As a person who lives in Turkey day in and day out, sometimes I become very hopeful, and sometimes I find myself in such a pessimistic mood. And these two moods may follow each other one day after another.
The other day I attended a debate on one of the most popular TV channels in Turkey. The topic was the “Armenian question.” An Armenian intellectual, Garo Paylan, and I were on one side of the debate. The other “front” was a nationalist block, consisting of a former Republican People’s Party (CHP) politician and two academics, one of whom was from the Turkish Historical Society (TTK).
The debate was extremely suffocating. All of a sudden many official “arguments” were raining down on us. It was really annoying to see that these people never change their arguments one bit. They do not even try to be smarter or more sophisticated. But the most annoying thing came at the end. The debate was very hot, sometimes very intense and our “official historian” uttered some words, which shocked us. He cautioned Garo by saying that “he may end up in California” like his ancestors. This gentleman is a historian in Turkey’s official historical institution, and he is responsible for the Armenian question.
Can Turkey move forward an inch with this kind of “historian”? I left the TV channel having a serious headache and very seriously concerned about the future of this country.
However, the other day I read an interview with one of the founders of the ruling party who is the İstanbul deputy from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) for the time being. I become very hopeful once again. I underlined some of his remarks, which were published in the Radikal daily. Let’s read them together:
“In 1915, an ‘abnormal thing’ that had not occurred before in the 1000-year history and civilization codes of this nation happened. Historians must bring to light all related documents. A single repository of these documents must be created and politicians should assess the resulting findings. Then, the international community should make a decision to assess the situation. This is my personal proposal. I believe that what our Armenian citizens, our Armenian friends experienced was not ‘genocide’ but a ‘genoxile’. If genocide had been the true aim, then the methods of destruction used by the Spanish and the Portuguese against South African natives or by Americans against Native Americans or by Germans against Jews would have been used. It was the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) that was responsible for the pain and sufferings of Turks, Armenians and all citizens at that time. This is not acceptable in the least.”
“If you try to create a nation-state, you will pit people against each other. We [The Turkish Republic] are not responsible for those incidents, but the CUP is. Yet we should be able to say, ‘We apologize for those incidents in our past.’ I personally offer this apology for the ‘genoxile’ [a portmanteau meaning ‘sending a race to exile’]. If you confuse the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with the ‘struggle against a people’, a very tragic situation will emerge. It can not be explained. The massacre performed by Armenian gangs in cooperation with some foreign countries is one thing and the relocation of our Armenian citizens is another thing. The CUP confused the Armenians gangs with innocent Armenian citizens. And it made all Armenians pay the price. In history, there are other examples of forced relocation. People being relocated must be sent with extreme security. Is this what happened with the Armenian relocation? No... No person should settle in the home or country of other people. I don’t do this. Today, the properties belonging to the foundations established by some religious minorities are being returned. This should not go unnoticed.”
“If the Armenian nation and the Turkish nation work together, they can solve this problem. God, the Qur’an and prophets allow themselves to be questioned and discussed. God says, “If there had been multiple gods, there would be chaos.” But we cannot discuss certain taboos. When you talk about them, they raise the hell. We must overcome this. Everyone will believe and live as they believe. No one will impose certain lifestyles or beliefs on other people. This is the main point... I cannot hold the Armenian nation as separate from the Turkish nation. Their sorrows are ours. No human is more ‘human’ than others. No one is privileged. We should be open to criticism. At that time, people took sides and acted with racist attitudes. This should be open to discussion... Turkey should open the border crossing on its common border with Armenia while the status of the Azerbaijani lands occupied by Armenia is being discussed. These people who have lived together with us and who have shared the same feelings with us and who have used the same literary language should be relieved of their sorrows. Such things should not be sacrificed to the political tensions.”
Whether I agree with every word or not, AKP deputy İsmet Uçma’s words give me hope again. I wish more people like him would come forward and speak out openly. The key to any solution for the Armenian question lies in the hands of these non-nationalist people amongst both Turks and Armenians. God bless them!