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Turkey & the Armenian Genocide - Contemporary Reflections - by Dr Harry Hagopian - 23 April 2007

On 24th April, Armenians will commemorate the 92nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. They will remember their forbears - well over one million Armenian men, women and children - who were killed in various odious ways by Ottoman Turkey under cover of WWI.

The serious academic world is well beyond ‘researching’ the Armenian Genocide. Many international associations and individual experts specialising in the history let alone psychology of genocide have established time and again the unarguable veracity of this event. However, the modern-day Turkish establishment and its cohorts continue relentlessly to deny this genocide with rehearsed and glib arguments that are truly farcical were they not also shameful. Simply put, Armenians were almost wiped off the Ottoman map during the period 1915 till 1923 in a dual policy that blended a Turkish Ottoman desire for dominion over a pan-Turkic region with vengefulness for its bitter defeat in WWI. One need only read Donald Bloxham’s thoughtful The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism and the Destruction of Ottoman Armenians or Taner Akçam’s trenchant A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility that uses Ottoman Turkish state documents and contemporary Turkish statements to corroborate that the genocide against Armenians was a gripping historical reality. The city of Trabzon for example, where Hrant Dink’s killer purportedly originated from, is simply one example amongst countless others of “killing members of a group” or “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” (according to Art II [a] & [c] of the Genocide Convention 1948) where Turkish authorities in 1915 herded thousands of Armenians on boats, set them off into the Black Sea and later drowned them with sheer impunity.

Given this sobering reality, I believe that Turkish contemporary refusal to admit the guilt of its predecessor regime of the crime of genocide is due in part to a psychological phenomenon of individual and collective defensiveness against the perception of being accused by its enemies (Armenians) and by its non-friends (supporters of the Armenian efforts for recognition). As was written in an editorial I read only last week, if Turkey were to be candid about its past rather than hide behind threats, intimidation and obfuscations, it would recall that the Sultan tried to distance himself in 1916 from the actions of the CUP, the ‘state within the state’, and reassured the British Government that the perpetrators of those egregious crimes would be punished - as was the case with the four trials whose proceedings were included in the government gazette.

Today, this phase of denial intensifies once more despite the encouraging initial steps adopted by Turkey when negotiations for its possible accession to the EU started formally in 2005. Now, however, instead of moving forward, Turkey shows perceptible signs of regression as it passes laws such as Articles 301 or 312 of the Turkish Penal Code that have prosecuted Turks and non-Turks alike, those living in the country or abroad, either for “defaming Turkishness” or for “insulting Ataturk”. Those who have suffered the brunt of such laws include the likes of Orhan Pamuk, Perihan Magden, Murat Belge, Ismet Berkan, Hasan Cemal, Elif Safak, Semih Sokmen, Ibrahim Kaboglu, Baskin Oran, Halil Altindere, Murat Pabuc, Eren Keskin, Ragip Zarakolu, Ahmet Onal, Fatih Tas, Rahmi Yildirim, Erol Ozkoray, Osman Tiftikci and Sirri Ozturk, Osman Pamuko?lu, EU Commissioner Joost Lagendjik, HH Karekin II, Michael Dickinson, Ipek Calislar, Abdullah Dilipak and Mehmet Sevki Eygi, Yalç?n Ergündo?an and Ibrahim Cesmecioglu, Attila Yayla, Belma Akçura, Cuneyt Arcayurek, Tuncay Ozkan, Taner Akçam, Attila Tuygan and Mehmet Ali Var??.
In fact, merely defining the Armenian deportations in 1915 as “genocide” is interpreted as “defaming Turkishness”. One such instance occurred when Erhan Akay was convicted to five months of prison for his article in Cagri entitled Time to Confront the Armenian Question After 90 Years.

But it is even more disgraceful in the institutional politics of denial pursued by Turkey when international organisations that are meant to uphold International law and speak out against genocide kow-tow to the political pressures of denial. I cite here how the UN, under its new leadership, bowed recently to Turkey’s demands and blocked a scheduled opening of an exhibition at UN headquarters commemorating the 13th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide solely because it had mentioned the mass murder of the Armenians. Ankara was offended by a sentence that explained how genocide came to be recognised as a crime under international law: “Following World War I during which one million Armenians were murdered in Turkey, Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin urged the League of Nations to recognize crimes of barbarity as international crimes.” The British-based organisers of this exhibition were willing to omit the words “in Turkey”, but this was clearly not enough for the UN aficionados, and the exhibit has been put on hold. Nearer to our own European shores, I also cite the [heretofore successful] Turkish pressures exercised over Germany, as current President of the Council of the European Union, to remove the case of the Armenian Genocide as an illustrative example (the other two are the Jewish Holocaust and Rwandan Genocide) for a pan-European law that is currently being drafted to outlaw genocide denial in all twenty-five EU countries.

When will Turkey decide to follow a post-nationalist attitude to history? When will it realise that every time it strives to curtail any discussion of the Armenian Genocide, it only draws wider attention to the subject and links today’s Turkey with the crimes of its predecessor regime? When will certain elements within Turkish society realise that their campaign of vilification, libel, lies and smut on different Internet websites against prominent Turkish and foreign scholars or journalists the likes of Taner Akçam, Robert Fisk or Mike Joseph is not only scurrilous but depicts Turks in the least favourable light? Should Turkey not underline - rather than undermine - its Eurocentric credentials as it seeks to join the EU fold? Indeed, it should revise the Turkish Criminal Code and stop applying its Anti-Terror Law (TMY). It should also stop confiscating books, suspending or trying writers, journalists, publishers, intellectuals, translators and human rights activists, muzzling the press and discriminating against its different minorities instead of protecting them.

Once those rudimental changes are implemented and begin to take root, when Turkish judicial chauvinism expires, and when the Turkish establishment listens to some of its own academics and comes clean on the genocide by recognising it, Armenians would then express their responsibility by showing a necessary measure of soul-searching and dealing politically with their ninety-two-year-old emotional pain. Who knows, such a devolution might well lead toward neighbourliness let alone prosperity and ultimately forgiven friendships between Armenians and Turks - as was the case largely before the heinous pogroms of the late 1800’s and the subsequent genocide.


© hbv-H @ 23 April 2007

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