Dear Abdullah Gul,
Is it me or has October been a particularly bad month for you and your country? First, the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States House of Representatives voted to condemn as genocide the killing of 1.5 million Armenians during the First World War. This made you guys so enraged you recalled your ambassador to the US and threatened to stop supporting the US occupation of Iraq. As if all this weren’t enough bad press for your country, you have been threatening to send troops into northern Iraq to attack Kurdish insurgents. And, just when you didn’t think things could look any worse, President Bush had this to say in your defense:
Congress has more important work to do than antagonizing a democratic ally in the Muslim world, especially one that’s providing vital support for our military every day.”
President Gul, it saddens me to see that you have fallen so low as to have George Bush defending your democratic credentials! After all, this is the guy whose administration came to power after disenfranchising Black voters in Florida; he cut funding for social programs and vetoed the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, despite its popularity; his administration openly supported the illegal and short-lived overthrow of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; based on false and falsified evidence, he launched an illegal invasion and occupation of a sovereign country in spite of his people’s opposition to it; and his government arrests and tortures people in contravention of the US Constitution and international law. Your government could not have found a worse defender of your “democratic” credentials even if you had resurrected Attila the Hun himself!
Clearly, Mr. Gul, you and your government are clueless when it comes to public relations. But fear not, all is not lost! As a longtime supporter of Turkey’s attempts to join the European Union—and simply out of common decency—I cannot let you continue to damage your country’s image and reputation. Instead, I will break my rule against giving free advice to governments and give you some tips on how not to make yourselves look like a callous, genocide-denying, bunch of thugs. You’ll thank me for it.
Stop denying the Armenian genocide. It makes you look worse than evil. It makes you look stupid! I don’t know which dictionary you’ve been reading but when a government deliberately and systematically kills 1.5 million people of the same ethnic or national group, it’s a genocide no matter how you slice or dice it. Whether it happened in times of peace or war, in Namibia, Cambodia, Poland, Rwanda, or the Middle East, it’s still a genocide. No country that committed a genocide can ever hope to claim international respectability by continuing to deny it—unless that country is the US, of course, which Turkey clearly isn’t. Admitting genocide is easy and it will do wonders for your international image. After you acknowledge that the mass exile and killing of Armenians was a genocide, apologize for it. Express your deepest regret for the atrocity, build a monument in Ankara and also in every place that is in any way tied to the exiles and killings. Declare a day of commemoration and atonement. Make it a national holiday. Open your government archives and invite scholars to research, write, and speak about the genocide.
You modern Turks have been obsessive about distancing yourselves from the Ottoman Empire. You banned the fez, declared Turkey a secular state, and founded your legal and educational systems on European models. These are all very good decisions. Now you have a golden opportunity to further distance yourselves—in a huge way—from the Ottoman Empire. Acknowledge the genocide but make it perfectly clear that it was an Ottoman genocide, not a Turkish one. Emphasize the fact that modern, secular, fez-less Turkey is incapable of committing such a heinous crime. It will pay off. For example, France has declared genocide denial a crime. This means that France alone can keep you from entering the EU as long as you continue to deny the Armenian genocide. Is that what you really want? Think about how badly you want to join the EU. Think about how much you have already done to get into the EU. Although it must have been very difficult, you abolished the death penalty and un-banned the Kurdish language. These are both big steps. It won’t be a much bigger step to acknowledge and apologize for the Armenian genocide, and it’ll bring you closer to fulfilling your dream of EU membership.
Whatever you do, DO NOT invade and occupy northern Iraq! In fact, keep your army where it belongs; in Turkey. Between you and me, you guys haven’t exactly been the most popular country in that part of the world. I mean, your Ottoman predecessors occupied your Arab neighbors so they don’t like you very much. Not to mention, you control Syria’s and Iraq’s water supply. You were also a constant thorn in the side of the Russian empire and it’s successor, the Soviet Union. And, let’s not forget you killed 1.5 million Armenians during WWI so they’re not too crazy about you either. Let’s see . . . what else? Oh yes, you’ve fought Greece and you continue to occupy part of Cyprus, and Iran’s not too happy about having you as a neighbor either. And it seems your NATO allies dislike you more than everyone else because they are the most opposed to letting you into the EU. You must have noticed too that even NATO’s erstwhile Eastern-Bloc enemies—Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania—are already in the EU. Come to think of it, it seems your strongest ally is all the way in North America. It doesn’t look too good, does it, that you don’t get along with a single country that shares a continent—or even a hemisphere—with you? So what will people think if you start flexing your military muscle against Kurds in Iraq? I’ll tell you what they’ll think. Greece is going to be reminded of the times they were at the receiving end of your military might. Iran’s going to think, “Hmmm . . . we have Kurds too. What if the Turks decide to go after our Kurds?” As for Russia . . . well, let’s just say Vladimir Putin is not going to need much of an excuse to do something crazy. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, he was just in Iran expressing his opposition to Washington’s threats against that country. So, if you’re really concerned about maintaing normal relations with your neighbors, you’d stay out of northern Iraq.
President Gul, you and your administration need to get with the program. Times have changed, the world has changed, and Turkey has demonstrated its interest in being part of that changed world. Civilized countries are no longer impressed by cross-border demonstrations of military power. Stay out of northern Iraq. Also, you need to stop denying the Armenian genocide because it won’t win you any friends. Just remember, there’s life after admitting genocide. Look at Germany. Most importantly, accepting the genocide will help you recover from your post-Ottoman Self-Image Disorder, something I know you are very interested in. After all, acceptance is the first step on the path to recovery.
I wish you all the best in the coming days and months. I trust you will make more and more of the wise decisions that have characterized your rule thus far.