Braving bad weather, protesters have gathered in Brussels to urge EU leaders to keep Ankara out of the club. That is because of the importance of the “G” word – genocide – the term at the heart of a bitter dispute.
For the demonstrators, Ottoman Turks committed nothing short of systematicgenocide against the Armenian people. They say up to 1.5 million lives were lost between 1915 and 1923 and they want Turkey to recognize what happened, as such. Ankara, however, sees things differently. It admits that thousands of Turks and up to 300,000 Armenians died in clashes but vehemently denies that genocide took place. For one expert on Turkey at the Free University of Brussels, semantics might be getting in the way. “There were certainly more than a million dead in this massacre,” says Robert Anciaux. “But can we talk about genocide? For me, it is just a question of words. It is something for historians to sort out. “The problem is that the Turks must recognize that in some way there was a massacre of Armenians.” But, for those whose ancestors were caught up in the turmoil, acknowledging the full horror of what happened is hugely important. They say that long before Rwanda and the Holocaust, this was the first genocide of the 20th century.