Turkey to the World: Use the Word Genocide and We’ll Kick Out the Armenians

by Kevin Jon Heller

You just can’t make this stuff up:

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has taken a harsh position against undocumented Armenian workers in Turkey, threatening to expel thousands amid tensions over allegations that Armenians were victims of “genocide” during the last days of the Ottoman Empire.

Resolutions passed recently in the United States and Sweden to brand the World War I killings as “genocide” undermine peace efforts with Armenia, Erdoğan said during his visit to London, according to excerpts from an interview with the BBC Turkish service published on the BBC Web site late Tuesday.


Referring to about 100,000 undocumented Armenians working in Turkey that Ankara has so far tolerated, Erdoğan said: “So what will I do tomorrow? If necessary, I will tell them ‘come on, back to your country’… I’m not obliged to keep them in my country. Those actions [on genocide resolutions] unfortunately have a negative impact on our sincere attitudes,” Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.

Hmm, Turkey deporting large numbers of Armenians.  Why does that sound so familiar


3 Responses

  1. Why are you so surprised about this particular speech?
    The PM is famous for a whole bunch of “interesting” remarks on various topics ranging from his sentimental “one minute” to his recommendation of having at least three children.

    He is discriminating against Armenians but also admitting his administrations fault; if a government knowingly admits to oversee laws, can you trust it? If the government knew about illegal workers, why did it not prosecute them in the first place or why does it not try to change the legislation legalising those workers if it is not against deporting them.

  2. Thank you Mr. PM,
    not the brightest idea at all !!!
    That said, I think he is trying to say “look we have so far tolarated 100K Armenians, whoare earning their life here in Turkey. See we are no enemies for today’s Armenians.”
    Yes he utterly fails to convey the right message and what he said, if interpreted mot-a-mot, is terrible.
    Oh BTW according to more reliable studies, the number of these undocumented Armenians are about 15K, roughly speaking; not that close to 100K.

  3. My Dear Colleagues,
    Both the subject matter and the discussion forum compels me to set up the framework on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (hereinafter as “RSIW”). In this regard, the Prime Minister’s remarks are certainly attributable to Turkey, within the meaning of the Article 2/a and 4/1 of the RSIW. However, without prejudicing my personal view on the absurdity of such remarks, the essential question is “how unlawful is the deportation of a number of undocumented –that means unlawful- resident aliens” within the meaning of the Article 2/b of the RSIW?
    This to be left for further discussion, I feel the urge to present a different perspective to the community of distinguished international lawyers. I would humbly call it as the anachronism in the international legal discourse.
    Notwithstanding the how tragic the incidents of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire might be, the legal merit of the efforts for qualifying them as genocide should be seriously questioned. Here, I would probably be subjected to harsh criticism of being too “legalistic” to refer to the well-established principle of nullum crimen sine lege and the fact that there is over 30 years between the great calamity and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. But isn’t it actually a question of law to label something as genocide and hold some entity or a community as accountable following such qualification? Obviously, we are not talking about the real persons responsible for the atrocities since most of them have been convicted by the Extraordinary Courts Martial of the Ottoman Empire in 1919. What then do we mean or imply by referring to the “Armenian genocide” in a “legal” discourse? Why then is this selectivity of some to focus on this issue?
    Just to name a few acts which were indeed explicitly prohibited at the time of their commission, I can highlight the killing of thousands of Ottoman soldiers in the Gallipoli Campaign, including Turks, Greeks, and Armenians, -much of the nations educated and would be leaders of a harmonious community- by means of employing poisoned weapons; or to the systematic blinding of over 10.000 Ottoman prisoners of war in camps established in Egypt? These both were falling under the prohibition of the Article 23 of the Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, Annexed to the Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land of 1907. But I can hardly remember an “international” or a Turkish lawyer obsessively insisting on labeling these or other instances as war crimes, despite the explicit prohibitions at the time of their commission. Leaving the indifference of Turkish scholars and lawyers aside, is that because –in the words of the British diplomat who was the addressee of the protest of Ottoman government- “they are crimes against humanity indeed, but they [are not] humans”.
    The intention here is not to engage any debate based on counter-arguments nourishing from demagogy and historical prejudices. The important question is that how far can we stretch legal norms backwards in history to antagonize a community as “barbarians” of the international community? Shouldn’t we then add the extermination of the indigenous population of the Americas, extinction of the Tasmanian Aborigines, the Great Irish Famine –without prejudice to study of Professor F.A. Boyle-, or any other historical tragedy that can easily be abused in the political rhetoric to our agenda? Or should we confine our energy to debates on contemporary problems such as of those of Bosnia, Iraq, Gaza, Kosovo, or Georgia? It would be far more sincere if those States responsible of recent atrocities primarily deal with their violations of international law than with the history of others; and it would be more faithful to the legal profession if lawyers focus on such subjects than engage with the field of historians.
    These are not merely rhetorical questions or desires of somebody who will probably be stamped as “partial”, but this is something of vital significance in the contemporary international law. Acts of parliaments or congresses are certainly attributable to states. Thus, if they amount to a violation of a rule of international law, they entail the responsibility of the concerned state under such law. Accordingly, the essential problem is to inquire whether there are any rules that might be relevant in this framework. What comes to my mind is that whether such condemnations might be contrary to international law as violations of the well-established principle of non-intervention.
    Despite the scope of  “human rights exception” to the principle is unclear, it is widely acknowledged that states and international organizations are entitled to criticize the human rights situation in other countries. As a lawyer, I would not argue against those criticizing Turkey for its disregard for the Article 6 of the ECHR, the right to a fair trial. We also have the same struggle against our government here when it comes to such actual widespread human rights abuses, just like any other jurist in any other part of the world.  What clear is however that “the arguments relating to intervention to protect human rights […] must be read in the context of the Friendly Relations Declaration and Nicaragua.”[1] Leaving a comprehensive analysis aside, no reading of these can lead us to the conclusion that there is an exception to the principle of non-intervention, which permits states to intervene in the affairs of others in matters concerning a “would be” past abuse.
    Anyone can rightfully question the relevance of this finding by claiming that there is in fact no “intervention” since these instruments solely relate to the domestic legal sphere of the concerned states. But what if the condemnations envisaged by such national legislation, for instance that of the U.S. or Sweden, amounts to a coercion of a nation and a state to some policies? And don’t they actually reach to coercion when it is asked of Turkey to recognize a “genocide” for the EU accession or for its acknowledgment as a honorable member of the international community? Again, what then is the legal merit of the use of the “word” genocide if they don’t?
    It is more than a word I would say. It is a means to “other” a nation, a way of defining and securing one’s own positive identity through the stigmatization of an “other.” Same prejudiced tendency has labeled a military intervention (against Cyprus) as a violation of jus cogens (despite the widespread massacres committed against a non-Greek citizens of the country); and classified other military interventions (against Kosovo or Iraq for instance) as “humanitarian intervention” or “bringing democracy”. Same hypocrisy attributed the conduct of an entity to a state (Loizidou case) and disregarded the very same criteria when the reputation of one’s own was at stake (Behrami case). Same “policy” illegally supported those who committed terrorist activities in Turkey(Erdal case – Belgium, just to name one) and harbored those accused of killing or wounding Turkish diplomats in Europe and U.S. for the sake of compelling Turkey to recognize the “Armenian genocide” (I can hardly remember a case here).
    I do not however, have any problem in identifying the reason underlying this semi-conscious legal crusade. Here, I refer to Derrida who stipulated that
    Semantic instability, irreducible trouble spots on the borders between concepts, indecision in the very concept of the border: all this must not only be analysed as a speculative disorder, a conceptual chaos or zone of passing turbulence in public or political language. We must also recognize here strategies and relations of force. The dominant power is the one that manages to impose and, thus, to legitimate, indeed to legalize (for it is always a question of law) on a national or world stage, the terminology and thus the interpretation that best suits it in a given situation.[2]
    What I do not understand is that whether anyone in those parliaments condemning the incidents of 1915  as genocide; or whether anyone in the community of distinguished scholars, judges and policy makers applying double-standards indicated above are aware of the impact of their concerted action? This leaves us, humble advocates of human rights in a country of 77 million people, in a very difficult position against religious fanatics and political extremists, who tend to a complete rejection of the international community. Something which might “prospect” to a shift in the political-legal position of Turkey in the International community, something which had happened in Iran some 30 years ago or who knows something which had happened in Germany after Versailles?..
    I am afraid nothing in the present protest is capable of having any impact on this, but I simply intended to make the spectators aware of the background of “Persepolis” -while they will keep watching the movie from a safe distance-. After all, this is something difficult to find in Wikipedia since there are very few voices here which have the time, opportunity and awareness of the relevant legal situation to broadcast that in a platform lacking the gravity of a reference forum.

    [1] M. Jamnejad & m. Wood, ‘The Principle of Non-intervention’, (2009) LJIL 22-2, 345 at 377.

    [2] J. Derrida, quoted in G. Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (2003), at 105.

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