Guest blog post by Irada Guseynovan, political analyst and media critic.
News stories that next month Germany’s Parliament will declare the deaths of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians in Turkey during World War I a genocide will of course anger many Turks.
My reaction is not so much to get angry but to shake my head over the futility of Armenia’s long-running public-relations campaign to force Turkey to admit that the deaths between 1914 and 1918 constituted genocide.
My point is this: No amount of outside pressure will force a country to swallow a distasteful label about its behavior if it doesn’t want to.
In fact, such pressure will likely backfire, with the country that is on the defensive becoming even more determined not to accept a damning label.
A case in point is Japan’s refusal to admit that what the Chinese call the Rape of Nanjing in 1937 and 1937 was a genocide — that is, a targeted annihilation of an estimated 300,000 Chinese civilians.
Japan has come closer over the years to admitting it was an atrocity, with its leaders acknowledging an extraordinary toll on civilians and expressing regret for China’s losses in Nanjing.
But Japan has never admitted that what happened in Nanjing was genocide, even though some Japanese scholars believe the country’s leaders should make such an admission.
Germany, on the other hand, has admitted the Holocaust. Not just admitted it, but decried it, apologized for it, declared that it must never happen again — and even enacted a law making it a crime to deny the Holocaust.
The German admission essentially acknowledged that the Holocaust was a genocide.
It’s important to note that the main catalyst to this admission was internal soul-searching and not pressure from other countries.
Did other nations pressure Germany to admit the Holocaust? Absolutely. But in the end, Germany’s leaders did so because they believed it was the right thing to do, that the admission was a way to cleanse Germans’ souls and to help atone for the ugliest chapter in the country’s history.
It’s ironic to me that Germany, which admitted to genocide on its own, is now on the verge of caving in to a longstanding, well-organized global PR campaign to force Turkey to admit to genocide.
Although the respected Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was an ethnic Armenian, he contended that if Turkey were to acknowledge an Armenian genocide some day, it would do so on its own, and not due to outside pressure.
That notion, and some of Dink’s other ideas, led to a Turkish hard-liner assassinating him in 2007.
Today he is admired not just as a journalist but also as a statesman.
I’m convinced that Dink was right in declaring that any Turkish admission of Armenian genocide will come from internal reflection and soul-searching and not from outside pressure.
So it seems to me that Armenia’s decades-long international PR campaign to force a Turkish admission of genocide has been an exercise in futility.
Make no mistake about it — the campaign has been high-octane, costing tens of millions of dollars.
Its Armenian and Armenian-diaspora leaders have cajoled 29 countries and 43 American states into passing resolutions declaring an Armenian genocide.
The United States has been a hold-out, recognizing that such a designation would alienate Turkey, which has been a long-standing member of NATO and a country it believes has tried to be a constructive force in the Middle East.
One of the ironies in the genocide resolutions is that one of the countries that has adopted them is Russia.
Armenia has become a Russian vassal, so why the genocide irony?
Because Russia has failed to admit that two mass starvations in the 1930s that it is responsible for constituted genocide.
One was the Holodomor, or “Hunger Extermination,” that killed at least 2 1/2 million Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933. (Some scholars put the toll as high as 7.5 million.) The other atrocity was a similar starvation in Kazakhstan in the same period that claimed at least 1.5 million.
Both starvations were the result of Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s policy of forcing collectivization on Ukraine and Kazakhstan at a time of drought, and stripping food from many of the peasants whom it was collectivizing.
While calling what happened in the Armenian regions of Turkey from 1915 to 1918 a genocide, Russia has vehemently denied that what it did to Ukraine and Kazakhstan in the 1930s constituted genocide. Ukraine has been very vocal that it was genocide, and has succeed in getting 14 countries to declare the same.
In the end, neither Turkey, Russia, Japan nor any other country is likely to admit to a damning label like genocide under outside pressure.
Such an acknowledgement will have to come from within.
So the German Parliament’s imminent declaration of an Armenian genocide, it seems to me, will be just the latest exercise in futility by those behind the Armenian-genocide PR campaign.
Irada Guseynova is a political analyst and media critic. She is a member of the Russian and Azerbaijani union of journalists and the former editor of Oasis, a periodical offering in-depth political analysis of Central Asia and the Caucasus from the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.
Interested readers can follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GuseynovaI