Taner Akçam (* October 23,1953, Turkey) is a Turkish historian, sociologist and publicist. He is one of the first Turkish academics to acknowledge and discuss openly the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Turkish government in 1915.
Akçam studied at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. He was a faculty member of Administrative Sciences, Department of Political Economy. He received his Bachelor of Administrative Sciences in 1976. He stayed at the university as a Master's student and assistant in the same department for some time. In 1976 he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment as the editor-in-chief of a political journal. He escaped prison one year later. He has been living in the Federal Republic of Germany since early 1978 as a political refugee. He continued his political actvities and in 1988 started working for the Hamburg Institute for Social Research on the history of violence and torture in Turkey. He earned his Doctorate Degree at The University of Hannover in 1995. The topic was called Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide on the Background of Military Tribunals in Istanbul between 1919 and 1922. Currently he belongs to the scientific staff of the Hamburg Foundation to promote science and culture, working at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. Today, Akcam is currently a Visiting Associate Professor of History at the University of Minnesota.
He has published various books and articles in English, German and Turkish on the subject of Turkish - Armenian relations.
- "[Akçam] is one of the first Turkish academics to acknowledge and discuss openly the genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish government in 1915 [...] This book represents the first scholarly attempt to both document the Genocide and understand that genocide from a perpetrator, rather than victim perspective, and to contextualize fully the events of 1915 within Turkey’s political history, and western political policies towards the region more generally."
- "He is one of a handful of scholars who are challenging their homeland's insistent declarations that the organized slaughter of Armenians did not occur; and he is the first Turkish specialist to use the word "genocide" publicly in this context. His new book represents the first scholarly attempt to both document the Genocide and understand that genocide from a perpetrator, rather than victim perspective, and to contextualize fully the events of 1915 within Turkey's political history, and western political policies towards the region more generally."
- From Empire to Republic : Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide, Zed Books, September 4, 2004, ISBN 1842775278
- A Shameful Act : The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility, Metropolitan Books, May 16, 2006, ISBN 0805079327
- Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey, Publications on the Near East, University of Washington, Sibel Bozdogan (Editor), University of Washington Press, July, 1997, ISBN 0295975970
- Dialogue across an international divide: Essays towards a Turkish-Armenian dialogue, Zoryan Institute, 2001, ISBN 1895485037
- Armenien und der Völkermord: Die Istanbuler Prozesse und die türkische Nationalbewegung, Hamburger Edition, 1. edition, 1996, ISBN 3930908263, (German)
- Insan haklar¸ ve Ermeni sorunu: Ittihat ve Terakki'den Kurtulus Savas¸'na, Imge Kitabevi, 1. edition, 1999, ISBN 9755332464, (Turkish)
- Siyas¸ kültürümüzde zulüm ve iskence (Arast¸rma-inceleme dizisi), Iletisim Yay¸nc¸l¸k, 1. edition, 1992, ISBN 9754702497, (Turkish)
Dialogue Across an International Divide: Essays Towards a Turkish-Armenian Dialogue, zoryaninstitute.org, 2001
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Akçam is the author of the recently published groundbreaking study From Empire to Republic: Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide, as well as Dialogue Across An International Divide: Essays Towards a Turkish-Armenian Dialogue, and numerous other books and articles. Through his research, writings, and lectures, he has worked tirelessly to help the Turkish people come to terms with their history and to bridge the gap between Turks and Armenians.
He has said of his approach to the issues covered in his new book, “Any effort towards democratization in the region today must begin with a dialogue about history and, most importantly, the events that transpired during the transition from Empire to Republic. Scholarly activity has been locked into a cycle of verification or denial of what happened in history, as opposed to analyzing the socio-political and historical factors that allowed that history to unfold.”
“[Akçam] is one of the first Turkish academics to acknowledge and discuss openly the genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish government in 1915,” commented genocide scholar Vahakn Dadrian. “This book represents the first scholarly attempt to both document the Genocide and understand that genocide from a perpetrator, rather than victim perspective, and to contextualize fully the events of 1915 within Turkey’s political history, and western political policies towards the region more generally.”
Taner Akçam was born in northeastern Turkey and became interested in politics at an early age. He was active in Turkish politics until he fled to Germany as a political refugee. For many years, in the face of great adversity, he has worked to create a dialogue between Turks and Armenians. He received a Ph.D. from Hanover University in Germany. Currently he is Visiting Associate Professor of History at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.
The Armenian Taboo and Mustafa Kemal
By Taner Akçam
Sunday, 8 October 2000.
Translated from Turkish by Sayat, EXCLUSIVELY for ANN/Groong
The uproar over the "Genocide Bill" continues. But these developments are no surprise. There is a nice saying: what is going to come on Thursday is obvious from Wednesday. Turkey is already cracking open the last taboo area of the [Turkish] Republic. Despite all the fuss and all the threats, we will have to see that we will, finally, have to start openly discussing the murders committed against the Armenians by the Committee of Union and Progress [Ittihad ve Terakki or Young Turks]. I don't know if they will ever call it a "Genocide" or when it will happen, but the Turkish Government will be forced to accept this historical fact.
Because, the Republic's final taboo is being cracked open. It is a historical process. It cannot be stopped by hurling obscenities, threats, or blackmail. The reason is simple: the Turkish Republic was founded on five taboos. 1) There are no classes in Turkey -- we are a tightly-knit mass; 2) There are no Kurds in Turkey. They are all mountain-roving Turks; 3) We are a westernized and secular nation. The existence of [our] Islamic culture is not even a topic for discussion; 4) There was no Armenian Genocide. The Armed Forces were assigned the duty to be watchful and defend this nation which was founded on these four taboos. It was illegal to discuss the influence of the military over the regime, and this was the 5th taboo.
It was considered a crime to talk about any of these taboo areas. Statutes in the Criminal Law like 142-4, 163, 125, etc. were legislated [for this purpose]. But overseers of each of the taboos made their presence felt and military coops, tortures, and deaths ensued. As a nation we suffered a lot but at the end the taboos disappeared one by one. In fact, through a timetable in accordance with the Helsinki decisions, it was resolved that these were a part of Turkey's realities and that they needed solutions. What we call the democratization package is nothing more than the recognition of these taboo areas and remedying them accordingly. Freedom of thought, steps needed to be taken regarding the Kurdish question, lessening the influence of the military over the regime, etc.... Turkey will become democratic only to the extent that it overcomes the taboos.
Note that of all of these taboos, only the Armenian Genocide issue had remained. Because there was nobody around to bring this issue up internally, there was no criminal law against it. However along with globalization and the membership process in the European Union, this issue will come or be brought before us with increasing intensity. There is a decision that was taken by the European Parliament in 1987. In order to become an EU member, it requires Turkey to admit to the reality of the Armenian Genocide and this admission, it is stressed, will not have binding responsibilities on Turkey's part. Since Europe cannot back away from this decision, it is up to Turkey to decide.
The matter is actually clear. In a nation that wants to be democratic, there can be no subject that would be illegal to discuss. A free society does not tolerate a taboo. In the end Turkey will admit that in 1915 a great human tragedy occurred. Just as the Kurdish reality is accepted [in Turkey] today despite the obstinacy and cries like "there are no Kurds, they are mountain-dwelling Turks", the reality of 1915 will too be accepted. The most important thing is that they must not be put on the agenda by foreign pressures and not come with a high price tag. 30,000 people should not have died for the Kurdish reality to be accepted.
Unfortunately, it is beyond debate that the events of 1915 qualify as genocide according to the 1948 UN definitions. Anyone involved in the issue with even a rough knowledge of the documents in the Ottoman, German, Austrian, Armenian, and British archives knows that the facts in these archives do not contradict, but on the contrary, support each other. And the underlying point is that the Ottoman subject Armenians were systematically murdered and left to die.
The claims that the events of 1915 does not constitute genocide cannot be addressed one by one. Here, I will suffice to say that the thesis put forward by some of our writers that a racist ideology is needed to call a mass murder a genocide can not be taken seriously. In reality, the question has several dimentions that go beyond the dilemma whether to call it genocide or not. Here, I would like to underline and bring forth one of these points I see everyone has forgotten about.
The fact that the Armenians were destroyed by the Ittihad was not even a debate topic.
The fact that what occurred in 1915 was a mass murder is accepted by anyone who lived at that time -- even by the leaders of the War of Independence. It may come as a surprise, but this is the truth. Of course the word genocide is quite new. It came into existence after World War II. During the [Turkish] War of Independence words like massacre, mass murder, and deportation were used. There were tens of speeches in which Mustafa Kemal described what was done to the Armenians as "cowardly [act]" and "savagery" and qualified them as massacre. In September of 1919, the American General Harbord upon visiting Mustafa Kemal said "he [Kemal] denounced the massacre of the Armenians." According to Kemal, "the massacre and deportation of the Armenians was the handiwork of a tiny committee that took over the government" (Rauf Orbay'in Hatiralari, Yakin Tarihimiz [Rauf Orbay's Memoirs, Our Recent History], Vol. 3, s. 179). In the same period, in an interview with the US Radio newspaper he says "we have no expansionist plans....We guarantee there will be no new Turkish atrocities against the Armenians" (Bilal Simsir, British Documents on Ataturk, Volume I, page 171, Ankara 1973). In a telegram he sent to Kazim Karabekir in May 1920, he asks Karabekir to avoid any undertaking that may be construed as another Armenian massacre. In a speech he made at the National Assembly on April 24, he called what the Armenians were subjected to in 1915 as "cowardly [act]" (Ataturk'un TBMM Acik ve Kapali Oturumlarindaki Konusmalari [Ataturk's Speeches in the Open and Closed Sessions of the Turkish Grand National Assembly], Volume I, page 59) and so on and so forth.
In those years whether the events of 1915 were a genocide was not even a topic of debate. In fact, it was being openly stated that the guilty would be punished. In September of 1919 there were a series of correspondances between the Ali Riza Pasha cabinet and Mustafa Kemal. Defense Secretary Cemal, representing Istanbul, asked Mustafa Kemal's Congress of Representatives [i.e. the precursor of the Grand National Assembly] to issue a declaration announcing that "those guilty of all sorts of murders during the War will not escape lawful punishment." In his response Mustafa Kemal says "it is our great aspiration to show that the big and small is equal in responsiblity in our country and that the era of perfect rule of law commenced in an entirely impartial and perfectly just fashion by bringing the wartime misrule into the open and meting out punishment". Moreover, he adds that he saw this punishment would be "more appropriate and beneficial to show it to friend and foe alike if it was actually put into practise rather than remaining as publicity on paper, as the latter case would cause many questions to be raised". In other words, what Kemal expected was punishment not for the sake of paper publicity but a real one (Nutuk [Ataturk's Oration], Volume III, Vesikalar, Vesika 141-2, s. 164-6).
The issue of trials for those guilty of massacre were taken up in Amasya negotiations. During the discussions, five protocols, three open and signed, and two secret and unsigned were agreed upon. In the first protocole from October 21, 1919 "the reawakening of the Ittihadism and the Ittihadist spirit in the country and even the display of some of its symbols is politically harmful.....The legal punishment of the guilty in connection with the deportations is necessary [both] judicially and politically". The third protocol is about the upcoming general elections. An agreement was reached on the necessity of barring the Ittihadists wanted for the Armenian massacres. For that purpose, the Anatolian movement [Congress of Representatives] reserved the right to interfere in the elections. "Since it is not acceptable that individuals assembling as representatives be connected to the evils of the Ittihad and tarnished by the [participation in the] acts of deportation and massacre and other evils against the true interests of the nation and the country, all necessary steps can be taken to oppose such a direction (Nutuk, Volume III, Vesika 159-160, s. 193-4).
It is possible to present pages and pages of [similar] examples. Here is what I want to get across: the fact that the events of 1915 were a mass killing was never a matter of dispute. The main issue of the time was the desire [by the Allies] to divvy up Anatolia on the pretext of punishing the Turks and using the events of 1915 as a justification. What Kemal and his friends were proposing was the punishment of the guilty but without the division of Anatolia. Today, instead of the hysterical cries, if we assumed an attitude as Mustafa Kemal did regarding the subject, we would have made great headway.
The Original in Turkish:
Ermeni Tabusu ve Mustafa Kemal
"Soykirim Tasarisi" üzerine kizilca kiyamet devam ediyor. Oysa sürpriz degil bu gelismeler. "Persembenin gelisi Çarsambadan bellidir", diye güzel bir söz vardir. Türkiye artik Cumhuriyetin son resmi Tabusunu da araliyor. Koparilan tüm gürültüye, yapilan tüm tehditlere ragmen görmek zorundayiz ki, artik, Ittihat ve Terakki'nin Ermenilere yönelik isledigi cinayetler üzerine açik açik konusmaya baslamak zorundayiz. Ne zaman olur, adina "soykirim" demeyi kabul eder mi bilemem, ama Türkiye Hükümeti de bu tarihi olguyu kabul etmek zorunda kalacaktir.
Çünkü Cumhuriyetin son tabu bölgesi aralaniyor. Tarihi bir süreç bu. Ne küfürle, ne tehditle, ne santajla bu isin önüne geçilemez. Nedeni çok basit. Türkiye Cumhuriyeti 5 büyük tabu üzerine kurulmustu: 1. Türkiye'de siniflar yoktur, hepimiz kaynasmis bir kitleyiz; 2. Türkiye'de Kürt Yoktur, hepsi dagda gezen Türklerdir; 3. Batici ve laik bir toplumuz, Islami kültürün varligi söz konusu degildir; 4. Ermeni Soykirimi olmamistir. Silahli Kuvvetler bu 4 tabu üzerine kurulmus devleti korumak ve kollamakla görevli idi. Onun rejim üzerindeki etkisi hakkinda konusmak da yasakti ve bu 5. tabu idi.
Her tabu bölgesi üzerine konusmak suç sayildi. 141-2; 163; 125 vb. gibi Ceza Kanununa ilgili maddeler kondu. Ama her tabu bölgesinin muhatabi "ben varim" dedi, darbeler, iskenceler, ölümler yasandi. Toplum olarak büyük aci çektik ama sonuçta tabular tek tek ortadan kalktilar. Hatta bunlarin Türkiye'nin bir realitesi oldugu ve çözüme baglanmasi gerektigi Helsinki kararlari ile takvime baglandi. Demokratiklesme paketi denen sey, aslinda bu tabu bölgelerinin taninmasi ve buna iliskin düzenlemelerden baska bir anlam tasimiyor. Düsünce özgürlügü, Kürt konusunda atilacak adimlar, Ordunun rejim üzerindeki etkisini azaltacak tebbirler vb... Türkiye tabular ortadan kalktigi oranda demokratik olacak.
Dikkat edilirse, bu tabulardan bir tek Ermeni soykirimi meselesi kalmisti. Bunu içerden gündeme getirecek kimse kalmadigi için bu konuda bir ceza maddesi yoktu. Ama Küresellesme ve Avrupa Birligi süreci ile birlikte bu mesele daha da artan bir tarzda önümüze gelecek ve getirilecek. Avrupa Parlamentosunun 1987 yilinda almis oldugu bir karar var. AB üyeligi için, Türkiye'nin Soykirim gerçegini kabul etmesi sarti kosuluyor ve bu kabulün Türkiye'ye hiç bir baglayici yükümlülük getirmeyeceginin alti çiziliyor. Avrupa bu kararindan geri dönemeyecegine göre karar Türkiye'ye kaliyor.
Mesele aslinda açik. Demokratik olmak isteyen bir toplumda, üstünde konusma yasagi olan konu kalmaz. Açik toplum tabu kaldirmaz. Sonuçta Türkiye de 1915'de büyük bir insanlik drami yasanmis oldugunu kabul edecek. Nasil ki tüm direnmelere, "Kürt yoktur, onlar dagda gezen Türklerdir" gibi bagirmalara ragmen, bugün artik Kürt realitesi kabul ediliyorsa, 1915 gerçekligi de kabul edilecektir. Önemli olan, bunlarin dis dayatmalarla gündeme gelmemesi ve yüksek bedellerin ödenmemesi. Türkiye'de Kürt realitesini kabul etmek için 30.000 kisinin ölmesi gerçekten gerekmiyordu.
1915'de yasananlarin, 1948 Birlesmis Milletlerce kabul edilen tanima göre bir soykirim oldugu ise, malesef tartisilmaz bir gerçeklik. Mesele ile biraz ilgilenmis, Osmanli, Alman, Avusturya, Amerikan, Ingiliz arsivlerindeki belgeler konusunda çok kaba hatlari ile de olsa bilgi sahibi olan her kes bilir ki, bu arsivlerdeki bilgiler birbiri ile çeliskili degildir aksine birbirini desteklerler. Ve söz konusu olan Osmanli Ermeni vatandaslarinin sistemli bir biçimde öldürülmeleri, ölüme terkedilmeleridir.
"1915 soykirim degildir", konusunda ileri sürülen iddialari tek tek ele almak imkansiz. Burada, bir toplu öldürmenin Soykirim sayilabilmesi için "irkçi bir ideolojinin gerekli oldugu" yolunda bazi yazarlarimizca ileri sürülen tezin fazla ciddiye alinacak tarafi olmadigini söylemekle yetinmek istiyorum. Aslinda sorunun, "Soykirim mi degil mi" ikileminden çok daha önemli olan boyutlari var. Burada bunlardan bir tanesinin altini çizmek ve herkesin unuttugunu gördügüm bir noktayi gündeme getirmek istiyorum.
Ermenilerin Ittihat ve Terakki tarafindan imha edildigi tartisma konusu bile degildi
1915 te yasananin bir toplu kiyim oldugu gerçegi, o dönem yasayan herkes tarafindan, hatta Kurtulus savasi önderleri tarafindan da aynen kabul ediliyordu. Sasirtici gelebilir ama bu bir gerçek. Elbette Jenosit (Soykirim) kelimesi çok yeni. 2. Dünya Harbi sonrasi çikti. Kurtulus Savasi yillarinda 1915 yilinda yasananlari anlatmak için kullanilan ise, "katliam, taktil, tebid" gibi kelimelerdi. M. Kemal'in Ermenilere yapilanlari "alçaklik", "vahset" olarak tanimladigi, katliam olarak adlandirdigi onlarca konusmasi vardir. Eylül 1919'da Sivas'ta M.Kemal'i ziyaret eden Amerikan Generali Harbord, Mustafa Kemal için, "Ermeni kitâlini o da takbih ediyordu", der. M. Kemal'e göre, "Ermenilerin katledilip sürülme-le-ri hükümeti ele geçiren küçük bir komitenin ese-ri"ydi. (Rauf Orbay'in Hatiralari, Yakin Tarihimiz, Cilt 3, s.179) Yine ayni tarihlerde, ABD Radyo Gazetesi'ne verdigi mülakatta "Hiçbir yayilma planimiz yoktur... Ermenilere karsi yeni bir Türk vahsetinin olmayacaginin garantisini veririz", der.- (Bilal Simsir, British Documents on Atatürk, Volume I, s.171, Ankara 1973) Kazim Karabekir'e 6 Mayis 1920'de çektigi telde, yeniden bir Ermeni kitali anlamina gelecek her türlü girisimden uzak durmasini ister. (K. Karabekir, Istiklal Harbimiz, s. 707) 24 Nisan'da Meclis'te yaptigi konusmada, 1915'te Ermenilere yapilanlari, "fazahat" (alçaklik) olarak tanimlar. vb. vb. (Atatürk'ün TBMM Açik ve Gizli Oturumlarindaki Konusmala-ri, Cilt I, s.59)
O yillarda, 1915'in bir katilam oldugu tartisma konusu bile degildir, hatta suçlularin cezalandirilmasi gerektigi açik olarak savunulur. 1919 Eylül'ünde, Ali Riza Pasa Kabinesi ile M. Kemal arasinda bir dizi yazisma yapilir. Istanbul adina yazismayi yürüten Harbiye Naziri Cemal, M. Kemal'in (Heyet-i Temsiliyenin) "Harp esnasinda yapilan her nevi cinayet faillerinin cezayi kanuniyeden kurtulamayacaklari", yolunda bir açiklama yapmalarini ister. Cevabi yazida M. Kemal, "harp esnasindaki suiidarelerin meydana çikarilip tecziyesi, vatanimizda mes'uliyetin büyük ve küçüklere seyyan oldugunu, kanun devrinin tamamen bitarafane ve kemali adlü hakkaniyetle basladigini idrak etmek ehassi amalimizdir", der. Üstelik bu cezalandirmanin, "birçok münakasalara sebep olacak olan kagit üzerinde reklam tarzinda nesriyattan ziyade bilfiil tatbikatile yârü agyare izharini daha muvafik ve faideli" gördügünü ekler. Yani M. Kemal'in bekledigi cezalandirmalarin kagit üzerinde reklam amaçli degil, somut uygulama biçiminde olmasidir. (Nutuk, Cilt III, Vesikalar, Vesika 141-2, s. 164-6)
Kirim suçlularinin yargilanmasi Amasya görüsmelerinde ele alinir. Görüsmelerde üçü açik ve imzali, ikisi gizli ve imza-siz bes protokol karara baglanir. 21 Ekim 1919 tarihli birinci protokolde, "1 Ittihatçiligin, Ittihat ve Terakki fikrinin memlekette tekrar uyanmasi, hatta bazi alâiminin meshut olmasi siyaseten muzirdir... 4 Tehcir dolayisiyla irtikabi cürmedenlerin kanunen mücaza-ti adlen ve siyaseten elzemdir" denir. Üçüncü protokol yapilacak seçimlere iliskindir ve Ermeni Kirimi nedeniyle aranan Ittihatçilarin seçimlere katilmasinin engellenmesi gerektigi konusunda anlasma saglanir. Bunu için Anadolu hareketi seçimlere müdahele hak-kini kendisinde sakli tutar. "Içtima edecek heyeti meb'usan meyaninda sahsiyetleri ittihatçiligi mesavisile alâkadar ve tehcir ve taktil mesailile ve menafii hakikiyei millet ve memlekete münafi sair mesavi ile lekedar olan kimselerin bulunmasi caiz olmadigindan bu cihete mâni olmak için mümkün olan esbaba tevessül edilebilir." (Nutuk, Cilt III, Vesika 159-160, s. 193-4)
Örnekleri sayfalarca aktarmak mümkündür. Anlatmak istedigim sudur: 1915'te yasananlarin bir toplu öldürme olayi oldugu hiçbir biçimde tartisilan bir konu bile degildi. O dönemin ana tartismasi, 1915'te yasananlari gerekçe göstererek, "Türkleri cezalandiriyoruz", denerek Anadolu'nun taksim edilmek istenmesiydi. M. Kemal ve arkadaslari ise suçlular cezalandirilsin ama bu cezalandirma Anadolu'nun paylasilmasi biçiminde olmasin, diyorlardi. Bugün, histerik çigliklar atilacagina, Mustafa Kemal'in konuya iliskin takindigi tutumu bile takinsak epey mesafe katetmis oluruz.
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