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The G word, Voldemort and the reactionary speech in Turkey


Standpoint of Turkey 

The G word, Voldemort and the reactionary speech in Turkey

Samim Akgönül


Samim Akgönül

Turkish historian and political scientist

In this article, the historian and political scientist Samim Turkish Akgönül is coming back to the recent statements by Pope François 1er about the Armenian genocide that have cast a chill  into the Turkish government. Not without humor, he also lists the many reactions of those who continue, even in 2015, to refuse to use the term "genocide" - the famous g word - when they talk about the massacres and mass deportations suffered by Armenians in 1915.

Once upon a time, I had become a good reader of Harry Potter thanks to my children. I watched, of course, the film series several times. I noticed in this period: Voldemort is normally a person " who must not be named” But everyone, without exception, knows that his name is Voldemort and say it. I remember asking my eldest son "But his name should not be said, how it is possible that everybody say his name? "He answered with a very serious expression:" No, only cowards do not say it. "

In Turkey, reactions about the Armenian genocide have become very bizarre in 2015. This has become more visible with the recent statements of the Pope and the decision of the European Parliament.

Let’s first remember what happened, we will examine later the reactions.

On April 12, 2015, the Vatican, with the initiative of the Armenian Catholic Church organized a Mass to mark the centenary of the genocide. People retained the breath in Turkey. Does Pope Francis would say "genocide" or "massacre" at the Mass held at the centenary’s occasion? What would be nice if he says “massacre” or “disaster” ... We realized later that this issue was raised during Pope's visit to Turkey. "Say what you want, but not genocide" had been told to him. Mehmet Paçaci, Ambassador of Turkey to the Vatican, relieved hearts: "He will not say genocide".

During the Mass where Armenia's Head of State was also present, the Pope stated:

"In the past century, our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies. The first, which is widely considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century’ struck your own Armenian people".

Following these remarks, the Ambassador was immediately recalled to Turkey for "consultation" and said that the Pope had not kept his promise and he exceeded its "religious" mission. "He has shamed speaking of genocide," had been said.

Every year on April 24, we can observe that people retain their breath at the statements of the Pope and the President of the United States. If they say “massacre”, “catastrophe” or “Great Calamity”, it's feast time in Ankara.

But those who read the text so far must be aware: these manifestations of joy diminish progressively. The word that starts with "G" has long time ago become normal outside Turkey's borders. As for the reactions to the pronunciation of the word, it should be noted that they can be used together or alternately by the same people. Depending on the situation, one or more of these reactions may appear. I could identify ten of these reactions:

"In fact, we were massacred by them" : I heard, gradually less and less, this argument until 2015. Finally, there is an obvious demographic problem. But I see that this argument is resurrected in 2015 probably due to the tactics that can be summarized as "the best defense is attack." According to the last Ottoman census of 1914, there were 13 million Muslims and 1 million 800 thousand Armenians in the country (There are also 1 million 600 thousand Greeks. I do not even mention it). According to the first census of Republic of Turkey done in 1927, the Armenian population is 64,000. Fuat Dündar has several times written on this subject. It is not necessary to give more details here.

“They committed massacres also”: There is here a fundamental and structural problem, outside the statistical abyss discussed below. This argument makes equal the possible crimes committed by Armenians -while the principle must be the individuality of crimes- and the mass crime committed by the Ottoman State. Thus the Turks identify themselves with the Ottoman State.

"They collaborated with the Russians": This was the most widespread argument. But it was gradually abandoned when it became difficult to explain that the participations to the Russian army in the region of Kars could be a pretext for deportation in the provinces of Eskisehir, Malatya or Edirne (I still hear it sometimes).

"This kind of things happen during the war": Of course this kind of things does not happen during the war. If they happen, they are considered as war crimes. In addition, there is not a war in most of the places where "this kind of things" happened in Anatolia.

"But Muslims are killed in the world and you say nothing about it": This argument is problematic on three points. First, it is an anachronism and a comparison of things that could not be compared. Second, any massacres cannot be a pretext for another massacre. Third, "No, we say many things about it".

"But Americans also massacred Indians": This is a confession. That means "Yes, we also committed massacres." In addition, the United States does not deny it and gave a status to survivors. Even if it was the opposite, should be wild because there are other examples of savagery?

"But the French massacred Algerians and Germans Namibians": You can expand the list. See above.

"We should leave this subject to the historians" : This is an important argument. But there are several issues. First, which historians? Who will select these historians? Secondly, historians have written entire volumes on this subject. There are very few things unknown. Imagine that a historians’ commission is, by chance, established. Let’s suppose that this commission has done its research and has given its verdict (even if an historian cannot give a verdict). The commission said "This is a genocide." Those who oppose this definition will they say "Okay, so this is a genocide"? Or let’s suppose that the commission ruled that this was not a genocide. Armenians around the world will they say "Okay"? I repeat : an historian does not judge. He consults and analyzes documents. History is today of yesterday.

There is also the famous question of the archives. Based on the documents from archives around the world, historians have written about the genocide that was decided and committed against Ottoman Armenians. All the archives in Turkey are not accessible (for example General Staff's archives are not). The accessible archives are those that have been cleaned and they are not open to everyone. Lastly: the Armenian Genocide is not long over a question about history. For a nation, it is a question of reconciliation and strengthening its weak foundations. The Armenian Genocide issue is significant to save Turkey. It has no relation with Armenians.

"Our common pains": This is a new argument. If it included the meaning "The pain that Armenians suffered between 1909 and 1915 and later are also the pain that we share," we might appreciate it. But this is not the case. It means "We have been killed also (whatever that means), we also have pain, we cannot take care of you." This argument has also "Don’t compare the suffering" version. But saying this, on the contrary, pains are compared.

"The notion of genocide did not exist in 1915" : It is a technical argument. It is the strongest of the used arguments. Those who use this argument agree on the fact that Armenians were exterminated in 1915. But they say that genocide is a legal concept that was created after World War II and the Armenian Genocide can not be qualified as genocide (at least, those who are the most reasonable say that). The weaknesses of this argument are: First, the jurist Raphael Lemkin who first used the term "genocide" claims that he invented this word inspired by the Armenian and Jewish genocide. Second, the definition of genocide fits to what Armenians suffered. Lastly, the water was always water before it was defined as H2O.

Am I wrong? Voldemort's face did not become clearer with each episode?

Armenian genocide : recognition and reparations


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