Newly found mass grave believed to be from the Armenian genocide manipulated in Turkey

While for an American diplomat a simple word like genocide can mean end of a career, it doesn’t seem Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide is simply a refusal to label the mass murder of 1.5 Armenians a “genocide.” There is much more than that.



Photographs by Ülkede Özgür Gündem (a Kurdish newspaper in Turkey that was closed down after reporting the discovery of the mass grave) of a possible Armenian mass grave before manipulated by the Turkish Historical Society


Turkey is not simply rejecting the word genocide; the denial is on micro level as seen in recent developments. The skeletons of a newly discovered mass grave thought to be from the Genocide, for example, have been reportedly changed and displaced by the Turkish Historical Society.

The Zaman newspaper from Turkey reports on April 24, 2007 that David Gaunt – a historian from Sweden – had traveled to Turkey this week to participate in a joint investigation of the mass grave. After seeing the site, Prof. Gaunt refused to continue his participation because the initial photographs of the mass grave (taken by a Turkish-language Kurdish newspaper) from October of 2006 – when it was discovered – were quite different from the site he was taken to. He told Zaman, “My impression is that this grave is one in which no scientific research can be carried out. The grave has undergone numerous changes so it is not recognizable.”

As our blogging-made-news article reported last year, the site was discovered in October of 2006 by local Kurds in the Xirabebaba (Kuru) village of Nusaybin district in southeastern Turkey’s Mardin region. Several villagers were digging graves for a relative to be buried in, when they found a cave of approximately 200 skeletons. The villagers thought they had uncovered a mass burial of massacred Armenians.

There were several reports (received via private communication) that the mass grave was dumped with soil by the Turkish military. But soon I learned that the Turkish Historical Society had proclaimed the mass graves was from Roman times.

Before traveling to Turkey for the investigation, Prof. Gaunt had sent the following e-mail to a group of colleagues and students on February 27, 2007.

As you will remember Yusuf Halacoglu went out very aggressively and challenged me in the Turkish press and TV to come to the grave. I answered and said that I could come during 23-25 April and I canceled some lectures during that week.

Since the time that he challenged me in the media – two weeks ago – I have not heard a word from Halacoglu – although I have previously received faxes, regular mail and even telephone calls from the staff of the Turkish Historical Society. So they know where I work. I have repeatedly written to Halacoglu during the past weeks. No result. Given his grandstand performance previously, this silence is unnatural. It leads to the conclusion that he is no longer interested in making a truly scientific investigation of the mass-grave find. What could be the reason?

In order to give this investigation some scientific legitimacy, I had suggested that we agree to some “rules of the game” in case of disagreement. Among the things I suggested was that an international group of crime scene investigators (or the like) from for instance South America would be the first persons to enter the site. Their role would be to ascertain if the site had been manipulated in any serious way, if the bodies were intact, if there were signs of tampering with the evidence or planting of other evidence. Only if and when this team gave a clear OK signal, would any of the other investigators enter the site. I think it is a very reasonable request that we have guarantees that the site is worth investigating, and I don’t think that the Turkish side could argue against this procedure.

Are we forced to conclude, by Halacoglu’s silence that the site has indeed already been prepared, but that there is now fear that properly trained experts would easily discover the manipulation? In that case, of course, it would be reasonable for the Turkish Historical Society to want to forget all about having made an invitation and making a fuss over my participation. At present there are few alternative interpretations to Halacoglu’s silence other than that he regrets the publicity that he has given this matter.

Apparently Prof. Gaunt’s fear turned to be true: the Turkish Historical Society had manipulated the mass grave.

The Turkish cover up of the Armenian Genocide is not simply a war of a term, but a refusal by the ultra-nationalist Turkish foundation to admit that their government, in the words of Turkish historian Taner Akcam, has committed a crime against Turkey’s native Armenian population. No wonder why, as the founder of Boulder’s Alternative Radio David Barsamian said past Sunday, Turkish Ambassadors use passive voice when justifying the genocide, “something terrible happened.”