News / Middle East

Seizure of Syrian Town Recalls Century-Old Turkish-Armenian Dispute

FILE - A man lights candles during a religious service marking the anniversary of mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Empire in 1915 at an Armenian church in Tbilisi, Georgia.
FILE - A man lights candles during a religious service marking the anniversary of mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Empire in 1915 at an Armenian church in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Dorian Jones
Syrian rebels recently overran Kassab, a town near the Turkish border inhabited by ethnic Armenians. That action has drawn attention to Turkey's relationship with radical Islamic factions in the Syrian conflict, and it has resurrected a century-old controversy.
Ankara has faced mounting international criticism since Islamist fighters overran Kassab in late March. Many of the town's ethnic Armenian residents fled, charging that Ankara had supported the jihadists.  

Turkey denies the charges, but some observers say whether or not they are true, it is paying a high price. All the more so, given that the attack on Kassab occurred on the eve of key anniversary - every April Armenians commemorate what they say was the killing in 1915 of more than one million of their people by Turkey’s then Ottoman rulers.

Armenians are stepping up their drive for international recognition of those killings as genocide ahead of next year's 100th anniversary.

Members of the Armenian diaspora community are leading the criticism of Turkey over the attack on Kassab, charging that Turkey facilitated it, or at least failed to use its influence to prevent it.  

Ankara strongly rejects the charge that what happened in 1915 amounts to genocide, and disputes the number of deaths. But Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, said the issue will not go away. He noted that a legislative proposal in France to make it illegal to deny that the 1915 killing of Armenians was genocide, while it was ultimately rejected by France's constitutional court, caused a major diplomatic uproar.

"We see this constantly. The bill, which led to a big crisis between Turkey and France, is just one example," said Ulgen. "And now we are coming to 2015, the centennial of the 1915 events, and obviously Turkey will have to address that."

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has already compared the events in Kassab to those of 1915. Ankara is working to contain the damage, with state media broadcasting interviews with Armenians from Kassab who have taken refuge in Turkey.

But Semih Idiz, a diplomatic columnist for the Turkish newspaper Taraf and the Al Monitor website, said Ankara has blundered.

"I think it was a miscalculation, bringing up the whole Armenian issues, and it will also highlight the fact that Turkey is helping these extreme jihadist groups," said  Idiz. "So it will really be a question of how the situation is going to be managed and what actually happens in Kassab itself. Now if things get out of hand, it will reflect badly on Turkey."

Ankara denies it is supporting groups like the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front, one of the militant Islamist factions in Syria. It also claims -- as do the Syrian rebels in Kassab -- the town's ethnic identity is being respected.

With the Turkish government already facing growing criticism both nationally and internationally over its relations with jihadist groups in Syria, observers say the events in Kassab will add to the pressure on Ankara to review its strategy toward Syria.

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Comment Sorting
by: V73 from: Jordan
April 11, 2014 11:42 AM
VOA, let me tell you, so you can tell America, I am from Jordan, there is a big problem here with Syrian refugees. I can see already Palestinians agitating to kill Syrian refugees in Jordan. i don't think the Jordanian "government" can deal with this. Syrian refugees and Palestinians are about to kill each other. tell this to America. The traitors from AlJazeera will not tell this story. They know but they do nothing.
In Response

April 11, 2014 11:26 PM
All Important Players of this dirty drama read this story and ready in front of God.Prepare your reply, but GOD will not accept false story. By the way I wish to inform you important players in this drama are Saudi Arabia,Israel,Qatar,Turkey, Jordan,USA and Nato.

April 10, 2014 10:36 PM
Turkey cannot scape about its dirty role in Syria crisis.Turkey hold so many important meeting in Ankara by World Terrorist group, just to please USA. Turkey hands full of human blood which they cannot deny.They financed, equiped terrorisit group and give them traiing how to kill human beings,rape and kill girls and woman. Every thing in the record, how much they involve in killing and destruction of Syria. The purpose of all this drama is to please USA and not GOD.

by: ali baba from: new york
April 10, 2014 5:29 PM
turkey is involved in radical Muslim activities. they are involved in Syria . they are involved in Egypt. the west has to understand the double standard of Turkey. their application to join European union should be denied and it should dismiss from NATO

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