Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, has been in London, with a photo-op next to Gordon Brown, his British opposite number, on the steps of Downing Street. The ceremony, the courtesy, goes with the job. In return, Erdogan did something extraordinary. He threatened to expel 100,000 Armenians from Turkey. “They are not my citizens. I am not obliged to keep them in my country.” My citizens? My country? Mass expulsion? This is the mind-set and the language of a dictator.
One of the mysteries of official Turkey is the point-blank refusal to discuss the deaths of probably 1.5 million Armenians as a result of the First World War. These unfortunates were faced with massacre or flight, which usually amounted to the same thing. Genocide is a valid description. Hitler, you remember, used the precedent of the Armenians to apply to the Jews.
In contrast, Turkish intellectuals, including historians and the Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, do not flinch from examining what happened, even though they may be penalized by the state for it. What is this about? All the First War regimes involved are long since vanished. This should be a matter of the historical record. Yet official Turkey evidently feels that any admission of deliberate mass-murder would be the source of permanent shame.
A Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee has just passed a resolution that the fate of the Armenians was indeed genocide. The Swedish parliament has passed a similar motion. Turkey has recalled its ambassadors to the capitals concerned. Erdogan doesn’t seem to realize it, but the threat now to expel 100,000 Armenians is an open admission of a guilty conscience.
This is another stage in Turkey’s changing political stance, whereby it is dropping out of the West and moving over to Islamism. The Erdogan government has trumped up charges of conspiracy against the secular military, and is purging the judiciary and academia. In London now, Erdogan has said that to suspect Iran of developing a nuclear weapon is to fall for a fiction. A commentator in the Times points out that Turkey is a member of the U.N. Security Council and can do its bit for Iran in that forum.
In the context, the threat of expelling 100,000 people is less a hang-over from the past than evidence of the kind of world already taking shape.