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The Armenian Genocide and the Scandinavian Response

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Letter by Turkish Intellectuals

Don’t Stand Before Turkey’s Democratization and Confrontation with its History!

The individuals whose signatures appear below have been distressed to learn that the Royal Library of Denmark has given the Turkish government the opportunity to present an “alternative exhibit” in response to the Armenian Genocide exhibition.

It is incorrect to suggest that two different views of what happened in 1915 are possible. Over one million Ottoman Armenian citizens were forced out of their homes and annihilated in furtherance of an intentional state policy. What exists today is nothing other than the blatant denial of this reality by the Turkish government.

An honest reckoning with history is the non-negotiable precondition of a true democracy. The Turkish government has been suppressing historic truths and following a policy of denial for more than 90 years. In response to the many intellectuals in the nation who have urged the government to confront history honestly, this systematic suppression and intimidation policy, which reached its zenith with the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, continues unabated. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in several cases on this subject against Turkey’s position and actions.

By giving the Turkish government the opportunity to present an “alternative exhibit”, you support their policy of suppression and intimidation. The support that you are extending to a regime that has made opposition to confronting history and denial of the truth a fundamental principle is equivalent to supporting a regime of apartheid. We want to remind you that your support constitutes an obstacle to democratization efforts in Turkey today.

There is a regional aspect of this policy also. Peace, democracy and stability in the Middle East will only come about through regimes that are willing to confront history honestly. Through its position of denying historical truths, Turkey represents an obstacle to the development of peace, democracy and stability in the Middle East. We, Turkish intellectuals fighting for a democratic Turkey, urge you to reconsider your decision to grant the Turkish government the opportunity to present an “alternative exhibit” and withdraw the offer immediately and we invite you to join and support the democratic civil initiatives demanding that Turkey confront its history honestly.

Fikret Adanır (professor of history), Taner Akçam (professor of history), Ayhan Aktar (professor of sociology), Cengiz Aktar (professor of political science), Cengiz Algan (The DurDe civic initiative), Ahmet Altan (Chief Editor Taraf Newspaper), Maya Arakon (professor of political science), Oya Baydar (Writer), Yavuz Baydar (Columnist Todays Zaman Newspaper), Osman Baydemir (mayor of Diyarbakır), Murat Belge (professor of litterature), Halil Berktay (professor of history), İsmail Beşikçi (professor of sociology), Hamit Bozaslan (professor of political science), İpek Çalışlar (Writer), Oral Çalışlar (Columnist Radikal Newspaper), Aydın Engin (founding Editor T24 webnews), Fatma Müge Göçek (professor of sociology), Nilüfer Göle (professor of sociology), İştar Gözaydın (professor of law and politic), Gençay Gürsoy (professor of medicine) Ayşe Hür (historian, columnist Radical newspaper), Ahmet İnsel (professor of economics), Ayşe Kadıoğlu (professor of political science), Gülten Kaya (music producer), Ümit Kıvanç (writer), Ömer Laçiner (chief Editor Birikim Review), Roni Margulies (Poet), Baskın Oran (professor of political science), Cem Özdemir (Co-chair German Green Party), Esra Mungan (professor of psychology), Sırrı Sakık (MP), Betül Tanbay (professor of mathematics), Zeynep Tanbay (choreographer), Turgut Tarhanlı (professor of international law), Ufuk Uras (Former MP), Şanar Yurdatapan (Initiative for Freedom of Expression).

Exhibition organized by the Armenian Embassy in Denmark

Turkish Radio and Television Corporation Dec 11 2012


The opening in Denmark of an exhibition on the so-called Armenian genocide and the developments in its aftermath have grabbed headlines in Danish newspapers.

The Turkish embassy's initiative to open an alternative exhibition at the Royal Library in Copenhagen, where the exhibition "The Armenian Genocide and the Scandinavian Response" opened on November 6 has flabbergasted the Armenian Diaspora. Never expecting such a response, Armenians and their supporters have accused Danish library officials of giving in to Turkey's wishes. The Royal Library officials have rejected allegations of pressure from Turkey and have stressed they will not give up on their decision to let Turkey co-arrange an alternative exhibition. A statement made by the director of the Danish Royal Library, Ernald Nielsen says that the Turks have been given an opportunity to put forth their viewpoint about the Armenian allegations and no pressure has come from the Turkish embassy either. He said politicians should not get involved in their work and added that was their burning all the books and documents looking at historical events from a different angle what was wanted .

Turkey's ambassador to Denmark Berki Dibek has said the preparation to open an alternative exhibition is underway. The exhibition which features the incidents between 1915 and 1917 through the eyes of Scandinavian statesmen, authors and missioneries has not lived up to the Armenians' expectations in terms of the number of visitors.

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The trouble with the Armenian Genocide 14:31, December 14, 2012

By Cecilie Banke

(The following opinion piece appeared in the December 14, 2012 edition of the Copenhagen Post)

Machiavelli once wrote that you can conquer a people, but you can't conquer their memories. Suppressed memories, he concluded, will only have a way of cropping up whenever they get the chance. There can hardly be a better modern example of this than the massacre of the Armenians during the First World War.

Even though over 90 years has passed since Armenians living in the former Ottoman Empire were forcibly deported, and even though the memory of what happened was first suppressed and then later neglected, the past two decades have seen increasing international focus on what happened.

Most recently, the Danish Royal Library came under hefty criticism from both sides for its decision to organise an exhibition about the Armenian Genocide.

First, they were criticised by the Turkish Embassy. Then, when the library decided to allow the Turks to present their side of the story, the Armenian side protested. The decision was seen as kowtowing to Turkey and continuing the denial that lies at the heart of the dispute.

But how can something that happened over 90 years ago continue to divide two countries? And why should the Royal Library be dragged into a conflict that boils down to the Armenians' struggle for the world to recognise what happened to them during the war - before modern Turkey even came into existence? It has happened because the question of the Armenian genocide has become a part of the global culture of memory, which over the past two decades has come to play an increasingly significant role in inter-state relations and in the relationship between minority groups and states. The question touches on not just state policies towards minorities, it also touches on foreign policy and security policy. States can improve their relations with their neighbours if they own up to past crimes. The most famous example is West Germany accepting its responsibility for crimes committed against the Jews during the Second World War, symbolised by the spontaneous gesture of humility and penance by the chancellor of West Germany, Willy Brandt, when he fell on his knees at the memorial to the victims of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Other gross violations of human rights have come to define which historical signals states choose to show to the rest of the world.

The row over the Royal Library's exhibition shows how even a small country like Denmark can get caught up in other countries' conflicts over how a specific period of history should be interpreted. Disagreements about how the past should be interpreted can grow into a diplomatic dispute and come to determine which signals independent states show the rest of the world. The US Congress has, on more than one occasion, been close to ratifying a resolution that would recognise the Armenian Genocide, but each time pressure from Turkey has prevented this from happening.

It is actions like these that Armenian interest groups, as well as historians and other scholars, say constitute a Turkish attempt to downplay the brutal deportation of Armenians and other Christian groups. As Taner Akcam, a Turkish historian now teaching at Clark University in the US, wrote in the New York Times recently: `Turkey's attitude towards the Armenians sends a worrying signal to the Christian minority in the region. In such an interpretation, responsibility for preserving not just Turkey's modern history, but also its Ottoman history, needs to be seen in terms of overarching questions of security, stability and democracy in a region where continued denial of past transgressions only adds to tensions between ethnic and religious groups.'

Akcam's views can also be seen as part of another trend in this global culture of memory; it is expected that countries will own up to their pasts the way Germany did. Germany has admitted its historical guilt and has set the standard for how other states should act when faced with a problematic past.

Nowadays, we expect that a state admits its guilt, atones for its transgressions and compensates its victims. This is precisely what Turkey is fighting against. Turkey does not believe it is responsible for crimes committed by the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Nor does it see itself as having done something comparable to Germany or that it needs to atone for anything or compensate anyone. As long as there is an expectation that Turkey will face up to its violent past, Turkey will continue to resist international pressure to recognise the genocide.

However, letting Turkey present its version of the massacre of the Armenians will not contribute to the process being carried out by European and American historians to draw up a modern picture of the Armenian Genocide. The Armenians will feel Denmark has bowed to Turkish pressure. Instead, the library should support the efforts of historians to place the Armenian Genocide in a historical context together with other religiously motivated violence that arose as a result of the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Doing so would move the discussion away from the difficult issue of whether or not it was genocide and towards historical research and documentation, for the benefit of everyone involved.

Memory is the way we recall what happened in the past. History is what makes us wiser about it.

(The author is the head of the Danish Institute for International Studies' holocaust and genocide research unit)