Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ungor: Turkey Has Acknowledged the Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Weekly Magazine
April 2012 
“Turkey denies the Armenian Genocide” goes a jingle. Yes, the Turkish state’s official policy towards the Armenian Genocide was and is indeed characterized by the “three M’s”: misrepresentation, mystification, and manipulation. But when one gauges what place the genocide occupies in the social memory of Turkish society, even after nearly a century, a different picture emerges. Even though most direct eyewitnesses to the crime have passed away, oral history interviews yield important insights. Elderly Turks and Kurds in eastern Turkey often hold vivid memories from family members or fellow villagers who witnessed or participated in the genocide. This essay is based on countless interviews conducted with the (grand-)children of eye witnesses to the Armenian Genocide. The research results suggest there is a clash between official state memory and popular social memory: The Turkish government is denying a genocide that its own population remembers.
IMG 3414 300x225 Ungor: Turkey Has Acknowledged the Armenian Genocide
Children in Mush (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)
Oral history in Turkey
Oral history is an indispensible tool for scholars interested in mass violence. A considerable collection of Armenian and Syriac oral history material has been studied by colleagues.1 The existing body of oral history research in Turkey, though gradually developing, has hardly addressed the genocide. A potential research field was politicized by successive governments and the Turkish Historical Society. Several documentaries about the victimization of Ottoman Muslims in the eastern border regions have included shots of elderly Muslims speaking about their victimization at the hand of Armenians (and presumably Cossacks) in 1918. It seems unmistakable that the Turkish-nationalist camp fears that the local population of Anatolian towns and villages might “confess” the genocide’s veracity and disclose relevant details about it. For example, the 2006 PBS documentary “The Armenian Genocide” by Andrew Goldberg includes remarkable footage of elderly Turks speaking candidly about the genocide. One of the men remembers how his father told him that the génocidaires had mobilized religious leaders to convince the population that killing Armenians would secure them a place in heaven. Another middle-aged man recounts a recollection of his grandfather’s that neighboring Armenian villagers were locked in a barn and burnt alive.2
In the past decade, I have searched (and found) respondents willing to relate their personal experiences or their family narratives related to the war and the genocide. In the summers of 2002 and 2004-07, I conducted up to 200 interviews with (grand-)children of contemporaries in eastern Turkey, all semi-structured and taped. Needless to say, oral history has its methodological pitfalls, especially in a society where the memory of modern history is overlaid with myth and ideologies. Many are unwilling to reflect about their family histories because they have grown accustomed to ignoring inquisitive and critical questions, not least on their own moral choices in the face of their neighbors’ destruction. Others are reluctant to admit to acts considered shameful.3
But while some were outright unwilling to speak once I broached the taboo subject, others agreed to speak but wished to remain anonymous, and again many others were happy to speak openly, with some even providing me access to their private documents. Even though direct eyewitnesses to the crime have most probably passed away, these interviews proved fruitful. Elderly Turks and Kurds often remember vivid anecdotes from family members or villagers who witnessed or participated in the massacres. My subject position as a “local outsider” (being born in the region but raised abroad) facilitated the research as it gave me the communicative channels to at once delve deeply and recede at the appropriate moments. It also provided me with a sense of immunity from the dense moral and political field in which most of this research is embedded.
Turkish and Kurdish eyewitness accounts
A.D., a Kurdish writer from Varto (Muş), recalled a childhood memory from 1966 when an earthquake laid bare a mass grave near his village. The villagers knew the victims were Armenians from a neighboring village. According to A.D., when the village elder requested advice from the local authorities on what to do, within a day military commanders had assigned a group of soldiers to re-bury the corpses. The villagers were warned to never speak about it again.4
Interviews with elderly locals also yielded considerable useful data about the genocide itself. For example, a Kurdish man (born 1942) from Diyarbekir’s northern Piran district, had heard from his father how fellow villagers would raid Armenian villages and dispatch their victims by slashing their throats wide open. As they operated with daggers and axes, this often led to decapitations. After the killing was done, the perpetrators could see how the insides of the victims’ windpipes were black because of tobacco use.5 Morbid details such as these are also recorded by the following account from a Kurdish man from the Kharzan region, east of Diyarbekir:
My grandfather was the village elder (muhtar) during the war. He told us when we were children about the Armenian massacre. There was a man in our village; he used to hunt pheasants. Now the honorless man (bêşerefo) hunted Armenians. Grandpa saw how he hurled a throwing axe right through a child a mother was carrying on her back. Grandpa yelled at him: “Hey, do you have no honor? God will punish you for this.” But the man threatened my grandfather that if he did not shut up, he would be next. The man was later expelled from the village.6
Here is another account from a Turkish woman (born 1928) from Erzincan:
Q: You said there were Armenians in your village, too. What happened to them?
A: They were all killed in the first year of the war, you didn’t know? My mother was standing on the hill in front of our village. She saw how at Kemah they threw (döktüler) all the Armenians into the river. Into the Euphrates. Alas, screams and cries (bağıran çağıran). Everyone, children and all (çoluk çocuk), brides, old people, everyone, everyone. They robbed them of their golden bracelets, their shawls, and silk belts, and threw them into the river.
Q: Who threw them into the river?
A: The government of course.
Q: What do you mean by ‘the government’?
A: Gendarmes.7
These examples suggest that there still might be something meaningful gained from interviews with elderly Turks and Kurds. Needless to say, had a systematic oral history project been carried out in Turkey much earlier, e.g. in the 1960’s or 1970’s, undoubtedly a wealth of crucial information could have been salvaged. Besides the excellent research conducted in Turkey by colleagues such as Leyla Neyzi, Ayşe Gül Altınay, and others, interviews by individual researchers are at best a drop in the ocean. A measured research project with a solid book as output would be a memorable achievement for the centenary of the genocide.
When I was traveling from Ankara to Adana in the summer of 2004, I stopped by the friendly town of Ereğli, north of the Taurus mountain range. My friend, an academic visiting his family, had invited me along. Strolling through the breezy town, we came across one of my friend’s acquaintances, an “Uncle Fikri.” The old man looked sad, so we asked him what was wrong. He said, “My father has been on his deathbed for a few days now.” When we tried to console him, he answered: “I’m not sad because he will die, he has been sick for a while now. I just cannot accept that he refuses to recite the Kelime-i Shehadet before he passes on.” (Shahadah, the Muslim declaration of belief: “There is no God but Allah and Muhammed is his Prophet.”) The man looked deep into our eyes, there was an awkward silence for four seconds, we understood each other, and we parted.
In this example, only two generations separated us from the eyewitness generation. Therefore, I believe there might still be avenues for oral history research on the genocide. Father Patrick Desbois is a French Catholic priest who travels to Ukraine in a concerted effort to document the Shoah through the use of oral history. His team locates mass graves and interviews contemporary witnesses about the mass shootings of Jews, which often took place just outside the Ukrainian villages they visit. The elderly respondents usually remember the slaughter in vivid detail.8 Desbois’ work on Ukraine has proven helpful in completing the already comprehensive picture historians have of Nazi mass murder in that region. During a private conversation, Desbois intimated that he would be interested in launching a similar project in Turkey, if a viable initiative was proposed.9 It might be worthwhile to gauge what place the Armenian Genocide occupies in the social memory of Turks and Kurds, even after nearly a century. The conclusion would undoubtedly warrant my introductory comment: The Turkish government is denying a genocide that its own population remembers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Excellent production with many new photos and newsclips. Please try to watch the full film. ThankYou.
In commemoration of the 97th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Our Message Is Directed To Turkey


We address this e-mail to everyone Armenian and Non Armenian throughout the world.
Whether you speak or understand English, French, German or Armenian, please, watch this 90 minute presentation and come to your own conclusions

Spread this link. Let ordinary people of the world, intellectuals of this world, clergymen of this world, politicians of this world, heads of states of this world, let them all see and hear what is documented in this presentation.

We challenge all and everyone to see this presentation and urge them, as decent human beings, to demand, and if need be, to shout at the face of deniers of the Armenian Genocide to stop insulting the entire humanity.

But over and above all, let the whole world


The Armenian Rights Council of Montreal

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

No one doubts that Genocide happened in Turkey in 1915 – Turkish paper

April 10, 2012 00:04
Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a columnist of the Turkish Radical paper referred to the Armenian Genocide issue and presented the research results among the Armenians in Lebanon conducted by his college.
The Turkish journalist mentions that his friend visited the Armenian district in Beirut and he is assured that even if 1,000 years pass the Armenian Issue will not be forgotten.
“My friend mentions that for the Armenians there it’s if the Genocide occurred yesterday and that way of thinking is transferred from generation to generation. Turkey only denies it hoping that one day the issue will be forgotten. But Turkey does not have any other policy for the genocide than threatening those who put it on the agenda.
After the Justice and Democracy Party came to power many things changed but they have developed nothing but denial policy for a 100 years old issue.
Currently more than 20 countries have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide and that number continues to grow. The countries which have not recognized the Armenian Genocide have not done so because they don’t believe it, it is because they don’t benefit from recognizing it.
The bill on recognizing the Armenian Genocide is in the US Senate again. But Iran and Syria are on the agenda so we think it will not pass. Well, but what will happen after 10 or 20 years?
Because Turkey has deep fears, it is not able to find a proper solution for this issue. The indifference towards this issue brings forward many serious issues. It is a trump card for everyone who wishes to exclude Turkey from a given platform. Well we already know how Turkey will respond and what words it will use. If you want to exclude Turkey from Europe show the trump card and by Turkey’s reaction you will see that it is not a European country.
When Sarkozy brought the Armenian Bill to the agenda, of course he wanted to get the votes of the Armenians but he also wanted to show that Turkey cannot be a member of the EU.
Genocide is a legal term. The founder of the term Raphael Lemkin mentioned when creating it that he has taken into consideration the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. This means the UN’s Genocide conception was created based on the events of 1915. Nobody in the world doubts that in 1915 the Armenian Genocide occurred. Currently it is discussed how much modern Turkey is responsible for it and towards whom.
I also want to mention that there is no legal discussion in the land compensation issue. There is no international legal mechanism which could demand land from Turkey based on the Armenian Issue,” Cengiz Aktar wrote.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

.ALMA to Host Book Event by Akcam

WATERTOWN, Mass.—On Sun., April 15, Taner Akcam , the Kaloosdian and Mugar Professor of Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University, will discuss new perspectives on the Armenian Genocide based on his latest book at a program at the Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA).

The book, The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity: the Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire, has just been released by Princeton University Press. In it, Akcam introduces new evidence from more than 600 secret Ottoman documents that demonstrate in unprecedented detail that the Armenian Genocide resulted from an official effort to engage in demographic engineering and assimilation in order to rid the Ottoman Empire of its Christian subjects.
These previously inaccessible documents, from deep inside the bureaucratic machinery of Ottoman Turkey, along with the author’s expert context and analysis, show how a dying empire embraced genocide and ethnic cleansing.
The book follows another major study by Akcam released last fall, Judgment at Istanbul, co-authored with genocide scholar Vahakn Dadrian, in which the indictments and verdicts of the Turkish Military Tribunals held at the end of World War I were published in English for the first time. These tribunals court-marshaled wartime cabinet ministers, Young Turk Party leaders, and a number of others for crimes committed against the Armenians.
One of the first scholars of Turkish origin to publicly acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, Akcam has published a serious of groundbreaking books and articles on the subject, including A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility. He also lectures and participates in conferences throughout the United States and abroad.
Born in of a small town in northeastern Turkey, Akcam graduated from the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. Active in the Turkish student democracy movement, he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. After one year he managed to escape to Germany, where he earned his doctorate from Hanover University, writing a thesis on Turkish nationalism and the Armenian Genocide. He was associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota before joining the faculty at Clark in 2008.
The ALMA program will begin at 2 p.m. on the third floor gallery, 65 Main St., in Watertown, and is free and open to the public. A reception and book-signing will follow the program.
For more information, contact ALMA by calling (617) 926-0171 or e-mailing