Thursday, December 11, 2014

Genocide Centennial Commemoration to Be Held in Istanbul

Turkish and Armenian-American organizations are working together to commemorate the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2015, and to encourage Armenians from around the world to attend, according to DurDe and Project 2015. The concerted campaign by Ottoman leaders a century ago resulted in the deaths and exile of the vast majority of their Armenian citizens.
While Turkish groups have organized memorial events in Istanbul for the past several years, DurDe, one of Turkey’s leading civil and human rights organizations, and Project 2015, a U.S.-based organization, are working to ensure that a large contingent of Armenians come to Turkey for the historic centennial commemoration.
“We encourage and welcome Armenians from around the globe to assemble with citizens of Turkey in Istanbul to participate in these memorial events,” said Levent Sensever of DurDe. “As Turks, we want to express our solidarity with Armenians as we pay our respects to the victims and survivors of this terrible crime, and press our government to recognize the genocide.”
The events in Istanbul will include a public assembly in Taksim Square on the evening of April 24. It will also include a memorial service at Sisli Armenian Apostolic Cemetery (Sisli Ermeni Gregoryen Mezarligi), where Sevag Sahin Balikci is buried; Balikci was an Armenian soldier serving in the Turkish military and was murdered by a Turkish soldier on April 24, 2011. Information about the planned events can be found at www.armenianproject2015.org.
“As Armenians, we are going to Istanbul to memorialize the brutal massacre of our family members, and to remind the world that 100 years later, we are still seeking justice and accountability from the Turkish government,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, a board member of Project 2015. “For many of us, this is a first return to the lands of our ancestors, who lived here for thousands of years before their murders and expulsions 100 years ago.”
Discussion of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey remains a highly sensitive topic and subject to criminal sanctions. The Turkish government has prosecuted journalists, writers, and academics for making reference to the Armenian Genocide. However, past commemorations of the genocide in Istanbul have taken place without incident, and with the benefit of municipal police protection.
In 2014, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his condolences to the grandchildren of “Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century,” but failed to acknowledge the role of the Ottoman government in systematically causing these losses. The Turkish government has refused to recognize the massacres of the Armenians as genocide.
“As Turks, we are striving to broaden the space to discuss the events leading to the near total destruction of one of the region’s oldest, indigenous communities,” Sensever said. “We want to demonstrate to the world that while the Turkish government may not be ready to come to terms with this country’s past, we as citizens of Turkey are ready.”
DurDe is an activist network working to combat racism, nationalism, and hate crimes. In recent years it has played an important role in organizing commemorations for the Armenian Genocide in Istanbul. Project 2015 is a U.S.-based non-profit organization comprised of Armenians, Turks, and Americans to encourage wide participation in the commemoration events in Istanbul.
“Commemorating the Armenian Genocide in the place where the crimes took place will be a deeply meaningful experience,” said Nancy Kricorian, Project 2015 board member. “Our presence in Istanbul will be a form of resistance to erasure and denial.”
For more information about Project 2015 and the planned commemoration events, visit www.armenianproject2015.org, e-mail armenianproject2015@gmail.com; or follow on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ArmenianProject2015) and Twitter (@2015_Project).

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hairenik Publishes ‘Voices from the Past: Excerpts from Writings of Armenian Revolutionaries’

‘Voices from the Past,’ Translated by Vahe Habeshian, Is Now Available for Purchase on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, and Google Play Stores

WATERTOWN, Mass.—The Hairenik Association this week announced the release of its most recent publication, Voices from the Past: Excerpts from Writings of Armenian Revolutionaries, edited and translated by Vahe Habeshian.
Cover of 'Voices from the Past'
Cover of ‘Voices from the Past’
The biographies and writings in the book—by statesmen, intellectuals, military commanders, and rank-and-file fedayis (guerrillas)—reflect the arch of Armenian history from the 1890’s to the 1940’s. They contain not merely points of view but larger ideas, ideologies, worldviews, and hard-won life lessons that energized and guided the lives of individual members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF/Dashnaktsoutiun), the collective outlook of the party, as well as the political movement it engendered. Those involved in the affairs of today’s Armenia and diaspora would do well to consider the lessons and insights contained within. The past, after all, has much to teach those seeking to build the future.
At 150-plus pages, Voices from the Past is based on a collection of “Voices from the Past” columns that appeared regularly in the Armenian Weekly for roughly 15 months, from the fall of 1990 to the winter of 1991. The columns consisted of a brief biography and passage from the writings of well-known figures of the Armenian liberation movement of the late 19th and early 20th century.
The biographies and writings of several prominent figures have been added to the book, including those of Karekin Njdeh, Arshavir Shiragian, and Soghomon Tehlirian; moreover, nearly all of the biographies have been updated, and some excerpts have been revised or entirely replaced with more pertinent ones.
Vahe Habeshian is a longtime editor and the director of publications at MarketingProfs.com. He was an editor at the Armenian Weekly during some exciting times, including the liberation of Artsakh (Karabagh) and the initial years of Armenian independence.
Voices from the Past is available for purchase on the www.Hairenik.com as a hardcover for $25.00 or paperback for $15.00, or as an e-book for $3.99 on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, and Google Play stores.
Hairenik Store: https://hairenik.com/shop/vfp
Amazon (Paperback & Kindle): http://amzn.to/1yvbY5d
Apple iTunes: http://bit.ly/1y9h2NR
Google Play: http://bit.ly/1y9h1JO

Robertson, Fisk to Speak at Centennial Conference in New York

EW YORK–Jurist Geoffrey Robertson and journalist Robert Fisk are among the confirmed speakers at “Responsibility 2015,” the international conference marking the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, to be held on March 13-15, 2015, at New York’s Marriott Marquis Hotel.
Geoffrey Robertson
Geoffrey Robertson (Photograph: Rex Features)
Geoffrey Robertson is an international jurist, human rights lawyer, and academic. His latest book is An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Remembers the Armenians? In recent years, he has been particularly prominent in the defense of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. He has also represented author Salman Rushdie, and prosecuted General Augusto Pinochet. In 2008, he was appointed by United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as a “distinguished jurist” member of the UN’s Justice Council, which nominates and supervises UN judges. His memoir, The Justice Game, has sold over 150,000 copies.
Robert Fisk is the Middle East correspondent of the Independent newspaper. He holds numerous awards for journalism, including two Amnesty International UK Press Awards and seven British International Journalist of the Year awards. During the 30 years he has been reporting on the Middle East, he has covered every major event in the region, from the Algerian Civil War to the Iranian Revolution, from the hostage crisis in Beirut to the Iran-Iraq War, from the Russian invasion of Afghanistan to Israel’s invasions of Lebanon, and from the Gulf War to the invasion and ongoing war in Iraq. His books include The Great War for Civilization: the Conquest of the Middle East.
Robert Fisk
Robert Fisk
The three-day conference will feature a lineup of prominent historians, policymakers, authors, and artists from around the globe. The program will consist of concurrent morning and afternoon panels and discussions focusing on justice and reparations for cases of genocide, the responsibility to protect (R2P), genocide research, activism for justice and accountability, building solidarity, and artistic responses to genocide and mass violence.
The “Responsibility 2015” conference is being organized by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Eastern U.S. Centennial Committee, under the auspices of the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of America, Eastern Region.
Evening sessions bringing together policymakers, political leaders, artists, and celebrities known for their activism and humanitarian work will highlight the theme of responsibility to confront past injustices and struggle towards preventing new ones.
Photography and art exhibits with the theme of survival will be held at the same venue for the duration of the conference.
The organizing committee is comprised of the following scholars and activists: Khatchig Mouradian and Hayg Oshagan, co-chairs; George Aghjayan, Kim Hekimian, Antranig Kasbarian, and Henry Theriault.
For periodic updates, please contact conference coordinator Sarkis Balkhian at info@responsibility2015.org, or visit the conference website at www.responsibility2015.com.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Akcam: Textbooks and the Armenian Genocide in Turkey: Heading Towards 2015

Special for the Armenian Weekly
Education is extremely centralized in Turkey. All issues, including setting policy, the administration, and content of education are decided and implemented by the national government. Textbooks that are to be taught in schools are either prepared by the Ministry of National Education (MEB) or must be approved by the Ministry’s Instruction and Education Board.1 For this reason, there’s a direct connection between the books taught in schools and the Turkish government’s policies. The content of history textbooks, in particular, reveals firsthand information about government policies and goals.
The MEB made elementary and middle school textbooks available on the internet for the 2014-15 school year. Anyone can now download and read these books.2 I did a quick review of the history books that are to be taught this year, to see what is being taught to our children about the Armenian Genocide. I have to characterize what I found as both shocking and saddening.
Firstly, the textbooks characterize Armenians as people “who are incited by foreigners, who aim to break apart the state and the country, and who murdered Turks and Muslims.” Meanwhile, the Armenian Genocide—referred to as the “Armenian matter” in textbooks—is described as a lie perpetrated in order to meet these goals, and is defined as the biggest threat to Turkish national security. Another threat to national security is missionaries and their activities.
 ‘There’s nothing new about the New Turkey. Everything here is a repeat of what’s been going on for decades.’
Secondly, the textbooks are written in a very slipshod and haphazard manner. Even the most perfunctory Google search would improve the content, it is so filled with blatant errors. At the risk of offending some people, it is as if the text was written with an arrogance marked by the sentiment, “Put out a bunch of crap; the yokels won’t know the difference.” In my opinion, these textbooks constitute a supreme act of disrespect towards the students of present-day Turkey.
The cover page of Unit 2 of the Middle School textbook on the history of the Turkish Revolution and Ataturk. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)
The cover page of Unit 2 of the Middle School textbook on the history of the Turkish Revolution and Ataturk. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)
Third, these textbooks are required reading in Armenian schools, as well. The only Armenians schools in existence in Turkey are presently located in Istanbul. As of 2014, there are a total of 16 schools, and of these 11 are K-8 schools and 2 are high school level. There are about 3,000 students in total.3 In history classes, which are required, these students are taught that they are “traitors and societal elements that murdered Turks and are easily incited” and that their problems constitute “a threat to national society.” One can’t help but see that this is a purposely driven attempt at “identity destruction” by the Turkish government. It is also possible to detect a policy of elimination by examining these schools and the change in the number of students over the past 40 years: “There were 32 schools during the 1972-73 school year, 7,336 students…during the 1999-2000 school year the number of schools was 18 with students numbering 3,786. There has been a 50 percent decrease in the number of schools and a 60 percent decrease in the number of students over the past 40 years.” Those who present this data consider it “a complete disaster,” and that is an accurate assessment.4
One needs to evaluate what’s written in the books in light of another source of information. Leading up to the prime minister’s election of 2015, the AK Party,5 which has been the ruling party of Turkey for the past 13 years, and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have initiated a new project called the New Turkey Project. A “vision statement,” which consists of chapters and titles under “Democratic Administration,” “Prosperity State,” and “Trailblazer Country,” was also prepared for this project. A free and democratic Turkey is promised by the New Turkey Project.
An image of page 23 of the Middle School textbook on the history of the Turkish Revolution and Ataturk. The section deals with 1915, and alleges that Armenians committed massacres against innocent Turkish women and children, while Turkish men were fighting on the fronts. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)
An image of page 23 of the Middle School textbook on the history of the Turkish Revolution and Ataturk. The section deals with 1915, and alleges that Armenians committed massacres against innocent Turkish women and children, while Turkish men were fighting on the fronts. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)
The party has also published a book called The Silenced Revolution, Turkey’s Democratic Change and Transformation Inventory 2002-2012,” which describes its achievements during the 2002-12 period and, more importantly, explains its philosophy. In order to better understand what’s written in the textbooks and to make a proper comparison, it’s helpful to present a few quotes from this book: “We have taken significant steps in the fields of democratization, law, and the fight against terrorism, each of which is deemed the ‘silent revolution.’ We have never made concessions with regard to democracy, security, or freedom. We have embraced a paradigm-shifting approach as our foundation in order to restore peace in the society and developed a new ‘security paradigm’… This revolution has introduced an understanding that recognizes differences as diversity and puts the emphasis on serving the citizens instead of a statist approach which sees its own citizens as a threat.”6
Based on both the various claims that were voiced in this book and in the context of the New Turkey Project, a group of intellectuals and writers, known for their progressive-democratic views, announced that they supported the AKP and its project. Additionally, they invited all Christians and Jews, especially Armenians, to become the founding pillars of this New Turkey. Those who did not accept the invitation faced very harsh criticism.7 According to these intellectuals, the AKP under Erdogan’s leadership rolled up its sleeves to establish a new and democratic Turkey, and the right position to take was to accept the invitation to become a founding member and support the AKP.
Another major point made by those who believe the AKP is sincere in working towards a New Turkey is that Erdogan, on April 24, 2014, extended his condolences for the Armenian losses of 1915. This was truly a first! Both this public expression of condolence and the fact that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu continues to make statements about approaching history with a “just memory” in different settings (i.e., the idea that both Turks and Armenians have suffered equally) made it seem as though Turkey was ready to initiate a new phase on the lingering Armenian-Turkish conflict. After Erdogan’s condolences, Davutoglu made frequent statements to the effect that “we’ve done what we need to do on this issue; now it’s the Armenians’ turn.”8 It would be fair to say that this and similar arguments propelled those who take a deep interest in the subject, particularly in light of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the genocide, to begin feeling hopeful.
For all of the above reasons, I decided it was time to take a look at Turkish textbooks. There’s so much you can learn about a country through what is taught to the young, the custodians of the future. It is there that we can see for ourselves what kind of New Turkey the AKP is planning on promoting, and to confirm claims that they have backed off from seeing and presenting their own citizens as enemies of the state. Specifically, we can see how they perceive Armenians. As we say in Turkish, textbooks truly are where “the clarinet toots its tune.”
The textbooks characterize Armenians as people “who are incited by foreigners, who aim to break apart the state and the country, and who murdered Turks and Muslims.”
This is what I found: Turkish history textbooks are filled with the message that Armenians are incited by foreign sources, want to partition the country, and kill Turks and Muslims. They direct their own citizens to view a specific citizen group (Armenians) as the enemy. In addition, they define the “Armenian Problem” as the biggest threat to national security and urge Turkish youth to be vigilant against this threat.
One should add that this information continues to be taught to Armenian children, without exception, just as had been done in the past. There’s nothing new about the New Turkey. Everything here is a repeat of what’s been going on for decades. The AKP continues to promote a national security concept that’s been the modus operandi of past authoritarian regimes under military tutelage and the “hit” team, which was formed by the military, the Ergenekon organization that AKP claims to have now suppressed.
Without going on too much further let’s move on to the textbooks.

Primary school education: Grade 8
‘The Republic of Turkey: History of the Turkish Revolution and Principles of Ataturk’
This book was written for the 8th grade by Salim Ulker. In accordance with a decision dated May 31, 2013, and numbered 29 by the MEB Board of Instruction and Education, it was approved as a textbook for a 5-year period. In actuality, there are two separate books. One is the textbook and the other is the student’s workbook.9 The Armenians and 1915 are covered in the seventh unit of both books. The heading of the unit is “Turkey after Ataturk: The Second World War and its Aftermath,” and the fifth topic deals with threats against Turkey. The heading states, “In this subject we are going to learn about internal and external threats to our country and that we must be vigilant against these threats.”10
The goals of these threats are defined as “destroying the state’s order.” What then constitutes the first and primal threat? “Turkish-Armenian relations.” The question children are asked to debate is, “What should be done to promote our country’s justification against Armenian claims?” Stating that “we have duties in relation to the internal and external threats against our country,” students are invited to “be conscious of these threats.”11
After teaching that the Armenian issue is a national threat, a homework exercise is presented in the student workbook. The title of the ninth activity is “The Powers that Threaten Turkey and National Security,” and the homework given to students is: “Next to the sources of threats against our country, which are written below, write on the dotted line what should be done both as a country and as a citizen.”12
What did I say was the biggest threat? You didn’t read this wrong: It is the “Armenian matter,” “Armenian claims.” Students are additionally asked to research “the primary duties of the National Security Board, which was formed in furtherance of our national politics because of the threats against our country.”13
I feel compelled to add one more note here. Ever since Hrant Dink’s murder by a young man, frequent soul-searching has led many to wonder, “Where do individuals who commit murders like that come from?” It seems apparent what the answer is now. They get trained in Turkish schools!

Middle school education
‘History of the Turkish Revolution and Principles of Ataturk’
This second book was prepared for middle school education; there’s no indication which year it is meant for specifically. The book was written by a commission and approved as a textbook by the MEB Board of Instruction and Education in a decision dated Dec. 8, 2011 and numbered 261.14 It is a publication of the Ministry of National Education.
In this book, the Massacre of Adana, which ended with the death of 20,000 Armenians in 1909, is identified as “The Rebellion of Armenians of Adana.”15 This is terminology that even the Union and Progress Party (CUP), which was in power at the time, didn’t use. In fact, the CUP and its ally, the Dashnaktsutyun (Armenian Revolutionary Federation) released a joint declaration in August 1909 criticizing the massacres as “enacted against the revolution, as a counter-revolutionary action” and stating that they would continue to work together against attempts by counter-revolutionaries to oppose the constitution.16 In other words, the visionaries of today’s New Turkey are way behind the Unionists of 1909.
According to the book, the law, which authorized the deportation, arose as a product of necessity, but the deportation had another very important role—protecting and saving Armenians. From who, you ask? Other Armenians.
There is a great deal of information in the book that can be considered outright falsehoods. Stating that the first Armenian socialist organization, known as the Hnchaks, was “established in 1877 by the Armenian Patriarch Zaven Effendi” is just one example of the many errors throughout. Neither the year of formation nor naming Patriarch Zaven as the founder is true. When the organization was formed in 1887, Zaven, who would later take on the role of Armenian patriarch of Istanbul, was a mere child of 9. This kind of information can be easily gleaned from the internet.
The book addresses the genocide under the heading, “1915 Armenian Events.”17 It starts with the kind of banal statements that are low on facts and that we’ve heard hundreds of times over—that is, that the Armenians sided with the Russians during the war. It goes from there to describing how the Hnchak and Dashnak organizations instituted rebellions in many parts of Anatolia. Not only that, but these organizations “didn’t hesitate to kill Armenians who would not join them” and even issued instructions that “if you want to survive you have to kill your neighbor first.” Based on this, Armenians murdered “many people living in villages, even children, by attacking Turkish villages, which had become defenseless because all the Turkish men were fighting on the war fronts.”18
The Armenians didn’t stop there. “They stabbed the Ottoman forces in the back. They created obstacles for the operations of the Ottoman units by cutting off their supply routes and destroying bridges and roads.” Then, as if that wasn’t enough, “They spied for Russia and by rebelling in the cities where they were located, they eased the way for the Russian invasion.”19
According to the book, it was inevitable that certain precautions had to be taken to prevent collaboration between the Russians and Armenians, especially when there was a life-and-death battle going on in Gallipoli. According to the book, the law, which authorized the deportation, arose as a product of necessity, but the deportation had another very important role—protecting and saving Armenians. From who, you ask? Other Armenians. This is not a joke; this is seriously what the book claims: “Since the Armenians who engaged in massacres in collaboration with the Russians created a dangerous situation, this law required the migration of [Armenian people] from the towns they were living in to Syria, a safe Ottoman territory.”20
Not only did the Ottoman government try to protect Armenians from the Armenian gangs, during the deportations they did everything they could to ensure their safety: “Despite being in the midst of war, the Ottoman state took precautions and measures when it came to the Armenians who were migrating. Their tax payments were postponed, they were permitted to take any personal property they wished, government officials were assigned to ensure that they were protected from attacks during the journey and that their needs were met, police stations were established to ensure that their lives and properties were secure.”21
There are also plenty of inaccuracies and outright lies in the book about the 1919-23 period, what is known as the Turkish War for Independence, but I will let other historians write on that issue.

Middle school education: Grade 10
Another history book written for the 10th grade was “approved as a textbook by the MEB Board of Instruction and Education in a decision dated May 4, 2009, and numbered 67.22 The book covers the period from the establishment of the Ottoman Empire through the Republic, and so the Armenians appear throughout, from the early period of Ottoman administration until the end of the empire. According to the book, under the administration of the Ottomans, the Armenians lived a life that was pure heaven, plain and simple. Since the early Ottoman era isn’t one that I deal with in my research, I will skip what’s said about that period.
However, there’s a piece about the Ottoman-Russo War of 1877-78 that’s worth mentioning here. The book clearly states the reason the Ottomans lost the war with the Russians in 1877-78 was the Armenians. Incited by the Russians, the Armenians rebelled and surrounded the Ottoman Army from behind, leading to the Ottomans’ defeat. “For the first time in the Ottoman state, the Armenians, who had been incited by the Russians, had also rebelled. Working in conjunction with the Russian Army, Armenian bandit militia were able to place Turkish soldiers between two firing fronts. Based on this development the Ottoman state was forced to propose a ceasefire from Russia.”23 Needless to say, there is no historical account of an Armenian uprising, nor of separate Armenian bandits or militia units attacking the Ottoman Army from behind. This is a first-class fabrication.
The book is filled with similar nonsense that cannot be taken seriously. For example, under the subheading “The Incitement of Armenians and Their Organization,” it propounds this claim to describe how the Armenians were incited by foreign powers: “The Armenians who were living under the Ottoman administration had not been influenced by the French revolution. This situation changed after the Russians got involved.”24 Another similar claim is that during the war of 1877-78, Armenians committed atrocities against Muslims.25
It is extremely upsetting to see that the youth of Turkey are being educated by way of this heap of garbage that can’t rightly be called scholarly information.

The Massacres of 1894-96 and 1909
It is quite interesting what the book relates of the Abdulhamit period of 1894-96, when between 80,000-300,000 Armenians were massacred. In actuality, nothing is said at all because according to the book there were no massacres during this period; no Armenians were killed. The only thing that happened was that the Armenians were incited and, as a result, had an uprising. This information is presented under the heading, “The Problems that Armenians Created.”
To provide a few examples of the information that’s presented: “The Armenian committees instigated their first rebellions in 1890 in Erzurum and Adana. In 1893, they killed 25 soldiers after firing upon security forces in Merzifon.” The most violent of the Armenian uprisings occurred in Sason and “the Armenian community there was urged to stop paying taxes to the state and to kill Muslims.” Armenians also “engaged in uprisings in Kayseri, Yozgat, Corum, Zeytun, and Kahramanmaras.” The Armenian organizations spread their uprisings all over the place and “they even killed Armenians who wouldn’t take part in them.” At one point, a heading asks students, “What could be the reasons the Armenian terrorist organizations spread the uprisings throughout the country?”26
The information given in the book about the 20,000 Armenians murdered between April 14-16, 1909, during the Adana Massacre is not much different. According to the book, Armenians rebelled and murdered Muslims, and the Ottoman rulers had to suppress the rebellion. It states simply, “Armenians instigated a massacre in Adana and Dortyol in 1909 by attacking Muslims.” The ringleader of the rebellion had been “Armenian Bishop Museg” and “once the Ottoman state had suppressed the rebellion, he escaped to Egypt.”27
This rather strange bit of information doesn’t stop there. After the events in Adana, “European public opinion again started to turn against Turkey. The Union and Progress administration of the Ottoman government signed a treaty that would encompass some reforms to be performed together with Russia (1909). According to the treaty, Russia would have the last say in any reforms that were to be agreed to regarding the Armenians.”28 There was neither a rebellion in Adana nor was there ever a Reform Treaty signed with Russia in 1909. These are all figments of the writer’s imagination.

1915 and the subject of genocide
When it comes to the subject of 1915, the writing gets even more bizarre. The information on the topic is presented under the heading, “The Armenian Problem During the World War I Years” and starts with this sentence: “The entry of the Ottoman state into World War I was viewed as a great opportunity by Armenians…by invading Erzurum, Erzincan, Mus, and Bitlis in Eastern Anatolia, Russia further incited the Armenians in these regions.”29
The internal contradictions presented by this information alone are a serious problem. For example, the Russian units invaded the cities mentioned above in April 1916 and later. At that date, the deportations had all been concluded and the Armenians had been annihilated. So, for example, when the Russians entered Erzurum, there wasn’t a single Armenian around to incite.
When you see what’s been written under the heading “Armenian Deportation,” you start to wish things had ended with the account about Russians invading. It goes: “The Armenians who were armed by the Russians, started to engage in massacres raiding Turkish villages. … While the Ottoman state was in the middle of a life and death struggle in Gallipoli, Armenians escalated their activities towards a complete rebellion. “Ararat,” the official newspaper of the Armenian organizations, published the declaration below describing the actions that Armenians were going to take (August 1914).”30
The book publishes a declaration consisting of 15 articles, which it claims were taken from “Ararat” magazine. It’s helpful to quote some of the articles word for word here: “1 – Every Armenian, regardless of who they are, should sell some of their worldly goods and arm themselves. 2 – Armenians who are called to arms under the announcement of mobilization shall disobey the command; they shall forbid anyone around them, including Muslims, from joining the army. 3 – Armenians who have been conscripted into the armed forces, however this may come about, shall escape the army and join the Armenian gangs and volunteer militias. … 6 – All Muslims above age 2 who are seen behind army front lines shall be murdered at every opportunity… 7 – The food, goods, and property of Muslims shall be confiscated or burned and destroyed. 8 – They shall burn down the homes, grains, churches, and pious foundations that they abandon and spread the word that Muslims caused it. 9 – They shall set fire to official state buildings and murder Ottoman police and gendarmerie. 10 – They shall kill Ottoman soldiers who return from the front wounded. … 14 – The price of the rebellions, revolutions, and massacres performed by Armenians is to be paid by Muslims and this shall be broadcast to domestic and especially foreign public opinion. 15 – They shall perform spying and consulting to the Entente states.”31
The book goes on to claim that Armenians “immediately began to implement the declaration” and that “they inflicted the greatest harm to the Turkish people during the years of the First World War.”32 It is meaningless to even engage in a discussion over whether such a declaration from “Ararat” magazine really existed. It isn’t even worth saying, “Produce this document; otherwise, we’ll accuse you of lying.” Those who wrote and endorsed this book did it knowingly and shrewdly calculated the consequences. Their act brings to mind the Nazi Propaganda Ministry.
The only reason to spend so much time discussing the aforementioned document is to show what’s being taught to the youth—in the form of hate-driven emotions against Armenians. Its effect on Armenian students in Turkey can only be imagined.
The book goes on to describe the so-called massacres perpetrated by the Armenians against Muslims from 1915 onward. The governor of Van, Cevdet Bey, apparently “forced a migration of Turks, which was known by the Ministry of the Interior, in order to save them from the massacres of Armenians.” Turks left all of their belongings behind and started migrating, but “the migrating Turks were killed en route by Armenian gangs…without regard for women or children. While most of those who, for whatever reason, could not leave were killed by Armenians as well, women in particular were subjected to terrible treatment.”33
The first step that the Ottoman state took was to close down “the Armenian terror…organizations in order to prevent collaboration between the Armenians and Russians and to stop the massacres.” Then they deported the Armenians to Syria—“temporarily.” On April 24, 1915, the government issued a directive “to close down the Armenian committee headquarters, to confiscate their records, and to arrest the committee leaders.” What’s been described as genocide, it claims, was this directive and the 2,345 individuals who were arrested as a result of it.
However, when these actions proved to be inadequate, the law on deportations was enacted and “with this law, only those Armenians in the region who had been involved in the acts of rebellion were taken from the war zone and dispatched and settled into more secure areas of the country.” Meanwhile, the communities of “Assyrians, Chaldeans, Jews, and Greeks” in the same regions were supposedly left undisturbed. The authors of the book point to this as a piece of grand truth and state that “it’s quite noteworthy that these individuals were not subjected to deportation while Armenians who had joined in rebellion were.”34
The idea that the deportations were limited to the provinces where rebellions had occurred—and that even there only rebellious Armenians were deported, and other Armenians left alone—was quite prevalent during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Later, it became clear from the official Ottoman documents published through the Prime Ministerial Ottoman Archives that not only were all Armenians, without exception, deported from the provinces where rebellions were claimed to have taken place, but that Armenians were deported from every province and town in Anatolia, and even cities in Thrace, like Tekirdag and Edirne, located in the European region.35 For this reason, these theories were abandoned, and the fact that the deportations had involved all Armenians was generally accepted. It appears that the AKP, which claims to be readying itself to establish a New Turkey and is supposedly conducting a “silent revolution,” prefers to roll back the clock to the 1980’s when it comes to denialist policies.

Deportation as a means to save Armenians from Armenian gangs
The book puts forth a big claim to justify the deportations. They were enacted, it says, in order to save Armenian lives! Yes! The deportations “secured the lives of the Armenian people.” But, “Who was threatening the lives of the Armenians?” The answer provided by the book is quite simple: other Armenians! The state made the decision to conduct a deportation in order to protect Armenians from other Armenians because “these [Armenian] gangs were killing Armenians who did not join in acts of terror and rebellion.”36
Despite being in the middle of difficult wartime conditions, the Ottoman state took extraordinary precautions! “Through the publication of regulations, the Ministry of the Interior had planned how the deportation was going to be conducted down to the smallest detail.” For example, “The elderly, infirm, blind, widowed, and orphaned were not subject to the deportation. … Care was taken to ensure that the locations where migrated Armenians would be settled featured agricultural fields that were fertile and police stations were established at these locations to secure their safety…and the groundwork was laid for them to continue their professions and work in the places where they were settled.”37
Reading this, one can easily conclude that the deported Armenians were quite fortunate. Not only was their safety secured, but they were provided with every kind of opportunity despite the difficult conditions! What more could a person want?

Numbers and mass graves
The figures presented in the book on deportees and deaths are very important. There’s been a bit of a “mark–up” in the figure propounded by the former president of the Turkish Historical Society, Yusuf Halacoglu, that 30,000 Armenian casualties resulted from the entire deportation. The book states that “based on figures from unbiased researchers, 300,000 Armenians lost their lives due to war and sickness.” Yet, the number of Muslims that were killed and/or forcibly deported by Armenians is way beyond this figure: Armenians killed 600,000 Turks. “According to official Russian records,” it reads, “Armenians killed around 600,000 Turks in just Erzurum, Erzincan, Trabzon, Bitlis, and Van and forced 500,000 and to migrate.”38
The last claim on the subject of 1915 is like the last curtain of a comedy: “If the Ottoman state had indeed wished to annihilate the Armenians, would it have made sense to take so many precautions both during and after the deportation? Besides, where are the mass graves of all those people that were supposedly killed?39 There really isn’t too much one can say after this statement. Maybe one should apply to the Turkish government for permission to engage in unrestricted excavations, using the claims in the book as an excuse?
The nonsense doesn’t end here, unfortunately. The book claims that Armenians who were deported were then able to return to Turkey unscathed and reclaim their properties. We all know this to be untrue.

ASALA and the diaspora
The book also covers the assassination of Turkish diplomats by Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), presenting a long list of these acts.40 There is considerable space given to activities by the Armenian Diaspora, whose members work “to gain recognition of a so-called genocide by creating the image of themselves as people who have been subjected to persecution and injustice.” It claims that the diaspora has been successful in doing so—“In some of the European states and in American schools, their claims of so-called genocide have begun to be taught in lessons”—and explains why: “because in the countries where Armenians are found, especially in the USA, they have formed a strong political unit by constituting a singular voting bloc. They have asserted and achieved their genocide related demands as a condition to any party to which they will give their votes.”41
The book also makes some claims regarding the purpose behind both ASALA’s and the Armenian Diaspora’s actions. We should read these claims as reflecting the Turkish government’s official viewpoint on the subject.

What are the ‘Four Ts’?
According to the book, the actions of both ASALA and the Armenian Diaspora have been driven and continue to be driven by the framework of the “Four Ts” plan: Tanitim, Taninma, Tazminat and Toprak (Publicity, Recognition, Compensation, and Territory). There must be a struggle, it says, against these Armenian efforts and lists the Turkish government’s efforts: “To counter the Armenians’ claims about genocide, at the end of 2001 Turkey formed the Commission to Coordinate the Fight Against Baseless Genocide Claims. This commission started scholarly studies on the subject of the baselessness of Armenian claims. Additionally, by placing the Armenian problem into school curricular programs, a process of informing young people was initiated. Also, the Commission on Higher Education (YOK) established the National Committee on Turkish-Armenian Relations.”42
Whether or not the Commission to Coordinate the Fight Against Baseless Genocide Claims is still active has been a topic of curiosity in the public. Reading these current textbooks, one can conclude that the commission is still active—and that, in fact, these textbooks were prepared with the contribution of this commission.

Armenians as the ‘Other’ in the New Turkey
I have only mentioned what was written about 1915 in these three books. It would be valuable to conduct a similar review about other Christians (Assyrians and Greeks) and Jews in a way that covers the entire Ottoman period up to the Republican years. However, the picture that emerges when doing a limited review of just the events around 1915 is quite pathetic.
In these textbooks taught in Turkish (and Armenian) schools, Armenians are defined as the enemy. The young minds that we will bequeath our country to are being educated on an image of Armenians as “those who are eager to be incited, who wish to divide our country and collaborate with our enemies.” Additionally, the historical problems that have been defined as the Armenian problem continue to be perceived as a threat against Turkish national security. Even if we set aside for a minute the diaspora and Armenians in Armenia, it is clear that the government perceives a segment of its own citizens and their problems to be a threat against national security, and educates all of its citizens to engender feelings of hatred and enmity towards this one segment.
The situation is truly desperate. Based upon what’s been written, two questions come to mind: How do Armenians who continue to live in Turkey, and who are its citizens, manage to live in this country? What is it like to live as an Armenian in a country where innocent young minds are taught to be enemies of Armenians, and where Armenians are presented as a threat against national security?
If I were asked to make a proposal, I would make one single request of every individual and organization reading this article. The 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide is approaching in 2015. The Turkish government is going to put up smokescreens, claiming to be interested in making amends, and claiming that Armenians are the ones who keep backing away, etc. It is going to try to create the impression that it is the side that is willing to compromise and to find solutions. Please place these textbooks directly in front of them at each and every opportunity, and make it clear to them that if they want to reclaim any kind of integrity on the subject they should first pull these books from circulation.

Notes
[1] Talım ve Terbiye Kurulu
2 See www.meb.gov.tr//2014-2015-egitim-ogretim-yiliinda-okutulacak-ilk-ve-orta-ogretim-ders-kitaplari/duyuru/7013, Introduction: Sept. 12, 2014.
3 Gunay Gokɪsu Ozdogan, Ohannes Kilicdagi, “Listening to the Armenians of Turkey: Their Problems, Demands and Proposed Solutions” (Istanbul: TESEV, 2011), 43.
4 Ibid.
5 Justice and Development Party
6 “The Silenced Revolution, Turkey’s Democratic Change and Transformation Inventory 2002-2012” (Ankara: Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Undersecretariat of Public Order and Security 2013), 10. The quote is from the introduction written by then-Prime Minister Erdogan.
7 The most famous of those who issued the invitation and who criticized is Etyen Mahcupyan. The fact that Mahcupyan was one of Hrant Dink’s closest friends and said that “had Hrant lived he would have voted for the AKP” led to some very heated debates around the subject. For an example of what Mahcupyan wrote on the subject, see www.aksam.com.tr/yazarlar/etyen-mahcupyan/bir-ermeni-olarak-e2-80-a6/haber-334649.
8 For just one example, see www.todayszaman.com/news-346158-davutoglu-says-turkeys-1915-statement-achieved-its-goal.html, Introduction, Sept. 14, 2014.
9 Each book can be accessed at www.meb.gov.tr/2014-2015-egitim-ogretim-yilinda-okutulacak-ilk-ve-orta-ogretim-ders-kitaplari/duyuru/7013.
10 Salim Ulker, Ilk Ogretim T.C. Inkilap Tarihi ve Ataturkculuk 8 (Primary Education R[epublic of] T[urkey] History of Revolution and Principles of Ataturk 8), Textbook (Ankara: Semih Ofset, 2014), p. 178.
[1]1 Ibid, 179
[1]2 Salim Ulker, Ilk Ogretim T.C. Inkilap Tarihi ve Ataturkculuk 8 Ogrenci Calisma Kitabi (Primary Education R[epublic of] T[urkey] History of Revolution and Principles of Ataturk 8, Student Workbook) (Ankara: Semih Ofset, 2014), p. 118.
[1]3 Ibid.
[1]4 Commission (ed.), Ortaogretim Turkiye Cumhuriyeti Inkilap Tarihi ve Ataturkculuk, (Middle School Education Republic of Turkey History of Turkish Revolution and Principles of Ataturk) (Ankara: MEB, 2014), 21.
[1]5 Ibid., 21
[1]6 Dikran M. Kaligan, The Armenian Organization and Ideology under Ottoman Rule 1908-1914, (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2011), 43-81.
[1]7 Commission (ed) Ortaogretim Turkiye Cumhuriyeti Inkilap Tarihi ve Ataturkculuk, (Middle School Education Republic of Turkey History of Turkish Revolution and Principles of Ataturk), 23.
[1]8 Ibid.
[1]9 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
2[1] Ibid.
22 Vicdan Turan, Ilhan Genc, Mehmet Celik, Celal Genc, Ortaogretim Tarih 10 (Ankara: MEB, 2014).
23 Ibid., 186
24 Ibid., 188
25 Ibid., 186
26 Ibid., 188-89
27 Ibid., 189
28 Ibid.
29 Ibid., 210
30 Ibid.
3[1] Ibid., 211
32 Ibid.
33 Ibid.
34 Ibid., 212
35 For an example of the published records by the T.C. Basbakanlik Devlet Arsivleri Genel Mudurlugu Osmanli Arsivi Daire Baskanligi (translated: Presidential Office of Ottoman Archives General Directorship of the Prime Ministerial State Archives of the Republic of Turkey), see Osmanlɪ Belgelerinde Ermeniler (1915-1920) (Ankara, Basbakanlik Printers, 1995).
36 Ibid.
37 Ibid.
38 Ibid., 212-213
39 Ibid., 213
40 Ibid., 214-215
41 Ibid., 215-216
42 Ibid., 216

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sassounian: Turkish Parliament Will Hide the Truth, Should it Block the Genocide Resolution

Last week, a Turkish parliamentarian submitted a proposal to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey seeking condemnation of the Armenian Genocide, a series of atrocities, and other acts of state terrorism.
In this document, Sebahat Tuncel, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), requests that President Erdogan acknowledge and apologize in parliament for the Armenian Genocide, massacres of Dersim, Marash, Sivas, and Chorum, mass hangings after the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup, and other “crimes against humanity” resulting from state terror.
The proposed resolution also demands that the Turkish president visit one of the sites of the mass killings, repeat his apology in public, and declare April 24 to be an official Day of Mourning. Within a year, the parliament is to form a truth commission and make public all documents in the state archives regarding these crimes. Moreover, the resolution states, moral and material restitution should be provided to descendants of the victims.
It is expected that the Turkish Parliament will reject consideration of this proposal. Most probably, Tuncel’s real intent is to raise the issue of the Armenian Genocide and other mass killings in parliament, regardless of the outcome; the mere submission of such a resolution would create a national uproar inside the parliament, the media, and Turkish denialist circles. Tuncel must be aware that she is running the risk of having her parliamentary immunity lifted and of being prosecuted for bringing up banned subjects under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code.
While welcoming Tuncel’s daring and bold proposal, Armenians, Turks, Kurds, and others should not forget that this would not be the first time the Turkish government has taken up the deportation and massacre of Armenians. On Nov. 4, 1918, immediately after the collapse of the Young Turk regime and before the founding of the Republic of Turkey by Kemal Ataturk in 1923, the Ottoman Parliament considered a motion on the crimes committed by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP): “A population of one million people guilty of nothing except belonging to the Armenian nation were massacred and exterminated, including even women and children.” Then- Minister of Interior Fethi Bey responded by telling the parliament: “It is the intention of the government to cure every single injustice done up until now, as far as the means allow, to make possible the return to their homes of those sent into exile, and to compensate for their material loss as far as possible.”
A Parliamentary Investigative Committee proceeded to collect relevant documents describing the actions of those responsible for the mass killings and turned them over to the Turkish Military Tribunal. The CUP’s leading figures were found guilty of massacring Armenians and were hanged or given lengthy prison sentences. The Military Tribunal requested that Germany extradite to Turkey the masterminds of the massacres who had fled the country. After German refusal, they were tried in absentia and sentenced to death.
To reinforce her proposal with historical and legal precedents, Tuncel may want to submit to the Turkish Parliament a copy of the 1918 parliamentary motion and discussion on the Armenian Genocide, which was referred to at the time as “Armenian deportations and massacres.” She should also submit a copy of the guilty verdicts issued by Turkish Military Tribunals. Finally, Tuncel should remind the parliament of the historic admission Kemal Ataturk made in an interview published in the Los Angeles Examiner on Aug. 1, 1926: “These leftovers from the former Young Turk Party who should have been made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse from their homes and massacred.” Would any Turkish parliamentarian dare to call the father of Modern Turkey a liar?
Should the Turkish Parliament block Tuncel’s resolution and prevent its consideration, it would expose the Erdogan government’s fear of facing the truth, which leads it to conceal the guilt of its predecessors! Regardless of the end result, this proposal is an unexpected positive development on the eve of the Armenian Genocide Centennial and provides some consolation to descendants of the victims of more recent Turkish atrocities.
The introduction of Tuncel’s proposal to the Turkish Parliament coincided with the unanimous recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Bolivia’s Senate and Parliament. Significantly, this acknowledgment was achieved on its own merits, without any Armenian lobbying efforts, which negates the standard Turkish claim that countries that recognize the Armenian Genocide do so under pressure from local Armenian communities. Hardly any Armenians live in Bolivia!

Resolution with Justice: Theriault Discusses Armenian Genocide Reparations Report

Special for the Armenian Weekly
While recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the government of Turkey has been a priority for Armenian communities around the world, the notion of legal consequences that can emerge after recognition has generally been unaddressed or ignored.
The cover of the report
The cover of the report
Certainly, the question of reparations for losses suffered both by individual victims and the Armenian nation as a whole during the genocide has been studied by many scholars and academics over the years. However, the discourse was generally limited and included only abstract notions of territorial and monetary return. Although there have been several examples of valuable works treating the issue, none have approached the topic of reparations with a comprehensiveness and detailed analysis like that put forth by the Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group (AGRSG).
The AGRSG was assembled in 2007 by four experts in different areas of reparations theory and practice. In September 2014, the group completed its final report, “Resolution with Justice—Reparations for the Armenian Genocide,” a wide-ranging analysis of the legal, historical, political, and ethical dimensions of the question of reparations for the genocide. It also includes specific recommendations for the components of a complete reparations package.
According to the study group, its final report “will give Turkish and Armenian individuals as well as civil society and political institutions the information, analysis, and tools to engage the Armenian Genocide issue in a systematic manner that supports meaningful resolution.”
Funded initially by a grant from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), the members of the AGRSG are Alfred de Zayas, Jermaine O. McCalpin, Ara Papian, and Henry C. Theriault (chair). George Aghjayan serves as a special consultant.
I recently had a chance to talk with Theriault about the group’s final report. Below is the full text of our interview.

***

Rupen Janbazian: The AGRSG was formed in 2007 with the mission to produce an in-depth analysis of the reparations issue raised by the Armenian Genocide. Why and how was this project conceived?
Henry C. Theriault: My primary scholarly focus in the early 2000’s was genocide denial. In this connection, I had been researching and writing about Armenian-Turkish dialogue since about 2001. I was especially concerned about the encouragement of a negotiation to determine what the accepted history would be, by such initiatives as the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC). As I studied and analyzed dialogue issues more, my concerns expanded to include (1) the exclusion of long-term justice issues from most discussions about dialogue as well as concrete attempts to create dialogue between Armenians and Turks; and (2) the ignoring in the design of dialogue projects such as TARC, as well as proposals for other dialogue models, of the power differential (actually, asymmetrical domination relation) between Turks and Armenians within any dialogue context.
It became clear to me that, beyond simply ending denial, resolution of the Armenian Genocide issue requires real long-term justice in the form of reparations, including land. Only in this way can the outstanding harms, which remain devastating for many Armenians around the world, from the current vulnerability of dispersed Armenians in Syria to the poverty in rural areas of the Armenian Republic, be addressed. And, only in this way can the great power, wealth, and identity differential that resulted from the genocide be ameliorated.
I began specifically working on reparations for the genocide (and other cases of mass violence and oppression, such as the land expropriations that were central to the genocides of indigenous Americans) in 2005. In December of that year, I co-organized with famed South African human rights activist Dennis Brutus an international symposium on the global reparations movement. “Whose Debt? Whose Responsibility?” featured speakers from South Africa, Japan, and around the United States and covered reparations cases for African Americans, South African blacks, Native Americans, the Armenian Genocide, and Asian Comfort Women, as well as the question of debt relief as a form of reparation for colonialism in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Over the next year, reparations become the central concern of my scholarship, and I began to consider innovative ways to approach the Armenian case.
Jermaine McCalpin, at the time a Ph.D. student at Brown University, had given a tremendous paper on reparations at the 2005 conference, and I had thought at the time how great it would be to work together on a project. I had also become aware of Alfred de Zayas’ pioneering work on the Armenian case and soon learned of Ara Papian’s innovative engagement with the Treaty of Sèvres. I realized the potential of a team composed of this kind of range of experts to develop a proposal for long-term justice for the Armenian Genocide. Once I was able to get a small grant to support this work, I invited each of these exceptional thinkers to join with me in researching the issue, with an eye toward making a set of useful policy recommendations. They agreed and we began our work.

R.J.: The members of the AGRSG come from different academic backgrounds. What is the importance of having a variety of perspectives when assessing the topic of post-genocide reparations?
H.C.T.: This is a huge benefit of our group. From the beginning, we realized the value of being able to join concrete international law analyses with consideration of the ethical issues raised by the Armenian case. Too often, an international lawyer might produce a strong case on a human rights issue, but not be able to explain why his/her society or international organizations should act on the case, when ethical arguments can often motivate a broad range of individuals and even political leaders to take up an issue and turn legal possibility into reality. Just as often, in my field of philosophy, I have read compelling ethical arguments that remain academic exercises because they are disconnected from the legal and political realms in which the issues must be addressed if actual resolutions are to be enacted. Similarly, while general legal principles can be usefully applied to the genocide as a whole, the case for land return becomes that much more compelling when it is based on prior international arbitration and agreement.
Thus, Ambassador Papian’s contributions gave the legal arguments a powerful additional basis in the Wilsonian arbitral award of land to Armenians in the post-World War I period. Having a political theorist with a focus on transitional justice was just as indispensable. It is one thing to make a legal, historical, and ethical case for the rightness of reparations, but how can this rightness be made to matter in the political realities of Armenian-Turkish relations? My abstract concern with ethics and work on dialogue initiatives based on bad models had caused me to ignore this dimension of the issue; my view was that the case should be made on legal and political levels regardless of attitudes in Turkey. But this ignored a crucial potential lever in the reparations process, Turkish people themselves who wished to engage the genocide in a forthright manner with a goal of justice. As we have seen more and more Turks embrace this possibility in recent years, it would make no sense to ignore this development. Through Jermaine’s influence, the potential for Turkish transformation became an important element of the report.
I would also add that the geographic and cultural diversity of our group has been important as well. For instance, Dr. de Zayas has for decades been focused on human rights issues across the globe, and worked in the central institution trying to support them, the UN Human Rights Commission. Ambassador Papian has a deep understanding of regional political and security issues. And Jermaine brings to the table work on a number of truth commissions, particularly those in South Africa, Grenada, and Haiti, as well as the expertise gained through his writing of a 100-plus page proposal for a Jamaican Truth Commission. My own concerns about reparations for indigenous Americans, the Comfort Women, and other cases added further to the insights, historical information, and models available for our report. While the result is a report specifically focused on the Armenian case, it is informed by a host of cases across the globe.

R.J.: According to the report, the legal case for reparations is complicated and faces many obstacles. What are some of the biggest challenges that arise when analysing such a complex matter?
H.C.T.: This question could generate its own report, there are so many. Here, let me focus on two. First, any reparations scheme involving substantial material reparations, especially land, raises complex implementation questions. For instance, if land in the eastern areas of today’s Turkey is returned to Armenians, what will the status of its current inhabitants be? What about other groups who might also have claims to parts of the territory, such as Assyrians and Kurds? Is there a sufficient Armenian population to populate territory returned? And so forth. While these concerns are addressed by and, in fact, helped shape the specific proposal made in our report, this required complex analyses and adjustments.
Second, clearly the resistance by even well-intentioned Turks to any kind of material reparations, especially land, will be, at least initially, strong, while many people typically dismiss reparations for historical injustices as out of hand. The truth commission aspect of our proposal is meant to address the first problem here, while the broader question of whether the goal of reparations is just a pipe dream is addressed in the report as well. One important point to keep in mind is that ethics-based movements for political change have in fact dramatically impacted our world, as evidenced by the U.S. civil rights movement, India’s independence movement, and other such movements. The press for Armenian Genocide reparations, as part of the emerging global reparations movement, does have true potential for success, but getting people to see this takes some work.

R.J.: How does the AGRSG respond to those who believe that reparations, especially a return of land, are impractical and unlikely?
H.C.T.: Beyond what was discussed in response to your previous question, there are other ways the report addresses these challenges. For instance, we point out that the current system of international borders is based on the principle of “territorial integrity” in a way that discounts human rights and historical justice concerns. Those committed to the latter concerns should be willing to see territorial border changes. We also point out that the very notion of land in eastern Turkey being fundamentally “Turkish” land is itself an artefact of the genocide, when the land was depopulated of Armenians through mass expulsion and killing and thus Turkified. The land became “Turkish” through genocide, and maintaining an absolute view of the issue today—maintaining that the land is somehow in its very essence Turkish—is, in effect, supporting the genocidal ideology that led to this view of the land in the first place.
The report also allows for inventive alternatives. For instance, Ambassador Papian came up with an alternative model for land reparations, which would allow Turkey to retain formal title but turn historically Armenian lands into a demilitarized zone open to Armenians who wish to move to and develop economic opportunities there.
Henry C. Theriault
Henry C. Theriault

Ultimately, the strongest point in this regard is that history is filled with examples of popular movements that drove great political changes against strong powers and in an atmosphere of dismissal. Ethical rightness does matter and can be the basis of such change in the case of the Armenian Genocide, especially when it is supported by a strong legal and historical case and can be enacted by an innovative political process, as our report provides.

R.J.: Is the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Republic of Turkey necessary for the return of Armenian property confiscated or lost during the genocide?
H.C.T.: If we are talking about descendants filing lawsuits for individual property losses during the genocide, then recognition of the genocide is not required. As long as an expropriation of property can be shown to have violated law at the time or to have been done without proper legal support, then a lawsuit might proceed. It would succeed because the context of genocide is not essential to the case: The same laws would apply whether or not there was a genocide occurring, though of course it was the Armenian Genocide that caused the particular property losses we are discussing. Of course, there was legal cover given to expropriation of Armenians’ property, though the legality appears to have been challenged at the time and is called into question in some recent scholarship. More to the point, even if there is proper legal support for such cases, as we explain in the report, without political support, the cases are not likely to succeed. This is especially true of domestic cases in Turkey.
But, our report is specifically not concerned with individual reparations for specific lost property. It is concerned with group reparations for the genocide itself. The kinds of property confiscations interest us only insofar as they would be part of a general group reparations settlement. We use estimates from the genocide period to make a determination of the amount of compensation for such property losses—except for land, which is considered separately.
It would seem that a group reparations process for the genocide could occur only if either (1) outside powers compelled Turkey to make reparations; or (2) Turkey recognized the genocide. But there is a third possibility, that pressure for reparations could produce a truth process in Turkey that will spur recognition.

R.J.: The AGRSG supports a truth commission when dealing with the memory of the Armenian Genocide. How does this differ from the historical commission proposed by the failed Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission or the “joint historical commission” proposed as part of the 2009 diplomatic protocols signed between Turkey and Armenia?
H.C.T.: The “joint historical commission” issue is a bit complex in the protocols, as there seems to have been some backtracking on that by the Armenian president. For those who are interested in the detailed answer to this question, Part 7 of the report, which develops the Armenian Genocide Truth and Rectification Commission idea, explains specifically why it is fundamentally different from and superior to these other approaches. In short, our idea for a truth and rectification commission is not based on any notion that the facts of the Armenian Genocide are in question—they are not—but, following the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission model, aims to provide a highly public process through which the history of the Armenian Genocide can be engaged in depth, to at once educate the Turkish public about what occurred and provide Armenians an opportunity to bear public witness to this history. What is more, the issue of reparations is contained right in the title, in the word “rectification.” The ultimate function of this commission is to help develop a reparations plan for the Armenian Genocide. This was, by the way, supposed to be what happened in the case of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission—its final stage was supposed to be about reparations. But this final stage never occurred. Our approach builds reparations into the entire truth commission process.

R.J.: The final report of the AGRSG was published in September 2014. As the chair of the AGRSG, what purpose do you hope the report will serve?
H.C.T.: The goal is four-fold. First, I hope that the arguments and evidence presented in the report will be compelling to Armenians in the Republic and in the diaspora, and motivate them to pursue reparations as a crucial component of any resolution of the genocide. Similarly, I hope that the arguments, both the legal and ethical ones, will convince third-party supporters of genocide recognition as well as third-parties who are lukewarm at best to the issue that reparations are both right and reasonable. I am particularly concerned about the tendency to dismiss reparations not just in the Armenian case but in many others as well.
Third, the report provides legal, ethical, and political arguments and approaches that can be translated directly into legal and political initiatives by the Armenian Republic and Armenian institutions around the world. My goal is that these entities use this valuable report in this way. Finally, the report provides a mechanism—the truth and rectification commission—through which the Turkish public can engage the genocide in a meaningful way. The contents of the report offer compelling arguments for contemporary Turkish responsibility for reparations (which is not at all the same thing as blame for the genocide itself). I hope that Turkish readers will take these seriously, at once overcoming resistance to a proper sense of responsibility and at the same time embracing the truth commission model as a healthy and productive avenue for dealing with the genocide today.

9 Comments on Resolution with Justice: Theriault Discusses Armenian Genocide Reparations Report

  1. Why has not anybody sued Turkey yet if the recognition is not required for reparations?
    • avatar Peter Jerijian // December 3, 2014 at 2:20 am //
      All in a good time Ahmet. You can bet your bottom dollar that this will happen. Your wish and specially our wish will come true.
  2. avatar lou mooradian // December 2, 2014 at 3:56 pm // Reply
    It is very disturbing that the pope Francis recent visit to Turkey no reference to the Armenian Genocide. Especially since the Armenian Catholic Church is still a big player with the Armenian community. No pick up or reference by the Armenian Weekly or ANCA.
  3. Thanks for this fascinating piece!
  4. A promising interview and article. The reading of the full report itself is a must for all activists of the Armenian Genocide and others. About time Armenians (and the Republic of Armenia first and foremost) moved on from the tired old and stale ‘recognition’ trap to practical steps for eliminating (at least some of) the CONSEQUENCES
  5. Our family & myself are interested in the confiscated homes & land of the Boyajians in Dikrenegard (Diyerbekir) .
  6. Genocide perpetrators never admit their guilt, Pol Pot of Cambodia never accepted his commiting Genocide, it is the world that condemns an act of Genocide, criminals never accept their crime.
  7. avatar Vart Adjemian // December 3, 2014 at 12:41 pm // Reply
    An interesting interview. Hopefully this will not merely be an academic exercise but will lay the foundation for a concrete plan of action.
    Questions/ comments:
    1- Where can we have access or obtain the AGRSG report?
    2- It is wishful thinking that this report, or any other report will change the attitude of the Turkish Government or influence the Turkish populace’s thinking about the Genocide or reparations.
    Recently there has been some Turkish voices raised , but this is a small minority that will have a hard time to offset the Turkish Government’s “machine” of propaganda based on falsehoods and lies.
    3- The legal process is highly complicated and costly. What are the specific legal steps to be taken, in what jurisdiction, what court of justice?
    4- Who leads the legal effort? In my opinion without the involvement of the Government of RoA not much can be accomplished.
    Vart Adjemian

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Turkish Scholar Affirms: Turkey Has Lost Battle for the Truth

In recent years, a growing number of Turkish intellectuals, scholars, journalists, and human rights activists have taken bold positions on the Armenian Genocide, in opposition to their government’s denials. Although their number is small and their influence on President Erdogan negligible, the fight for truth and justice has to be carried on two fronts: within and outside Turkey. Hopefully, over time, the ranks of such liberal Turks will grow, forcing their government to implement reforms on a variety of issues, including the Armenian Genocide.
These progressive Turks, however, should not be viewed as activists for the Armenian Cause. Their primary goal is to live in a democratic society that respects the rights of all citizens and acknowledges the dark pages of its past.
One such righteous Turk is Cengiz Aktar, a senior scholar at the Istanbul Policy Center, who has championed for many years recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government.
Earlier this year, Aktar wrote two compelling columns, challenging Turkish denials of the genocide. The first, published on April 21 in “Today’s Zaman,” was titled “The 99th Anniversary.” The second column, posted on the “Al Jazeera English” website on April 24, was titled “Armenian Genocide: Turkey Has Lost the Battle of Truth,” and subtitled “An empowered Turkish society is now challenging the state’s denialist paradigm on the tragic events of 1915.”
In his first article, Aktar described April 24 as “a symbolic day for Armenians who were forcibly dispersed all around the world. This collective disaster is still not recognized in Turkey. Even the fact that Anatolian Armenians were completely wiped out from their homeland is not enough for people and the state to recognize it.”
Aktar went on to ridicule Prime Minister Davutoglu’s call for a “joint historical commission,” because it would be “composed of ‘genocide experts’ on the one side and of denialist professors on the other who cannot even convene, let alone arrive at a decision.”
Ending his column on an optimistic note, Aktar observed, “Unlike the state, Turkish society is today questioning the past and searching for appropriate answers. This is the soundest and most lasting way to face the truth. Peace will not come to these lands without confronting the past. 2015 will be the year when the quest for truth and memory will deepen, even if the government does not like it.”
In the Al Jazeera article, the Turkish scholar divided his government’s denialist campaign on the Armenian Genocide into three categories: lobbying efforts jointly with Azerbaijan, especially in the United States; hiring scholars to give Turkey’s “vulgar denialism” a scientific veneer; and diverting attention away from the Armenian Genocide Centennial by focusing on other events, such as “the Dardanelles battle victory” and “the military debacle of Sarikamis.”
Despite vigorous denialist propaganda, Aktar maintained that “Turkey has long lost the battle of truth. The destruction of the Armenian population on its ancestral land is a sheer fact, whatever else you might call it.”
Aktar proceeded to describe April 24, 1915 as “the dark day when the decision to erase Armenians from Anatolia began to be implemented by the Ottoman government of Young Turks or the Ittihadists. The rationale behind it was to engineer a homogeneous population composed of Muslims designated to form the backbone of the yet to be invented Turkish nation. Thus, there was no place for Christian populations despite their historic presence on those lands.”
The Turkish scholar then referred to a “report commissioned in May 1919 by the Ottoman government that came to power in 1918 after the demise of the Young Turks,” which stated that 800,000 Armenians had lost their lives by that date. Aktar also quoted from a book published in 1928 by the Turkish General Staff, which reported that “800,000 Armenians and 200,000 Greeks died as a result of massacres, forced relocations, and forced labor.” Aktar concluded that “when one adds those who died after 1918 in the Caucasus region due to hunger, illness, and massacres, the figure surpasses one million. The cleansing work of Ittihadists was completed by Kemalists by obliging those throughout Anatolia whose lives were spared to take shelter in Istanbul and simultaneously by suppressing their places of worship and schools throughout Anatolia.”
The audacious Turkish intellectual ends his powerful article with a note of sober realism: “The genie is out of the bottle. When and how it will affect state policy is difficult to predict.”