Sunday, June 1, 2014



Apr 8th, 2014 @ 12:05 pm › Emil Souleimanov and Maya Ehrmann

PDF version available here

2012 Brussels commemoration in front of the Memorial for the Armenian Genocide

This article focuses on the current perceptions of the Armenian genocide in the various countries involved, specifically within the EU, Armenia, and Turkey, in order to explore the political rationale behind the commitment of some states to recognize the historical events of 1915 as an act of genocide or the commitment of other states to refute this. A brief historical overview is followed by a discussion of internal EU perceptions of the essentiality of Armenian genocide recognition primarily contingent to Turkey’s accession efforts. The article also focuses on the internal Armenian and Turkish discourses, with the ultimate goal of unearthing the rationale behind Yerevan’s encouragement of genocide recognition and Ankara’s unwillingness to recognize the genocide as well as the political implications.

The dilemma of what is termed by some the Armenian genocide remains a key political topic, which separates Armenia–a post-Soviet country in the South Caucasus–and the Turkish Republic, causing tension in the entire region. Through their European communities, particularly the Armenian diaspora, the issue has also entered the European domain becoming even more controversial as Turkey is in the process of its hotly contested European Union (EU) accession talks. The Armenian genocide issue has resulted in icy diplomatic relations between France (along with Austria, traditionally the most skeptical state when it comes to Turkey’s prospective EU accession) and Turkey, as well as between Turkey and a number of other countries that have formally recognized the genocide.  Besides France traditionally being skeptical of Turkey’s EU accession, recognition of the Armenian genocide has regularly been a contested issue for France due to its large Armenian (and Turkish) diaspora, and especially since France’s 2001 formal recognition of the genocide.

Moreover, on January 23, 2012, French lawmakers ratified a bill (overturned by the French Constitutional Council in late February 2012) making the denial of the Armenian genocide a criminal offense punishable by a one-year prison sentence and a 45,000 euro fine. This propelled France and Turkey into a new stage of diplomatic uncertainty, as Turkey has threatened to impose permanent sanctions and cut diplomatic and strategic ties with France.[1] This development illustrates that the question of Armenian genocide recognition has long surpassed its purely moral and historical context, becoming a highly politicized and current issue with significant ramifications in the sphere of regional and–to some extent–global politics. In addition, although the issue of the Armenian genocide has been researched quite extensively from a historical perspective, no study has as of yet been produced to address the (geo)political implications of the formal (non)recognition of the events that took place during the final years of the Ottoman Empire as an act of genocide or as the inadvertent effects (massacres and deportations) of war.

To fill this gap, the present article shall focus on the current perceptions of the Armenian genocide in the various countries involved, specifically within the EU, Armenia, and Turkey in order to explore the political rationale behind the commitment of some states to recognize the aforementioned historical events as an act of genocide or the commitment of other states to refute the fact of genocide. Initially, a brief historical overview of the 1915 events is provided, followed by a discussion of internal EU perceptions of the essentiality of Armenian genocide recognition primarily contingent to Turkey’s accession efforts. The focus then shifts to the internal Armenian and Turkish discourses with the ultimate goal of unearthing the rationale behind Yerevan’s encouragement of genocide recognition and Ankara’s unwillingness to recognize the genocide as well as the political implications of recognition or denial of the Armenian genocide. The various positions of Armenia and Turkey on this issue will be analyzed as well as the reasons and effects of recognition or denial of the Armenian genocide in both the local and the international arenas.



The tragic events that are sometimes referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century took place on Ottoman Empire territory in 1915-1916. The roots of the problem lay in economic disputes between the Armenian settlers[2] and nomadic Kurds. East Anatolian Armenian farmers, who were often attacked by Kurdish tribes and were required to pay a “protection” tax[3] to Kurdish tribal leaders, organized a series of de-facto anti-Kurdish riots toward the end of the nineteenth century. They appealed to the Ottoman emperor to relieve the Christians of their Kurdish “protection” and assume direct rule in the East Anatolian region. However, their pleas fell on deaf ears. Istanbul feared a repetition of events in the Balkans, where the other European powers intervened in interior Ottoman state issues to protect local Christians, and therefore decided to punish the Armenians instead by initiating the massacres. Semi-military Kurdish units, who received minimal supervision from the central power, along with the Ottoman Army were said to have carried out the killings. Approximately 250,000 Armenians[4] lost their lives during these riots, which took place in 1894-1896.

As a result of these events, Armenian demands became politicized, and the conflict began to take on an ethnic and partially religious facet. In some circles–especially in the diaspora–people even appealed for the annexation of the West Armenian territories by the Russian Empire. Radical Armenian intelligence gradually turned into a separatist (or rather irredentist) organization. Soon the stereotypical image of a “Kurdish robber and hijacker” (which was wide-spread among Armenian farmers in Eastern Turkey) morphed into a highly politicized picture of a “Turkish murderer.” Thus, the “Armenian question” as a phenomenon of the European political scene at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century was born. Muslim-Armenian antagonism peaked during World War I, when the governing Turkish party ordered organized deportations and–according to some sources–massacres of the Armenian population, guised as protection of the Eastern borders. According to estimates, between 800,000 to 1.5 million Armenians died as a result.[5]

The Armenian genocide decisively ended the existence of an ancient West Armenian culture in Eastern Anatolia and influential Armenian diaspora in various Ottoman cities. It provoked a mass exodus of those who survived the deportations, mainly to Western Europe, Russia, and the Americas.  Armenian refugees from the Ottoman Empire formed a new diaspora (in contrast with the classic old diaspora dating back to the Middle Ages), and their lobbies still represent a significant political force on the international scene, especially in Russia, France, and the United States.

The Armenian diaspora and the government in Yerevan have demanded that the current Turkish government recognize the Armenian genocide. The historic massacre as well as the violent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh[6]deepened the Armenian mistrust of the Turkish (and perhaps also of the Azerbaijanis, who are often compared with the Turkish in Armenian national consciousness due to their ethnic and linguistic similarities). As a result, Turkey is deemed by Armenia as a practically unacceptable partner in dialogue. Diplomatic relations have become more than icy, and attempts to conduct academic analysis of the genocide are also failing.



In most of Western Europe, for various reasons, a formal Turkish recognition of the Armenian genocide is considered an essential condition for European Union (EU) accession.  The list of European states officially recognizing the Armenian genocide, including France, Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands, is lengthy,[7]indicating a clear emphasis on the importance attributed to the genocide recognition.[8]  Official statements by several nations, and especially by the European Parliament, indicate that while recognition of the Armenian genocide is not an official precondition for EU accession, it is deemed essential.  In 2000, the Swedish Foreign Ministry proclaimed:

An official statement and recognition of the Genocide of the Armenians is important and necessary… The Standing Committee [on Foreign Affairs] is of the opinion that the greater openness Turkey demonstrates, the stronger Turkey’s democratic identity will be… It is of great importance that an increasing openness and historical understanding of the events of 1915 and thereafter be developed.[9]

Although this statement by the Swedish Foreign Ministry does not indicate that an official statement of recognition by the Turkish government is necessary as a directprecondition for EU accession, it indicates that recognition of the Armenian genocide by Turkish authorities is necessary in order to establish Turkey‘s viability as an open (more transparent) and “strong” democracy; accordingly, democratic values and transparency are profound values of the European Union.[10]

In 2006, The Welsh government issued a statement urging “…the UK Government to call on the European Union to make official Turkish recognition of the 1915 Assyrian and Armenian genocide one of the pre-conditions for Turkey’s membership of the EU.”[11] Thus, in this example, the Welsh government directly mentions recognition of the Armenian genocide by Turkey as essential for Turkey’s accession to the EU and encourages the European Union to make such recognition an official precondition.

Not only have a plethora of states called upon Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide (some having emphasized the importance of this recognition as a condition of Turkey’s accession to the EU), but European Union bodies have also highlighted the importance of Turkey recognizing the Armenian genocide.  In 2006, the European Parliament stated, “MEPs nevertheless stress that, although the recognition of the Armenian genocide as such is formally not one of the Copenhagen criteria, it is indispensable for a country on the road to membership to come to terms with and recognize its past.”[12]

The European Parliament reiterates, as have many European nations, that recognition of the Armenian genocide is a favored–yet not an officially required–pre-condition for Turkey’s accession to the EU.  However, with the official recognition of the Armenian genocide by many EU member states and Turkey’s need to secure the support of EU member states in hopes of gaining membership, Ankara’s unwillingness to recognize the 1915 events as genocide presents a hindrance to the ideological support of these EU member states toward Turkey and, in turn, a stumbling block toward its accession to the EU.



Aside from the moral and ethical arguments, specific internal and external political factors can help explain the behavior of the current Armenian government. The revival of the Armenian genocide issue can fortify societal unity, which has been somewhat shaken by the victory in Nagorno-Karabakh due to the “economic, demographic, and political crises”[13] in Armenia following the conflict. Foremost, the constant maintenance of anti-Turkish (as well as anti-Azerbaijani) sentiment engenders the high levels of social cohesion necessary in the case of further armed conflicts.  In this sense, social cohesion is dependent upon the establishment and maintenance of a common enemy.

Accordingly, the Armenian victory and, with it, a less immediate enemy threat, somewhat decreased the Armenian sense of solidarity. Also, some Armenian intellectuals assert that “if by that stage [early 1990s] Turkey had recognized its responsibility in the destruction of the Anatolian Armenians, the political conflict over Karabakh might in principle have been solved in a non-violent way.”[14]Intellectuals here try to draw a connection between the 1915 events and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, an assumption that places Turkey as the antagonizer and, consequently, strengthens anti-Turkish sentiment.  Anti-Azerbaijani and anti-Turkish sentiments are evident in official Armenian government statements.  Armenia’s Foreign Ministry states:

Azerbaijan, distorting the nature and main reasons of the consequences of the conflict… continues sending money from oil revenues to increase the military budget and to the acquisition of large number of offensive armaments, grossly violating a number of agreements and obligations in the sphere of security and political-military sphere.…. Azerbaijan’s attempts to get unilateral concessions by the threat of use of force continue to be the main obstacle for the settlement through compromise… Azerbaijan refuses to establish diplomatic and good-neighbourly relations with Armenia.[15]

This statement is clearly critical of Azerbaijan and highlights the official position that there is a true threat of armed conflict.  This perceived threat strengthens the perception of Azerbaijan as a common enemy.  The lingering enmity toward Azerbaijan reinforces negative sentiments toward Turkey, which sided with Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  Also, the maintenance of Turkey as a common enemy is reinforced through attempts to draw links between the Armenian genocide and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry further claims, “Since 1991, attempts have been made to normalize the bilateral relations, which ended unsuccessfully because of Turkey’s position.”[16] Both statements reveal that Armenia’s official position toward Azerbaijan and Turkey is icy and places the blame for stagnation of diplomatic relations solely upon them (Azerbaijan and Turkey).  The development and maintenance of such sentiments are critical in creating social cohesion.  Anti-Turkish sentiment over the Armenian genocide is reinforced through the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.  Social cohesion is crucial, for without rallying against a common enemy, the chance of victory in case of an armed conflict and the success of preventative measures for the possibility of such a conflict are less likely.

Moreover, the internal image of the enemy should consolidate Armenians in the republic as well as in the diaspora, since there are twice as many Armenians living abroad than in Armenia itself.  The significant number of Armenians residing overseas makes them a crucial component to Armenian national unity and, in some ways, a powerful instrument for the Armenian Republic in its fight for Armenian genocide recognition.  An especially significant rallying point for Armenians is against Turkey and against Armenian genocide denial.  Armenian communities abroad hold a significant role, as they have and continue to press local governments to recognize the Armenian genocide and to pressure Turkey to do so as well.[17]

Furthermore, a segment of Armenian politicians and intellectuals both within Armenia and outside the country believe that the genocide trauma and effort to rectify the historical wrongs as central points of Armenian nationalism will slow the assimilation of young generations living in the diaspora and strengthen their sense of solidarity and belonging to their homeland.  Scholars, such as Anny Bakalian, have claimed, “The Armenian genocidal experience, ‘being hated to death,’ has become the fundamental experience that today defines and unites all Armenians in the diaspora, and to some extent even in Armenia.”[18] Memories of the genocide and advocacy for genocide recognition are elements encouraging and upholding the social cohesion of the Armenian people.  Likewise, social cohesion enables youth in the diaspora to establish a sense of solidarity and belonging to their homeland.  During the annual award “for notable contribution to the preservation of the Armenian identity,” the Armenian Ministry of Diaspora’s stated, “By advancing, receiving knowledge about those trials and tribulations… the youth form their own view of the world and value system. Each youth views the homeland in his way, and these studies serve as a wonderful opportunity for the youth to recognize the homeland through their eyes…”[19]

This statement reveals the position that the difficulties faced by the Armenian people, among them the genocide, are unifying factors.  While postulating that each youth attaches his or her own significance to the homeland, the use of the term “homeland” rather than “Armenia” to refer to the Republic of Armenia creates a tie between Armenians in the republic and those in the diaspora.  Bakalian concludes that “… even the great-grandchildren of the immigrant generation, continue to maintain high levels of Armenian identity, fierce pride in their ancestral heritage, and a strong sense of we-ness or peoplehood.”[20]

This policy of strengthening social cohesion has resulted in growing financial support for the Armenian Republic from Armenian communities that have been established abroad. The influence of powerful Armenian lobby groups focused mainly on the issue of genocide recognition has increased the significance of the Armenian diaspora in Armenian foreign policymaking.[21] Overseas communities backing the current governmental position on the genocide question and the Karabakh conflict may also, to a certain extent, legitimize the governmental elites surrounding President Serzh Sargsyan (many of whom have been involved in nefarious affairs, but still continue in their positions) in the eyes of the public and suppress any possible opposition.

Last, Armenian intellectuals (and some politicians) advocate for genocide recognition in order to prepare for either financial reparation from Turkey or the claim over the territory of Western Armenia in case of Turkey’s prospective collapse following the escalation of Turco-Kurdish anxiety.[22]  Genocide recognition is essential for financial reparation of Armenian property confiscated or lost due to the 1915 events.[23]  Armenian sources claim, “The formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide is a condition sine qua non for any attempt or process aimed at restoration of justice.”[24]  However, some may argue that fear of territorial and financial loss is precisely what deters Turkey from officially recognizing the Armenian genocide.[25]

Besides financial considerations, Armenian demands for international recognition of the 1915 massacres as genocide also include a significant international political subtext. The return of historical Armenian lands (commonly referred to in Armenia as West Armenia), which are currently a part of East Turkey, has been discussed more and more frequently since the 1990s. The reason for speculation could be the possible break-up of the Turkish Republic, which has been touched upon by a number of political commentators. This is based on the ever-increasing antagonism between the Turks and the Kurds.  News sources site an “escalation in fighting between Turkey and the Kurdish separatists PKK.”[26] This antagonism could further escalate if the number of ethnic Turks and the demographically strong Kurdish population become equal. Given current population growth statistics, this could happen within approximately two generations. Kurdish nationalism and even separatism in Turkey are growing in response to the creation of a semi-independent Kurdish unit in northern Iraq and the pressure from the European Union for Ankara to recognize Kurdish ethnic and linguistic rights.  One can conclude from this information that, under certain circumstances, the break-up of Turkey might not be so farfetched.[27]



As aforementioned, the hotly debated Turkish EU membership has, again, made Armenian genocide recognition a prominent issue.  Some countries have officially recognized the Armenian massacres; others still hesitate or even refuse to do so. The unresolved “Ottoman past” related to the fate of the Armenian population stands in the way of Turkish EU membership. A public reference to the Armenian genocide in Turkey is considered “an attempt to denigrate Turkish national identity” and is punishable by imprisonment, in accordance with the well-known article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code.

A major source of debate over recognition of the genocide stems from the disagreement over the definition of genocide itself as well as whether this term can be attributed to the 1915 events.  “The issue is whether the Turkish Government manifested the intent, through word or action, to commit atrocities against its Armenian population that today would be considered genocide.”[28] There is no globally acceptable scholarly definition of “genocide,” a term coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin.[29]  The legal definition of genocide was established in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), which defines genocide as:

…actions committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group children of the group to another group.[30]

A common perception in Turkey is that the legal term of genocide was coined following the 1915 events, and that a legal term cannot be used retroactively.  This argument often relies upon the claim by the International Center for Transitional Justice which states, “International law generally prohibits the retroactive application of treaties unless a different intention appears from the treaty or is otherwise established.  The Genocide Convention contains no provision mandating its retroactive application.”[31]

Furthermore, some sources claim that the UN CPPCG clause about the “intent to destroy” cannot be proven in the case of the 1915 events.   Former Turkish politician, Mumtaz Soysal, stated:

This key-description [intention to destroy] helps to differentiate between genocide and other forms of homicide, which are the consequences of other motives such as in the case of wars, uprisings etc…. one must study the facts objectively in order to prove if this intention exists, even in an implicit manner… this tragedy cannot be called genocide because it lacks the essential element of the qualification of genocide, that is the intention to destroy the Armenian ethnic group as such.  It is a question of wartime action, decided upon in an atmosphere of armed conflict, in the heart of a dying Empire beset by disorder and disorganization. The relocation of the Armenian element obviously had consequence that at first glimpse may fulfill the conditions set out by the 1948 Convention.[32]

Thus, Soysal argues that while deaths due to relocation may have occurred, whether due to irresponsibility of certain Turkish troops or whether due to extreme climate conditions, there was no coherent “intention” to destroy the Armenian population.

In addition, pressure to recognize the Armenian genocide, especially from some EU states, is perceived rather negatively in Turkey and is considered to be just another artificially created obstruction to EU accession plans from the enemies of Turkey.  Turkish historian Taner Akcam has commented that “there are forces which continually seek to disperse and destroy us, and it is necessary to defend the state against this danger.”[33] This perception, often dubbed as “Sèvres Syndrome,” describes a perceived threat that “foreign governments are continually attempting to take over Turkish lands, exploiting ethnic divisions where possible.”[34] Some scholars have noted that this perception has played an integral role in Turkish foreign policy.[35]  Accordingly, as a result of the introduction of the recent bill in France, Turkey has hinted at this standpoint.  Erdogan has claimed that the bill represents “… politics based on racism, discrimination and xenophobia… It raises concerns regarding these issues not only in France but all over Europe.”[36]  In an official statement in January 2012, Turkey further stated, “Turkey is determined to take every step required against this unjust action, which disregards basic human values and public conscience.”[37]

The issue of Armenian genocide recognition, therefore, is a determinant catalyst of an internal perception in Turkey of “us” versus “them.”  As aforementioned, although recognition of the Armenian genocide is not an official precondition for EU accession, it has certainly been widely advocated by EU states, leading to a resulting perception by Ankara that this issue is a significant deterrent to Turkey’s chances for EU membership.  Thus, fundamental disagreement over France’s January 2012 bill coupled with Turkey’s unwillingness to recognize the 1915 events as genocide not only create tension between Turkey and those states–among them EU members, who officially recognize the Armenian genocide–but also contribute to the Turkish perception that the issue of Armenian genocide recognition is being utilized as an obstruction to its EU accession plans.

Moreover, lack of information–both due to self-censorship and a general reluctance to present or recognize events that are not officially supported[38]–fundamentally influence the view of the Turkish public about the Armenian massacres that occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century.  To add to this information vacuum, before being amended in 2008, Article 301 made insult to “Turkishness,” a component of which was advocacy of Armenian genocide recognition, a punishable offense.[39]  However, besides clear legal deterrents for Armenian genocide recognition, the official position of Ankara is one of general reluctance to recognize the Armenian genocide.  A recent statement by Ankara claimed, “We will continue to strongly use our right to defend ourselves on a legitimate basis against unfair allegations.”[40]

Another important factor in genocide denial is the position of the high-ranking officials in the Turkish army, who cannot stand insults to the army, the guardian of the secular form of Turkish statehood. In recent years, the country has experienced a staggering growth of Turkish nationalism. The rejection of “Armenian lies,” as the Armenian genocide is called among local right-wing groups, is slowly becoming a part of modern Turkish identity. The Turkish army has been considerably weakened at the hands of the AKP, which has–according to some sources–used the ongoing Ergenekon investigations as a tool to weaken any opposition.[41]  As part of these investigations, many scholars, academics, and military officers have been imprisoned–a factor leading to the assumption that not only is a decrease in the army’s influence taking place but also, as part of the process of elimination of opposition, a strengthening of Turkey’s right-wing nationalists who oppose recognition of the Armenian genocide.

Furthermore, the rejection of desired membership in the European Union would most probably be interpreted as a failure of the pro-Western legacy of the founder of Turkey’s modern republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Turkey has been formally leaning towards the West since the 1920s, and it filed an EU application in 1987. However, it was accepted as a candidate state only in 1999, with accession talks beginning six years later. The Turkish population would most probably blame the possible EU rejection on the current government. The failure of the “European project” in Turkey could–from a long-term perspective–depreciate the reputation of Kemalism as a state-making doctrine.  Since the 1920s, the number one goal for Kemalists has been Westernization. Despite this goal, Turkey has faced rejection by the EU, thereby undermining Kemalism’s agenda.  The army institution is considered a prominent and worthy state tool by Kemalists. Therefore, recognizing the 1915 events as genocide would be a slap in the face for this institution and would be considered largely unacceptable–also as military authorities are among the strongest opponents of Armenian genocide recognition.  As a result of the decrease of Kemalism and the army’s influence in Turkish society, extreme right-wing and Islamist groups could become more popular, which could result in a change of regime.  Political Islamism has already gained a stronger role in Turkish society given the growing influence of the AKP.[42]

Furthermore, the current Turkish government does not have a unified official standpoint on the Armenian issue, which has moved to the center of social discourse under pressure from the EU public.  However, the popular Turkish viewpoint is that the events of World War I must be perceived as a mere deportation of the Armenian population who collaborated with the Russians during the invasion of the Anatolian territory.  With Russia’s declaration of war against the Ottoman Empire, the Dashnak Society declared, “The Armenians have taken their place on the side of the Entente states without showing any hesitation whatsoever; they have placed all their forces at the disposition of Russia; and they also are forming volunteer battalions.”[43]Armenian collaboration with Russian forces, as mentioned in the Dashnak Society’s statement , has been and continues to be a focal point of Turkey’s argument that “the measures adopted regarding the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia was merely a replacement in another region within the Empire for security reasons.”[44]

According to Turkish officials, the deportations were solely an interior issue of the Ottoman Empire and a necessary military measure. The Turkish side does admit that tens of thousands of Armenians perished (reports state up to 300,000 people); however, it categorically refuses to recognize that the events were part of a wider premeditated and deliberate plan to exterminate an entire ethnic minority (an essential component of the legal term of genocide). They claim that during the civil war, famine, and epidemics in 1914-1918, hundreds of thousands of Muslims also lost their lives.[45]  In addition, the official decree of the Ottoman Council of Ministers is often used to support the argument that there was no deliberate, preconceived intention to massacre the Armenian population: “When those of the Armenians resident in the aforementioned towns and villages who have to be moved are transferred to their places of settlement and are on the road, their comfort must be assured and their lives and property protected.”[46]

The work of a number of Turkish intellectuals–mainly historians living in Western Europe who speak of the need to recognize the genocide formally and legislatively–is currently very important in Turkish social discourse.[47]However, activism among Turkish intelligentsia for formal recognition of the Armenian genocide is often illustrated as unnationalistic, treacherous, and un-Turkish. Recognition of the Armenian genocide thus remains socially and politically unacceptable and in opposition to Turkish nationalists who are still majorly supported.  The discouragement for recognition of the genocide is enhanced by the growing realization by Turkish academia that “[t]he more foreign parliaments insist that our forebears committed crimes against humanity, the less likely anybody in Turkey is to face up to the hardest moments in history.”[48] Still, liberal Turkish scholars and sociologists have expressed the perception that a membership or prospective membership in the European Union may enable the possibility for more open discussion of the Armenian tragedy and a post-nationalist attitude toward this chapter in history.



Despite recent attempts, it has not been possible to improve Turkish-Armenian relations. The opening of borders and establishment of diplomatic relations between Yerevan and Ankara, which was anticipated as a result of the signing of Turkish-Armenian Protocol in 2009, did not happen due to hesitations on both sides and pressure on Turkey from Baku.  Recognition of the genocide from the Turkish government is still unrealistic and has a number of potential risks. After such a long and insistent denial, some question whether it is even viable for the Turkish government to recognize the genocide. Such admittance could be seen as yielding to anti-Turkish interest. In this respect, a reversal of policy may be impossible. Any movement forward will therefore depend on the interior political development in Turkey, the pressure from the EU member states, and the general development of Armenian-Turkish relations. In the end, Turkey may have to choose between gains in the international arena through EU accession or maintenance of its domestic power through a refusal to recognize the genocide.

The issue of recognition of the Armenian genocide is a significant component of the internal political discourses both within Turkey and within Armenia and has implications for the national identities of both nations.  Recognition of the genocide in Turkey has been illustrated as being considered socially and politically unacceptable. Among Armenians, however, the advocacy of genocide recognition and the awareness of this common tribulation is an essential component of Armenian national identity and contributes to the maintenance of a high degree of social cohesion among Armenian populations in the republic and those in the diaspora Due to the large number of Armenians residing abroad, this unifying element is critical and is achieved not only through the maintenance of a common image of the enemy (in this sense, Turkey) but also through a unified sense of belonging to the “homeland“ (the Republic of Armenia or–according to some–what is known as Western Armenia).  Furthermore, for some Armenian politicians and intellectuals, genocide recognition is seen as a means for achieving financial and territorial reparation through the return of confiscated property and the possible return of Western Armenia in the case of Turkey’s collapse–as speculated by some Armenians–in light of the escalating conflict between the Turkish and Kurdish populations.

In Turkey, unwillingness to recognize officially the Armenian genocide has often been viewed as one of the prominent factors behind Turkey’s unsuccessful EU accession efforts. Also, the growing disillusion with Kemalism as a state-making doctrine and the decline of army’s influence upon Turkish society, due both to the decline of Kemalism and to the growing influence of the AKP, has given rising strength to right-wing nationalists and political Islamists who vehemently oppose genocide recognition.   Moreover, the popular viewpoint in Turkey is that the events of 1915 were simply the attempted relocation of the Armenian population due to security reasons, the most important of which was Armenian collaboration with the invading Russians.  However, Turkey has witnessed the changing perceptions of intellectuals who not only sometimes advocate genocide recognition but also speculate on whether EU membership or the attempt at accession may lead to more open discussion in Turkey of the 1915 events and perhaps, eventually, recognition by Turkey of the Armenian genocide.

Might Turkey revise its official standpoint on the issue in light of its efforts to gain EU membership or might accession to the EU possibly lead, consequently (and due to pressure by member states), to more open discussion in Turkey about the Armenian tragedy?  The answer to this deliberation depends upon Turkey’s advancement toward EU accession. The tension between France and Turkey over Armenian genocide recognition illustrates that this issue continues to be contentious for Turkey and a significant rallying point for Armenia and the Armenian diaspora. From around the early 2000s, as part of reconciliation efforts, a reconciliation movement has emerged that advocates forgetting about the past and focusing, instead, on the future.  Perhaps forgetting about the past and moving forward is a plausible solution for improving Armenian-Turkish relations, yet in the international arena, Turkey’s unwillingness to recognize the Armenian tragedy as genocide continues to enforce turbulent relations between Turkey and several other nations, including France, and is an ideological stumbling block toward EU accession.  Thus, recognition of the Armenian genocide continues to remain a hotly debated topic both within Armenia and within Turkey.  While internal societal perceptions of the 1915 events and of the issue of recognition are largely shaped by internal tensions and debates in Armenia and Turkey, the issue of recognition of genocide is contested and holds political significance in the international arena as well.

*Emil Souleimanov is associate professor of Russian and East European Studies at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic.

*Maya Ehrmann is a graduate of government, diplomacy, and strategy from the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel. This study was carried out in the framework of the Research Project of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University in Prague, entitled P17 Science on Society, Politics, and Media.


[1] Angelique Chrisafis Nick Hopkins, “Turkey Freezes All Political Relations with France over Genocide Row,” The Guardian, December 22, 2011,

[2] Western Turkey, or rather Anatolian Armenia, until 1915 was mainly inhabited by an Armenian population–approximately 1,200,000 people from the 1,800,000 of all Ottoman Armenians (other sources cite up to 2,100,000).

[3] As Christians, the Armenians had no right to carry weapons, ride horses, etc. in the Ottoman Empire. The same was not true for Muslim Kurds.

[4] For further reading on Armenian-Kurdish relations, see Ronald Grigor Suny, Looking Toward Ararat: Armenia in Modern History(Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press 1993), pp. 100-106.

[5] Henry Morgenthau, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story (New York: Doubleday, 1918).

[6] Nagorno-Karabakh is a region in the South Caucasus. While it is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, its status as part of Azerbaijan, Armenia, or an independent state has been contested. Reports show that during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan received substantial military aid from Turkey.

[7] For a list of European countries officially recognizing the Armenian genocide, please see: “The White House and State Department Have Once Again Shown Their Fear of Turkey” Armenian Genocide Blog, March 4, 2010,

[8] Non-European countries recognizing the Armenian genocide include Australia, Canada, Argentina, Lebanon, Vatican City, United States, Uruguay, Chile, and Venezuela. See “Genocide Recognition,” Armenian National Assembly of America, 2012,

[9] Armenian National Institute, INC, “Sweden Parliament Report,” March 29, 2000,

[10] European Union, “A More Transparent and Democratic Europe,” 2012,

[11] Armenian National Institute, INC, “Wales National Assembly Resolution,” 1951,

[12] European Parliament, “European Parliament Critical of Slowdown in Turkey’s Reform Process,” 2006,

[13] Galib Mammadov, “Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: Armenia’s Victory or Nightmare?”Foreign Policy Journal, October 13, 2011,

[14] Vicken Cheteryan, “Armenian Genocide and Turkey: Then and Now,” Opendemocracy, April 24, 2010,

[15] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, “Nagorno-Karabakh Issue,” 2012,

[16] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, “Bilateral Relations,” 2012,

[17] Armenian National Committee, “Welcome to ANCPAC,” 2012,

[18] Dennis R. Papazian, “The Struggle for Personal and Collective Identity: The Ukrainian and Armenian Experience in America,” 2004,

[19] “Preservation of Armenian Identity Is Encouraged,” Project of the Armenian Ministry of Diaspora, 2012,

[20] Anny Bakalian, Armenian Americans: From Being to Feeling Armenian (London: Transaction Publishers, 1993).

[21] Due to the strong lobbying of Armenian diasporas, the following countries have recognized the genocide since 1998: Belgium (1998), France (1998), Sweden (2000), Lebanon (2000), Italy (2000), Canada (2002), Argentina (2003), Switzerland (2003), Uruguay (2004), Slovakia (2004), the Netherlands (2004), and others. Further information is available on the Armenian Foreign Affairs Ministry website,

[22] See, for instance, Elena Petrosyan, “Genotsid armyan: voprosy vozmeshcheniya materialnogo ushcherba (reparatsii i kompensatsii)” [“The Armenian Genocide: The Questions of Compensation of the Material Loss (Reparations and Compensations,”],

[23] Raffi Bedrosyan, “Special Report: What Is Turkey Returning to Armenians,” The Armenian Weekly, August 31, 2011,

[24] “Aram I Calls for Return of Stolen Armenian Churches,” Public Radio of Armenia, 2012,

[25] George S. Yacoubian, “Financial, Territorial, and Moral Reparations for the 1915 Armenian Massacres,” War Crimes, Genocide, & Crimes Against Humanity, Vol. 4 (2010),,%20Territorial,%20and%20Moral%20Reparations%20for%20the%201915%20Armenian%20Massacres.pdf, pp. 59-98.

[26] Pelin Turgut, “Why Turkey’s Kurdish Conflict Is Making a Worrying Comeback,” Time World, August 19, 2011,,8599,2089602,00.html.

[27] For more details, see: Emil Souleimanov, “The Politics of France’s Genocide Denial,”Central Asia and the Caucasus Analyst, October 18, 2006,

[28] Yacoubian, “Financial, Territorial, and Moral Reparations for the 1915 Armenian Massacres,” pp. 59-98.

[29] James J. Martin, “Raphael Lemkin and the Invention of ‘Genocide’: The Journal of Historical Review, Vol. 2, No. (1981), pp. 19-34.

[30] United Nations, “United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” 1948,

[31] ICTJ, “Legal Analysis on Applicability of UN Convention on Genocides Prior to January 12, 1951,” 2002,

[32] Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs “Testimony of Professor Mumtaz Soysal [at the Orly Trial]: Ankara University,” 1985,

[33] Taner Akçam, From Empire to Republic: Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide(London: Zed Books, 2004), p. 230.

[34] William Hale, Turkish Foreign Policy(London: Frank Cass, 2000), p. 1,

[35] Dietrich Jung, “The Sèvres Syndrome: Turkish Foreign Policy and Its Historical Legacies,” Foreign Service Despatches and Periodic Reports on U.S. Foreign Policy, August 2003,

[36] Chrisafis and Hopkins, “Turkey Freezes All Political Relations with France over Genocide Row.”

[37] “Turkey Condemns French Senate’s Adoption of Armenian “Genocide” Bill: Statement,”, January 24, 2012,

[38] For more information, see: Nazan Maksudyan, “Walls of Silence: Translating the Armenian Genocide into Turkish and Self-Censorship,” Critique, Vol. 37, No. 4 (December 2009), pp. 635-49.

[39] Richard Lea, “In Istanbul, a Writer Awaits Her Day in Court,” The Guardian, July 24, 2006,

[40] “Turkey Attacks France over Armenian ‘Genocide’ Bill,” The Telegraph, January 24, 2012,

[41] Claire Berlinski, “Ergenekon: Turkey’s Conspiracy to End Them All,” First Post, November 13, 2008,,features,ergenekon-turkeys-conspiracy-to-end-them-all-claire-berlinski.

[42] For more details, see: Emil Souleimanov, “The Security Aspects of Turkey’s Perspective EU Membership,” Central European Political Studies, Vol. 8, Nos. 2-3 (Spring-Summer 2006).

[43] “Armenian Rebellion and the Relocation in 1915,” Armenian Genocide Facts, 2012,

[44] “What Is Genocide,” Forsnet, 2001,

[45] For an analysis of the Turkish popular standpoint, see the Sözde Ermeni Soykirimi [The Alleged Armenian Genocide] website. The website has de facto been initiated by the government. The website contains links and references to a number of sources claiming that the genocide never really happened:

[46] Council of Ministers Decrees, Prime Ministry’s Archives, Istanbul, Volume 198, Decree 1331/163, May 1915.

[47] To mention but a few: Orhan Pamuk, Taner Akçam, and Fikret Adanir. Incidentally, Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Prize for Literature laureate (2006), was accused of treason in 2005 by a number of lawyers lobbying for the military’s interest due to his writing recognizing the ethnic cleansing of Armenians during the First World War. Soon thereafter, the Turkish justice cleared him of the accusations.

[48] Bruce Clark, “Turkey’s Armenia Dilemma,”BBC News, February 27, 2007,

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