Turkish Scholars Present Debate on 1915/1916

An important international conference took place at the Potsdam University on November 5 on the controversial subject of the Armenian genocide.In fact, the theme of the conference was “The Inner Turkish Discussion of 1915/1916,” because any reference to genocide is punishable by Turkish law. In fact, one prominent Turkish figure, publisher Ragib Zaragolu, who was to be a key speaker at the event, was arrested on trumped-up charges of affiliation with a terrorist group just days prior to the conference.
Notwithstanding this blatant interference by the Turkish authorities, the conference took place, with the participation of top-ranking Turkish scholars from Turkey and Europe. Among the themes addressed were the history of Turkish denial and how Turkish publications have attempted to deal with this, as well as subjects related to the genocide itself, the fate of the survivors, and how Armenians have been struggling with their traumatic past.
One aspect addressed was the comparison to the way in which post-war Germany dealt with the Holocaust, and, as Elke Hartmann, an Ottoman expert from Berlin, pointed out, Turkey, unlike Germany, was neither defeated nor occupied. To be sure, the Ottoman Empire lost in World War I, but the Turkish Republic emerged victorious from its struggle for national sovereignty and independence. Thus, even though, immediately after the Ottoman defeat, trials were held in Turkey and leading Young Turk officials who had not managed to flee the country, were put on the dock, convicted, and in some cases executed for the genocide against the Armenians, immediately after the establishment of the Republic under Mustafa Kemal, the tide was turned, and the criminals were rehabilitated as heroes. The official policy became one of forgetting and silence.
It was in 1965, when Armenians abroad commemorated the 50th anniversary of the genocide, that the issue appeared on the political agenda, and in the 1970s and 1980s, after Armenian perpetrators assassinated Turkish diplomats, that Turkey realized it had a “1915 problem,” as Rober Koptas put it, the editor in chief of AGOS, the Armenian-Turkish paper formerly run by Hrant Dink. The Turkish establishment responded with a campaign of “historical studies” aimed at proving that no genocide had occurred.
The breach in the wall of denial came with the appearance of Fetiye Cetin's groundbreaking book, My Grandmother, in 2005 followed by the assassination of Hrant Dink in 2007. Cetin's autobiographical account of her discovery that her grandmother was an Armenian who had survived the genocide unleashed a literary-political-psychological revolution. She may have couched her story in terms of "bitterness" and "pain" instead of using the banned word "genocide," but her moving account opened the minds and hearts of thousands of Turks, and, as both Hartmann and Koptas stressed, made it possible for Turks to discuss the matter for the first time in their lifetimes.
Dr. Ayse Guel Altinay of Sabanci University in Istanbul spoke on "The Survivors from 1915 in the Testimonies of their Descendants Living in Turkey," that is, the generation of grandchildren of the survivors, like Cetin’s grandmother. These third generation survivors are “coming out of the closet,” she said, discovering and revealing their Armenian roots. Most of these people are the descendants of Armenian women and girls who were not killed but “assimilated”: forced to become Turkified, Islamicized, and married off to Turkish men. How many they were, and how many their progeny has become are open questions, but it is undeniable that a large number of Turkish citizens have Armenian blood flowing in their veins.
The implications of this fact are important, especially in light of the process of rediscovery of (Armenian, Kurdish) ethnic roots taking place among many Turks.
Among other scholars taking part in the conference were Dr. Necla Kelek, a German-Turkish author from Berlin, and Dr. Ugur Ü. Üngör, of Utrecht University.
Für einen Artikel in deutsch: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/armenische-genozid-schwarze-loecher-der-tuerkei-11519862.html