Gunaysu: The impossibility of discussing Giro Manoyan?s comments in Turkey
By Ayse Gunaysu
On Fri., Sept. 4, the daily Taraf, the beloved newspaper of the democratic, anti-militarist, and liberal opposition circles in Turkey, including myself (despite several objections on certain issues and the language it uses from time to time), published an interview with Giro Manoyan, one of the top leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (ARF), with the headline, ?Armenians have their own Bahceli,?referring Manoyan and his stance on the steps towards a d?tente between Turkey and Armenia.
At first?and superficial?glance, one can see why Manoyan was compared to Devlet Bahceli: The latter is Turkey?s ultra-nationalist leader who violently opposes both the process of finding a ?resolution? to Turkey?s so-called ?Kurdish Question? and the signals given by the government to normalize relations with Armenia. However, Bahceli is also the leader of the Nationalist Action Party, which represents the Turkish version of the neo-Nazi spirit, with its endless hatred of non-Muslims and Kurds, and its history of violence?murders, massacres (of Alevis), kidnappings, tortures, the throwing of bombs on groups of students. The analogy drawn between Manoyan and a politician like Bahceli, in a newspaper that is the most courageous opponent of the Ittihadist state tradition in Turkey, should be considered in the context of the general Turkish mindset about anything related to Armenians.
What was crucial in Manoyan?s interview were his words about the Turkish-Armenian border. Manoyan said, among others, that the Armenian-Turkey border is disputable, as it was drawn between the parties (the Bolsheviks and Kemalists) who were not then recognized by the international community. Therefore, according to Manoyan, the border issue is still to be decided. In short, he implied that he does not recognize the present border, or at least, finds its validity questionable.
But at this point I don?t want to discuss what Manoyan said because I am more interested in the intellectual environment of Turkey that makes it possible for a liberal newspaper editor to equate Manoyan?s objection to this specific ?normalization? project with a Turkish ultra-nationalist party leader who had recently threatened to resort to violence against any step to resolve the Kurdish Question. This is an environment that unconditionally excludes any discussion on a comment by a Dashnaktsutiun leader, leave alone his questioning of the validity of the border.
It?s a widely known fact that in Turkey, anything?any comment, any step?that would supposedly lead to ?a partition? of the country, to a potential restoration of the Sevres Agreement (which provided for the foundation of independent Armenia and Kurdistan in 1919), and to a threat to the territorial unity of the country, is utterly unacceptable. Anyone who does not think so is unquestionably regarded as the enemy of the country. This is the most visible reason why Turkish people see in Manoyan?s word a declaration of hostility and ill-will.
But there is another equally important factor that makes it possible for a liberal Turkish newspaper editor to make such an equation: It is the real ignorance in Turkey about anything related to Armenians and their history in this country. Many would believe that the average Turk denies the genocide knowingly, which is not the case. I know that it seems impossible to think that the extermination of such a significant part of the country?s population, such an apocalyptic period with such enormous, widespread consequences that changed the social, economic, and demographic landscape of the whole country, can be wiped off from the collective memory of a nation. But, as a result of a combination of very complicated processes, this is exactly what happened. The overwhelming majority of Turkish people, therefore, don?t even know the most basic truths about their country?s Armenian past.
Even many Turkish people who have broken themselves free of the official ideology and history, who sincerely recognize the Armenian Genocide in their hearts, don?t really know the real extent of the strong Armenian presence in the Ottoman Empire before 1915. They are not aware that the Armenian presence was not limited to the eastern provinces of the empire, that there were significant Armenian communities in, for example, Ankara, or Eskisehir in central Anatolia, or Izmit, or Tekirdag in the Marmara region in the west. Many of these Turkish people of conscience don?t know that at the turn of the century, one in every five persons living in Asia Minor was a non-Muslim, and they really think that the so-called ?deportations? were limited to the eastern provinces of the empire. If this is the case with a handful of Turkish people (compared to 70 million) who share the painful memory of the genocide, one can imagine the situation with the vast majority. Unbelievably, they don?t even know that Armenians are the native children of this land who had settled in Asia Minor long before the Turks. My Armenian friends often tell anecdotes of how people, upon hearing their Armenian names, ask them where there are from, as if they are foreigners. People asking these questions are not Armenian haters or necessarily Turkish nationalists. They just really don?t know.
But how did this happen? How could this happen? How can an entire nation be made ignorant of such obvious historical facts? I?m not a historian, or a sociologist, or an anthropologist who studies the mechanisms and processes that make up the collective mindset of nations. However, it?s easy to see that the first generation who directly witnessed or took part in the massacres and plunder concealed the truth out of guilt. Huge properties had illegally changed hands and the new owners did everything to legitimize the plunder. Then came the reconstruction of a new nation, which helped this first generation to pretend that nothing had happened. Unlike the example of Germany, where the Nazis were caught red-handed, the victorious Kemalist movement was successful in covering up the evidence of the mass exterminations and was backed by the Great Powers? efforts to secure an international balance of power that would best suit themselves. In the meantime, the Soviets? support of the so-called ?national liberation movement? against the ?imperialist powers? came like a bonus, as it proved very helpful in positioning non-Muslims within this context as the supporters of the imperialist powers even in the eyes of the mainstream Turkish Left.
Then came the second generation, which was raised as the ?children of the young republic,,? a republic that rewrote the history in the spirit of a victorious national state and reinforced a patriotism based on an ethnically, religiously, and culturally monolithic country. The physical traces of Armenian civilization in Asia Minor were systematically erased. Armenian monuments were destructed, at times even with dynamites. Armenian, along with Greek, Assyrian, and Kurdish names of places were changed. No mention is made of the ancient Armenian kingdoms and kings. This cleansing of an Armenian trace is not restricted to the government?s publications; it applies to private institutions and organzations as well, as this denial of Armenian existence is internalized by the Turkish public at large.
Moreover, the republican myths of foundation have been taken over by the mainstream Turkish Left, which upheld the ideals of the Turkey?s ?War of Liberation? and valued it as a victory against imperialists and naturally did not question how the nationalist state came into being by bringing the Turkification of the land to its successful end. And thus, Turkish society was sadly deprived of a structured criticism from the Left of the founding paradigm of the republic.
As for the ARF-Dashnaktsutiun, the sincere belief that Dashnaks are simply haters of Turks is the common denominator of the Turkish Left and Right. I will not discuss what the Dashnaktsutiun now represents because I am really not familiar with its program, nor its political lineor practice. But, I know that in general, the people of Turkey know absolutely nothing about its history. They don?t know that the Dashnaktsutiun was once the closest ally of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), who were shortly afterwards the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. They don?t know that the Dashnaktsutiun campaigned for ?Freedom, Equality,, and Brotherhood? for all Ottoman people regardless of ethnic origin or religious affiliation against the Abdulhamidian tyranny. They don?t know that in 1908 in Van (a symbol for the denialists), like elsewhere, Dashnaktsutiun leaflets were distributed that called for solidarity between Muslims and Christians for justice and welfare for the poor and freedom for everyone. They don?t have any idea that the two parties (CUP and ARF) even signed four written agreements between 1907-14 around these principles, that even the atrocities of the 1909 Adana massacres didn?t prevent Dashnak leaders from deciding, at their fifth congress, to continue their alliance with the CUP in the hope of a better future, despite objections from the Hunchak Party and the Armenian Patriarchate.
Totalitarian regimes know that knowledge is dangerous for them. So they do everything to bar their subjects from knowing and understanding. But there is another side to this: We, as human beings, instinctively?sometimes subconsciously, sometimes half-consciously?choose what to learn and what to know; or, to put it the other way round, we choose what not to learn and what not to know. This is because we instinctively go after what will give us peace of mind and keep us free of any inner unrest. So, although it is mainly a matter of the regimes? obscuring and suppressing of the truth, there is also the question of our individual decision to always search for the truth, and chase it and find it at the cost of losing our peace of mind.
Source: “Hairenik”, 11 September 2009