TOWARD THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF 1915
April 24, 2015, is a symbolic day for Armenians around the world, because it marks the centenary of the day on which hundreds of Armenian community leaders in İstanbul were deported and mostly executed. April 24, 2014, meanwhile, was an historic date for Turkey because for the first time the Turkish government presented its ‘condolences’ to Armenian descendants of the 1915 victims for their ‘suffering’ during a ‘difficult period’ Although in his message last year President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan never used the term “genocide,” which Turkey absolutely denies as part of its state policy, and his actions could be viewed as opportunistic, it can still be considered an historic message, one which has come as a result of changing social dynamics in Turkey and international pressure.
In Turkey, the history of commemorations of 1915 is very short. The extreme silence, even, among intellectuals and academics in the country regarding this issue began to be broken at the beginning of 2000 and gained prominence with the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007. Three years after Dink’s murder, a group of Turkish and Armenian intellectuals began to gather at Taksim Square each year in order to express their sadness over the sufferings that occurred almost a century ago.
With time, taboos in Turkey’s public arena have to an extent been overcome; those who want to refer to the events as “genocide” may face reactions from nationalist circles, but they are freer to do so compared with the past. Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) -- under which Dink was prosecuted -- still exists, but is now seldom applied, with prosecutions never reaching court. Debate in the media continues, as does academic research.
For the last few years, a large volume of academic research has been completed on the Armenian issue in Turkey. According to data from the Higher Education Board (YÖK), most of the academic work on this issue reflects Turkey’s official position on the massacres. Moreover, according to a report published in the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, academics working on dissertations about the Armenian Genocide are under the close scrutiny of the Turkish Historical Society (TTK). On the other hand, there are civil society organizations and independent researchers that offer independent research on the issue. In particular, those using the oral history method have brought personal narratives to light. These have had positive effects on the public in terms of widening the historical facts, opening a door for confrontation with the past and going behind the headlines of state politics.
In this sense, the “Sounds of Silence” series of books from the Hrant Dink Foundation’s oral history project,