Don't Forget! Unutma, Unutursan Tekrarlarsın!
December 1, 2008
scholar Taner Akçam, in an essay first published in Turkey's Taraf,
argues against the view that "good neighbor" Armenia and the "bad"
diaspora have opposing views on the Armenian Genocide. "Armenians
everywhere agree that what occurred in 1915 was genocide and they feel
that it needs to be acknowledged by Turkey," he writes. There are,
however, differences among Armenians (wherever they may live) in what
acknowledgement should entail. Mr. Akçam writes that Turks must figure
out whether Turkey will make a grudging apology like Japan did after the
Second World War, fully embrace its history and restore the dignity of
the victims through reparations like Germany did, or something in
is no doubt that Abdullah
Gül's visit to Yerevan was an historical step, and we
should applaud both the Turkish leader and Armenian president
Serge Sargsian for
having shown the courage to take it. It was a big move on their part,
and it has cracked open the door to a new beginning in Turkish-Armenian
relations. It looks like many people will be able to pass through that
only seven years ago, in February 2001, when my statement on a
television program, that Turkey should apologize to Armenians, created a
firestorm of sentiment against me. Now, after Abdullah Gül's visit,
retired Ambassador Volkan
Vural repeated the same words and stated, "We should
apologize," and not a single objection was raised. The words seemed to
have been greeted with general acceptance (Taraf,
Oct. 18, 2008). As this example shows, with the passage of time, Turkey
seems to have made a lot of progress on the subject.
Ergenekon investigation and arrests play a special role in this
progress. If the arrests had not been made, we would have witnessed a
serious campaign for the hearts and minds of the public being waged
against Abdullah Gül's visit. For the past few years in Turkey the
campaigns against the Armenians and 1915 have been led by Ergenekon.
It was Ergenekon followers who organized the memorial anniversary for
the execution of mayor of
the marches for Talat Pasha in Berlin,
and the "war of law" in Switzerland.
Again, it was they who mobilized the public against the conference we
organized in Istanbul in 2005,
who dragged us into the courtrooms,
and who drove the campaign against Hrant Dink all the way to murder.
Ergenekon's use of such a painful episode in history, 1915, as a way to
confer legitimacy upon itself in society, is extremely significant and
meaningful. The connection between those who enforced a policy of
annihilation against Armenians in the past and an organization like
Ergenekon that organizes hostility against the Armenians today is a
subject that deserves to be given a great deal of attention.
this short piece, I would like to take up some points that figure
prominently in many of the writings that have purported to support Mr.
Gül's visit, but which I nevertheless view as misguided. Many of these
writings, written by our own enlightened thinkers, are nevertheless
poorly conceived. Representing some of the first influential ideas to
make it "through the newly opened door" they have the potential for
influencing public opinion and for that reason it is imperative that
they be critically examined now. Besides presenting a simple critique, I
want to create a framework on the subject of how the matter should be
approached in the near future. My hope is that I will succeed in laying
a stronger foundation to undergird future discourse on the subject
we examine the general premise behind all of the writings issued thus
far, we see that there are serious differences between the Armenian
state and the Armenian diaspora, particularly on the issue of the
perception of Turkey and the attitude that should be taken toward
history. According to what's been written thus far, the Armenian state
and the diaspora constitute practically polar opposites. The diaspora is
defined as a singular, monolithic entity, and the word diaspora itself
is given a negative connotation. The primary reason why the diaspora is
"negative" and "bad" is the position it takes on "insisting on
recognition of the Genocide." Therefore, in the hands of our
intellectuals, the demand for "recognition of the Genocide" and
"insistence" on it has become the bogeyman. According to their logic,
the more the diaspora stays away from "demanding recognition of the
Genocide" and/or refrains from insisting on it as much as possible, the
According to the articles being written, the Armenian state has not been
very insistent on the subject of "recognition of the Genocide." As the
last visit illustrated, our neighbor Armenia is very "good"; it
reflected its "goodness" by refraining from use of the word "Genocide"
and by not demanding "recognition" during the course of the visit.
However, the Armenian state is seriously in the grip of and under the
influence of the "bad" diaspora. According to these writers, in order to
relieve Turkish-Armenian tension, "our good neighbor Armenia" must be
saved from the "bad" diaspora.
biggest reason why Armenia has fallen under the influence of the "bad"
diaspora, so their reasoning goes, is because of poorly conceived
Turkish policies. As a result, in order to save Armenia from the
diaspora, Turkey must relinquish its bad policies and foster "good"
relations with Armenia. Consequently, Armenia will be able to distance
itself from the bad policies of the diaspora, policies like "insisting
on recognition of genocide." In other words, the key to resolving the
matter is in the "genocide-demanding bogeyman." In order to resolve the
issue, this demand must disappear.
intellectuals in our country who share these views describe
Turkish-Armenian relations after 1991 in this way. The first president
of Armenia, Levon
Ter-Petrossian, was soft on the issue of the genocide.
He didn't "insist" on its recognition and supported more open policies
toward Turkey. For this reason, he had positioned himself against the
"bad" diaspora. The reason why Mr. Ter-Petrossian fell from power was
that Turkey hadn't supported him. In conclusion, Mr. Ter-Petrossian's
loss occurred on an axis between "those who demanded recognition of the
Genocide, and those who did not," and the "bad" policies we followed
cost him his administration.
believe that we need to evaluate this viewpoint and repair it. If you
sincerely want to resolve this issue, it is imperative that you possess
information about each side that resembles the truth. Just to give one
example, Mr. Ter-Petrossian's fall from power had little to do with
Turkey's policies or its position regarding the issue of genocide. The
main reasons for his loss had to do with deteriorating economic
conditions (especially irregularities in administration) and his
insistence on moving toward a quick resolution of the Karabakh matter.
is even more important than this is that after Mr. Ter-Petrossian, the
policy of the Armenian state towards Turkey has not actually changed. It
has in essence stayed virtually the same. The team of
both in personnel and in policy, has continued the same political line
of the Ter-Petrossian period. The best example of consistency in
personnel is Vartan Oskanian,
the minister of foreign affairs from the Kocharian period. From the
mid-1990s of the Ter-Petrossian administration, Mr. Oskanian performed a
very important role in foreign relations and even took on the position
of [deputy] minister of foreign affairs in the final years.
essence of the policies followed by all of the administrations in
Armenia following 1991 can be summarized thus: "establishment of
diplomatic relations without preconditions." One should not forget that
Armenian president Serge Sargsian, the person who invited Mr. Gül in the
first place, was Mr. Kocharian's candidate and won the election in
opposition to Mr. Ter-Petrossian. This consistency in policy can be
deduced from the fact that Mr. Gül's invitation came from a member of
the Kocharian team. In contrast, Mr. Ter-Petrossian did not openly
support the invitation; in fact, he took a very critical view of it,
stating that it was "premature." (The fact that he's part of the
political opposition no doubt played a big role in this.)
point I am trying to make is that possessing information and knowledge
about Armenian political developments and about the opposing sides that
is accurate, is crucial to moving away from the wrong kinds of
presumptions that have been voiced in Turkey. If you represent one side
of a problem and you are seeking a solution to that problem, you need to
possess at least as much information about your opponent as you possess
about yourself. If you do not have a detailed picture of the other side,
you will never be able to negotiate a solution.
There is another reason that the division between "bad diaspora" and
"good neighbor Armenia" needs to be examined more closely.
First, I need to state that intellectuals who have dealt with the
subject, myself included, carry a great deal of responsibility for the
creation of an image of "good neighbor" Armenia and "bogeyman and bad"
diaspora, in Turkey. Intellectuals who have been closely involved with
the subject and written many articles on it have, as a body, insisted on
a definition that required the diaspora to be "bad" and contributed to
the creation of this image in public opinion. (This was a subject of
endless conversation with Hrant. At the very least I could state on his
behalf that "Hrant was perhaps misunderstood," but I'm not sure it would
do any good.)
problem in my opinion arises from this source: Intellectuals in Turkey
who deal with the subject matter live under an incredible amount of
psychological pressure. One of the most important points of this
psychological pressure has to do with the term "Armenian," which is
practically an insult in Turkey, and the "demand on the subject of
genocide" by "bad" Armenians. The prevalence of such a negative and
pejorative view of the term "Armenian" and the way the words "demand on
the subject of genocide" have been perceived as practically curse words
placed our intellectuals in a serious impasse and continue to do so to
this day. Our intellectuals reacted in the way that any human being
would naturally react and continue to react this way. Instead of openly
confronting the mentality that defines Armenians as "negative,"
"bogeyman," or "bad" and instead of explaining that a desire for
"recognition of genocide" is a completely understandable democratic
demand, they accepted the main lines of the reasoning that undergirds
this aggressive mentality. According to the defensive strategies
developed by our intellectuals, the "bad" Armenians aren't the ones in
Turkey or the ones in neighboring Armenia. The "bad" Armenians are the
ones in the diaspora because the ones who keep "insisting on recognition
of the Genocide" are actually they. In other words, instead of directly
stating that the problem has to do with defining Armenians as "the
bogeyman" and "bad," they accepted those definitions but changed the
object of those definitions; instead of saying Armenians are "bad," they
stated that the diaspora is "bad." In conclusion, the mentality that
predominates in Turkey continued unabated in our intellectuals and
continues to do so.
my opinion, the problem starts here. If we do not question this dominant
way of thinking and make no changes to this mentality, if we merely
change the object connected to the adjective "bad," we will not find a
solution to the tensions between Turks and Armenians. What we need to
see is that there is absolutely no difference between calling an
Armenian "bad" and a "bogeyman" and doing the same to the diaspora. If
we continue to use those adjectives, "bad" and "bogeyman," to define
something, we have merely slid the issue sideways; the problem will
remain exactly as it was. It will not budge, not only because "bad" and
"bogeyman" are still being used but also because "demanding that
genocide be recognized" is not something that is inherently wrong.
may possess different opinions about the demand for "recognition of
genocide." You may object to the use of that term to describe an
historical injustice or you may support the use of a different phrase or
term to describe it, but there is nothing "bad" about making the demand
itself. It is a very democratic demand. We need to understand that there
is very little difference between a mindset that views a demand for
"recognition of genocide" as "negative" or "bad" and a mindset that
considers open discourse about our history as "negative" or "bad." The
boundary between those who are enraged over individuals demanding
"recognition of genocide" and those who become equally enraged over
persons who insist that we need to confront our history, is extremely
thin. It is impossible know where one stops and the other begins.
Additionally, it makes no sense to draw a line between Armenia and the
diaspora on the subject of "recognition of genocide." According to the
thought processes that prevail among our intellectuals, there are deep
differences between Armenia and the diaspora on the subject of the
policies toward recognition of the genocide. Everyone who deals with the
subject in Turkey needs to know that when it comes to acknowledging the
genocide, Armenia and the diaspora are on the same page. It is improper
to draw a distinction between the sides on an axis of "those who insist
on recognition and those who do not." It needs to be emphasized right
here, right now, that Armenians everywhere agree that what occurred in
1915 was genocide and they feel that it needs to be acknowledged by
we are going to discuss differences regarding the issue of "recognition
of genocide" then it is safe to say that there will in fact be
differences to be faced in the near future. These differences will
become apparent, however, from the differences of opinion that will
arise from within both Armenia and the diaspora. The main questions are
going to be: "What does it mean to recognize genocide? What do we want
recognized? On the issue of addressing an historical injustice, what
steps that Turkey might take will be considered sufficient?" Depending
on the answers to these questions, there is a very high probability that
the approaches both within Armenia and the diaspora will differ.
subject has another serious side. The ramifications of these questions
and their answers go far beyond just Armenians in either Armenia or the
diaspora. These questions first and foremost are directed at Turks and
Turkey. Those in Turkey who agree that there is a problem here and who
seek a resolution will, depending on the answers to those questions
above, form different positions. These questions affect Turks, Kurds,
Armenians, and anyone who takes a side regarding the issue. As a result,
the groups that will form based upon the different answers to those
questions will not turn on just an "Armenian" or "Turkish" axis.
Ultimately, we are dealing with something beyond ethnic identity; we are
dealing with the question of how to respond to historical violations of
human rights. This is the crux of the issue.
main question facing us all is, how are we going to confront our
history? Before us are two different opposite points on an array that is
colored by the Japanese and German models. The Japanese example can be
characterized by the half-hearted expression, "Hey, no hard feelings?"
This kind of semisincere expression possesses no societal-cultural or
political meaning. Confronting one's history in such a manner, from a
societal standpoint, fails to attain the level of a true democratic
accounting for events. With this kind of position, no progress on a
democratic scale in society can be possible. If in connection with
Turkish-Armenian tensions, Turkey were to apologize in the same manner
as Japan, in connection with the crimes that were committed by the
Japanese during World War II, would that be considered sufficient? Is
that what we meant and what we are expecting when we talk about
confronting and acknowledging our history?
German example, by contrast, constitutes the other end of the pendulum
swing. In that example, to simply identify past events as genocide would
not be enough: acceptance of all consequences that arise from that
acknowledgment, including providing reparations if necessary, would be
required. To follow in Germany's footsteps, Turkey would have to
identify the events of 1915 as genocide and make a serious effort to
compensate all who were injured by those events both emotionally and
must see that what lies before us is a period that will be marked by
very serious, very deep discussions about where in that Japanese-German
continuum we are going to position ourselves. Between these two opposite
points there are dozens, yes, dozens, of other possible choices. There
will be many factions, many lines of positions that will form around all
these choices in Armenia, in the diaspora, and in Turkey. The question
for everyone should be: How is Turkey going to confront its history and
in what manner will it acknowledge the events of 1915? We can support
this question with other questions too: Can confronting one's history
consist of taking a position regarding a single event? What is the
relevance for today of confronting one's past? Is it possible to
confront one's history before societal relations are fully democratized,
for example the problems faced by citizens of Armenian ancestry in
Turkey today? What connection can be made between confronting one's
history and acknowledging the cultural-democratic demands of the Kurds?
What lies at the heart of this question and others is the relationship
between an honest assessment of history and the creation of democratic
relations within a society.
would like to pause here and say without equivocation that I am
approaching this solely from the point of Turkish-Armenian tensions. It
is possible to go far beyond the Armenian issue when engaging in an open
and frank debate about confronting one's history and addressing past
injustices. Historically, no matter what nation or ethnic group is the
subject of examination, one must debate the injustices from the same
perspective. For instance, during the fall of the Ottoman state, the
injustices suffered by Muslims in the Balkans and Caucasus and other
Christian groups, especially Greeks and Assyrians, or those suffered by
the Jews, Kurds, or Alevis during the Republican era (or those of
leftist political leanings, most recently), deserve serious debate. This
must be done without placing each group on the same standing, without
pitting one group against another, and by acknowledging the differences
among them. It is critically important that we not engage in a mixing of
historical injustices where one injustice is presented to counter
another injustice, or various injustices are pitted against each other
in competition and attempts are made to minimize one injustice's level
of horror, if you will, by pointing out the injustice committed against
another. Clearly, all of these issues need to be the subject of another
society's confrontation with its own history is directly related to its
issues with freedom and justice. The freedom aspect of the subject is
widely known but that related to justice is not. Many of our
intellectuals in Turkey assert that the Armenian problem is essentially
one involving freedom of thought. According to this view, the main
problem lies in the restrictions on the subject matter, particularly,
though not exclusively, our criminal laws. If these laws were to be
repealed, leading to a more democratic Turkey where the subject could be
freely discussed, so the argument goes, the crux of the problem will
have been resolved. One of the reasons why there is so much anger toward
those who "insist on recognition of genocide" is that the problem has
been defined simply as a matter of freedom of expression, not justice.
fact, confronting one's history isn't limited to the ability to speak
freely about injustices of the past. One could argue that actually the
relationship with freedom is an indirect one. The process of healing a
past injustice must take place within the realm of justice, not freedom.
Undoubtedly, freedom is necessary, if for no other reason than to allow
the open expression of thought needed to define the limits of the
justice that will heal injustice. Today, however, in many democratic
nations in the West, there are freedoms. Injustices of the past are
freely discussed, but the wounds from the past continue because justice
remains undone. All of the powerful states' relationships with former
colonies; the massacres and genocidal episodes from colonial periods;
slavery in America, etc., all of these remain unresolved in the realm of
even if the "Armenian problem" were to be discussed freely in Turkey it
would nevertheless remain unresolved.
seeking to resolve past injustice, the kind of "justice" you need has
two different characteristics. The first is "retributive justice," which
primarily targets the particular perpetrator group responsible for the
injury and pain. The foundation for this kind of justice is to identify,
prosecute, and punish those individuals who were involved in and
responsible for the events in question. The second kind of justice is
"restorative (constructive) justice." This kind of justice focuses on
those who were victims of the events and those who are left behind in
their wake. Healing the victims' wounds is the goal of this kind of
justice. To heal past injustice, we must demand something more than
freedom. We must start a serious debate on the "boundaries of justice."
Almost 100 years have passed since the events in question; therefore
"retributive justice" is no longer practical or relevant. However, the
means by which "restorative (constructive) justice" may be reached is
indeed a subject of serious debate. It goes without saying that a
society's debate over the "boundaries of justice" has an inherent aspect
of freedom-building and democratization.
asked why one must confront history, we present three different reasons.
First of all, we must do it in order to restore the human dignity of the
victims of large-scale massacres. Every large-scale massacre begins by
removing the targeted group from humanity. That group's human dignity is
trampled on, and they begin to be defined by biological terms like
"bacteria," "parasite," "germ," or "cancerous cell." The victims aren't
usually defined only as something that needs to be removed from a
healthy body: they are socially and culturally demeaned, their humanity
removed. So, prior to being slaughtered, they are removed from humanity.
Our humane duty is to restore the dignity of these victims and show them
the respect they deserved as human beings. Reparations and other similar
moves to heal past injustice work to restore the victims' dignity and
gain meaning as a way of repairing emotional wounds.
Second, we confront our history so that the opposing sides can learn to
live together in peace and freedom. If past adversaries share the same
geography and are condemned to living together, they should reconstruct
a mutual respect. Stability and peace can be constructed upon such a
foundation of respect. Adversaries can live together in respect, peace,
and stability only when both sides create an environment where history
can be discussed and debated. If we are discussing our own region,
confronting history is a precondition for establishing regional peace
Third, we confront history in order to prevent similar events from ever
happening again in the future. After the Jewish Holocaust, the slogan
"never again" was often repeated. The past ten years have shown,
nevertheless, that large-scale massacres continue in human history, in
the middle of Europe and especially in Africa. On the subject of
large-scale massacres, no one can deny that the Middle East resembles a
box of dynamite, ready to explode at any moment. If a nation-state,
especially one that is guilty of having organized a large-scale massacre
in the past, does not broach the subject, the risk of repeating those
events is quite real. Confronting history, discussing and freely
debating past massacres, constitutes the first step toward preventing
Obviously, confronting history by itself is not enough. However, if you
want to prevent something from happening again, you must learn why it
happened in the first place: what were its causes, what started it? If
you can answer those questions, you can take precautions against them.
In the body of the United Nations today, the prevention of large-scale
massacres, the establishment of cultural infrastructures, and the study
of the institutions necessary for prevention, are the subjects of
serious debate. As people of a region that has experienced great pain,
it is imperative that we engage in this kind of discussion as well.
conclusion, my opinion and recommendations regarding the tensions
between Turks and Armenians are that this tension be conceived in a
whole new way. As in the examples I cited above, we must break away from
patterns of thought that are far from even properly defining the issues
and start to approach the problem from a broader perspective.
Based upon the most general lines of thought, until now the
Turkish-Armenian conflict has been approached within the framework of
the disintegration of an empire and the rise of problems among various
ethnic groups and nationalities. In time these problems developed into
confrontations between ethnic groups over territory and boundaries, and
the massacres occurred during the course of these confrontations.
Today's Turkish-Armenian problem has been approached from this kind of
framework and in this way has been viewed as a legacy of the past. My
recommendation is that both societies stop approaching the problem as "a
legacy from the past"; they ought to view it as a part of today's
democratization process. The problem is not "something from the past":
it is a problem "from which we will construct our future."
means that Turkey and Armenia, as neighboring countries, should consider
the problem as part of their own democratization and the democratization
of their regional relationship, as two countries which are in the
process of becoming more democratic: Turkey, as a country on the verge
of acceptance into the EU; Armenia as a country, in transition, that is
newly independent after separating from the USSR. The most common
characteristic of this transition is that both societies must redefine
their pasts, their presents, themselves, and the "other."
put it more generally, during this period of progress toward democracy,
i.e. the process of developing social freedoms, both countries must
approach the problem with regard to determining the limits of the
justice that will be done in relation to the past. In other words,
progress toward democracy must be measured in terms not only of freedom
but also justice. In moving toward democracy, what will be the
boundaries of the justice conceived to deal with the past? That is the
question that must be answered.
primary goal is to resolve the problem in light of three principles. The
first is to restore the human dignity of the victims of the past, by
viewing them as human again; it is to bow in respect before them. The
second is to create the conditions under which people in our region can
learn to live together in peace and stability, upon a foundation of
respect. The third is to create a network of relationships that will
prevent the painful events from the past from ever happening again, and
a cultural foundation that supports this network.
we can approach the confrontation with history in a broad framework as
described, we will not only facilitate democratic relations in our
region but also create a serious cultural atmosphere that will prevent
the reoccurrence of these events from our past.
essay was originally published in Taraf as "Ermenistan, diaspora ve
tarihle yüzleşmek" on Nov. 16, 2008 (http://www.taraf.com.tr/haber/21653.htm).
The translation is by Fatima Sakarya with additional notes by the
Mr. Akçam is the author of
A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide
and the Question of Turkish Responsibility.
Ergenekon is the name
of a secret organization existing primarily within the military and
civil bureaucracy. The organization, which includes retired generals,
journalists, bureaucrats, educators, and businesspeople, has been under
investigation for several years. In the end, a trial against 86
individuals, 46 of whom are being detained, was begun on October 20,
2008. The defendants have been accused of establishing a terrorist
organization called "Ergenekon," and of plotting to effect regime change
through a military coup by committing politically motivated crimes and
terroristic acts. Although the murder of Hrant Dink does not figure in
the charges of the indictment, there are some very strong clues that the
organization was involved.
Kemal was the
kaymakam (county executive) of Bogazlıyan county in the Yozgat
district. He was prosecuted by a mlitary tribunal formed in Istanbul in
1919 for having massacred Armenians en masse, was sentenced to death,
and executed on April 10, 1919.
The committee was
formed in 2005 under the leadership of former Prime Minister of the
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Rauf Denktaş. A
significant number of its board of directors are now under arrest and
facing prosecution under the Ergenekon trial. In order to protest the
claims of the Armenian Genocide, in Europe, the Committee organized the
"Lausanne 2005," "Berlin 2006," "Lausanne 2007," and "Paris 2007"
marches and activities.
Dogu Perinçek, one of
the founders of the Talat Pasha Committee and now a detainee defendant
in the Ergenekon trial, had initiated a "legal war" in Switzerland by
declaring that "the Armenian genocide did not occur" to protest that
country's crime of "denying the genocide." That trial concluded in March
2007 with Perinçek's conviction.
On September 23-25,
2005, Bogaziçi, Sabancı, and Bilgi Universities had organized a
conference titled "Ottoman Armenians during the Period of the Empire's
Decline: Scholarly Responsibility and Problems of Democracy." The
conference, originally planned for August, was initially suspended by
court action and a serious campaign against the intelligentsia who had
organized the conference, was waged, headed by some government
What is referred to
here are the court actions initiated not only against Hrant Dink but
also against other well-known journalists and writers, including
Orhan Pamuk, Elif şafak,
Murat Belge, Hasan Cemal, and Ismet Berkan,
based upon Article 301 and other articles of the Turkish Criminal Code.]
Hrant Dink was one of the leading figures in Turkey to address the
problems related to the Armenian Genocide. In his different articles and
interviews, he criticized certain tactics used by some diaspora Armenian
organizations. He was against bringing the "recognition of the Genocide"
before foreign parliaments, etc. His actions and writings might have
contributed to this negative image of the diaspora. And I personally
discussed this issue with him. He always reiterated to me that he never
meant that the diaspora is one monolithic block and that he was opposing
a certain mindset which is dominant in the diaspora.
Dennis R. Papazian, Ph.D.
Armenian Research Center
U of Michigan, Dearborn