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1915, Turkish people must face the truth


Standpoint of Turkey 


1915, Turkish people must face the truth

Sait Çetinoglu


Sait Çetinoglu

Turkish research worker

Without stonewalling and with unusual frankness, Sait Cetinoglu outlines the reasons why the compensation and allowances are a moral necessity and why unconditional return of armenian properties in the inventory of official institutions  is necessary. Recalling that “people from all social layers and all governmental stages not only participated in the Genocide process, but also benefited from it", he also says that Armenians and other peoples victims of genocide should be able to determine the compensation and allowances for losses casualties and stresses that the duty of all should be to support “them unconditionally and unquestioningly."

By being aware of the fact that it is an irony to mention about the justice in an environment where the most plainspoken child of Armenian society, Sevan Nişanyan was targeted because of criticizing the regime and the religion and he was punished with a prison sentence nearly a life imprisonment and he has been kept in a high-security prison for more than a year after being sent to four different prisons; I would like to highlight and express that I try to discuss 1915 Armenian Genocide and the restitutory justice.

Internationally prestigious criminal lawyer William A.Schabas states when he discusses the Genocide crime that references to “Crimes Against Humanity” could go backwards till a number of centuries but this term was began to be used in modern aspects during the Genocide process in 1915 first. Shabas also expresses that the request for justice against Armenian Genocide is pending; his words “Massacres against Armenian population in Turkey was announced as the crime against humanity in a declaration of Three Allied Powers in which they made a commitment that responsible and offender of those crimes shall be held personally responsible and punished. But, in peace talks after war, there were some objections that this was a type of retrogressing by the punishment standards and there was no prosecution started or carried out in international level about 1915 events [this statement is as “Armenian Genocide” in the original]” tell us that injustice still continues today.

Silence on one hand and denial on the other is an open expression of the extending of the Genocide till to-day. It must be understood that the time has passed for justice, which has been the hostage of the real politics for 100 years, in order to be relieved from its shackles and fulfilled even after a century.  

As is known, the judicial system is an incontestable right. It is universal. To consider the demand of Armenian community for justice from universal perspective and the summation of humanity is equal with behaving righteously and fairly. The crime of genocide, which is  among the special category of crimes against humanity, must be dealt under the light of summation of humanity, in other words under universal values. This approach shall be the manifestation of the compensatory justice even a century after 1915 Genocide and it shall be good for both victim communities and perpetrators, because especially perpetrators shall reach to inner peace with themselves and could pave the way for universal values in such a painful territory and could be a reason for those universal values to be stable.   

Genocide is a process. From this point of view, 1915 Genocide process must be considered as within a ten-year period between 1913-1922. All sufferings happened during this period. It started with a rehearsali in Aegean in 1913 and completed within a period of ten years. After that period, Kemalist practices could be identified as little retouches in the new picture. This also means that what we say about Armenian society are valid for other rights gained constrainedly from historical territories during 1915 Genocide.  

While it is said that not everybody knows practices applied during the Genocide process and crimes against humanity; in fact, they were all known by majority1, the majority was accomplice. How could a man be unconscious about what he did? Was a society transformed by a total loss of conscious with all sections and administration levels? Thus, it must be accepted that there is a collective crime happened!

The entire society is responsible

It is an inevitable fact that people from all social layers and all governmental stages not only participated in the Genocide process, but also benefited from it. This suffering still continues today.  

Even so the truth is such clear, to give voice to that truth causes some eyebrows to raise. People lingered on the “Kurdistan” phrase in my statement which I gave during the interview with Greta Avetisyan from Armedia on 9th December 2014, I said “In Europe, those people who say “I am not responsible from what my grandfather made!” called Nazi. To regard historical Armenian territories as Turkish or as Kurdistan has the same meaning with staking a claim on the consequences of the Genocide. It means accepting Historical Armenian colonization.”2 It was immediately showed off and Kurdistan was taken out of the discussion and also discussions were terminated:

But, what happened on the other side of the Euphrates is not anything nothing but expulsion of populations and colonization of historical Armenia.3 The most important point that mustn’t be missed is that societies that are the victims of Genocide (Armenian, Pontos, Helens, Assyrians) are not the reasons of all those happened. This truth must be accepted unconditionally and it must be comprehended that this injustice has been sustained until today without being compensated in any way.

Another truth is that the truth is mentioned, depicted by only one aspect, which means missing the other side of the truth while one side is highlighted. For example; the double standard4 that is based on the fact that historical Armenia, in other words those who are living in the other side of the Euphrates has never been mentioned and lost in minds, while mentioning the vineyard house of Kasapyan family which had been transformed into the Presidential Palace to the agenda, must be backed down and it could be accepted as the beginning of the approach to the problem with a sense of justice.

During the genocide, victims were deprived of their properties, their children were enslaved, their cultural heritages were destroyed, their souls were stolen, dehumanized and massacred.

The problem is not only legal but also conscientious. This also means that facts must be approached on an equitable basis and evaluated within the framework of universal principles of justice. 

To say the least; if we ask how can we prelude while we are demanding for compensatory justice and compensating that historical injustice:

As the beginning, it is important that trade unions must see themselves near justice and force the government to have a similar comprehension: Profession associations, unions and chambers such as Turkish Doctors’ Union, Association of Journalists…. Could bring their members who were killed to the agenda could be the expression of sincerity. This behavior could be an important step towards a demand for a symbolical ceremony in Turkish Grand National Assembly in the commemoration of Armenian members of parliament who were killed, executed after being tortured during the Genocide period even they were called by saying “we are taking you to the court”. Turkish Grand National Assembly could be forced to perform a symbolical ceremony.

Today, societies which were exposed to genocide in this territory have a wide range of demands regarding compensatory justice and compensation variable from an apology to change the name of Halaskargazi Street to Hrant Dink Street in İstanbul and to demand the give back the territory of 150.000 km2 which was seized just after Moudros Armistice Agreement.

The compensations and allowances are a moral necessity

It is also natural that victim and sufferer societies shall make the decision of compensation of losses arising from genocide of other Armenian societies. Here, what we must do is to support all demands of victim societies unconditionally and unquestioningly.

We could only make some suggestions by asking an expert’s opinion and benefiting from the facilitative role in order to overcome difficulties of that widest range of demands.

Henry Theriault, one of Genocide researchers from Worcester University, highlights the moral requirement for a compensation of losses of Armenians in his study about the Armenian Genocide , while he refers  to the difficulty to administer justice and problems in compensation with his words: “Undoubtedly; there is nothing to do for those murders, rapes, assaults and other atrocities or other cultural, social or other losses and damages but only one thing, the most important thing could be done!” and he lists his suggestions about partial compensation:  

“Compensation for Armenian Genocide could include the below mentioned concepts: First is the return or compensation of seized territories and other properties. Moreover (1) all goods and properties which were destroyed and do not exist now, (2) interest that could be calculated over financial losses, (3) slave labor, (4) sufferings of people who were dead and also who could survive (5) loss of nearly 1,5 million people’s lives in general and as members of families and communities and (6) cultural, religious and educational institutions and organizations must be compensated. Secondly, Turkey must take firm steps to support redevelopment in Armenian Republic and Diaspora which is the result of Genocide and consists of Armenian social, political, economic etc. structures and organizations and also to support those efforts of activation of victim group as possible under Turkish hegemony. This must include economical support by means of investments and commercial activities. Third; Turkish government must accept all stages of Genocide and ensure Turkish society to learn about that historical truth and must make its best for Armenian Genocide to be known globally. Fourth; Turkish government and society must enter in a rehabilitation process – in parallel with financial compensation of Armenians – in order to finalize prejudicial behaviors against Armenians including dominant Turkish national identity which is formed on an imperial superiority complex that is felt against Armenians and other groups and Turkish government must also exterminate all factors and elements of genocide ideology, corporate applications and traditions. This process must tend towards pressure and violence committed towards women within the context of rape and sexual slavery which also forms the base of Armenian Genocide and to which Armenian women were exposed who were targeted because of being women.56

Unconditional return of Armenian properties in the inventory of official institutions is necessary

But, it is important that the discussion platform and climate must be formed for all these. It is required to make all sections free to mention their demands and to allow their demands to be discussed unconditionally without imposing any restrictions and to provide all terms and conditions for discussions in order to obtain a fair and healthy result.

We have to bracket here and say that to talk about compensation is not an easy thing but, it is not also easy to demand the payment for the compensation: Because, those who gain favor from genocide and a part of genocide victims are living together. It shall be a problematic and negotiable context that in such a case taxes that are paid by the victim shall be used for the payment of that compensation.

It is very easy to invoice the compensation to the name of a handful people who could survive after the genocide. It must not be forgotten that this reflex exists in the perpetrator society potentially. It is of vital importance to form a freedom and security environment and climate.

We could list some gestures which government could immediately fulfill such as; to ensure unconditional returns, to give citizenship rights to people who were denationalized in an unfair manner and to give T.R Passport to those who want to have, to give their territories their Armenian names back and ensure those places not being “country which forgets its own name” – the term that we take from dear Sevan Nişanyan -  for the territory to where those people looked with grieving eyes.

If we behave by being guided by the expert opinion; unconditional return of properties in the inventory of official institutions at the beginning of compensation is very important in terms of sincerity towards the solution of the problem.  

The approximate quantity of property losses must have been kept in the records of government. Since title deed records were digitalized, to determine those properties is very easy. It is also very easy to see that seizure in the title deed journal entries as of the year of 1913. A part of those properties are recorded in private inventories and the other part is recorded in the governmental inventories. There is no legal limitation for return of those recorded in the governmental inventory to the right holders. If there is no right holder, conditions to transfer those properties to the institutions of victim societies could be ensured.7

In the return of properties of private persons; there shall be different conditions arising in the return or compensation of those properties. Because, there are different seizure and acquirements happened in different ways. One of those seizure mechanism is that Muslim families adopted Armenian children/especially girls (whose families were murdered) and made them Muslims and married with them, those families also seize the property of those Armenian children through their inheritance.8

The reason of choosing especially children, daughters and wives of rich families among Armenian convoys who were forced to a death ride and the reason of fights for those women is the existence of seizure mechanism on their properties. This could also form one side of rescue stories. Some of those properties were seized directly and some others were purchased from government, while some others were registered on the name with forged documents. In this respect, it is clear and natural that return or compensation of those properties varies.9

Acknowledge the past falls under an ethical manner. The development of ethical values is needed. The moral of the society has developed in a context in which education and the justice camouflage the historical facts. Some have murdered their neighbor to capture a wealth so unexpected. The economy of the society was built on the confiscation of property and marriage to women whose families had been looted. Moral rehabilitation of the 1915 genocide is fundamental. We must finally understand that it is this morality which is the source of all our problems. It is unrealistic to expect fairness and justice in any such moral context. It's rotting that awaits us. Today, we have everything under the eyes. We must go beyond this moral and reflexes that result. This repair will have a therapeutic effect and will clean up the society.

It must be stopped for people to look at their motherlands with grieving eyes and all those must be returned to normal.   It must not be forgotten that this is the obligation of being a human. Denial must be withdrawal and it must be realized that to talk about problems by breaking the silence by keeping the fact that the compensatory justice shall be well for everyone and every section in mind, and to discuss those problems and to accept that it is a humanistic manner to try to provide compensatory justice is the key.

1. It is true that Unionists committed murders with a certain collective support. Halil Menteşe, one of leaders of Union and Progress stated a truth by saying “there are a few number of Turks who were not interested in that deportation in Anatolia”. Taner akçam, İnsan Hakları ve Ermeni Sorunu, İmge 2014, s 527 (Taner Akçam, Human Rights and Armenian Question, İmge 2014, p.527). 

3. “For Lemkin, genocide is formed from two important stages. In his own words: “Genocide has two stages: first is to demolish national characteristics of victim group; the other is to shove national characteristics of dominant group on throats of sufferers/victim group. That imposition is made on the victim group directly by letting them to live on their own territories (where they actually live) or on the territory after they (victim group) are suspended from the territory by colonizing the territory by members of dominant group.” In other words, genocide for Lemkin is something more than a physical demolition and included also demolishing natural-cultural characteristics of the sufferer group and their territories.” Taner Akçam, Ermenilerin Zorla Müslümanlaştırılması, Sessizlik, İnkar ve Asimilasyon İletişim, 2014 s 81 (Taner Akçam, Forcedly Muslimization of Armenians, Silence, Denial and Assimilation, İletişim Publishing Co. 2014, p.81)

4. A Kurdish author mentioned and criticized others in his article named “Çankaya, An Unbearable Load!” which opens up the Presidential Palace which was seized for discussion with the occasion of 2014 Presidential Election, he wrote “ Kasapyan Family never sold any of their properties to anybody, including the mansion in the heights of Çankaya. Their properties were seized by the government. Not only the mansion in Çankaya, but also another vineyard house in Keçiören was seized by Koç Family who constructed the first parliament building in Ulus, Ankara… We have the right to expect to bring the history, the identity of that mansion to life in a place within the same area from “our” candidate, even I have no hopes for the other two candidates and I expect! I expect that the President of our hearts Selahattin Demirtaş shall make that move…” While he was criticizing others, he also did not mention anything about the other side of Fırat River even any little word! We have never heard about anything he said.

5. In a telegram that was sent by a group of Muslims to Ministry of Interior from Siverek on 7th October 1915; it was noticed that in the very early days of the Genocide, some of those Muslims married with proselyte girls (who were Islamized) in the age of fourteen or fifteen with the approval of the government three or four months ago, in other words they seized and those girls were probably pregnant. There was a long list under the telegram including names of who were married with Armenian victim girls. Names: Ebuzer Buharalı Osman from Cami-i Kebir district, Mahmud bin Mehmed from Hasan Çelebi district, Mustafa bin Mehmed from Mahalle-i mezkûre, Mehmed bin Eyüb from Mahalle-i mezkûre, The Guard şeyh Zülfikar from Hacı Ömer district, Bekir the son of Bekir Molla, Hüseyin the son of Yervan, Kıranzade Hüseyin from Külabi district, Ali bin Mehmed from Külabi district, Karo Salih, Döşengi şeyh Yusuf, Mahmud bin Si- no oğlu Mehmed from Cami-i Kebir district, Eyüb Mako  from Mahalle-i mezkur, Körikozade Mehmed from Calile district, Sheikh Mustafa bin Hüseyin from Külabi district, Ali Süleyman from Hacı Ömer district, Hacı Ömer from Cami-i Kebir district, Ahmed bin Bekir, Ali bin Musa from Çelebi district, Mustafa bin Hacı Abidin from Cami-i Kebir district, Ahmed bin Beko and Külabi Bey. Taner Akçam Ermenilerin Zorla Müslümanlaştırılması… s 210-211 ((Taner Akçam, Forcedly Muslimization of Armenians, Silence, Denial and Assimilation, İletişim Publishing Co. 2014, pp.210-211)

6. Henry Theriault, “21nci Yüzyıl Türkiye’si için Ermeni Soykırımı Sorunu: Sorumluluk ve Çözüme Yönelik Tazmin” Öncesi ve Sonrası ile 1915 İnkar ve Yüzleşme içinde, ed. S. ÇetinoğluM. Konuk, Ütopya Yayınevi 2012 (Henry Theriault, “Armenian Genocide Question for 21st Century Turkey: Responsibility and Compensation for Solution” Before and After and 1915 Denial and Confrontation, editor: S.Çetinoğlu, M.Konuk, Ütopya Publishing Co. 2012)

7. Financial compensations of which right holders could not be found shall be collected in a pooling and with those funds; mechanisms that shall be used as funds for several fields such as rehabilitation, orientation of victim society, motivation for their returns, renewal of their educational and cultural institutions, supporting their media organs, cultural activities and investments.

8. «A motivating mechanism for Muslim families to adopt Armenian children takes attention. The base of such mechanism which we could identify as “Motivation for Assimilation” is that Armenian children and girls who were married with Muslims shall be accepted as heirs of their own families. Thus, families which adopted Armenian children or those who were married with Armenian girls shall seize the heritage of those children automatically. (abç)  A telegram that was sent to all Emvâl-i Metrûke Komisyon Riyâset (Directorates of Commissions for Properties that were left by Armenians due to Forced Immigration-Deportation) on 11th August 1915 is very important.  It was said in that telegram: İhtida eden veyâhûd izdivâc edenlerle [ev­lenenlere] berây-ı talîm ve terbiye [talim ve terbiye maksa­dıyla] şâyân-ı i’timâd [güvenilir] zevât nezdine bırakılan ço­cukların emlâk-i zâtiyyeleri ibkâ [şahsi malları (kendilerine) bırakılır] ve mûrisleri [miras bırakanları] vefat etmiş ise his- se-i irsiyyeleri i’tâ olunur [hisseleri kendilerine verilir].” (If anyone shall be married with those Armenian girls or anyone shall adopt Armenian children in order to give proper education; properties of those children shall be left to themselves and if legators were dead, their shares shall be given to themselves) ((Taner Akçam, Forcedly Muslimization of Armenians, Silence, Denial and Assimilation, İletişim Publishing Co. 2014, p.203)

9. The truth which Lawyer and former member of parliament Mehmet Feyyat shared about his own territory is sufficiently and considerably explanatory: “Emval-i mütagayyibe; in other words immovable properties of lost persons [who were lost during the path to death], clearly speaking, lands belonged to Armenians who were forced to immigrate, were put up for sale partially by treasury office after deportation. My father bought our land in 1926’s from the treasury office when I was a baby. Everybody; local feudal, sheikhs and seyyids all made fun of my father by saying: “You must be stupid that you pay money for a land of treasury, just seize it!”. By the time of progress, those lands were registered on the name of whom seized those lands. After 1940s, everybody made those lands registered on their names by saying those land were inherited from their fathers and by paying bribery. There is nobody other than my father who bought properties of which owners were not known and which were transferred to the treasury by paying money in that region. If there were some others, they were rare. Those lands were seized or registered by a court decision. And both are false and lie! Nobody has an inheritance from their fathers. Those immovable properties were inherited from Armenians (pp 20-21)… Public lands in Van that were inherited from Armenians were all robbed by court decision. I mentioned before. Everybody registered their lands by saying those lands were inherited from their fathers, grandfathers. The Grand family of Kinyas Kartal emigrated from Russia to Van in 1920s. They are Cultic from Russia. A part of his Grand family, called Bürükan Tribe, immigrated to Kars. And, in 1950s, Kinyas Kartal brought into court and registered those public lands (Armenian properties which the government seized before) which he possessed (that he seized) before title deed Office by saying that those lands were inherited from his anchestors. One day, Mr.Kinyas had a meeting with former ministers in Anatolian Club in Van. Ferit Melen (The Prime Minister) and friends were there. The Judge, who registered all those properties on the name of Kinyas Kartal, sat next to him… (p 231)” Mehmet Feyyat, Halkın Savcısı, Scala Y. 2012 (Mehmet Feyyat, Public Prosecutor, Scala Publishing, 2012).

Armenian genocide : recognition and reparations


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