Turkish Scholars Expect Turkey To Acknowledge Genocide by 2015

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By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

Nov. 10, 2005

While a few Turkish scholars on rare occasions have individually participated in Armenian conferences, never before has an all-Turkish panel addressed an Armenian audience on issues related to the Armenian Genocide. Such a unique conference took place at UCLA last Sunday.

The first indication that there were special sensitivities at this academic gathering was a sign at the UCLA campus directing the guests to the building where the conference was being held. It said: “Armenian Studies Conference.” A curious passerby, noticing that the second word, “Studies,” was handwritten on a piece of paper and taped over the sign, tore off the paper revealing that the sign originally read: “Armenian Genocide Conference.”

Prof. Richard Hovannisian, the organizer of this conference, said that he had anticipated 300 people to be in attendance. More than 800 showed up, obliging some of the speakers to repeat their remarks to the overflowing crowd at an adjacent hall. Also in attendance was a representative of the Turkish Consul General in Los Angeles, to make sure that Ankara is properly briefed on these proceedings.

The first speaker was Dr. Taner Akcam of the Dept. of History at the Univ. of Minnesota. He said that even though successive Turkish governments had “purged” the Ottoman archives of evidence linking Turkish leaders to the planning and execution of the Armenian Genocide, there are still many Ottoman records that provide ample circumstantial proof of this crime.

Dr. Akcam quoted from several documents located in the Prime Ministry’s archives that clearly showed the government’s detailed plans to deport Armenians not just from Anatolia, but from throughout what is today Turkey. Contrary to Turkish claims that Armenians were merely deported from the border area with Russia, Prof. Akcam presented evidence that 30,000 Armenians were deported form Istanbul alone and thousands more from other towns hundreds of miles away from the war zone.

Dr. Akcam revealed that these deportations were pre-planned with the intent of immediately repopulating the Armenian regions with Muslim immigrants in order to create a “pure Turkish/Islamic state.” He pointed out that when the Armenian population of a particular region was reduced to below 10%, the local officials were ordered to stop any further deportations and killings from that area.

Regarding the confiscation of the properties of deported Armenians, Dr. Akcam said that despite the government’s public announcements at the time that they were entitled to compensation, not a single Armenian received such payments. Some of the Armenian properties were given to Muslim immigrants. Other Armenian assets were sold in order to finance the Turkish war effort, pay the expenses of the Armenian deportations, or build schools and prisons.

Dr. Akcam ended his talk by predicting that the Turkish government would recognize the Armenian Genocide by the year 2015, the same year as Turkey’s hoped-for membership in the European Union.

The second speaker was Dr. Elif Shafak of the Dept. of Near Eastern Studies at the Univ. of Arizona. She emphasized the value of “micro-studies” in putting a face and a name on the victims of atrocities. She said that for today’s Turkish youth, history starts with the year 1923 -- the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, whereas Armenian youth have a much longer historical memory. She referred extensively to the life and writings of Zabel Yessayan -- an Istanbul novelist at the turn of the last century -- who documented the personal suffering of Armenians during both the 1909 Adana massacres and the subsequent Genocide.

Dr. Shafak said she wanted to see a democratic Turkey. “We need to face our past,” she told the audience. “Turkey had transitioned from a multi-ethnic empire to a homogeneous state,” Prof. Shafak said. Turkey has undergone not only “an ethnic cleansing, but also a linguistic cleansing.”

The final speaker was Dr. Fatma Muge Gocek of the Dept. of Sociology and Program of Women’s Studies at the Univ. of Michigan. She related the twists and turns of the conference on Ottoman Armenians that was finally held in Istanbul last September after several postponements.

According to Prof. Gocek, some of the Turks attending the Istanbul conference revealed that they were the grandchildren of Armenians abducted or sheltered by Turks during the Genocide. She stunned the audience by estimating that there may be up to 2 million Turks who are partly of Armenian ancestry!

She also expressed the hope that by the year 2015 Turkey would recognize the Armenian Genocide. “Armenians have been wronged, but have not been able to mourn their losses, because of the Turkish denials,” she said. Dr. Gocek concluded by advocating that Armenians be given Turkish citizenship and the right of return. She said that Turkey was “the common homeland of both Armenians and Turks.”

During the question and answer period, Dr. Akcam explained that in terms of next steps, Turkey could either just apologize or go as far as paying compensation and making restitution for the Genocide. He said that there was a wide range of possibilities between these two options. He acknowledged that this was more of a political rather than an academic issue. He concluded by saying: had Turkey acknowledged the Armenian Genocide in the 1920’s, other human rights violations may not have taken place later on in that country!

This was a fascinating conference for the local Armenian community. Many of them had never before heard Turks talking about issues related to the Armenian Genocide. All three speakers were repeatedly interrupted with enthusiastic applause.

Prof. Hovannisian thanked the Turkish scholars for their participation and promised to the audience that a future conference would deal with the issues of reparations and territorial demands from Turkey.

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