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Turkey: Apology Shakes Apologia over Armenian Genocide

Armenian Genocide Memorial
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.

Unzipped agrees.

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.

In Turkey there is a layer of current intellectuals who go against the rule of authorities, sit in prisons for their beliefs, write books, are published in newspapers… Something that in Armenia one can only dream of. 

[…]

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:

The Turk has committed the crime [of genocide] through a magnitude of ways, for which s/he is now trying to draft a supposed apology. An apology must be through action, not through words. [The Turk] hasn’t cursed in order to say “sorry” and get away with that. For committed crimes – apology proven with action.

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

Genocide Survivor, Arax, Armavir Region, Republic of Armenia

All photographs © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2005-8

22 comments

  • Mike Smith

    To “The Nevin Politology”:

    It was unfortunate that your life was inconvenienced by threats while you were growing up abroad. However, it was even more inconvenient for the 1.5 MILLION innocent Armenians that were killed at the hands of the Turks.

    So, mathematically, 1,500,000 Armenians minus 200 Turks equals 1,499,800 Turks that can be killed BEFORE you can even begin to start complaining about your “innocent” diplomats.

    How will the 1.5 MILLION innocent Armenians take back the years they were denied to live? Certainly not by the lies and deception that the current Turkish diplomats live to spread.

    An appology is the first step to begin the healing process.

  • […] increasingly vociferous and enamoured with free speech, dealing with difficult issues suxh as the Armenian question. Many of Turkey’s laws and tradtions are way more liberal than either original European block […]

  • Sarkis

    If Turkey wants to display itself as a progressive modern country, worthy of recognition by other nations & perhaps be allowed to join the EU, it has to grow up & admit it’s guilt and allow it’s citizens to talk about the Armenian Genocide from 1890 to 1923 freely.
    Simply put Turkey has run out of time & the Genocide has become its Moral, Political & perhaps Economic millstone in the 21st century.
    Just go to the link below & see that an independent USA site gives full account of the whole atmosphere, intent, craftiness & denial by Turkey.
    The site also lists other 20th Century Genocides to present a fair perspective to the readers and to show the mindset of some individuals and nations.

    Turkey has done a great job of hiding this dark chapter of their & world history but can no longer defend it’s actions, as their own citizens are feeling the embarrassment of the denial and are using “safe” methods like the internet to admit it & they are not ashamed either. This new wave is too mighty for Turkey to defend against. This matter will not go away! Just deal with it!
    The only way out is to be brave & admit one’s bad deeds in the past and move forward in life, rather than procrastinate & cause grief to the sufferers.
    I hope Turkey will step up to account for it’s barbaric & opportunistic past & open the path for it’s own growth.

    http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/armenians.htm

    P.S. Here are some quotes to help you along with the decision:

    “Delay is the deadliest form of denial.”
    Denial is a common tactic that substitutes deliberate ignorance for thoughtful planning. CHARLES TREMPER
    The worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves. We live in denial of what we do, even what we think. We do this because we’re afraid. RICHARD BACH
    Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. MARK TWAIN

  • tolga

    Turkey shoulnd have a problem like proving itshelf to the world.. Turkey is only have to prove itshelf to its residents..

  • Mesozi

    Mike Smith wrote: “Mathematically, 1,500,000 Armenians minus 200 Turks equals 1,499,800 Turks that can be killed BEFORE you can even begin to start complaining about your “innocent” diplomats.”

    This is the kind of insensitivity from where genocides spring! I ask everyone to be sensible before starting to headcount deaths. 1 person or 1,500,000. Murder is murder; not a statistics game.

    In fact, the people of the world whether Armenian or Turkish, need to learn not to discriminate: There is nothing as a single type of Turk. There is nothing as a single type of Armenian. Everywhere there are human beings (Good, bad or mostly ok) whose rights are sometimes violated by states. Nobody deserves to be killed or exiled.

    That’s why we need to protect all human beings. That’s why we need “human rights.” It is not enough to protect and love only what we call “ours”. Armenians need to love Turks and Turks need to learn to love Armenians.

    I hope everyone understands what Jesus said in these verses someday. It has beeen 2000 years and we still have not come to this moral standard:

    “But I tell you: Love your enemies[a] and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
    Matthew 5:44-47 (New International Version)

  • mehmet

    A lots of Turks had died from Armenian-Turk War.where is the thousands of Turks?they had died.Firstly Armenian groups attacted to Turks.later Turks gave reaction.That is a War…Armenaians lost…İf Armenians would win,Turks live in out Anatolian…that is true.That wa a War ,,,Armenian-Turk War….Ottoman Empire won that War.

  • Kutluk

    Armenian Diaspora resorts lies.Young Armenian generation growth with big lies.At first armenian terrorists killed 1.449.800 people.They were childeren and woman.Armehttp://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/12/28/turkey-apology-shakes-apologia-over-armenian-genocide/nian terrorists killer of children.
    look at this.They are Armenian terrorists http://genocide1915.blogcu.com/armenian-terrorists_4203906.html
    The Armenian terrorism aganist the Turks
    http://genocide1915.blogcu.com/armenian-terrorists_4203906.html
    Young Armenian generation don’t know Trues.Armenian genocide is a Big Lies.Massacres of the Turks by the Armenians
    “All Turkish children also should be killed

    as they form a danger to the Armenian nation”

    Hamparsum Boyaciyan…He is a Armenian Leader.He killed thousand of sinless muslims children.Don’t need to say much

  • ok

    World must know about Armenian Genocide

  • […] the historic first visit of the Turkish president to Armenia last year, and an online apology for what most historians consider to be the Armenian Genocide, Grigorian notes the unparalleled […]

  • Z.Akarsu

    The Armenians obviously have been trying to rewrite the history as they wish to have been and want to cast the role of innocent victims of a so-called genocide as if they had not performed hundreds of revolts against the Ottomans, being organized by Armenian committees Hınçak and Taşnaksütyan (24 revolts only in September to December 1895). Here are evidences from English and Russian Archives which contradict with the Armenian allegations:

    * ‘The Armenians ejected sulphuric acid to the faces of the Turkish people, fired their houses and killed them using knife and bullet, in Gaziantep’ (Report of English Ambassador Henry D. Barnhamof Aleppo –Halep-, dated 16 November 1895).

    * In 1905, the Armenians killed all the Turks and Muslims who lived in Susha in Azarbaijan (Russian newspaper Novoye Obozrenye 6 September 1905).

    * Armenian Soviet historian A.A.Lalayan stated that the Dashnaks displayed extreme courage to massacre Turkish women, children and ill and old people (Contrarevolyutsionnıy ‘Dasnaktsutyun’ İ İmperialisti-cheskaya Voyna 1914-1918 gg.’, Revolyutsionnıy Vostok, No.2-3, p.92, 1936).

    * V.A. Gurko-Kryajin declared that the Muslim folk around Yerivan and Kars were eradicated and the districts Shuragel, Kağızman, Karakurt, Sarıkamış, Surmali were fired and destroyed so that the folk were forced to escape, in his book entitled ‘Neareast and the States’ (V.A. Gurko-Kryajin, Blijniy Vostov i Derjavı, p.93, Nauçnaya Assotsiatatsiya Vostokovedeniya Pri TsİK SSSR, Moscov, 1925).

    * ‘150 000 Armenian volunteers in Russian Army were the only forces against Turks’ told Armenian
    Boghos Nubar, in Paris (Times of London , 1919 Jan 30 Link: http://armenians-1915.blogspot.com/2007/10/2013-150-000-armenian-volu…)

    *’The Turks who had been slaughtered like animals were buried in large holes in the Eastern Anatolia’ writes Russian Lieutenant Colonel Twerdo-Khlebof in his diary
    (www.tsk.mil.tr/ermeni_sorunu/arsiv_belgeleriyle_ermeni_faaliyetleri/pdf/yarbay_tverdohlebov.pdf).

    *T. Hachikoglyan, in a speech he delivered, told that the Dashnaks eradicated thousands of
    Turks with their bloody hands (T. Haçikoglyan, 10 Let Armyanskoy Sttrelkovoy Divizii,p4-6. İzdatelstvo Polit. Uprav. KKA, Tiflis, 1930).

    * Ovanes Kachaznuni (the first prime minister of Armenia) declared that all the tragedies they lived was the Dashnaks’ responsibility and originated from their lack of foreseing the realities in the report he presented to Dashnak Party’s Conference in 1923. (‘There is Nothing that Dashnak Party Can Do’) (Note that this book is banned in Armenia at present).

    * The Ottoman government tried more than 1300 men for not having taken the necessary measures during the migration and convicted many and executed several in 1916, because of the documented and horrible massacres of the deportee columns (See: Interview with Talat Pasha published in Berliner Tageblatt Newspaper on May 4, 1916 and the order sent to provinces from the Ottoman government dated 1June 1915 from Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives SHFR, nr 54/9).

    THE OFFICIALS WHO WERE FOUND FAULTY DURING THE DEPORTATIONS WERE COURT MARSHALLED IN EARLY 1916 (OUT OF 1673 WHO STOOD IN COURT, 67 WERE GIVEN DEATH SENTENCES, 524 JAIL TERM, 68 ROW BOAT AND MONETARY PUNISHMENTS BY TALAT PASHA GOVERNMENT, BEFORE THE OTTOMANS LOST THE WAR.

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