Akçam: ‘The Other Turkey’

Below are remarks offered by Prof. Taner Akcam at the Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration on April 26.

On this, a day laden with great urgency and historical meaning, I would like to thank you for allowing me to appear with you and to share your grief and sorrow.

Today does not merely mark the centennial of the annihilation of some 1.5 million Armenians; it also marks a century of denial of this crime. The Turkish government continues to deny not merely any responsibility for the horrors inflicted upon Armenian people, but even the fact that it happened at all. As a Turk, it is from this fact that my sorrow and great shame derive.

My sole consolation is that I do not grieve alone: the nation of Turkey consists of more than simply its denialist regime; there is another Turkey, and the citizens of that Turkey are ready to face their history. It is those Turks who feel obligated to erase the black stain left by those who committed these crimes. In more than 25 cities from Istanbul to Van, the people of this Turkey have not waited for denialist government to recognize the genocide. Instead, they have been blazing a new path; one that allows them to discover their past. I am not an official representative of this other Turkey, but I know I speak for many when I convey to you, the Armenian people, my sincere apologies for both past crimes and for this century of denial.

Here, as I stand before you today, I think I can promise in name of this other Turkey to do everything in our power to finally put an end to this denialism.

Our history is not merely a chronicle of murderers. It is also a history of brave and righteous people who risked their lives to save thousands of Armenians. And it is only through the recognition and honoring of these people that we can hope to build a better future. While we should indeed today condemn those crimes committed and the refusal to acknowledge them, we must also acknowledge our debt to those who refused to participate or actively opposed them. Such persons have taught us, through their example that human decency and courage can indeed survive in times of great evil.

Recognition of my country’s historic wrongs is not simply important for the sake of historical accuracy—instead, it directly concerns the kind of society that we envision for our future. Dehumanization is the most important component of all mass atrocities. In order to be able to kill, perpetrators first dehumanize their victims. Recognition of the crime is necessary for restoring that humanity, for returning to the victims their dignity! Without this recognition subsequent generations cannot properly mourn and heal. Mourning and healing are necessary for closure, and can only come after the truth is acknowledged. If we fail to do so, we inadvertently lend legitimization to the perpetrators and their goals. After decades of denials, you Armenians need to heal and to be assured that the justice you seek will be attained. Any reconciliation between Turks and Armenians will have to be built on a foundation of acknowledged truth! Without truth, there cannot be peace. And I am here to assure you in name of this “other Turkey” that we are determined to continue the struggle until the truth shall finally prevail.

To achieve a Turkey that is democratic, secure society and respectful of human rights, it must begin with a confronting of the past, an acknowledging of past wrongs.

A hundred years ago, the Ottoman government had a flawed concept of national security. They viewed the Armenians and their demands for equality and social justice as a threat to the Ottoman state and society. They targeted the Armenians for extermination. Today in Turkey Turkish and Armenian children are taught, through textbooks published by the Education Ministry, that the Armenians continue today to pose a threat to national security. These textbooks are filled with hateful and racist remarks against Armenians and are steeped in distorted narratives about “treacherous Armenians.”

Today in Turkey Turkish and Armenian children are taught, through textbooks published by the Education Ministry, that the Armenians continue today to pose a threat to national security. These textbooks are filled with hateful and racist remarks against Armenians and are steeped in distorted narratives about ‘treacherous Armenians.’

It is very troubling to see that the U.S. has still not officially recognized the Armenian genocide. The justification for their position remains the same: the crucial role of Turkey in the country’s geopolitical security strategy. To raise a moral argument regarding a century-old event, they argue, would needless anger their Turkish ally and jeopardize American security interests. It is ironic that the words, ‘national security,’ continue to haunt Armenian people even here in the United States.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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