Saturday, February 9, 2008


By John C. K. Daly

Eurasia Daily Monitor, DC
Feb 6 2008

The tragic events in eastern Anatolia in 1915 continue to roil not
only Turkish-Armenian relations, but the international community and
Turkish-American relations as well.

For more than 25 years, Yerevan and the Armenian diaspora have lobbied
to have the events in the wartime Ottoman Empire labeled as the 20th
century's first case of genocide, a definition that successive Turkish
governments have furiously lobbied against. Now the issue seems set to
appear before The Hague's International Court of Justice and Permanent
Court of Arbitration.

At issue is the February 2001 genocide resolution adopted by France,
which concisely states: "France publicly recognizes the Armenian
genocide of 1915." It was a largely symbolic act, since it did not
allow for the prosecution of those who deny that the 1915 massacre was
genocide. At the time Ankara was furious, but despite the dispute,
trade between France and Turkey grew 22% in 2002 and by 2006 had
increased 131% (Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2007).

The issue has never really gone away, however. Last week veteran
Turkish diplomat Sukru Elekdag, from the opposition Republican
People's Party (CHP), brought up the issue following talks at the
French parliament, where he was part of a Turkish Grand National
Assembly delegation. Elekdag suggested that France should reconsider
its legislation under the terms of the 1948 UN Convention on the
Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. "We can go to
the Internal Court of Justice with France and ask whether the law
adopted in France in 2001 is in compliance with the agreement in 1948
and whether the 1915 incidents constitute genocide."

Speaking to Today's Zaman, Elekdag expanded on his observations,
saying, "What would the authorized court rule if we assume that the
UN Convention could be implemented retrospectively? ... It is obvious
that the court will rule that the French parliament is not authorized
to make such a decision, and it will also have to announce that the UN
Convention cannot be implemented retrospectively due to the principle
of legality. This means that the 1915 incidents cannot be described
as genocide. If the ICJ makes such a ruling, then Armenia's genocide
allegation will entirely collapse" (Today's Zaman, February 5).

Elekdag, a former foreign ministry undersecretary and former ambassador
to the United States, has a history of opposing international efforts
to label the events of 1915 as genocide.

Speaking at the "Turkish-Armenian Relations and 1915 Incidents"
symposium at Ankara's Gazi University in 2005, he declared, "The
Armenian diaspora's accusing Turkey of genocide is a legal crime"
(Anatolian Times, November 25, 2005).

Having attempted to battle the decision in the media, the Turkish
government is now set to take its case to The Hague. Ankara will
argue that since France's genocide resolution was not based on any
French court decision, then the French National Assembly's decision
should be based on a prior ruling by an international court. Elekdag
told Hurriyet, "There is no international court ruling on the
Armenian so-called genocide allegations. Is the French parliament a
court? France is thus in the position of having disregarded the 1948
UN Convention" (Hurriyet, February 4).

Turkey will propose that Ankara and Yerevan each select three judges,
who in turn will select a chairman. The panel will review Turkish
archival material as well as the Dashnak (Armenian Revolutionary
Federation) Party archives in Boston, Armenian Patriarchate archives,
and those of foreign missions in the Ottoman Empire at the time
to determine the validity of their documents. The survey will be
followed by an extensive forensic survey of possible contributory
factors such as demographics and disease, ending with testimony from
relevant parties.

Even if Turkey succeeds in its Hague appeal the issue is hardly likely
to go away for Ankara, as many EU politicians insist that Turkey must
recognize the Armenian genocide before it can join the European Union.

The issue has also crossed the Atlantic. On January 30, 2007,
U.S. Congressmen Adam Schiff (D-CA), George Radanovich (R-CA), and the
co-chairs of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, Frank Pallone (D-NJ)
and Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) introduced a resolution to recognize the
Armenian genocide, which was only tabled in October after furious
lobbying by the Bush administration (see EDM January 23, October
12, 17, 2007). Undeterred, Congressional critics in the House of
Representatives recently introduced a new resolution condemning the
January 19, 2007, murder of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink
(, February 5). Furthermore, Democratic presidential
candidates Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton have both stated that,
if elected, they will recognize the Armenian genocide.

The imbroglio seems to be a classic case of political posturing versus
historical reality, and the only certainty is that the issue seems
unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

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