By Mensur Akgun
The following article, translated for the Weekly by Ara Arabyan, first appeared in its original Turkish in the Istanbul Star on Feb. 25. Akgun teaches foreign policy at Marmara and Kultur Universities. He is also the top foreign policy consultant at the Turkish Foundation for Economic and Social Studies (TESEV), a think tank in Turkey.
Speaking at a ceremony in Berlin on Feb. 23, German Chancellor Angela Merkel apologized on behalf of Germany to the families of those Turks who had been subjected to racist attacks. German newspapers published this apology on their front pages, and Germany once again faced up to its past and acknowledged its mistake.
That same day, President Barak Obama apologized to the Afghans—in reality, all Muslims—for the burning of Korans on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. Germany’s offense was taking the murders of Turks in Germany lightly and failing to see the racist violence behind it. America’s was its attack on sacred values.
Nonetheless, the leaders of both countries exhibited great virtue and common sense by apologizing. And now there will be one less problem in U.S. relations with the Muslim world. In the meantime, Germany will make peace with millions of Turks, some of whom are German citizens and some guest workers, and will become a more livable place for both Turks and Germans.
A similar process has been under way in Turkey. Perhaps for the first time in our history, the state apologized to its citizens for the Dersim massacres in the 1930’s. Irrespective of motivations, Prime Minister Erdogan took the first step toward making Turkey a more livable place.
His words have helped us to reopen the dark pages of Turkey’s history and to understand the scale of the massacres that were committed. Today, very few people can argue that what happened in Dersim was a simple operation to suppress a rebellion. No one can argue that disproportionate force was not used.
The state could have also acknowledged that the mindset that dreamed of staging another coup only a few years ago—that had no compunctions about killing its own people in order to realize such dreams, that organized a raid on the Council of State and sponsored the bombing of newspapers—also mistreated the Armenians in the early years of the 20th century.
One would hope that the tragedy of 1915 could be discussed independent of its legal label, and that the state would express its regrets for what unfolded in post-empire Turkey, for taking these events lightly, and, in particular, for offending the sensibilities of its Armenian citizens during all these years.
However, the recent intervention of the French Parliament and Senate reversed this process and resulted in the return of the prefix “so-called” with every mention of the word “genocide.” Just when Turkey had started to discuss its past, it slid back into denialism, and the innocence of our ancestors are again reiterated at the highest levels.
Now, sky-high posters and announcements in newspapers on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Khojali massacre attribute epithets to Armenians that they do not deserve. Through some blanket analogy, this campaign implies that all Armenians are liars; Turkey’s Armenians are also incriminated for in the massacre.
The truth is that, just as I am not responsible for the crimes committed by Mehmet Ali Agca or anyone else, it makes no logical or legal sense to blame all Armenians for crimes committed by some Armenians. It is true that a major massacre occurred in Khojali in 1992 and that the perpetrators of that act must be punished. However, that does not require vengeance on or the incrimination of all Armenians.
Today, Turkey is one of the world’s most influential countries. It has a say about the problems in its own neighborhood. Its political model and process are used as examples. As such, Turkey has to make peace with itself without delay and adopt a tone that befits its grandeur. This is essential if Turkey wants to criticize others for their lies and wants to be seen as credible when leveling criticism.