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Is Turkey Softening On Talking About the Armenian Genocide?

Is Turkey Softening On Talking About the Armenian Genocide?

It began nearly 100 years ago, when notable Armenians across Turkey — then the Ottoman Empire — were rounded up and scheduled for deportation on April 24, 1915. It ended with the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians who had been rounded up, forced into camps, beaten, starved, shot, and burned.

Contemporary accounts and images are nothing short of horrific, and even today, bones linger in Turkey’s deceptively peaceful and majestic landscape. For the Armenian community worldwide, it’s known as the Armenian Genocide, and many genocide scholars as well as nations agree. For Turkey, however, it has long been a sore point, with the nation refusing to acknowledge the events that took place at the twilight of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.

It was part of a larger policy of expelling ethnic, religious, and cultural minorities from the region as Turkey rose from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire and started asserting itself. Ethnic Greeks, Assyrians and Christians in the region were also expelled, forced on death marches, and subjected to mass killings and mob attacks in what many scholars point to as a systematic attempt to eliminate targeted minority groups.

Turkish officials have spent nearly a century holding their ground, with very specific policy guidance on discussing these events that strongly encourages Turks to use their language carefully — what much of the world calls a genocide, for example, Turks are instructed to call the “1915 events.”

This is actually a step up from the former official phrase, which was “the so-called Armenian genocide.” Globally, the labeling of this event has proved a source of sour relations with Turkey, as nations who label it a genocide have found themselves censured and drubbed in the Turkish press while advocates within Turkey have faced libel and slander suits, and even assassination. Only in 2009 did Armenia and Turkey tentatively agree to a historic rapprochement with an agreement to explore the events of the genocide in more detail and try to come to an agreement.

That signaled a radical shift for Turkey and the possibility that the nation might be reconsidering its previous stance on the issue. Another indicator that a change in thinking might be underway came this April, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tyyip Erdogan issued a statement on the anniversary of the start of the genocide, recognizing the suffering of the victims. While the statement didn’t go so far as to call it a genocide, Turkish-American journalist Hayko Bagdat feels it’s a good start when it comes to addressing the issue.

“For 99 years, it has been of vital national interest in Turkey to deny the genocide and, thus, to protect a crime. This policy of denial affects not only the Armenians. For decades, people in our country were tortured, executed and expelled, and no one was allowed to speak about it publicly,” he told German publication Der Spiegel. “[H]is statement of condolence is a fundamentally positive thing. Both countries are still far from a normalization of relations, not to mention reconciliation. We have been working to put the Armenian matter on Turkey’s agenda for a long time and we will continue to do so.”

Could this be the beginning of a new era in Turkish-Armenian relations, with Turkey ready to come to the table and talk seriously about its dark 20th century past?

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Photo credit: Ashnag.

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40 comments

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7:01PM PDT on May 12, 2014

so sad

5:40PM PDT on May 9, 2014

I am part Armenian and the reason that they came to America is because the Armenians were almost all killed....My grandfather had a spear in his side delivered by a Turk. The Turks need discuss this situation

4:37PM PDT on May 8, 2014

It's never too late to bring the truth to light. An excellent book about the Armenian Genocide is "The Burning Tigris" by Peter Balakian.

3:50PM PDT on May 8, 2014

Thank you.

7:38PM PDT on May 7, 2014

Genocide is worse than war, read up on it. Acknowledgement is the only way to healing and moving forward. Lessons learned, both good and bad, help to shape the circle of life.

7:37PM PDT on May 7, 2014

interesting

7:30PM PDT on May 7, 2014

It sounds like humans are losing grip on reality....

Why the hell can't we just get along ??

4:25PM PDT on May 7, 2014

Genocide has no time limit, its a part of human history as old as us.

There isn't anything else to call this incident, and the fact that Middle Eastern Christians are constantly discriminated against to this day, this event is just one of the many grim reminders of what happens today to Middle Eastern Christians.

Is it really much of a surprise that the Republic of Turkey renamed Constantinople to Istanbul because its original name was named after a Christian ruler? I'm just happy that I know this happened when I found out. I am still flabbergasted and in shock, but at the same time, it taught me that ancient peoples are in danger of annihilation other than the Jews.

3:09PM PDT on May 7, 2014

@Barbara
It’s not hard to imagine that, Turks also have such diaries and stories about the Armenian massacres against Turks Kurds Tatars. Testimonies as such do not prove genocide, but only prove massacres, and such massacres are already accepted by the Turkish government and historians to have incidents of numerous mutual massacres between Armenians and Muslims in civil war during WW1..
Neither group represents the entirety of humankind or possess a monopoly on truth.
We turks are ready for apologizing ottoman armenians lost their lives in WW1 even granting citizenship to the descendants of Ottoman armenians..We lost our ancestors in balkans,caucaus,armenian muslim civil war as well but we are ready to forget our losses..we are ready to live together with you again as just like before WW1..We don't await any condelence or apology in return
And you ? just a simple question
Are you ready to share same land with us?

2:41PM PDT on May 7, 2014

My grandparents were all Armenian immigrants fleeing Turkey because they were facing imminent death. My paternal grandfather had left his village on a short business trip and returned to find every living soul chopped to pieces. All of them were Armenians. Read 40 Days to Musa Dagh -- it will break your heart.

Turkey has always blamed the Armenians for what happened. However, German soldiers stationed in Turkey in WWI knew it was happening and some German pastors actually got Armenian children out of Turkey and saved some lives that way.

But not all Turks participated in the killing -- some Turks saved the lives of Armenians by protecting them. And as for the Turks claims that Armenians were persecuting Turks -- Armenians made the "mistake" of trying to defend themselves. Turks also killed Greek priests during the same time. If it was not for some Greek priests my paternal grandmother would have been killed along with her sisters. (Her mother and one sister had died.). My maternal grandparents fled to escape the killing.

If you have any doubts about what happened I would be glad to direct you to the research I did as a graduate student in history (an independent study). That is when I gathered much more information than I ever heard from my family, my relatives. I also read the accounts of Turks who helped the Armenians and Greeks.

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