Speaking from prepared notes at a rally in the city of Bingöl, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu drew a menacing comparison between the Kurds—whom he referred to only as “they”—and the Armenians of the early 1900s. Joost Lagendijk writes in Today’s Zaman:
As was to be expected, the leader of the ruling party first reminded his audience of the many achievements of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in improving the situation of Kurds living in Turkey. But then he switched to extremely incendiary rhetoric, insulting Armenians and threatening Kurds. Using the undefined word “they,” Davutoğlu said: “They are taking advantage of the situation in Sur and Silopi. Like Armenian gangs, they are collaborating with Russia. They are opening diplomatic missions in Moscow. Who has turned the region into an arms depot? Who placed snipers there? Who is tricking young children and taking them to their deaths? … You saw what happened in Aleppo. This is what they want to do to our cities … They are going to do this and we, the government that you voted for, is going to just watch; would you accept this?”
This quote has not been widely reported in the English-language press, but it’s accurate—and it’s making a stir in Turkey.
In the later 19th century and early 20th centuries, the Ottoman Turks entered a cycle in which the decaying Ottoman state increasingly oppressed minorities, including but not limited to the Armenians, who then in turn turned to outside powers—primarily Russia—for protection and assistance. In turn, this led to accusations of dual loyalty—accusations that were used to justify further oppression. The end result was a series of mass executions and death marches in 1915 that in total killed more than one million Armenians. Turkey still refuses to call this barbarous episode a genocide.
While Davutoglu wasn’t going so far as to overtly threaten the mass slaughter of Kurdish civilians, everyone knew exactly what he was referencing. And as Lagendijk points out, Davutoglu made no distinction between Kurds inside versus outside of Turkey, or between the Syrian Kurdish PYD, which has recently set up a mission in Moscow, and any other group.
The tragedy of Turkey’s current internal violence against the Kurds—which is significant and ongoing—is that Turkey’s President Erdogan spent many years working, successfully, toward Kurdish-Turkish rapprochement based on brotherhood between Muslims. But when the Kurdish HDP party threatened the AKP’s hold on power in the 2015 elections, he threw it all away and began deliberately stoking historical antagonisms into the flame of open violence. Now, his party is reaching back in history to flirt with something even older and much, much uglier.
As Walter Russell Mead has written, in many ways the violence against minorities in the Middle East today—Muslim on Christian and Yazidi, Sunni on Shi’a, Turk on Kurd—can be seen as a resumption of the ethnic violence that accompanied the crack-up of the four great Continental empires, German, Austrian, Russian, and Ottoman, in the first half of the 20th century. History is back and bloody, and Davutoglu’s comments serve as a reminder of just how ugly things could get.