Turkey Covers Up The Armenian Genocide
October 14, 2013
In 1915, under the cover of World War I, Ottoman Turks wiped out about a third of its Armenian population. To this day, Turkey denies any blame for the atrocity, and behind it, U.S. stands firm among a dwindling band of nations that fail to acknowledge the killings were genocide.In the recent years, as recognition from governments around the world has increased, Turkey has also multiplied its efforts to combat remembrance and commemoration inside and outside of Turkey.
From the vivid photographs of Armin T. Wegner, a German soldiers and medic stationed in the Ottoman Empire during the genocide, to the reports of U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morganthau, and the front page headlines in the New York Times, it is remarkable how forcefully Turkey has been able to curtail the memory of this tragedy from its own people and those around the world.
It becomes perhaps less surprising when taking into account the billions of dollars the Turkish government spends on world-wide denial efforts. And one doesn’t have to look too far. For the past five years, The Pacifica Institute, a Turkish-American organization based in Orange County, Calif. has hosted the Anatolian Cultures & Foods Festival. Anatolia refers to the region of Turkey were majority of Armenians lived during the Ottoman Empire. The festival portrays the rich multiculturalism of the region, including displays of old Armenian churches, artifacts and music, with no mention of the annihilation of an entire people but also the complete destruction of its culture in their homeland of thousands of years.
By presenting the Ottoman era of the Turkey in a positive light, they appeal to the mass media and the public, which helps them spread their message in solidifying denial and shaping the discourse of the Armenian Genocide. They focus on perceptions and images to appeal rather than historical and scholarly accuracy.
Nonetheless, it is by no means an easy task to re-write history. In 1998, UCLA’s history department voted to reject a $1m offer to endow a program in Turkish and Ottoman studies because it was conditional on their denying the Armenian genocide.
In August of 2011, the Turkish government tried to suppress a Microsoft online encyclopedia entry. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the Turkish government threatened Microsoft with serious reprisals unless all mention of the Armenian genocide was removed. Authors Ronald Grigor Suny and Helen Fein refused to give in.
Professor Colin Tatz, director for the Centre for Comparative Genocide Studies at Macquarie University, in Sydney, Australia, claims that Turkey has used “a mix of academic sophistication and diplomatic thuggery . . . to put both memory and history into reverse gear”.
Despite the massive efforts by the Turkish government, however, in the recent years, intellectuals in Turkey have began rising the discussion of the genocide, risking persecution and arrest.
In 2005, Nobel prize-winning novelist Orhan Pampuk was put on trial in Turkey after he made a statement regarding the Armenian Geoncide. The controversy ensued with burning of Pamuk’s books at rallies and assassination attempts.
In 2007, Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was assassinated in Istanbul in front of his newspaper office. Dink had long endured threats by Turkish nationalists for his statements on the Armenian Genocide. He had also been under prosecution for violating Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code which makes it illegal to “insult Turkishness.” In a 2012 decision, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had failed to protect Dink’s freedom of speech. His murder sparked international outrage.
In more recent years, academics in Turkey have risked fierce backlash by issuing a public apology campaign for genocide. The apology comes in an open letter inviting Turks to sign an online petition supporting its sentiments. In an interview with Cengiz Aktar, one of the founders of the apology campaign and a professor of EU studies at Istanbul’s University of Bahcesehir, he said that the purpose of the petition is to bring back the memory of the genocide which has been forcefully erased by the government.
By the end of 2000, the European Parliament, France, Sweden, the Vatican and Italy finally acknowledged the Armenian genocide. Of the major powers, only the US, Israel and Britain still hold back. There are too many conflicting interests at stake. Turkey, for instance, threatened to deny the U.S. use of its air bases if President Clinton agreed formally to accept the massacres as a genocide.
For the Turks, the problem is enormous. An acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide might result in land claims and reparations. They have only to look at recent German and Swiss history to take fright. It is no surprise, then, that they try to control every aspect of discourse on this topic.
As Thomas Bürgenthal, an Auschwitz survivor, lawyer and member of the UN Human Rights Committee, says, “I don’t know why the Turks can’t admit it, express sorrow and go on. That is the worst. You do all these things to the victim and then you say it never happened. That is killing them twice.”