Somebody seems to have forgotten to tell the Turkish parliament that it is traditional to greet speeches by Barack Obama with regular standing ovations and whoops of approval. It was rather strange and unsettling to listen to an Obama speech today that was not interrupted in this way. It forced you actually to listen to what he was saying.
Of course, there were a few rounds of applause punctuating the speech. Obama got clapped for using a Turkish word, for mentioning some successful Turkish basketball players, for condemning the PKK as terrorists and for asserting that -”the US is not and never will be at war with Islam.”
The passage of his speech on the Armenian issue was greeted with studious silence. But given that Obama has, in the past, called for official US recogntion of the massacres of 1915 as genocide this was probably about as good as he could have hoped for. I wouldn’t have been surprised if there had been some walk-outs. As it is, Obama is obviously trying to edge away from a committment on the genocide issue that was convenient during the election (there is a powerful Armenian lobby in the US), but that is distinctly inconvenient now. He has got the cover he needs because Turkey and Armenia are, in fact, edging closer towards reconciliation. That allowed him to avoid using the g-word in his address to the Turkish parliament and to speak, in generalised terms, about the virtues of countries coming to terms with their past.