A long open letter to Turks
A long open letter to Turks
I'm writing this letter after reading Mustafa Akyol's open letter to Armenians. I think his was a well written, thoughtful letter that helped many Armenians to understand an open minded Turks position and thoughts. This letter, I hope, will help you understand us. I hope that I can show you what your government has been doing to you as well, and the consequences.
First, let me say, I have followed Turkish-Armenian relations very closely, followed developments as they occurred, and often read many articles from the Turkish press. I have also traveled to the homeland of my grandparents in Marash and Kayseri – so far from Ethiopia where I was born, so far from California where I grew up, and so far even from Yerevan, where I live. So although these thoughts are from out of the dark, the generalizations I may make are simply my observations, and should be considered no more than that.
We have not been allowed to have a normal dialogue, primarily because your government has done so much to prevent it - from the closing of our land borders, to criminalization of the mention of the Armenian Genocide, even by Turks abroad. Many of you think that Armenians in the Diaspora are raised to hate Turks – most of us are not. We are simply taught our history, and most have never actually met a Turk in person. If you tell a child such a horrible truth, and that child never has a chance to meet a Turk in person, then a Turk is not real, not a person, and the emotions/feelings a child will harbor are a natural consequence which is hard to overcome. The reason most Armenians have never met a Turk of course, is the genocide itself.
As for the truth, there is no doubt that what happened was a genocide, and your government knows this well. Many of you already know the truth of what happened, and many more of you suspect that your government – as is often the case with governments – is lying to you. You want to believe them of course, because the truth in this case is not pleasant at all, and sadly many of you worry about the consequences of admitting it was genocide even more than whether you are being lied to.
Why do I say your government knows the truth? When Heath Lowry was hired to pen letters for the Turkish Ambassador to America, he often referred to the Armenian Genocide without quotes and never with any doubt – something he would never have dared do if he had thought that it could cause offense to his employer. It is clear from his exchange with the Turkish ambassador – which was accidentally mailed to Holocaust scholar Robert Jay Lifton – that Heath Lowry, Ambassador Nuzhet Kandemir, and by extension Kandemirs bosses in Ankara all believe the genocide happened. Their only concern in their exchange is how best to repress recognition of it. This well documented exchange is analyzed in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Vol. 9, Number 1, Spring 1995, pages 1-22. It can be found online and is well worth your time to read. Perhaps though you should consider with even greater weight the simple fact that the Turkish government, which has spent tens of millions of dollars repressing genocide recognition worldwide, which has allowed relations with countries like Switzerland, France and Canada to temporarily suffer over the genocide issue, and which keeps proposing to study the subject further with Armenia, has never managed to pay for a single solid book to be written which any scholar can point to as a proof that a genocide did not happen. Not even a preliminary paper on the topic.
Now for the irrefutable truth itself. Yes, it was genocide no matter how you slice it. When the US Congress debates whether to recognize it, you should note that debate centers around whether it will offend Turkey and harm military ties. Not once does a Congressman say they are against recognizing it because it did not happen. This is the same in every country that debates the subject. The world has not been censoring the topic like Turkey has, and 92 years after the events, a very solid, indisputable chain of events is documented which neatly falls under the definition of genocide. Many Turks parrot their government’s arguments that it was not genocide. Let me address three of them:
“But Armenians were a sixth column, they were fighting for the Russians, they killed some Turks, etc.”
- Folks, first of all this is completely irrelevant as to whether a genocide has occurred. There is no justification for genocide! If Armenians had not been so oppressed, some of them would not have preferred Russian rule. But what is truly incredible is how obediently all the Armenians went off to their deaths, without widespread rebellion.
“But the Armenians were just being relocated, and some died, perhaps there were some excesses, but it was not genocide.”
- If this were the case, then they would have been allowed to actually move. Forget the fact that the government did not make a single effort to house or feed the Armenians along the deportation routes straight into the desert, they were not even allowed to take their own belongings and money to feed themselves. They were across the board attacked by their own Turkish soldier escorts, raped, murdered, attacked (again with Turkish soldiers watching) by Kurds, kidnapped, etc. Most who made it to the desert were killed there. There was no exception to this pattern, and this could not have happened without central government orders and direction. The intent cannot be any clearer. The fact that these unarmed people went without any resistance, like sheep to their deaths is further proof that there could have been no serious claim that it was done to eliminate a threat.
“But look! There are still Armenians in Istanbul!”
- This tiny remainder, who is so downtrodden and oppressed to this day, is neither something to be proud of, nor proof that there wasn't a genocide across Anatolia.
In addition to this, let me add that if there was any truth to the claim that Armenians were a threat, and the intent was not extermination, then explain why, after all the men of approximate ages 15 to 60 had already been wiped out, the women, children and elderly were still deported. Could there have been any threat left?
Larry Derfner wrote in the Jerusalem Post on October 31, 2007 the following in response to the infamous philosophy of “This is a matter for historians to decide,”:
- “The historians, however, decided a long time ago. More than 125 Holocaust scholars - including Elie Wiesel, the late Raul Hilberg, Deborah Lipstadt, Daniel Goldhagen and Yehuda Bauer - have signed ads in The New York Times demanding acknowledgment that the Ottoman Turks committed genocide against the Armenians.
- “Wiesel testified in Congress on behalf of such a resolution. The International Association of Genocide Scholars - which is studded with Jewish names - holds the same view as a matter of course.
- “SOMEWHERE around three reputable historians disagree. They are led by Bernard Lewis, who may be the world's foremost scholar of Islam, but who, among world scholars, is certainly the foremost enthusiast of Turkey.
- “There are probably fewer historians who doubt the Armenian genocide than there are scientists who doubt evolution. Maybe we should reserve judgment on evolution, too.”
Need more convincing? The Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission – which had a majority Turkish members – primarily associated with the Turkish government and primarily people who had publicly said it was not a genocide, decided to have a neutral third party study the issue, and issue a report. The Turkish members regretted the decision and tried to cancel the report, which caused the TARC group to disband over this disagreement, but the report by the International Center for Transitional Justice was completed regardless, and is available online. The summary of the conclusion is: “We believe that the most reasonable conclusion to draw from the various accounts referred to above of the Events is that, notwithstanding the efforts of large numbers of "righteous Turks" who intervened on behalf of the Armenians, at least some of the perpetrators of the Events knew that the consequence of their actions would be the destruction, in whole or in part, of the Armenians of eastern Anatolia, as such, or acted purposively towards this goal, and, therefore, possessed the requisite genocidal intent. Because the other three elements identified above have been definitively established, the Events, viewed collectively, can thus be said to include all of the elements of the crime of genocide as defined in the Convention, and legal scholars as well as historians, politicians, journalists and other people would be justified in continuing to so describe them.”
Still need to hear more? On June 13, 2005 the International Association of Genocide Scholars wrote a letter to PM Erdogan stating there was no need for his call to study the issue further with Armenia. There had been plenty of study already and it was clearly genocide. They included 6 points which I will include below – but the entire letter is well worth reading:
- The Armenian Genocide is corroborated by the international scholarly, legal, and human rights community:
- 1) Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin, when he coined the term genocide in 1944, cited the Turkish extermination of the Armenians and the Nazi extermination of the Jews as defining examples of what he meant by genocide.
- 2) The killings of the Armenians is genocide as defined by the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
- 3) In 1997 the International Association of Genocide Scholars, an organization of the world’s foremost experts on genocide, unanimously passed a formal resolution affirming the Armenian Genocide.
- 4) 126 leading scholars of the Holocaust including Elie Wiesel and Yehuda Bauer placed a statement in the New York Times in June 2000 declaring the “incontestable fact of the Armenian Genocide” and urging western democracies to acknowledge it.
- 5) The Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide (Jerusalem), and the Institute for the Study of Genocide (NYC) have affirmed the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide.
- 6) Leading texts in the international law of genocide such as William A. Schabas’s Genocide in International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2000) cite the Armenian Genocide as a precursor to the Holocaust and as a precedent for the law on crimes against humanity.
The mountain of evidence is so great, I could go on and on. Once you start to delve into it, then you can imagine how an Armenian is skeptical that any educated person could have even briefly looked into the matter and claim it was not a genocide. If you believe that half of what the New York Times wrote at the time is true, or half of what Ambassador Morgenthau recounted is true, and you don't believe it was a genocide, it is only because you don't want to believe it. What other way can I see it?
What to do today
Now, moving on from the genocide itself, where are we? As you know, the genocide has become big news in Turkey. Of course it is usually still in quotes, and preceded by “Armenian say”, but overall there is a new dialog within Turkey. This is a great development, but the cost has not been small. Armenians in Turkey, and Turks who have come to accept the genocide both usually try to tell Armenians on the outside to keep quiet, not to push too hard, to allow more time. But that can’t happen, it’s not realistic nor I think productive. Realistically, you cannot ask a victim to shut up in order to allow the perpetrator of a crime to come to terms with it himself. It is not normal, human, nor fair. Yes, I know the genocide was a crime that was not committed by any Turk alive today, but the crime of denying it is a daily fact of life in Turkey and by many Turks abroad, and Armenians have waited almost a century for a simple apology, recognition and reparations. Should we be asked to wait some more? As for the request to not press now, and not to push the issue because there is now a dialog in Turkey, to this I say the dialog would have never come if we had not pushed so hard for worldwide recognition, and continued pushes will only stimulate further discussion.
As Turkey continues to try to debate the genocide, the country and people appear detached from reality, and rather than coming to terms with something that happened so long ago, it continues to haunt them in a way that Germans today are liberated from. Apologizing and giving reparations is, in the long term, in Turkey's interest. I know it seems convenient for me to say this to you, but really, when a foreigner meets a Turk in the west, the one thing they usually know about Turkey is that it is continuing to lie about the genocide, and has not apologized. Turkey still has no relations or border crossing with Armenia due to the genocide. Turks who take their government policy a step further end up murdering peacemakers like Hrant Dink, thinking they are doing their country a great service, and clearly a number of Turks - including the police who arrested Dink's murderer agree with this approach. The only way to get past all of this, to remove the psychological burden, is to come clean.
Having learned much about Turks, again and again it is our similarities that stand out so strongly, not our differences – a fact noted time and again by Armenians and Turks who spend some time together – but the simple mention of the genocide, something no Armenian can brush under a rug for any reason usually creates a wall with most Turks, or even worse, a dismissive comment. That has to change. Like Jews and Germans, we need to be able to have made peace and justice with our past, so we can sit next to each other as neighbors have to, talk about every subject without barriers – even the genocide – and eat our great cuisines, listen to our magical music, and finally live at peace with each other.
After all this I've said however, trying to explain our point of view, in the end perhaps the best way for you to understand us is to imagine what it's like to be in our shoes. Knowing that all of our people were murdered and deported from their homes, and those that survived have had to face a massive international campaign to hide the truth. For most of that time we had no country of our own to even raise the issue internationally. Ask yourselves, like one Turk did, Would you wish to be an Armenian in 1915?