Erdogan's Rage at Armenian Genocide Recognition Hurts the Turks

The Turkish president's 'hot-headedness' is becoming more and more a sideshow as the world recognizes the genocide, says Louis Fishman.

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Gedalyah Reback,

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Reuters

What is Turkey thinking?

That is the question some analysts are asking themselves in the days following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's condemnation of Pope Francis I. Francis referred to the Armenian "Genocide" as one of the three greatest mass murders of the 20th century in a joint mass with Armenian priests. He grouped the Armenian Genocide with the Holocaust and Stalinism in the same breath. Just yesterday, Austria also recognized the Armenian Genocide, prompting Turkey to recall its ambassador.

As Erdogan has reacted in the past, he was furious. He said the Pope would be wise not to make the same mistake again. In that, Erdogan extended the same angry response he had used against France several years ago against one of the most popular social and political figures on the planet.

It is a public relations disaster says Professor Louis Fishman of Brooklyn College, who focuses on Turkish Affairs.

"Due to the elections, the 'angry' part was revived. But, it's not like it used to be."

That is the assessment of the International Crisis Group's Nigar Göksel, who wrote this week, "The nationalist vote is up for grabs in this June’s general election, leaving the incumbent AKP especially wary of being seen as bowing to foreign parliamentary resolutions."

Yet these reactions have not been isolated to election cycles. Generally speaking, Fishman emphasizes that "Turkey should understand its reaction is really bad for public relations."

Yet paradoxically, Erdogan's Islamist AKP party has been given a lot more credit recognizing anything happened at all to the Armenians than previous Turkish governments.

Even if the government refuses to recognize it as a genocide, there are groups within its supporters that do openly recognize it as a genocide," says Fishman. "In fact, if one reads PM Davutoglu's recent statement, it is clear that the government has taken steps in recognizing the injustice. However, of course, the words need to be met with actions."

"Beginning last year, it expressed condolences to the Armenians on the anniversary of the killings," says Amberin Zaman of the Economist. "Yet there is a strong whiff of political expediency about its magnanimity."

But the politics cuts both ways. The main Kurdish HDP party in Turkey has formally apologized to Armenians for acts conducted by Kurds in the genocide. Again, political expediency is leading to an opening. But still, the Kurdish party is to the left of Erdogan, who is courting votes on the other side of the spectrum.

So does Erdogan represent an older way of thinking in Turkey?

"Let us remember that Erdogan is the President, and even if the full powers are vested in the PM, he does set the trend. There is no doubt that his hot-headed reactions do not help, and partially set the stage."

"However, the recalling of ambassadors is a short-sighted policy and regardless of who setting the stage, this seems simply to be motivated by a flawed policy. "

When asked if the Turkish president understood the ramifications of taking on such a massive figure like the Pope, Fishman said that he probably thought the Pope was a soft target.

Fishman is referring to the reverse effect the warning has had. Since Erdogan's backlash at the Pope, the European Parliament has also voted in favor of recognizing the Armenian Genocide. The language referred several times to using "the commemoration of the centenary of the Armenian genocide" as a launching point for political reconciliation, but the message was clearer than ever that Europe wants that reconciliation to involve acknowledgement.

However, the fallout has its limits. President Obama is still hesitant to use the term, presumably because of Turkey's strategic value in American efforts against ISIS or in any number of other regional issues.

Yet, people like the President of the United States and perhaps the Prime Minister of Israel might take into account that any fallout over this issue alone would likely be temporary (not withstanding other issues between Israel and Turkey).

When asked if the repercussions for Turkish public relations were quantifiable, Fishman said the Turks' reaction is not having the impact President Erdogan would like it to have.

"To be frank, it seems that the world is no longer surprised by the short-sighted actions of the Turkish government. Many countries are thus dealing with it accordingly, knowing that Turkey's bark is much worse than its bite."