Leading article: The burden of history

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The Independent Online

A perfect diplomatic storm is brewing in Turkey. This week a Congressional committee in Washington voted in favour of a resolution describing the mass slaughter of Armenians by Turkey in 1915 as genocide. This has predictably gone down badly in Ankara, which refuses to accept that the killing of 1.5 million Armenians during the First Word War warrants such a label. Turkey is now considering withdrawing military co-operation with the US over Iraq in response.

It gets worse. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been planning to introduce a motion to the Turkish parliament sanctioning cross-border military operations into Iraqi Kurdistan to strike the Kurdish rebel group operating from there. Such an incursion could destabilise one of the few peaceful regions of Iraq. The White House is trying to persuade Mr Erdogan not to send in troops, but the Armenian resolution in Congress has wiped out Washington's leverage.

It is possible to have some sympathy for Mr Erdogan. He is under huge internal pressure to act over the Kurdish situation. The killing of 15 Turkish soldiers has turned Turkish public opinion in favour of cross-border military action. And Mr Erdogan must be wary of the hostile Turkish military establishment. Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development party won national elections this year, but the charge of neglecting national security and refusing to stand up for Turkey abroad would be a potent one.

There is no simple way out of this morass. Yet there is some hope. There is no reason to believe that Mr Erdogan wants to alienate Turkey's allies in the US and the EU by invading Kurdistan. And the motion before the Turkish parliament would allow an incursion any time within the next year. This opens a window for the US to put pressure on the Kurdish government to clamp down on the rebels operating from within its borders.

In the long term, Turkey needs to accept the terrible stain that the Armenian slaughter has left on its national history. Regardless of whether these events are called genocide or not, there is scant evidence of this acceptance so far in Turkey. A negotiated settlement with the Kurdish separatists, who represent up to a fifth of the population, is also long overdue.

But in the short-term, Mr Erdogan deserves support from abroad for keeping the show on the road. The alternatives for the international community at the moment are significantly worse. The Armenian genocide and Kurdish separatism are ultimately issues that Turkey must come to terms with. But the rest of the world could – and should – be doing more to make things easier for the moderates in Ankara in the process.

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