Monday, May 02, 2005

Nothing to see ... just a genocide

One issue that is dragging down Turkey's application to the EU is is relationship with neighbors (notably Armenia and Greece). And its relationship with Armenia is non-existent because it will not recognize the genocide of Armenians during WWI under the Ottoman Empire. Recently Ankara hoped to improve relations by offering a joint historical inquiry into the events of 1915. The offer has fallen on deaf ears (free subscription).

Beneath the hypocrisy is not a debate about whether Armenians were killed, or how many were killed, but whether or not the government had a hand in it. Turkey refuses to admit that the genocide was policy towards minorities.

Journalist Etyen Mahçupyan admits that Ankara is stalling on recognition, but he also argues that the genocide should not take precedent in establishing relations with Armenia. A debate would inflame the passions of nationalists, not bring resolution. Ankara should separate the "legal" debate from the diplomatic talks rather than spin out historical fictions.
The genocide question has become a foreign policy issue and has entered into common parlance in both the nationalistic movements in both Turkey and Armenia, indeed, such a situation shifts the emphasis of the whole issue. However, what Turkey has been doing is neither a proper study of history nor is it a real political initiative,

Turkey, as a nation state, has the right to deny or accept genocide allegations. But Turkey doesn't have the right to conduct flawed policies that may lead itself into a quagmire.

Turkey [is] trying to create an alternative history, instead of focusing on the essential aspect of the issue of which Turkey has power, namely, its political aspect.

No party would accept joining a debate where defeat is certain beforehand. Both parties should appropriate a partial defeat as well as a partial predominance for itself.

Mahçupyan might be right that it is better to separate the issues. However, it is the major, perhaps only, stumbling block. Furthermore, Ankara could start the process of recovering the memory of the genocide for the Turkish public -- a sign of good faith to Yevaran. (However, I must admit that German-Israeli relations were quite good in the 1950s and 1960s even though it was not government, not the people, who took the blame -- it would take longer for Germans to understand the meaning of their culpability. )

At least some exiled Turks have embraced history. Writer Dogan Aquanla blames Turkey's academics for not forcing the country to confront the past:
Turkey’s whole intelligentsia is now in shame for distorting the historical reality and not recognizing the Armenian Genocide. There is only one mention about the genocide in modern Turkish literature and the author is Nazim Hikmet. I should say that recently an opera piece was produced on the basis of that work, but the part (about genocide) was withdrawn.

I am here today to declare that I assume historical responsibility. Recognition for me is not only a moral but also political and public matter, because as German Bernhard Schlink says: “The one who lives in peace with the criminal also becomes responsible."


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