The killing of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, by a Turkish riot policeman, was apparently over the role played by his country in the fall of Aleppo, but while it has been used by President Tayyip Recep Erdogan to further besmear the Gulen Network, it has also been seen as a Sarajevo moment by Western Europe.
What seems to have been lost has been the fact that Karlov was a professional diplomat, and his assassination was thus breaking of one of the oldest rules of international law: that the lives of envoys were sacrosanct.
Also seemingly lost has been the fact that Turkey has moved a little further on the road to ‘Pakistanisation’, with its own Mumtaz Qadri moment.
Mumtaz Qadri, also a policeman, was actually guarding Punjab Governor Salman Taseer when he assassinated him.
However, the Turkish policeman-killer, Mevlut Mert Altintas, was not assigned to Ambassador Karlov, or to the exhibition where the killing took place.
It is also noteworthy that Qadri did not kill Governor Taseer for any reason connected to any battlefield developments, but because of a blasphemy-related issue.
Still, the killing of a governor was unheard of.
While killing ambassadors is not unheard of, it has been sufficiently rare for it still to possess great shock value.
At the same time, it must be noted that while governors depended for fear for protection, ambassadors have depended on the goodwill of their hosts.
Even if, as was the case of Ambassador Karlov and Russian ambassadors everywhere, security is provided by the embassy, the security officers need permission from the hosts to be there.
Historically, security of envoys was guaranteed long before the modern embassy emerged.
Ambassadors were sent from one head of state to another with a specific task, such as arranging a peace or a marriage.
Ministers plenipotentiary were sometimes sent from the government, but since the normal situation used to be a monarch heading his own government, ambassadors used to be ministers plenipotentiary also.
Nowadays, ambassadors are representatives of the head of state, as well as the government, so are ambassadors and ministers plenipotentiary.
Indeed, for many heads of state, receiving credentials from ambassadors is often a major function.
Once upon a time, embassies were dangerous, with the journey from one capital to the next fraught with peril.
On top of it all, if after having survived the dangers of the way, the envoy faced the risk of being killed, no one would accept the task.
Vlad the Impaler got his name because of how he killed a Turkish embassy by nailing their turbans to their heads, but the deed was so terrible that a mere bloodthirsty title was not enough, and he was depicted as a vampire: that Rumanian prince is remembered by us as Dracula.
That terrible incident reflects why there is such a need for ambassadorial safety: the embassy was there to end a war.
At such times, emotions have been inflamed, and tempers run high; and envoys are ‘the enemy.
’ It is no wonder that ambassadors are guaranteed even now a safe return to their country if they fail badly, and there is war between their country and their hosts.
One occasion when this was invoked on a large scale was at the beginning of World War I, when so many countries arrayed themselves against one another.
World War I is also noteworthy because it provides the actual ‘Sarajevo moment’, which is being mentioned as a possible consequence of Karlov’s assassination.
Like the present day, in 1914, the European powers were building up for a major clash.
Then it was yet another Franco-German war, now it is a clash in Ukraine, where Russia and the USA are backing different sides.
However, the spark in 1914 was neither French nor German, but the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by Gavrilo Princip, a Croatian nationalist, in Sarajevo.
The murder was meant to move Austro-Hungary to give Croatia its freedom, but it presented Servia with a list of demands.
It refused to meet them, and the two major alliance systems were drawn in.
Servia invoked the guarantees of its borders made by France and Russia, while the German Empire weighed in on the side of Austro-Hungary.
Because Germany’s fight with France, which required it to invade Belgium, the UK found it had to declare war on it, as it had guaranteed Belgium’s independence.
As a sort of reminder that some things don’t change, Ottoman Turkey went to war on the side of Germany and Austro-Hungary, because along with them, it was a member of the Triple Alliance.
This does not discount that fact that Servia had been ruled by the Ottomans until it had rebelled in 1809.
However, if the assassination was a ‘Sarajevo moment’, it was probably missed, for there have been none of the steps leading to conflict.
For a start, Russia has placed no list of demands before Turkey.
Both countries have agreed to combat terror, and Russia has announced it will be sending a team of investigators.
It is fortuitous that Erdogan recently visited Russia, but the effect has been highly positive for the prospects of peace.
A pre-visit assassination would have been an entirely different kettle of fish.
However, the assassination also reflects Turkish sentiment about the fall of Aleppo.
That Aleppo’s survivors will be given refuge in Turkey is a further sign of the feeling of Turks in the matter.
It should not be forgotten that though the fall of Aleppo is a major setback for the anti-Assad forces, it does not mean the end of the war.
Turkey’s southern border is with Syria, and because the people share more in common than just language, Syrian fighters look for refuge in Turkey.
The flow to Syria of foreign fighters is also mainly through Turkey.
Turkey thus finds itself placed towards Syria as Pakistan does to Afghanistan.
Russia and Iran have been assisting the Assad regime, and while this has led to a congruence with US interests, in that all have been fighting Islamists, it does not lead to a coincidence.
Turkey itself has reservations about American policy, particularly the encouragement given to the Kurds in Iraq and Syria (which has meant for those in Turkey).
Though Turkey has long been in the US camp, the Karlov assassination was accompanied by an attack on the US Embassy in Ankara.
The Turkish government would probably like nothing better than to blame the Gulen Movement for this, but that would be counter-intuitive, for it would mean that Gulen, who lives in the USA, approved an attack on one of its embassies.
That the Turkish government has blamed the Gulen Network does not mean so much its wish to further pound it, as to put the Aleppo issue, as well as the assassination, behind it, safely in the past.
Meanwhile, pressure has been applied where no one ever bothered.
Political appointees have left when a new government has come in, but professional diplomats have generally represented their country, right or wrong.
If nothing else, Karlov’s assassination must make professionals of all countries wonder whether it is worth dying to represent their government.
The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.