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.

Mozart’s muse Mithradates

Over two millennia ago, this Greek leader’s kingdom stretched from Europe to Asia. He was not Alexander the Great and his empire was much smaller. Yet he revived Greek democracy, freed slaves, inspired Mozart’s first opera but also mastered a massacre of Roman settlements in what is today western Turkey.

Controversial alike every other classical celebrity, Mirthradates the Great’s once vibrant story has nowadays deliberately disappeared largely due to, according to History Today, a genocide that took place two thousand years after the Greek king’s and his even more successful Armenian son-in-law Tigranes the Great’s times.

In the words of Adrienne Mayor:


Why was the once renowned Mithradates the Great so forgotten? Should we blame Shakespeare for neglecting to immortalise his struggle against Rome? Or fault Marxists for favouring Spartacus, the gladiator-rebel of Thrace instead of the King of Pontus?

It is not difficult to guess why memories of both Mithradates and Tigranes have been suppressed in Turkey, which still officially denies the 1915 Ottoman genocide of Armenians in Tigranes’ old kingdom and the deportation of Greeks from Pontus, Mithradates’ philhellenic realm.


The genocide of indigenous Anatolians (Armenians, Pontus Greeks, and Syriacs) during WWI is a timeless event. Its official Turkish denial in the 21st century is not a mere distortion of a hundred-year event, but unproductive cover-up of thousands of years of history that took place earlier.

 The complete History Today article is available, upon registration, at

Turkey: Name Change

After repeated silence from municipal officials regarding a name change, a civil society group in Istanbul, Turkey has itself replaced the sign of a local street from that of a mythical toponym – used by a terrorist group – to the name of an Armenian journalist murdered three years ago this month by a ultra-nationalist youth.

The teenager who shot Hrant Dink – the editor of Agos newspaper and a promoter of reconciliation between Turks and Armenians – was allegedly recruited by Ergenekon, an elite military group which has failed its goal of toppling Turkey’s Islamic but moderate administration. Ergenekon, which is named after a mythical place and is revered by Turkish ultra-nationalists, supposedly had planned to kill other Armenians as well (prominent representatives of the handful of indigenous Christians who once numbered 20% of what is today’s Turkey).

Originally reported in Turkish by Bianet, the news is quite  interesting: in a nationalist country like Turkey (even in relatively liberal Istanbul), such action can be dangerous (no official or nationalist reactions have been reported so far). But it is also inspiring, and giving hope that maybe, just maybe, progressive Turks – and hopefully Turkey as a society – will one day rename streets honoring the perpetrators of the Armenian genocide as well.

In Istanbul alone, there are four avenues celebrating the main architect of the genocide – Talaat.

A grandson of the Ottoman “bloody sultan”

The late 19th century Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II banned the use of the scientific formula for water. He thought that H2O might be interpreted as he (Hamid the second) being equal to nothing (zero). The reverse, unfortunately, was the case: even during his rule Hamid became a world-famous figure nicknamed the “bloody sultan” – for massacring almost quarter a million Christian Armenians in the late 1890s in lieu of introducing sought reform. A decade after the Hamidian massacres, the next Ottoman regime that replaced the sultan brought about the end of what is now eastern Turkey’s indigenous Armenian population.

Over a century after the Hamidian massacres and half a decade short of the centennial of the genocide that followed, a grandson of the “bloody sultan” says he is “on the side side of the truth.” One reason why Beyzade Bülent Osman admits, even as indirectly so, his forefather’s massacres and the genocide that followed is because his family “owed their lives” to an Armenian family in France that helped Mr. Osman’s family when they escaped from the Ottoman Empire.

The Turkey-based Hurriyet has the story:


The world knows Sultan Abdülhamit II as a key name related to the Armenian issue and the events of 1915, recognized as genocide by many countries, a claim Turkey rejects. “I am on the side of truth,” Osman said on the issue. “The French and the Germans had also slaughtered each other, came into conflict but still managed to establish dialogue. We have to leave history behind us and look ahead.”

Osman also said his family “owed their lives” to French-Armenians after their exile from Turkey. “We were penniless,” he told the Daily News. “Our Armenian friends helped us. There was an Armenian lady who welcomed us to her chateau and we lived there for a long time. I cannot deny the good deeds Armenians have done for my family.”


Vandalism in Georgia

First he started a devastating war with Russia allegedly because of personal distaste for fellow autocrat Vladimir Putin and for bullying the latter as “Liliputin.”

The Glory Memorial, a Soviet-era monument by sculptor Merab Berdzenishvili

Now Georgian president Saakahsvili has finished the demolition of a WWII memorial honoring his countrymen (and countrywomen) who gave their lives in fighting the Nazis. Add two more people to that list of 300,000 people: a woman and her 8-year-old daughter were killed in the blast that brought down the war memorial – on the day of Saakashvili’s birthday – in Kutaisi, Georgia, supposedly to clear up space for a new parliament building.

The vandalism was not just an attempt to erase Georgia’s Soviet past. The creator of the prominent monument, a celebrated sculptor in Georgia, is Saakashvili’s critic.

Georgia’s president Saakashvili has (perhaps completely) lost his mind. It’s time for his dangerous adventure, initially seen as a democratic one, to end. It’s in Georgia’s national interest for her bipolar president – a democrat in rhetoric yet a dictator at heart – to resign.

And my blog, Ahmadinejad?

I would expect my blog to be banned in Turkey and in Azerbaijan, but not in Iran. Yet, according to a friend who lives in Tehran, Iran’s regime has blocked access to my blog (even though I have commended Iran’s treatment of minority Christian monuments). But then there is Ahmadinejad who doesn’t like, I assume, the following things I have written.

When the Yerevan State University in Armenia gave Ahmadinejad an honorary degree, I disagreed with the decision but admitted that “Iran’s president really needed a degree.”

But I was nicer to Ahmadinejad on another occasion:

“Of course a few would defend Ahmadinejad’s sinister denial of the Holocaust, but comparing him to Hitler and calling him “the evil” is pretty silly…. How is Ahmadinejad worse from Sudan’s president who is massacring millions of people? Why don’t we invade Sudan for committing a genocide?”

OK, I did have a post called “How to Screw Ahmadinejad on Videos.”

Whether my blog deserves to be banned in Iran or not, I don’t know. But I will take the ban as a compliment. Thank you for the honor, Mr. Dictator.

Letter on Djulfa cemetery

Azerbaijani “humanitarian consultant” Dr. Vugar Seidov has the following to say about, a website documenting Azerbaijan’s December 2005 destruction of sacred Armenian khachkars – intricately carved tombstones from the medieval times:

This is complete bullshit. If there is no Armenian in Julfa, why should there be a cemetery? Bye-bye, cemetery! You, idiots, should have taken your fucking khachkars with you when you left Julfa. Your fault. Keep crying, you Armenian nomads from Phrygie [sic].

More at Djulfa blog: Sacred Stones Reducted to Dust.

Dr. Seidov’s earlier inconsistency on the subject was mentioned in a January 2007 Blogian post.

Wildlife Wars in Armenia and Azerbaijan?

A month after Armenia’s districting of a new wildlife sanctuary, Zangezur, its ex-Soviet neighbor Azerbaijan has renamed a newly-expanded national park – not too far from the one in Armenia – Zangezur.

The environmentally praiseworthy move may prove politically dangerous. While a likely coincidence, the name-sharing of the two parks could increase the already sky-scraping atmosphere of mutual distrust and information wars. But the incident also has potential to help Armenia and Azerbaijan – technically at war over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and locked in so-far-unsuccessful negotiations – to acknowledge some of their overlapping history.

History is hotly (and hostilely) contested in Armenia and Azerbaijan, with both trying to delegitimize each others’ national claims. Azerbaijan, for instance, outright distorts Christian Armenia’s ancient roots in the region – often deliberately destroying distinct Armenian monuments (and later denying their previous existence in the first place) to support its absurd case.

Armenia, in turn, exclusively (and religiously) insists that the idea of “Azerbaijan” is a mere construction of 1918 when a Persian toponym (the northern part of Iran) was applied to a newly-established Muslim Turkic country in the Caucasus. While accurate, Armenia’s argument ignores Azerbaijan’s diverse ethnic composition which is not completely limited to colonizing Turkic tribes from the other side of the Caspian but also includes some native peoples who, on their turn, share blood with Armenians. This explains why native Armenians and largely-settler Azerbaijans are genetically more related than either would want to admit.

Instead of emphasizing commonalities, which hasn’t been limited t conflict, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been each demanding exclusive rights to geographic names. The name of the new sanctuaries in both countries, Zangezur, for instance, is the name of the mountain range that separates southernmost Armenia’s Syunik region – often called Zangezur itself – from Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave. Instead of considering history-sharing, both Armenia and Azerbaijan regard Zangezur and Nakhichevan (and neighboring Nagorno-Karabakh) their exclusive historic lands.

The history dispute is a headache. But it may contain the key to solving the conflict. The Western and Russian negotiators of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict deliberately overlook (and wrongly so) the delicate issue of history and cultural protection. Instead, they should work toward an honest and straightforward address of historical disputes. If indeed a coincidence, the two Zangezur sanctuaries should remind Armenia and Azerbaijan (and the dithering negotiators) that “power sharing” – in this case the coequal right to using common historical names – maybe the road to sustainable peace.

Would a “sister” program between the Zangezur reserve in Armenia and the one in Azerbaijan help bring some change?

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