Two Views on… 1915

With Arus Yu­mul and Alev Kılıç


April 24 marks the cen­te­nary of mass killings of Ar­me­ni­ans at the hands of the Ot­toman Em­pire. Ar­me­ni­ans de­scribe the events as geno­cide and de­mand its recog­ni­tion. Ankara claims events should be un­der­stood in the con­text of World War I. Is rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pos­si­ble? And how? Prof. Arus Yu­mul of İstanbul Bilgi Uni­ver­sity and for­mer Turk­ish diplo­mat and head of the Ankara-based Cen­ter for Eurasian Stud­ies (AVİM) Alev Kılıç of­fer their per­spec­tives TURK­ISH RE­VIEW: It has been in the news that Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan has in­vited world lead­ers, in­clud­ing Ar­me­nian Pres­i­dent Serzh Sargsyan, to com­mem­o­ra­tion events for the Battle of Gal­lipoli on April 24. What are your thoughts on this devel­op­ment? ARUS YU­MUL: My first re­ac­tion to this in­vi­ta­tion was to ask, “Has Turkey missed an op­por­tu­nity to com­pre­hen­sively con­front the past yet again?” What we are wit­ness­ing is an in­creas­ing ten­dency to rel­a­tivize his­tor­i­cal suf­fer­ing, to treat all vic­tims of the war equally with al­lu­sions to a shared past of loss and suf­fer­ing. Re­mem­ber that in his un­prece­dented state­ment of con­do­lence to Ar­me­ni­ans Mr. Er­doğan said that “mil­lions of peo­ple of all re­li­gions and eth­nic­i­ties lost their lives in World War I.” What fig­ures promi­nently in this dis­course is the suf­fer­ing of the Turks: “Turks were vic­tims of war like Ar­me­ni­ans” or “The Turks are the vic­tims.” When the Ger­mans re­sorted to the same line of ar­gu­ment af­ter World War II -- in their “search for a us­able past” as Robert G. Moeller put it -- with ap­peals to Ger­mans to re­mem­ber their losses, this was in­ter­preted as an at­tempt to al­low Ger­mans to evade guilt and re­spon­si­bil­ity by equat­ing Ger­man suf­fer­ing with Ger­man crimes. Karl Jaspers, in “The Ques­tion of Ger­man Guilt,” which was writ­ten im­me­di­ately af­ter World War II, says: “Vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one has lost close rel­a­tives and friends, but how he lost them -- in front-line com­bat, in bomb­ings, in con­cen­tra­tion camps or in the mass mur­ders of the régime -- re­sults in greatly diver­gent in­ner at­ti­tudes.” To­day, we know from Ay­han Ak­tar’s re­search that a sim­i­lar view was ex­pressed in 1918 by Matyos Nal­bantyan, the Ar­me­nian deputy of Kozan, in his re­sponse to dis­courses par­al­lel­ing Ar­me­nian losses with Turk­ish losses in the Ot­toman Par­lia­ment. TR: Would you elab­o­rate on Nal­bantyan’s idea? What did he try to ex­press? AY: Af­ter ac­knowl­edg­ing the vic­tim­hood of the Turks dur­ing the war, Nal­bantyan ex­plained that there was a dif­fer­ence of kind be­tween the deaths of Ar­me­ni­ans and those of Turks. Whereas Turks had died hero­ically fight­ing for their coun­try, ig­nominy was in­volved in the killing of Ar­me­ni­ans. This resur­gent mem­ory of Turk­ish suf­fer­ing, which seems to echo with av­er­age cit­i­zens, not only pro­duces a less em­phatic por­trait of the ex­ter­mi­na­tion of Ar­me­ni­ans but it also tries to min­i­mize


the em­pha­sis on the vic­tim­iza­tion of Ar­me­ni­ans while max­i­miz­ing the fo­cus on the vic­tim­iza­tion of Turks. While ac­knowl­edg­ing the dis­tress of Ger­mans, Jaspers notes that they “also bear the great­est re­spon­si­bil­ity for the course of events un­til 1945.” For that rea­son, he adds, Ger­mans “should not be so quick to feel in­no­cent,” “should not pity” them­selves “as vic­tims of an evil fate” and “should not ex­pect to be praised for suf­fer­ing.” In­stead they should ques­tion them­selves, “Where did I feel wrongly, think wrongly, act wrongly” and they should, as far as pos­si­ble, “look for guilt” within them­selves, “not in things, nor in the oth­ers.” TR: Were there dif­fer­ent ap­proaches in this re­gard? AY: There were dif­fer­ent cour­ses of ac­tion taken by cer­tain Ot­toman elites. In an in­ter­view he gave to The As­so­ci­ated Press on Nov. 27, 1918, then-Crown Prince Ab­dülme­cid Efendi (the last caliph) said, “I am more ashamed of the Ar­me­nian atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted dur­ing the war than of any­thing in our his­tory.” Th­ese words are dif­fer­ent from cur­rent acts, which are la­beled “ges­tures of good­will” by the main­stream. Un­like the lat­ter, his words did not turn a blind eye to the dif­fer­ence be­tween per­pe­tra­tors and vic­tims. He was not mourn­ing the death of sol­diers killed dur­ing the war but the deaths of in­no­cent peo­ple. His state­ment also con­tained a ges­ture of re­morse with re­spect to the vic­tims killed.

We have to take into con­sid­er­a­tion the eth­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions and other con­se­quences of dif­fer­ent cour­ses of ac­tion. We have to keep in mind Theodor Adorno’s warn­ing to the Ger­mans: The fail­ure to ac­knowl­edge and in­te­grate the hor­ror of the Holo­caust and Ger­man re­spon­si­bil­ity for it could open up the pos­si­bil­ity of a re­turn of the past in the present. TR: As you will re­call, when Er­doğan was prime min­is­ter he called for the estab­lish­ment of a joint his­tor­i­cal com­mis­sion be­tween Turkey and Ar­me­nia to re­search the 1915 events. What do you think this type of re­search could achieve? AY: As the say­ing goes, if you don’t want to solve a prob­lem, set up a com­mit­tee to deal with it. It seems that a more pro­gres­sive regime of mem­ory and a crit­i­cal en­gage­ment with the past is needed

which re­quires not his­to­ri­ans but crit­i­cal in­tel­lec­tu­als -- like [the late Turk­ish-Ar­me­nian jour­nal­ist] Hrant Dink -- to call into ques­tion so­ci­ety’s ap­proach to its dif­fi­cult past, re­veal­ing the public’s fail­ure to come to terms with and ac­knowl­edge the atro­cious­ness of the crimes, wrong­do­ings and grave in­jus­tices that were com­mit­ted in its name. TR: In 2008, there was the ‘I Apol­o­gize Cam­paign,’ launched in Turkey by nu­mer­ous jour­nal­ists, politi­cians and pro­fes­sors that called for an apol­ogy for what they termed the ‘Great Catas­tro­phe’ that Ot­toman Ar­me­ni­ans were sub­jected to in 1915. The sig­na­ture cam­paign was signed by 5,000 peo­ple in the first 24 hours of its pub­li­ca­tion and had 30,000 sig­na­to­ries by Jan­uary 2009. Can you eval­u­ate the re­sults of this cam­paign in Turk­ish so­ci­ety? AY: Notwith­stand­ing its lim­i­ta­tions -- mainly its shy­ing away from us­ing the term “geno­cide,” the text’s vague lan­guage and the at­tempts of some of its au­thors to in­stru­men­tal­ize the apol­ogy -- it was a coura­geous move. It had its sup­port­ers, op­po­nents and pro­tes­tors. One im­por­tant achieve­ment was to show to the public that a wrong had been com­mit­ted in the past that de­mands an apol­ogy. TR: Has there been any re­search in Turkey about how av­er­age Turks eval­u­ate the events of 1915 with re­gard to what hap­pened to Ar­me­ni­ans? AY: Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted by EDAM in 2014, only 9.1 per­cent of the public thinks Turkey should apol­o­gize for the loss of Ar­me­nian lives in 1915 and ad­mits that it was geno­cide. An­other 9.1 per­cent stated that Turkey should apol­o­gize but take no other steps, while 12 per­cent wants Turkey to


ex­press re­grets for Ar­me­ni­ans with­out apol­o­giz­ing. Some 23.5 per­cent agreed with the state­ment that Turkey should say that not only Ar­me­ni­ans died in 1915 and ex­press re­gret for all Ot­toman cit­i­zens who per­ished. A to­tal of 21.3 per­cent be­lieve that Turkey should not take any steps, while 25 per­cent did not ex­press any opin­ion or de­clined to re­spond. TR: As a so­ci­ol­o­gist, what are your ob­ser­va­tions about Turks’ readi­ness to rec­on­cile with Ar­me­ni­ans? AY: To­day, Turk­ish so­ci­ety -- or at least part of it -- has a dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship with his­tory. The col­lec­tive mem­ory of vi­o­lence dur­ing the Turk­ish Repub­lic’s in­stal­la­tion is be­ing re­cov­ered and dom­i­nant his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tives and na­tion­al­ist dis­courses are be­ing chal­lenged in the name of re­pressed groups. This re­nascent mem­ory, how­ever, es­pe­cially with re­spect to the Ar­me­nian geno­cide, is not fill­ing a vac­uum of for­get­ting but rather has to com­pete with an al­ready con­quered ter­ri­tory of of­fi­cial mem­ory com­plete with ex­ten­sive sup­port­ing for­ma­tions and count­less ad­vo­cates. The above-men­tioned re­search demon­strates that only 9 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is ready to prop­erly rec­on­cile with Ar­me­ni­ans. TR: AY: The way for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is clear. The ques­tion is whether if Turkey is ready for a proper rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, ready to en­gage crit­i­cally with its past and ready to ac­knowl­edge its re­spon­si­bil­ity, or will Turkey con­tent it­self with serv­ing old wine in new bot­tles, namely to post­pone any de­fin­i­tive ac­tion and pro­long the sta­tus quo with moves gov­erned by in­stru­men­tal rea­sons and un­com­pro­mis­ing strate­gic think­ing. If this is the case, the op­por­tu­nity to rec­on­cile will be lost, and a per­pet­ual cy­cle of re­cy­cled dis­courses, dis­cus­sions, ac­cu­sa­tions and counter-ac­cu­sa­tions will con­tinue to bur­den the re­la­tion­ship. *** TR: It has been in the news that Pres­i­dent Er­doğan has in­vited world lead­ers, in­clud­ing Ar­me­nian Pres­i­dent Sargsyan, to com­mem­o­ra­tion events for the Battle of Gal­lipoli on April 24. What are your thoughts on this devel­op­ment? ALEV KILIÇ: The Battle of Gal­lipoli was a turn­ing point in the Eastern Front in World War I. The Al­lied shelling started on April 23, 1915, and the first land­ings were on April 25, 1915. The fi­nal re­sult was a con­clu­sive victory for the Turk­ish side. This was the theater in which


Mustafa Ke­mal Atatürk came to promi­nence as a young colonel in the Ot­toman army. Turkey has been com­mem­o­rat­ing the Gal­lipoli cam­paign with­out in­ter­rup­tion ever since. Australia and New Zealand also take part reg­u­larly in th­ese com­mem­o­ra­tions. So there can be no dis­pute or mis­un­der­stand­ing in the dates of those com­mem­o­ra­tions, be it April 23, 24 or 25. This is also a good re­minder to the av­er­age man in the street to un­der­stand what the Ot­toman gov­ern­ment and Turks were fo­cused on: Life or death, the sur­vival of a coun­try, a strug­gle at the gates of their cap­i­tal city, İstanbul. The de­ci­sion for the re­set­tle­ment of the Ar­me­nian pop­u­la­tion from the war zones to less strate­gic parts of the em­pire in the south was pro­mul­gated by the law of May 27, 2015, fol­low­ing which only a part of the Ar­me­nian pop­u­la­tion was moved from their homes to new set­tle­ments. Hence, the de­ci­sion to com­mem­o­rate the Gal­lipoli Cam­paign on April 24 fits the his­tor­i­cal chronol­ogy and as such can­not be con­sid­ered as be­ing pit­ted against the Ar­me­nian con­coc­tion of a date. TR: What about the date April 24, 1915, the day the Ot­toman au­thor­i­ties rounded up and ar­rested some 250 Ar­me­nian in­tel­lec­tu­als and com­mu­nity lead­ers in İstanbul? AK: The of­fi­cial and cor­rect num­ber of Ar­me­nian public and po­lit­i­cal fig­ures ar­rested in the cap­i­tal city of İstanbul on April 24, 1915, is 235. Among them were ex­ten­sions of the ARF-Dash­naksu­tyun Party that were in­volved in up­ris­ings in the eastern re­gions of the Ot­toman Em­pire. Th­ese peo­ple were sent on tem­po­rary ex­ile to Çankırı and Ayaş (Ankara). Af­ter a short detention, al­most all of them re­turned to their homes. TR: As you know, Ar­me­ni­ans con­sider April 24 as Ar­me­nian Geno­cide Re­mem­brance Day, which com­mem­o­rates both the de­por­ta­tion of Ar­me­nian in­tel­lec­tu­als (known to be ex­e­cuted) and vic­tims of the mass killings of Ar­me­ni­ans in 1915 by the Ot­toman Turk­ish gov­ern­ment. Are you say­ing that there was no forced de­por­ta­tion and mass killings of Ar­me­ni­ans at that time? AK: The word “de­por­ta­tion” con­notes ban­ish­ment to a

for­eign coun­try. There­fore, us­ing the word de­por­ta­tion in this case is wrong. Ex­cept for those who left the Ot­toman coun­try for Rus­sia vol­un­tar­ily with the with­draw­ing Rus­sian army, none of the Ar­me­ni­ans were sent away to an­other coun­try. Th­ese peo­ple were re­lo­cated ac­cord­ing to the tem­po­rary Law of Re­lo­ca­tion and Set­tle­ment to the south­ern part of the Ot­toman realm, present-day Syria. Ot­toman Syria was one of the less vul­ner­a­ble parts of the coun­try dur­ing the war. They were not re­lo­cated to deserts or any other un­in­hab­it­able re­gions. Also, none of the Ar­me­ni­ans living in west­ern parts of the coun­try were sub­jected to this law; only those in the war­zone and on lo­gis­tic routes were re­lo­cated. Were they forced? Yes, it was not vol­un­tary. It was ne­ces­si­tated by the se­cu­rity con­cerns en­gen­dered by in­sur­gency, acts of ter­ror­ism and aid­ing and abetting the en­emy. One should not ne­glect also the con­sid­er­a­tion of the safety of the Ar­me­ni­ans in mov­ing them from the theater of war. TR: Would you ex­plain the sig­nif­i­cance of 2015 from Turkey’s point of view; what does it rep­re­sent? AK: The Ot­toman Em­pire en­tered World War I in Septem­ber 1914. Turks fought against the al­lies on four ma­jor fronts: the East, in the Cau­ca­sus, against Tsarist Rus­sia aided by Ar­me­nian in­sur­gents and ter­ror­ists; the West, at Gal­lipoli against a joint al­lied fleet; the South, at the Suez Canal, Pales­tine and Syria; the Southeast, in Iraq; and, on a mi­nor fifth front, in the North­west in the Gali­cian theater. In the year 2015 we com­mem­o­rate the 100th an­niver­sary of the Gal­lipoli Cam­paign, the victory that en­abled the res­ur­rec­tion of the Repub­lic of Turkey from the ashes of the Ot­toman Em­pire. TR: As you will re­call, when Er­doğan was prime min­is­ter he called for the estab­lish­ment of a joint his­tor­i­cal com­mis­sion be­tween Turkey and Ar­me­nia to re­search the 1915 events. What do you think this type of re­search could achieve? AK: His­tor­i­cal facts can­not be built upon emo­tions or sub­jec­tive mem­o­ries or par­lia­men­tary po­lit­i­cal dec­la­ra­tions. His­tory is based on his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments that are kept in ar­chives. To come to a com­mon, mu­tual un­der­stand­ing of his­tory, there is no other way but to es­tab­lish a joint his­tor­i­cal com­mis­sion be­tween Turkey and Ar­me­nia for sci­en­tific re­search on the 1915 events. TR: In 2008, there was the ‘I Apol­o­gize Cam­paign,’ launched in Turkey by nu­mer­ous jour­nal­ists, politi­cians and pro­fes­sors that called for an apol­ogy for what they termed the ‘Great Catas­tro­phe’ that Ot­toman Ar­me­ni­ans were sub­jected to in 1915. The sig­na­ture cam­paign was signed by 5,000 peo­ple in the first 24 hours of its pub­li­ca­tion and had 30,000 sig­na­to­ries by Jan­uary 2009. Can you eval­u­ate the re­sults of this cam­paign in Turk­ish so­ci­ety? AK: As a think tank, we sup­port free­dom of speech and free­dom of ex­pres­sion. As such, the “I Apol­o­gize Cam­paign” is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the ex­is­tence of such free­dom in Turkey. What is re­gret­table is the to­tal lack of a com­pa­ra­ble free­dom in Ar­me­nia and the strict cen­sor­ship of any views that are con­sid­ered pro-Turk­ish. TR: Do you think Turkey truly has free­dom of ex­pres­sion on the is­sue? A film shot by Fatih Akın (‘The Cut,’ about the events of 1915) was not well re­ceived in Turkey and even be­fore it was shown in movie the­aters, both Akın and Agos (the Ar­me­nian-Turk­ish weekly that in­ter­viewed Akın about the film) were openly threat­ened by sev­eral ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions… AK: “The Cut” by Fatih Akın has al­ready been shown in Turkey. It is not cor­rect that there was any cen­sor­ship or ob­sta­cles to show­ing the film. It’s an­other thing whether the film is well re­ceived or not in Turkey. Just like in any so­ci­ety, there can be crit­i­cism of or neg­a­tive re­ac­tions against a movie, but there were no lim­i­ta­tions im­posed on this movie. It is a fact that many Turks do not agree with the one-sided pre­sen­ta­tion of the Ar­me­nian tragedy. In this con­text, a com­par­i­son in terms of at­ti­tudes to movies would be rel­e­vant and well-placed. The very re­cent mo­tion pic­ture in­spired by the Battle of Gal­lipoli and the West­ern Front in Ana­to­lia dur­ing World War I, “The Wa­ter Diviner” by Rus­sell Crowe, de­serves to be men­tioned. The neg­a­tive, racist and dis­crim­i­na­tory re­ac­tion against this epochal film, not hav­ing any chance of be­ing shown in Ar­me­nia, is bet­ter sit­u­ated to be a topic of ques­tion and con­cern. TR: What types of ef­forts are needed for Turk­ish-Ar­me­nian rec­on­cil­i­a­tion? AK: Dia­logue be­tween the par­ties, at any and all lev­els, is a pre­req­ui­site for Turk­ish-Ar­me­nian rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion will be pos­si­ble only when both sides come to an un­der­stand­ing of the mu­tual suf­fer­ing and griev­ances of the past. TR: Do you think there is enough dia­logue? AK: No, I don’t. TR: Do you think text­books in both coun­tries should be


re­viewed to ex­cise ex­pres­sions that breed ha­tred be­tween Turks and Ar­me­ni­ans? AK: It is very im­por­tant that young minds are taught truths and not onesided, biased his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ries. Text­books should be based on his­tor­i­cal facts and should pro­mote rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and hu­man­ism. TR: AK: We at AVİM are not in a po­si­tion to eval­u­ate the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment’s point of view. The year 2015 is a very sig­nif­i­cant year for Turkey, due to the 100th an­niver­sary of the Battle of Gal­lipoli on the his­tor­i­cal side and the chair­man­ship of the G-20 or­ga­ni­za­tion in­clud­ing a sum­mit of world lead­ers in An­talya in Novem­ber tes­ti­fy­ing to the cur­rent stand­ing of Turkey. As re­gards the Ar­me­nian con­tro­versy, we trust that the legal and ju­di­cial ver­dict of Dec. 17, 2013, of the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights (EctHR) in Stras­bourg, which was re­viewed again on Jan. 28, 2015, will pro­vide an ad­e­quate an­swer. TR: Would you elab­o­rate on this? You are re­fer­ring to the ap­peal hear­ing on Jan. 28 in the ECtHR case Per­inçek v. Switzer­land, with re­gard to a fine and pri­son sen­tence given to the Turk­ish po­lit­i­cal fig­ure Doğu Per­inçek un­der Swiss law for say­ing that the ‘Ar­me­nian geno­cide is an in­ter­na­tional lie.’ Why do you think the re­sult of this case is im­por­tant? AK: The de­ci­sion of Dec. 17, 2013, by the ECtHR rep­re­sents a break­ing point for Ar­me­nian pro­pa­ganda be­cause in this court ver­dict, three ma­jor Ar­me­nian (and Swiss) al­le­ga­tions -- in other words, pro­pa­ganda trump cards -- were in­ter­na­tion­ally refuted. First, it is un­am­bigu­ously stated that there is no gen­eral con­sen­sus, es­pe­cially in the aca­demic com­mu­nity, con­cern­ing the legal char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the events. Sec­ond, it is pointed out that only about 20 states out of the 190 in the world have of­fi­cially rec­og­nized the “Ar­me­nian Geno­cide” and that such recog­ni­tion had not nec­es­sar­ily come from the gov­ern­ments of those states but from par­lia­ments or one of their cham­bers and there­fore were not legally bind­ing. Fi­nally, the “Ar­me­nian Geno­cide” was dis­tin­guished from those con­cern­ing the nega­tion of the crimes of the Holo­caust and it was un­der­lined that there was no in­ter­na­tional court de­ci­sion or con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence prov­ing that there was a geno­cide in this case, un­like the Holo­caust. This de­ci­sion is also im­por­tant be­cause it em­pha­sizes the im­por­tance of free­dom of ex­pres­sion and it opens the “Ar­me­nian Geno­cide” claim for dis­cus­sion, in­stead of brand­ing dif­fer­ing views as “de­nial­ist.” The court now is in the process of re­view­ing the ver­dict of Dec. 17, 2013 upon the ap­pli­ca­tion of the Swiss gov­ern­ment.



Turkey is hold­ing a cer­e­mony on April 24, 2015, to mark the cen­te­nary of the Battle of Gal­lipoli.

The last Ot­toman em­peror, Ab­dülme­cid II, ex­pressed re­morse over ‘the Ar­me­nian atroc­i­ties

com­mit­ted dur­ing the war.’




Doğu Per­inçek at the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights ap­peal­ing a Swiss po­lice court’s ver­dict.

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