Threats to cooperate more closely with Iran and Russia are being used by Turkey as a form of genocide extortion.

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The US decision to publicly accept the Armenian genocide came after decades of threats from Turkey and its lobbyists in Washington. Their narrative was that if Washington simply used the word “genocide” to describe a crime committed 106 years earlier by a former government in what is now Turkey, Ankara will immediately blacklist the US, close its bases, intimidate its civilians, and ally with Iran, China, and Russia, or other US enemies.

This bizarre, mafia-like threat is the same one that Tehran used regarding the Iran deal. It is because non-Western countries learned that the way to deal with Western countries was to prey on their fears. For instance, today Pakistan is threatening to expel France’s ambassador because far-right religious extremists in Pakistan claim to be offended by cartoons published years ago in a French magazine.

Ankara’s attempt to hold countries hostage regarding the Armenian genocide worked well for many years. It prevented many countries, including Israel, from “offending” Ankara by mentioning the genocide. It’s unclear if this same blackmail would have worked had Germany in 1946 also told countries that they can’t mention the Holocaust or Germany would be “offended,” so that Western countries would have denied the Shoah the way some continue to deny the Armenian genocide.

Turkey was coddled for many years because it sold itself as a key to helping the West confront the Soviets. When the Soviets were gone in 1989, Turkey shifted its pattern of denial to claims that it wanted to be part of the European Union, was somehow a bridge between the West and Asia, and that if it was offended it might aid Islamist extremism or something.

That claim has now grown to arguments in Turkey that openly bash the West, calling Western countries and Israel “Nazi” and then asserting that Ankara will position itself with Russia, China and Iran against Western democracies.

THE TURKEY that is running to embrace Russia and Iran is the same one that still talks about the myth of joining the European Union. It’s unclear how a Turkey that has an authoritarian regime and where there are almost not critical journalists allowed and where people are put in prison for decades for tweets, could ever join an EU that is ostensibly democratic.

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NATO was also supposed to be about values and democracy, and yet it has empowered Ankara for years to become more authoritarian, including excusing Ankara’s invasion of Kurdish Afrin in 2018 and the ethnic cleansing of Kurds.

Now the crescendo of threats has risen again. Those who opposed genocide recognition argued that Turkey would drift away from NATO – which it was already doing. They argued that it will work with Russia – a country it already buys S-400s from. They argue it would work with China – a country Turkey already openly works with and to which it plans more overland truck and rail links via Russia, Central Asia and Iran.

The argument against America recognizing the genocide was that the US must think “geopolitically” and not use a “stunt” to hurt Turkey’s feelings. This is the same Ankara that openly opposes NATO countries like Greece and France and which often slanders various countries in the West. It was unclear why Turkey wasn’t held to the same standard: If Ankara wanted the West to refrain from just mentioning “genocide,” why Turkey wasn’t required to also do what Western countries want and also be polite in international relations. Instead, the argument went that Ankara should never be offended, but that it can do whatever it wanted.

THE BIDEN PRESIDENCE has called Turkey’s bluff. The notion that simply acknowledging a 106-year-old genocide would prompt Turkey to close US bases and quickly collaborate with Russia, Iran, and China is odd, given that Ankara must still think “geopolitically.” The contention has always been that the West needs Turkey more than the US and the West need Turkey. This seems to be a reversal of “geopolitics.” If “geopolitics” needs appeasement and always begging a country and isn’t a two-way street built on respect and strength, it’s unclear what the US has ever done by appeasing Turkey over the last decades.

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The theory is that Turkey might leave NATO because it is angry it heard the word “genocide.” If it was just mentioning genocide that causes it to leave, then it means the NATO alliance wasn’t worth more than one word: not worth the training, the German tanks, the intelligence sharing and everything else. Turkey would bury itself because it was offended about being asked about what happened in 1915?

Never in history has a country left a massive military alliance worth billions of dollars because someone used one word to refer to something that happened 106 years ago. Only Turkey used this blackmail to prevent any mention of the fact that the modern day country is largely built on hundreds of thousands of homes of Greeks and Armenians and other minorities who were expelled and murdered, sold into slavery and and suffered genocide between 1915 and 1955.

The modern Turkish AKP Party, which is rooted in Islamist thinking, could have blamed the atrocities on previous Turkish governments.

ANKARA’S SUPPORTERS sometimes argue that Turkey could recognize the US genocide of Native-Americans. But unlike Turkey, it’s not very controversial in the US to say that Native Americans suffered genocide. Turkey has already accused other countries of genocide, including claiming Israel is like the Nazis and has committed genocide. So if Turkey was so afraid of the word “genocide” why does it accuse Israel of “genocide”?

Turkey’s stance was to believe that it was beyond precedent, that it should never be kept accountable or even criticised. Many US diplomats supported this, and for many years they proved to be more pro-Turkey than Turkey’s own diplomats. Ankara has a way of casting a spell on Western politicians, typically by subtle or overt intimidation. Turkey’s capacity to disseminate real-world threats has also expanded. It instigated a crisis with France last year over cartoons released years before, and its language is likely to have resulted in at least one terror attack in France.

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Turkey will continue to attempt to use Islamist terrorism in Europe to its advantage. It has previously threatened to use refugees against Europe unless the EU pays it more money. Meanwhile, it radicalises immigrants and turns them into mercenaries. Turkey played an important role as a gateway for ISIS supporters from Europe, as well as a base for radicalisation.

Turkey might end up doing for the next Al-Qaeda what Pakistan and Afghanistan did for the Al-Qaeda of the 1990s: acting as a base and outlet for terrorism. Regardless of whether the US accepts the genocide, Turkey will continue on this path.

Supporting extremism comes with its own negatives though, because extremist countries usually suffer economic decline. Turkey’s confrontation with the US over the term “genocide” will be weighed against its desire to have economic power, which underpinned its claims in the past to being of “geopolitical” importance. If it cares about “geopolitics,” as Western analysts claim it does, then it will have more to lose from confrontation. The trend in Ankara was to work with Iran, China and Russia anyway.

If the Biden administration actually standing up to Ankara would lead to further collaboration with authoritarians is a challenge Ankara must balance against its own assertions of seeking “reconciliation” with countries it has threatened in recent years. There is no proof that denying the genocide contributed to Ankara remaining more secular, inclusive, egalitarian, and open-minded, as well as closer to the West.


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