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.