08/27 Zaman: Time to say new things on the ‘genocide’ issue


Time to say new things on the ‘genocide’ issue

The Anti Defamation League’s recent decision to acknowledge that the Armenian “massacres” of 1915 were tantamount to “genocide” has created a political storm in Turkey.
Seen from Washington, such Turkish resentment is counterproductive. It only confirms the fact that Turkey needs to come to terms with its own history. When you have prominent leaders of the Turkish Jewish community writing letters to the ADL reminding them that the Turkish Jewish community’s well-being is jeopardized, this does not exactly come across as a ringing endorsement of Turkey’s democratic maturity.
What the Turkish body politic and public opinion fail to understand is that the genocide issue is already a lost battle in the West. This battle is lost partly because of Turkey’s own behavior and stern, uncompromising image. The official Turkish narrative on the question of “genocide” displays all the symptoms of an authoritarian state that has created a taboo. The education system, nationalist press and bureaucratic reflex are all symptomatic of a totalitarian way of thinking where even a slight departure from the official line creates mayhem. How else can one explain efforts to undermine academic conferences on this issue, or the disgraceful treatment of Orhan Pamuk by most of the nationalist press after he was awarded the Nobel Prize?

The official rhetoric of the government is simplistic: Leave history to the historians. What is, then, the logic behind accusing historians discussing the issue in an academic conference as traitors ready to stab the nation in the back? Such conspiracy-prone approaches increasingly produce an anti-European, anti-American, anti-Kurd, anti-Armenian and anti-liberal nationalism. At the end of the day, Turkey is seen by the West as a country that is fighting its own religion, ethnicity and history. A normal country able to discuss its history freely would probably be less alarmed when others accuse it of having committed “genocide.”

The Turkish overreaction to the slightest criticism on this issue -- even when it comes from traditional friends -- reveals a disturbing sense of insecurity, bordering on guilt. But it is perhaps the lack of a commonsense strategy that is most disturbing. For years, Turks have refused to engage the world community. There was a clear reluctance to answer questions when Turkish embassies all over the world were asked to participate in panel discussions and respond to questions -- in short, to make their own case.

What is often overlooked by Ankara is the fact that the official rhetoric did not change the international perception of “genocide.” To the contrary, Turkey’s reluctance to engage left the field wide open for anti-Turkish propaganda. Then, about 20 years ago, Ankara finally decided to engage more seriously -- but strictly on historical and legal terms. What emerged was not a pretty scene. The Turkish view, in a nutshell, is that you have to put things in historical context. There was a war. Russians invaded and Armenians cooperated with the enemy in order to secure an independent homeland. Armenians, in other words, were not innocent civilians but nationalist rebels.

Fine. But this doesn’t change the fact that they were a minority and that the Ottoman state was in charge of their protection. The Ottoman state decided to deport them. What happened during the deportations? Hundreds of thousands were massacred. Wasn’t the government and military in charge of protecting the deported? How can you have hundreds of thousands of men, women, children massacred without a sustained campaign? The legalistic answer is that there was no “intent” to exterminate the Armenian race. OK, so what happened is not comparable to the Holocaust. But isn’t it still “genocide” when close to a million people are killed while the state is unable and unwilling to protect them?

Today what Turkey needs to do is to engage Armenia and start a reconciliation process. This is no longer a historical issue. It is a political and psychological predicament. Turkey should also issue an official apology, but also indicate that territorial or financial compensations are out of question. A monument that would commemorate the death of Armenians would go a long way in creating goodwill from the international community. But most importantly it would start a process of self-healing at home. Opening the border with Armenia would also secure the moral high ground as it did on the question of Cyprus three years ago.

Two years ago, when I visited Yerevan, former Armenian President Levon Ter Petrossian asked me if Prime Minister Erdoğan is politically strong enough to engage the Armenian question without succumbing to populist nationalism. I told him we will have to wait for better days. Now that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the elections in a landslide, it has an opening to do the right thing. Let’s hope it will…


Source: http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/yazarDetay.do?haberno=120489