Is the state changing its attitude on 1915?

Published 20.04.2015 22:34
Updated 21.04.2015 01:36

Turkey has broken many national taboos within the last decade thanks to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). One of these taboos was the torment Union and Progress Party imposed on Armenians in 1915 during the Ottoman period. No matter how you define the incidents, many Armenian citizens were exiled from their hometowns regardless of whether they were women, children or elderly, while thousands of them lost their lives. Even mentioning this great tragedy was a cause for judicial action during the early 2000s in this country. The word "genocide" could not be said; those uttering this word were sentenced to civil death and charged in court. For instance, in 2005, a conference on this subject was planned to be organized at Boğaziçi University, but it was brought to trial since the names arguing that "the genocide took place" were also among the participants of this conference. Afterward, the conference was held at Istanbul Bilgi University.

Last Friday, with a group of columnists, I had the chance to have a conversation with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. During our conversation, the prime minister said then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself demanded the organization of this conference and sent Davutoğlu to Prof. Halil Berktay to assure him that they did not need to have any security concerns.

Briefly, the AK Party, particularly some names including Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, wanted this subject to be opened to discussion. And last year, on April 24, Erdoğan issued an official statement of condolence for 1915. For the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic, a prime minister mentioned the mutual sufferings and gave his condolences to the Armenians.

So why did both the government and the president react against the "genocide" remarks of the pope and the European Parliament given that many steps have been taken on the subject?

To be honest, I find this reaction inconsistent when I consider the progress that has been achieved within the last decade and last year's condolence message. This sharp reaction and total rejection reminded me of the former state attitude that I thought we already left behind.

But what can be the reason for it? While the AK Party government broke the 1915 taboo, a prime minister gave a condolence message to the Armenians for the first time in Republican history, and Prime Minister Davutoğlu published a message mentioning common suffering on the anniversary of the death of journalist Hrant Dink this year, why did the state all of a sudden adopt such language last week?

Even though I found this attitude wrong in the first place, I understood why they displayed such a stance during our conversation with the prime minister on Friday. The remarks of the prime minister indicated that the pope's and the EP's reference to 1915 as a "genocide" was perceived as an imposition. It was seen as imperious and arrogant by the government. They believed that the real issue was decontextualized and manipulated as a tool for oppression. For all these reasons, the prime minister said, "Our will determines the April 24 message; neither the pope nor the EP can determine it."

I think such reactions are completely political. Although I personally define 1915 as genocide, those giving such reactions have brought the topic to the agenda not because they are in search of the truth, but because of some power concerns. But even so, since Turkey is now a self-confident country and can declare that their "archives are open and those wishing to investigate the truth can research it from the sources," I would expect the AK Party government to keep its composure and remind people of this approach instead of being reactionary.

But still, the prime minister's remark suggesting that no one except us can determine the April 24 message and his positive approach to the question whether another inclusive message could be issued this year, keeps my hopes alive. Despite the sharp reactions of last week, the government may issue another message embracing Armenians and giving them condolences for the torment they suffered in 1915 also this year.

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