And the phone rings at last

The long awaited phone call came at last from U.S. President Biden to his Turkish counterpart after three months in the office. “An awkward silence ensued…” one is tempted to continue even if “all hell broke loose afterwards” Ankara would have liked us to believe. Suffice it to note that Erdoğan significantly chose not to respond directly to Biden who recognized the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2021.

The long awaited phone call came at last, and quite belatedly at that though, from U.S. President Biden to his Turkish counterpart after three months in the office. “An awkward silence ensued…” one is tempted to continue even if “all hell broke loose afterwards” Ankara would have liked us to believe. Suffice it to note that Erdoğan significantly chose not to respond directly to Biden following the “iftar” dinner on Saturday evening.

The metaphorical jury is out as to the gist of what the White House meant in its statement with the U.S. president’s out of the ordinary recognition of the Armenian Genocide. “Out of the ordinary” as it is the first time since Ronald Reagan did the same, only once, during his eight years in the office.

“The jury is out”, almost, because there are some, perhaps rare, voices such as Soner Çağaptay’s (Senior Fellow at Washington Institute, DC). He draws our attention to the amount of diplomatic tact that went into to seemingly dry and concise statement: “From using “Constantinople”, and not today’s Istanbul, for the Ottoman capital to absence of any references to modern Turkey, a carefully crafted, victim-focused, and forward-looking document that avoids finger pointing at the Republic of Turkey.”

Sibel Oktay, Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Illinois, Springfield, on the other hand underscores another fact: “It’s up to modern Turkey to define who it is and what it represents. You can’t have your cake (claim the Empire as your own) and eat it too (absolve yourself of the Ottoman-era atrocities.) Obviously a huge dilemma for the current regime.” Her opinion reflects a wider, historic perspective.

Gönül Tol, the Director of Middle East Institute's Center for Turkish Studies & Adjunct Prof- George Washington University, on her part, muses about the timing and the motives behind the same statement: “I do not find it appropriate to solely reference the poor state of the US-Turkey relations in analyzing the reasons why the U.S. recognized the Armenian Genocide just now. There are numerous reasons. I think various factors such as the internal conjuncture of the US domestic politics, the identity of the incumbent of the White House, Turkish domestic politics and the way Washington reads the balances in Turkish domestic politics, the regional dynamics and the U.S. foreign policy priorities should be taken into consideration.”

I fully understand and second the points here-above made. Yet again, once a civil servant always a civil servant, ergo your humble servant is eternally bereft of either opinions or the capacity of expressing them. In our time, the archetypical Turkish diplomats could have competed with the wax figures displayed at Madame Tussaud’s in keeping their nerves. That translated as passivity to take initiative or a certain timidity to publicly express any opinion -which was partly true. Nowadays, even ambassadors feel free call out to for example the US president on a first name basis via Twitter.

Anyway, what I am saying is I will just now try enumerate facts in the driest possible way. The telephone rang. But after three months. And just before officially recognising the Armenian Genocide. We heard “harsh reactions” as expected from a multitude of officials, advisors, ministers, spokespersons but not from the president himself. The two sides agreed on an initial meeting in the margin of the NATO summit in June. As far as nationalist fervour goes the self-styled “democratic” opposition got into a beauty contest with the ruling coalition leaving the HDP as a lone voice. Erdoğan, for his part, also sent a condolences message to Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul which was duly read out loud during the liturgy.

By making the call, the U.S. president notified his counterpart in advance, thus providing him time to calibrate his reaction. The U.S. administration also made a keen choice of words by mainly drawing a bold line between the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey. On that point, some saw the use of the name “Constantinople” as a wink towards Greece, as others thought that was a clever distinction (again) between the past and the present. On my behalf, I believe together with our Greek (and middle eastern) friends we are already relegated to “also starring” cast for the US for some time to come. 

Now the boring bit. The constant irritants remain: S-400s are, wherever they are. The Halkbank case is right around the corner and possibly before the June NATO summit. U.S. CENTCOM’s cooperation on the ground in Syria with the YPG continue unabashed. Gülenists are happy in their American refuge. Then, Erdoğan is bidding on time being on his side. And, rightly so, in the media cycle’s chewing and spitting the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and hopes to carry on business as usual.

Many ex-diplomats, mostly leaning towards the “democratic opposition”, brandished the international law argument that what happened in 1915 (or from 1870’s on to 1920s) cannot be classified as genocide and that the legal technical definition of genocide is very clear and strict. That may be true, in a vacuum though. It may also be valid that if you the extract the term “genocide”, it may prove to be easier to find a mutual common ground. Fair enough but the question is elsewhere. The question is “who are we” and “how do we live together as a nation as equal citizens of the republic”. You can dance all you want and prove your athleticism but you cannot win unless you have a knockout punch.     

Last but not the least, as the saying goes, Yetvart Danzikyan, Editor in Chief, Agos weekly newspaper, lamented: “Yet another April 24 expires with the feeling that we caused disturbance because we had been subjected to genocide”. To put it simply, if the feelings of my fellow citizen are hurt or if I see that my fellow citizen feels discriminated against, I modestly prefer to stop and genuinely listen first. Anyway, for now April 24 is behind us, see you next year –if God willing we stay alive until then that is.

April 12, 2021 Ursula standing