Charm Offensive, A La Turca


By MassisPost
Updated: April 28, 2014

By Bulent Kenes

This is how things work in this country. A thing is done not because
it is the correct thing to do or because someone is entitled to it or
because it just must be done. Things that may be done or steps that
must be taken are done or taken in response to an emerging need or
affair. Usually, a thing is done out of a necessity, but not because
our principles or attachment to moral or ethical values or our respect
or ability to have empathy for others entail it, or because we are true
democrats. And more often than not, what needs to be done is done at
the eleventh hour. Moreover and worse still, sometimes what needs to
be done is not done with sincerity, but with the pretense of sincerity.

This tradition didn’t change regarding the tragic events that occurred
during World War I and especially in 1915. Turkey has always sought
to save face instead of coming up with a humanitarian approach based
on human rights, laws, morality and civility, and with a permanent
solution that would satisfy both sides to a reasonable extent. And
to save face, we always acted at the eleventh hour. The message of
condolences issued by the Prime Minister’s Office of the Turkish
Republic on April 23, addressed to the children and grandchildren of
the Armenians who lost their lives during the forced relocation and
massacre of 1915, falls within this category although it claims that
Turkey understands and shares in their sorrows.

Still, we need to acknowledge that this historic statement, issued
in nine languages including Turkish and two Armenian dialects and
undersigned by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is a very bold
step in the right direction. But this does not save it from being a
tactical move in the final analysis.

This is because this message does not aim to solve the problem and
ensure a confrontation with the past and bring to daylight the truth,
even if we may not like it. Rather, it seeks to temporarily get rid
of a big, imminent problem and buy time. The fact that the statement
was issued on April 23, i.e., one day before Armenian Genocide
Commemoration Day on April 24, lends credence to this thesis.

On April 24, not only US President Barack Obama, but also many
presidents, governments and parliaments around the world tend to
make statements about the 1915 tragedy. Everyone knows that in their
consciences, they are close to seeing this tragedy — which occurred
in the context of World War I — as “genocide,” even if they may
not officially acknowledge it as “genocide” due to their political,
diplomatic or economic interests. Here I must note that those who
are close to the “genocide” approach also include the countries,
administrations and powers that seek to instrumentalize this sorrow
to attain certain pragmatic goals or that seek to settle accounts
with Turkey via the great sorrow of Armenians.

Actually, this year’s April 24 is not the worst experience we will
have. It is just a small rehearsal for the real test for Turkey
in 2015, which will be marked as the “Centennial of the Armenian
Genocide,” which Turkey cannot escape or ignore. The prime minister’s
statement may help to alleviate the preliminary shockwaves of this
impending event, but it can hardly be a complete solution to this
indispensable event, which will be here in 365 days.

>From another perspective, the statement of condolences, undersigned
by Prime Minister Erdogan, is a carefully prepared text. It is such
that we would never expect Erdogan to issue such a statement. Indeed,
he is so indifferent to the pain he causes or is responsible for, and
he has recently been so busy sowing the seeds of hatred among diverse
segments of society that we would never believe that he nurtured any
empathy for those who were jeopardized in a tragedy that occurred 99
years ago. As a matter of fact, it is really hard to bring ourselves
to believe that the person who was totally indifferent and insensitive
to the Uludere tragedy — in which 34 civilians were mistaken for
terrorists and killed in military airstrikes in Sirnak’s Uludere
district due to false intelligence — or to the protesters who died
during the Gezi Park protests is the same person who undersigned
this statement.

However, it is quite natural for us to expect a prime minister to
develop long-standing strategies based on certain moral values and
principles, be it in the name of the national interest or personal
political plans. But this does not apply to our case. Rather, Erdogan
gives the impression of being a man of short-sighted tactical moves
geared toward saving face. Therefore, we need to analyze in depth
Erdogan’s real intentions with this statement. It should be noted
that this message seeks to restore Turkey’s deteriorating image in the
international arena rather than to share in the sorrows of Armenians.

With this move, which can be described as a PR effort, we can say
that Erdogan has launched a charm offensive a la Turca.

Even if it is intended as a charm offensive, this historic move is not
stripped of its conjunctural and contextual spiritual value. But at
the same time, it brings the lack of sincerity into broad daylight. Of
course we need to question the sincerity and intentions behind an
isolated positive move by one with a despotic mentality, who pays
no regard to the rights and freedoms of diverse social groups in
the country and is in an effort to establish an arbitrary rule with
total control over democratic institutions and is ready to crush any
dissident or opposing group.

Actually, it is a grave act of naiveté to assume that a repressive
leader — who use all his power to push aside fundamental rights
and freedoms, democracy and rule of law and turn them into a tool of
oppression, thereby creating a deep-rooted sociopolitical problem with
effects that will last for decades to come — will take well-meaning
steps to solve a problem stemming from a tragedy that occurred 100
years ago.

Having emerged as a political figure who is no longer expected to
pay respect to rights and freedoms and who will never act as a true
democrat, Erdogan has made anti-democratic attitudes part of his nature
and this has the potential to make his statement regarding Armenian
sorrows meaningless. Given all the tests of sincerity Erdogan has
failed so far, it is hard to say whether he is being sincere with
this move.

If we are to expect any sincerity from Erdogan, his level of sincerity
now could be equal to, not more than, the sincerity he shows with
regard to the Kurdish issue, in which he takes steps only to the
extent that they are beneficial to his political career.

Alternatively, we can look at how he promised to draft a new,
civilian constitution ahead of the general elections, but he did
everything to build himself a strict and lawless rule after the
elections. Perhaps we should expect this latest move to end like
the so-called Alevi initiative, for which numerous workshops were
held but which was eventually abandoned after he realized that it
would not be politically beneficial to his party. Or we can expect
the same sincerity as that of his move to make the reopening of the
Halki Seminary on the island of Heybeliada near Istanbul a matter of
bargaining with Greece, although he had promised many times to open it.

What I am trying to get at is that our expectations for a leader who
has developed a lawless, anti-democratic personality, who seeks to
socio-culturally and economically lynch certain social groups that
are selectively antagonized and who causes great social problems
by spouting ever more hatred should be kept at a low level. Indeed,
any disillusion from expecting a person who is the source of great
tragedies today to solve a historical tragedy will only lead to
grave disappointment.

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