Germany's parliament became the latest to add its name to the list of legislatures and leaders that have passed resolutions accusing Turkey of waging genocide against the Armenians during World War I. And the actions of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may actually be fueling this increase in resolutions condemning his country.
During World War I, between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians were killed in Turkey. Critics of the Ottoman Empire blamed the government for ordering the systematic slaughter of these people, based on fears that they would conspire with the Russians or allies to destroy the country.
Regardless of who was to blame, public indifference over the matter was shameful. When asked about how people would perceive Hitler's bloodthirsty policies, the Der Fuhrer replied "Who, after all, speaks today for the annihilation of the Armenians?"
Actually, Allies (Great Britain, France and Russia) issued a joint declaration in 1915, condemning the killings. And the United States Senate passed concurrent resolution 12 blasting the massacres, a full year before entering World War I. The U.S. Senate voted for relief for the region, noting the plight of the Armenians in 1919, and passed a similar resolution in 1920, but after that, nothing was done for decades. Why?
First of all, the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist. After the war, the new state of Turkey itself was besieged by foreign powers, and only through Kemal Ataturk was able to carve out its independence. Turkey went from WWII neutrality to becoming a Cold War ally. There was less political stomach abroad for assaulting a government that was different than the one responsible for the extermination.
Second of all, people increasingly traveled to Turkey, or met Turks traveling to their country. The world began to realize that the Turkish people were very different from whoever ordered the butchery, the way the modern Germany is very different from the Nazi regime.
But with the ascent of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it's a different story. He used the democratic institutions to come to power, only to behave in an undemocratic fashion. He has embraced the history of the Ottoman Empire, and even the style of its sultans. He's even used the levers of government to censor domestic dissent, and even target journalists abroad who have criticized him. Targeting a minority group like the Kurds only adds to the analogy foreign governments perceive Erdogan and how he treats others.
When asked whether an executive presidency could coexist with the unitary structure of the state, a new government Erdogan supports in his constitutional change proposal, he replied "There are already examples in the world. You can see it when you look at Hitler's Germany."
Analysis of the timing of Armenian genocide declarations by legislatures and leaders reveals that of the 56 such resolutions, nearly half were passed since Erdogan came to power. When you consider that Erdogan's only been in power for 13 years, it is pretty impressive. Foreign governments have averaged nearly two Armenian genocide resolutions a year since 2003, as opposed to 0.35 per year before Erdogan. In other words, the annual average for Armenian genocide condemnations during the reign of Erdogan is more than five times as high as before he took office, despite worldwide knowledge of the atrocities.
Foreign countries interested in condemning Armenian genocide should not only draw distinctions between Turkey and the actions of the Ottoman Empire. They should make the same distinction between Erdogan and the people of Turkey, who do not always support him.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.