BEIRUT, Lebanon (A.W.)—On Jan. 8, Taner Akcam, a Turkish historian and outspoken critic of Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide, gave a lecture titled “The Armenian Genocide as Part of a Demographic Policy” in the Aztag Daily newspaper’s “Punik” auditorium.
The event was attended by deputies of the Lebanese Parliament Nebil Nikola, Edgar Maalouf, Alen Aoun, Gassan Mukhayber, Nedim Jemayel, Farid, Khazen, and Hagop Pakraduni, Lebanon’s ARF Central Committee member Hovig Mkhitarian, as well as academics, professors, community leaders, students, and the general public.
The opening remarks were made by Vera Yakoubian, the ANC Middle East’s executive director, who noted that within the past few years, in the public, academic, and diplomatic spheres, Armenian-Turkish dialogue has become a central topic—not only for Armenians and Turks, but also for regional and international actors. Yakoubian added that despite the numerous documents signed between Armenia and Turkey, serious agreements cannot be reached as long as Turkey refuses to face its history, and does not take steps to neutralize the effects of the genocide.
Yakoubian introduced Akcam, noting that he is the author of 11 books and hundreds of articles that deal with the Ottoman Empire’s crimes, Turkey’s nationalistic politics, and the Armenian Genocide.
Turkey’s demographic policy was not solely directed at its Armenian population, began Akcam, since alongside the Armenians were other Christian peoples, non-Turkic Muslims, and Kurds, stalling Turkish plans. He noted that the demographic policy’s main goal was to create a homogeneous Turkish society, prompting the ruling party to apply various policies, examples of which are the displacements and deportations. Within one week, the homes of the deportees were repopulated by Muslims, while Armenian-owned lands and properties were either nationalized or sold (to create a wealthy class), and the financial resources were used to sponsor the war effort. These policies were not reactions to the war. They were carefully drafted plans, clearly mapped out, and with a pan-Islamic focus. The rulers of the Ottoman Empire were careful not to directly involve themselves in these policies; that way, masking the truth or blaming others would be an easier task. Their archives tell a different story, however.
Akcam concluded by expressing the need for Armenian-Turkish dialogue, and added that the case would not be solved through financial reparations alone. If reparations were given, he said, and Turkey continued to ignore the rights of its minorities, then essentially nothing will have changed. He spoke of the importance of justice and equality, maintaining that the murder of Hrant Dink was a failure for those he planned it, because his death marked the beginning of change, a struggle for minority rights and justice.
Lecture at the Catholicosate
Earlier that week, on Jan. 4 at the Catholicosate in Antelias, Akcam delivered his first lecture to the Lebanese Armenian community. Among those present were the Catholicos of Cilicia Aram I, religious and community leaders, parliamentarians, deputies, Lebanese and Armenian intellectuals, and activists.
Akcam’s lecture, titled “The Turkish Recognition of the Armenian Genocide and Turkish National Security,” covered four main points. First, he explained that for Turkey, the issue of genocide recognition is in fact a matter of national security. Second, he recalled the words of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, who referred to the events of 1915 as “this shameful act.” (Akcam interpreted those words as Kemal’s “confession,” which had been an opportunity for the Turkish government to take a step towards recognizing the genocide. Unfortunately, the Turkish government has so far been incapable of taking such a step; instead, they have taken steps backward.) Third, he pointed out that there are two ruling powers in Turkey, the army and the ruling elite. (For the Armenian Genocide to be properly recognized, the democratic elements in Turkey must be supported, he said.) Finally, Akcam noted that Turkey joining the European Union would in effect benefit the issue of genocide recognition, since members of the EU may pressure Turkey to accept its past. In conclusion, he restated that Turkey must recognize the Armenian Genocide and that any denial efforts hurt Turkey.
The closing remarks were made by Catholicos Aram I, who began by asking whether it was fathomable that there would come a day when the Armenian Catholicos, bearing the burden of the legacy of 1.5 million martyrs, would utter the closing remarks of a lecture by a Turkish intellectual, in that same holy Catholicosate where the bones of innocent victims lie in the world’s first memorial-chapel. The Catholicos, in this strange turn of events, saw a man (Taner Akcam) who was able to reject his government’s official stance, and through his writings, stand by the truth.