English Translation of a Turkish Article published in 2002.
Is it much of an exaggeration to say that the curtains in front of the “Armenian taboo” are slowly being lifted in Turkey? For a start it has become easier to talk openly about what happened in 1915 and history and how the relations to Armenia should be nowadays. The reason for my optimism are not just the small signals of changes in State politics that have shown up recently. As a society we do not approach the problem with emotions of “anger and disgust” as we did in the periods before. Scientific symposiums, serious articles in press and publications, that we did not see in the past, and TV programs dealing with the problem directly or indirectly have become so numerous that it is impossible not to surprised. A new kind of attitude, that we were not used to, is developing. It seems as if the society takes possession of its own problems.
The slow lifting of the curtain in front of the “greatest taboo” of Turkey, the Armenian question, can only be understood in the framework of the general winds of changes during the last years. International conditions as well as events within the country seem to have put up the pressure that make it appear inevitable that Turkey organizes itsself as an “open society”. Concerning the direction of developments in Turkey I would place myself into the group of “optimists” not the “pessimists”. This “optimism” is not based on the fact that something is changing pretty fast. Looking at it from this angle there is much more reason to be “pessimistic.”
In order to show that it is rather unimportant whether you are an optimist or a pessimist I would like to highlight another point. Indepedent of what has changed in concrete terms in Turkey, there is a wave of change in Turkey from head to toe. This wave is so strong and has embraced all parts of society so much that it is impossible to explain this by a vertical model of “conservatives and opponents of change” at the top and the lower parts of society “in favour of change”. The struggle between “favouring renewal and change” and “being conservative” is splitting the society in a rather horizontal manner from an average individual up to the highest institution.
The events occuring during the process of lifting the curtain in front of the “Armenian taboo” are a good example for this observation. Let me give an account of some elements, first those that can be called “positive”. Turkish and Armenian scientists conducted a joint symposium in Chicago between 17 and 19 March 2000. The Research Centre of the Armenian Diaspora (EDAM) conducted a meeting on 17 June in Paris entitled “The Turkish-Armenian Dialogue”. Staff members of the Turkish Embassy in Paris were among the participants and congratulated EDAM for this initiative. The universities of Ankara and Erivan started joint projects. At the Bosphorus University one of the panels that were held during a symposium between 15 and 19 June was entitled “The trauma of people that survived the Armenian genocide”. In this context I do not want to count the books on this subject that can freely be sold and the articles and discussions in press and publications that point to the fact that the traditional approach to the Armenian question has to be abandoned.
As far as negative examples are concerned, here are some: a number of columnists continue to advocate traditional politics, show the Armenians as enemies and maintain that the fight against them has to be intensified. It is possible that primitive attacks are carried out as it was the case in an article in the daily “Akit” of 9 July (showing the book “Genocide” by V.N. Dadrian on the front page and asking why such books are freely sold). Four Armenian representatives who wanted to participate in a meeting organized by the municipality of Kars at the beginning of July were extradited. Many politicians including Demirel keep arguing that foreign policies should not be conducted according to the understanding of the Turkish Republic, but in the manner of “Ittihat ve Terakki” (following the Ottoman Empire) and be based on the “brotherhood of ethnics and religion”. They don’t see any harm in keeping the border to Armenia closed. Discriminating politics against Armenian citizens that are reflected in law (such as the law on foundations) remain unchanged (but the paper “Agos” that is published in Istanbul in the Turkish and Armenian language is being invited to the reception of the State President).
At this stage I should underline a small but meaningful point. While staff members of the Turkish Embassy in Paris participated in the “dialogue”-meeting and congratulated its organizeers some circles and individuals known as “tough leftists” rejected an offer to hold a meeting on the “Turkish-Armenian dialogue” in the Netherlands. Those who opposed that the subject of “Armenian genocide and trauma” be a part of the symposium at the Bosphorus University were people from the “History Foundation” who claim to be “progressive and democratic”. The list can be made longer, but I’m simply trying to show by such examples that it is not correct to separate those who argue that a different attitude towards the Armenian problem is needed and inevitable from others by means of a group “on top” and those “below”. The change can be seen in some State institutions as well as in society itsself.
There is a general rule in sociology. Contrary to public belief the wish for change is not stronger during periods of pressure, but at times when the pressure is getting less. Not to be misunderstood, I am not speaking of the simple fact that those who keep silent against pressure speak up at the end of repression. I am speaking of the dynamics of change that derive from the fact for open and free speech at times when the society is not held under pressure. The slow opening of the “Armenian taboo” will result in a more powerful discussion on what the changes in the Armenian-Turkish relations have to be. That is the positive aspect in the development.
The taboos of our Republic evade
Those who wanted to organize the Turkish Republic as a homogenic national State realized that the pluralistic structure of the society provided a serious obstacle for a “homogenic State and society”. They chose an easy way to overcome this obstacle. According to the declared understanding of a “homogenic nation” they announced each of the social differences that “created a problem” to be a taboo and included references to these taboos to be a crime according to the penal code. Thus we can say that our Republic war founded on five important taboos.
- There are no classes in Turkey. We all belong to an integrated nation. Article 141 and 142 of the penal code prohibited to speak about differences of class.
- There are no Kurds in Turkey. Kurds were the “Turks of the mountains”. Article 125 and other provisions of the penal code were used against those who said that Kurds do exist.
- Turkey is a secular, western society, separating religion and State. It is not allowed to speak of religious values and culture. Article 163 of the penal code was introduced to this end. There was no provision proscribing to talk about Alevites, but it was forbidden to hold ceremonies and to found associations with this purpose.
- There was no such thing as a genocide against the Armenians. There was no need for an article in the penal code proscribing this, since there was nobody left to claim the opposite.
- The Armed Forces were given the duty to secure the areas of taboos. Based on these taboos they should protect and control our Republic. For that reason it was a taboo to talk about the effects of the regime of the armed forces.
The history of our Republic can be explained as the history of uprisings by those who stood up saying “ we do exist.” First the left, later the Kurds and Islamists attacked the areas of taboo. Regardless of the openly declared aim the common object was to overthrow the existing system and replace it by a system believed to be the right one. The Alevites were seen as an important factor “among leftist circles”, but after 1980 they restricted themselves to just say “we, too, do exist”. The military coup d’etats were mainly conducted against the uprisings against these areas of taboo. But today it is no longer a crime to talk about classes, Kurds or the existence of Islamists or Alevites. At the moment we experience the pain of having changed the provisions that made it a crime to talk about the existence of the “taboo groups.”
At this point I should stress that the opening of the Armenian taboo shows a quite healthy progress compared to the other areas of taboo in the Republic. Slightly simplified the difference can be explained like this. During the lifting of the other taboo zones the political forces leading the movement aimed at “destroying the existent State.” The “enemy” was the State and the problem could only be solved by overthrowing it. As far as the Armenian taboo is concerned the people involved have no other wish than “the existing State might change its politics on this question”. As citizens of this State they say that the deployed politics are wrong. They use their rights as citizens and oppose the fact that someone is “doing wrong” in their name, that is they want their “own State to conduct the right politics. ”
This is an important difference between the traditional oppositional movememts in Turkey and the civil opposition that is newly developing. While the traditional oppositional movements argued that the “existing system had to be overthrown” the new opposition put the democratization of the State and society on its agenda. The traditional oppositional groups have gone through important changes and continue to do so. Striking examples for that is the development of a wing of renewal within the Virtue Party (FP) and the fact that Öcalan declared that he is in favour of a democratic Republic. However, it remains doubtful whether these statements are convincing and honest.
How to approach the Armenian problem?
Let say me something from the end right at the beginning. I propose to take the process started by the Turkish and Greek Foreign Ministers as an example and to approach the Turkish-Armenian relationship with the same logic. The most striking characteristic of the Turkish-Greek relationship today is the fact that none of the problems between them was solved. Cyprus, the problem of dominance in the Agean and the possession of some rocky islands there remain unsolved problems. But the logic has changed. These problems are no longer used as material to organize politics based on emnity and hatred. They are seen as obstacles for the creation of a higher unity between the two countries within the European Union. I think that a similar change of mind is inevitable in the Armenian-Turkish relations.
This example shows that the problem itsself and the apporach to it, the way it is handled, are two different things. From there I arrived at the conclusion that the “emnity” and “psychological war” that can be seen between Armenian and Turkish circles is not only the result of the volume of the problem among them. Even to a larger extent it may be the result of how the problems are dealt with. At this point I do not want to deal with the question of what kind of problems exist in the Turkish-Armenian relation (many articles have been written on this including the genocide), but how to tackle these problems. That is, my interest is rather the apporach to the problem than to establish the facts of the problem.
Is a rough description of the problem possible?
Even if there are some current problems such as Karabagh, the main problem in the Turkish-Armenian relations is “history.” Opposite to what is happening between Turkey and Greece the main obstacle in the Turkish-Armenian relations is not rooted in the present, but the past. History is a “shackle” for today. Turkey’s attitude towards the Karabagh-question, too, is mainly derived from history.
The subject of Karabagh and Armenia and Turkey’s politics towards it should be a point for a separate analysis. At this point I would like to restrict myself to the following statement. At this point Turkey has gone far beyond its usual preferences in foreign politics. Based on the old pan-turkish, pan-islamist dreams that are not expressed openly, that is by running into phantasies of being a great power based on “ethnic-religious brotherhood” it has become rather difficult to tackle the problem with an understanding of accepting the existing borders and building a brotherhood of ethnics and religions with the neighbours in the light of the principles of the Republic. This has resulted in the fact that there are no basic principles at all at the moment. Turkey is experiencing the confusion of what to do regarding this area since the Soviet Union broke down after 1990. The confusion is so strong that some members of the ruling elite organize a coup d’etat in Azerbeidschan while others prefer to denounce their actions. I don’t know whether it is a too harsh critisism to say that there is no much difference to the “expanding” logic of the Ittihat in particular when looking at the politics towards the Caucassus based on “ethnic-religious brotherhood”. By looking at Armenia with a population of less than 3 million as an “enemy” or “the other system” Turkey looses a chance of influence in the region, pushes Armenia towards Russia, is laying the grounds for destablization in the region and will see serious damage in economical terms.
What is the problem? Looking at it from outside, as a third person we might use the following formulation. The Armenian communities say that in 1915 the Ottoman Ittihat ve Terakki leadership destroyed the Armenians willingly according to a plan, that is they conducted a genocide against them. The genocide was the peak of repression against the Armenians that started at the end of the 19th century. The Turkish governments on the other hand say that most certainly there was no such politics and that the problem was restricted to the fact of resettling some population during the years of war. The deaths are the results of war conditions and not a wanted effect. Sure, there are other claims as well. For instance, it is alleged that the Armenians in Anatolia collaborated with Russians during the war, that they were seen as untrustable communities and, therefore, a decision for deportation was given. Besides a large number of Moslems was massacred by Armenians.
Looking at the problem from outside a very basic reaction would be “almost 100 years have passed since these events. It should not be that difficult to establish what really happened.” Indeed it is of cause possible to speak calmly about events that happened 100 years ago, if such a desire exists, and it should not at all be difficult to establish what really happened, despite some difficulties. The diifculty to talk to each other opens the way to use the question (even today) as a “tools of war” and “means for politics” in nowadays’ relations.
Well, why is a discussion among the parties not possible? The answer to this question is not easy and needs a discussion in itsself. But at least we can say that this is not too big a problem for the Armenian circles. The most serious reaction against a discussion of “what happened really in 1915” is shown by the governments of Turkey and “us” (people of my background). Parallel to the harsh reaction by the State the Turkish society, possibly affected by the State’s response, does not want to become part of the discussion and prefers to remain a spectator who does not interfer. In other words, the difficulty mainly stems from our (the State and society) attitude. The slow changes that I talked about, occur particularly at this point. There are, however, three points in the traditional responsive attitude that need more attention.
Firstly, at universities or semi-official insitutes you find a well established structure busy to “denounce the lie of the genocide.” You might also call this a “sector of employment.” In the publications of these institutions an openly racist and chauvenist language is used against the Armenians. Secondly, in these publications you do not find the slightest hint for a moral category that makes it possible to discuss mass-killings. There is no word of protest against mass-murder of humans for whatever reason, only because they belonged to a specific nation, culture or religion. It is no exaggeration to say that most of them reflect an atmosphere of “we do it again, if necessary.” Thirdly, none of the historians or social scientists that call themselves “critical” deals with this subject. Those who directly look into the subject are state employees.
In its current state the subject does not belong to the “world of science” but to an area the State is dealing with as part of its foreign politics. The basic literature on the subject of international importance have not been translated into Turkish. For example, the basic material in German, English, American, French or Austrian archives have been published, but none of them was translated into Turkish. Nobody in Turkey has a well founded knowledge of what these documents contain. It should be the first thing for people interested in the subject to present all information and documents known on this subject for the public.
Two conclusions can be drawn from this. Firstly, a serious “disinformation” continues in Turkey and this is the result of conscious politics. Secondly, the problem is experienced as “subject of struggle” between Armenian circles and the Turkish State. The Turkish society, the people of Turkey want to be outside this quarrel and prefer to remain as spectators. Disinterst seems to be the basic attitude. To my mind, this is the main problem. The disinterest that we as a society are showing, has resulted in the fact that the Armenian communities make no difference between the State of Turkey and its society and are using a general term “the Turks.”
The view when looking at it from outside
Looking at the problem from outside you see two great blocks. On the one side is the Armenian diaspora. Opposite to them is the “Turkish State” denying what has been done to them, looking at them as being “enemies”.; In general terms the Armenian diaspora is engaged in the following method: by using all opportunities they are trying to gain the support of international istitutions or States asking them to put pressure on Turkey to accept the fact of a genocide. These activities are mainly run by organizations active within the diaspora, but rather weak in Armenia itsself. It should not be much of a mistake to compare these activities of Armenian organzations abroad to the political activities of leftist organizations from Turkey among the Western public after the military coup of 1980. The difference is that due to the fact that the subject was disregarded in Turkey for years the term “Turk” has been loaded with a very negative meaning. Parallel to building up pressure on State level these organizations are running a propaganda campaign among the Armenian population that in general terms can be called “anti-Turkish.” It is another point for discussion as to which organization/s are running such campaigns openly, which ones are criticial of it and what the effects of such campaigns are among the diaspora’s silent majority.
At this point I would like to underline the fact they it is not correct to speak of a “single diaspora.” There are different organizations and different tendencies. The diaspora that appears to be a “single block” when you look at it from Turkey, almost seems to be non-existent if you look at it from the inside. But we can say that it is a generally accepted way of action to work on parliaments of Western countries and organizations in order that they take decisions regarding the genocide. That is, of course, highly understandable and nothing to wonder about. In the face of Turkey’s sharp resistance, these people who have become citizens of the society they are living in, want that an injustice done to them 85 years ago is recognized by their States or various institutions. That has to be seen as their basic democratic right. It does look right to believe that one could take away that right from them. However, to enter into a dialogue with them might stop them from being engaged in getting the injustice done to them be accepted indirectly.
An important point needs to be added. Much stronger than in Armenia itsself the fact of the genocide has a highly important function in creating the Armenian identity among the diaspora. The Armenians of Armenia, like every nation, have the chance of defining their identity according to “common cultural values” or their “State.” The fact of the genocide that is creating a common identity only joins the other two factors and is a third element. But the diaspora living in separate cultural environments and a great distance to each other, have big problems in protecting their identity. The cultural identity is under threat of getting lost in the process. This fact combined with the missing of an administrative structure such as a federation, autonomy (in other words the “State”) makes the genocide to the most importan factor of generating a “joint feeling of belonging.” It should not be much of an exaggeration to say that an Armenian youth of the third generation in Argentine can only be held together with youngsters in New Zealand or the Ukraine by the fact of the genocide. If you add Turkey’s attitude of insistingly ignoring the problem to the picture it can be understood why the subject of genocide is much more vivid in the diaspora than in Armenia.
The Armenian State should be dealt with completely separate from the diaspora. It should be added that the Armenian governments do not approve completely the way of conducting politics that is dominating most of the Armenian organizations. Armenian governments have at different times favoured different approaches to the problem. During the time of Petrasyon the political initiatives of the diaspora Armenians were not welcomed and relations became worse between the diaspora and Armenia. The government of today at least keeps silent on this subject. At this point it needs to be said that the influence of Armenian governments on the diaspora is rather weak. Armenia is a poor country and in many countries the expenses of their embassies have to be met by the Armenians in diaspora.
The other block is the State of the Turkish Republic. Turkey sees the initiative of the Armenians in diaspora to have parliaments in particular of Western countries pass resolutions on the genocide as part of “an international conspiracy” and tends to show sharp reactions. In this struggle both sides appear to have based their political work on gaining “third parties.” The “mediators” that have been drawn to one’s own side are asked to put pressure on the other side. In particular the Turkish government is building up lobbies to this end and spends millions of dollar. There is a serious handicap for this strategy. In order to have their own claim been accepted both sides have to accept wishes of the “mediator”, the “third party.”
From time to time the special interest of the “mediators”, their accounts become more important than the problem itsself. This may not be much of a problem for the Armenians in diaspora that have adopted this strategy. Turkey is suffering much more at this point. When, for instance France made its decision on the genocide dependent on the sale of helicopters and manipulated the Armenian communities as their citizens the Armenian communities did not take much harm. But Turkey might get under certain obligations in order that such a decision is not taken and might face various conditions imposed on itsself (i.e. France saying “when you buy my helicopter I will not let such a decision pass the Senate”). Leaving aside the fact that this event increased Turkish-Armenia tension it created much more constraint for Turkey.
What needs to be done?
No doubt, there is a problem. But the question is whether the attitudes of both sides and their approaches can be seen as contributions for a solution or not. Besides the danger that you leave everything to “third parties” there is another important dimension and that is that these approaches increase the tension among each other. It can even be argued that the politics persued until today added new problems rather than solving the old ones. The two stiff blocks remain in a stage of “psychological warfare.” What needs to be done in this situation? Is it not necessary to overcome the two blocks and their kind of logic? Is it possible? If the existence of two blocks prevent solutions then we certainly have to use our brains and think about ways how to overcome this.
How can the blocks of the Armenian organizations that want Turkey to accept the fact of a genocide by having Western countries put pressure on Turkey and the State of Turkey struggling for the “Armenian lie” to be revealed be overcome? In particular in a situation when the hardening of the blocks and the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a way out of this situation has turned the blocks into one of Turks again the one of Armenians? In order to overcome the situation of blocks the problem has to be redefined and discussions have to start on how to solve it. In order to reach this aim the parties have to stop using “mediators.” The only way out seem to be direct talks and discussions with each other.
If a direct dialogue on the question is started the first thing that will show up is the following: rather than a problem between Turks and Armenians there are people who want the problem to be solved and there are people in favour of the current situation to continue, because that is in their own interest. If we start to talk about the problem without expecting an immediate solution we shall see that it is inevitable to develop a language for our answers that makes it unimportant whether we are Turks or Armenians. To me the first thing that we have to do is to change our way of talking to each other and about history. We need a new approach, new perspectives, a new language that will enable us to talk directly to each other.
The question that we have to ask ourselves for the new approach and the new language is quite simple: do we want to solve the problem? Or do we see an advantage in the fact that the problems continue to exist? This is the reason why I showed the level the Turkish-Greek relations have reached as an example at the beginning of my essay. The problems between Turkey and Greece continue but the logic of their approaches has changed. We have to make sure that there is a change of mind in the Turkish-Armenian relations like the change in Turkish-Greek relations. The first step to take is to stop the problems that happened between the two peoples in the past being used for organizing emnity and hatred. It is also possible to talk about this problems with the aim of installing friendship and brotherhood. We are confronted with the alternative of either using the problems for emnity or seeing them as obstacles that have to be overcome on the way to friendship.
It will not have slipped the attention that I am not saying anything on what the problems are and how they can be solved. I am simply saying that it is possible to build up a different kind of relation to each other with the problems remaining very much the same. We can talk about the pains of the past in order to develop emnity, but if we are able to use it right we can also talk about them for building up friendship in the future. The experiences of the past are quite important for new friendships if that is what we want. In that case, the experiences of the past will either continue to be used for organizing emnity and hatred against each other, like it was done until today, or a new way of approach to the problem will be looked for to get out of the blind alley.
There is no other choice than entering into a dialogue
- The first fact that we have to accept is that the problems won’t be solved despite each other, but only with each other. Neither will the Turkish State accept the fact of a genocide by other States exposing pressure on Turkey nor will Turkey be able to change the mind of the Armenian communities concerning the genocide by spending millions of dollars for its “psychological warfare”. If there a people who believe that Turkey might be forced to accept the fact of a genocide by being announced “enemy” and pressed into a corner upon pressure from the West, I consider them to be mistaken. There are two reasons for that. First, Turkey is a stong country in the region and pretty important for the Western world. The Western States are quite aware of their own interests not to put an event that happened 85 years ago as an unalterable condition in front of Turkey. The PKK followed this strategy with tens of thousands warriors in the mountains. Besides its military force the PKK tried to solve the Kurdish question by Western States putting pressure on Turkey. We cannot know for certain, but there might have been an invisible support for the PKK from the Western States right from the start, but that support cannot be observed concerning the Armenian question. The result in the case of the PKK is quite obvious and painful for everybody.
If we look at the problem apart from our system of values and only in terms of “governing power” I believe that the Armenian organizations are in a weaker position (compared to the Kurdish question) when it comes to this point. Is it an exaggeration to say that the States of which the Armenians are citizens only at times of elections show a limited interest in the problem in order to catch the votes of the Armenian population? Secondly, I believe that even if we think that Turkey might accept the fact of a genocide through foreign pressure the Turkish-Armenian relations will not improve, but rather get worse. The history of the 19th and 20est century provides many examples for that. In history the Armenians were obliged to basicly follow a strategy based on Western aid. That had no other consequences than increasing “hatred and emnity” of the Ottoman State against the Armenian citizens.
For Turkey a similar situation exists. Those who believe that they can change the minds of Armenians about the injustice done to them in history, are wrong in my mind. In fact, at a time when other areas of taboo disappeared and basicly stopped to be a problem it may be expected that the Western world might step up efforts to have the genocide been put on the agenda. In addition, we have to see that the fact of Turkey being a candidate for membership in the EU has opened doors for this kind of pressure.
As a general rule we tend to see “outside pressure” in the framework of the imperialist politics of great States and reject it. We believe that the Ottoman Empire was split into pieces because of such pressure. The fact that we founded our national State “despite the great States” made our belief even firmer. Yet, “outside pressure” can be a negative or a positive factor according to its quality and the conditions at the time. Do we momentarily not mostly talk about the steps that need to be taken towards democracy in Turkey in connection with “outside pressure” from the European Union that we want to be a member of? The membership of the EU will also mean the end of an understanding that some points are “the internal affairs of our national State”. In particular in the field of human rights it has been generally accepted that other States can interfer if certain standards are not met. In particular since the events in the Kosovo and OSCE meeting of Istanbul this principle is firmly established. Turkey that wants to be a member of the Western world will not only be asked to take a position on abuses of today but also those in history. What I am trying to say is that we need to tackle the question of “outside pressure” in a different manner than we have done in the past.
It should not be wrong to say that as long as the parties continue to approach the problem in the current form and logic, the problem will get “harder” and continue for years on end. Nobody can guarantee that it will not get more and more difficult to find a way out of it, since the strategies deployed today offer a great area for movement to “third parties”. It is highly likely that if the Turkish and Armenian side do not accept each other’s existence and the fact that they have to solve the problem together, the interests of “third partners” they invited to the problem will determine the process.
Therefore, the Turkish and Armenian sides have to make up their minds. Will they look for a solution despite each other or with each other? The Armenian diaspora has to answer the question of whether they want to solve the question despite of Turkey and its people or with Turkey and the people in Turkey. For the Turkish society the situation is quite clear: do we want to solve the problem with the Armenians or despite their existence? Are we able to solve the problem by continuing to see them as “enemies”, trusting in the power of our State and persuing politics of denial?
- It should worth while to take up the point of how much damage the politics of denying even the existence of a problem has created for Turkey as a separate study. The first and most important point is that by not speaking about history democracy was prevented from being installed with all institutions and rules. If this society wants to establish its relations on a democratic fundament it has to address its past in the same manner. If you do not talk about a number of problems in the past and do not let them come out in the open these subjects will continue to be a problem in the present time. While trying to escape from history it will tie up your feet. Had we been able to talk about what happened in the past the Kurdish question of today would not have been experienced in the dimensions of today.
It is obvious that even the slightest opening on the subject will bring an atmosphere of peace to the Caucassus and will give way for Turkey’s desired economic and political opening to Mid-Asia. The most important condition for that is the perception that the foreign policies cannot be conducted on the basis of “ethnic-religious brotherhood”. Since we based our politics towards Mid-Asia after the fall of the Sovietunion on “ethnic-religious brotherhood” our neighbours could only remember the painful history with the politics of the Ittihat-government. Furthermore the understanding of “ethnic-religious brotherhood” is in contrast to the understanding of foreign politics in the Republic. ( )
I don’t see much sense in going into the area of Turkey getting a great support from the Armenians, benefits for the tourist industry and increase its power in the region by politics of opening and dialogue on an international level. I doesn’t seem right to me to open an acount of “benefit and losses” when it comes to the necessity of compensating injustice in history. But if there are some people who would like to make that count they will have to see that openings on the point will bring great benefits for Turkey.
- It can be seen that the most basic pre-condition for a dialogue is an intensified intervention of the Turkish society. The society has to start talking about the subject independent of the attitude of its State. Like Ertugrul Özkök wrote with great braveness that we have to “take possession of the problem as our own problem” when the 4 Armenian were extradited from Kars. As long as the Turkish society does not become a party of the subject it is indeed difficult to expect serious changes. As shown in the above presented picture the Turkish society is not included among the parties to the problem. Therefore, do the Armenian circles see the attitude of the Turkish State and the society as one and the same and believe that the dominating tendency in Turkish society corresponds with the State politics.
The attitude of the people in Turkey is better described by “disinterest” than categories such as “denial” etc. To understand the “real” attitude of society towards the problem one has to look at “private life”. We do not express it loudly and officially, but in private places, stories that are transmitted from one generation to the other, the collective memory of society takes a serious place. Is there anyone who has not heard the stories that are told mainly in the East and Southeast of Turkey? I believe that even if these private stories are told and talked about on a more general level it will have an impact on the solution of the problem.
- The main problem is the lack of dialogue between the communities of Turkey and the Armenians. The Armenian circles act according to the picture of Turks and Turkey they have in their minds. Likewise the Turkish society acts according to a picture of Armenians that has nothing in common with reality. As someone who had the chance to get to know both sides I maintain that neither the picture of Armenian in the heads of Turkey and Turks nor the picture of Turks and Turkey in the heads of Armenians has much to do with reality. Not knowing each other has created prejudices that are hard to overcome and this has only prepared the ground for new problems. You can only correct prejudices by “talking to and getting to know each other”. Let me give one example: many Armenians living the United States believe that they are not able to travel to Turkey with their American passports. Quite a number of them are afraid of being arrested or that something aweful might happen to them. Stories told by those who were brave enough to visit Turkey have become almost the most important source of information. Those who believe that we can take a step towards the solution of the problem as long as these artificial and meaningless walls of prejudices are not torn down are mistaken.
- Opting for a dialogue means a serious decision to be taken by the diaspora. As members of a community that lived through great pains in history they feel a certain distance to those they see as the people responsible for that. As the writer of these lines I can feel this over and over again. It is an understandable feeling of the Armenians who believe that great injustice was done to them in history and who do not see the slightest “understanding” as to what has been done to them to generalize those who did this to them as “the Turks”. That is, I believe that the “Turkish image” formed in the Armenian communities was directly “fed and produced” by us.
If you do not see the slightest difference in the opposite group regarding the injustice that has been done to you, you will see all of them in the same way and judge them accordingly. Therefore, it can partly be understood that the Armenian communities generalize the “Turks” and possess feelings of “revenge” against them. But among the diaspora Armenian organizations there are some that have placed these feelings as part of their current politics and have chosen (willingly or unwillingly) the way of organizing emnity against the Turkish people. However, if you show the Turkish people of today as the enemy you will shut down the door on positive approaches that might come from the people of Turkey. This situation would furnish people in Turkey, whether they are in favour of or against a solution of the problem, with the possibility to hide behind the politics of the Armenian organizations instead of taking a step towards solution. It does not need to be added that today’s citizens of Turkey cannot be judged as “guilty” or the “murderers”. Nothing can be gained by the image of “the killing Turk” or Turkish emnity. The way to solution does not include to see the people of today as “guilty or killers”. On the contrary this attitude will block the way for possible solutions.
- A similar situation applies to us. We feel quite disturbed to be accused as “killers”, believe that we do not have a direct relation to what happened in history and rightfully get quite angry when we are presented as “criminals” or “murderers” because of these events. Whereas we have to see that the true reason for that is the fact that we as a society avoid to speak about what happened in history. By escaping history we shall not be saved of being brandmarked as “killers”. The only way out is to put a distance between us and what happened in history. If in history someone committed murders in our name we cannot be saved from being accused, if we do not succeed to put a distance between those who committed the killings and ourselves.
- I reckon that even though the characteristics may be different, both societies went through a great trauma. The only way societies that underwent traumatas can get rid of it is to face the events that lead to the trauma. In other words, Turks and Armenians can only rescue themselves from the effects of what happened in the past – even though different for both of them – if they start to talk to each other and discuss it. To say it bluntly, because of the trauma that they experienced Turks and Armenians have serious psychological problems. The treatment requires that they face each other. If the Armenians do not openly express their opinions on Turks and the Turks do not speak freely about Armenians they won’t be able to establish healthy tomorrows. The way to get rid of the trauma and to build a healthy and democratic future has to pass the stage of facing history and requires that the people who are a party to the events face each other.
It should not be wrong to describe the dominant attitude at present as “we are not interested in the friendship among the two peoples”. I am aware that within the Armenian diaspora an attitude exists saying that “friendship with Turks is unimportant, we only want them to accept the fact of genocide, the rest is of no interest to us”. Quite a large number of people believe that because of the events in history the bridges between the two people have been torn down, the friendship among them was seriously wounded and will never recover. Therefore, the only hope is, even if the emnity against Turks will increase, to make Turkey accept the fact of a genocide by foreign states putting pressure on it. In Turkey there is a similar attitude that says that it is most important that the Armenian stop telling the lie of a genocide, that it is impossible to be friends with an Armenian and that “the rest is of no interest to us”.
For two important reasons I believe that we have to abandon this politics. The first is the fact that the communities who cannot free themselves from the trauma they lived through, will have no chance of building a democratic future. For this reason friendly relations between Turkey and Armenia are an inevitable must. Secondly I believe that in connection with this, because there are Armenians living in this country and because Armenia is a neighbouring State the perspective remaining uninterested in friendship and prolonging emnity will produce serious problems. Friendship between the two peoples is the only key to solve the problems that both peoples possess.
- The most important condition for a start is, whatever the final name for it may be, to find a moral fundament that accepts that the things that happened are a great tragedy that needs to be condemned. There is no chance of entering a dialogue or talk about history if you don’t show an understanding or try to understand the pain of the others and if you do not condemn mass-murder. If we are not able to say that it is a crime against humanity if, whatever their offspring might be, people are liquidated because of their religion, culture or ethnic roots we do not have a chance of talking about history. If we as the generation of today are not able to distance ourselves from killings that were conducted almost a hundred years ago, regardless of who the victims were and in whose names these killings were carried out, there must be something strange. Therefore, we are in need for a language that shows that the pain lived through in the past and created by a joint history is our common pain and that we are able to share it.
There can only be one meaning, if we defend and try to justify the liquidiation of either Muslims or Christians of a hundred years ago and that is that for us the term of human rights and crime against humanity has no meaning. Humans who are unable to distance themselves from killings that were committed in the past, will find it even more difficult to distance themselves from killings of today.
- As a result of the fact that Turkey denied the existence of a problem the genocide has to an increasing extent become a myth, a symbol among the Armenian communities. Beyond being a scientific term genocide is gaining a “holy” meaning. Therefore, the talks and discussions on the subject are restricted to two sentences: “Was it a genocide or not?” “Do you accept the fact of a genocide or not?” I believe that it will not take us very far if we take these questions as the starting point for a dialogue between the Turkish and Armenian communities, because the actual problem of the Turkish society is a lack of information. Before finding a name for what happened one has to know what happened. Therefore, the attitude of “first accept the genocide and then we can talk” is not very realistic. It has to be agreed that these people have the right first to know what happened, if we find it important to enter a dialogue and discussion with the people in Turkey. It does not seem to be very logic to ask people to accept something, if they don’t properly know what really happened.
From Turkey’s point of view one has to see that if Turkey really wants to solve the problem the solution will only be possible if messages are given that the great pain that the Armenians lived through have been understood and that we want to share this pain.
- An important pre-condition for all of this to happen is to stop regarding talks and discussions of the problem in Turkey in categories of “crime”. The most important element is that individuals and circles that have views on what happened in 1915 different to the official State politics can freely speak and express their ideas in Turkey. One of the most important conditions for a dialogue is that the problem can be taken up as a usual problem in Turkey. That is, it has to be seen that we are not forced to think about the event of 1915 along the lines of briefings and decisions by the Foreign Ministry. The State has neither the right to put an embargo or ban on what its citizens think about events in history. We have to succeed in talking about history in the same normality as people express different views on the point of cutting down inflation. Like it is important to have different discussions on inflation in order to find solution the same applies for this situation.
- I believe that the problem for the State of Turkey is not how to term the events of 1915. The real problem is that it is unknown what will happened once you’ve said “yes, this was genocide”. The following lines of a Turkish citizens who felt disturbed by the actions of Armenians in April 2000 are striking: “It is an inevitable must that Turkey responds to these accusation on the world platform… If that isn’t done it will become reality what the Armenians want: beg their pardon, financial compensation, demand for land or Turkey being thrown out of the EU and that every Turk has to walk around with a spot on his forehead.” Without exaggeration it can be said that the fears expressed here are widespread. The question of how to term what happened in 1915 is considered in the context of monetary compensation, demand for land or dangers such as Turkey being kicked out of the EU. In this logic an Armenian who wants Turkey to be a member of the EU, who does not demand land from Turkey and does not see the Turks of today as “killers”, but who wants that they distance themselves from what was done in their name in history, does not exist. Whereas it is not an exaggeration either to say that the silent majority among the diaspora Armenians think this way. This is the point where dialogue becomes meaningful and important.
- It is a serious point for discussion of how to lift the pains that were lived through in history. The expectations of the Armenian communities may be summarized as follows: a great majority awaits to be asked for pardon. They want that the bad things done to them are acknowledged by the “Turks” and their governments. The Armenian communities long to hear that. I think, that even if this attitude does not completely solve the problem it will serve to lift most of the emnity and tension among each other. Compensation for the losses is another expectation that might not be as strong as the first one. The question of “territory” is important in this context. I belong to those who believe that the “demand of land” was misused as a means of the “psychological propaganda”. That is, I believe that those who did not want this problem to be solved intendedly showed a subject that they themselves knew not to be there, as a real threat.
The reason for that is for once a practical one meaning that as a general rule the subject of “land and border” is dealt with in the area of war and question of power. It is impossible to discuss this problem under the heading of “right and justice”. Those who believe that such a problem still exists do consider that this might need a war against Turkey. Those who use the subject of Armenians demanding territory as a means of propaganda claiming it to be a “serious threat” do of course know that the Armenian population in Turkey is not half as much as Kadiköy. Secondly, the point is quite clear in terms of international law. The events took place on the territory that fell under the reign of the Ottoman State. There was no occupation of an Armenian State with certain boundaries that can be called independent and sovereign. Therefore, I believe that those Turks and Armenians who claim that there is a question of territory only use this in order to keep up the emnity and tension among the sides. In this context I would like to stress that those who argue that there is a strong wish among the diaspora Armenians to get territory are mistaken or rather knowingly telling lies.
At the moment it is diffocult to say something of how the injustice that was experienced in history will finally be lifted. Germany that already during its foundation accepted the fact of a holocaust against the Jews only 50 years later agreed to pay those who were forced to work in their camps. There is a big gap between accepting the fact of a genocide and bringing its material and moral results to a satisfactory solution. Still, I believe that this has to be accepted as a general principle. The problem has to be defined under the joint acceptance of the Turks and Armenian communities. A great injustice has happened in history. Besides being murdered hundreds of thousands Armenians were deprived of their places and homeland. Their possessions and belongings were plundered. It is inevitable to show an attitude that accepts this injustice. The question of how that can be compensated in a way that pleases both sides has to be dealt with in a manner that will satisfy both sides.
- The problem at the moment is not pre-formulate the best ways for a solution. It is necessary to talk about the subject and to discuss it, but there are other things that need to be done first. There is a strategy in diplomacy gathered under the heading of “measures to increase trust”. That is what needs to be done first by both sides. On top of these measures comes the remembrance of our Armenian citizens that are a part of our history and who we have been made to forget. We have to win back this history that with its architecture, artistic values, literature and music has been taken away from us. Anatolia belongs to all of us, Armenians, Greeks, Turks and Kurds alike. The richness of Anatolia was created by all of us. We have to win back the reality of the Armenian citizens that was wiped out from history.
In this context it may be very simple to re-open holy places of the Armenians that remain as ruins of memory for visits and restore these historical monuments together with Armenians, to give these works back their old names, to follow the traces of Armenian history in Anatolia and recall them for our historical memory. The history of the Armenian from Anatolia is not only the history of Armenians it is a history that we lived through together, it is our history. Those who get poor by discounting this history and wiping it out of our memory, are we, not the Armenians. By discounting this history we harm ourselves.
I believe that it would be an important gesture to allow Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire those who want to come back to the places they were born, to do so. We should not forget that when we changed from the Ottoman Empire to be a republic we were not registered as new citizens. Our citizenship of the Ottoman Empire was automatically changed to a citizenship of the Republic. Despite treaties that were signed we should accept Armenians that were forcibly driven out of Anatolia as our citizens. If there is anybody among them (knowing that there isn’t) who wants to return we should symbolicly provide such an opportunity. That will also mean that we regain our richness in Anatolia and a measures against our moral and cultural poverty.
The situation that existed until today has to change. On the one hand, Armenians who only address the governments of Turkey urging them to accept the fact of a genocide. On the other side the State of Turkey that – for one reason or another – says “never”. We have to get out of this strange dualism. Therefore we have to change the way we talk about history. The society of Turkey finally has to speak up. We as the people of today’s Turkey are neither one and the same thing as our State nor do we want anyone to move towards us as if this were the case. In addition, we do not want to be pressed into only “accept or not” positions. But we have to see that the first conditon is to put a distance between ourselves and the killings that were committed in history in our names. If we do not manage to do so we cannot avoid to be found “guilty&.#8221;
If we as a society do not speak about the great disasters of the past we won’t be able to build a democratic tomorrow. If in the Turkey of today events like Susurluk occur it is because we are not aware of the “teskilat-i mahsusa” in the past. If there is a Kurdish question that remains unsolved it is because we did not openly talk about the Armenian genocide. A society that makes events of history a taboo and puts them under prohibition cannot found a democratic future. The way to make Turkey the democratic state of law, that we are longing for, has to start with an account of the past. Those who are unable to talk about history cannot build their future.
If we start to distance ourselves we shall see that there is another history that we share with the Armenians. 1915 was not the only year that we lived together. There is another joint history that we can build the present upon and that was formed on Anatolian soil. In addition, not everybody was a killer in 1915. There were people who protected Armenians, hid them, saved their lives and by doing so put their own lives at risk. Those who were found guilty in the 1919 Istanbul trail against Ittihat ve Terakki were found guilty because of the testimony of gouverneur of the Ottoman Empire, commanders of the army, civil servants, priests, in short Turkish citizens.
In addition, if we talk about the subject in private do we not tell hundreds, thousands of stories? Why should we not talk aloud about these private stories and voice our private memory? Why should it not become our “officially” known history? Almost one hundred years have passed since. And the Turks and Armenians of today are not obliged to talk about the facts that made them enemies in the same manner. A change of language is necessary. Why should we approach each other in the shadow of our grandfathers, with their shape of mind and fears? There is no way of defending what happened a hundred years ago in whoever’s name and not to condemn the killings or to explain why we hate each other. I believe that in the year 2000 we possess sufficient reason and moral fundament to call killings that were committed in the past, regardless of who did it in whose name, a crime against humanity.