Commentary: Turkey’s Internal Debate on Genocide


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Early in October news services reported that a Turkish cab driver had beaten an Armenian woman in Istanbul and had thrown her out of his taxi upon learning that she is an ethnic Armenian. An Azerbaijani soldier, Safar Abiev, had axed to death an Armenian soldier in Hungary who was being trained in a military program. In 1955, Turkish mobs ransacked Armenian and Greek homes and businesses, killing many, in what is called the September 6 Incident. The riots were triggered by a false news report that Ataturk’s birthplace in Salonika had been bombed. Later on it was discovered that the bombing was the work of the Turkish government precisely to incite the mob.

Indeed, these incidents do not take place spontaneously. There is an anti-Armenian propaganda in both countries, fueled by official and unofficial forces to keep the hatred burning, to be used for political ends at any given moment.

The late Turkish President Turgut Ozal had once threatened Armenians “in case they had not learned their lesson in 1915.” Turkey’s former Minister of Defense Vecdi Gonul had also bragged in a Brussels conference that Turkey would not enjoy presently a unified vast territory had it not expelled Armenians and Greeks during and after World War I.

Still, on the official side, former and current Prime Ministers Tansu Ciller and Tayyip Erdogan have threatened Armenian guest workers with expulsion.

One would question why this continued campaign of hatred exists after slaughtering 1.5 million Armenians and taking over their historic homeland? The answer is clear and unequivocal: Turks live in constant fear, because they are sitting on the bones of 1.5 million victims. They are fearful also that the Sevres Treaty of 1920 may be revived and thus the land can shift under their feet. The irony is in the fact that very few Armenians believe that an unratified treaty may be brought to force one day, but for the Turks, the threat and the fear are real.

We are sometimes relieved that the issue of Genocide recognition has moved into Turkey after being verboten for more than 90 years. Yet, there are powerful currents against the advocates of Genocide recognition and against those who circulate petitions to make amends to the Armenians. One expression of those powerful forces surfaced recently in the Turkish newspaper, Taraf, quoted by a courageous journalist Murat Belge. After criticizing the Turkish Foreign Ministry for its lame response to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s statement in Yerevan about the recognition of the Genocide, he continues his attack on knee-jerk deniers, who he claims, are controlled by the leading political parties. Those who justify themselves by stating “We Turks are good people, we have not committed any slaughters or genocide,” let them read a book by the conservative writer Nihal Atsez, who deals with that subject beginning with the Kurdish issue. Belge makes extensive quotes from the said book, which are very revealing about the Turkish psyche: “The Kurds will be uprooted and wiped out from the face of the globe if they continue to be used by foreigners and continue to pursue their dream of establishing a Kurdish homeland. By destroying Armenians in 1915 and the Greeks in 1922, the Turkish race has demonstrated what it can do to those who have claims on these lands, which we have won by shedding rivers of blood.”

Belge further continues quoting from the same book: “…Even if they become a 100-percent majority in any region of Turkey, their dream of establishing their own government will only remain a dream, like the dream of Greeks to revive Byzantium and the dream of Armenians to have Greater Armenia. For this reason they have to leave this country, before causing trouble for Turkey. Where can they go? Let them go wherever they like. They can go to Iran, India, Pakistan or to Barzani [in Iraqi Kurdistan]. Or they can ask the UN to provide them a territory in Africa. If they wish to learn anything [about our temper] let them ask their Armenian friends, and learn from them how patient is the Turk until it gets angry and becomes a lion.”

“For people like Atsez these deeds are actions of Turkey’s greatness and power,” Belge writes.

In concluding his article, Belge cautions the Turkish government to demonstrate some flexibility on the issue.

Turkish arrogance is still a factor to be reckoned with. Denialism is still state policy, because Turkish leaders are not naive as to what comes after recognition. As the debate about the Genocide rages in Turkish society, the consequences are also part of the debate. Armenians and the international community will certainly go beyond recognition, raising the issue of restitution. The use of the term “genocide” has legal consequences, which have scared the Turkish leaders thus far.

Any presidential candidate can make generous pledges, only to forget them after the election. President Sarkozy can prove his sincerity while holding office. Otherwise, his opponent, the Socialist candidate Francois Holland, has already made the same pledge, while the Senate majority has already slipped through Mr. Sarkozy’s fingers to the leftist parties.

France is only one step closer in recognizing the Genocide and criminalizing its denial. It is not the finale in this long and arduous process. The finale is in Turkey where the Grey Wolves and ultra- nationalists like Mr. Atsez hold sway on Turkish public opinion. And it is no small consolation that the debate has now moved to another level; it is no longer only between Armenians and Turks, it is among the Turks themselves, as people like Murat Belge emerge and stand up in the process.