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Turkish Scholar Affirms: Turkey Has Lost Battle for the Truth

In recent years, a growing number of Turkish intellectuals, scholars, journalists, and human rights activists have taken bold positions on the Armenian Genocide, in opposition to their government’s denials. Although their number is small and their influence on President Erdogan negligible, the fight for truth and justice has to be carried on two fronts: within and outside Turkey. Hopefully, over time, the ranks of such liberal Turks will grow, forcing their government to implement reforms on a variety of issues, including the Armenian Genocide.

These progressive Turks, however, should not be viewed as activists for the Armenian Cause. Their primary goal is to live in a democratic society that respects the rights of all citizens and acknowledges the dark pages of its past.

One such righteous Turk is Cengiz Aktar, a senior scholar at the Istanbul Policy Center, who has championed for many years recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government.
Earlier this year, Aktar wrote two compelling columns, challenging Turkish denials of the genocide. The first, published on April 21 in “Today’s Zaman,” was titled “The 99th Anniversary.” The second column, posted on the “Al Jazeera English” website on April 24, was titled “Armenian Genocide: Turkey Has Lost the Battle of Truth,” and subtitled “An empowered Turkish society is now challenging the state’s denialist paradigm on the tragic events of 1915.”

In his first article, Aktar described April 24 as “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.”

Aktar went on to ridicule Prime Minister Davutoglu’s call for a “joint historical commission,” because it would be “composed of ‘genocide experts’ on the one side and of denialist professors on the other who cannot even convene, let alone arrive at a decision.”

Ending his column on an optimistic note, Aktar observed, “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.”

In the Al Jazeera article, the Turkish scholar divided his government’s denialist campaign on the Armenian Genocide into three categories: lobbying efforts jointly with Azerbaijan, especially in the United States; hiring scholars to give Turkey’s “vulgar denialism” a scientific veneer; and diverting attention away from the Armenian Genocide Centennial by focusing on other events, such as “the Dardanelles battle victory” and “the military debacle of Sarikamis.”

Despite vigorous denialist propaganda, Aktar maintained that “Turkey has long lost the battle of truth. The destruction of the Armenian population on its ancestral land is a sheer fact, whatever else you might call it.”

Aktar proceeded to describe April 24, 1915 as “the dark day when the decision to erase Armenians from Anatolia began to be implemented by the Ottoman government of Young Turks or the Ittihadists. The rationale behind it was to engineer a homogeneous population composed of Muslims designated to form the backbone of the yet to be invented Turkish nation. Thus, there was no place for Christian populations despite their historic presence on those lands.”

The Turkish scholar then referred to a “report commissioned in May 1919 by the Ottoman government that came to power in 1918 after the demise of the Young Turks,” which stated that 800,000 Armenians had lost their lives by that date. Aktar also quoted from a book published in 1928 by the Turkish General Staff, which reported that “800,000 Armenians and 200,000 Greeks died as a result of massacres, forced relocations, and forced labor.” Aktar concluded that “when one adds those who died after 1918 in the Caucasus region due to hunger, illness, and massacres, the figure surpasses one million. The cleansing work of Ittihadists was completed by Kemalists by obliging those throughout Anatolia whose lives were spared to take shelter in Istanbul and simultaneously by suppressing their places of worship and schools throughout Anatolia.”

The audacious Turkish intellectual ends his powerful article with a note of sober realism: “The genie is out of the bottle. When and how it will affect state policy is difficult to predict.”

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8 Comments To "Turkish Scholar Affirms: Turkey Has Lost Battle for the Truth"

#1 Comment By RVDV On November 26, 2014 @ 12:01 pm

I remember reading his article on Al Jazeera. My only problem with it was in the title: “the battle of truth.” There is no battle of truth. Even if the Turkish government used its propaganda machine to “convince” all foreign governments that there was no genocide, that wouldn’t mean they won the battle of truth. The truth isn’t based on consensus. The fact that the Armenian genocide happened would not have changed. In the scenario of Turkey “winning the battle of truth” the international community would simply be believing in a lie, not another version of the truth.

#2 Comment By Alex On November 30, 2014 @ 1:03 am

Well said RVDV.

May I also commend Mr. Sassounian for coming to this conclusion, “the fight for truth and justice has to be carried on two fronts: within and outside Turkey.”

This echoes what Raffi Bedrosyan has been saying for years–the problem started in Turkey, and it must be solved in Turkey.

The Diaspora has, since 1965, raised and preserved the issue, but the issue must ultimately be resolved inside Turkey.

#3 Comment By Ararat On December 3, 2014 @ 12:21 am

@Alex, Hrant Dink was advocating the same thing for years over a decade ago and ended up getting murdered in broad daylight in front of his office. A few brainwashed hateful Turkish nationalists who carried out his murder got light sentences, instead of life without parole or the death penalty, and the real perpetrators behind his murder are roaming around freely.

I personally believe the Turkish government itself was behind his murder and since the Turkish judiciary works for the Turkish government, instead of defending the public, they decide who gets charged for Dink’s murder and who goes free to protect themselves.

When you are dealing with such a corrupt country as Turkey and its dictatorial leadership you have no chance of resolving the Armenian issue in Turkey and the only choice you have left is to pressure it from outside and hope they will come to their senses and only then allow a resolution from within.

#4 Comment By Random Armenian On November 30, 2014 @ 9:33 pm

“The Turkish scholar then referred to a “report commissioned in May 1919 by the Ottoman government that came to power in 1918 after the demise of the Young Turks,” which stated that 800,000 Armenians had lost their lives by that date. Aktar also quoted from a book published in 1928 by the Turkish General Staff, which reported that “800,000 Armenians and 200,000 Greeks died as a result of massacres, forced relocations, and forced labor.””

This is important for PR (or countering PR) reasons as well. One of the cheap attacks used against us is “every year a new figure is used for the number of deaad”. Well currently I believe the Turkish claim of dead Armenians is 300,000. It used to be 600,000 at one point. And even earlier than that, it was 0. The very act of trying to eras 1915 from Turkish and world history books means that there were no Armenian massacres. Nothing happened. And thus no dead Armenians. So at some point, their own internal documents discussed 800,000. Try and get the figures right will you guys? It’s probably harder to do these days if the Turkish archives have been compromised and documents destroyed.

#5 Comment By Avery On November 30, 2014 @ 10:32 pm

Mr. Cengiz Aktar makes a brief appearance in this short video.
[Turkey: Religious freedom vs nationalism] (BBC News)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlRJUP1dCLY&list=PLS3XGZxi7cBVNadbxDqZCUgISvabEpu-g

from the video, Fr. Iulian Pista, Istanbul Catholic Basilica:

“Turkish society is becoming Islamized”
“Youngsters have urinated and defecated in our church”.
“They are coming in and shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ “

Welcome to the new, improved, Islamist Turkey, under the pious and benevolent Fatherly guidance of the Sublime Porte 2nd and the exceedingly tolerant* radical Islamist AK Party.

First they came for the Christians,
and I did not speak out, because I was not Christian.
Then they came for the Alevis,
and I did not speak out, because I was not Alevi.
Then they came for the (Sunni) Kurds,
and I did no speak out, because I was not a Kurd.
Then they came for me. A (moderate) Sunni Turk,
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

—-
* [Twitter suspends account that threatened to kill journalist Zaman]
http://www.todayszaman.com/national_twitter-suspends-account-that-threatened-to-kill-journalist-zaman_365711.html

{While interviewing main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on TV in August, (Taraf columnist and The Economist correspondent Amberin) Zaman questioned whether a “Muslim society is able to question” the authorities. A smear campaign against Zaman was launched on social media by pro-government users minutes after she made the statement, condemning her for “insulting Islam and Muslims,” as well as supporters of the government.
Erdoğan openly targeted her in Malatya, calling her a “shameless militant woman disguised under the name of a journalist.”}

#6 Comment By Alex On December 3, 2014 @ 7:10 pm

Great video. Thank you for sharing, Avery.

#7 Comment By Joseph On December 1, 2014 @ 11:45 am

RVDV, thank you. You’re often the voice of reason in this forum.

#8 Comment By Stan On December 4, 2014 @ 3:07 pm

What Aktar wrote is noteworthy and he is to be commended for it. However, what Sassounian writes, that Aktar “has championed for many years recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government,” isn’t really quite the case. Until recently Aktar was among those liberal Turks who clung to the euphemistic idea of a “Great Catastrophe” which he insisted was “the common tragedy of Anatolia”. See, for example, this piece by Aktar: http://hurarsiv.hurriyet.com.tr/goster/haber.aspx?id=11068931&p=2 This sanitized presentation wasn’t really too different from that of the government he now criticizes.

But it’s good if people evolve in their views, of course. It would be interesting to hear what brought about Aktar’s seemingly tougher stance.