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13.02.2007

Gül’s serious mistake

The foreign minister’s remark in Washington, 'We cannot contain the public if the Armenian genocide bill passes,' is very open to provocative utilization

CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER


One of the goals of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül's visit to the United States was to prevent, to whatever extent possible, the seemingly inevitable passing of the Armenian genocide bill by Congress.

The minister's efforts in this cause, even if they prove to be in vain, are both a consequence of his rights and his responsibility. The passing of this bill in Congress will deal the biggest blow in history to U.S.-Turkey relations. It is the minister's responsibility to warn against such a situation.

However, I think that one of his remarks was unfortunate and very open to misinterpretation and use as provocation.

"…Gül said that, in the case that the [Armenian] bill is accepted at the House of Representatives, there will be ‘a real shock in Turkey' and that the Turkish government could not contain the demands by the public to halt cooperation with the United States…" (Hürriyet Web site, Feb. 08). 

This remark is truly unfortunate at a time when Turkish public opinion has been divided over the Hrant Dink murder, the concepts of good and evil have been mixed, the public is on edge, ethnic nationalism is gaining pace, and a general climate of pessimism prevails.

The bill will most probably pass in Congress, which will vote on it before Apr. 24. Around this date Turkey will be choosing its 11th president; perhaps preparing for Abdullah Gül's term as prime minister.

Remember the dark days of September:

I would like to remind Gül of the recent past: The events of Sept. 6-7, 1955. As Wikipedia reports, on Sept. 6, 1955, while officials of Foreign Ministry were conducting their meetings in London over the Cyprus issue, news was broadcast over Turkish radios that a bomb had exploded in Atatürk's house in Thessalonica. The news stories were false. However, during the subsequent events between 13 and 16 Greeks and one Armenian died and 32 Greeks were seriously injured. The material damage amounted to 4,348 shops and more than 1,000 homes owned by Greeks, 110 hotels, 27 pharmacies, 23 schools, 21 factories and 73 churches.

The economic damage was calculated at 69.5 million Turkish lira, according to the Turkish government; 100 million pounds, according to English diplomatic sources; $150 million, according to the World Church Association; and $500 million according to the Greek Government. The Democratic Party (DP) government paid 60 million Turkish lira in compensation to those who registered their losses. After the attack the Greek predominance in the Turkish economy started to dissolve and Turkish dominance in the capital accelerated. As a result of the emigration in the aftermath of these events the Greek minority in Turkey has dwindles to almost nothing. The number of Greeks in Istanbul was 200,000 in 1924 and 1,500 in 2005.

One of my readers informed me that, on Sept. 6, 1955, the then-Foreign Minister Fatin Rüştü Zorlu uttered in London similar words to Gül's.

The words Gül has pronounced only to alert the United States can be manipulated in an anti-American or anti-Armenian a provocation in the future, claiming they are "the orders of the minister." The goal of this article is to prevent such a provocation with an "early warning" system and save the minister from such accusations.

I expect there to be all sorts of provocations in the time leading up to the presidential elections. I think that political figures in particular need to pay a lot of attention to their remarks.

I wrote this article thinking that the politicians' competition of late about "who is more nationalist?" is generating an environment and creating an excuse for these troubled times.