Taner Akcam: “I am a normal Turk”
E DII TO RII A L
Historian and sociologist Taner Akcam, a holocaust and genocide lecturer and researcher at Clark University presented a highly informative, illuminating even, lecture on Monday night on “A hundred years after: new aspects of the Armenian Genocide”.
It is not so much the information that was revealed at the packed University of Cyprus lecture hall, some for the first time to a non-academic audience, as much as the psyche of the Ottoman rulers a century ago and the methodical and mechanical way with which orders for the annihilation of the Armenians and other non-Muslim minorities were executed.
From the ethnic cleansing conceived by the nationalist wings of the Young Turks, allegedly in the name of Islam, to the precise measures used by the notorious Department of Statistics to implement the “5% rule” of forced conversion, assimilation and relocation, it is no wonder that present-day Turkey refuses to recognise the acts of genocide, a term not coined until three decades later.
According to Akcam, many profited from the mass deportations and kidnap of children, not only through bribes to help families survive or at least relinquish their faith and disappear into the crowds, but also from “adopting” orphans who were considered the sole heirs of their family fortunes.
Many of these officials continued in the employ of Kemal Ataturk’s new Republic, with the new regime inheriting responsibility and continuation, even, of the acts of the genocide, by officials and ordinary people.
But what angers Akcam most
is not so much Turkey’s denial of the genocide ever taking place, saying that this act is not a single event that took place overnight, but a long-term, well-thought plan to exterminate an entire population and eliminate any reference to their existence.
The biggest crime is the vast population’s silence, to which he has apologised for not knowing at a ripe younger age of the existence of the Armenian nation, let alone their holocaust. Education, Akcam concedes, is the biggest weapon to defeat extreme nationalism and fundamentalism, such as is being repeated in present-day Iraq and Syria.
Even as “a young leftist student” when he first protested the Turkish army’s invasion of Cyprus, Akcam says he was often ridiculed by fellow progressive leaders, saying “why do you need to concern yourself with such matters?”
The 62-year-old professor also questions Turkishness, a reason often used to arrest, prosecute or even assassinate late 20th century free thinkers in Turkey, such as his close friend Hrant Dink. But he looks beyond the genocide centennial commemorations urging Armenians and others to visit Turkey and support those who are speaking openly about crimes of the past in an effort to cleanse the nation of the dark past.
He has faith in Turkish civil society, whom he trusts will some day have enough power to force the government to stand up and admit responsibility for the genocide.
“I am a normal Turk” he says, for recognising the atrocities with the hope that reconciliation will come some day soon.
Perhaps, some faith should also be reserved for civil society as efforts are also underway to try and resolve the Cyprus problem.