The change in the Turkish state’s narrative concerning the 1915 events since the Ak Party came to power is ignored by
the New York Times
According to a New York Times editorial entitled "Turkey's willful amnesia," "the Turkish government and the majority of Turks continue to furiously attack anyone who speaks of genocide."
The claim that the AK Party government attacks anyone who speaks of genocide is preposterous, considering that the AK Party has opened its doors to such Turkish-Armenian intellectuals as Etyen Mahçupyan, who was appointed Chief Advisor to Prime Minister Davutoğlu, despite the fact that he had been arguing for years that the 1915 events constitute a genocide, and Markar Esayan, who was nominated as deputy candidate, although he also had been over-sensitive on Armenian issue for years. It appears that the NYT itself is afflicted with "willful amnesia," and so perhaps it would be helpful to remind the NYT of a few points.
You could not even mention that the 1915 events constituted genocide in Turkey, even as a thesis, before the AK Party government came to power. Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was targeted and eventually murdered for this reason. However, it was the freedom of expression enabled by the AK Party government that allowed for the free and frank discussion of the 1915 events in Turkey after the murder of Dink.
For example; for the first time in Turkey's history, a group of intellectuals launched a petition in 2008 entitled "We Apologize," in order to say sorry to the victims of the 1915 deportation, and they managed to garner more than 30,000 signatures.
Again, from 2008 onward, commemorations of April 24 could be held publicly for the first time, with the title "We commemorate the genocide," in Taksim Square, accompanied by police officers assigned by the government to protect the attendants from ultranationalist protesters. These commemorations can be held across the country in more than 10 provinces.
Besides, on April 23 of last year, the prime minister at the time, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, released a statement of condolences to the victims of the 1915 events. It was the first such statement by the Turkish government. Following that statement, commemorative ceremonies and prayers were held in churches on April 24.
In 2005, a planned conference on "genocide" had to be cancelled due to protests by secular ultranationalists. Now, however, conferences on the genocide thesis are held almost every year. This year's conference will be hosted by Boğaziçi University, which is a state university.
Moreover, books openly defending the genocide thesis have been freely discussed in newspapers and TV programs for the last five years. Further, some of them became bestsellers and appear on bookstore shelves.
All these developments point to a transformation that Turkish people have undergone during AK Party rule. So what other actions did the government take, apart from bringing about an atmosphere of free speech?
Before AK Party rule, there was a well-planned and systematic state policy to usurp the properties of Armenians, ethnic Greeks and Assyrians. The AK Party passed a special law to return the properties of non-Muslims, who had seen even their private properties confiscated with the 1936 and 1974 laws. The strongest opposition to this law came from "secularists." The law was vetoed by "secularist" former President Ahmet N. Sezer. And the "secularist" main opposition party, the CHP, applied to the Constitutional Court, with the signature of its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğu, to have the law repealed. But the AK Party insisted on passing the law and eventually put it into force.
Thanks to this law, reparations to minority foundations have been made with a compensation package of $2.5 billion (TL 5.5 billion), according to 2014 figures. The property return process continues.
Moreover, minority schools and newspapers have been financially supported. The Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island, the historical Sümela Monastery, and the Grand Synagogue of Edirne, which is the largest synagogue in Europe, have been reopened for religious services. Additionally, tens of religious shrines like Gökçeada Saint Nicholas Church, Hatay İskenderun Assyrian Church, Surp Giragos Armenian Church in Diyarbakır, Gaziantep Nizip Fevkani Church, and Gaziantep Şahinbey Synagogue have been restored and reopened for religious service. Currently, many churches and synagogues are being renovated and restored. Top government officials participated in Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies on Jan. 27 and memorial services for the Struma disaster.
Turkey is much more self-confident and inclusive than it used to be. This is accompanied by facing up to the past. Therefore, we can say that what we see in Turkey is not amnesia but rather the opposite: the "encouragement to remember."
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