100 Years Later: The Ongoing Denial of Shame

24/04/2015

Last month I met an Armenian person in a night out in Paris. As my French friend introduced us to each other, he said: “You are Turkish, he is Armenian, and I hope that you two won’t fight.” I could have attacked my French friend with the same prejudgment he had by asking “Yet what do you think of the Rwanda genocide?” but instead I turned to the Armenian man and asked: “Do you think we will fight?” He responded: “Of course we will, because you will deny the Armenian genocide and I will have to tell you the history of my grandfather and we will waste our time here instead of enjoying the party, so no need to discuss.”

I guess in order to accept or deny a massacre, genocide, a murder or a crime – whatever you’d chose to name it – you have to belong to a “crowd”. Once you belong to that crowd, that society, you have to accept the de facto truths of that crowd. It’s not okay to question, to doubt, or to research. If you are Turkish, you don’t like the Kurds and you deny the Armenian genocide. If you are Kurdish, automatically you’re a terrorist. If you support the Republican People’s Party (CHP) somehow you acknowledge that within the first years of the Turkish Republic, tens of thousands of Alevis were slaughtered in Dersim but you still claim that they deserved it because they were “rebels”. If you support the current conservative government in Turkey – the Justice and Development Party (AKP) – you can say you’re upset that 34 civilians were bombed “by mistake” in Roboski by the Turkish army’s F-16 jets, but you still claim that you don’t know who has given that order to bomb them. If you support the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) you demand justice for Berkin Elvan who was murdered at the age of 14 by the police during the Gezi Protests in Turkey but you don’t demand justice for the Kurdish children murdered by the Turkish Army, like Ceylan Önkol or Uğur Kaymaz.

But what if you’re simply a human being? A human being who does not belong to any race, religion or political belief, what do you do then? That’s when you take the conscious decision to research about history without bias, by looking at a range of different sources. You refuse to believe the history books that were given to you since elementary schools or the stories told to you by the mainstream media, and instead you try to understand everything from different points of view.

On April 24, 1915, when the Ottoman Empire was actively engaged in World War I, Ittihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress) were in power and they decided to “deport” all the Armenians living in the lands of the Ottoman Empire. The word used for this is “tehcir”, a unique and difficult word to explain but back then it meant “deportation by obligation.” The legal system of the Ottoman Empire introduced this world to the history of law but it does not exist anymore. Yet it is for this reason that some people defend the idea that what happened in 1915 was not genocide but instead a “deportation by obligation” because of ongoing “civil war”.

1

When we look at The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948, the definition of genocide includes: “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Yet again, many say this definition was made on 1948 and it does not define what had happened in 1915. It does not really matter which word you use, or how you try to sugar coat what had happened back in 1915. Nothing changes the fact that April 24, 1915 is the date when many Armenian intellectuals living in İstanbul started to be detained and any Armenian living in the lands of the Ottoman Empire were forcefully deported to Deir ez-Zor in Syria.

As of that day, Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire had to leave their houses and their belongings to their friends, or sell them… And then they had to deport, immediately! During this exile, many of them were robbed, raped or murdered. The ones who could survive eventually died due to illness and the horrible conditions suffered along their forced journey. Back in 1915 there were about 1.5 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Today in Turkey there are only sixty thousand!

There are some “terminology experts” in Turkey who claim that genocide means “wiping a race completely out of the land” and they ask “if the Ottomans are responsible for genocide, how come there are still Armenians living in Turkey?” As if there are no Jews living in Germany right now…

2

Many people in Turkey deny what had happened back in 1915. The world is shocked by this denial, but actually there are many reasons behind it.

One of the main reasons people do not believe what had happened was a genocide is because they never learned about it in school. Unfortunately, even some of the most educated individuals in Turkey think that whatever writes on the Turkish history books are 100% true and Turkish historians would not dare to lie. I mean really, why would history books lie? Armenian Genocide is not on print on Turkish history books – voilà! This means it did not happen! Simple logic, no?

There are also some people who think what had happened to the Armenians 100 years ago was agreeable due to the acts of ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia) During the years of 1973-1985 this patriotic Armenian army has slaughtered many innocent Turkish people, including Turkish diplomats. Whenever you talk about the Armenian genocide, these people would immediately say: “but they killed us too! ASALA killed us too!”

Let’s talk about money a little, shall we? After the Armenians were deported, the Ottoman Empire released a “liquidation law” and formed a committee in order to manage the belongings of the Armenians. The records kept by this committee were never released. No one knows who got their capital back or not. Unfortunately there were not many Armenians left to pay back to… The liquidation allegedly kept going on until the Republic of Turkey was founded. Turkish journalist Murat Bardakçı – a specialist in the history of the Ottoman Empire – released some documents on his latest book “The Chest of an Ittihat (Union) Member”. According to those documents the capital and belongings of the Armenians were transferred to government leaders and families of the martyrs who died in the Turkish independence war, with the approval of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and İsmet İnönü. The republic of Turkey has inherited a lot of things from Ottoman Empire, yet when it comes to debt, no one in Turkey is interested in paying back this inherited debt.

The theory that I have the most difficult to understand is held by the ones who say “what happened in 1915 is the crime of İttihat ve Terakki (Community of Union and Progress) and it has nothing to do with Turkey.” They deny what had happened as if this is a rule in order to become a patriot and they label anyone who talks about this as a traitor or wannabe leftists! This crowd dares to say: “Orhan Pamuk got a Nobel Prize because he said Armenian Genocide happened.” In their small minds they think supporting minority rights is a “trend”. They say “even though you’re not Armenian, just because you are a wannabe leftist intellectual you talk about the Armenian genocide.”

3

I remember very well when I was studying in university and had a minimum level on political comprehension, for my “Revolution History” course, the assistant said that he will ask about the “So Called Armenian Genocide” and he asked us to prove that it did not happen. Back then I wasn’t aware of the issue, so I went on the Turkish patriotic websites, did some research and then did my best to prove that Armenian genocide did not happen. When I look back, I’m ashamed of my unconsciousness, and that instead of resisting to the biased fascist assistant, I did what he told me to, and wrote a completely biased and false essay on this subject!

How long can you live with a shame like that? How long does it take to accept the shame, to see the reality and speak out about it? Do you have to be an Armenian in order to speak out about hundred year old shame? All the booties and capital the republic of Turkey took from the Ottoman Empire counts as official inheritance, but yet why do we refuse to inherit a shame? When we are grieving, we expect everyone to respect our grief, yet when it comes to grieve together with others, why do we turn our backs? All these people who deny the Armenian genocide, they talk about democracy and peace, but what kind of democracy or peace state would support deportation over one million people? In order to speak out about injustice, do we have to be the ones who experienced the injustice ourselves? Can’t we question a system objectively, without accepting the ideological beliefs of a specific crowd?

Just like Rakel Dink said on the funeral of Hrant Dink; “Whoever the killer [of my husband] is I know that he once was a baby. Without questioning the darkness that creates a killer from a baby, you cannot change anything.”

(This article was published on Radikal Blog in Turkish on 24/04/2014, I edited the article and added some paragraphs for the English speaking audiance.)

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