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The Turkish society lives in the daily denial of the Armenian Genocide


Standpoint of Turkey 

The Turkish society lives in the daily denial of the Armenian Genocide

Ayse Gunaysu


Ayse Gunaysu

Human rights activist in Turkey

Ayse Gunaysu explains why, despite the fact that the Armenian Genocide is no longer a taboo for Turkish civil society and that the words used by the State to discuss the events have evolved, the denialist discourse of the Turkish government remains unchanged. She also highlights the fact that genocide denial concerns the whole Turkish society she calls "society of denial." After listing the reasons why the Turks should be ashamed, she analyzes the reasons why the society avoids this feeling. Finally, she speaks about to the possible presence of reinforced HDP party in parliament and the hope it creates for the justice to be restored.

REPAIR: The Armenian genocide, at least in the society, is no longer a taboo in Turkey. The concepts of “common grief and mourning" are used in the commemorations. How you interpret these concepts?

Ayse Gunaysu : The words "pain" and "mourning" are, in the context of Turkey, words that hide the crime and shame that we should feel about the crime. The fact that we add the adjective "common" to these words simply mean negation. This will put to equal the perpetrator and the victim. Can you imagine in Germany that anyone talks about common pains of the Jews and the Germans? But we talk about it in Turkey. Because we look for an acceptable language for the entire public opinion. Can you imagine a Jew seeking an acceptable language for a German to talk about Holocaust? A Turk who recognizes the genocide and says ashamed of this crime is welcomed as a hero by the Armenians abroad. Can you imagine a German who says "Yes, Holocaust happened and I am ashamed of this crime" be welcomed as a hero? You cannot, because we are in a denial society. The denial is reproduced at every moment. I don’t only talk about its rude forms. It is reproduced in sophisticated ways that could be applauded by democrat and progressive circles. Shortly after the assassination of Hrant Dink, the title of a panel organized by the Iletisim Publishing house on 6 October 2007 was "The evaluation of the assassination of Hrant Dink as a continuation of the racist movements’ rise in the world”. In a country where genocide crime has been committed and was perpetuated with denial, a journalist and Armenian writer and opponent is killed because he is Armenian. And you say that this murder is "the continuation of racist movements up in the world"! The "evil" is not in us, but outside. The "culprit" is not here, but abroad. When I talk about forms not just raws and aggressives, but also sophisticated of denial, I mean this.

When the words "pain" and "mourning" hide the crime, they also become a way to avoid the shame. Can you invite people to be ashamed in a left and progressive cultural world that defines the assassination of Hrant Dink as the extension of racist movements in the world? No, only a culture that tries to get rid of its liability could invent such a formulation. Such a culture is leaking shame.

So why shame? I know the persons who organize and support the commemorations of genocide. We do not establish links between us and genocide. We believe that we accomplished our duty by condemning the genocide. I witnessed the debates. I heard with my ears that people was rejecting violently the notion of shame because they were against the concept of "collective crime". This subject was treated as “vulgar” and rejected in the same way.

People avoid the word "shame" in the context of genocide. They see no reason to be ashamed. Or primo: even if we define ourselves as internationalist, as persons who have nothing to do with Turkishness, we grew and some of us have achieved good positions with the advantages of not being Armenian. We always enjoy these benefits. Just this situation is a sufficient reason to be ashamed. Second: the ethnic and religious identity of which we are part -which is the founder and the running of the education system - is the identity of the perpetrators of the genocide. The genocide crime has been committed in the name of this identity. We do not know if our great-grandparents have benefited from the genocide or whether they are linked to the genocide. Third: we are part of the social groups which, in the absence of exterminated populations, flourished, developed and enriched thanks to this absence. Fourthly, we are responsible, if not of anything, at least of denial. The state of which we carry an identity card, to which we pay our taxes, and whose we respect the laws is a state that ensures its continuity based on myths which remain the genocide. We live in the daily denial, we are part of this denial, in one way or another. So we have many reasons to be ashamed.

Barış Ünlü explains very well with his concept of "Turkishness pact" the reason for the leak of the notion of shame in the context of genocide and commemorations. It is a pact that establishes "the material and ideological foundations" of the Republic of Turkey. In an interview published in Agos newspaper ( he explains: "Turkishness is a form of existence on which you never thought, we do not see, we do not problematize, and we do not relativize. Turkishness is the inability to think about the privileges, advantages and sentimental and ideological limits of being Turkish. For example, faced with a question, a Turkish liberal believes that he has a liberal approach and he can treat it with universal values. He did not realize that he sees the issue as Turkish liberal and there are full of things that he misses. This problem is even more obvious among the Marxists. They are in fact more Turks when they say "I have an approach based on classes, I am an internationalist, and I don’t follow an identity policy." The main condition to be internationalist is, not to see the Kurdishness in others, but to see Turkishness in himself. Understanding that his feelings, ideas, points of interest at which points are overshadowed by Turkishness. Underclass, elite, Islamic and socialist Turkishness are, of course, different. As solid, liquid and gas states of matter. Their common point is to not think about their Turkishness and privileges of being a Turk."

The concept of "common pain" has also been appropriated by the government as part of the approach "just memory / both sides have suffered." What is your feeling about this approach?

The reason for this is clear: as I have just mentioned, it is a simply revisionist discourse. It is the denial that the Republic of Turkey has systematized and the society made its way of life. Of course, the government appropriates it with pleasure.

In 2014, a condolence text, with all its questionable points and shortcomings, was published by the government. This year, it seems that there is a return to the national consensus on denial. How you interpret this change?

The state has not changed its policy with these "condolence". To sum up the meaning of condolence text with a phrase, we can say that the State of the Republic of Turkey had to pass from the rude denial, marked by insults and lies, to a sophisticated denial. Despite its subtle language, it is a text of denial of the genocide. The author of the text of the Prime Minister admits, in a so perfectly mastered way, that Armenians have lived "sad" situations but it continues the denial by making equal the genocide with the losses of the war. In a sentence that could be found positive, or immediately after, the denial and the threat are visible.

The text is full of such expressions. I will only give two examples: "We wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early twentieth century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren" says the text. But in the same text, the denial is clearly visible: the death of Armenians is linked, not to a systematic extermination and organized but the “the context of the early twentieth century." The context of war, climatic or economic conditions etc ...

In another passage of the text, it says "In Turkey, expressing different opinions and thoughts freely on the events of 1915 is the requirement of a pluralistic perspective as well as of a culture of democracy and modernity." But he adds immediately afterwards: “Some may perceive this climate of freedom in Turkey as an opportunity to express accusatory, offensive and even provocative assertions and allegations." So say "the Ottoman state committed genocide against Armenians" will always be seen as “accusatory, offensive and even provocative." The Prime Minister also said how we would respond to such acts: "Using the events of 1915 as an excuse for hostility against Turkey and turning this issue into a matter of political conflict is inadmissible".

At the end of the upcoming elections, the HDP, which recognizes the genocide and rejects the denial policy, has, for the first time, a chance to be represented in parliament with its institutional identity. Can the reinforced presence of HDP in the parliament give hope for the process of dealing with genocide?

Of course. The presence of HDP in parliament will give hope on several other points, it will be the same for this subject. The Kurds are at a more advanced point then Turks in terms of recognition of the genocide. The headline of Özgür Gündem newspaper on April 24, 2005 was "We apologize". Writers, intellectuals and Kurdish politicians have many times recognized the reality of the genocide. Some representatives of the Kurdish movement have gaps about it. Some of them at times adopt a denialist language. Abdullah Öcalan or Bese Hozat had some comments conform to the official discourse. But the memory of the Kurds about the genocide is very keen, as explained by Namık Kemal Dinç and Adnan Çelik in their book "100 yıllık Ah!" based on a work of oral history.

As the elections approach, the words of Selahattin Demirtaş, HDP co-chair, in a live broadcast of CNN Türk, are the expression of honesty far from pragmatism and worries of losing voters. "We acknowledge without hesitation the Armenian Genocide", said Demirtaş. "But political will belongs to the Union and Progress led by Enver and Talat. If you take ownership of the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, have it also on it. Even if you do not, we can at least deal with this pain". For this reason, the fact that the HDP could be represented in the parliament will be of great importance to being closer to the establishment of justice.

Armenian genocide : recognition and reparations


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