Remembering the past, thinking of the future

"A peaceful common future between Turks and Armenians can only be built on a solid basis, through dialogue."

April 14, 2015 20:29

An Armenian protester holds a banner reading ‘1915 never again’ as she takes part in a demonstration near the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in January. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Emily Schrader’s April 8 Jerusalem Post op-ed, titled “Lessons not learned: The Armenian Genocide,” contained a number of glaring omissions and distortions.

First of all, I must point out that the famous quote on Armenians attributed to Adolf Hitler is basically an instrument used in Armenian circles to create the appearance of a certain resemblance between the Holocaust and the events of 1915. It is part of an effort to obfuscate the basic facts that as of April 1915 a large part of Eastern Anatolia was already occupied by the Russian army, led and joined by Armenian armed forces, supported by Armenian commando groups attacking the supply lines of the Turkish army, and that as of April 1915 an enormous armada of British and French warships were landing an army at Gallipoli with the open aim of taking Istanbul from the Turks, ending the Ottoman Empire and disintegrating Anatolia.

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These facts of the war theater were the reason the Ottoman government was forced to take measures such as relocation, that were applied by many other European governments at the time as well. Armenian groups were arming themselves with the clearly declared objective of founding a greater Armenia in Eastern Anatolia where they were actually a minority, despite over 800 years of cohabitation with Turks which also brought the emancipation of Armenians from the religious persecution they faced under Byzantine rule.

These circumstances obviously are fundamentally different from the Holocaust. This doesn’t mean that Turkey is not respectful of the suffering of the Armenians. But we also call for respect for the suffering of the Turks under the occupation of hostile armies. The First World War brought occupation, pillaging, chaos, prolonged mass hunger and sickness to populations all over Europe. Anatolia was particularly affected. People of all walks of life suffered.

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The historical controversy between Turks and Armenians stems from differences in national narratives, as well as in the personal memories of Turks and Armenians. We called for the establishment of a joint historical commission to work at revealing the historical truth of the tragic events of 1915. It is necessary to remember and narrate this history in an unselective and objective manner, based on archival documentation.

On the other hand the term “genocide” denotes a clearly defined crime, with specific conditions of proof. It was first legally defined in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The crime of genocide can only be established according to the law and by a competent court; no such judgement has been made by a competent court on the events of 1915. Moreover, the Genocide Convention is not retroactive. In the case Perincek v. Switzerland, the European Court of Human Rights made a distinction between the clear establishment of the Holocaust by an international court and the lack thereof as regards the events of 1915.

It is simply not true that it is forbidden in Turkey to defend or express Armenian views about the 1915 events. It is openly discussed and printed in media and demonstrations are freely held on the streets of Turkish cities by those supporting Armenian claims.

The unpleasant truth is that these allegations are aimed at providing a smokescreen for the Armenian military occupation of 20 percent of the territory of Azerbaijan in violation of UN and OSCE resolutions.

Turkey is taking historic steps toward rapprochement of the Turkish and Armenian peoples to save future generations from bitter rhetoric and hostility.

On April 23, 2014, then prime minister (now president) Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stating that the incidents of WWI are our shared pain and that to evaluate this painful period of history through a perspective of just memory is a humane and scholarly responsibility, conveyed our condolences to the grandchildren of the Armenians who lost their lives.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, in his statement on the commemoration of Hrant Dink this January, called all Armenians and all those who believe in Turkish- Armenian friendship to contribute to a new beginning, and said, “Having already underscored the inhumane consequences of the relocation policies essentially enforced under wartime circumstances, including that of 1915, Turkey shares the suffering of Armenians and, with patience and resolve, is endeavoring to re-establish empathy between the two peoples.”

We hope Armenia too will adopt a constructive approach instead of demonizing Turks. A peaceful common future between Turks and Armenians can only be built on a solid basis, through dialogue.

Meanwhile I agree with Schrader regarding the necessity to confront evil, which Turkey did to the best of its ability throughout history. The Ottoman Empire provided safe haven to the Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. During WWII many Jews of Europe found refuge in Turkey and Turkish diplomats in Europe rescued hundreds of Jews from the hands of the Nazi regime. And now over two million Syrians and Iraqis from all ethnic groups are in Turkey as they had to leave their home countries, where cities are being barrel-bombed and millions of people kept in hunger.

Turkey has been an active observer country at International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) since 2008. Raising public awareness on Holocaust is a priority. This year the official Holocaust Memorial Day event was attended by the speaker of Turkish Grand National Assembly, Cemil Cicek. The same day Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attended the ceremony in Auschwitz accompanied by representatives of the Turkish Jewish community. The annual ceremony on the Bosphorous to commemorate the victims of the Struma was attended by our minister of culture and tourism, Omer Celik.

And on 26th of March the Grand Edirne Synagogue was reopened after an extensive restoration by the Turkish government with a joyous ceremony attended by local dignitaries and members of the Turkish Jewish community from both Istanbul and Tel Aviv. The much-applauded opening speech by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc emphasized the well-established historical role of the Turkish Jewish community in Turkish society.

The writer is charge d’affaires at the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv.

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