At this pace of events (so probably in a couple of decades), several Turkish ambassadors across the world will have to take forced spring vacations in Ankara. April 2015 was fairly smooth, with only two ambassadors (in Vatican City and Vienna) recalled – they probably bought return tickets, not one-way. The ambassadors in Berlin, Moscow andParis can stay; the countries they reside in happen to be outside of Turkey’s barking range.
As is customary, the capital that mattered the most was Washington. And, as is customary, the American way to portray the tragedy of 1915-1920 contained every violent word except “genocide,” as President Barack Obama’s annual statement to commemorate the victims mentioned “the first mass atrocity of the 20th century,” “deportation,” “massacre” and “a march to deaths.” So our noble ancestors did not commit genocide but last century’s first mass atrocity; they merely massacred the Armenians; they just marched them to their deaths. All is fine, then.
In 2007, this column likened the Turkish-American modus vivendi on the Armenian genocide to a fabricated joke: “The American tells everyone that his Turkish friend’s wife sleeps with everyone, but meticulously avoids calling her ‘a prostitute.’ The Turk hears every word of his American friend’s gossip but keeps silent because ‘the American hasn’t called my wife a prostitute.’ One day, while the two men are sipping their drinks at a bar, the American calls the Turk’s wife a prostitute. The Turk then turns around and shoots him.” (“What happens if Pelosi breaks US-Turkish modus vivendi,” Hurriyet Daily News, Jan. 11, 2007).
In the years ahead, Americans will probably have to find more creative ways to avoid the word genocide: “What the Ottomans did to their Armenians citizens undoubtedly amounted to an eight-letter word that starts with a ‘g’ and ends with an ‘e.’”
“Gamodeme!” an important man in grey suit in Ankara would smile and scream happily. “Yes, the president of the United States meant ‘gamodeme!’” “Gladsome!” another would suggest. “Geniture” might be a closer guess.
Another big crisis between strategic partners Turkey and America would be averted. The Turkish Foreign Ministry would express content that the president of the United States did not portray the undesired incidents at the beginning of the 20th century as genocide. The Turkish ambassador to Washington would not be forced into an unwanted spring vacation in Ankara. All would be well.
Fast rewind to 2015: meanwhile, in Ankara, a top Islamic official said Pope Francis’s portrayal of the 1915 “geniture” as “genocide” would only accelerate the reopening of the Hagia Sophia church in Istanbul for Muslim prayers. It’s fine that the Hagia Sophia was first dedicated as an Orthodox patriarchal basilica in 360 and served as the GreekPatriarchal Cathedral of Constantinople until 1453, when the Turkish conquest, according to the Islamist Turkish narrative, was greeted with extreme joy by a local population that was desperate to embrace Islam. And the fact that the Pope is the leader of the Catholic world, not the Orthodox, should not undermine a very important Turkish imam’s threat to retaliate with absurdity. The Pope’s remark could have well prompted the Turks to retaliate by converting the country’s few synagogues into mosques all the same.
But watch out, Professor Mehmet Gormez, head of the powerful and wealthy Religious Affairs Directorate! You have an emerging rival who may have his eyes on your prestigious office and luxurious official car. The grand mufti of Ankara, who predicts a faster conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque because the Pope thinks 1915 was genocide, must have scored some points and may be racing ahead to replace you – unless a rival grand mufti matches him by launching a campaign for the “immediate” conversion of the church.
What miracles an eight-letter word that starts with a “g” and ends with an “e” can make in Turkey…