Opinion Editorial
Turkey's National Pride is Based on Genocide Denial
By Sabri Atman
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During the years of World War I 75% (750,000) of the Assyrian population in the Ottoman Empire was systematically murdered. That genocide of Assyrians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in 1915 is a fact, but it has largely been forgotten by the world. The pain of the genocide continues in the collective memory of the Assyrians as Turkey continues to deny and publicly denounce responsibility for this largely forgotten crime against humanity against Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks.

The Turkish republic, as the lawful successor of the Ottoman Empire, has a policy of denial and refuses to acknowledge the genocide despite overwhelming evidence. The Republic of Turkey was founded on the genocide of 1915 and even after 104 years the genocidal mentality remains. President Erdogan maintains that "Muslims cannot commit genocide."

Related: The Assyrian Genocide

Kemal Yalçin is a Turkish author living in Germany. Yalçin has published many books about the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek genocide. He has done interviews on the genocide with many Armenians and Assyrians. One of his books contains a passage of an old man that aptly summarizes the emotions and thoughts of many Assyrians:

Few of us have witnessed that great, horrible catastrophe. But its wounds have shaped our memories. I suffer even from its memory! Even though we didn't experience those frightful days, those caravans of death, we bear their scars on us. And what did those that experienced those days do? In our region the killing of the Armenians was delegated to the Kurds. Everybody knows this. The Kurds use the term "The infidel massacre." I have to point out that the term "infidel" gâvur is a condescending term to depict Christians. I'm by no means accusing all Kurds or Turks. My anger is directed to those that planned this catastrophe in detail. I will be relieved when all this is brought to light and is acknowledged. I don't hate the Turks or the Kurds. They should be ashamed of themselves! But I prey that God will have them punished.

These are the emotions and thoughts of the Assyrians as well. Our issue is with those that planned and implemented this genocide. Perhaps you will think that this is odd because the perpetrators are all dead. Yes they are. But it is on their heritage that a country was founded. The modern Republic of Turkey was founded in this manner. Turkey was homogenized, and this was solely due to the perpetrators. It is not an exaggeration to claim that the economic prosperity of successive political elites in Turkey could only be attained by the genocide of the Christians. And I'm not aware of any serious research on this topic in Turkey so far.

The effects of the genocide of 1915 were both economic and political. The present political elite are still denying the genocide by asserting the following thesis: "the event is a historical event, leave it to the historians". This thesis emanates from Turkeys wish to pacify and forget the whole issue. If it really wanted to leave it to the historians, they would have been more tolerant of dissenting academics. But we know that it is impossible for any historian to freely speak and write on the genocide.

In this regard Turkey is far from being a democratic society.

The descendants of Assyrian, Armenian and Greek victims of 1915 request acknowledgement and apologies for the atrocity within the framework of international law.

Acknowledgement and apology is the required step to be taken with reference to the genocide. Turkey will benefit greatly from critically scrutinizing its history because it will receive more international respect. Denial will only bring the opposite.

Acknowledgement of the genocide does not only imply social maturity, but also prevents future outbreaks of violence and persecution. Turkey's reckoning with its past, a growth of respect for human rights and an increase of democratization will prove to be a great asset for the entire world.

Is there a difference between the mentality of the perpetrators of genocide, and those that deny one? The mentality I am talking about is in power today. We have no intention to foster hostility or hatred against Turkey or the Turkish people. Let us be aware that Turkey's sordid past cannot be cleaned away with threats and denials by Turkish leaders. The Turkish state, which carries on its shoulder the historic responsibility of the Assyrian, Greek and Armenian genocide, owes the victims, their descendants and the world an apology.

I believe that the initial condition for eliminating these problems is not to compromise with history's brutality. Every great nation has its disgraceful pages written in history. What is important is what the nation learns, and embraces the chance to take responsibility, not just for the past, but also for the future generations.

Willy Brandt was the Prime Minister of Germany. Whilst visiting Poland he visited a monument to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. He approached the monument, knelt and apologized. This gesture, from an honorable statesman, opened the way to improve the relations between the German and Jewish peoples. It is well known that Willy Brandt actively struggled against the Nazi regime and that he lived in exile as a result. As an individual he bore no responsibility for the Nazi brutality. But as a German, he realized this was about collective responsibility and that his nation must apologize to the Jews. Willy Brandt showed the first step on how a nation can take responsibility.

As for the Turkish Prime minister Tayip Erdogan and his foreigner minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, they have not demonstrated the same great statesmanship as Willy Brandt.

In reference to France and Italy's recognition of the 1915 killings of Armenians as genocide, Minister Çavuşoğlu said "We are proud of our history because our history has never had any genocides. And no colonialism exists in our history," at an event at Selçuk University in Konya on April 15.

The true democratization of Turkey is impossible without acknowledgment of the genocide.

Sabri Atman is the director of the Assyrian Genocide Research Center.

Views and opinions expressed in guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AINA.
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