Of Germany, Turkey and genocide
I was busy with something totally different the other day, when I noted an almost national Turkish uproar on Twitter. The Bundestag had passed a resolution commemorating “the Armenian genocide,” making many Turks angry at this “libel” against the nation. Notably, those who reacted furiously to the “German insult” did not represent a certain political camp. It included people from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the main secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and of course the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) as well. For, as academic Gökhan Bacık put it well in a tweet: “Despite all the divisions – apart from small groups – I think the only things that unites Turks in the post-Noah era is that they haven’t committed an embarrassing mistake.”
In fact, we would prove wiser as a nation if we reacted to critical statements with reason and argumentation rather than anger and condemnation. The latter helps in doing nothing but flexing muscles at home, which of course may be precisely what our rulers need these days.
That is also why what German parliamentarians have achieved by condemning “genocide” against “Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, and other vulnerable Christian communities” must be considered. As Aydan Özoğuz, the German commissioner for integration, said to the New York Times, “Mr. Erdogan and ultranationalist Turks will get a huge boost” from this. “They will use the resolution as proof of a further attack by the West on Turkey. Reasonable, considered voices will be isolated and will have no chance to be heard for a long time.”
So what, you can ask. Should Westerners never speak about the tragedy of Armenians? Should they never call Turkey to face some of the dark chapters in its history?
I would not suggest so. Westerners, like everybody else, have the right to speak about the dark chapters in history, of which they have plenty as well. But if the Western world wants to have any positive influence on the perception of Turks, they should use a more impartial language and show more empathy for those who are not their own as well.
To explain what I mean, let me go back to the resolution by the German parliament. It spoke not only about history but also current affairs, and called on the German government to “encourage reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.” It never referred, however, to the real reason why Turkey and Armenia have had no diplomatic ties since 1993: The occupation of Azerbaijani territory by Armenia, which led to massacres against Azeri civilians and the deportation of a million of them. And this German lack of “empathy to the other side” has been rightly noted by Turkish commentators, who would be more open to a more balanced criticism.
In the broader scheme of things, I think that what blocks many otherwise reasonable Turks to face what really happened to Ottoman Armenians is that the West singles out this episode, whereas it was indeed a major tragedy in an era of tragedies, some of in which the victims were Muslims. In other words, we can speak of a “Circassian Genocide,” a “Tatar Genocide,” and “Balkan Muslim Genocide” as well, along with “Armenian Genocide.” They were basically the same horrible thing: Mass deportation, exacerbated by famine, disease and massacres, for the sake of establishing ethnic homogeneity.
Personally speaking, I am all up for honoring the victims of all those past genocides. It would entail standing up against nationalism in Turkey. But it would also entail standing up against the-only-victims-are-Christians-ism in Europe.