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      Turkey Should Recognize the Assyrian Genocide 1915

Turkey Should Recognize the Assyrian Genocide 1915   15/07/2004

Turkey Should Recognize the Assyrian Genocide 1915

Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests,

There are two matters that need your attention! Denial and remembrance!

It is a known fact that whether committed in Africa or Asia, the most common feature of all genocides is that they have been denied by the perpetrators. Turkey denies that in 1915, the Ittihat and Terakki regime, the then Ottoman government, committed a planned, organized, and systematic genocide. In Rwanda almost one million Tutsis were massacred in merely three months. Many of the perpetrators of this genocide were arrested and incarcerated. The expression used for this massacre is a "so-called genocide". This term has always been omnipresent in the writings of those that support the official Turkish narrative.

Discussing the Assyrian and Armenian genocide is definitely a taboo subject. But as in all genocides, there are two different factions concerning this topic. On the one hand there are those in the present government who hide behind the official thesis; and there are those that pursue the interest of the people and claim that it is necessary for Turkey to come to grips with its recent past.

These two perspectives on history existed in the past. On the one hand there were those who planned the genocide to the last detail, and there were those that resisted the genocide and sheltered Christians in their homes.

The good and the bad

Seyh Fethullah was a known Muslim cleric in the region of Mardin. His portrait is on the wall of Deyrul Zaferan, a historical monastery in Mardin. The symbolic value of hanging his portrait in a monastery is to remember and honor him for his courage and conviction to act against what he thought was very wrong. That is the way it is in the entire world. It can be interpreted as a clash of good versus evil.

To understand the 1915 genocide that was committed in Turkey against its Assyrian, Armenian, and Greek citizens, you must first research the last century of the Ottoman Empire. Firstly its relationship with Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Austria-Hungary and Tsarist Russia need to be scrutinized and understood.

In that century, the Ottoman state is unable to implement the reforms that European countries urge them to. The Ottoman Empire struggles with modernity and is labeled all over the world as the "Sick Man". Many nations have gained their national independence from the Ottoman Empire. It is in this context that the Assyrians should live in their ancestral lands, which are in the Southeast of Turkey, namely in the regions of Mardin, Urfa, Harput, Diyarbekir, Van, Bitlis, and Hakkari. When the First World War broke out, Assyrian national consciousness wasn’t as developed as the Armenians who tried to defend themselves against the perpetrators. The war provided the Ottoman government with the unique opportunity to rid itself from its Christian minorities. They would be destroyed from the social and economic fabric of Ottoman society.

And it is precisely this destruction, resulting from deliberate and systematic plans from a central authority that it must be called genocide.

Where are they?

In this genocide, hundreds of thousands of people were brutally slaughtered without any mercy. Not even the women and children were spared. Many people were thrown alive into water wells, which were later on sealed. People were put on boats and taken out to sea, pushed overboard and left to drown. Hundreds of thousands of people were massacred by swords (Seyfo). Women were raped. Parents were butchered in the presence of their children. Hundreds of thousands of people were intentionally left to die of hunger and thirst in the wilderness of Mesopotamia. Great pains, great tragedies were experienced. Prior to the First World War, the population of Turkey was fourteen million; four and a half million of those were Christian people.

In other words, thirty three percent of the population was Christian. Today in Turkey, the total number of Christian people only amounts to 0.1 percent of the population.

What happened to these people? What happened to the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks? Where are they? Where did they disappear to? Would not this diversity of people be a great wealth to a country? Then, what happened to Turkey’s greatest asset, its ethnic diversity? The annihilation of this mosaic of colors and diversity was deliberately and strategically accomplished. More than two million people were massacred and over two million people were forced to face migration. No one who can see wars, massacres and tortures taking place in many parts of the world today, has the right to think that our appeal to recognize a supposedly forgotten genocide is meaningless.

This is because opinions like these are not right. Genocide is a crime against humanity and there is no statutory limitation for a crime such as this in a free society! Such a crime should not be forgotten and if it is to be forgotten, it can lead to enormous disasters.

During the Second World War, when Hitler ordered the genocide against the Jews, Gypsies and all the democratic people, it is known that Hitler said "whoever mentions the genocide of the Armenian people?" It is clear to everyone that Hitler saw an opportunity due to the silence, ignorance and forgetfulness of the international public opinion. If the international public democratic opinion had not overlooked the genocide of our people in the shadows of the First World War, would Hitler have been able to implement a second genocide in the shadows of the Second World War?

This is why we speak to the silent majority! The aim of bringing the issue of the genocides of the past to the forum today and discussing them is not just to condemn them. This cry is equally important for people from different religions, races and cultures coexisting in democratic societies and continuing to live in security.

Only such societies, which possess a democratic mechanism and functions, may remain distant from all kinds of oppression and massacres. It should be clear that the massacres and the genocides that have been carried out until today share a unique characteristic, which is that they were all implemented in non democratic countries, and by forces opposing democracy. It is therefore important for us to know in what kind of society and world we would like to live! Do we want to live in a society of equality and brotherhood between people from different racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds; or, in societies where some brutal forces do not show even a modicum of tolerance? The source of the problem is not the diversity of ethnic backgrounds. The source of the real problem is the inability to accept and tolerate diversity and beauty!

The infidel massacre

Kemal Yalçin is a Turkish author living in Germany. Yalçin has done interviews on the genocide with many an Armenian and Assyrian. His book contains a passage of an old man that aptly summarizes the emotions and thoughts of many Assyrians.

The old man spoke as follows: "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 to 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 the 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 realized due to 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". I must say that 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 to dissenting academics such as Taner Akçam. But we all know that it is impossible for any historian to freely speak and write on the genocide. With respect to this aspect, Turkey is far from being a democratic society. Democratic societies don’t have taboos. The descendants of Assyrian, Armenian and Greek victims of 1915 request acknowledgement and apologies for the atrocity within the framework of international law. Without these concessions it is inappropriate for Turkey to accede to the European Union.

We think that acknowledgement of the genocide should be a precondition for membership of the European Union.

Acknowledgement and apology is the only right 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.

Denial is to be killed twice

Finally I would like to point out the following. The Assyrian genocide is not known globally. An unknown and denied genocide inflicts great emotional pain on us, children of a people victimized by genocide. Many of our contemporary society’s problems can be deduced from the genocide. Even though the democratic world has failed to prevent the genocide committed against our people, it has to cooperate to alleviate the problems we are facing today. As the first genocide of the twentieth century, the Assyrian genocide should be more prominently present in universities.

Committed wherever and by whomever, genocide remains genocide. It survives the traces of time. The historical profession is not only an exercise in constructing the where and what of facts. It is also a means to cope with the past. Past genocides have to be known and condemned in order to prevent future genocides. And this is precisely why the Assyrian genocide should be known and considered. It is a big mistake to think that it lies in the past and should be forgotten. History is not about oblivion. It is about knowledge. It is about education. It is about the future.

Those that suggest we should forget about the genocide have difficulties understanding us. These people have no idea about the socio-economic, political and psychological effects of genocides. "Forget about us" is their advice. But is forgetting that easy? We Assyrians have lost two thirds of our population in 1915. We were uprooted from our motherland. The remnants of the genocide were cast into distant parts of the world. Today we are struggling with our sheer existence. As I said before, many contemporary problems are a product of the genocide. How can we forget about all this?My personal experience is that I saw my grandfather often crying when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I was a child and I couldn’t attach any meaning to my grandfather’s crying. I just knew he missed his 3 brothers. That’s all I really knew... I have just learnt of these details only a few months ago from a 97-year old woman whom I met in Germany. She told me that all of my grandfather’s brothers were killed in the genocide of 1915, and that he used to mourn about them.Since I found out about this a few months ago, I have often dreamt of my late grandfather, who passed away 30 years ago. They are telling us to forget about all this. How can I forget this? How can I forget my grandfather, my village, my homeland, my loved ones? All this is my personal story, and it is impossible for me to forget about them. Of course, the deceased can never be returned, how much we want. But Turkey owes us an apology. It must acknowledge the genocide.Acknowledgement will be very advantageous to Turkey. To augment its international respectability and to strengthen democracy. Denial, on the other hand, will only bring the opposite. The children of Assyria are waiting for what all children need, a sense of write and wrong. Thank you !

2004-June 22
Den Haag


© 2010 - La Lettre de l'ADL
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