What was April 24?

Last week, Today’s Zaman signed off on a very important piece of journalism. Professors Taner Akçam and Yusuf Halaçoğlu were asked seven questions about the forced relocation of Ottoman Armenians and its disastrous outcomes.

Akçam’s responses were also reproduced in Zaman’s Sunday edition. I wholly applaud this initiative. April 24 is not necessarily a topic we know or wish to know much about. It was a countrywide disaster that has been scraped away from Turkey’s memory by the Ittihadist-Kemalist elites.

April 24 was the dark day when the decision to erase Armenians from Anatolia began to be implemented by the Ottoman government led by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), known also as the Ittihadists, in 1915.

There is no thorough knowledge regarding the consequences of the disaster in Turkey. For example, there are no substantial studies looking at possible connections between future Kurdish uprisings and the erasure of Armenians from that region. No one really knows what happened to human, political and economic relations throughout Anatolia once the Armenians were eliminated. It is, however, quite certain that the effects of such a wide-reaching elimination operation were enormous. Yet what we know is limited to numbers.

Let us recall: According to a commission report of May 1919 by the Ottoman government that came to power in 1918, the number of Armenian citizens who had lost their lives was 800,000. A book published in 1928 by the Turkish General Staff detailing losses during World War I notes “800,000 Armenians and 200,000 Greeks died as a result of massacres, forced relocations and forced labor.” When one adds those who died after 1918 in the Caucasus region due to hunger, illness and massacres, the figure surpasses a million. These are numbers Akçam mentions in his answers.

The “cleansing” work of Ittihadists was completed by Kemalists. This was done by obliging those throughout Anatolia whose lives were spared to take shelter in İstanbul, and simultaneously by erasing their places of worship and schools throughout the peninsula.

This mass disaster is still far from being accepted. The fact that Anatolian Armenianness has been erased is not enough to make us understand and accept the harsh truth. For years now, defenders of the official thesis have gone all out trying to prove that it was all unintentional. All sorts of outrageous comparisons are made, and the entire nation holds its breath every April 24, waiting to hear what the US president will say publicly on the matter.

With only two years to go until the centennial of 1915, there has been a visible increase in the number of denialist activities. To start with, denials cloaked in scientific covers aimed at persuading the Western academic world have become more prominent. The “antithesis” wars have now leapt from the US over to Europe. In fact, there are more and more foreigners involved than ever in denialist endeavors.

The search for scientific evidence also takes place at home, replacing the vulgar denialism. Of course, researchers doing these readings never, ever ask for the first-hand sources — such as Turkish General Staff Military History Archives and Strategic Studies Institute (ATASE) or the Foreign Ministry archives — to be opened to the public.

Second are the lobbying activities and attempts to influence lawmakers, especially in the US.

And thirdly, there is a clear attempt to “substitute” other events for 1915. The Dardanelles victory in the west and the military debacle of Sarıkamış in the east are being flogged in the official narrative as the substitutes to what occurred to Armenians in 1915.

None of these activities are coincidental. But contrary to the initial aim, every time these bizarre theories are uttered, their pathetic weakness appears, much like the responses offered up by Halaçoğlu to the questions in the interview mentioned above.

The hope rests with those social layers who refuse denial and work to ensure that the Great Catastrophe is not erased from our memories. Perhaps at the top of the list of those working to preserve memory and empathize with Armenians are those pious citizens who know quite well about the oppression of Ittihadist-Kemalist elites, the same who prepared and executed the annihilation of Armenians.

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