Ethnic Conflict and Social Peace
As War Grinds On In Caucasus, Turkey’s Armenians Feel the Heat
The flare-up of a conflict in the southern Caucasus has an imminent fallout in Turkey where Turkish-Armenians face a loyalty test and hate speech once again.
“Whenever something happens [in the southern Caucasus], we are immediately declared as disloyal to this country. Our patriotic love for Turkey can never be questioned. Stop portraying us as traitors!”
One tweet lamented after the outbreak of armed skirmishes between Azerbaijani forces and the breakaway republic of Nagorno Karabakh. It was posted by an Istanbul Armenian who had the courage to take to social media to express her displeasure over the toxic climate that vilified Turkey’s Armenians over a matter that had nothing to do with them.
The Turkish public’s understandable solidarity with Azerbaijan in its bid to claim the control of a mountainous enclave that splintered from Baku’s jurisdiction after an inconclusive war in the early 1990s always take the form of social ostracization of Turkey’s own Armenians as if they were the instigators of this intractable conflict.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union gave birth to more than a dozen new independent states in Central Asia, southern Caucasus, in southern and eastern Europe. This transition mostly took place in a peaceful fashion. The southern Caucasus was, however, an exception. The transcendental building block of the Soviet Empire, which somehow buried old ethnic rivalries under the wraps for the sacred cause of Communist brotherhood, quickly vanished in the face of an ethnic question whose embers were rekindled right after the breakup. Yerevan and Baku plunged into a bloody, vicious war over the control of the mountainous region of Nagorno Karabakh that had a majority of Armenian residents with an Azerbaijani minority. The conflict with a shaky armistice remained unresolved to this day for nearly three decades until Azerbaijan finally took matters into its hands following its unconcealed exasperation with the impotence of the Minsk Group to resolve the protracted matter in a manner that would satisfy both sides.
As both sides descended into a full-blown military confrontation last month, it had an ominous fallout for Turkey, the biggest supporter of Baku. The renewed fighting has roused a groundswell of public support for Azerbaijan in Turkey amid strident nationalist solidarity between two Turkic brethren. But Turkey’s own Armenians, most of whom have no relation whatsoever to Armenia, have been swept up in this nationalist frenzy as the hate speech is directed at them as the public expression of negative sentiment toward Yerevan. The blanket association of Turkish Armenians with Armenia’s political cause in the public view, however, is not just misplaced, but also unjust and historically wrong. Many Armenians feel that they are unintentionally caught up in a conflict that is beyond their control, and that is unrelated to their social being inside Turkey where they never escaped the burden of history for the past century.
The contested legacy of 1915 events forever remains a stain on the public view of Armenians in Turkey where all narratives other than the official account of what really happened are systematically banished from public discourse. This policy of censorship and the imposition of one licensed account, combined with the fixed discourse of the Turkish authorities regarding any matter related to Armenians, conceivably do not help to smoothen a rancorous relationship with one of Turkey’s oldest indigenous inhabitants and its largest Christian minority. And the revival of fighting in the southern Caucasus has unjustly created another loyalty test for Turkey’s Armenians to prove their fealty to their homeland of which they have been natural parts for two millennia.
As the owner of the tweet above explicated, they do not need to prove anything. She loves Turkey, no matter what happens out there. She is happy living in Istanbul and she feels greatly offended over the public questioning of her loyalty to this country.
The ethnic conflict in the southern Caucasus and Turkey’s unresolved matter with its Armenian citizens over the contested definition of 1915 massacres during the dying days of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War are two separate issues that have little in common. Lumping both matters together under the same rubric with no heed to contextual differences only reinforces the toxic nationalist narrative about Turkey’s Armenian citizens who are never fully allowed to integrate into the body politic or national psyche due to the perpetual postponing of a long-overdue reckoning with one of the controversial chapters of modern Turkish history. Needless to say that this must change.
The relationship may be tormented by the painful legacy of history, but it could be healed by reconciliation, social peace, and a collective reckoning. It requires political will, prudence, wisdom, and mutual understanding that our smooth coexistence rests on these steps. And whatever the complexion of regional politics, Ankara should contain their negative fallout that unjustly turns some of its citizens into victims/pariahs in their homeland.