Turkey’s downing of a Russian military jet this week has not only led to heightened tensions between Moscow and Ankara, it has put the spotlight on century-old animosities against the Turks and spurred a call to reclaim territory and change the map of Asia Minor.
Speaking on Russia 1TV this week, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, called on Putin’s government to support Armenians in liberating western territories long controlled by Turkey.
“Armenians could do that in 1918 if Moscow supported them, but it [Moscow] was on the Turkish side,” Zhirinovsky said. “If we allow Armenians to liberate their western territories, they will be glad to do that,” he said.
Zhirinovsky, a controversial ultra-nationalist politician, has a reputation for making bellicose – and often crude and vulgar – statements that have caused detractors to refer to him as the Clown Prince of Russian Politics. Among his tamer demands is that Russia forcibly take back Alaska because it would be “a great place to keep the Ukranians.” His outsider rhetoric, notwithstanding, Zhirinovsky and his party are seen as “an instrument of the Kremlin,” according to the Foreign Policy Journal, rarely diverging from the legislative proposals drafted by the “party of power.”
Despite episodes of fistfights in the Russian legislative chamber or putting opponents in headlocks, Zhirinovsky is a colonel in the Russian army, vice-chairman of the lower house of Russia’s legislature, a member of the Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe, and founder and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia since 1991. Zhirinovsky finished third in Russia’s first presidential election in 1991 and his party captured nearly 23 percent of the vote in 1993. His party’s platform is based on restoring the Russian empire. Zhirinovsky is a Turkologist by profession.
Following the Armenian genocide of 1915, Turkey applied the name “Eastern Anatolia” to what had long been known as Western Armenia. It is that territory Zhirinovsky believes should be repatriated.
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The politician also called on Russia to support the Kurds in their desire for independence from Turkey.
“Kurds expect our support. If we tell the Kurds that we recognize their independence, their population reaches, as we know, to 20 million, and the capital is already known, it is Diyarbakir. Hence, Eastern Anatolia will cease to exist in the form we know. As a result, there will be independent Kurdistan and Great Armenia,” he said.
Whether Zhirinovsky’s ultranationalist proposal will gather support remains to be seen, but another initiative by Russian lawmakers is certain to anger Turkey.
Sergei Mironov, chairman of upper house of the Russian parliament, said Wednesday his party, Fair Russia, has submitted a bill “on holding to account” anyone who denies the 1915 killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces was “genocide.”
“We have just submitted a bill on responsibility for failure to acknowledge the fact of a genocide of Armenians by Turkey in 1915,” Mironov tweeted.
Adding fuel to the fire, Russia’s State Duma has given support to the idea of Turkey returning Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Cathedral to the Christian church, Reuters reported.
Sergey Gavrilov, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) representative and coordinator of inter-faction deputy group on protecting Christian values, suggested Turkey do something tangible to restore good will following the shootdown of Russia’s jet.
“We expect from the Turkish side a friendly step – to return the Hagia Sophia Cathedral to the Christian church” said Gavrilov. “The Russian side is ready to participate materially, and also to engage the best Russian restorers and scientists to the restoration of the ecumenical Christian monument. This step would help Turkey and Islam to demonstrate that the good will is above politics.”