Inching towards the g-word

This post by a Turkish blogger I’ve been following all semester comes closer to acknowledging the Armenian genocide than any other Turk I’ve read about. The post praises Obama’s use of the phrase meds yeghern to refer to the genocide. Meds yeghern means “Great Catastrophe” in Armenian and is the phrase Armenians use to describe the genocide. The blogger liked Obama’s use of the phrase because it doesn’t carry any legal baggage, but it doesn’t contradict Obama’s previously expressed view of the events of 1915 as genocide.

The blogger says that there is no reason for Obama to deny something he sees as a historical fact. This is quite a radical position in Turkey, even if the blogger goes on to say that Turks view an entirely different set of historical facts and that the Turkish interpretation of history is equally valid. Surprisingly, he recognizes that the Armenians’ pain is legitimate, although he also rehashes standard Turkish arguments that Armenian “terrorists” committed atrocities of at least an equal scale against Turks. Overall, I was incredibly surprised to see a Turkish blogger embrace the term meds yeghern. The refusal to use the word “genocide,” though, displays the power of the word. Even though it is basically a synonym for meds yeghern, it carries much more legal and moral weight in the international community.

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Published in: on April 30, 2009 at 10:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Language and Genocide

I came across this Turkish newspaper article that talks about the possibility of normalizing Turkey’s relations with Armenia. Throughout the article, the author refers to “allegations of genocide” “made by the diaspora” as an obstacle to normalization. Of course, it would be impossible to ever write about “genocide” in a Turkish newspaper, so the use of the word “allegations” isn’t surprising. What’s more interesting is that the writer makes a point of distinguishing between the citizens of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora, and goes on to blame most of the problems on the diaspora. My first reaction was that this was just a way to justify normalizing relations without having to acknowledge the genocide; Turkey effectively saying thatĀ  the problem’s not Armenia, just those deluded and annoying members of the diaspora. However, there is some validity here.

I’m sure that genocide recognition is something all Armenians would like to see. However, insistance on symbolic recognition of something that happened almost a century ago, while incredibly important, is a luxury of Armenians living in the U.S. and Europe. Armenians in Armenia have more pressing needs resulting from living in a developing country. If better economic relations with Turkey help alleviate some day-to-day concerns, then that might be more important to Armenians than diplomatic acknowledgement of the genocide.

Published in: on April 1, 2009 at 9:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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Mass Killings of Turkish Kurds

Especially considering my last post about the importance of calling attention to acts of genocide, I found this post by a Turkish blogger especially relevant. Apparently, bones have started turning up in Turkey from the mass killings of Kurds in the 1990s. The killings were carried out by the Gendarme Intelligence Service, or JITEM, which is widely believed to have been an arm of the Turkish military. However, the Turkish government now denies that the JITEM ever existed, despite accounts that it killed about 17,500 Kurds in the 1990s. These killings weren’t genocide, as the victims were not killed simply because they were Kurds, but because they had or were suspected of having ties to the PKK. Often, though, people were killed simply for having a relative in the PKK or for giving aide to PKK guerrillas (even though the guerrillas might have killed them if they refused).

Anyway, I can’t help but wonder if the complete lack of consequences for the Armenian genocide emboldened the Turkish government. If nothing happened when one million innocent Armenian men, women, and children were killed, then what was to stop the government from killing a few thousand men who did have ties (however nebulous) to the PKK? Definitely worth thinking about.

Published in: on March 26, 2009 at 8:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Recognizing “A Problem from Hell”

My Ethics and World Politics class is reading Samantha Power’s book “A Problem from Hell” about America’s reaction (or lack thereof) to genocide. It’s a fascinating read, but I was especially intrigued because the first few chapters deal with the Armenian genocide, which occurred before the word ‘genocide’ even existed. At the time, there was a large-scale and highly visible grass roots movement in Europe and America to provide aid to Armenian refugees. However, while this helped the few Armenians who survived, it did nothing to stop more from dying. States were the only entities with any power to actually stop the Turks from killing Armenians, and not a single government stepped in. The U.S. refused to even symbolically condemn Turkey’s actions. When World War I ended, none of the perpetrators of the genocide, from the officials who crafted the policy to the soldiers who carried it out, were punished or even condemned.

One passage that particularly stuck in my mind is when Power quotes Hitler as saying, “Who remembers the Armenians?” before the Holocaust even began. The Armenian genocide taught Hitler a clear lesson; not only would states look the other way while genocide was occurring, they would not seek justice or retribution afterwards. This lesson had far-reaching effects, not only for Hitler’s victims but for the victims of future tyrants, the Milosevics and Pol Pots of the world. I believe that even a superficial acknowledgement that a state is committing genocide (ideally but not necessarily combined with concrete actions to stop it) canĀ  have important consequences. At the very least, perpetrators of genocide would know that the world saw what they were doing and found it unacceptable and abhorrent.

This leads me to my current disgust over the U.S. government’s continued refusal, almost 100 years later, to recognize the Armenian genocide. Yes, I recognize that there are important geopolitical implications and that it is in the U.S.’s interests not to offend Turkey. Turkey is a key ally in a volatile region, a relatively secular and democratic state in the Middle East, etc, etc. Yet on a purely human level, I cannot help but feel that genocides will continue to occur until governments decide that there are more important things than “offending” allies.

Published in: on March 26, 2009 at 2:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Turkish-Armenian communication in the blogosphere

This is an interesting post by a Turkish blogger written as an open letter to the global Armenian community. The comments are where things get really fascinating, as there are many in-depth and insightful comments by both Turks and Armenians.

http://www.thewhitepath.com/archives/2007/10/an_open_letter_to_the_armenian_diaspora.php

I’ve been searching for evidence of interaction between Turks and Armenians on the internet (preferably interaction that goes beyond angry rants) and have had a tough time fining anything. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that many Turkish bloggers have temporarily stopped posting as a form of protest against an increased crackdown on blogs by the Turkish government, so this post is especially encouraging.

The post itself as well as the comments also bring up some interesting notions of identity, especially with regards to nationalism. Turkish and Armenian narratives are discussed, along with how the Armenian genocide fits into both these narratives in vastly different ways. One of the reasons it is so difficult for Turkey and Armenia (as well as individual citizens of those countries) to reconcile is that each country has very distinct and established narratives about what happened in 1915, and every citizen is indoctrinated into his country’s respective narrative from birth. The accuracy of the narrative is not what’s important, but rather the fact that the narrative is so firmly entrenched in notions of national identity.

Published in: on February 12, 2009 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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