Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Echoes of a Genocide: The Turkish prime minister’s anti-Armenian outburst

For all the criticisms that I and others have levelled against the chauvinism of Balkan states such as Serbia and Greece, it must be conceded that such chauvinism has one redeeming feature: it is the chauvinism of relatively small states, hence always somewhat ridiculous. The nationalist posturing of such states, replete with references to mythologised glorious histories, is the posturing of the little man who walks into a bar and brags about how big he is. In this sense, such chauvinism and posturing can never quite compare to that of a really large, powerful state. The threat of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to expel 100,000 ethnic Armenians from Turkey, is therefore uniquely terrifying: ‘There are currently 170,000 Armenians living in our country. Only 70,000 of them are Turkish citizens, but we are tolerating the remaining 100,000. If necessary, I may have to tell these 100,000 to go back to their country because they are not my citizens. I don’t have to keep them in my country.’ The threat was made in response to moves by the US Congress and the Swedish parliament to recognise the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Such posturing is that of a thug who really is one of the biggest and strongest in the bar. At the same time, Erdogan has not only rejected the term ‘genocide’ in relation to what happened to the Armenians in 1915, but denied that Turkey had even every been guilty of atrocities: ‘Our warriors always respected ancestral laws and did not kill innocent people even on the battlefield. I should underline that this country’s soldier is bigger than history and that this country’s history is as clean and clear as the sun. No country’s parliament can tarnish it.’

Erdogan’s chauvinistic outburst proves that the extreme Turkish nationalism responsible for the Armenian Genocide and for the killing or expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Greeks during the 1920s (many of whom were Turkish-speaking Anatolians deemed ‘Greek’ only by virtue of being Christians) still very much dominates the mind-set of the Turkish political classes. It is a nationalism born out of the decay of the Ottoman Empire, in which repeated interventions by Christian Europe on behalf of the Ottomans’ Christian subjects and the resulting Ottoman territorial losses gave rise to a genocidal Turkish impulse vis-a-vis Anatolian Christians, identified as they were as agents of foreign enemies and threats to the territorial integrity of the state. The Turkish War of Independence of the 1920s was at once a legitimate war of national liberation against West European imperialism and Greek aggression, and a murderous assault on the remaining Anatolian Christians that culminated in the burning of the city of Smyrna in 1922 and the massacre of its Greek and Armenian inhabitants. The Turkish victory in that war and the establishment of the Turkish republic halted the Ottoman/Turkish territorial decline, but the readiness to attack and expel members of Christian nationalities remained. As late as 1955, the Turkish government of Adnan Menderes orchestrated a massive anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul, as a way of pressurising Greece over the Cyprus question, resulting in the virtual disappearance through emigration of Istanbul’s up-till-then large and thriving Greek community. Against this background, Erdogan’s anti-Armenian outburst needs to be taken seriously.

Ironically, Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), to which Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul (who recently won the Chatham House Prize for 2010) belong, represents the moderate wing of traditional Turkish nationalism. The AKP government has improved the rights of Turkey’s Kurdish minority and pursued detente with Cyprus and Armenia. On the other hand, the AKP government has developed a populist Islamic chauvinism of its own, involving demagogic diatribes against Israel, flirtation with anti-Semitism and support for Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s genocidal Islamist regime in Sudan. Erdogan has denied that the latter is guilty of genocide in Darfur, claiming that ‘Muslims don’t commit genocide’. This Islamic populism has gone hand in hand with increasing government assaults on the media, most notably the imposition of a $2.5 billion fine on Dogan Yayin Holding, Turkey’s biggest media group. Meanwhile, Ankara is developing increasingly close friendships with authoritarian states in the region hostile to the West, above all Russia, Iran and Syria.

The AKP regime’s drift away from the West and from Western values must be blamed in large part on Ankara’s increasing loss of confidence in the prospect of EU membership, above all on account of French and German opposition. The appointment of the strongly anti-Turkish and anti-Islamic Herman Van Rompuy as President of the European Council last autumn has only increased the justified impression in Turkey that Europe fundamentally does not want it. ‘Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe’, said Van Rompuy in 2004; ‘An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion as in the past. The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are also fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey.’ This is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The carrot of EU membership was a major catalyst for the impressive democratisation of Turkey that took place during the early years of the AKP government. With the carrot apparently unattainable, a major incentive to democratise has gone. The Western alliance is now paying a heavy geopolitical price for French and German selfishness and narrow-mindedness, and for Islamophobia of the Van Rompuy variety.

For all its increasing authoritarianism and Islamic populism, the AKP government remains in one respect a driving force behind further democratisation: it is successfully taming the Turkish military, which has been responsible for overthrowing several democratically elected Turkish governments in the past. The Turkish government has every right to pursue and punish elements in the military that plot coups and internal disorder. Yet there are reasons to fear that the huge ‘Ergenekon’ investigation of these elements is also being used to hound the AKP’s political opponents. The democratically elected AKP government is successfully overturning an old authoritarian order, but threatens to establish a new authoritarianism in its place. In the struggle between the old Kemalist establishment and the new Islamic middle class represented by the AKP, a total defeat for either side would be bad for democracy; the two sides should rather become the two wings of a pluralistic Turkey – like the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats in Germany, or the Republicans and Democrats in the US.

Turkey, in other words, is a country at a political crossroads: between democracy, authoritarianism and political chaos at home and between a Western and anti-Western authoritarianism abroad. It is in the vital interests of the Western alliance to steer Turkey as much as possible in a pro-democratic, pro-Western direction. The alternative is an authoritarian, anti-Semitic regime – either in Islamist or extreme-nationalist Kemalist garb -allied to the West’s enemies abroad.

In these circumstances, parliamentary resolutions in Western countries recognising the Armenian genocide are equivalent to pouring petrol on the flames. Such resolutions are objectively anti-Turkish: many members of the Western alliance, not to mention of the wider international community, have historically been guilty of genocide or of crimes on a par with genocide, yet it is Turkey alone – alone – whose historic crimes are being singled out for parliamentary recognition by its own supposed allies. If the Armenian Genocide is being recognised by parliaments that have absolutely no intention of recognising the genocide of the Native Americans or the Australian aborigines, for example, or the European powers’ colonial crimes in Africa and Asia – some of which undoubtedly constituted genocide or were on a par with it – then Turkey has every reason to view such recognition as aggressive and hostile. Many citizens of Turkey are descended from Balkan and Caucasian Muslim peoples who were the victims of genocidal crimes at the hands of Russia and the Balkan Christian states during the eighteenth, nineteenth or early twentieth centuries; the hypocrisy of Western states that remain silent about these crimes while formally recognising the Armenian Genocide is clear to everyone in Turkey.

The tragedy is that such Western hypocrisy discredits the cause of Armenian Genocide recognition in Turkey itself and hands a powerful trump card to the Turkish government, which has long been aggressively persecuting those Turkish citizens brave enough to speak about about what happened to the Armenians in 1915. Defying popular chauvinism and government intimidation, over 22,000 Turkish citizens signed a petition in 2008 apologising for the crime against the Armenians: ‘My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers and sisters. I apologize to them.’

This growing movement in Turkey to reject the national chauvinist paradigm and come to terms with the country’s historical crimes represents an essential part of Turkey’s democratisation. Turkey will only become a genuine democracy when its citizens are free to discuss what happened to the Armenians in 1915, and to call it genocide if they wish, without fear of persecution or arrest. The tragedy is that clumsy, hypocritical genocide resolutions actually set this process back. As the New York Times reported earlier this month: ‘Turkish intellectuals had made some progress at pushing the [Armenian] issue into the public debate. Ethnic Armenians in Turkey fear that passage of the [genocide]resolution by the full House — which would be unprecedented — would seriously harm those efforts.’ As Turkish university professor Soli Ozel said back in December 2008, ‘If they were to free Turkey of the pressures [of these bills], we would be able to talk about the issue in a more desirable way.’ So long as the Turkish government can present the campaign for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide as the work of the international Armenian lobby and hypocritical anti-Turkish governments, it only weakens the position of those brave and principled Turks who wish to wish to raise the issue at home. As Ergodan’s chauvinistic outburst threatens, there is always the danger that the AKP government, frightened for its political future, will respond to further foreign recognitions of the Armenian Genocide by retaliating against its own Armenian minority. This is quite apart from the fact that such recognitions will only further alienate Turkey and the Turkish public from the Western alliance and push them into the arms of our enemies, and that they are highly problematic from the point of view of genocide scholarship as well.

There is a simply way in which the Armenian Genocide issue can become a help rather than a hindrance to Turkey’s democratisation: instead of passing resolutions recognising the Armenian Genocide, Western parliaments should pass resolutions calling upon Turkey to permit the issue to be freely debated at home and abroad; to desist from arresting, persecuting or intimidating anyone for stating their opinion about what happened to the Armenians in 1915. Unlike parliamentary recognition of genocide, there would be nothing hypocritical about this: the US, Britain and other EU and NATO members do not for the most part recognise their own or each other’s historic acts of genocide, but they do permit these crimes to be freely discussed and debated.

A democratic Turkey’s membership of the EU would tremendously strengthen Western security. But so long as Turkey threatens its minorities and criminalises mention of the Armenian Genocide, it does not deserve membership. Turkey should be encouraged to become a pillar of Europe, rather than an embarrassment to it.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

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Friday, 26 March 2010 Posted by | Armenians, Balkans, Genocide, Turkey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why David Cameron is right to break ranks with Sarkozy and Merkel

CameronDavid Cameron, the British Conservative leader and probable next British Prime Minister, has been coming under harsh criticism for his decision to take the British Conservatives out of the conservative Euro-federalist bloc in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party, and to form a new anti-federalist group: the European Conservatives and Reformists, whose most prominent other members are Poland’s Law and Justice Party and the Czech Republic’s Civic Democratic Party. Critics have pointed out that the new group includes racists, homophobes, climate-change-deniers and politicians with far-right backgrounds. The European Conservatives and Reformists is chaired by Michal Kaminski, an admirer of Augusto Pinochet and opponent of Polish moves to apologise for the Polish massacre of Jews at Jedwabne during World War II. They have argued that Cameron is marginalising Britain within the EU.

So far as Cameron’s critics from the ranks of the Euro-federalist wing of the Conservative Party and of Britain’s Labour Party are concerned, it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The European People’s Party, supposedly the voice of moderate, centre-right conservatism, includes the ruling Italian party, Silvio Berlusconi’s ‘People of Freedom’. The latter, formally founded this spring, includes the heirs to Italy’s Fascist movement, including Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance and Alessandra Mussolini’s Social Action. Poland’s homophobic Civic Platform is also a member of the European People’s Party. Stefan Niesiolowski, deupty speaker of the Polish Sejm and a member of Civic Platform, has described lesbians as ‘sickening‘ and as a ‘pathology‘. The European People’s Party includes also as observers or associates Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which denies the Armenian Genocide and flirts with anti-Semitism, and Serbia’s Democratic Party of Serbia, whose leader Vojislav Kostunica presided over the burning down of the US embassy in Belgrade last year.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s members in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe sit in the Socialist Group, which includes Russia’s fascist Liberal Democratic Party, headed by the overtly racist and anti-Semitic Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who called publicly for the ‘preservation of the white race’ and warned that ‘it’s all over for you once you’re Americanised and Zionised’. The Socialist Group also includes ‘Just Russia’, which incorporates the racist, far-right Rodina party – several of whose members in the Russian Duma have called for all Jewish organisations in Russia to be closed. Another member of the Socialist Group is Turkey’s anti-Kurdish Republican People’s Party, which not only denies the Armenian Genocide but opposed even the Turkish government’s own measures to lift restrictions on the Kurdish language.

This sort of point-scoring is very easy. Geopolitical alliances are not equivalent to domestic political alliances, in which there can be no excuse for allying with bigots or fascists. The reality of geopolitics is that the majority of the world’s states have not achieved Western-democratic standards of democracy, tolerance and human rights. Consequently, even democratic states are frequently forced to have unsavoury allies. We had to ally with Stalin to defeat Hitler; with Saudi Arabia and Hafez al-Assad’s Syria to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991; with the Northern Alliance to defeat the Taliban in 2001. NATO has long included the highly chauvinistic states of Turkey and Greece, which discriminate against their national minorities in a manner that is wholly at odds with the standards of democratic Europe. The UK shares membership of the EU with states, such as Italy and Poland, that tolerate fascism or bigotry to an extent that would be unacceptable to the UK’s politically conscious public. We share membership of the Council of Europe with states whose democratic credentials are still more flawed, such as Turkey and Russia. A British party sitting in the European Parliament or the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, that does not wish wholly to isolate itself, has little choice but to join blocs that include some highly unsavoury members.

Of course, one could take the principled position that international isolation would be preferable to any alliance that includes bigots or extremists. Yet this is the opposite of what Cameron’s critics, such as Denis MacShane and Nick Cohen are saying, which is that he should have kept the British Conservatives in the European People’s Party in order to preserve British influence through membership of the dominant mainstream centre-right bloc, as represented by Angela Merkel’s German Christian Democrats and Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement. 

I have great respect for both Denis MacShane and Nick Cohen, but I must beg to differ. The biggest internal threat to the EU is not the homophobia or anti-environmentalism of Polish and Czech rightists – disgusting though these are. A rather bigger threat comes from the Euro-federalist project that, with only slight oversimplification, can be defined as follows: forge a strategic partnership with Russia at the expense of Eastern Europe; undermine the Western alliance in the interests of ‘independence’ from the US; keep Turkey out of the EU, at whatever cost to Western strategic interests; keep Ukraine and Georgia out of NATO, consigning them to the status of buffer zone vis-a-vis an appeased Russia; and build a narrow, inward-looking ‘Fortress Europe’ that would certainly not pull its weight in the global struggle with the enemies of freedom and human rights. Such is the policy of the dominant Franco-German bloc in the EU, currently led by Merkel and Sarkozy.

Sarkozy hardly scores higher in terms of political correctness than does Kaminski. He is on record for opposing Turkey’s entry into the EU on the grounds that ‘Turkey is in Asia Minor’ and that ‘I won’t be able to explain to French school kids that Europe’s border neighbors are Iraq and Syria.’ (This from the head of a state that, via its overseas department of French Guiana, shares a land border with Brazil). Treating Turkey, which was part of the Ancient Greek world and the Roman Empire and whose largest city was for a time the Roman capital, as an Asian ‘other’ with no right to be part of Europe, scarcely marks Sarkozy out as a respectable centre-right statesman free of bigoted views. Nor does his vocal support for the Greek-nationalist campaign to force the Republic of Macedonia to change its name, motivated as this is by the racist belief that a Slavic-speaking people has no right to use the Macedonian name of the ‘Greek’ Alexander the Great, and that the Macedonian nation has no right even to exist.

Sarkozy and Merkel were responsible in April 2008 for the failure to grant a NATO Membership Action Plan to Georgia and Ukraine, effectively announcing to Moscow that the Western alliance was not standing by these countries – a message that Vladimir Putin took to heart when he attacked Georgia soon after. Sarkozy and Merkel were then in the forefront of the appeasers who pushed to ensure that Moscow’s aggression would not be allowed to stand in the way of EU-Russian collaboration. At the height of Russia’s aggression against Georgia, while France held the EU Presidency, Sarkozy travelled to Moscow to reassure the Russians that ‘It’s perfectly normal that Russia would want to defend the interests both of Russians in Russia and Russophones outside Russia.’ Sarkozy’s negotiations, in Toby Vogel’s words, ‘yielded a badly drafted ceasefire agreement and provided space for numerous Russian violations that the EU was in no position to counter’. Merkel, meanwhile, is in coalition with the German Social Democratic Party – the champion of collaboration with Russia, whose former leader Gerhard Schroeder described Putin as an ‘impeccable democrat’.

The Franco-German policy of excluding Turkey permanently from the EU – an integral element in the Euro-federalist strategy – has borne bitter fruit. The once reformist government of the AKP in Turkey, persistently disappointed in its ambition to join the EU, is turning away from the West and toward an increasing alignment with Russia, Iran and other tyrannical states of the Islamic world. For the current leaderships of France and Germany, cementing strategically crucial Turkey’s membership of the Western alliance is simply less important than their goal of an introverted federalist Fortress Europe that they would dominate. Meanwhile, Poland, the Czech Republic and other NATO members from the former Communist bloc are increasingly apprehensive at the possibility of a Western rapprochement with Russia that would see their security interests sacrificed – as the recent open letter to the Obama Administration from a stellar panel of Eastern and Central European statesmen makes clear. We can be certain that it will not be Sarkozy and Merkel who will be reassuring our Eastern and Central European allies.

In sum, Sarkozy and Merkel are taking the EU down the wrong path – a path, moreover, with which British public opinion is deeply uncomfortable. The policy of Gordon Brown’s government so far has been to keep rank with the French and Germans. This policy has not achieved results.

It would be wrong to read too much into Cameron’s move, which is apparently the result principally of internal Conservative Party politics rather than geostrategic considerations. Despite promises to the contrary made at the time of the Georgian war last summer, the Conservatives are continuing to sit with Putin’s United Russia party in the European Democrat Group in the Council of Europe. But in principle, Cameron’s formation of the European Conservatives and Reformists shows a welcome readiness to shake up EU politics and power structures and break ranks with elements that are taking Europe down the wrong path. The European Parliament is not where power lies in the EU, but in principle, the new group – small as it currently is, and containing as it does some undeniably unsavoury elements – could grow to provide a powerful voice for Europeans, particularly East and Central Europeans, who are uncomfortable with the federalist project and with the Franco-German preponderance in the EU, and who staunchly support the US alliance. It is to be hoped that this new group will serve as a building block for a new, alternative European project in keeping with Cameron’s professed vision of ‘progressive conservatism’, and not as a haven for European reactionaries.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Update: Stephen Pollard has written a convincing defence of Kaminski from the charge of anti-Semitism.

Hat tip: Dave Weeden, Aaronovitch Watch.

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Friday, 31 July 2009 Posted by | European Union | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment