Archive for March, 2010

Genocide hangover

In the words of a Naional Review blogger:

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, has been in London, with a photo-op next to Gordon Brown, his British opposite number, on the steps of Downing Street. The ceremony, the courtesy, goes with the job. In return, Erdogan did something extraordinary. He threatened to expel 100,000 Armenians from Turkey. “They are not my citizens. I am not obliged to keep them in my country.” My citizens? My country? Mass expulsion? This is the mind-set and the language of a dictator.


In the context, the threat of expelling 100,000 people is less a hang-over from the past than evidence of the kind of world already taking shape.

Deport yourself to humanity, Mr. Erdogan

Turkey’s prime minister needs to relocate himself to humanity instead of threatening to expel Armenian workers in response to international recognitions of the WWI genocide.  

Angry with parliamentarian moves in Sweden and the US to recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide as such, Turkey’s leader, prime minister Erdogan, has threatened to deport (and international media are surprisingly reporting it) what he counts as 100,000 citizens of Armenia working without documentation in Turkey.

Like his predecessors  –   and much of Turkey’s nationalist base –  Erdogan has been denying that the deportation and mass killings of Ottoman Turkey’s indigenous Armenians, that reduced the number of the Armenian community from 2 million to a few thousand, was genocide. His even more radical colleagues even refuse to accept the deportations as such by using the term “relocation” instead. Here are a few rhetorical questions for him.

Mr. Erdogan, don’t you see how your unhealthy reference proves that your predecessors –   who you claim couldn’t commit genocide because Muslims, let alone Turks, are incapable of that crime – could have easily exterminated an entire community (that had been one of the most loyal and the most industrious in an empire they hadn’t consented to being a part of) during a world war when you are threatening to deport their descendents – who are the indigenous people of Turkey and have as much right – if not more –  to live and work in that country than you or your family do – for mere nonbinding western resolutions?

Mr. Erdogan, don’t you know that the thousands of illegal Armenians in Turkey are there because, in part, your government has helped worsen their lives by blockading already landlocked Armenia – a country unsustainable even without your blockade since it has no access to sea or other resources thanks to the genocide your predecessors committed in western Armenia with a follow-up war against the tiny first Republic of Armenia which was made even tinier after you stole more land from it?

Mr. Erdogan, don’t you know that most of Armenia’s residents are descendants of genocide survivors whose indigenous lands your predecessors stole, whose families your predecessors raped and killed, and who want nothing from you but a mere courage to recognize historic injustices?

Unfortunately, Mr. Erdogan, you know all of the above. You helped restore one of Turkey’s most beautiful churches in historic Armenia (alas, thousand others are wiped out or in ruins) a few years ago; so maybe you have some heart. What you don’t know is where to find courage – and help your mislead society do the same – to depart your factory of history and deport yourself back to humanity.

Taner Akcam’s letter to Turkey’s PM

Open Letter to the Prime Minister and Bülent Arınç

By Taner Akcam, Turkish-American historian

Published in Taraf (in Turkish), Saturday, March 13, 2010

              There is something I have difficulty understanding.  You, who have put an end to 95 years of “there are no Kurds, they’re just Turks who wander around the mountains” lying policies by the state on the Kurds; who have removed the military’s guardianship over politics, the same military that since the beginning of this Republic has decided who lived and who died and that initiated coups at the drop of a hat. How is it that you who have made such important inroads into this democracy can insist on continuing the 95 years of denialist policies when it comes to the subject of 1915?

              All of us believed that when you signed those protocols with Armenia in October 2009, the 95 years of lies surrounding 1915 were coming to an end just as they had on the Kurdish issue. Could it be that when you signed those Protocols you believed that you were going to come to a resolution continuing the 95 year old policies of denial?  Doesn’t seem possible….Could you have found a way out of the Kurdish problem by continuing to insist that “There are no Kurds, they’re just Turks who wander around mountains”?  If you had stayed loyal to the logic of the problem solving methods of the Military when it comes to the Kurds, whereby they were equated with terrorist organizations, treating the Kurds as “nails” and themselves as the “hammer”, would you have found a way out of the impasse?

              Well, it seems to appear that you seriously think you are going to find a resolution to the Armenian problem by continuing the 95 year old lie.  Anyone opposing this view on the Armenian issue is the “nail” and you are the “hammer”….trying to intimidate the US, posturing like a bully…is this how you’re going to remove a 95 year old gangrene?  Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Arınç, if it could have been fixed this way, don’t you think it would have been, long ago?  Heck, who even needs you then…Şükrü Elekdağ would have fixed it; Veli Küçük would have found a neat solution…right?

              So, what happens if tomorrow Obama decides it’s time to call your bluff and gives you a taste of your own medicine.  What if he comes out with a statement saying “You want to shut me up or get me to tell a lie by threatening me!  You’re trying to force me to deny what I believe to be true with threats!  Shame on you!  Aren’t you the slightest bit embarrassed to be threatening me like that?  I’m not lying any more….I am going to state what I believe about 1915.  It was genocide”.  What are you going to do then?

              When the protocols were signed in Switzerland, we believed that it marked the end of 95 years of the policies of lies and that it was the death knell for the Gündüz Aktan, Şükrü Elekdağ and Yusuf Halaçoğlu era.  Not only was the border going to be opened, but commissions devoted to making recommendations on how to resolve the issues stemming from history were going to be established.  It seems likely that while Switzerland was mediating the agreement, it tried to convince both you and Armenia by pointing to the “Bergier Commission” which it had established in 1996, as an example of a “Commission of Independent Experts”.  This commission had been formed to research the role that Switzerland had played in the Jewish Holocaust.  After five years of work, it presented a final report in 2001 but during those five years, 25 research papers were published covering almost 11,000 pages of information. 

              There is a fact that is even more important than this however.  One year before the commission was formed, in 1995, the Swiss government apologized to all Jews in the world for its policies during the Second World War.  In actuality the commission was formed as a result of that apology.  There is no possible way that you could not have known that one of the conditions for the establishment of the commission was an apology to the Jews.  Even if the Swiss hadn’t mentioned it to you, it was a well known fact and we believed that you signed the protocols with full knowledge of this, and heralded the beginning of change in 95 years of the policy of denial…. “an apology to the Armenians is on its way” so we thought.  Apparently that wasn’t the case; instead you had some “oriental inscrutability” in the works.  You were going to continue the 95 year old policy of denial while fabricating a resolution to the problems that have plagued our relationship with Armenia.  This is hard to believe but it is apparent from everything that you have done thus far.

              Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Arınç, I ask that you put this bit of information somewhere in the corner of your minds:  you will never resolve the problem of 1915 by repeating a lie that’s been memorized over 95 years.  If it could have been resolved by rote repetition, there were those before you, who were much louder, who would have achieved it.  A black stain was smeared on the brow of the Turkish nation in 1915.  The ones who did this were the Unionist murderers.  If you don’t identify that stain and if you don’t put some distance between yourselves and those who placed that stain upon the brow of the Turkish nation, you won’t be able to take a single step forward on this issue.  Don’t even bother trying. 

              Mr. Prime Minister, you’ve called what happened in 1938 in Dersim, a massacre.  It’s true we don’t know exactly how many were killed, but you are acting like a bully towards those who condemn what happened in 1915, an event that involved at least 10-15 times more human beings than those who perished in Dersim.  On the subject of war crimes committed by Israel against the residents of Gaza, you have shown your displeasure and lifted your voice in opposition, with justification.  But when the subject of 1915 comes up, an event that involved killings of a level that can’t even begin to be compared with the violations of human rights in Gaza, you made absurd remarks like “No one can force me to admit that Moslems commit murders.  My forebears were not murderers”.  Don’t you think others are going to look at that and say “who is he kidding?”

              You are the ones who have changed the traditional line that’s been followed on the Kurdish question, who have fought to push the military out of political life.  Why are you parroting the same 95 year old lies that have been told by this military and this bureaucracy?  Let me give you an example.  You weren’t able to make any progress on the Kurdish and military matter by siding with the ones who called those involved in the Şemdinli event “one of our boys”.[1] You were only able to make progress after so many painful experiences, once you put distance between those “good boys” and yourselves. The subject of 1915 is no different.

              “Our boys” are the ones who continue to deny that Armenians were annihilated in 1915! They’re the ones forming the Talat Pasha Committees and organizing the memorial meetings for Kemal, the murderous Mayor of Boğazlayan.  And let’s not forget, they are the same ones who have planned assassinations against you and have tried to overthrow your administration…Don’t you realize that you will never be able to solve anything regarding 1915 by holding onto the same position of those who want to dig your graves?

              Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Arınç, the answers to the problems that are the legacy of 1915 can’t be found in the denialist policies of Veli Küçük, Doğu Perinçek, Şükrü Elekdağ and Yusuf Halaçoğlu.  Don’t search for the answers there.  You won’t get anywhere repeating the chorus they’ve been singing for 95 years.  They are your adversaries on the issue of 1915, just as they are when it comes to the Kurdish issue and the issue of the military’s place in politics.  You cannot construct your response to 1915 by holding rank with those who want to drag the country into chaos; who murdered Hrant Dink, who have planned massacres against Christians and who have been plotting coups against you. 

              If you are going to respond to 1915, you need to search for that answer in a place that is different than the answers given by Ergenekon or by the ones who plotted the coups.  For this you should follow your Moslem roots in Anatolia that have risen alongside your party and take a closer look at what these roots did during 1915.

              Mr. Arınç, these words are for you.  With reason, you were angered by the way the women of CHP in Mersin tore up the Muslim veil [2] Do you realize, however, that with the position that you have taken you have torn the deep fabric of Anatolian Islam, have ripped apart the cultural legacy of Anatolian Moslems who can walk head held high for bravely challenging the murders of 1915?  Do you know that when the Unionist gangs were murdering Armenians in 1915, the ones who put up the biggest fight, who challenged them the most were the Moslems of Anatolia?  Did you have any idea that it was the Moslem community of Kastamonu that marched upon the Governor’s office demanding “we won’t stand for our neighbors being murdered”?  Or that it was the Moslems of Yozgat who opposed Killer Kemal of Boğazlayan yelling “there’s no place in the Koran for the murder of innocents!”?  Have you never heard of the important role played in the hanging of Killer Kemal by the written testimony of the Grand Mufti of Boğazlayan, Abdullahzade Mehmed?  Did you know that in opposing the murders being committed by Killer Kemal, this Moslem Mufti said “Allah stands above us all.  I fear his wrath”?

              Mr. Arınç, are you aware of the order given by Commander Kamil Pasha of the Third Army in 1915?  He stated “Who ever tries to hide Armenians in their homes will be executed before his front door and his home will be burned to the ground.”  Despite this order, do you know that Haji Halil, a Moslem from Urfa, hid an Armenian family of eight in the attic of his home, in the market of Urfa for one full year despite the threats of death and burning?  Go to Eastern Anatolia and ask the members of parliament from your own party.  They’ll tell you dozens, hundreds of stories like this. 

              I don’t need to make a point that when the Unionists were massacring Armenians in Anatolia, pious Moslems were opposing what was happening and saying that the murder of innocents has no place in the Koran.  Whichever conference I attend and whenever I’m talking with Armenians they tell me “if we are alive today, it is without a doubt because of the aid of some Moslems”.  But they’ll also add “because of your government’s policy of denial, we can’t talk about it openly.” 

              Mr. Arınç, you can’t build a future on the backs of murderers.  You can build a future on the backs of those righteous Moslems in Anatolia who challenged the murderers.  In the same way that you can’t resolve today’s problems by supporting Hrant’s murderers, the “Samats” and the “Veli Küçüks”, you won’t get anywhere supporting the murderers of the Hrants of the past.  The answers to 1915 can’t be found in the answers of Doğu Perinçek or Veli Küçük.  They are members of the Ergenekon gang that killed Hrant Dink; it’s natural that they defend the murderers of the Hrants of the past.  Let the “Veli Küçüks” defend the murderer Samat of today and the murderers Talat, Enver and Kemal of yesterday.  Your place is not at the side of Veli Küçük.  Your duty is to stand by the side of the “Haji Halils”, to stand up for those Moslems who put themselves and their families at risk opposing the massacres.

              I would like you to recognize one more thing.  Because of the 95 years of denialist policies and defense of murderers, from an international perspective there’s a second stain on the brow of Turkishness and Islam, next to the one created by 1915.  Because of the policies followed by the Şükrü Elekdağ’s and the Veli Küçük’s, Turks are perceived as a people who enjoy murdering, who defend murders.  We need to rescue Turkishness and Islam from the Talats and the Envers of yesterday and the Samats of today and to not allow the Elekdağ’s and the Küçük’s to define it.  Turkishness and Islam are identities that are too honorable to be left at the hands of murderers and their defenders.  I have an Armenian friend and he has said to me, “Before I met you, Turkish was the language of the enemy. Now it’s the voice of my friend.”

              We need the honest and honorable cry of Turkishness and Islam.  Let Doğu Perinçek, Veli Küçük and the ones who planned your assassination defend the murderers of yesterday and today.  You need to see by now that the ones who defended Talat, Enver and Dr. Nazım in the past are the same people who defend Oğün Samat today. 

              If we can walk with a shred of self-respect today, head held high, it’s because we can point to Hrant’s killer and call him what he is.  You need to see that once we acknowledge the murderers of the Hrants of 1915, we will walk with our heads held high, self-respect intact.  Nazim Hikmet has the best words for describing what needs to be done in connection with 1915.  I’d like to conclude this letter with him.

Grocer Garabed’s lights are on

He hasn’t forgiven, this Armenian citizen,

The way his father was slaughtered in the Kurdish mountains

But he loves you because you haven’t forgiven either

The stain that’s been drawn on the brows of the Turkish people

Mr. Prime Minister, I know that you like to read poetry.  The Turkish person and the Moslems of the Middle East want to hear these verses from you!

[1] This references an incident where a book store in a Kurdish city was bombed.  Officers in the Turkish military were suspected of having planned and/or executed the deed.  The Chief of the General Staff was quoted as saying the officers were “our good boys”. 

[2] This is in reference to an incident during “International Women’s Day” where women members of the CHP (Republican People’s Party) tore up the headscarf of a Moslem woman.