Turkey and that 'genocide' -- Armenian anger, Erdogan's denial, Obama's silence

The British tabloids are not known for nuance and this Daily Mail piece on Turkey's continued denial that "genocide" accurately describes what happened to its Armenian population in the early 20th century -- an event officially commemorated this week -- is no exception.

"Genocide of the Christians: The blood-soaked depravity exceeded even today's atrocities by Islamic State -- now, 100 years on Turkey faces global disgust at its refusal to admit butchering over a MILLION Armenians," screamed the Mail's wordy online headline.

No beating around the bush here, is there? American-style journalistic even-handedness? Forget about it. Hyperbole? For sure.

"Global disgust" is a bit much when the criticism appears limited to Western sources. Worse than the Islamic State? Pardon me if I decline to compare an historical atrocity with an ongoing one. (Though I will say that the Daily Mail piece fails to note that while Armenians are of course Christians, they're generally Orthodox Christians. That detail hints at historical context you can't expect all readers to know.)

You could argue that citing a story's sensationalist tabloid treatment is manipulative. I'll cede that. But then there's Pope Francis and the European Union. Both also found it necessary in recent days to speak out on what they unequivocally view to be a clear case of genocide -- the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, the precursors to today's Turkish republic. Germany, home to a Turkish immigrant population estimated at more than 3 million, has signaled it, too -- in addition to its stand within the EU -- will begin to apply the term "genocide" to this historical tragedy.

Unsurprisingly, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reacted strongly to all this. Here's a Reuters piece explaining the situation, and here's an earlier Reuter's piece (via Religion News Service) that reports Erdogan's harsh response to the Vatican's move.

Now, there's facts and history to discuss.

As noted by The New York Times, in a backgrounder last week, the 100th anniversary of the "Armenian genocide will be commemorated on April 24, the date the Ottomans rounded up a group of Armenian notables in Istanbul in 1915 as the first step in what historians now agree was a wider plan of annihilation. Armenians from Turkey and the diaspora are preparing to gather in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square to honor the dead. They will also hold a concert featuring Armenian and Turkish musicians." The full story is here.

The United States, which considers Turkey an important NATO ally despite Erdogan's increasingly autocratic, anti-West and Islamist agenda, still does not refer to the 1915 events as genocide. This, despite America's lofty verbal support for global minorities and the downtrodden. The Times, in an editorial last week that focused in the main on Turkey's recalcitrance, criticized the Obama Administration for continuing America's refusal to label the Armenian massacre a genocide.

Will Obama say the magic word this week?

It seems not, though he did come close Tuesday when the White House issued a statement urging "a full, frank and just acknowledgement " of what the Times labeled the Armenian genocide. The statement followed a White House meeting between presidential aides and American Armenian leaders. Obama did not attend

The leader of the Armenian National Committee of America, who attended the meeting, said afterward, "President Obama's surrender to Turkey represents a national disgrace." In 2008, before becoming president, Obama called "the Armenian genocide ... a widely documented fact," the Times noted.

The Armenian question is just one of Turkey's mounting problems. The hellish Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL) is on its southern and southeastern borders in Syria and Iraq. Turkey's rival for Middle East Muslim dominance, increasingly aggressive Iran, lurks to the east. It's economy hurting, Turkey can forget about joining the EU, a onetime strong possibility, as long as Erdogan remains in power. And Turkey backed the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in Gaza (which is to say Hamas), putting it at odds with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab coreligionists.

Moreover, it worries incessantly that it's Kurdish minority will agitate, and resume actively fighting for, ever-greater independence, particularly as Iraqi and Syrian Kurds gain increasing autonomy. And all the while, Erdogan's aggressive steps, including jailing and violently cracking down on domestic political and media critics brings further opprobrium, mostly from abroad.

But not entirely. His domestic critics continue to pound away, risking harassment and their lives. Much of it is published in Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey's liberal, English-language newspaper. Check it out, at least from time to time. It's a good way to stay abreast of the Turkish political curve.

Here's a sampling of recent Daily News columns. The first dissects how Erdogan's Islamist bent hurts Turkey's non-Muslim citizens, who are mostly Orthodox Christians and Jews. The second column urges not just the Turkish government but also ordinary Turks to face and accept their nation's past dealings with Armenians.

(To be fair, while the Erdogan government refuses to call it genocide, saying, in effect, that the Armenians were simply collateral victims of war, it did last year offer its apologies to Armenians. The semantic difference may seem small, but as The Wall Street Journal said earlier this month, "at stake is a historical categorization that would put Turkey's Ottoman ancestors in the same category as Nazi Germany and a string of dictators from Stalin to Pol Pot.")

While we're on the subject, why is it we rarely -- quite rarely, actually -- see coverage of Turkey's ongoing occupation of the northeast portion of the island nation of Cyprus, which Turkey refers to as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus? Only Turkey recognizes the breakaway state; the rest of the world considers it part of the Greek-dominated Republic of Cyprus, who holds sway over the rest of the eastern Mediterranean island. 

This situation stems from long-running historical animosity between the island's Greek and Turkish residents (once again, Orthodox Christian versus Sunni Muslim) that culminated in 1974 with a Turkish military intervention, followed in 1983 by a declaration of independence for the Turkish vassal state.

Despite toothless United Nations' condemnations, Turkey has been allowed by the international community to maintain its military occupation. Consider it another acknowledgement of Turkey's critical position as a buffer between Europe and the Muslim Arab world, a world undergoing catastrophic upheaval with the outcome far from certain.

So journalists: What comes next?

In June, Turkey faces a general election (but not presidential; Erdogan's term is up in 2019) and Erdogan's AKP party is looking to cement its hold on parliament by playing the nationalist card. So don't expect Turkey to soften its verbal stand toward its remaining Armenians and the modern and neighboring Armenian state any time soon -- no matter what its critics say.

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