Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently spoke of “just memory” regarding the Armenian issue in a chat with journalists. He did not say that nothing happened in 1915, but he did say, “I wouldn’t classify the events as a genocide, and I believe that the usage of this term is a matter of personal preference. However, we need to develop new language about this issue. We understand your pain, we are not denying it. Come, let’s do whatever needs to be done together. but not with a one-sided sheet of charges.”
Davutoglu further elaborated on what he means by the concept of “just memory:”
“We are not like Germans. Our history does not have a record of ethnic cleansing or ghettoization. [In 1915] there were losses and worries regarding the Muslims in the Balkans and in the Caucuses as well. These incidents led to paranoia on the Turkish side. The Turks were terrified at the idea that they would be forced to move out of Anatolia. This paranoia led Turks to act in the way they did. There was never any intention to wipe out a whole race. This psychology cannot be compared to the Nazis. You can not represent the Turks as a murderous race. We cannot accept a one-sided sheet of charges against Turkey.”
Drawing upon these statements, how can we evaluate this new concept of “just memory”?
First of all, it is a good move on Davutoglu’s part to introduce this new way of thinking at a time when there is not yet any crisis with the West on this issue. We should appreciate Davutoglu broaching the subject at this time. Usually, the genocide issue is only brought up in Turkish public opinion when proposals are made regarding it or when it is discussed in the US congress or French parliament. The potential for rational discussion is always then hampered by an angry, reactionary and nationalist campaign, when what the issue really needs is to be handled in a strategically sound manner.
Hence, given that there is currently no pressure coming from the West, the steps Davutoglu has taken to introduce discussion on the issue are timely. Turkey needs to discuss this issue on its own timetable and within its own dynamics, away from the pressure that would be imposed from the West. This pressure will be especially strong in 2015, on the event’s 100th anniversary.
“Just memory” is looking to strike a balance by saying that there was indeed a tragedy, but that it was not limited to the Armenians. Millions of Turks and Muslims were also massacred and forced to leave their land. The events represent a common pain and tragedy for all of us.
Although this seems reasonable for Turkey, it will have no positive effects in Armenia or within the Armenian diaspora. You can’t simply expect the Armenians to empathize with our grief. Armenia and the Armenians were not responsible for the tragedies that befell the Ottomans in the Balkans, at Gallipoli or in the Middle East.
Explaining why the 1915 incidents took place is indeed crucial for academic purposes. However if the aim is to reconcile with Armenia and the Armenians before 2015, this kind of academic analysis dilutes the effects of a heartfelt apology. The Armenians expect an apology, or at least a deep empathy, for what they went through.
We should feel the pain of those who also died in the Balkans, Gallipoli and Yemen. However it is not realistic to expect Armenians to feel this pain, because it was neither Armenians nor Armenia that were responsible for the tragedies suffered by the Ottomans in these places.