The hostilities between Armenia and Turkey have been well established as perpetual, having been dated back to World War I and time of the controversial “Armenian Genocide” that continues to stymie productive relations between the two states. In recent years, tensions continued to amplify as Turkey made its relations with Azerbaijan, Armenia’s neighbor and territorial challenger, known with its military assistance to Azerbaijan in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. Within the span of the Armenia-Turkey relationship, the populace within both countries have been taking to their nation’s side, producing organizations that spread antagonistic sentiment and initiate further conflict domestically.
The image selected for this analysis was retrieved from a 2015 article titled, Banners Celebrating Genocide Displayed in Turkey, published by The Armenian Weekly, that depicts a banner that translates from Turkish to English as, “We celebrate the 100th anniversary of our country being cleared of Armenians. We are proud of our glorious ancestors. –Young Atsizs” (Nanore, 2015). As reported by Nanore Barsoumian for The Armenian Weekly, a democratic socialist and nationalist Armenian news outlet (2021), the banner was displayed along with many others across Turkey carrying anti-Armenian messages to ‘commemorate’ the Armenian Genocide that took place at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915. The Young Atsizs are one of the numerous anti-Armenian and or Armenophobic groups within both Turkey and Azerbaijan that perpetuate former agressions that are cemented by propaganda fueled by political powers within the state. The genocide is not recognized by the Turkish government as having occurred systematically, but rather, as a result of the inevitable violence that was, at the time, taking place in World War I. As reported in a New York Times article in 2018 over this maintained claim by Turkey’s government that denies the Armenian genocide notes that global spectators think otherwise. The United States, along with the European Union, have publicly acknowledged the massacre of the Armenian population in 1915 by Turkey as ‘genocide’, many having criticized Turkey’s response to the accusations.
By assessing the selected image and the context behind the words on the banner, it is appropriate to assume that ethnic nationalism is a major basis of the recurring acts of Armenophobic speech and actions that negatively impact the Armenian population. Amongst the selection of journals provided in class, this paper will examine and relate Roger Zetter’s, “More Labels, Fewer Refugees: Remaking the Refugee Label in an Era of Globalization' and Michael Humphrey’s, “Migration, Security, and Insecurity” with the chosen image as a frame of reference.
Zetter’s work provides a detailed argument that dives deep into the evolution and manipulation behind the labeling of those who are deemed to be refugees; however, the point of interest for this analysis lies within Zetter’s elaboration on ethnic nationalism. This type of ideology has been prevalent within, what Zetter mentions, as ‘failed’ and ‘failing’ states (Libya, Somalia, Sierra Leone, etc) that have been the impetus for persecution, forced displacement, and, in extreme cases, genocide (Zetter, 2007). Even though both Turkey and Armenia are not classified as ‘failed states,’ one may argue that the ideological framework of ethnic nationalism may be extended to other states that are still considered to have the capacity to govern. Combined with the importance of historical context and its influence(s) on the affected populations, a feeling of an intense national identity may be engendered, such is the case of the Young Atsizs group. This group of individuals, along with several other separate but ideologically related groups, maintain this ethnic nationalism that has been rooted in Turkey’s history. Zetter’s perspective on ethnic nationalism as being a significant stimulus for genocide may be seen within the Ottoman Empire’s (now separate countries like Turkey) systematic killings of the Armenians to preserve the empire’s identity as having fully Ottoman Turk population. This act of genocide is then utilized by the current generation of Turks as radical patriotism to safeguard one ethnic identity.
This next discussion relating Humphrey’s piece on the securitization of migrants with the provided image will magnify the “basis of unity through exclusion of the other.” (Humphrey, 2013). The “unity through exclusion” is what is done through the state’s, in this case Turkey’s, actions that become the catalyst for widespread feelings of hatred and or fear of a targeted population that stands out demographically. The social construction of Armenians within Turkey depicts the population within a category that demonizes and dehumanizes them for not being ethnically Turkish. Furthermore, the negative perception of the Armenian population has allowed for the unification of numerous individuals that have come together sporting similar ideas and messages like what was depicted on the banner of the Young Atsizs.
Consequences of the Image and Counteraction
In terms of the consequences provided by the image, the message on the banner and the mere presence of it, as well as the knowledge that multiple had been displayed at that time have contrasting, yet equally provocative meanings. The banner in the image stands between two trees at what was reported to be the Provincial Directorate of Youth and Sports in a city located on the southwestern portion of Turkey. Based on the reporting conducted on the banner (Barsoumian, 2015), it appeared that even though the Directorate claimed that they did not notice the banner, nor adhere to the message the item displayed, but the matter of its presence residing in its location for a prolonged period of time is up for question. The banner may not have noticeably mobilized a group of like-minded anti-Armenian individuals, but the matter of it being left untouched suggests that the banner might contain a message that is covertly recognized by the community.
In regards to the physical picture (as shown in the article), the ability for the displayed message to reach an audience outside of the banners proximity is maximized; hence, the possibility for igniting a more widespread movement of those that are Armenophobic since they would see that their opinion is also shared. To continue, the consequences of the image to the Armenian population may increase the likelihood of fear of possible violence and exclusion from Turkish society.
The counteracting of images such as the one discussed in this essay would place acknowledgment of history and a thorough education as the paramount element in eliminating what fuels the fear and hatred of one person from another. If the two governments, Turkey and Armenia, set aside their hostilities and manage to hold stable diplomatic relations to properly acknowledge the Armenian genocide then that would be the necessary first step. By opening up civil and productive talks, the public within both countries would see the alterations in this change of relations, possibly encouraging each citizen to consider setting aside past negative sentiments. Additionally, both countries would have to work towards public education on the subject of the history between Turkey and Armenia. Lastly, each country’s government should treat one another’s people as equal, no matter the physical soil that they may stand on. With the ability to properly acknowledge faults and to find a productive goal that shall benefit all, rather than allow one to feel above the others solely on the basis of skewed and dividing ideologies.
Kathryn Maldonado studied North Korean propaganda and military strategy at Korea University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international relations at Florida International University in 2022. Her areas of study include climate-induced migration and the role of refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and other vulnerable populations within an increasingly globalized world.
Arango, T. (2015, April 16). A century after Armenian genocide, Turkey's denial only deepens. The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/17/world/europe/turkeys-century-of-denial-abo
Barsoumian, N. (2015, February 25). Banners celebrating genocide displayed in Turkey. The Armenian Weekly. Retrieved September 18, 2021, from https://armenianweekly.com/2015/02/23/celebrating-genocide/.
Humphrey, M. (2013). Migration, Security and Insecurity. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 34(2), 178–195. https://doi.org/10.1080/07256868.2013.781982
Zetter, R. (2007). More labels, fewer refugees: Remaking the refugee label in an era of globalization. Journal of Refugee Studies, 20(2), 172–192. https://doi.org/10.1093/jrs/fem011