Friday, December 05, 2008

Turkish intellectuals give personal apology for 1915 events

A group of Turkish intellectuals have apologized for the “great disaster that Ottoman Armenians suffered in 1915” but have fallen short of calling on the state to do the same.

A petition initiated by a group of intellectuals, including professors Baskın Oran and Ahmet İnsel, journalists Ali Bayramoğlu and Cengiz Aktar, personally apologizes for the events.

The group is asking other people to sign the petition, which reads as follows: “I cannot conscientiously accept the indifference to the great disaster that Ottoman Armenians suffered in 1915, and its denial. I reject this injustice and acting of my own will, I share the feelings and pains of my Armenian brothers and sisters, and I apologize to them.”

The organizers of the campaign have underlined that first they will collect signatures from intellectuals and they will then open a secure Web site to collect signatures.

Oran pointed out that they had written the text for individuals since the tragedy was very human. “We are searching for human beings. We thought about urging the state to apologize but we decided to let individuals act according to their conscience. This call is for everybody,” he said.

The petition, which has already become the target of nationalists, has led to criticism from other intellectuals.

Aytekin Yıldız, the coordinator of the Confrontation Association (Yüzleşme Derneği), pointed out that the Armenian community was already aware of the fact that there are many people in Turkey of conscience, and the important thing was not to declare what is already known. “It is a good starting point, but not enough. Firstly, what do they mean by ‘great disaster’? Let’s name it, it is genocide. Secondly, the state has to apologize,” Yıldız pointed out.

Historian Ayşe Hür said apologizing is the duty of those who were responsible for the act, or for those who share their arguments. “It seems that a very elite group discussed that petition, because I learnt about this petition from the media and I was surprised,” she said, and added: “I approach these types of events as a scientist, as a historian, not as a member of the Turkish nation. For me, all these events were the fault of Turkish nationalism flourishing at that time, and personally, I don’t identify with it, so I do not feel the need to apologize personally.”

She also pointed out that the petitioners are concentrating only on 1915; however, she says there were events after and before. “There is a state tradition which legitimizes all these events and prevents any discussion about them. Firstly, the state has to ensure a suitable atmosphere to discuss all these things; then it has to apologize on behalf of the perpetrators and for itself, because it has legitimized their actions through the years.”

Another figure, a prominent intellectual who wanted to remain anonymous, said to apologize is not the responsibility of the individual but that of the state. He said Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül’s remarks at a speech he gave in November were not acceptable.

In that speech, the minister suggested that the “success” of the republic lay in the nation-building process. “If there were Greeks in the Aegean and Armenians in most places in Turkey today, would it be the same nation-state? I don’t know what words I can use to explain the importance of the population exchange, but if you look at the former state of affairs, its importance will become very clear,” Gönül said. He added that in those days, Ankara was composed of four neighborhoods -- Armenian, Jewish, Greek and Muslim -- and claimed that after the nation-building process, it became possible to establish a national bourgeoisie.

The Lausanne Treaty, signed in 1923, set in motion a population exchange between Greek Orthodox citizens of the young Turkish Republic and Muslim citizens of Greece, which resulted in the displacement of approximately 2 million people. The Armenian population that was in Turkey before the establishment of Turkish Republic was forced to emigrate in 1915, and, according to some, the conditions of this expulsion are the basis of Armenian claims of genocide.

05 December 2008, Friday

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