My Turkishness in Revolt
“My Turkishness in Revolt”
By Taner Akçam
EDITOR’S NOTE: Taner Akçam – Turkish intellectual, professor at the University of Minnesota, and the author of A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility – recently became the subject of a formal complaint under Turkey’s Penal Code Article 301: the same “crime” of “insulting Turkishness” for which Hrant Dink was tried and found guilty by the Turkish judiciary. The essay below – originally published as Türklüğümün İsyanı (”The Revolt of My Turkishness”) in the January 24, 2007 edition of the Turkish newspaper, Radikal – is Mr. Akçam’s approved English translation of his original Turkish-language article. It is being reprinted in the Reporter with the author’s permission.
I am a Turk. Hrant was an Armenian. I write for Agos. He was Agos. Hrant, Agos’s Turkish writers, and Agos itself risked everything for a cause: to cease the hostility between Turks and Armenians; to bring the resentment and hatred to an end. We wanted each group, each nationality, to live together on the common ground of mutual respect.
Hrant and Agos were a single flower blooming on the barren plains of Turkey. That flower was destroyed, torn from the ground. Everyone says, “The bullet fired at Hrant hit Turkey.” That’s true, but we need to ask ourselves in complete and transparent honesty: Who made the target for that bullet? Who targeted Hrant so the bullet would find its mark? Who held him fast so the shot wasn’t wasted?
Hrant wasn’t killed by a lone 17-year-old. He was murdered by those who made him a target and held him in place.
Nor was he killed by a single bullet. It was the targeting, month by month, that murdered him.
“I’m afraid,” he said on January 5. “I’m very afraid, Taner. The attacks on me and on Agos are very systematic. They called me to the Governor’s office, where they started making threats. They said, ‘We’ll make you pay for everything you’ve been doing.’ All the attacks began after I was threatened.”
“2007 is going to be a bad year, Taner,” he continued. “They’re not going to ease off. We’ve been made into a horrible target. Between the press, the politicians, and the lawyers, they’ve created this atmosphere that’s so poisonous, they’ve made us such an obscenity, that we’ve become sitting ducks.
“They’ve opened up hunting season, Taner, and they’ve got us right where they want us.”
Hrant wasn’t killed by a 17-year-old. He was murdered by those who portrayed him as an enemy of Turkey, every single day in the press, to that 17-year-old. He was murdered by those who dragged him to the doors of the courthouse under Article 301. He was murdered by those who aimed Article 301 during their open season on intellectuals, and by those who didn’t have the courage to change Article 301. Hrant was murdered by those who called him to the Governor’s office and then threatened him instead of protecting him.
There’s no point in shedding crocodile tears. Let us bow our heads and look at our hands. Let us ponder how we will clean off the blood. You organs of the press who have expressed shock over Hrant’s death, go read your back issues, look at what you wrote about Hrant. You will see the murderer there. You who used 301 as a weapon to hunt intellectuals, see what you wrote about 301, look at the court decisions. You will see the murderer there.
Dear government officials, spare us your crocodile tears. Tell us what you plan to do to the Lieutenant Governor who called Hrant into his office and, together with an official from the National Intelligence Bureau, proceeded to threaten him. What do you intend to do to them?
Hrant was portrayed as “the Armenian who insulted Turkishness.” For this he was murdered. He was murdered because he said, “Turkey must confront its history.” The hands that pulled the trigger – or caused it to be pulled – in 2007 are the same hands that shot all the Hrants in 1915, the same hands that left all those Armenians to choke in the desert.
Hrant’s killers are sending us a message. They’re saying “Yes! We were behind 1915 and we’ll do it again in 2007!” Hrant’s murderers believe they killed in the name of Turkishness, just like those who killed all the Hrants in 1915.
For them, Turkishness is about committing murder. It means setting someone up as the enemy and then targeting that person for destruction.
Quite the contrary, the murderers are a black stain upon the brow of Turkishness. It is they who have demeaned Turkish identity.
For this reason, we have stood up and we have decided to take Turkishness out of the assassins’ hands and we have shouted out, “We are all Hrant! We are all Armenian!” We are the resounding cry of Turkishness and Turkey. All of us – Turks, Kurds, Alevites, secularists, and Muslims alike – shout out on behalf of everyone who wants to take Turkishness away from these murderers.
Turkishness is a beautiful thing that should be respected instead of left in the hands of murderers; so is Armenianness.
We can feel proud to be Turkish only if we can acknowledge the murderer for who he is. That is what we are doing today. By declaring, “We are all Armenians,” we know that we honor Turkishness; by identifying the true murderer, we create a Turkishness worth claiming.
Today we declare to the world that murder has nothing to do with Turkishness or Turkey. We are not going to leave Turkishness in the hands of murderers. We will not allow Turkishness to be stained by hate crimes towards Armenians. Either Turkishness belongs to the murderers, or it belongs to us.
Turks cry out that the person who killed Hrant is a murderer. In the wake of his death, Turkishness affirms that we are all Armenians.
This, I say, is what we also need to do for 1915.
If we can affirm that a real Turk is someone who can distance Turkishness from the murder of Hrant Dink, then we ought to be able to do the same thing for the events around 1915. Those who gather in a protective circle around Hrant’s murderer are the same people who protected the murderers of 1915. Those who honored Talaat, Bahaettin Sakir and Dr. Nazim yesterday are doing the same for Hrant’s murderer today.
If we can come out and declare Hrant’s murder a “shameful act,” then we should be able to state the same, as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk did, about the acts that occurred in 1915. Today, hundreds of thousands of us condemn this murder by declaring “We are all Armenian.” In 1915, Turks, Kurds, Moslems and Alevites did the same. We have to choose, not only for today but for yesterday as well.
Whose side are we on? Which “Turkishness” are we defending, the one that defends the murderers or the one that condemns the murderous acts? Do we stand with Kemal, the Mayor of Boğazlıyan, who annihilated Armenians in 1915, or with Abdullahzade Mehmet Efendi, the Mufti of Boğazlıyan, who bore witness against that mayor at the trial that lead to his execution, stating, “I fear the wrath of God”?
Are we going to represent the “Turkishness” that defended the crimes of Talat, Enver, Bahaettin Şakir, Doctor Nâzım, and Governor Resit of Diyarbakır? Or will we oppose them in the name of a Turkishness that condemns such horror?
We need to know that in 1915 we had Mazhar, the governor of Ankara; Celal, the governor of Aleppo; Reşit, the governor of Kastamonu; Cemal, the lieutenant governor of Yozgat; Ali Faik, the mayor of Kütahya; and Ali Fuat, the mayor of Der-Zor. And we had soldiers and army commanders in 1915, men we can embrace with respect, for opposing what happened: Vehip Pasha, Commander of the Third Army; Avni Pasha, Commander of the Trabzon garrison; Colonel Vasfi; and Salim, Major Commandant of the Yozgat post.
Trabzon has its share of murderers like Ogün Samast in 2007 and Governor Cemal Azmi and Unionist “Yenibahçeli” Nail in 1915. But those who opposed the crimes of 1915 and didn’t hesitate to identify the murderers in court included many citizens of Trabzon: Nuri, Chief of Police; businessman, Ahmet Ali Bey; Customs Inspector Nesim Bey, and parliamentarian Hafiz Mehmet Emin Bey, who testified, “I saw with my own eyes that the Armenians were loaded onto boats and taken out and drowned, but I couldn’t do anything to stop it.”
These are just a few of the dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people who opposed the horrible acts committed.
We, Turks and Turkey, have a choice to make. We will affirm either the Turkishness of murderers past and present, or the Turkishness of those who cry out today, “We are all Armenian!” and who yesterday declared, “We will not let our hands be stained with blood.”
The whole world looks upon us with respect because they see us draw a line between Turkishness and barbarism. Today we are building a wall between murderers and Turkishness; we are Turks who know how to point the finger at a murderer.
We must show the same courage in regard to the events of 1915. Hrant wanted us to. When he said, “I love Turks and Turkey, and I consider it a privilege to be living amongst Turks,” that’s what he was asking for. We need to acknowledge the murderers of the Hrants of 1915, and we need to draw a line between them and Turkishness. If we are going to own up to this murder in 2007 then we need to do the same for those of 1915.
That’s what confronting one’s history is about. Today, by saying to Hrant’s murderer, “You don’t represent me as a Turk: you are simply a murderer,” we have begun the process of confronting and acknowledging our history. We must do the same with the murderers of 1915 by drawing a line between their acts and our Turkishness. We must condemn these murderers as having smeared our brows with the dark stain of their crimes. Then, and only then, can we Turks go about the world with our heads held high.
I cry out in the name of Turkishness. I cry out as a Turk, as a friend who lost Hrant, my beloved Armenian brother. Let’s take back Turkishness from the murderous hands of those who wish to smear us with their dark deeds. Let’s shout in one voice, “WE ARE ALL HRANT! WE ARE ALL ARMENIANS!”
January 24, 2007