A controversial genocide
ROBERT ELLISThe Danish Royal Library has, together with the Armenian embassy, held an exhibition on “The Armenian genocide and the Scandinavian reaction” though due to protests from the Turkish embassy, the library’s director, Erland Kolding Nielsen, has agreed to hold an alternative exhibition titled, “The so-called Armenian genocide.”
This decision has caused widespread debate and 37 Turkish intellectuals, including Taner Akçam, Cengiz Aktar, Murat Belge, Baskın Oran and İpek and Oral Çalışlar, have in an open letter in Denmark’s leading daily Berlingske called on the library’s director to reconsider his decision. In their view, the Turkish government has followed a policy of denial for more than 90 years, culminating in the murder of Hrant Dink in 2007. To allow the Turkish government to arrange an alternative exhibition will only support this policy.
As Turkish intellectuals fighting for a democratic Turkey, the signatories conclude that Turkey, through its position of denying historical truths, represents an obstacle to the development of peace, democracy and stability in the Middle East.
The reason the Armenian genocide is so controversial is because it is closely connected with Turkey’s self-image and the foundation of the Turkish Republic. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has claimed that “Turkey has not committed genocide throughout its history” and that “The character of this nation does not let it commit such crimes.” Even in defense of the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, he has said, “a Muslim can never commit genocide.”
Nevertheless, there is overwhelming evidence that Turkey, under the leadership of the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) in 1915, was guilty of a premeditated attempt to annihilate the Armenian population through massacres and deportation. The events must be seen in a historical context, as the Ottoman Empire had collapsed and Armenian nationalists – like the Kurds today – were demanding independence. Turkey had allied itself with Germany during World War I and the Russian advance on the eastern front with the support of Armenian auxiliaries and the Allied invasion in the west at Gallipoli sealed the Armenians’ fate.
A joint declaration by France, Great Britain and Russia on May 24, 1915 for the first time dealt with the concept of “crimes against humanity” and formed the legal basis for the Nuremberg trials and the U.N. convention on genocide. Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk originally supported the punishment of the perpetrators but their attitude changed with the Treaty of Sevres and Turkey’s partition. After the war of independence and the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, many of those suspected of war crimes were given leading posts in the government.
In all fairness, it must be stated that Armenian auxiliaries and guerillas were responsible for massacres of the Turkish civilian population, but these acts of revenge can in no way justify a premeditated campaign of racial extermination in the same way that German atrocities in Russia after the invasion in 1941 can be excused by the behavior of Russian troops in Germany in 1945.
What makes this topic so sensitive is Turkey’s fear that an open debate, not to speak of any admission, can lead to territorial claims from Armenia. This was why Justice Minister Cemil Çiçek in May 2005 called a planned conference on Ottoman Armenians at Boğaziçi University “a stab in the back of the Turkish nation.”
In 2005, Erdoğan extended an invitation to Armenian president Robert Kocharian to establish a joint commission of historians and other experts to study the events of 1915, but this was rejected. One way forward could be to hold an international conference on the subject, where Denmark could act as an “honest broker.” But the question is, who will take the initiative?
Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.
Stand Before Turkey’s Democratization and Confrontation with its History!
The individuals whose signatures appear below have been distressed to learn that the Royal Library of Denmark has given the Turkish government the opportunity to present an “alternative exhibit” in response to the Armenian Genocide exhibition.
It is incorrect to suggest that two different views of what happened in 1915 are possible. Over one million Ottoman Armenian citizens were forced out of their homes and annihilated in furtherance of an intentional state policy. What exists today is nothing other than the blatant denial of this reality by the Turkish government.
An honest reckoning with history is the non-negotiable precondition of a true democracy. The Turkish government has been suppressing historic truths and following a policy of denial for more than 90 years. In response to the many intellectuals in the nation who have urged the government to confront history honestly, this systematic suppression and intimidation policy, which reached its zenith with the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, continues unabated. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in several cases on this subject against Turkey’s position and actions.
By giving the Turkish government the opportunity to present an “alternative exhibit”, you support their policy of suppression and intimidation. The support that you are extending to a regime that has made opposition to confronting history and denial of the truth a fundamental principle is equivalent to supporting a regime of apartheid. We want to remind you that your support constitutes an obstacle to democratization efforts in Turkey today.
There is a regional aspect of this policy also. Peace, democracy and stability in the Middle East will only come about through regimes that are willing to confront history honestly. Through its position of denying historical truths, Turkey represents an obstacle to the development of peace, democracy and stability in the Middle East. We, Turkish intellectuals fighting for a democratic Turkey, urge you to reconsider your decision to grant the Turkish government the opportunity to present an “alternative exhibit” and withdraw the offer immediately and we invite you to join and support the democratic civil initiatives demanding that Turkey confront its history honestly.
Fikret Adanır (professor of history), Taner Akçam (professor of history), Ayhan Aktar (professor of sociology), Cengiz Aktar (professor of political science), Cengiz Algan (The DurDe civic initiative), Ahmet Altan (Chief Editor Taraf Newspaper), Maya Arakon (professor of political science), Oya Baydar (Writer), Yavuz Baydar (Columnist Todays Zaman Newspaper), Osman Baydemir (mayor of Diyarbakır), Murat Belge (professor of litterature), Halil Berktay (professor of history), İsmail Beşikçi (professor of sociology), Hamit Bozaslan (professor of political science), İpek Çalışlar (Writer), Oral Çalışlar (Columnist Radikal Newspaper), Aydın Engin (founding Editor T24 webnews), Fatma Müge Göçek (professor of sociology), Nilüfer Göle (professor of sociology), İştar Gözaydın (professor of law and politic), Gençay Gürsoy (professor of medicine) Ayşe Hür (historian, columnist Radical newspaper), Ahmet İnsel (professor of economics), Ayşe Kadıoğlu (professor of political science), Gülten Kaya (music producer), Ümit Kıvanç (writer), Ömer Laçiner (chief Editor Birikim Review), Roni Margulies (Poet), Baskın Oran (professor of political science), Cem Özdemir (Co-chair German Green Party), Esra Mungan (professor of psychology), Sırrı Sakık (MP), Betül Tanbay (professor of mathematics), Zeynep Tanbay (choreographer), Turgut Tarhanlı (professor of international law), Ufuk Uras (Former MP), Şanar Yurdatapan (Initiative for Freedom of Expression).