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24.1.12

Ten Suggestions for Turkey to Face Its Own History

Hayk Demoyan
The landmark decision made by the Lower House of the French Parliament on criminalizing the Armenian Genocide denial provoked an impressive and harsh reaction from Turkish political circles illustrated the aggressive tone  in their rhetoric. Indeed, the French law with all chances to be affirmed by Senate sounds like an anathema for Turkey, a country which desires to ascribe itself a new role and activities as a regional power with ambitious projects.
Once again the Turkish leadership faced enormous humiliation and reacted very nervously realizing that the French bill may create a domino effect for new recognitions of the Armenian Genocide and criminalization of the denial of the Turkish atrocities committed during the WWI. Ankara’s disappointment is doubled since the state-sponsored denial campaign and face-saving proposal for establishment of the commission of historians are in limbo.

Thus, as a substitute, Ankara has launched a new campaign of sympathy which is intent on putting forward such or similar proposals from the mouths of foreign leaders. Despite the fact that the very idea of the commission of historians and accusation that Armenia has territorial claims from Turkey is already proven to be a bluff, some leaders in order to please panicked Turkish officials willingly became victims of Turkish tricks. It is especially bizarre that the Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey states “the historians would then contribute to discussions with their findings” (Swissinfo, December 26, 2011). It is clear that Turkey wants to take from dead protocols what is desired, and avoid the unpleasant responsibilities. The idea fix of the Turkish side is to make Armenian Genocide a subject for endless debates at the same time ignoring historical facts and academic findings on the subject, which has long concluded  that Armenian Genocide is a classical example of state organized genocide, a statement made primarily by Rafael Lemkin, a Jewish lawyer who coined the term genocide and gave legal explanations to it back in 1944, thus paving the way for Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Recently Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that the main obstacles to Turkey to become “one of the world’s most powerful states is that it can’t face up to its past, history, taboos and fears” (Asbarez, November 23, 2011). Like a mantra, Turkish leaders and government-associated intellectuals do not stop dealing with its own past via a common practice called escaping from the truth via denying what happened. The very idea of the commission of historians which is clearly political rather than academic offer is intended to be a trap, striving to receive the rejection of the Armenian side, and at the same time to get a positive stance towards this idea from the world. This goes hand in hand with nervous attempts of the Turkish side to blame on victims for committing mass killings of Turks, a trick, which is very common approach in almost all genocidal crimes and attempts to justify perpetrators.
On November 23, 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while referring to the Dersim killings of Kurds back in 1930s, said “the most tragic incident of our near past.” While apologizing for Dersim killings Ankara consciously or not slightly linked itself with the Armenian Genocide since many of those who were massacred in Dersim and surrounding territories were Armenian survivors of the Genocide (committed by Young Turks and Kemalist forces between 1915-1922), who found refuge among friendly Kurds. Another shocking confession by the Turkish prime minister: “…It is a disaster that should now be questioned with courage. The party that should confront this incident is not the ruling Justice and Development Party [AK Party]. It is the CHP, which is behind this bloody disaster, who should face this incident and its chairman from Tunceli.” (www.eurasianet.org, November 23, 2011). Leaving aside political connotations of the statement one could say that while criticizing the Republican People’s Party (RPP) led by Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, Erdogan again points to the Armenian Genocide crimes as well, since many leaders who joined Kemal Ataturk’s team were members of the Ittihadist party, and directly were involved in decision making and perpetration of the Armenian Genocide. Moreover, during the Dersim crimes the RPP was the sole party in the country, as was Ittihad ve Terakki during the WWI when the Genocides against Armenians and other Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire were being committed.
I would like to set a symbolic roadmap for the Turkish side on what should be done before rising the issue of necessity of the discussion of the Armenian Genocide and better preparation for discussion of unpleasant and intentionally hidden pages of the Turkish history.
Hence I do hope that the following tips could be very useful to follow:
1. It is an urgent need to revise the Kemalist heritage in the social and intellectual debates, especially in terms of lifting a Soviet-like ban on discussion of historical events and censoring memory;
2. It is urgent to eliminate Procrustean Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code on insulting the Turkish nation and give a real chance for Turkish academicians, journalists to express their opinions freely, with no fears of being punished for their opinions and judgments;
3. To enable Turkish and foreign researchers to conduct their studies freely, it is strongly suggested that Ankara open the Turkish archives fully, among them the archives of the General staff, declassifying those materials which are related to the hearings of the Turkish military courts in 1919-1922, which sentenced the main criminals responsible for perpetration of the Armenian Genocide to death;
4. It is necessary for Turkey to take real measures for the prevention of further destruction of cultural monuments of Armenian heritage or erasing the cultural markers under the pretext of their restoration. One more important gesture would be welcomed if Ankara orders the removal of Turkish flags from Armenian monuments, especially from those churches which were turned into military depots;
5. It is strongly suggested that the hatred and xenophobia against the Armenians and national minorities living on the territory of Turkey be removed from the Turkish textbooks. It is important also to cease any politically motivated denial campaign in Turkish schools;
6. Stop the financial activities in hiring scholars to deny the Armenian Genocide and while doing so denying the inseparable part of the Turkish history—the Armenian Genocide is not only part of Armenian history and memory, but also that of Turkey;
7. Accept internationally recognized and scholarly accepted definition for “tragic events of 1915” and recognize the crimes committed by Turkey in the past as Genocide and cease all attempts to deny it;
8. Consider the Armenian Genocide, as well as genocidal activities against other indigenous people of Anatolia, such as Greeks and Assyrians, as a shameful page of Turkish history and be ready to apologize without any reservations and semantic exercises;
9. While recognizing and apologizing for the committed genocidal crimes, Turkey must be ready for elimination of the consequences of genocide committed and undertake necessary measures to prepare Turkish society for such developments;
10. It would be a great step for Ankara to deal with the Armenian Genocide issue while accepting the following motto with four important notions: RECOGNITION, CONDEMNATION, APOLOGY AND ELIMINATION OF CONSEQUENCES OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE.
In the end I would like to suggest several proposals on possible commissions which could be useful to and will enable Turkey to face with its own history. The following proposals would be important for further reconciliation of the Turkish society with its own history and memory instead of solely focusing on the questionable Turkish-Armenian commission of historians. Let Turkey set commissions in following areas:
a. Turkish-Armenian, Turkish-EU and Turkish-Syrian commissions on border issues;
b. Turkish-Cypriot commission on war crimes of the Turkish armed forces in Cyprus in 1974;
c. Turkish-Greek commission on compensation of Greek victims of the state organized pogroms of 1955 in Istanbul;
d. Turkey-NATO commission on training of Azerbaijani officers on the territory of occupied Northern Cyprus;
e. Jewish-Turkish commission on forcible exile and violation of the rights of Jews of Thrace in early 1930s;
f. Turkish-Kurdish commission on compensation as a result of forced resettlement of Kurdish citizens;
g. Turkish-Armenian commission on the elimination of the consequences of the Armenian Genocide
Is that enough until the centennial of the Turkish Republic in 2023? I think it is more than enough…

"Asbarez," January 24, 2012

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