As for devout Muslims, who constituted the very core of the new nation, their religious culture and practice were declared incompatible with the secular nature of the new nation, and thence excluded from the Republic’s public sphere. Both administratively and ideologically, then, religion was “nationalized” in the Republic of Turkey.
Aktar: Heterogeneous Memory vs Homogeneous Nation
By Cengiz Aktar
Memory Revisited in Turkey Special for the Armenian Weekly
Discussing memory and developing the politics of memory in a country like Turkey that is built on amnesia is no easy endeavor. As with all nation-building processes, modern Turkey was conceived through the invention of an artificial nation under duress. According to the national project, non-Muslims were never considered to be equal citizens. Popular idioms identified them as “Christians,” “non-Muslims,” or “giaour” (unbelievers) but seldom as Turks, as they lacked the necessary requirement of “Turkishness”: Islam.1The designation of Turk is inextricably linked to Islam. Even for secularist Turks, Christian missionary activities were dangerous by default, as conversion to Christianity would amount to the destruction of the nation.
This artificial and amnesiac nation has changed significantly since 2002, when the Justice and Development Party (AKP), representing modernist political Islam, came to power. With this election victory, a re-legitimized Sunni Islam defied the national paradigm of ethnic and cultural homogeneity. The national paradigm in Turkey is now arguably in shambles and must be re-composed through a new project of togetherness and unity, or a social contract that values and respects difference without privileging any particular group. These are the underlying dynamics of a return to a heterogeneous sense of memory.
A number of exogenous and endogenous factors have prepared the revision of the national narrative in Turkey: the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the Republic of Armenia in 1990, Turkey’s European Union membership process, for instance.
Until 1989, Armenia was in many ways a non-entity in the Soviet Union. With the end of Cold War, Turkey had a new neighbor. Although still under Russian influence, Armenia became a factor in Turkey’s relations with its eastern neighborhood as well as in its official denialist policy. Interaction remained limited. Bilateral relations ended in 1993 when Turkey made the unilateral decision to close the border. It had taken the side of Azerbaijan—what its politicians considered Turkic “kin”—in the Nagorno-Karabagh issue. Yet, this decision may have been influenced by another aspect: An open border was tantamount to unfettered interaction between the inhabitants of both sides, the Armenian side being populated mainly by descendants of survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. This was not desired. Yet, despite Turkey’s official paralysis on the issue, the independence of Armenia on Turkey’s eastern border has opened up unprecedented opportunities for non-governmental group interaction in both countries.
Another key external factor was Turkey’s EU membership process, which began in 1999. The membership criteria, in particular the political criteria, have had a major impact on the transformation of Turkey’s legal and political environment—for a less authoritarian and more democratic one. Within this new, relatively more liberal environment, civil society and occasionally even state actors and agencies have been able to take positions less determined by the taboos of the national narrative. A more tolerant Turkey has slowly attracted the interest of the Anatolian Armenian Diaspora living in Western Europe and North America. Several of its members have started to pay visits to Turkey to interact with local activists.
Domestic changes have also led to the empowerment of civil society and the emergence of a more liberal environment. Although the very beginning of this change goes back to 1983, when late President Turgut Özal formed the first reformist anti-status quo government after the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’état, the process perceptibly accelerated with the AKP government, which implemented major systemic reforms between 2002 and 2005. Civil society actors in Turkey became the driving force behind a critical engagement with Turkey’s past and present. Public intellectuals of liberal persuasion, conservative Muslims, Islamists, and Kurds emerged as the main groups, challenging the models of nation and society designed by the early Republican elite.
A paradigmatic shift about the founding myths of the national narrative may currently be under way. Many in Turkey today realize that the long-standing Armenian existence in Anatolia was annihilated in just a few decades, and that the Roums2 were forced to leave their ancestral lands. Some also understand how the Eastern Christian churches dwindled to insignificance during the 20th century. Others have learned who the Alevis3are and about the Muslim-Orthodox population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Many also acknowledge the existence of Arabs and Kurds who are Muslim, but non-Turks. Even more accept the visibility of the Sunni Muslim majority in public life. In other words, many in Turkey have realized the need to reconsider what Turkey really is. The way Turks and Armenians interact in this context will have a major impact on how this process of reconsideration develops.
The brutal assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink4 on Jan. 19, 2007, acted as a major detonator for the surfacing of such deep-rooted frustrations, allowing many to speak openly about so many hidden truths.
Society’s drive to develop policies of memory
For some time now, Turkish civil society has joined in initiatives that go well beyond those launched by the state and the political class, especially concerning policies related to memory, culture, and the environment. These include initiatives and campaigns to draw attention to the situation of non-Muslims, as well as of Muslim minorities; demonstrations of global scope to promote cultural and artistic potential; and protests requiring a prodigious effort for the protection of nature. These self-examining civil initiatives have broken mental borders and constitute in-depth and long-term work. They thus have a perennial quality and are more substantial than state initiatives.
One such action was the Apology Campaign of December 20085 that addressed and apologized to Armenians. The initiative led people to adopt a new perspective in their approach to the trauma of nation-building, a process that affected non-Muslims and some Muslim groups, to an extent. The Apology Campaign saw the major involvement of Kurds, as they remembered the roles their ancestors played in the Armenian Genocide. While many had acted in collusion with Young Turk government in the massacres, others refused to take part in the killing spree, and some chose to take home surviving children. Indeed, many accounts appeared on the fringes of the campaign to remind Kurds that almost every family had at least one Armenian grandmother, as mostly little girls were spared. The Kurdish recollection was all the more profound since the same homogenizing logic was doggedly implemented on them, too, by the state, after the Armenians had been “taken care of.”
The Apology Campaign triggered another “bad memory”: The flight of Muslims from the pogroms and massacres of the Balkans and the Caucasus to Anatolia from the middle of the 19th century onwards undermined the social equilibrium of Anatolia, causing dissatisfaction among indigenous groups, the Armenians being one of them. The evocation of the Armenian Genocide hence provoked a memory that was not only troublesome in itself but all the more painful because it had been kept back in the subconscious. Indeed, those Muslims have neither been able to fully mourn the massacres they endured as well as their forced displacement, nor the effects of their “voluntary” assimilation and their state-assigned role to serve as the backbone of the Turkish nation. This context might explain the lack of empathy among these refugees’ descendants towards the Armenians. But the discovery of the painful Armenian past would sooner or later open ways towards an emphatic consciousness.
This memory recall could likewise open up unexpected horizons by reintroducing to Europe these Muslim peoples of southeast Europe—despoiled, massacred, and driven out of their homelands for more than 40 years, from 1878 onwards. Such a reintroduction would constitute a significant step forward in the relocation of Turkishness in the European memory, from which it has been excluded since 1918.
The evocation of the horror experienced by the Armenians paved the way for the questioning of many other mainstays of modern Turkey. Together with the Roums, Armenians formed the core of Anatolia’s economic activity. Whole sections of the economy collapsed after their disappearance and/or departure. These regions were never able to recover from the consequences of what must be called the Great Catastrophe, a common disaster whose memory remains to be shared. To qualify the genocide with the term “Great Catastrophe” (Medz Yeghern in Armenian)aims to give a name to and express the common catastrophe that all of Anatolia had to endure after the genocide.
The Apology Campaign also inspired many Turkish citizens to search their family roots. Narratives resurged about direct and indirect victims of the genocide as well, as the righteous who saved lives and opposed orders from the Young Turk government to help deport and annihilate their Armenian neighbors. Being unable to talk about massacred Armenians meant being unable to speak about the survivors, too, those who converted to Islam to stay alive, those who were saved and Islamized by force, or the righteous who defied orders and saved their neighbors in the name of human morality. Apart from a few cases, these righteous people are hardly mentioned in the very rich genocide historiography accumulated outside of Turkey (some 26,000 publications). Although we are confronted here with a case of self-induced forgetting, these people did exist and their grandchildren live today. Yet, the construction of policies of memory will probably take place with and through the grandchildren of the victims of the Armenian Genocide.
Crowned by the Apology Campaign, the search for truth has not broken the wall formed by the taboos and the position of denial widely held in Turkey, but it has certainly opened some wide breaches. These developments are the first steps for a dialogue and learning process at home and abroad. In addition to the victims themselves, the above-mentioned social, economic, and human devastation that followed the departure and massacres of the Armenians and other non-Muslim groups deserves to be seen in a new light.
In Turkey, public self-introspection is at the beginning of the long educational journey, during which much will have to be done to first learn, then understand, and finally testify, remember, confront, and grieve. This is perhaps not only true for the citizens of Turkey, but also for the Armenians of the diaspora and of Armenia, for whom—to quote one of them in a private correspondence—“the apology campaign has broken the taboo of the evil Turk in a prohibited country, a no-man’s land; a taboo which made any progress on this journey impossible.”
Fethiye Çetin, the granddaughter of an Armenian orphan who was forced to convert, and the author of the bestseller My Grandmother: An Armenian-Turkish Memoir, told of an encounter she had with a French-Armenian in Paris. The latter had started to do some questioning of his own after reading the testimony, noting, “After all, I may well have a relative in that same Turkey.” In Armenia, following a public reading, someone told her, “Up to now, we were focusing on our own pain. You have shown us that there could be other sufferings, such as the one your grandmother went through, as well as others in the same situation as her.”
Are we at the dawn of the construction of a new language for the genocide, a language that would include more than the victims themselves and thus pave the way to a shared memory?
A public call for forgiveness concerning a traumatic historical event that, within 20 years, did away with a 4,000-year-old civilization, not only constituted a first but also opened new prospects for the non-existent culture of forgiveness in Turkey. In a country where the collective conscience is struck with amnesia, an amnesia that is equal only to the sheer size of the crime, and where a sickly feeling of innocence as the corollary of the crime reigns together with a paranoid feeling of victimization, one does not seek of apologies. This explains the shock that reverberated in Turkish society when the words “Armenian” and “apology” appeared in the same sentence.
Deliverance of memory
Over time, we’ll see the tangible consequences of this quest for sense by Turkish society, a quest, as mentioned before, in which the Apology Campaign constituted an important milestone. But already public actions, perhaps not so numerous, but certainly momentous, are building up at all levels. Supported by the authorities from time to time, they rely basically on voluntary citizens’ initiatives. Here is a non-exhaustive list of these memory travails.
Academia and publishing
• Following pioneering publishers like Belge (1977) and Aras (1993), many publishing houses now publish works in connection with the “bad memory,” but also in relation to the rich cosmopolitan past of the Ottoman Empire.
• Following vanguard research work by some scholars, such as Taner Akçam, more and more young scholars are now involved in historical research to revisit and challenge the “official narrative.”
• Following the landmark 2005 conference on Ottoman Armenians held in Istanbul, research and academic meetings on Armenians, Jews, Kurds, Roums, and Syriacs hold an increasingly important place in the academic landscape. One should note in particular the international conference that took place on the scene of the crime, in Kurdish land, in Diyarbakir in November 2011, on the theme of “Economic and Social History of Diyarbakir and Region between 1838 and 1938,” which brought together the grandchildren of both victims and perpetrators to discuss common memory. A grand première! A similar conference on the same topic but on Syriac lands of Mardin took place in November 2012.
• An increasing number of university chairs is devoted to the language, history, and culture of minorities.
• In February 2009, a scholar of the Armenian Diaspora, Marc Nichanian, began for the first time to teach on topics directly related to the genocide at Sabancı University in Istanbul.
Individual and collective memory search
• Many people are seeking, discovering, or rediscovering ancestors of non-Muslim origin in their families, ancestors who converted or were forced to convert, orphans whose parents and families were massacred. Thirteen books were published on this topic as of early 2014.
• Recent work by sociologist Laurence Ritter with Max Sivaslian, Les Restes de l’Epée (The Remains of the Sword; translated in Turkish as Kılıç Artıkları), and that of journalist Ferda Balancar, The Sounds of Silence (three volumes), all published by Hrant Dink Foundation Publications, evoke the survivors of the genocide, those crypto-Armenians of Anatolia who discover or uncover their Armenian identity. Many written and filmed testimonies have appeared on the genealogy of families and entire tribes, resurrecting the erased data.
Public awareness and visibility
Non-Muslim minorities have literally discovered themselves, and are then “discovered” by Turkish society. Here are a few examples:
• No less than seven associations of mutual aid and culture have been created since 2010 by Armenians of Arapgir, Burunkışla, Dersim, Malatya, Sasoun, Sivas, and Vakıflı. Vakıflı village is the only authentically Armenian one in Turkey; the association that bears its name was created in 2000, before the others.
• Heartened by recent liberalization and a small legal door, non-Muslim minorities have claimed the confiscated property belonging to their foundations. Although imperfect, some claims have been met with positive outcomes.
• Following the Apology Campaign, public commemorations of the genocide have started to take place on April 24 (the day the genocide began, in 1915) in various cities, in public and outdoors. The 2013 commemoration was attended by representatives of the Armenian Diaspora of France, very critical until then of the Turkish position.
• Since 2005, every year on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the pogrom of Sept. 6-7 1955, which was aimed at all non-Muslim minorities of Istanbul, commemorations and various public activities have been organized.
• Interaction between Armenians and Turks are taking place in increasing numbers, in Armenia, Turkey, and third countries. The same holds for the Roums and Syriacs. Armenian Diaspora organizations such as the Civilitas Foundation, National Congress of Western Armenians, and Yerkir are opening branch offices in Turkey.
• Public use of the word “genocide,” while still prohibited by law, is becoming ordinary.
• A landmark conference on Islamized Armenians took place for the first time in Istanbul under the auspices of the Hrant Dink Foundation, unearthing another Anatolian taboo.
• The names of the journalists who died during the arrests of prominent Istanbul Armenians on April 24, 1915, have been included in the list of murdered colleagues held by the Turkish Association of Journalists.
• Academic and amateur research on the righteous individuals (known or anonymous) who saved lives during the massacres are increasing. The Hrant Dink Foundation created a special History Fund to support such research.
• Studies on the former names of places have been launched. The names are sometimes claimed by the inhabitants themselves and have been restored by the public authorities. (cf. Index Anatolicus, a substantial research project that is now accessible on the web.)
• Itinerant exhibitions on the life of the Armenians and the Roums in the Ottoman Empire, based on postcards of the time, are criss-crossing Anatolia. For the first time, a photo exhibition of an Armenian family from a hundred years ago took place in Merzifon, a remote Anatolian village by the Black Sea.
• Scientific research on the works of Armenian businessmen, craftsmen, writers, thinkers, scientists, and soldiers in the Ottoman Empire is constantly hitting the library shelves.
• A catalogue of Armenian foundations in Istanbul has been published by the Hrant Dink Foundation.
• Students from a high school in Istanbul, rather close to Islamists, have decided to pair with an Armenian high school, also in Istanbul, in order to learn about Armenian identity.
Religious and cultural discovery
• Several restoration projects have taken place, often by municipalities, of Armenian monuments and buildings (Surp Khatch of Aghtamar, Surp Giragos of Diyarbakir, Surp Krikor Lusarevitch of Kayseri, Surp Vortvots Vorodmans of Istanbul, Surp Bedros of Nizip, the Armenian Catholic and Armenian Protestant churches of Sur-Diyarbakir), as well as those of the Roum (Agia Marina and Agia Nikola of Imroz, Kaleköy Monastery of Imroz, Taxiarchis of Cunda, Roum Catholic Church of Iskenderun), the Jews (Great Synagogues of Antep and Edirne), and the Syriacs (Syriac Catholic Church of Iskenderun).
• Since 2010—after almost a century of interruption—Mass is being celebrated in worship places such as the Roum monastery of Sumela at Maçka, Trabzon (Trebizond).
• Itinerant exhibitions on Armenians and Roum architects of Istanbul are traveling throughout Turkey and abroad.
• A ring of abandoned fountains in Habab (Elazığ), a formerly Armenian village, has been restored. The initially reluctant Kurdish population of the village finally participated in the restoration works.
• For the first time an Armenian cemetery, that of Arapgir, a city with an important Armenian population before 1915, was restored.
• A brand new Armenian chapel was erected in the Armenian cemetery of Malatya, a city where only a handful of Armenians remain.
• Armenian-Turkish co-productions on shared memory are multiplying, inter alia the documentary of filmmaker Serge Avédikian, Barking Island, which was awarded at the Cannes Festival in 2010.
• An international consortium is supporting the first meaningful restoration project in the ancient Armenian capital city of Ani, in the extreme east of Turkey just by the Armenian border.
• The Center for the Preservation of the Cultural Heritage was founded by several Armenian, Roum, and Turkish CSOs;
• Armenian and Syriac sections will be part of a newly built Urban Heritage Museum in Diyarbakir.
Where do we go from here?
For civil society to remember its heterogeneity, to learn history other than the bogus official narrative, and to compare conflicting memories does not necessarily mean scratching the wounds and having the ethnic/exclusivist/egocentric/nationalistic demands rise from the grave. Opening up these memories means empathy and an acknowledgment of the suffering that different religious, ethnic, and linguistic entities did not mind inflicting on one another for the sake of nation building, and “accessorily” for a huge transfer of wealth.
However, the new approach to nation and nationalism, and the re-emergence of renewed national identities, point to a threat on the horizon. The end of a homogeneous nation, together with all that this process implies and permits in terms of liberalization, has produced a nationalist reaction that is greatly exacerbated by the unsolved Kurdish conflict. The critical point here is that a nationalist reaction has negative repercussions on all other sensitive subjects. Society must therefore control—in this quest for memories—any nostalgic and resurgent nationalist pressures.
Turkish society now has two assets in facing challenges. It is acquainted with free speech, which raises objections, enjoys the state of freedom, and is slowly abolishing the guardianship of the former elite thanks to the government’s reformist actions. Such a society stands against the lies and taboos imposed by the former elite—and this is happening for the first time. Is it easy to control such a society that enjoys democracy and control over its own fate? Yet, this process of change and transformation has taken place not only because ofthe external dynamic or the government’s early reformism; the society has also paid a substantial price for it, symbolized best by the murder of Hrant Dink. This social maturation may be Turkey’s key asset.
Secondly and within this framework, the more that pious Sunni Muslims realize that the founding national ideology has alienated non-Turks, non-Sunni Muslims, and non-Muslims, no less than themselves, the more that they, as the majority, will assume a leading role to reveal the facts and past pains, to address injustices, and to distance themselves from this ideology. And the more Turkish democracy will be consolidated and will allow for more empathy. In fact, already today we can observe an emergent and very promising reassessment by Sunni-Muslim intellectuals of the founding ideology that ethnically, religiously, socially, and economically engineered and remodeled the whole of Anatolia in a century. This is precisely about the healthy return of memory.
On the other hand civil society needs interlocutors with which to interact. Indeed, there is not a significant counterpart to Turkish civil actions in post-Soviet Armenia. Actually, the most engaging elements among the Armenian activists are from the diaspora. With them a mutual discovery process is underway, as those who interact speak very much the same language, and are from similar intellectual backgrounds. There are, however, unenthusiastic elements, especially in France and the U.S. that try to put breaks on the dialogue, but without tangible results.
A final word on the respective roles of the state and society in policies of memory is unavoidable. Society is the natural actor of the policies of memory. In order to be perennial, substantial, and coherent, policies of memory need societal dynamics, whatever the capacity of the society to influence the lawmaker is. In the Turkish case this assertion is even more tangible, for three reasons: First, a society cannot recover its memory through the very actor, the Turkish state that lobotomized it. Secondly large chunks of Ottoman and later Turkish elites have happily adhered to the de-memorization efforts proposed by the official denialist narrative to justify the massive seizure of property and wealth, as well as to excuse the ethnic cleansing of Armenians for “holy national interests.” Thirdly, a review of the society’s subconscious needs to be anchored in its very core to bear of any value, and by symmetry not be steered by the cold and selfish interests of a state. A telling example is the public reaction to Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt’s apology for Nazi crimes in Warsaw in 1970, the famous Kniefall von Warschau (“Warsaw Genuflection”). German public opinion largely disapproved of the chancellor’s act despite the official responsibility taken by the federal republic. Similar disapproval was seen during the construction of the Jüdisches Museum Berlin.
Thus, despite the long wait—understandably forcing the limits of one’s patience—for recognition of century-old crimes committed during Ottoman era, the development of policies of memory growing out of a painstaking yet convulsive societal recollection remains a healthy and perennial endeavor. And although the road for civil activism is largely clear, the “state highway” is as much obstructed by structural roadblocks.
Seen from this dual conflicting framework of state versus society, the centenary of the genocide in 2015 is slowly becoming a determining factor in Armenian-Turkish interaction. Recent developments in Turkey look as though the authorities have nothing to offer but to revisit the denialist narrative with two new gimmicks: siding with Azerbaijan’s cause against Armenia and promoting the centenary of the Dardanelles Battle of 1915. A noticeable development was the Feb. 26, 2012 rally to commemorate the 20th anniversary of a mass slaughter in Khojaly, an Azeri village in Nagorno-Karabagh. Notwithstanding the sheer manipulation of the demonstrators, who were there to commemorate in dignified manner, the overall tone of the gathering and the prime minister’s endorsement of the rally were confirmations of official denialism, but this time via the Armenian-Azeri feud.
We are in the presence of a fascinating journey worth following…
 Beyond the common expression, court verdicts identify non-Muslim citizens as “foreigners,” as in the landmark decision of the Court of Appeal in 1974 (Decision 8.5.1974 E 1971/2.82 K /505, in Turkish).
2 We prefer the term Roum for Greeks, as it goes back to the Eastern Roman Empire and qualifies the Roman citizens of Anatolia.
3 Alevi relates to Shia but its followers are mainly Anatolian is the second most important Islamic faith considered as heretic by the mainstream Sunni Islam.
4 Born in 1954, Hrant Dink was the key figure of “Armenianness” in Turkey. He privileged democratization as the potential driving force for the recollection of truth, and worked relentlessly to create a public consciousness about the atrocities committed against Armenians and other non-Muslim groups through the weekly Agosnewspaper he launched in 1996 with some others.
5 See www.ozurdiliyoruz.com. The full text reads: “My conscience cannot accept the ignorance and denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and—on my own behalf—I share the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers, and I apologize to them.”
Erdogan’s Message: Where Do We Go From Here?
By Raffi Bedrosyan on May 6, 2014 in Featured, Headline, Opinion // 33 Comments // Email Email // Print Print
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On April 23, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a message of condolence in eight languages to Armenians worldwide, for their forefathers who lost their lives in 1915. As this was an unprecedented and unexpected gesture by a Turkish statesman, Armenians in Armenia, the diaspora, and within Turkey reacted with a wide range of emotions and opinions. Some dismissed it as a cynical move and a new version of continued denial of the genocide; some saw it as a smart political move and an effective delay tactic to avert the pressure of the Centennial of the genocide next year; others optimistically saw it as a change in direction by Turkey in facing its history, hoping for increased dialogue and a resolution of issues; and a few sycophants went as far as to take out newspaper ads thanking the prime minister, or suggesting that he be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. So, where do we go from here?
One can find many faults with Erdogan’s message. It could be interpreted as one more fitting for the victims of a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or flood, or a man-made accident, such as a train accident, instead of murdered victims of a state-planned annihilation of an entire people that has disappeared from its 4,000-year-old historic homeland. One can speculate about the reasons behind such a message: Was it calculated, insincere, or from pressure by the U.S., so that President Obama would not use the “G” word. But at the end of the day, no matter what the motive, whether genuine or not, one must acknowledge that this is the first time a Turkish leader has said something mildly humane about the Armenian Genocide victims of 1915, instead of complete denial or insults that were the norm for the past 99 years. More significantly, certain terms used in the message are really encouraging, welcome and irreversible, such as acknowledging the historic significance of April 24 for all the Armenians around the world, or acknowledging the inhumane consequences of the “relocation.” And therefore, it should be recognized as a small step in the right direction—provided that it is followed immediately by real, concrete action and further evidence of a change of direction toward facing history, justice, and restitution. The next 12 months will tell if this is the case or not.
It is not easy for a statesman to suddenly reverse a nearly century-old course of denial, which included brainwashing its citizens for four generations, and threats against anyone or any state that disagreed with its lies about 1915. But every journey of 10,000 miles starts with a small step. In a previous article I had suggested eight steps that Turkey could take within the next year—immediately and without even acknowledging the genocide—if there truly was goodwill in resolving historical wrongs:
1. Open the border with Armenia without any preconditions. Rename the Alican border-crossing the Hrant Dink Gate in honor of the heroic advocate for dialogue.
2. Grant citizenship to the living descendants of the deported Ottoman-Armenian citizens.
3. Clean up the textbooks at all levels of the educational system by eliminating the falsifications, hate-mongering, and discrimination against the Armenians, and start teaching the correct facts about 1915.
4. Initiate a state program through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to reconstruct or restore the more than 2,000 destroyed or deteriorating Armenian monasteries and churches, and return them to their rightful owner, the Armenian Church.
5. Offer a symbolic but meaningful apology to the Armenian people for the crimes of 1915 by returning Mount Ararat and Ani to Armenia, perhaps as part of a minor border revision and territorial exchange based on equivalent land area.
6. Open up to the public the archival documents related to the deportation/liquidation records and the Ottoman property deeds related to the deported Armenians.
7. Allow the compensation cases by descendants of Ottoman-Armenian citizens to proceed in Turkish and international courts.
8. Offer free transit and duty-free port facilities for Armenia at a Black Sea city such as Trabzon and Rize, as partial compensation for the economic losses of the Ottoman-Armenian citizens.
I am aware that some of these steps have already been taken or been considered by Turkish government officials. Discussions about granting of citizenship and restoring a few of the churches and monasteries have started—albeit as “museums,” and usually without mentioning their Armenian origins. Opening the border with Armenia without being held hostage by third countries would be a win-win for both states. A sure sign that Erdogan’s message is sincere could be the elimination of the names of the streets, schools, mosques, and neighborhoods named after the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) leaders Talat, Enver, and Djemal. But we know that there are still Turkish “deep state” leaders (recently released from jail by Erdogan) who have formed Talat Pasha Committees, or erected statues of such notorius murderers as Topal (Lame) Osman, famous for throwing Armenians overboard from boats into the Black Sea, or even worse, for throwing Pontic Greeks into the boiler rooms of the ships through the funnels.
Another indication of Erdogan’s sincerity in changing direction would be to stop the ridiculous publications and conferences by the state-financed Turkish Historic Society. Their latest publication had the number of perished Armenians during the genocide down to 8,000, and all had “died due to illness.” Their latest conference in Van in April 2014, where 35 so-called professors presented papers, was attended by only 7 people. One of the papers claimed that the 235 intellectuals arrested on April 24, 1915 were all very well treated, well fed and cared for in Ayas and Cankiri, and that all returned to Istanbul within a few months, “without even a tiny scratch on their bodies.”
Finally, Erdogan must understand that there is no need to assemble an international historic commission to prove the veracity of the genocide, as this has already been done for him by scholars worldwide using the Ottoman-Turkish and international archives. If the Turkish objective of the historic commission is to prove that Armenians were indeed fomenting rebellion, and thereby to justify the decision of relocation and wholesale massacres, these are already documented and open in Armenian and international archives. And yes, there have been localized revenge massacres of Moslems by Armenian volunteer troops entering Anatolia with the Russian army in 1916, but after the 1915 genocide had already taken place. He can assemble a commission within Turkey, as there are now enough credible Turkish scholars who can overcome the lies spread by the lackeys at the Turkish Historical Society. But he must understand that there are still hidden deportation/liquidation records from the 33 Ottoman provinces, as well as the Ottoman property land registry and deed records, still banned by the Turkish Army Chief of staff. Yes, there is a need for an international commission, not to establish the truths of 1915 but to deal with the consequences of the truths and restitution of justice.
Of course, it is essential for Erdogan and the Turkish state to correctly deal with the trauma and pain of the murdered—and not dead—victims of 1915, as he referred to in his message. But the issue is much more than that. There is the bigger issue of a massive plunder, transfer of wealth, land, and assets that resulted from the murder of these victims. The president of the Turkish state today resides in the home of the Kasapyan family. A well-known Turkish newspaper editor owns the historic Varakavank Monastery near Van, and the entire village where Armenians lived until 1915. The Turkish state today owns the land of more than 4,000 Armenian churches and schools active before 1915. Turkish and Kurdish notables seized—and still possess—hundreds of thousands of houses, shops, stores, farms, orchards, vineyards, factories, warehouses, and mines owned by the Armenians before 1915. This massive plunder is not the result of a state conquering a foreign state; it is because a state decided to kill its own citizens and take their assets, followed by a series of legislation to legalize the robbery. This issue has nothing to do with whether the murders are defined as “genocide” or not, and this must be addressed by the Turkish state regardless, through revised legislation and a return of the assets to the rightful owners and heirs.
While Erdogan and Turkey’s leaders have a lot of work to do to confront the past, Armenians cannot afford to just meet among themselves or expect third-country politicians to take up their cause for them. As an advocate of direct dialogue with our adversaries, I suggest increased contact with Turks, Kurds, and the new emerging reality of the “hidden Armenians”—toward building trust, understanding, and a common “body of knowledge.” Armenian opinion-makers, media, academia, lawyers, artists, filmmakers, engineers, and architects, NGOs and other organizations must make contact with their counterparts in Turkey through conferences, cultural events, media and student exchanges, reconstruction projects, and jointly organized April 24 commemorations within Turkey. Thanks to a number of such initiatives and individuals, the number of opinion-makers and open-minded people who have become aware of the truth has grown dramatically. We are all aware that the problem is within Turkey, but we must realize that the solution is within Turkey as well. It is my hope that Erdogan’s message is a real step in the right direction, which will be through the steps described above.
About Raffi Bedrosyan
Raffi Bedrosyan is a civil engineer as well as a concert pianist, living in Toronto, Canada. For the past several years, proceeds from his concerts and two CDs have been donated to the construction of school, highway, water, and gas distribution projects in Armenia and Karabagh—projects in which he has also participated as a voluntary engineer. Bedrosyan was involved in organizing the Surp Giragos Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd Church reconstruction project, and in promoting the significance of this historic project worldwide as the first Armenian reclaim of church properties in Anatolia after 1915. In September 2012, he gave the first Armenian piano concert in the Surp Giragos Church since 1915.