Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia
Challenging 90 years of institutionalized denial of the massacre and deportation of the Ottoman Empire's indigenous Armenian community during WWI, tens of thousands of Turkish intellectuals, academics, writers, journalists and dissidents have apologized online for the “Great Catastrophe.”
One of two examples of man's inhumanity to man that prompted Raphael Lemkin to coin the term “Genocide” in 1943, Nova Scotia Scott sets the scene for an unprecedented initiative that has sparked a lively discussion across the globe which ranges from applause to outrage.
Three Turkish academics and one writer have violated Turkey’s biggest taboo by issuing a public apology for the mass killings suffered by Armenians beginning in 1915. In the recent past, Turkey has prosecuted public figures who dare even to admit that the genocide happened […] Predictably, ultra-nationalists have denounced the apology, calling it a “betrayal” and “an insult to the Turkish nation”.
After the initiative was approved by 200 Turkish intellectuals, the apology was launched at http://www.ozurdiliyoruz.com for others to sign. One of the signatories, Ziya Meral, explains on Denizens’ Corner why he signed.
[A]s a Turk, who was born in 70’ies, I am in no way legally or criminally responsible for acts committed by distant actors…. Sure, I did not exist when Armenians were marched to their deaths, but I am still a member of the community in which such events took place, thus still have a moral responsibility to act, no matter how limited my acts can be.
I remember crying for hours in [Armenia’s capital] Yerevan, with no theoretical basis to help me to process the trauma of being confronted with skeletons of a past of which I had no clue. That night I stood in front of a group of Armenians, asking them to forgive me, not for the acts as such, but for my personal failure of not knowing, not caring, and not hearing their cries. That is my personal moral failure, and for that I am sorry. That sorrow led me to do a Masters degree dealing with reconciliation and memory issues, and now a PhD on the subject.
Another Turkish blogger, Ayse Erin, explains why she put her name to the apology.
I can only applaud such an initiative but do acknowledge that the way to reach real understanding and reconciliation between the two nations has been extremely slow and full of denials during the last 90 years. There is still a lot to do, and if signing the online petition can help taking a step forward, I have no other choice than taking action and start with an apology.
Blogging at the Istanbulian, Turkish journalist Emre Kizilkaya doesn’t endorse the move.
Even if all Turks, without any exception, of the early 20th century had killed all the Armenians of the time, why should the grandchildren of the killers make an apology to the grandchildren of the victims?
…the apology campaign has turned out to be a joke at some point, considering the people who has [sic] signed the letter.
Doesn't the signature of Peter Gabriel, the Genesis singer, got a sublime symbolic quality? An Englishman apologizes to the Armenians for a Turkish crime?
Favoring the establishment of a joint Armenian-Turkish historical commission instead, Talk Turkey is also unimpressed by the petition and especially the counter response to the initiative.
To apologize or not to apologize… or to be apologized to…
But to counter the recent popularity of the signature campaign, with ‘we're not apologizing,’ or yet another one insisting it's the Armenians who should be apologizing, may not have been the smartest thing to do. It only works to de-unify the Turks and the Turkish people.
Do we really think the world is going to determine our worthiness by comparing the two signature campaigns, and public opinion will be swayed by whichever side gets the most signatures?
The Nevin Politology is angry with the apology and instead recalls the assassinations of Turkish diplomats by Armenian militants in the 1970s and 80s.
My father was a UN diplomat and we lived in fear while living abroad for so many years. Armenian terrorists killed over 200 innocent diplomats, and their wives, children, and friends. While living in Canada, I had to go to school under police protection. We had police waiting in front of our home 24/7. My family received threatening phone calls, threatening letters, insults, hate, hate, and lots of lots of hate. Who will take back those year?
The Armenian reaction is mixed too. Calling the apology a “good first step, but not good enough,” Armenian-American columnist Harut Sassounian summarizes the U.S.-Armenian Diaspora's response to the initiative on the Huffington Post.
Some welcomed the apology as a good first step, while others expressed concern that Turks would try to cover up their responsibility for the Genocide by issuing a simple apology. Armenian critics pointed out several shortcomings in the Turkish statement: First, the apology avoided the term Armenian Genocide by referring to it as the “Great Catastrophe.” Second, it alluded to the year 1915 only, rather than 1915-1923. Third, the apology was issued by individual Turks rather than the Turkish state…
Nonetheless, he sees some good in the apology.
[It] serves the useful purpose of educating the Turkish public that has been kept in the dark so long about the Armenian Genocide. Rather than an Armenian-Turkish historical commission [suggested by Turkey’s government], what is needed is a purely Turkish commission that would provide a forum for Turks to discuss and discover the mass crimes of their forefathers.
Even though they did not mention the G-word, this is a remarkable step forward by a group of Turkish thinkers in a country where Armenian Genocide still remains a taboo, albeit a broken one, and where by mere mentioning of the Genocide one could get persecuted or killed.
Another Armenian blogger, Kornelij [RU], is impressed with Turkey's intelligentsia.
В Турции есть прослойка настоящих интеллектуалов, которые идут супротив власть предержащих, сидят в тюрьмах за свои убеждения, пишут книги, печатаются в … О чем Армении в данный момент приходится мечтать только.
Думаю, этими людьми (большинством из них по крайней мере) движет реальное чувство. Не стоит за всем турецким искать лицемерие или ложь,.. И то, что они не использовали слова Геноцид еще никак не умаляет этого шага, с учетом того, что им просто могут проломить голову уже за это.
I think, these people (the majority of them at least) are moved by real feeling. We shouldn’t look for hypocrisy and lies in all Turks… And that they did not use the word “genocide” still in no way belittles this step, especially taking into account that [signing the apology] can simply result in having one’s head broken.
While Armenia: Higher Education & Science calls the Turkish apology “a courageous act,” not everyone in Armenia feels the same way. Noni-no [AM], for instance, says she will only accept regret with land reparations. Commenting on Noni-no's post, Satenik [AM] agrees:
Դե թուրքը լայնածավալ գործողություններով է կատարել հանցագործությունը, որի համար այսօր փորձում է իբր ներողություն ձևակերպել: ՈՒրեմն ներողությունն էլ պետք է լինի գործի տեսքով, ոչ թե խոսքի: ՈՒշունց չի տվել, որ հիմա էլ ասի ներողություն ու պրծնի: Արած գործողությունների դիմաց՝ գործով ապացուցող ներողություն:
Enotitan Revolution remembers others who suffered in the Ottoman Empire and is excited by the news.
This is a great sign of the coming International recognition of the Armenian, Assyrian and Hellenic Genocides. The Truth can not be denied for much longer!
Meanwhile, the initiative has caused some outrage in political circles in Turkey itself with the Turkish president now facing questions about his origin. Istanbul Calling explains.
The Armenian issue also seems to have a way of exposing an intolerant streak in Turkish society. […] Canan Aritman, a member of parliament with the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP), has upped the ante: after Turkish president Abdullah Gul refused to criticize the online apology, saying the signers had a right to post it, Aritman accused the president of being — heaven forbid — an “Armenian.” “Investigate the ethnic origin of the president's mother and you will see,” she said.
Gul quickly responded, saying all Turkish citizens are equal, no matter what their background. Just to be safe, though, he also added that both his mother and father come from families that have been Muslim and Turkish for “centuries.” Good to know. (UPDATE — Gul is now suing Aritman, for the symbolic sum of 1 lira, claiming a “heavy assault” on his “personal and family values, honor and reputation.”)
The Impudent Observer also comments on the accusations against Gul.
The easiest way to attract attention in Turkey to oneself is to become furious when anyone dares suggest that Armenians were murdered in a genocidal attack by the Ottoman empire. […] Naturally, an apology to Armenians is viewed by many as tantamount to expressing treason against the Turkish state. President Abdullah Gul has urged calm in discussion of the issue, but even hi[s] mild statement led to charges he is really a secret Armenian.
Whatever the reaction in Turkey, however, the move has had a positive effect on many Armenians, as detailed on my Blogian.
When I gave my father a print-out of the apology in western Armenian, his initial reaction was: “They took all of our land and memory and all they give us is an apology by a group of small people who don’t even use the word genocide?” To my surprise, he then added, “I accept their apology.”
And earlier this April, when a group of Turkish lobbyists and community organizers denied the Armenian genocide during a commemorative lecture at University of Denver, an Armenian friend of mine (who openly calls himself a nationalist), said to the audience that if a Turk told him “sorry” for the Genocide he would give that Turk a “big, Armenian hug.”
My friend owes 20,000 Turks big, Armenian hugs. Let’s hope the number grows so big that he will never be able to give so many hugs in 90 years.
Genocide Survivor, Arax, Armavir Region, Republic of Armenia
All photographs © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2005-8