Turkey needs new approach for 1915

Ömer Taşpinar

It is sad to see that Turkey is squandering yet another opportunity to discuss what happened to Armenian communities of  Anatolia in the final decades of the Ottoman Empire.  The  "Just Memory" initiative launched by Ahmet Davutoglu a few years ago is partly to blame for this failure.
As Fehim Tastekin rightly points out in his column for Al Monitor: "Early in its rule, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government raised expectations that Turkey was willing to face its past. But now, as the 100th anniversary of Armenian genocide approaches, the government, let alone facing up to the past, has indulged in a frenzy of casting shadows on the genocide observances and moved Turkey’s traditional Gallipoli celebrations, normally held March 18, to April 22-24."
The decision to move the Gallipoli Day to April 24 is a clumsy attempt in the framework of the "just memory" initiative. The goal, as Tastekin points out, is to overshadow what is globally recognized as the Armenian Remembrance Day, which commemorates the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, with Turkey's own narrative of justice based on shared victimhood. What Ankara fails to understand is that the world will show no sympathy for the Turkish narrative of shared victimhood unless Turkey shows some sympathy for the Armenian narrative of genocide.
Moreover, let's not forget that in the eyes of the world Turkey is not really a victim. Ataturk managed to establish a successful nation-state out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Despite its imperfections, it is hard to deny that the Turkish Republic is probably  the most accomplished success story in the Islamic world. Armenians, on the other hand, have not only lost their ancestral homeland and  civilization in Eastern Anatolia (*), but they also failed to establish a successful and prosperous nation-state. Because of the their tragic history, they are a traumatized people who overwhelmingly live in the diaspora. Approximately 7 million Armenians are scattered around the world while the population of tiny Armenia is around 2.5 million and constantly diminishing.
No matter how much Turkey tries to hijack April 24th with its own agenda of just memory, this date will be remembered by world leaders this year in Yerevan as the centenary of the Armenian Genocide.  Ankara should also make a small effort to remember that it was on this day, 100 years ago, that a number of Armenian nationalists (**) in Istanbul were arrested, deported and executed. This date came to symbolize the beginning of massive deportations of Armenians from all parts of Anatolia. It was collective punishment at its worst.  Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were punished  for the acts of hundreds of Armenian separatists. The fact that these deportations turned into one the darkest chapters of Turkish history with the decimation of the quasi totality of the Armenian demography in Anatolia is an established fact of history.
The Turkish government disputes that this decimation and annihilation of Anatolian (**) Armenians amounts to genocide on the grounds that there was no intent or a centrally planned and executed policy to destroy the Armenian communities. The international legal definition of the crime of genocide as defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide describes the main  element of the crime of genocide as the  "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group".
If there was no intent to harm the Armenians, what happened to them? There was once a vibrant Armenian community in Anatolia. At the turn of the 20th century, when the total population of Anatolia amounted to around 10 million, the Ottoman Armenian population was around 1,5 million -- about 15 percent of the country. Today, there are no more Armenians in Anatolia.
Yet, the Turkish government denies that there was any intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Armenian communities. In other words, the whole population of Ottoman Armenians disappeared in the absence of any intent to harm them. The Turkish defense amounts to this: "We just wanted to deport them. Bad things happened but we had no role in it as a government." Good luck convincing  the few international visitors coming to Gallipoli that this is "just memory."

"Today's Zaman," April 15, 2015

(*) The reference is to Western Armenia ("Armeniaca").
(**) It is unclear what the author means by "nationalist." Perhaps he implies that all arrested intellectuals were members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun), since Turkish mindset seem to have "nationalist" and "Dashnak" as automatic synonyms. Needless to say, the victims of the roundup were not all "nationalists" ("Armeniaca").
(**) Turkish Orwellian notions of geography make one wonder what is the right way to call the Armenians from European Turkey, including those from Constantinople, who were decimated and annihilated. Were they also "Anatolian Armenians"? ("Armeniaca").

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