Joined: 25 Oct 2003
| Posted: Thu Nov 30, 2006 12:46 pm Post subject: Armenian-Turkish Dialogue and Taner Akçam
|Nouvelles d'Arménie, France
Nov 26 2006
Armenian-Turkish Dialogue and Taner Akçam
The current problems, if not enmity, prejudice and hatred, between
the Turkish and Armenian communities can almost entirely be traced
back to the Genocide of 1915. This has been, and still is, the major
stumbling block in Armenian-Turkish relations.
Frequently, the Armenians look at the year 1915 as the epitome and
culmination of the misfortunes, misgovernment and tragedies they
suffered under Ottoman Turkish rule. The Turkish state continues
flatly to deny the events of 1915, often mitigating or denigrating
the Armenian tragedy in various forms and to varying degrees.
They also claim that the vile acts of destruction committed against
the Armenians are below the inherent dignity and honor of the Turkish
people and the ideals of Turkish nationalism that gave rise to the
modern Turkish state.
Any and all references to 1915 have not only polarized both the
Armenians and the Turks but have also politicized their respective
stands vis-à-vis one another.
They continue to suffer emotionally, as their viewpoints remain
mutually unrecognized or unacceptable. They spend millions of dollars
to silence one another's voice and become all the more embittered, as
they fail to come to terms with the unspeakable pain, loss and
memories associated with 1915 and its attendant consequences.
The social actors engaged in this confrontation are the nation-states
of Turkey and Armenia, the communities in both countries, including
the Armenian minorities in Turkey, the Armenian diaspora, especially
in France and the United States, and the nascent Turkish communities
in Germany and the United States.
All of these actors ( ?) have their separate interests,
interpretations, and expectations from the discussion of the Armenian
tragedy, and they all attempt to impose their respective views upon
As a whole, the Armenians are in agreement that what happened in 1915
was indeed genocide. They have different interpretations, however, as
to why 1915 happened, where 1915 should be located in collective
memory, and how this location should affect the present.
The views of the Turkish state, the Turkish diaspora, and the people
of Turkey also differ widely on the assessment of 1915. The Turkish
state has developed a master story that aims to deny and erase the
genocide from Turkish collective memory. This master story has so far
been viable because of the inherent disregard of the Turkish state
for its own historical past. Since the Turkish nationalist project
had to construct the Turkish nation-state in contradistinction to the
Ottoman Empire, it construed and identified the birth of the Turkish
state as the beginning of the history of the nation, rendering what
had transpired earlier irrelevant.
While the Turkish diaspora seems to adhere to this official state
line, the people of Turkey often do indeed have their own alternative
narratives. These narratives circulate informally among groups and
individuals, but are never brought into the public arena, for fear of
retribution from the state.
Such contestation and discrepancies between and within the Armenian
and Turkish communities, and the persistent lack of meaningful
dialogue produce sadly significant consequences. Their failure to
cultivate direct ties not only allows third parties to enter the
public space and exploit Armenian-Turkish differences and
disagreements to their advantage, it also forecloses opportunities to
discuss, acknowledge and address problems and silences in their own
The Armenian and Turkish communities can overcome such negative
consequences by recognizing their shared past, the violence, shock
and trauma they both have experienced, and the man-made tragedy
inflicted on the Armenians.
One could certainly assert that the Armenians have experienced a
double trauma : one resulting from the massacres of 1915, and the
other from Turkey's refusal to recognize the genocide. One of the
first steps towards reconciliation through dialogue is the
recognition of the trauma of the past affecting both the Armenians
and the Turks.
Prior to 1915, the Armenians and Turks shared more than six centuries
of common history. This common history can only be studied if 1915 is
recognized as one, albeit major, historical instance to be analyzed
within the context of the common history Turks and Armenians shared
before and after 1915. Inability to do so would essentialize 1915.
The second step in reconciliation through dialogue is the recognition
of the common history of the Armenian and Turkish communities.
In its account of what happened or did not happen to the Armenians,
the master story of the Turkish nation-state chooses to emphasize the
pain and suffering inflicted on the Turks themselves, as if this
would in some way alleviate Armenian pain and lessen the Armenian
The Turkish master story also claims that the denial of the Armenian
tragedy and the exclusion of this group from its imagined community
would decrease the pain and suffering of the Turks. The third step in
reconciliation through dialogue is the recognition of the inherent
biases present in the master story of the Turkish state.
Once these steps are taken jointly by the Armenian and Turkish sides,
on equal terms and with mutual recognition and respect, the current
insufferable atmosphere can be turned into a joint search for
reconciliation through dialogue. Such a perspective is essential if
Armenian and Turkish scholars are to explore history in a meaningful
way and in all its shades, gray and otherwise.
There is an acute need and, indeed, much room for understanding,
collaboration and joint exploration of all aspects, facets and
details of Armenian-Turkish relations throughout history. For there
is much prejudice to be shed, stereotypes to be destroyed, and many
obscure areas to be explored in a constructive fashion. It is this
spirit that has led us, two University of Michigan faculty, working
in the field of Ottoman and Armenian history and culture, to work
together with a view to promoting a scholarly dialogue and adopting a
wider embrace of Armenian-Turkish studies.
In our approach and determination to work together, we have derived
much inspiration from the person and work of Dr. Taner Akçam.
It is with a deep sense of privilege and honor that we introduce Dr.
Taner Akçam's collection of essays. For many years now, Dr. Akçam has
been working tirelessly, and against tremendous odds, to overcome
prejudices and biases and to promote understanding and better
relations between Turks and Armenians. The focus of his scholarship
has been the Armenian Genocide, its history and impact on
Armenian-Turkish relations since 1915.
He has diligently delved into primary archival sources to understand
and illuminate, and to analyze and interpret, some of the darker
aspects of the Armenian tragedy and human behavior. In all his work,
Dr. Akçam's scholarship has been meticulous, his perspectives
illuminating, and his moral fortitude inspiring.
What has also been remarkable about this gentleman is not only his
perseverance, but also his genuine sense of optimism. His essays
offer us a glimpse into the soul and work of a compassionate human
being and a dispassionate scholar, endowed with a deep sense of
social awareness and responsibility.
Dr. Akçam's work has been so far published in Turkish and German and
has therefore been inaccessible to the English-speaking public. The
present volume brings together some of his essays in English
We are certain that this volume will be of significant importance to
those interested in the modern phase of Armenian-Turkish relations.
We are also certain that its appearance will be gratifying to Dr.
Akçam himself. A wider audience will read his work. This will
translate into a greater impact and, hopefully, will stimulate more
And there is no greater fulfillment for a Turk who began his arduous
journey all alone, than to be joined by an increasing number of
companions in quest of the truth and fruitful understanding between
Turks and Armenians.
University of Michigan
FATMA MÜGE GÖÇEK
University of Michigan