The 99th anniversary

Thursday is the 99th anniversary of the decision made by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP)-led Ottoman government to start the elimination of the Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire. April 24, 1915, is that black day when over 200 Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul were arrested and sent to Anatolia, and many never returned. It is a symbolic day for Armenians who were forcibly dispersed all around the world.

This collective disaster is still not recognized in Turkey. Even the fact that Anatolian Armenians were completely wiped out from their homeland is not enough for people and the state to recognize it. Turkey’s official position and the advocates of the official thesis have been laboring hard to prove that these were just tragic events. They have invented all sorts of excuses and keep making futile comparisons. On every anniversary of April 24 everyone waits anxiously for the word the US president will use to qualify the massacres.

Between each anniversary the focus is on lobbying activities outside, on seeking assurances from unknown historians while closely monitoring the countries that recognize the massacres as genocide. The public always looks for signs so that its conscience can feel at ease. Such helplessness is tragicomic. For instance, when the French Constitutional Council found the bill that penalizes the “denial of genocide” to be unconstitutional in 2012, or when the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held in 2013 in the case of Perincek v. Switzerland that denial of genocide is part of freedom of expression, the proponents of the official position were quick to interpret these decisions as proving that “there was no genocide.”

This also applies to past resolutions that were not endorsed by the US House of Representatives or the US Senate. However, except for a few confused people, there is a consensus in outside world about the massacres. No one believes that Armenians were accidentally drowned during boat trips in Trabzon or that they died in the Syrian desert during a cross-country race or that they went to France and the US for touristic purposes. It’s that some countries are concerned about their economic interests in their relations with Turkey and so stop short of calling a spade a spade.

This time is no different, but the centenary pressure is hard to ignore. The increased visibility and awareness abroad with the approaching centenary in 2015 has coincided with the Turkish government’s worsening ties with the West and increasingly strategic relations with Azerbaijan. Nothing is coincidental. The government failed to come up with a new policy regarding Armenians and Armenia ahead of 2015. With a mixture of incompetence, reluctance and overconfidence, it dumped the Zurich Protocols in 2010. From now on, Turkey will isolate itself further as the Armenian case is voiced more assertively abroad.

In a press release regarding the resolution that was adopted on April 10 by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Turkish Foreign Ministry says: “In actuality, how Turks and Armenians, as the owners of this common history, can together, through dialogue and empathy, reach a just memory of the tragic events of 1915, which occurred during the great human sufferings of World War I, is already being examined thoroughly and in all its dimensions.

In this context, our proposal to establish a Joint Historical Commission, also reflected in the Turkish-Armenian protocols, remains on the agenda.” The ultimate point reached after 99 years is to propose “a just memory” and “to establish a joint historical commission”! “A just memory” is nothing but a euphemism for “We killed them, but they killed us as well.” And the joint commission is simply a body that is supposed to come to the conclusion of mutual sufferings. Such a commission composed of “genocide experts” on the one side and of denialist professors on the other cannot even convene, let alone arrive at a decision.

Unlike the state, Turkish society is today questioning the past and searching for appropriate answers. This is the soundest and most lasting way to face the truth. Peace will not come to these lands without confronting the past. 2015 will be the year when the quest for truth and memory will deepen, even if the government does not like it.