, Turkish novelist Elif Shafak was brought up on a like charge for having a fictional character in her "The Bastard of Istanbul" discuss the genocide.
Fortunately for him, Turkish historian Tanar Akcam resides in America. His new history, "A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility"(Metropolitan) otherwise probably would land him in jail.
As there are few nations that have not dabbled in a bit of genocide, one wonders why Turkey persists in its denials? After all, genocide is hardly a bar to UN admission or getting a loan from the World Bank.
Turkey has every right to membership in the same sordid club as Spain, Great Britain, Belgium, Russia, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, China, and America. Why must it be so sensitive? Let them confess and sit down with the other members to enjoy a good cup of strong coffee. They'll be made to feel right at home, as long as they don't mention Tibet, Iraq, Cambodia, the Congo, Chechnya, Timor, Darfur, Rwanda ad nauseum. After all, there are ghosts everywhere.