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What if we were indeed to confront our past?

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

The French are urging us to 'confront' our past so that we would acknowledge the
'Armenian genocide.' Recently the German opposition too has joined them

Gündüz Aktan
  The French are urging us to "confront" our past so that we would acknowledge
the "Armenian genocide." Recently the German opposition too has joined them.

  In reality they are right. We have not had a reckoning with our recent past
yet. That was the outcome of the "Massacres Perpetrated against Turks in the
Course of History" meeting held at Baºkent University last week.

  A full century had passed between the time the Greek insurgency began (1821)
and the time the Great Offensive was brought to a conclusion (1922). During that
century some five million Turkish and Muslim civilians died in a succession of
wars that took place in the Balkans and the Caucasus. Another 5.4 million
migrated to Anatolia. ("Death and Exile" Justin McCarthy, Darwin Press,
Princeton, 1995, p. 339)

  These figures indicate that Turks were the victim of a phenomenon of "massacres
and exile" that was even more grave than the Holocaust and the migration to
Israel -- leaving aside the fact that the latter took place in a much shorter
time span.

  What lay behind the phenomenon of subjecting the Turks and Muslims living in
the Balkans and in the Caucasus to massacres (and forcing the survivors to
migrate) was the policy of returning these lands to the Christians who were the
former and "real" owners.

  These events had major consequences. As a rule the civilian populations
displaced due to fighting would be permitted to return to their homes at the end
of a war. Yet, this time no relevant agreements envisaged the return of the
Turks and Muslims that were displaced during these wars. Turks lost forever the
lands they had considered home for a period of five centuries. As a result, they
came to feel that if they lost anything they would never be able to recover it.

  While the restitution (that is, return to the real owner) concept gave
legitimacy to the aforementioned wars, the gross violations of the law of war
perpetrated against the Turks and Muslims during these wars were ignored. In
other words, Turks were fair game. Anything could be done to them. The
propaganda that the Ottomans had treated the Christians in a cruel manner was
disseminated to justify these wars. Great European powers provided the Christian
communities with all kinds of aid for this purpose. That has caused us to
develop the fear that the outer world is trying to destroy us.

  Since "return to the real owner" is an indefinite concept, newly born states
have embraced nationalist ideologies of open-ended expansion. Greece, for
example, has embraced Hellenism. Thus things reached the Sevres Treaty that
denied Turks any right to live.

  It became easy to make territorial claims (by pursuing a policy that
constituted a threat to peace) on Turkey, a relatively big country. In fact,
even today the Greek Church is bold enough to demand Istanbul. Armenia calls
eastern Anatolia "western Armenia:" and the Kurds call southeast Anatolia "north
Kurdistan." Syria considers Hatay part of Syria.

  To root Turks out of the Balkans and the Caucasus the "ethnic cleansing" method
has been used as in the case of the incidents that took place in Bosnia and
Herzegovina during the 1991-1995 period. There are books that recount by giving
documented evidence the horrible massacres perpetrated against the Turks in the
past, books such as 'The Other Balkan Wars' (Carnegie Endowment, 1993) and
Bilal Simsir's three-volume 'Rumeli'den Turk Gocleri' (Turkish Migration from
Roumalia).

  Armed groups attacking settlements killed the civilian population, raped women,
mutilated the corpses and the wounded, buried them in mass graves and ensured
that the survivors would flee all the way to Anatolia under gunfire, abandoning
their dead on the way.

  The Balkan War ended only two years before the forced resettlement of the
Armenians in 1915. Some 1.45 million Turks were destroyed in the Balkan War
while only 410,000 could make it to Anatolia. (McCarthy)

  Among the events of that era the forced resettlement of the Armenians was an
exception in that it was carried out in an orderly manner -- that is, to the
extent that was possible under the conditions of those days. In other words the
ethnic cleansing method was not used against the Armenians. Today Turks are
being accused of committing genocide because they did not do to the Armenians
what they themselves had been subjected to. Could it be that it is because the
Turks have chosen to easily forget the tragic things that had been done to them
that the Turks have become the butt of genocide claims? In other words, is it
because they have left the field clear to their accusers?

  Yes, we have not confronted our past yet. Atatürk's charismatic personality (in
the sense Max Weber used that term) has enabled us to forget about the wounds of
the past and to turn our faces to the future. If now we were to remember the
sufferings of the past and to mourn for our losses, we might find it impossible
to do that without being unfair to the offspring of those who had persecuted us
and, also, without endangering peace. In fact we might not find the strength to
do it in another way.

  So, better leave us to continue to sleep "within" our paranoia about the outer
world trying to split up our country.

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