Taner Ak­cam: “I am a nor­mal Turk”


Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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