Can We Discuss The Armenian Question?


Wednesday, October 17, 2007, Turkish Daily News

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

There is a book on my bookcase which has been waiting for some time to be read. There is a picture on the cover of the book: Turkish and Armenian flags tied to each other. The name of the book is “The Truth Will Set Us Free” and it is written by George Jerijan, a British citizen of Armenian descent. While I was again considering reading the book I came across a newspaper article and I learned that the book had already been translated into Turkish and Mr. Ragıp Zarakoğlu, the owner of the Belge publishing house that translated and published the Turkish version of the book, is now being tried under article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. This Thursday the directors of the weekly Armenian journal Agos were punished with one year of imprisonment under this article.

What happened in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire cannot be discussed in Turkey freely. Either prosecution or “street violence” can interfere with any discussion on this matter at any time. We do not discuss it and we are very angry if foreigners discuss it too. Unfortunately an American resolution will not contribute to this “no discussion situation” in Turkey in any positive way. On the contrary, we will witness a sharp increase in xenophobia and ultra-nationalism, and we may witness some violent acts against non-Muslim minorities who have always been regarded as the “internal extension of external enemies.” I really hope the government is now taking the necessary security precautions to protect these vulnerable groups and make sure that they will not be harmed by any vandalism potentially perpetrated by ultranationalist groups in the wake of the passage of the Armenian genocide resolution in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. Congress.

Turkey is going to do everything in its power to stop the passage of this bill by the U.S. Congress. Every year we have the same “crisis.” This resolution appears on the agenda of the U.S. Congress and Turkey does whatever it can do stop the passage of this resolution and then we “achieve” to stop it. But no one discusses how we stop it. Do we convince the Americans that nothing like the genocide has happened in our history or is it stopped as a result of threats to American interests? How long can Turkey continue to “convince” Americans on this subject? What are we going to do with other countries that have already accepted similar resolutions in their parliaments and with those in the process of accepting them? How long can we continue this “I am not discussing it and I will not allow the discussion of this matter by anyone else!” attitude? Us versus the rest of the world! I am one of those people who believes that the discussion of and confrontation with our past is first and foremost necessary for our own “psychological health”! How long can Turkey continue with this total amnesia about some parts of its history? I think that the label, the name or qualification, of what had happened in history is not very important at the moment. Something terrible happened in these territories. When the topic arises we keep saying, “Armenian gangs attacked Ottoman forces, Armenians were about to break up some parts of the country, they killed Turkish people, they were in alliance with foreign forces,” but what else? Many things happened, there is no doubt about that. But what happened to the Armenians? Why do not we see any emotional reaction to what happened to the Armenians? We are a nation that pays respect even to its enemies who tried to invade this country. We have monuments to the memory of Australian and New Zealander soldiers who lost their lives trying to occupy our country. Why don’t we see anything built to the memory of the Armenians? Why don’t we witness any trace of sorrow or pain for Armenians who lost their lives in Anatolia? We are talking from our heads only and nothing comes out of our hearts! Is this possible? We, Turks and Armenians, lived together for hundreds of years side by side, we shared good and bad. How can we not feel anything for those people, for our old neighbors?

Armenian reactions not healthy either

On the other hand, I do not find Armenian reactions healthy either. I witnessed Armenians saying “Turks are not human beings.” I heard Armenians saying that “I cannot stand to see a Turkey on its feet.” I saw the hate in their eyes still burning! These are not healthy feelings either. Maybe they are thinking that if they do not keep their hate alive, Turkey one day will manage to convince the world that nothing happened. There are also Armenians who fight against racism towards Turks, who condemn the Armenian gentleman that sees Turks as “animals.” There are healthy, wise people on both sides and I believe they will create the future. I would like to finish this article with the remarkable comments of George Jerjian, whom I mentioned at the beginning. He says: “Armenians will need to overcome their high expectations of what Turkish recognition of the genocide will mean and, in turn, the Turks will need to overcome the serious limitations of their high school history syllabus. Reconciliation can only take place when truth and truce are declared. What happened cannot be undone, but we need not be prisoners of the past. The truth will set us- Armenian and Turk- free.”But, everything starts with courage, openness and loyalty to the truth. To be able to do this we need to discuss everything and we should be free to be able to that. Turkey should get rid of 301 and similar articles as soon as possible and Armenians should also get rid of their 301s. Then maybe, first with reason and after with our hearts we will really comprehend what happened!