Opinion and Editorial

US and Turkish interests colliding over the Armenian matter

Jamila Qadir (Issues)
Filed on October 22, 2007

THE so-called Armenian genocide has always been a loose change in dirty global political games of superpowers, something akin to Monika Levinski, who kept her stained dress for years to make use of it at the right time.

The Armenian card was played during World War I by Britain, France and Russia against Turkey. More recently Soviet Russia played the same card against Soviet Azerbaijan, which dared ask for independence and the right to control its own oil reserves.

There is also a little known case of the same game played by Tsarist Russia against the Azerbaijani population of the Russian Empire again (surprise, surprise!) in 1905 when the latter’s foundations were shaken after its defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and the following revolution of 1905.

Or another not very popular case —Armenian-Azerbaijani War of 1918-1920, when British troops occupied the newly established democratic oil-rich Azerbaijan, following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World. The latest addition to this list is no different.

Recently US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where the Democrats have the majority, passed a resolution condemning the “Armenian Genocide” in the Ottoman Empire.

The resolution N 106, which could be brought up for a vote next month, supports what Armenians for nearly a century have been clamouring for.

Lately, Turkey has committed a number of serious “mistakes”. Earlier this month Turkey assured the Damascus government it would not let Israel use its airspace to strike Syria after an Israeli raid heightened tension in the Middle East.

“Turkey will not let Turkish territory or airspace be used in any activity that could harm the security or safety of Syria,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said after meeting Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in Damascus.

The two countries have built closer security and economic ties in recent years despite persisting water disputes and past Syrian support for Kurdish rebels.

Moreover, late last month, Turkey and Iraq agreed on an accord that would reportedly allow Turkish forces to cross into Iraq to pursue separatist Kurdish rebels, according to media reports.

The congressional resolution came as the Turkish parliament was debating authorising a military campaign into northern Iraq to root out rebels who seek a unified, independent nation for Kurds in the region.

On October 9, Turkey’s prime minister gave the green light for possible military action in northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels there, drawing a warning from the US, which fears wider regional instability.

US officials have urged Turkey not to send troops and appealed for a diplomatic solution with Iraq. The Kurdish self-rule region in northern Iraq is one of the country’s few relatively stable areas and the Kurds here are also a longtime US ally. But Turkey was adamant.

Washington has warned Ankara against an incursion into northern Iraq, wary that it may destabilise a relatively peaceful (!) region of the country and fuel tensions between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds, staunch US allies.

Interestingly, Turkey was one of the first countries in the world to recognise the neighbouring Armenia’s independence in 1991, but relations between the two states soured following the Armenian occupation of the western provinces of Azerbaijan; particularly the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent territories close to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

Another serious issue surrounds the events of 1915-17, when actions by the Ottoman Young Turks led to the forced deportations and related deaths of an estimated 300,000 (according to Ottoman archives) to 600,000 (according to Arnold J Toynbee, an intelligence officer of the British Foreign Office during the World War I), and up to 1,500,000 (according to Armenian resources) ethnic Armenians in what some scholars and countries recognise as the “Armenian Genocide”.

The Turkish government rejects the notion that these events constituted a genocide, and instead states the deaths, in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire during the World War I, were a result of disease, famine and inter-ethnic strife; particularly citing the massacres committed by the Armenian Dashnak and Henchak rebels backed by the Russian Army in Eastern Anatolia, in which thousands of ethnic Turks and Kurds were killed.

In the recent years, however, large numbers of Armenian workers, some 70,000, have moved to Turkey, around 40,000 in Istanbul alone. This in addition to some 100,000 Armenians who have been living in Turkey permanently for decades despite the “genocide”.

Interestingly, a map compiled by Armenians and found from the archives of the Ottoman Empire by Turkish historian Chezmi Yurtsever, refutes the so-called Armenian genocide.

According to the academic, the map compiled by the Armenian Mekhitarists monastery on the island of San Lazzaro (Saint Lazarus) near Venice, Italy, shows that the number of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire in the years 1832-1896 was 1.2 million.

This figure proves that the allegations of killing of 1.5 million out of 2.5 million Armenians who so they say lived in Turkey during the World War I and the statements about the so-called Armenian genocide are baseless, Turkish media reported earlier this year.

The Turkish historian said that the archives records on the number and composition of the population in the Ottoman Empire before 1916 also shows that the allegations of Armenians are false.

Ironically, Armenia itself had conducted a policy of ethnic cleansing in early ‘90s of last century, killing thousands of ethnic Azerbaijanis living both in Armenia and Azerbaijan and expelling more than a million of Azerbaijanis from their lands. Suffice to recall the Khojaly Massacre of 1992.

So, what is the bottom line? Sadly for Armenians, the bottom line is that they will have to wait for another “appropriate” chance to push their far-fetched case.

Now, what will be the Turkish response apart from recalling its ambassador from and cancelqling an official visit to the US? How it will reflect on the Iraqi and Afghani military campaigns?

Looks like Americans are in deep trouble. Turkey is their main ally in this region, while Kurds are main US supporters in Iraq. The question is to be or not to be. The question is with who to be and it requires an unerring answer.

Turkey has good reasons to blame the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, for terrorism, which means retaliation on Kurdish terrorists is in line with the global war with terrorism that the US is sort of fighting.

Obviously, Kurds, who will have support from their Syrian and Iranian counterparts as well as their country’s President Jalal Talabani, who also happens to be a Kurd himself, will resist and the military operation against them will not be an easy or a swift one.

This means a wider regional military conflict and as a result might lead to a final break-up of Iraq into Kurdish, Shia and Sunni territories. And this means a new war to alter oil-rich regions.

Perhaps, this scenario suits the US, which wants to create an independent Kurdistan, not because it cares for Kurds, but because the bulk of the Iraqi oil reserves are located in the Iraqi Kurdistan.

As you would expect, any help in creation of an independent Kurdish state will make Kurds faithful servitors of the US at least until the last barrel is pumped out of the Iraqi soil.

If so, this might lead to completely new and different ways of transportation of the Iraqi oil and accordingly to new American interests and presence in the region for decades to come.

Jamila Qadir is a senior reporter with Khaleej Times

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