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US Academic Critiques 'Politicized' 1915 Campaign Featured

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Political scientist Brendon J. Cannon says diaspora Armenians 'purposely and willingly ignore the complexity of 1915'

A “highly politicized” campaign by the diaspora Armenian community against Turkey over the events of 1915 is being waged to achieve “largely negative ends,” a U.S. academic has told Anadolu Agency.

Brendon J. Cannon, a political scientist and assistant professor at Khalifa University's Institute of International and Civil Security in Abu Dhabi, said that although he felt “empathy” with Armenian campaigners, he says the community’s identity is being “held hostage to the year 1915”.

Speaking in a recent Anadolu Agency interview, Cannon said: “The claims made by the Armenian campaign purposely and willingly ignore the complexity of the year 1915 and the 20-30 years prior to the outbreak of World War I and the demise of the Ottoman Empire.

“The campaign currently waged by the Armenian diaspora in places like the U.S., Germany, France, Australia and Argentina is a highly politicized campaign that utilizes dubious means to achieve unclear and largely negative ends.

“Like any political movement, the campaign relies on soundbites and lacks nuance.”

Cannon -- author of Legislating Reality and Politicizing History: Contextualizing Armenian Claims of Genocide -- also said activists behind the international campaign “categorically deny the political aims inherently at play (including reparations, rights of return and the redrawing of territorial boundaries) and instead argue that the campaign is apolitical and concerned with closure and dignity for the descendants and survivors of what they term the Armenian Genocide”.

Turkey's position is that deaths of Armenians in eastern Anatolia in 1915 occurred after some sided with invading Russians and revolted against Ottoman forces. A subsequent relocation of Armenians resulted in numerous casualties.

Ankara denies the alleged genocide, but acknowledges that there were casualties on both sides during the World War I events.

Turkey objects to the presentation of the incidents as ‘genocide’ but describes the 1915 events as a tragedy for both sides.

Ankara has repeatedly proposed the creation of a joint commission of historians from Turkey and Armenia plus international experts, to tackle the issue.


'Political agenda'

Cannon said that while he felt empathy with campaigners -- for whom “time literally collapsed in 1915” -- there was no evidence that the Ottoman government of the time “had an interest in murdering any of their Armenian subjects”.

“Armenians living in certain areas of eastern Anatolia were deported to Syria and elsewhere in order to address the threat posed by advancing Russian and Armenian troops as well as Armenian irregulars who relied, in some cases, on local Armenian support.

“It is worth highlighting that many of these Armenians with guns were Ottoman citizens.

“They possessed a political agenda: the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of an independent Armenia,” he added.

Stating that Armenian populations in major cities such as Istanbul and Izmir were untouched, Cannon said: “The diaspora funders, supporters and lobbyists of the campaign believe that their particular ancestors were lucky to survive Ottoman plans to destroy them all.

“This is false and ignores the evidence of what occurred not only in eastern Anatolia but throughout the Ottoman Empire during World War I. In other words, just because the diaspora believes a genocide occurred does not make it reality.”

A “protracted, extra-legal” campaign has gained support in some European states amid the demonizing of Turkey and Turks, he added.

“One, efforts at genocide recognition are greatly assisted by many in the West, particularly Europeans, who are often subject to bouts of historical guilt for excesses such as colonialism, genocide, ethnic cleansing and two world wars, for example.

"In essence, many Europeans suffer from what the Germans term Vergangenheitsbewaltigung, or the struggle to overcome the [negative] past,” he said.


Disputes with allies

“That the Armenian campaign speaks to not only Armenian diaspora identity but many Europeans and their bedrock identity (self vs. other) assists us in understanding why the Armenian campaign has been successful in so many European countries.

"Simply put, the campaign represents a convenient cudgel in the hands of European politicians who score easy political points not only with diaspora Armenians but with the majority of their uninformed constituents who know little and care less about what actually occurred in 1915.

"For them the campaign’s demonization of Turkey and calls for solidarity in recognizing a human tragedy is enough.”

At the diplomatic level, disputes with foreign allies over the 1915 issue has had tangible consequences.

Last year, Turkey rejected requests by German lawmakers to visit foreign troops based at Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey -- a stance it took again this wek -- due to a controversial parliamentary motion in Berlin describing the deaths of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 as “genocide”.

Cannon noted that the issue had become embroiled in other disagreements between Ankara and European states.

“When Turkey is viewed as being demanding, rude or meddlesome, politicians understand they can gain political mileage from the passage of legislation that demonizes Turkey and Turks.

“The Italian resolution passed in 2000 and the more recent legislation passed in Germany in 2016 were both carried out in the face of deeply unpopular (in Italy and Germany) Turkish demands: the extradition of PKK leader [Abdullah] Ocalan from Italy in 2000; and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU in 2016.”

Cannon also said the present-day activists by the diaspora contained anti-Turkish elements. “That is, century-old images and caricatures, often racist and bearing no relationship to present-day realities, underpin the campaign (the terrible Turk, anti-Muslim sentiments) and still carry weight -- not only for Armenians but much of the West and Russia.”

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