So it’s ’Shoah,’ not ’Holocaust’

It was a calm, blue evening when I took a taxi on Rue Duquesnoy in Brussels last week. During the peaceful drive to the airport, the cab driver told me about the 23 years he had spent in the Belgian capital and about his disillusionment with world politics and the never-ending wars in every corner of the map. "Where is your homeland?" I asked him. "I am a Lebanese Armenian," he answered.

Remembering it was April 21 that day, I mentioned to the taxi driver (who I will call A.Y.) that Meds Yeghern was only three days away, and asked him, "Do you blame the Turks for the tragedy?" "No," A.Y. shrugged. "So, you think the Ottomans are to blame?" I asked. "No," he shrugged again.

I was getting impatient with this chap. "You are not going to tell me this damn thing never happened, are you?" I asked in what was, I guess, a slightly raised voice. A.Y. looked at me in the mirror.

"Are you Greek?" he asked. "You seem so keen on blaming the Turks." "Look," I said after a moment of speechlessness, "I am not Greek and I am not keen on blaming the Turks. I am Turkish!" He nearly crashed into a parked pick-up.

A.Y.’s theory put the blame on the "Big Powers" Ğ the Russians, the British and the French. "Before they got into the picture, we lived so peacefully with the Turks for centuries," he sighed. A.Y. admitted he was not a popular figure in Brussels’ tiny Armenian community. "But who cares," he shrugged again, before I got out.

Now U.S. President Barack Obama’s April 24 message has taught the world a new word: Meds Yeghern. It was very smart of Obama’s speechwriters to rediscover a term that, etymologically, precedes the word "genocide." In a way, saying "Meds Yeghern" is like saying "Shoah" instead of "Holocaust."

This new formulation may help the Americans, Turks and Armenians avoid future crises too. With our now-enriched vocabulary for the genocide dispute we can escape a joint Turkish-American entente should the U.S. Congress decide to recognize the Armenian genocide. Here is this columnist’s proposal: Congress should pass a resolution that recognizes the Armenian Meds Yeghern. That way, the Turks cannot complain that their American friends recognized genocide. No, they would merely have recognized Meds Yeghern, not genocide!

Whatever wording President Obama chose, he could not have pleased everyone. It was simply against the natural course of things that any language could have pleased the Turks, the Armenians and the Armenian diaspora. It is, therefore, more rational for everyone at this stage of events to try and see the fuller half of their half-empty glass.

There is, all the same, a conceptual nuance between "genocide" and what in Armenian language essentially refers to genocide. Unlike "genocide," Meds Yeghern has no legal implications, especially when pronounced by the president of the United States. The choice of the term therefore contains a not-so-veiled message to the Armenian diaspora: Do not seek evidence for potential legal claims and spoil the planned Caucasus dŽtente.

It cannot be a coincidence that the Turkish-Armenian roadmap was officially announced only a day before the April 24 Commemoration Day. Yes, this is a serious roadmap with powerful support behind it. But who has been most discontented with Ankara and Yerevan now walking on eggshells and the Americans doing their best to make sure no one breaks any?

On our side, it’s the nationalists. Having already read the coverage of the dŽtente in the "nationalist" press, I was not surprised to hear from a nationalist friend, a cafe owner, on Sunday, how frustrated he felt about "us befriending the bloody Armenians."

I was not surprised either to read that a self-declared "nationalist" union of education workers, Egitim-Sen, had collected 250,000 signatures against the dŽtente under the disgusting slogan "I don’t want to see my brother’s murderer in my town!" I felt that I did not want to see people full of such hatred in my town.

The Islamic press treated the news from a much more mature perspective and was generally supportive of the rapprochement. So were the speeches by President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Across the Atlantic, dŽtente is apparently bad news for the Armenians. In an article about the historic diplomatic thaw between Turkey and Armenia, the Wall Street Journal quoted Andrew Kzirian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee's Western region, powerfully expressing his feelings as those of "great disappointment."

Just across the Alican border dividing Turkey and Armenia, the nationalist Dashnaktsutsiun party, a junior member of Armenia’s governing coalition, withdrew from this otherwise functioning political alliance, citing neglect of Yerevan’s "national interests."

In such an array of sentiments, we can always rely on the assumption that anything that angers radicals must be good. But sentiments are not the only barrier. Naturally, apart from "feelings," the thaw on Turkey’s eastern border will spark "rational" ire too. And there, Russia enters the picture. Sadly, the Russians have all the good reasons to spoil the dŽtente.

It was bad for them that the American president smartly went for "Shoah" instead of "Holocaust." But the game is not over. We will probably see a lot of overt or covert Russian "interest" in what is seemingly a Turkish-Armenian, but in reality, a Turkish-Armenian-American-Russian affair.

While trying to calculate the possible moves in this Caucasian gambit, a player of an equally difficult chess game reminded me of what the 19th-century philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard once said: Life can be understood backwards, but it can only be lived forwards.

It is up to the Turks and Armenians to understand life backwards and live it forwards. The opposite would be painful for everyone.
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