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The Reign of Lies in Turkey

The Reign of Lies in Turkey
A scene from the genocide commemoration in Istanbul on April 24, 2010. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)
A scene from the genocide commemoration in Istanbul on April 24, 2010. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)

Organized denial means the reign of lies. The denialist, in order to sustain denial, has to resolutely and incessantly lie. Otherwise it can’t go on. The truth, even bits of information that might hold the slightest potential of undermining the lie, is the biggest and most merciless enemy of denial. So the denialist, having created a whole world of lies, must fight any manifestation of the truth tooth and nail to survive.

We in Turkey all live in this world of lies, so much so that our textbooks, news agencies, official documents, literature, and even surnames are likely telling us lies. Even our parents may have told us lies about our family history. Our whole identity may be a fabrication.

And we, the Muslim majority in this country, believe in lies. Some—a great many—of us prefer to believe in lies just to be well-accommodated to our environment; some—again a great many—just for peace of mind, avoiding asking questions that would upset our inner balance and make us feel guilty (i.e., the punishment of one’s own self is worse than that by others). And still some of us are paid to believe and make other people believe in lies.

But lying is not just giving false information. Hiding the truth is also a lie. So, some of us, even those who consider ourselves almost totally immune to the official lies (including the writer of these words), may well be the transporters of this type of lie—the concealment of truth—thanks to the numbness we have inherited from our dark past, the numbness that extinguishes our desire to search for truth.

‘You will be back home soon’

Lies were central to the Armenian Genocide right from the start. On the April 24, 1915 arrests in Istanbul, the Armenian intellectuals were taken from their homes by policemen who were extremely polite and, as Aram Andonian recounts in his book Exile, Trauma and Death: On the Road to Chankiri with Komitas Vartabed (Gomidas Institute, 2010), they were all told that it would not take more than five minutes, that they would soon be back home, and that there was no need to worry. Andonian understood why the policemen had behaved with such refinement—to not alarm those who were yet to be arrested.

In other parts of the country, they lied to the people who were being driven out of their villages and towns, assuring them that they could come back and their property would be kept safe under government custody until they returned.

The genocidal process unfolded for the coming months and years on the basis of lies throughout each phase.

The denial of the evil—inconceivable, indescribable, and irreversible—committed and its regeneration with lies corrupts the entire system. Denial reproduces itself with lies.

The lie continued to be central in the foundation myths of the Republic of Turkey. The notorious “war of liberation” of 1919-22 was also built and sustained on deception. It was presented as a national uprising for independence; yet, the declared war against the Allied powers served to wipe out what remained of the non-Muslim communities of Asia Minor after the Armenian Genocide and the Genocide of the Assyrians and Greeks.

The Kemalist leadership lied to the Kurds, as well. They convinced the Kurdish notables to take part in the military campaign as the only way to stop the Armenians and Greeks from coming back and reclaiming their confiscated property.

The resistance of the Kurds upon realizing and facing the truth was violently suppressed each time, and generations of Turks were taught that the barbaric Kurds—the traitors—had threatened the state, and that the government had no chance but to bring not only “peace” and “order” but also “civilization” to the region where “savagery” once prevailed. This was the lie about the extermination of the Dersim people in 1938.

Turks are the best of all nations!

An unprecedented series of lies was institutionalized by the new-born state apparatus via pseudo-historians who were instructed to rewrite the nation’s history—in the form of the famous Turkish History Thesis, whereby it was “proved” that everything good in the world had originated from the Turkish nation, and its people were the best in all categories: honesty, courage, innovation, cleverness, etc.

Lies continued to be the essence of the system in Turkey, a tool of repression used in every period of Republican history. It would take volumes of books to mention them all. To give but one example: It was a lie that Ataturk’s home was bombed in Salonika, a lie that led to the burning alive of Greek priests, the rape of hundreds of women, lynching incidents, and the desecration of sacred Christian places during the two-day pogrom in Istanbul on Sept. 6-7, 1955—a replica of the Kristallnacht—which drove thousands of non-Muslims, mostly Greeks, from their homeland.

Lies never ceased through the military coups and the pseudo-democracies in between. Just like the lie that the mosque in Marash was bombed by the “communists”; this was followed by mass attacks at the homes and workplaces of Alevis. During the pogrom that lasted two days without any effective intervention by the police or the military, around 150 Alevis, including children, were butchered by fascist crowds in 1978 under a “democratic,” “civilian” government.

‘We kill for your good’

The military coup of 1980 and the period that followed—the reign of terror—was from top to bottom the embodiment of a lie. The military had taken over power for the good of the nation. Executions, people dying through torture, prisons full of people, these were all for the good of the Turkish people.

The 1990’s were also dominated by lies. It was never admitted that thousands of Kurdish villages were burnt and razed to the ground, causing the forced dislocation of millions of Kurds.

Only after 20 years are bits of truth being revealed about the deaths of a number of high-ranking officials who served in the hot spots of the war against the armed Kurdish movement. These officers were said to have committed suicide, but legal cases were opened by their families and the deaths have undergone an in-depth investigation, with more lies brought to light—in the form of false official documents drawn up by military units, manipulated witness accounts, names of witnesses who were on duty elsewhere at the time of the incidents, etc.

But the biggest lie unveiled that covers the others like a huge invisible dome is the lie that the “Turkish people” did not commit a genocide against the Armenians and other Christian people of this land, because it is the foundation on which all other lies were built.

Preparations for 2015

The intensity of the lies is increasing nowadays as Turkey ferociously prepares for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and for Armenian organizations across the world commemorating the tragedy.

The Turkish state has not, for the time being, directly or officially taken the stage, but is employing “civil society” behind-closed-doors to organize campaigns against the “Armenian lies.”

The recent and now-famous Khojaly rally on Feb. 26 was the most visible one, the first massive public appearance of a new national mobilization campaign against the Armenians. Although the sponsorship by both the Turkish and Azerbaijani state was obvious, it was still presented as a civil initiative.

Universities are leading this “civil” campaign. During recent months, “scholarly” denialist performances were staged at Suleyman Demirel University in Isparta, Dumlupinar University in Kütahya, Afyon Kocatepe University, and Erzurum Ataturk University. This denialist campaign has even adopted the strategy of infiltrating the social structure by making use of popular culture, an extremely powerful medium for gaining control over the mind of the man on the street.

TV drama series about ‘Armenian lies’

The majority of Turks, it seems, is addicted to TV series—unending productions about love, hatred, deadly plots, defeat, and victory. They are in the center of the daily lives of the most crowded stratum in Turkey, the middle class. Now, a TV series on “Armenian issue” is being prepared. On the internet, a description of the show maintains that it will not be disseminating hatred and hostility between Armenian and Turkish people, that instead it will tell the “truth.” But—surprise!—the “consultants” engaged for the new drama series, from academia, are all renowned denialists who are taking part in university conferences about the “Armenian atrocities” in Khojaly; who are writing denialist books; who are acting as spokespersons of the official state thesis. What’s more, the producer has long sat on the executive bodies of the ruling AK Party and is a member of the city council of one of the most densely populated districts of Istanbul representing her party. Lies about Armenian history will, through popular culture, be much more easily and convincingly injected into people’s than through scientific and academic studies.

What about the ‘pro-Armenians’?

I mentioned, in the beginning, those of us “…who consider ourselves almost totally immune to the official lies.” In the Feb. 27 issue of the daily Radikal, considered the only “leftish” newspaper in the mainstream press, an article by Onur Caymaz, a progressive, democratic-minded writer, appeared. Caymaz in his piece wholeheartedly condemned the hate speech used in the Khojaly rally in Taksim. So much so that his heading was, “We are all bastards!” in answer to the banner at the rally, which read, “You are all Armenians, you are all bastards!”

After expressing his disgust over such Armenian hatred (quite impressively, I should confess), he provided an example to assure readers that he was not siding with any one atrocity over another, no matter who did it. For this purpose he quoted from a “book” said to be titled Revival of Our Souls by Zori Balayan, “who personally took part in the Khojaly massacre,” and depicted the torture he committed against a 13-year-old “Turkish” boy in Khojaly. The quotation is quite long, with Balayan describing with obvious pleasure and self-satisfaction the details of how he skinned the abdomen and limbs of the boy, whose mother’s “cut off breast” was tucked into his mouth to stop him from screaming with pain. The quotation goes on, with Balayan explaining how he was “a medical doctor and a humanist by profession” but still was not shaken to see the boy die of bleeding in seven minutes; instead, he experienced a “revival of is soul” for “avenging one hundredth of what Turks had done” to his ancestors.

Even if one didn’t know that there was no such book by Zori Balayan, it should be quite obvious, from the language used in depicting the torture, that the quotation was wholly made up. What was shocking is that the quotation was repeated not by a Turkish ultra-nationalist, an Armenian hater, but from a person who sincerely denounces racism and discrimination. A couple of days after the publication of this article, Caymaz wrote in his personal blog that he was wrong, that it was evident that Zori Balayan had not written such a book, and that the quotation was false. He said he had heard about the book from an Azeri physician in a panel discussion on TV. Caymaz apparently didn’t have even the slightest inclination that a member of a warring party might lie. But where did he find that quotation? I searched it myself, and found that it appeared only on ultra-nationalist Turkish websites. Even this did not give him a clue. And the Radikal newspaper’s editorial staff didn’t find the outrageously cruel quotation doubtful either. Lies, thus, easily found their way into the “progressive” media and their audience.

Lies for all of us

I also said in the beginning, “including the writer of these words,” when talking about being the transporter of that specific type of lie, i.e. hiding the truth. It was only a few months ago that I came across the story of ASALA member Levon Ekmekjian, who was executed by hanging in 1983 in Ankara under the military rule, on charges of being one of the perpetrators of the “Esenboga massacre” in Ankara in 1982. We, the members or sympathizers of Turkish socialist-revolutionary parties and groups of that time, some of us in prison, some in hiding in Turkey, some political refugees in foreign countries, took for granted the military rule’s account of the Esenboga attack. Even if there were individuals who were exceptions, they have never been vocal. The absolute silence about Ekmekjian in the memoirs of “revolutionaries” and books compiling the stories of persons executed under the military regime of the 1980’s clearly indicate how we avoided questioning the official account about ASALA’s Esenboga attack, and how we simply ignored the case of Ekmekjian.

A crack in the most fortified stronghold

But life incorporates in itself such dynamism, and therefore is always exposed to such unexpected surprises, that no plan to hide the truth can perfectly serve its purpose forever, as long as there is the human element involved.

Nowadays in the social media articles are being circulated about Levon Ekmekjian—his photographs, memoirs of his comrades—and quite a number of Turkish and Kurdish people are eagerly exchanging the newly absorbed information between them. This is especially important as the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia is perhaps the only single topic that is still absolutely untouchable among all other topics related to the Armenian Question in Turkey, even by the socialist movements, and remains an invaluable tool of manipulation by the denialist apparatus.

With the Khojaly rally in Istanbul, the official lies about the Karabagh conflict have also become vulnerable as people, at least those who want to know the truth, gain more and more access to the Armenian side’s account of events.

Yes, organized denial means the reign of lies. But even the most fortified stronghold of lies is doomed to collapse no matter how long it takes for a crack to branch out and spread through, undermining the whole structure. It only needs the human mind to question, refuse to be convinced, need more to learn, and tell others. And Turkey is no exception to this general rule.

Ayse Gunaysu is a professional translator, human rights advocate, and feminist. She has been a member of the Committee Against Racism and Discrimination of the Human Rights Association of Turkey (Istanbul branch) since 1995, and was a columnist in a pro-Kurdish daily from 2005–07. Since 2008, she writes a bi-weekly column, titled “Letters from Istanbul,” for the Armenian Weekly.

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