The Conflict Around the 'G Word'

04/14/2015 03:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2015

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Pope Francis on last Sunday honored the 100th anniversary of the slaughter of Armenians by calling it "the first genocide of the 20th century."

Francis, who has close ties to the Armenian community from his days in Argentina, defended his declaration by saying it was his duty to honor the memory of the innocent men, women, children, priests and bishops who were "senselessly" murdered.

A politically explosive pronouncement angered Turkey. After Pope Francis had called the 1915 mass killings in Armenia a genocide, most of the Turkish people are so disappointed and officials considers the pope's comments had caused a "problem of trust".

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Meanwhile, the reality star Kim Kardashian along with her husband, Kanye West, and other family members are on a journey to Armenia to mark the 100th anniversary of the "Armenian genocide" in Yerevan. During the trip, a film crew will accompany them to shoot several episodes of the reality series, Keeping up with the Kardashians.

Kardashian announced that she will be visiting the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in the capital, Yerevan, but will not attend any official commemoration. Since her late father, Robert Kardashian, was a third-generation Armenian-American, she has for years -- and on several occasions publicly -- supported the international recognition of the Armenian genocide, and now, for the first time, is visiting Armenia. But Kim Kardashian is not the only one paying extra attention to the issue this year.

Given that relations between Turkey and the U.S. have not been going well recently, many people believe this might be the year when U.S. President Barack Obama uses the "G word." Forty-nine U.S. lawmakers have already sent a letter urging President Obama to recognize the "Armenian genocide." They claim this move would somehow help improve relations between Turkey and Armenia. As you might remember, during the 2008 presidential race President Obama promised to recognize "the mass killing of Armenians" as "genocide" and Armenian-Americans are more hopeful that this year he will keep his promise.

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The term "genocide" was first coined and defined by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in 1943 to describe the massacre of ethnic Armenians by the Ottoman authorities in what is now Turkey. Armenians claim that during World War I, 1.5 million Armenians were either killed or died during forced exile in an intentional effort to completely destroy the Armenian minority in Eastern Turkey. Nevertheless, despite Turkey accepting that there were mass killings and forced deportations, as a state it has argued that "genocide" is not an appropriate term. Turkey has instead continued lobbying against the recognition of the 1915 events as genocide, arguing that the acts were a result of war and that the number has been inflated.

I have just finished a book by Turkey's Armenian journalist Hayko Bağdat entitled The Snail (Salyangoz), and realized once more how difficult it has been for the Armenian minority to be "the other" in Turkey for centuries and that exile is only a small part of that ongoing inequity. Recognition of this mass killing with a proper term could be a strong starting point to heal the wounds in the hearts of Armenians. Yet Ankara is not even close to expressing any form of regret for what took place in history after all this time.

Ironically, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign of World War I would be held on April 24. Choosing the same date that Armenians around the world annually observe as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day is absurd. Even pro-government Turkish-Armenian author and columnist Etyen Mahçupyan, who currently serves as a top adviser to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, accused President Erdoğan of not being "chic" over the decision and claimed that Erdoğan acted unethically to gain nationalist votes during the June 7 election.

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So far, 22 countries have formally recognized the historical event as "genocide." In addition, 43 American states have accepted its status as such. Nonetheless, apparently, when it comes to the U.S., it seems it is very important to Turkey if Obama uses the "G word." Several high-level Turkish officials have visited Washington since January to convince the U.S. not to. Nowadays, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is expected to visit Washington just before Obama's statement for the same reason. The freshly established Turkish Institute for Progress, a new Turkish-American lobby group that aims to bring about reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, has neglected to label the 1915 killings.

Yet, it is certain that in 1915, an 'outrageous thing' happened in Anatolia that had not taken place in the 1000 years before. Historians have the task to find out what exactly happened in detail and enlighten all related documents to create a single repository, so that politicians on both sides can assess the findings and guide the international community to make a decision to evaluate the situation.

Instead of fighting over whether what happened in 1915 is genocide or not, why don't we first consider it genoexile, a portmanteau meaning "sending a race to exile"? Obviously, the techniques of destruction used by the Americans against Native Americans or by the Germans against Jews were different than what happened to the Armenians at the moment.

While establishing Republic of Turkey to create a nation-state the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) pitted people against each other. We all know today that Armenians were not the only victims of this act, but Kurds, Alevits and all other minorities were as well. What happened was not acceptable and the CUP was the responsible party. Regardless, Turkey should apologize for those incidents of its past because problems cannot be solved with announcements by the Pope or the U.S. president. The problem can be solved only if the Armenian nation and the Turkish nation work together. In the twenty-first century, and within our communication age it's about time these two nations found a way to discuss this taboo. This is a mutual sorrow that needs a mutual solution.

As a Turkish American, I whole-heartedly believe that rather than lobbying the U.S. Congress at this time of year to stop using the "G word," we should be offering different solutions and creating a new commemoration day. There is still profound grief over the issue and 100 years is long enough a period of denial. It is time we face it and find a common ground to solve the conflict and heal the deep wounds.

For more Arzu Kaya-Uranli clickor follow her at @akuranli.