A Turkish student from Seattle, who hopes that her “blog will help crack myths, break stereotpyes, particularly regarding what it means to be Turkish,” has posted her paper on the Armenian Genocide and the question of restitutions acknowledging that her challenge of Turkey’s official stance on the history of Ottoman Armenians “will incur more cyber space enemies than friends.”  

In the opening of the paper, the blogger suggests that the Ottoman history may be very far, but it is also close.

The empire that once existed has turned to dust and the history it left behind can only be seen in museums and old books. And yet its trangressions still continue to haunt us.

After presenting Armenian and Turkish views on the history of Ottoman Armenians in 1915, the Turkish student does something few open-minded Turks would dare – to raise the question of power relationship between Turkish and Armenian nationalism referencing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF):

ARF? The Black Panthers anyone? The ARF is nothing new. All oppressed groups will create physically strong leaders who can kick some ass on their behalf. Violent atrocities and oppression can only inspire more violence and oppression.

The blogger says that just a year ago she might have had different attitude toward the history of the Ottoman Armenians. But there are things, she says, that can’t be ignored.

After a long, disheartening yet fruitful research period lasting several months, I have come across substantial evidence that cannot be explained away. The Armenian Genocide has been therefore titled by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century.

But it is not only the Armenian story, the student says, that has been denied in Turkey. Often the west itself has demonized Turks as a people.

I know many can say that in the Christian world Christian life is of utmost importance, and to a degree I buy that. We can witness it all throughout Christian literautre, the Turkish identity is dehumanized, demonized and the worst of all, that I hate so much and continue to fight viciously, the masculinization of the Turkish identity- there are no references to Turkish people being of the female gender. The only references to Turkish women are sexual in nature. For example, in Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of a Turk is a “cruel, har hearted man,” or in Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnets of Astrophil and Stella: “whether the Turkish new moon minded be/to fill his horns this year on Christian coast,” or in stanza V111: “forc’d by a tedious proofe that Turkish hardned hart.”

One can tell that this student is not just resisting nationalism but (male) chauvinism too. And here is why:

Sure I buy that the conditioning of anti Turkishness is abound, however, I can also be a witness to that the overt sexualization and mysognization of Armenian women, in particular, by Turkish men. Turkish men have often regarded Armenian women as “easy,” “sluts,” and “hairy.” There is a saying in Turkish that loosely translated says, “You are Armenian, and without wanting to you give it (your cunt) up.” Almost insinuating that Armenian women are just asking to be raped or assaulted. There is also another disturbing saying that says, “You are Greek, you put it (a cock) inside and let it remain there.” Both again complete and utter rubbish, but there again institutionalized anti minority sentiment.

She isn’t afraid to call things by their names, is she? And she won’t say, unlike some others, “I recognize [the Armenian Genocide], therefore you [Armenians] shut up [on restitutions]:”

The outright denial and laughing attitude of many Turkish politicians and diplomats is what has really made this unresolved continue to ebb and flow.

Of course, we can say simply that any comment from the Turkish government is mere opinion. One should not feel they have the right to punish others for their opinion, even if it is conflict with their own, others may say. Many might even add that no one is punishing Putin for Stalin’s transgressions, nor Spanish President Zapatero for the Spanish Inquisition. Or even that the French killed one million Algerians during the riot of colonial power and violence, no one is out for vengence against Sarkozy. In France it is forbidden to deny the Armenian Genocide though.

I have come to believe that reparations and restitution today for the modern states of Armenia and Turkey proper include a multitude of problems. However, I do not believe that an apology alone is all that can suffice for the victims. […]

Is justice justified when it brings injustice to someone else? After discussing the geopolitical unlikeness of land reparations to Armenia in the near future, she says:

I would also add that the eastern provinces are largely populated by Kurdish peoples, the lands revered by some as Armenia’s historic homeland, are the same ones considered by many Kurds as the dreamed of Kurdistan. To cede the lands on which the Kurds are (barely) living on today, would incite civil war in eastern Turkey.

Last semester I touched on the same topic in my early political thought class:


But how can one achieve justice and what does it represent?  Following the logic in Aquinas’ work, justice is the opposite of injustice. While justice is so vague that it would be difficult to fight for, injustice could be easily spotted.  So in a sense working for justice can be done through minimizing and eliminating injustice.  That has, I must confess, become part of my political philosophy after reading the works of these great thinkers.


Although almost none would argue, with the exception of ultra-nationalist Turks who think the genocide never happened, that genocide recognition by Turkey would be justice, others disagree on whether Armenians even should talk about returning western Armenia, especially at a time when emigration is a national problem in the Republic of Armenia and that few from the Armenian Diaspora have repatriated to the tiny country.   

This is a topic that is not unique to Armenians but is actually a worldwide problem.  Even the most recent population shifts in the world have resulted in the ethnic cleansing of indigenous or local inhabitants.  Of course most of these have not been a result of genocide like in the Armenian case, but many people in the world have lost their land.  What makes it even more complex is when multiple and quite different groups make claims to the same land – and separately taken they often sound quite legitimate.

The Kurds, for instance, claim what Armenians consider western Armenia as Kurdistan .  There is no doubt that Kurds are extremely oppressed in the Republic of Turkey – a minority of over ten million, Kurds are not even recognized as such in Turkey.  They have never had a political state and have faced oppression under different countries.  Armenians, on the other hand, while resonate with the Kurdish struggle for justice remind that many Kurds participated in the Armenian Genocide, often for the actual hope of acquiring a homeland.  A chilling New York Times article from February 20th, 1881, for instance, was titled “Turkish Policy in Armenia” and discussed the demographic changes made by the Ottoman Empire in western Armenia showing the Turkish intent to increase the Muslim population of the latter.  The report pointed out the endeavor “to show that Armenia should be blotted out of the map and henceforth be known as Kurdistan.”

The prophecy of the New York Times article has come to become a reality.  Western Armenia , or at least much of it, today is mostly referred to as Kurdistan.  Travelers to eastern Turkey hardly find out that they are in a land that used to be called Armenia, and tour guides who make much noise about it get arrested in the first place.  But then, who owns the land – Armenians, Kurds or the Turks?

Questions like these are very different to answer, and perhaps neither of our early great thinkers would try to find an answer to that.  This is one of the examples when “justice” cannot be defined to its full extent and become a universalized one, yet most of our thinkers would argue that there are many injustices within the problem that can be minimized.  Ancient Armenian churches and other monuments, if they have not been already exploded or converted to mosques or to secular buildings, are in ruins in the Republic of Turkey.  Wouldn’t an act of minimizing injustice be restoring them or at least acknowledging that they belonged to Armenians? There are also many monuments in the Turkish Republic that honor the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide.  Wouldn’t it be minimizing injustice if something was done to these monuments?  Yet would it not amount to injustice to destroy these monuments?  Wouldn’t that be vandalism, and thus, not a universal form of justice?

A plaque on the Colorado State Capitol grounds helps to find an answer.  In the 1990s, one of the state senators was reading the plaque on the Civil War Statue, placed on at the Capiol in 1909, when he noticed that the list of military engagements that Colorado cavalry participated in listed “Sand Creek: November 29, 1864.”  The Sand Creek Massacre of about 200 peaceful Arapaho and Cheyenne peaceful villagers – mostly children, women and the elderly – had been recorded as a battle in the history of Colorado

When the issue came to the floor many questions were raised.  The statue was history itself, so was the racist plaque on it.  How could a historical injustice be righted without committing another injustice, aka vandalizing an artifact at the State Capitol?  The compromise was to place a separate plaque at the front base of the statue that would tell the real story of the Sand Creek Massacre and leave the original plaque in situ.  The Sand Creek Massacre plaque at the Capitol is a perfect example of how Turkey should treat monuments honoring the perpetrator of the Armenian genocide.  But the question is really far from that.  Turkey is yet to recognize just the fact that the Armenian Genocide happened.

Justice is a very broad notion and has been the driving topic, in my view, of political thought development.  Although some thinkers didn’t make direct observations of justice in the overall society, the bottom line of what they advocated was based in the belief of a certain form of justice.  When Plato was saying that democracy is potential tyranny he was asking whether – what we today call – utilitarianism is justice.

When, in the summer of 2005, I was studying at the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies in Toronto, a Rwandan participant of the course once brought up the issue of justice.  Her family had all been massacred in the genocide of 1994, when Rwanda’s Hutu majority decided to get rid of the Tutsis.  In a sense, the Rwandan genocide was democratic, she argued, drawing parallels with the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide that were all committed in popular support.  Hutus want democracy, my Rwandan friend said, but Tutsis want justice. 

Justice is not a definite value or project that can be fought for in one and only way, but there is always room for minimizing injustice.  At the Genocide Institute where I met my Rwandan friend, I also learned a famous quote that in order for evil to win is for good people to do nothing.  I think Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas and Machiavelli all taught me engagement.  That is engagement in limiting injustice. ”   Justice for the Turkish blogger definitely starts with facing the past. She finishes her essay by saying:

Some maybe say that there is no way to lay appropriate blame, and maybe they are right. But we can still admit to our pasts and remind ourselves that we cannot erase history or who we once were.

We are nothing without our histories.

The Turkish blogger from Seattle is making history with her own writing, but it is not only her acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide that will likely make her a hate-figure among most nationalist Turks (perhaps, that’s the reason that she has so far hidden her name).

The Seattle student also brings up issues of sexuality and women’s resistance and posts a photo or two that some of the readers of my blog wouldn’t appreciate. I think, though, one can’t be a humanist without being a feminist and vice verse. And whoever the Turkish lady from Seattle is, she now has a friend in Denver.