The Endlessness of Crime and Apology

by Talin Suciyan

Translated by Vartan Matiossian

Last week, Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan’s statement about Dersim was immediately well received in the mainstream press, and we had to wait until the weekend to read more critical articles about it. Two articles by Ayşe Hür and Prof. Taner Akçam were like an “introduction to the literature of apology,” especially for the Prime Minister himself.[1] There may be aspects in both articles that are worth discussing, but what I want to deal with now is something quite different.

First and foremost, by apologizing you cannot undo things that have already happened. In other words, no one can be cleared of a crime, or have himself/herself absolved of it, just because he/she apologized and expressed repentance, especially if it is a genocide – a crime that has achieved the purpose of annihilating a certain group of people in line with a carefully planned and organized manner. Apology is about repentance for a situation which is irreversible and the responsibility borne in connection with it. Be it an apology given to the people of Dersim, or Armenians, or Assyrians, or Pontic and Asia Minor Greeks, or the victims of systematic torture, or Alevis, or Kurds, an apology duly given is not an end in itself, but the beginning of an endless journey against regeneration of denial by the state and amongst the general public. This is because Turkey will never be the society that it was before 1915, just like Germany will never be the Germany where the Holocaust did not happen. This is because every inch of Germany and of those places beyond Germany’s boundaries where Jews were killed bears the traces of Jews’ toiling and living, as is the case with Turkey where every inch bears the traces of Armenians’ and Assyrians’ toiling and living. Apology means to be conscious that the endlessness of the catastrophe is irreversible. A few words articulated incidentally while bashing the opposition party can never be an apology; if anything, it will be only a disgrace, quoting Taner Akçam.

Given the mechanism of denial in Turkey which goes live whenever there is any mention of such crimes, a couple of words by Erdogan are praised as “an important step”, “a milestone”, “an unprecedented move”. Those who think and speak that way miss the fact that this kind of self-praising is the proof of how deeply denial is institutionalized and banalized in the country. Yıldırım Türker’s article, “Those faces are still smiling,” is a reminder of this persecution, because denial is persecution.[2] The denial of responsibility means that victims bear up with the consequences of their victimization forever. It is for this reason that Kılıçdaroğlu recalled the Armenian Diaspora, for there is a crime of denial carved over the “mental map” of both Kılıçdaroğlu and Erdogan; a denial that is common history for both. For this reason, when Kılıçdaroğlu said, with regard to the words of the Prime Minister over Dersim, that “the mental map of the prime minister of this country is identical to the mental map of the Armenian Diaspora,” he touched the most sensitive nerve. The response of the Prime Minister to this sensitivity was: “I would measure the forehead of whoever compares me to the Armenian Diaspora.”

Even the hidden or secret existence of Armenians in Anatolia today offers a historical fact. After the Genocide (if the Genocide is something to be placed between two dates, as they often do), what was left of the Armenians tried to remain in their places somehow. For example, according to the census of 1965, the number of those who spoke Armenian as their mother tongue was 849 in Kastamonu, 488 in Bolu, 376 in Hatay, 228 in Sinop, 217 in Sivas, 216 in Amasya, 148 in Malatya, 132 in Diyarbakır, 118 in Yozgat [3]. And today there are almost no Armenians in those locations. Neither the Prime Minister, nor Kılıçdaroğlu  feel the urge to ask why Armenians were compelled to leave those cities and come to Istanbul… Because for them there was nothing more natural than the Republic breathing down the neck of a few Armenians who continued their existence in Anatolia. People who tried to maintain their lives on the land where their dead had fallen, despite all sorts of pressure, menace, and settlement policies, were turned into wanderers. As a result, the Armenian community existing today in Istanbul is a diaspora, a diaspora created by the policy of denial of the Republic.[4]

Aside from all this, it remains upon the shoulders of Armenians, in the whole country, to stand up for the “Armenian Diaspora”, a term used as an insult, a blasphemy. The reason is that the Armenian Diaspora is not only marked with red in the mental map of Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu, but also for an entire society and its intellectuals. The Armenians in search of justice “are criminals, nationalists, full of hate and disgust.” Kılıçdaroğlu and Erdoğan also represent broad segments of society. The intellectuals of this country can only teach the meaning of apology to their leaders when they stand up for the Armenian Diaspora and their claims for justice. Because we cannot forget that denial is not only state-owned, but also, since almost a century, it belongs to broad segments of the society and the intelligentsia. The matter of concern is not the feelings of those who claim their rights, but the legitimacy of the rights claimed. Time has not changed anything. For, as we may see, after 73 and 96 years of the events, the past has never ceased to be part of the present.

[1] For Erdoğan’s statement see Turkish newspapers of November 23, 2011. Erdoğan had said: “. . . if there is such a literature, I apologize.”

[2] For Türker’s article see Radikal,  November 27, 2011

[3] Peter Alford Andrews and Rüdiger Benninghaus, Ethnic Groups in the Republic of Turkey, Wiesbaden, 1989.

[4] To those who may object this, to be a diaspora does not mean to be outside the borders of the state where an individual lives, but to be uprooted. Whoever is forced to live in a place different of the place accepted as homeland lives in diaspora. In his book “Memories of Istanbul,” translated into Turkish by Silva Kuyumciyan, Hagop Mndzuri writes about being “hostage in Istanbul,” which reflects the exact situation.   On the other side, state boundaries cannot be the only criteria to characterize the diaspora, because state boundaries are always in flux. The example of Hatay probably suffices to explain this phenomenon.

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