On a flight from Istanbul to Brussels last night, I learned something that I had not previously known. Armenians have used the term aghed — catastrophe — to describe the massacres inflicted on them by the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Palestinians, of course, also refer to the vicious ethnic cleansing undertaken by Zionist forces in 1948 as a catastrophe — or nakba in Arabic.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, this week offered his condolences to the grandchildren of Armenians killed 99 years ago. He also promised to respect those who voice “different opinions.” Could this mean that a taboo is finally being broken?
Under the Turkish penal code, those who argue that the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians constituted a genocide are liable for prosecution. Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist, was convicted of denigrating Turkishness for expressing such views in 2005; two years later he was murdered.
Victims of injustice — and their descendants — deserve acknowledgement that horrific crimes were perpetrated against them. They should never be used in a game of political or diplomatic football.
In the recent past, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has toyed with the idea of formally recognizing that Armenians suffered a genocide. The move was entirely cynical — designed to upset Turkey rather than to right a historical wrong. The same institution has approved a law to punish Palestinians who commemorate the catastrophe that befell Palestinians before, during and after Israel’s creation.
More than likely, though, Israel will not recognize the Armenian genocide any time soon. Doing so would aggravate tensions with Turkey at a time when both sides want to boost their economic ties — at the Palestinians’ expense, needless to say.
Attending the Palestine International Forum for Media and Communication in Istanbul, I listened to a representative of Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AK) Party proclaim his country’s support for the Palestinian struggle.
That support is fickle.
If Turkey really supports the Palestinians, it would be imposing tough economic sanctions on Israel. Instead, the value of annual trade between Turkey and Israel has increased: from $3.4 billion in 2008 to $4 billion in 2012.
Turkey introduced an arms embargo on Israel in 2011. Yet it has continued to take delivery of military products ordered before then. And despite the embargo, Israel’s defense ministry is reportedly examining how to arrange fresh weapons sales to Turkey.
It’s not hard to understand why Israel is eager to resume business. Turkey has long been a loyal customer for the Israeli arms industry. It is second only to the US in having the largest army in NATO. Turkey splurges around 1.8 percent of its gross domestic product on the military — higher than the average for European countries.
Erdogan had a public row with Shimon Peres when Israel was bombing Gaza in 2009. Though his stance was commendable, it does not erase the fact that Erdogan’s government had been willing to buy Israeli weapons until then.
In 2005, Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) and Elbit won a contract to supply Turkey with drones. These two firms were the main manufacturers of the warplanes that Israel has used to attack Gaza. (IAI is now called Israel Aerospace Industries.)
The aforementioned arms embargo, it should be recalled, was only imposed after Israel murdered nine Turkish human rights activists while they were sailing towards Gaza. In 2010 — the year that attack occurred — Turkey was the second largest importer of Israeli weapons.
Dash for gas
Another news story this week related to Turkey’s potential investment in the Leviathan natural gas field off the Mediterranean coast of present-day Israel. Energy firm Turcas confirmed that it is in discussions with another Turkish company Enerjisa to buy gas from this field. It had previously been reported that Turkas was exploring the development of a pipeline to bring gas from Israel to Turkey.
This news offers a reminder as to how it was energy issues that made the imperial powers so interested in Palestine in the first place. In the early twentieth-century, Haifa hosted a pipeline transporting oil from the Persian Gulf.
The Turkish Petroleum Company had a virtual monopoly on this oil from 1925 to 1961. The firm’s name (later changed to the Iraq Petroleum Company) was misleading. It was controlled by British and German banks and Royal Dutch Shell.
I suspect we will hear much more about Israel’s reputedly abundant energy reserves. By some estimates, Israel’s shale deposits could supply 250 billion barrels of oil.
Shale oil has become synonymous with an ecologically destructive extraction process known as fracking. But a firm called Israel Energy Initiatives claims that new technologies can allow this oil to be produced with “low environmental impact.”
The claim lacks credibility. The only way that fossil fuels can have a low environmental impact is if they are left in the ground.
If there is a rush to exploit the energy resources under Israel’s control, then we can be sure that those who stand to benefit won’t care a fig about human rights.
Turkey’s professions of solidarity with the Palestinians will ultimately remain hollow, then, so long as the Ankara authorities continue to eye business deals with Israel.