Halil Berktay

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Halil Berktay

A genocide, three constituencies, thoughts for the future

The horrible legacy of 1915 continues to cast a long shadow over, and to affect the political cultures, mentalities or horizons of, mainly three groups of people : (1) the Armenians of Armenia ; (2) Armenians of the diaspora ; and (3) Turks in Turkey and elsewhere. Each of these three constituencies stands to gain, albeit in different ways, from reconciliation through genocide recognition, broadly understood (whether this means the widespread dissemination and acceptance of the historical truth in Turkish civil society, or an Establishment act of recognition, or both). Each constituency also has its specific strengths and weaknesses. Among other things, they have been separated and isolated from, and to distrust or suspect, each other for far too long. Partly as a result, they have come to embody (a) different levels of historical knowledge and understanding ; (b) different political experiences and vocabularies in current time ; (c) different assessments of the external and internal dynamics available. These and other factors are all reflected in the present outlook of the diverse intellectual elites that claim to be speaking on behalf of all three constituencies. Is it possible to arrive at a common road-map ? In particular, without mincing any words about the backwardness or defensiveness of many Turks’ historical knowledge or understanding, is it also possible to engage in a constructive critique of the present “genocide recognition politics” pursued by many Armenian groups, which almost invariably revolve around a Turkish-state-vs-Armenians axis, in favor of prioritizing a more horizontal, more civil society, more Turks-and-Armenians-together type of education, information and consciousness-raising approach to fostering inter-communal, inter-constituency conversations ? A related question has to do with whether to opt for a legal, textbook definition of “denialism” or a working, on-hands, situationist understanding of the mental-emotional core of denial. The twon problems are closely connected. Whether “denialism” is to be defined in a maximalist or a minimalist way has a great deal to do with whether we end up regarding huge grey zones as “enemies” or as potential allies. Simultaneously, opting for directly confronting the state establishment from the outside runs the risk of driving all these grey zones into the arms of Turkish nationalism.




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