Impressive lecture by Akcam in Amsterdam (18 December 2006)


By I. Drost


Well documented and eloquent, Turkish professor of History Taner Akcam, held a lecture at University of Amsterdam on 18 December 2006. The meeting was organised by CREA Studium Generale in cooperation with Humanist Broadcasting Foundation (HUMAN) and Dutch Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Taner Akcam was invited to give a lecture in Amsterdam because of the current debate in the Dutch media and politics on the Armenian Genocide. HUMAN wanted to contribute in a positive way to this debate by improving the knowledge on this matter. The event coincided with the publication of Akcam?s new book ?A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility?, which will be published in Dutch in May 2007.


Prior to the lecture the participants to this event, among whom many members of Turkish and Armenian communities of the Netherlands, watched the Dutch documentary ?A wall of silence? by Dorothee Forma, a HUMAN production in 1997. This documentary film parallels the personal and professional lives of Armenian scholar Vahakn Dadrian and Turkish researcher Taner Akcam and their call for recognition of the Armenian Genocide.


Introducing Taner Akcam professor Erik-Jan Z?rcher, professor of Turkish language and culture at the University of Leiden, mentioned that Akcam is one of the scholars, who presents ?the state of the art? in his field of research. He combines in his research Armenian scientific publications, documents from Ottoman archives and Turkish Military Tribunal of 1919 as well as documents found in the German archives.


After Akcam?s speech many Turks stood up to protest rather than ask questions, but Akcam peacefully and effectively managed to give clear response and at the same time tried to pacify the Turks by repeating the statement: ?we have to learn to talk?.


Akcam focussed in his lecture on his findings in Ottoman archives, especially the material available in the Prime Ministerial Archives (Basbakanlik Osmanli Arsivi) in Istanbul. According to him a number of documents can also be found online. At the same time he mentioned that lots of documents have been removed from the archives. For the cleaning itself there are more than enough evidences; lots of documents concerning Armenian deportations and massacres have been destroyed during the crime.


He explained also how total cleaning of archives is impossible, even when the government demanded to burn documents directly after reading. Orders and documents were always copied for different departments and it is impossible to retrace and destroy all of them.


Akcam said that the first deportations and forced migration already began in 1913 with the deportation of Greeks from the Aegean area. This forced migration expanded to the other minorities: Assyrians and Muslims from Bulgaria etc. whose lives were affected in different ways, depending on the intention of the government. While the goal with respect to the non-Turkish Muslims was the Turkification, in the case of the Armenians the intention to annihilate the whole population is evident from many documents. Regarding to the deportation this intention was present as the authorities were aware of the effect of these deportations, but still continued to handle in the same way. Other evident examples are the decrees issued by the government on the Armenian properties, which gives strong indications that the intention of the Young Turk rulers was the annihilation of Armenians. Akcam also explained why UN Genocide Convention (1948) is applicable to Armenian case. For example forcible transfer of Armenian children to Muslims constitutes one of elements of the UN definition of genocide. Also young Armenian girls were forced to marry Muslims. This is well documented.


Answering a question about the Turkish proposal to Armenia to form a joint commission of Turkish and Armenian historians, professor Z?rcher said that a dialogue is necessary, but that the proposal is not as innocent as it seems, because of the conditions put forward by Turkey. Turkey wants the historians to be appointed by the governments and also all political discussion on historical subjects to be suspended during the work of the commission. It should not come as a surprise that Armenia cannot accept the proposal under such conditions.


Akcam elaborated on this issue by putting the rhetoric question how such a commission could function when there is no normal relation between the two countries. Even a letter from Ankara first has to go to Tbilisi in Georgia before reaching Armenia. Akcam agrees therefore with Armenian government that a commission is necessary to deal with all issues. He would also suggest the EU to compose a roadmap that includes a step-by-step approach for solving all problems.


When Turks who brought up a Turkish translation of a book (1923) by the first Armenian Prime Minister (1918) H. Katchaznouni, in which the author would have admitted the role of Armenian voluntary troops in the Russian army, Taner Akcam said, that even if this is corrrect, would it mean that the genocide had not taken place? And what was the culpability of Armenians living peacefully far from the Russian borders, who had nothing to do with the events in Eastern Turkey? Comparing with World War II, would the fact that one million Germans were killed after the war in several countries mean that the Holocaust did not occur?


Referring to the alleged 100 thousand Turks killed by Armenians, Akcam recalled that the figure given by Turkish Military in 1917 in this respect, is in total approximately 5000 deaths, for all the places involved. But we regret every victim, he added.


Akcam made a great impression by the way he dealt with sometimes-aggressive way of acting by Turkish audience. He asked to remain calm and show more respect towards each other, but also repeating and reassuring that Turks and Armenians are not the only two peoples in the world that have problems with each other and that there are ways to solve these problems, like it is done in South Africa, and that this process needs time and effort.


Source: Abovian Armenian Cultural Association (Netherlands)

21 December 2006