Vakifli Koyu is the last Christian Armenian village in Turkey. After WWI it became a part of Syria, and many of the surrounding villages on Musa Dagh (Musa Ler) mountain were also Armenian. In 1939 this territory was transferred to Turkey, a move which Syria does not recognize, and all of the other Armenian villages chose to leave, rather than live in Turkey. Along with Anjar in Lebanon, Kessab in Syria, and some Hemshin villages these are some of the last Western Armenian speaking villages in the world.
A Vakifli Development Society has been started in an attempt to try and reverse the decline in the villages fortune’s. Young people move away, and the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul cannot find a priest.
Vakifli Church (recent):
View of the sea from Vakifli:
Growing oranges is the main economic activity in Vakifli, along with a sort of Armenian Tourism. There was a peice about organic farming in Turkey that highlighted Vakifli village, which has apparently gone completely organic. The following are the excerpts related to Vakifli. Something old, something new: Turkey's organic farmers try to survive their European honeymoon March 17, 2005
These small farms have gleamed as a lucrative solution to Europe’s organic supply problem. It has become common practice for foreign certifiers to seek out de facto organic farms, with a certification protocol in one hand and a contract with prices only slightly better than the going rate for conventional crops in the other. Many villagers, unaware that the potential premium might be substantially higher, are all too happy to accept.
Vakifli, in the southern province of Hatay, is one such village. Vakifli's orchard terraces have commanded a ridgetop view over the sea to the Syrian coast since the first ones were built, over a thousand years ago. Panos Çapar has never used "poison," as he calls synthetic pesticides, in his family's orange groves. "They send it from Europe," he says, "even though they don't use it there." Last year, Panos' son Vahe, together with other younger farmers, convinced the rest of Vakifli's citrus growers – 38 households, all told – to follow suit. This year, the entire village is certified organic.
The subsequent harvest was grand, the receipts less so. A bumper crop had tangerines selling at half the previous year's price. With two-thirds of the crop still on the trees, Vakifli had stopped harvesting. "If England says send more," Vahe says, "we'll pick." At a 33% premium, Vakifli's organic citrus growers are doing better than their conventional neighbors down the hill – but they're still not breaking even. Even with their troubles, Vakifli's farmers are not only in better shape than their conventional counterparts, but also than many other organic farmers in Turkey. According to Dr. Uygun Aksoy, professor of plant pathology at Ege University in Izmir, the price premium usually tops out at 15 or 20% across all crops. And the costs of inspection and certification, she says, are "rather high."
"We're all amateurs here – the state, the exporter, and us," says Agop Kartun, a native of Vakifli who lived for 25 years in Istanbul before returning home to set up a pharmacy and work the family orchard. "But we're bearing the cost for everyone."
Over a rich supper prepared entirely from food grown in the village, Vahe Çapar returns one traditional Turkish toast, "Serefe (to honor)!" with another: "Sagolina (to health)!" "We came to the marketing aspect only later," he says. "We first thought of the human aspect." Kartun agrees, "We did this in order not to poison people. We didn't set out to be organic or to export." The exporters, he says, "told us we were doing organic."
Yet while the food Vakifli grows, and eats, may all be organic, the next closest people to savor its benefits aren't at the market down the hill in Samandag, or even in the major cities like Istanbul, but rather at high-end supermarket chains in England, Germany and Holland. Like its flavor and nutrition, the bulk of the economic returns from Turkey's organic produce don't stay at home. The problem isn't that organic doesn’t fetch high prices – it's just that the majority of the increase is in retail markups not in the modest growers' premiums and the retail markups flow almost entirely to European-based exporters and supermarket chains.
Twenty-five years ago, when Panos Çapar restored the house his and Vahe's families now share, 2 kilos of oranges brought enough money to buy a bag of cement mix. Now, it takes several baskets. One afternoon in December, the farmer's union in nearby Samandag staged a demonstration. During the rally union president, Selim Kamaci, declared, "The Turkish government's policies are killing the farmer." Declining incomes have plagued Turkey's farmers for decades, despite high tariffs on agricultural imports from other countries and a large agricultural export surplus.
Turkey: Village Survived The Century's First Mass Ethnic Expulsion
By Jolyon Naegele
Vakifli Koyu, Turkey; 27 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Turkey's last surviving Armenian village -- Vakif -- or in Turkish, Vakifli Koyu, is perched on the southern slope of Musa Dagh, or Mount Moses, overlooking the Mediterranean and within eyesight of the Syrian border. Orange and mandarin groves circle the village. The air is pungent with jasmine.
Coming upon this community of 135 ethnic Armenians in Turkey, the visitor has the odd feeling of having found the last Mohican somewhere in the wilds of New York's Central Park, or a Jewish shtetl in contemporary Poland, or an Azerbaijani village in today's Nagorno-Karabakh.
Vakif is unique in that it survived the century's first mass ethnic expulsion -- not because it was overlooked but because its inhabitants beat the odds and resisted their oppressors until help arrived. Although the inhabitants were forced to evacuate, they came home once it was safe to do so and stayed.
In 1915, Turkish authorities ordered that all Armenians be expelled into the Syrian desert. Armenian and Turkish historians disagree over how many were killed in the expulsions. Turkish historians put the figure at 200,000, while Armenians say up to 10 times that number died.
Dutch historian Erik Zuercher, in his "Modern History of Turkey," says the death toll is probably 600,000 to 800,000. He says the reason for the discrepancy, propaganda apart, lies in differing estimates of the number of Armenians who lived in the empire before the war and the numbers who emigrated. Up to two million Armenians are believed to have inhabited Ottoman Turkey at the outbreak of the first World War, but by the end of the war, there were no more than 100,000 left, mainly in Istanbul and other parts of western Turkey.
The inhabitants of six villages on the slopes of Musa Dagh, Vakif among them, chose to resist in 1915 and set up fortifications on the mountain. For 53 days they repelled onslaughts by Turkish troops until French sailors sighted a banner the Armenians had tied to a tree on the mountain emblazoned with the words: "Christians in Distress: Rescue." French and British naval ships then evacuated some 4,200 men, women and children from Musa Dagh to Port Said in Egypt.
The Prague-born Viennese writer Franz Werfel wrote a stirring novel in 1933 based on this resistance: "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh." Werfel took the liberty of changing certain details to give the story biblical dimensions -- 53 days became 40 days, and six villages became seven villages.
After the World War I, Musa Dagh and the surrounding province of Hatay became part of French-administered Syria. The end of Turkish administration in the area enabled the Armenian inhabitants to resettle their six villages on the slopes of Musa Dagh.
But following an agreement between France and Turkey and a controversial referendum, the district reverted to Turkey in 1939, a move still not recognized by Syria.
Some 5,000 of Musa Dagh's Armenians fled Hatay once again with the help of the French navy, this time settling in Lebanon's Bekaa valley.
There, they built the town of Anjar, naming its six wards after the six villages of Musa Dagh (Vakif, Haji Hababli, Kabusia, Khdr Bek, Yoghun Oluk, and Bitias). Disease and malnutrition took the lives of many of the new settlers in the first months of their arrival. Many more have since fled Lebanon's civil war and fighting in the Bekaa valley.
Anjar is currently home to some 2,400 Armenians.
They and their brethren now living in the diaspora have established an internet web page, complete with local folk music including a song (written and composed by Yessai Markarian) about the exodus from Musa Dagh and the hardships they faced in Anjar:
But others stayed in Vakif. Today, it is a peaceful farming community and is quite prosperous, judging by its homes, cars and tidy appearance. In addition to Armenians, Vakif is home to one Kurd and one Turkish Muslim family.
The village church has recently been reconstructed and expanded. A plaque on the wall says the church was renovated in 1994-97 with assistance from the Turkish government.
The day this reporter visited Vakif, the mayor was just leaving and had no time to talk. The priest was away ministering to the Armenian community in nearby Antakya, where he spends every other week meeting with 35 Armenian families there. But Bedros Kehyroglu, a local farmer who helps look after the parish office and church, had time to talk.
He says the Armenian community in Vakif enjoys "100 percent autonomy." In his words, "since there is democracy in Turkey, the government lets the people manage the village themselves." He says the Armenian community is not under any pressure from political parties and points out it was under the pro-Islamist Welfare (Refah) Party that Ankara subsidized reconstruction of the church.
He says villagers speak Turkish in public and an Armenian dialect at home. As he puts it, "when we are in the village, we speak Armenian." He says he's not very fluent in Armenian, but that he cannot deny that he is an Armenian. He adds, "a person who denies his identity cannot be trusted."
He and other villagers of Vakif say they have virtually no contact with the Musa Dagh Armenian diaspora, which in addition to Lebanon is spread out over Austria, Britain, France, Canada, the U.S., Venezuela, and Australia.
"We have no contact with Armenians in the diaspora, just with some villagers who work in Europe and come home on vacation -- and with the Armenians in Istanbul."
Busloads of Armenian residents of Istanbul, of whom there are several thousand, pay visits to Vakif and Antakya. Nearly 100 came last month with the patriarch, crowding into the church for a service and then spending their time playing backgammon in the local teahouse.
Vakif's Armenians are undergoing gradual linguistic assimilation by the Turkish majority. While the older generation can read and write in Armenian, most members of the younger generation cannot.
Those who want to learn Armenian have to go to an Armenian boarding school in Istanbul, where they are taught in Turkish but attend lessons in Armenian as a foreign language.
The ethnic Armenian owner of the teahouse in Vakif and a nearby beach hotel, Garbis Kus, says although his mother tongue is Armenian, he can't speak or write in Armenian. As a child, he attended the local Turkish school.
When asked if he has a message for the Armenian diaspora, Kus responds in a way that reveals the politically delicate position of this isolated community:
"There are Armenians in different places, but everyone lives his own life so we have no connections with the others living elsewhere."
He made the remark in Turkish and declined to do so in Armenian.
Arab and Kurdish inhabitants of nearby villages are in a similar predicament because of difficult relations between Ankara and Syria as well as constitutional restrictions. Insurgents of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) occasionally cross into Turkey from bases in Syria. Posters for alleged PKK terrorists are plastered all over Antakya and Samandag and truckloads of security troops are a frequent site.
All school instruction, news media, and public signs are in Turkish as prescribed by the Turkish Constitution of 1982, which was imposed by the military before it returned the country to civilian rule. Article 42 stipulates that "no language other than Turkish shall be taught as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institutions of training or education." An additional clause says foreign language instruction shall be regulated by law.
The last Armenians on the slopes of Musa Dagh face an uncertain future as they gradually lose the ability to communicate in their mother tongue and are assimilated into the Turkish mainstream. Their lifeline remains as a holiday retreat for Istanbuls insular Armenian community.
Copyright 1999 RFE/RL
The annual pilgrimage to the Armenian Church of the Holy Mother of God, in the Vakifli village, on the slopes of Mt. Musadag, in the province of Antakya (Antioch), will be led by the Revd. Fr. Drtad Uzunyan. The Blessing of the Madagh will be held on Saturday, 13 August, 2005 at 20:00 hours, in the churchyard. The Festival will begin immediately afterwards. The Divine Liturgy will be celebrated on Sunday, 14 August, at 10:00 hours. Following the Divine Liturgy, the traditional service of "The Blessing of the Grapes" (or Khaghogh Orhnek) will be held. (info from Lraper Church Bulletin)
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For last Armenian village in Turkey, no remembrance of things past
by Piotr Zalewski @p_zalewski April 23, 2015 5:00AM ET
On the centenary of the 1915 massacres, Vakıflı's remaining 135 residents prefer to stay out of debate about genocide
VAKıFLı, Turkey —The reports made their way to the six villages of Musa Dagh, or Mount Moses, slowly, detail by terrifying detail, in the summer of 1915. Merchants carried word of the arrest and deportation of hundreds of Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul, which had begun on April 24. Dikran Antreassian, a Protestant minister, arrived with news that the Armenians of Zeitun, the Anatolian town to which he had been posted, were being herded by Ottoman forces toward the desert of Syria. Many of them had already succumbed to hunger and roving gangs. Antreassian and his family had managed to slip away.
Some learned through Turkish neighbors. “It was the Turks in Hüseyinli village who found out first and alerted our people,” said Bedros Kartun, a grandson of one of the survivors.
In late July, news spread that the Ottomans had ordered the whole population of Kessab, a nearby Armenian town, to prepare for a long journey. By then the people of the six villages — Yoghunoluk, Kheder Beg, Haji Habibli, Kabusiye, Bitias and Vakef – knew they were next.
The deportation orders came within a few days. When Ottoman zaptiehs, or policemen, arrived to enforce them, accompanied by local outlaws and looters, they found the villages nearly deserted. Of a population of 6,000, only about 2,000 people remained, terrified, but reconciled to their fate. They were marched in the direction of Hama, in northern Syria. About half of the deportees, said Vahram Shemmassian, a professor at California State University, Northridge, were to die of disease and starvation.
The rest of the villagers, the Ottomans were soon to realize, had gone up to the mountain. Rather than face exile and likely death on the side of a road, they had decided to stay on and fight.
Vakıflı, as the Vakef of old is now called, is a bumpy 15-minute ride from Samandağ, the closest town, along hills awash with orange and lemon trees. On a weekday earlier this spring, a fierce wind roared through the village, whistling through the cracks in the walls of the old houses, foreshadowing rain. A hawk started to glide through the nearby valley, but turned back. Up the road from the central square, past the church and the cemetery, lay the lower reaches of the mount. To the west, a green carpet of trees, dotted with ripe orange fruits, bright as lanterns, rolled over a couple of neighboring hills and down toward the Mediterranean.
A group of women sat outside an old school building, now converted into a guesthouse, sticking green labels onto jars of bitter orange preserves and bottles of liquor made with daffodil flowers, to be sold at a nearby stand. The village’s economy traditionally relied on fruit farming. In recent years, locals had begun to complement their income by making and selling organic products, including jams, extracts and laurel soap.
In the 2000s, the Turkish authorities, which succeeded the Ottomans, allowed the locals to restore and reopen the old village church. Tourists, both Turks and foreigners, began coming. For diaspora Armenians with roots in the region, Vakıflı became something of a pilgrimage site.
Of the six Musa Dagh villages that stood up to the Ottomans in 1915, it is the only one that survives.
On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the massacre of Armenians under Ottoman rule, however, the past appears to be less of a concern for the residents of Vakıflı than the present. The population has shrunk to about 135 people, most of them elderly. The majority of the villagers speak Armenian, but only a few are still able to read or write in it. The local school was shut down after Turkey took over the province, and children can only learn Armenian at home. In theory, said Cem Çapar, head of the foundation that runs Vakıflı’s church, the community could apply for a new school to be opened, but there wouldn’t be enough students to fill the classes, or enough teachers to teach. Between 50,000 and 70,000 Armenians live in Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city. But the country's last Armenian village may be just one or two generations away from extinction.
For decades, the Turkish attitude toward the legacy of the death marches that claimed the lives of anywhere from 600,000 to 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians had oscillated between indifference and denial. Until the turn of the century, recalls Taner Akçam, a historian at Clark University, no one in Turkey wanted to talk about the Armenian massacres. “Everybody thinks it was very difficult to talk about the genocide because of the pressure, because of the character of the regime, and so on,” he said. “That wasn’t the major problem. The major problem was disinterest.”
It was when one decided to speak up that disinterest gave way to resentment and recriminations. “You were treated as a leper, you were made to feel like you had betrayed your family,” Akçam said.
That sort of backlash often went hand in hand with an official government one. In December 2005, Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Prize-winning author, stood trial for “insulting Turkishness” after telling a Swiss magazine, “One million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares talk about it.” In 2006, another writer, Elif Şafak, faced similar charges on account of a genocide reference made by a fictional character in one of her novels. Both were acquitted.
Slowly, however, the dominant Turkish narrative, which holds that the slaughter of the Armenians has been exaggerated in scale and placed out of context (the context being the wider tragedy of the First World War, in which hundreds of thousands of Turks also perished), has started to show signs of strain.
In 2005, despite official objections and threats, a Turkish university hosted a groundbreaking conference on the genocide. In 2007, more than 100,000 people, many of them holding placards proclaiming “We are all Armenians,” took part in the funeral of Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian writer gunned down in Istanbul by a teenage nationalist. In 2008, more than 30,000 Turks signed a petition calling for a collective apology for “the Great Catastrophe of 1915.” Today, books documenting the genocide are widely available at shops in Istanbul and other large cities. “The cycle of psychological terror has been broken,” said Halil Berktay, another historian.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in power since 2002, can claim at least some of the credit. Use of the “G-word” has been de facto decriminalized. Government ministers have begun commiserating publicly with the victims of the Armenian massacres. An ethnic Armenian who regularly refers to the genocide was appointed last year as an adviser to the prime minister. (He has since had to resign.)
For a while, it even looked as if Turkey and Armenia, which never established formal diplomatic relations, could patch up their political and historical differences. In 2009 the two governments signed a comprehensive deal that foresaw the opening of borders, closed since 1993, an exchange of ambassadors, and the launch of a joint committee to examine the events of 1915. The agreement fell apart, however, after Turkey made it conditional on an Armenian peace deal with Azerbaijan, an Ankara ally.
In a country that used to deny the survivors of 1915 the right to commemorate their past openly, Armenian heritage had long been a heavy cross to bear. “When I was young I suffered a lot, the other kids mocked me in class,” recalled Toros Silahli, a carpenter in Vakıflı. “I had [similar] trouble when I went away to the military.”
To spare them the kind of problems Silahli had experienced as a young man and camouflage their Armenian identity, local villagers would sometimes give their children Western-sounding names. Even though the practice has since disappeared, evidence of it lives on. One of the women at the guesthouse was named Caroline. Another was Janet. She was on the phone with someone named Jacqueline.
“I would have liked to have an Armenian name, but it’s too late now,” said Caroline. “I’m too used to the one I have.”
After the Turkish takeover in 1939, locals were also forced to change their last names. The Mandiryans became the Silahlis, the Chapariyans became the Çapars, and the Manjians became the Mancas. Vakef itself became known as Vakıflı.
Assimilationist policies have done much less damage here than in other parts of the country, however. Much of the reason has to do with the fact that Hatay, the province to which the village belongs, has been a mosaic of religions and cultures for centuries. “You’ve got Armenians, Arabs, Turks, Alawites, Sunnis and Jews living here side by side, celebrating holidays together,” said Kuhar. “Even Istanbul isn’t as cosmopolitan.”
The new political climate has also left its mark on Vakıflı. Today, most if not all of the young people appear to have Armenian first names. Aram, a teenager who commutes to school in Samandağ said his had earned him a certain degree of distinction. “They’re really interested in our past,” he said of his Turkish classmates.
Here and elsewhere, Armenians are more at ease speaking about the past than ever before, said Çapar. “Before, Armenians knew all of their problems, but they only spoke about them in private,” he said. “A broken arm should remain inside the sleeve,” he added, citing a Turkish proverb, “That’s the code people used to abide by.”
“It’s still not easy to be Armenian in Turkey, but it’s much easier than before,” Silahli said. “People are better educated, they’re trying to understand one another. The prejudices are starting to disappear.”
Yet reluctance to talk about 1915 remains palpable here.
In private, off-record conversations, a few locals freely referred to 1915 as genocide. On record, however, most of them wished to be left out of what they felt was a pointless debate that had less to do with memory than with international politics. “This word, genocide, it only creates tension,” said Silahli. “It’s not important if you use it or if you don’t. What’s important is to understand what happened. The problem is not between Armenians and Turks, but between states.”
“I have plenty of memories, but I prefer not to share them,” said Çapar’s elderly father, Panos, relaxing at a local coffeehouse after a card game. “That chapter ought to stay closed,” added Silahli’s father, Papken.
As the descendants of the Musa Dagh resistance and as loyal Turkish citizens, the villagers tread a delicate line. “We’re trying to build a balance,” said Çapar, “between our history and our awareness and our government.”
Vakıflı lies about 10 miles from Syria, but except for the occasional, distant thud of artillery fire, traces of the conflict raging on the other side of the border are barely noticeable here. There are no Syrian opposition members or activists in Vakıflı, no refugees, and no errant shells landing in the orange groves.
Local history, however, has found a warped, confused way of echoing through the war. Last spring, the predominantly Armenian town of Kessab, now part of Syria, was overrun by a number of armed groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda affiliate. According to several reports, the rebels had entered the area through Turkey, whose government has backed the insurgency against Syria’s Bashar al Assad for nearly four years. Most of Kessab’s population fled to Lattakia, a nearby Syrian city. Others left for Lebanon. A small group of Armenians found their way into Turkey. The Turkish government temporarily settled 22 of them in Vakıflı.
The new arrivals, most of them elderly, had known there were Armenians on the Turkish side of the border, survivors, like them, of the 1915 massacres. Yet many were positively surprised to witness, firsthand, Turks and Armenians living in harmony. That may have been the reason why the Turkish authorities brought them here to begin with. “They invited journalists when the people of Kessab came, they wanted to showcase Vakıflı,” said Kuhar, one of the local women. “They made a show of it.”
The Kessab Armenians spent a couple of months in the village before returning home — the Syrian army recaptured the town in June 2014 – or joining relatives in Lebanon. One died in Vakıflı.
The Armenians of Vakef and the other Musa Dagh villages who defied Ottoman deportation orders and fortified themselves in the highlands in the summer of 1915 were outgunned. According to Shemmassian, they had about 600 weapons. Most were hunting rifles. Some were arms that had been smuggled into the area six years earlier – following anti-Armenian pogroms in the city of Adana – by Armenian revolutionaries. If the defenders of Musa Dagh had a plan, it was to resist the forces sent to subdue them for as long as possible.
Their hope, also, was that by setting up camp in the mountains they might be spotted by Allied battleships cruising the Eastern Mediterranean. To that end, they fastened a pair of banners to trees near the mountaintop. One was emblazoned with the sign of the Red Cross. Another bore an inscription in English: “Christians in distress: Rescue.”
As the Ottoman siege tightened, supplies and munitions began to run out. Under the cover of fog, Kartun said, the defenders began to slip down to the villages to scavenge for food and smuggle it back to camp. Eighteen of them died in clashes with Ottoman forces.
On September 5, the miracle that the Armenians had hoped for all along finally happened. The crew of a French ship, the Guichen, spotted the banners. Roughly a week later, the Guichen returned, along with four more Allied ships, and evacuated the 4,000 men, women and children gathered on Musa Dagh.
The Armenians had held out for about 50 days. (In his fictionalized account of the resistance, “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh,” Franz Werfel, an Austrian writer, changed the number to give the story an extra biblical touch.) They spent the remainder of World War I in a refugee camp on the other side of the Mediterranean, in Egypt.
In 1919, with the war over, the Ottoman Empire dismembered, and Hatay province placed under the French Mandate in Syria and Lebanon, which guaranteed the area a wide measure of autonomy, the Armenians returned to their villages. In 1939, following a referendum whose result remains contested by Syria, Hatay passed into Turkish hands. The memories of the Ottoman massacres still fresh in their minds, a vast majority of the Armenians of Musa Dagh fled shortly before the Turkish takeover. With French assistance, they settled in Anjar, a rocky, mosquito-infested town in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where they tried to rebuild their old lives. They even named the town’s districts after the six Musa Dagh villages. They remain there to this day.
No one remembers exactly why most of the people of Vakıflı, unlike those of the other villages, decided to stay in Turkey. According to one story, a Turkish officer convinced the locals that they should place their trust in the new authorities, which had nothing to do with the Ottomans. Kartun recalled being told that it was a group of rich landowners, fearful that an Armenian exodus would mean the end of cheap labor, who persuaded the others not to leave. Resentment towards nationalist Armenian parties, which had dominated local politics between the two world wars, may also have been a factor, said Shemmassian, the professor.
Whatever the reasons, and however large the trauma of 1915 might still loom, no one in Vakıflı seems to regret the decision. “We’ve been breathing the same air for centuries with Turks and living on the same soil,” Silahli said. “We are fortunate to be living where our ancestors lived.”
In 1934, the Turkish government caught wind of a worrying development. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM, had just purchased the rights to produce a film adaptation of Werfel’s novel about Musa Dagh. Ankara ordered its ambassador to the U.S. to do his best to prevent the film from being released, threatening a boycott not only of MGM products but of American movies in general. One of the first salvoes in the Turkish war over the legacy of 1915 proved effective. Under Turkish pressure, the movie was shelved.
More than 20 countries have since recognized the Armenian genocide, but Turkish officialdom has not budged. Even though the ruling AKP has helped free the popular discussion of the events of 1915 from the straitjacket imposed on it by previous governments and the army, it is yet to wean itself fully from a policy of denial that has damaged Turkey’s international standing as much as, if not more than, the massacres themselves.
These days, its policy appears growingly schizophrenic. For two years running, the government has issued unprecedentedly bold statements expressing condolences to the survivors of 1915 and their descendants. All along, however, it has continued to resort to defensive, nationalist rhetoric, lashing out against all countries and institutions that have used the genocide label. When Pope Francis did so on April 12, Turkey responded by temporarily recalling its envoy to the Vatican and accusing the pontiff of “fueling grudge and hatred with baseless claims.” When the European Parliament followed suit a week later, Ankara’s ministry of foreign affairs fired off a communiqué asking the body to stop “mutilating history and law”, to avoid giving in to “religious and cultural fanaticism,” and to mind its own business. Turkey’s two biggest opposition parties agreed.
At its core, the challenge for Turkey is not about finding the right word to describe the Armenian massacres, but taking responsibility for them, said Akçam, the historian. “Basically, the issue is not so much whether these crimes constitute genocide, but whether Turkey should acknowledge or accept that there was a crime in the first place,” he said.
That acknowledgment does not appear to be in the offing. As Turkey’s EU minister, Volkan Bozkır, recently put it, “There is no period in our history that we should be ashamed of.”
The state, said Hayko Bağdat, a Turkish-Armenian journalist, has misled Turks into thinking they are the ones being held to account for the crimes of the past and that it’s the government’s role to defend them. “They’ve turned society as a whole into an accomplice,” he said. “But it’s not the Turkish people who are being judged, it’s the perpetrators of the genocide who are being judged.”
“People in every part of the world, in Africa and in Europe, have experienced even more terrible things [than 1915]. But there, they’ve found a way to face the past. And that’s what we’re looking for.”
There will be no official, public commemorations in Vakıflı on April 24, the centenary of the 1915 massacres. The villagers will likely remember their dead, their survivors, and the battle of Musa Dagh, but they will do so in private.
On a Friday evening in late March, one of the villagers, 84-year-old Vartuhi Manca, flanked by her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, sat at the head of a table awash with dishes of roasted eggplant and barbecued wild boar, glasses of homemade raki and pages of sheet music, and sang.
Hers was a song Manca had learned eight decades ago at the village school, before it was shut down, “back when we were free to talk about anything,” as she put it. It was a tune, in Armenian, about one of the defenders of Musa Dagh.
Oh, Khoren, what’s happened,
He has fallen, wounded by three bullets,
When the bullets hit him,
He stood up to continue his fight,
its lyrics went.
Let Khoren's mother cry,
And let Khoren's father be patient and strong.
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