Taner Akçam, amid contradictions and charges of betrayal, loses credibility
|By FerruhDemirmen- Ph.D. – November 22, 2010
Taner Akçam, Associate Professor of History at Clark University (Worcester, MA) and the “prince charming” of the Armenian lobby, got himself trapped in contradictions on interpreting the results of Turkey’s recent (September 12) referendum on Constitutional changes. He inadvertently brought to surface some unsavory aspects of his past. Akçam’s younger brother, Cahit Akçam, used the occasion to mock the elder brother and charged him with betrayal.
Taner Akçam is an occasional contributor to Turkey’s Taraf, an off-base newspaper that is a staunch supporter of Turkey’s AKP (AK Party, Justice and Development Party). Rumored to be funded by the USA-based Gülen movement, and according to some also by the CIA, it is staffed largely by ex-liberal socialists that are now far to the right. Cahit Akçam is a columnist at Turkey’s left-leaning Birgün newspaper. The AKP is Turkey’s Islamic-rooted ruling party.
What got Taner Akçam into trouble was an op-ed he wrote in Taraf titled “Seeking Milosevic” that attacked Birgün. He took issue with Birgün’s headline news that the referendum had confirmed the 60% right-wing and 40% left-wing split in the country, and that the nationalist conservative votes had consolidated at the AKP. In what was a victory for the AKP, the referendum passed by a margin of 58%.
By drawing an analogy between Birgün and Slobodan Milosevic of ex-Yugoslavia, Akçam implicitly accused the newspaper of supporting nationalistic, racist and genocidal sentiments.
Taner Akçam couldn’t accept Birgün’s view that the 40% of the referendum voters, that had voted “no,” were really left-wing. Noting that mass-killer Slobodan Milosevic, while called a communist and a socialist, had done horrible things, he argued that likewise in Turkey those who voted “no” couldn’t be called true socialists. The naysayers were the main opposition party CHP (Republican People’s Party) and the military-bureaucracy faction. The latter had organized and defended military coups in Turkey, he argued.
According to Akçam, labeling these groups “socialists,” as Birgün did, stemmed from a hatred of the AKP. Akçam called the 40% the “bourgeois group.” He maintained that this hatred is best explained through the “neighborhood” metaphor.
In Akçam’s view, Turkey is founded on “our” and “other” neighborhoods. The first neighborhood is one of “city people” that includes bureaucrats, the military, and the like. The CHP and the Ottoman-era Ýttihat ve Terakki Partisi (Committee of Union and Progress, CUP) are included in this group.
The “other” neighborhood comprises artisans and peasants that have strong religious identities. This neighborhood is now expanding and encroaching on the “city people” neighborhood.
Akçam sees himself in the “city people” neighborhood, which he calls “ours.”
Contradiction and myopia
But by doing so, Akçam fell into a gasping contradiction, because this is also the group that he labeled “bourgeoisie.” How could someone, with a well-known Marxist background, and calling himself a socialist, be part of the bourgeois group? (Separate from his self-confessed connection to the terrorist PKK organization during 1981-84, Akçam escaped from Turkish prison in 1977 after having been convicted of left-wing terrorist activities aimed at, among others, NATO military and American personnel).
Surprisingly enough, Akçam supports the “other” neighborhood – the conservative, Islamic group solidly backed by Taraf. This is because he thinks this group has strong democratic credentials.
It doesn’t take a professor’s prescience to know that such an argument is plain vacuous.
With the AKP in control – political lords of the 60% group – Turkey today is far removed from democracy – the illegal wiretappings, indefinite detentions and imprisonment of the opponents (including 47 journalists) of the government, an atmosphere of fear permeating the country, mandatory religious education, widespread penetration of Gülenist elements in the state apparatus, in particular the police, appalling inequality between men and women, systematic efforts (re: the referendum) to bring the judiciary under the control of the government, parliamentary immunity, etc. None of these inequities seems to bother the professor.
In Turkey today the press is under siege, and by Prime Minister’s own admission, “Those that are impartial [to the AKP] should be eliminated.” There are more detainees in prison than those convicted. Many detained under the so-called “Ergenekon case” don’t even know the exact charges against them.
No scruples, and no loyalty
Akçam’s contradictions and distortions also caught the attention of his younger brother Cahit Akçam. Responding to the elder Akçam in Birgün, Cahit Akçam couldn’t hide his scorn. In a blistering, two-part rebuttal titled “Really, you are the child of which neighborhood?” he chastised his brother, and mockingly called on him to come to his senses. His article started with a quotation (and an admonition) from Anton Chekhov: “Others’ sins do not make you a saint.”
Cahit Akçam called the elder Akçam’s “our” vs. “other” neighborhood analysis, with “Marxist-smelling” questions, “light” and meaningless because it was not founded on class distinction. Neither neighborhood as described by Taner embraced the working class. Asking the rhetorical question as to how Taner could overlook the working class, the younger Akçam thought that his brother, in what appeared to be sheer hypocrisy, didn’t really care for the working class.
Continued the younger brother sarcastically: “Luckily, Taner at least didn’t ignore the bourgeois class in ‘our’ neighborhood.” He chaffed at his brother for not mentioning the bourgeois class in the “other” neighborhood, i.e., the Islamist businessmen that the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoðan had braggingly called “The Anatolian Tigers.”
Wondering how his brother could not know that the bourgeois class cannot exist without a working class, Cahit mocked his brother: “He is a big professor. True, not a sociology professor, but a history professor nonetheless. He has licked and swallowed a thousand times more than we have. He knows that, to be so ignorant, one does not have to be a professor. For Taner, the working class has little value.”
The elder Akçam was tersely reminded of the struggles of Turkey’s working class since 1900.
Cahit continued his criticism by making reference to a Turkish metaphor – referring to lentil meal – that this is all that the Taner could muster as an argument. Referring to Taner’s claim that all the “infamous” events in Turkey’s history emanated from “our” class, he bristled at Taner’s suggestion that the socialists, through the CHP, were like relatives to the military- bureaucracy.
He mockingly called attention to the fact that the socialists had suffered immensely from the 1980 fascistic military coup.
Recalling how the elder Akçam had defended the causes of right-wing, fascist elements in Turkey’s recent history, how he had failed to come to the defense of socialists who had been falsely accused of coup attempts, his denialist past, and how he had let down even his own family, the younger Akçam weighed in angrily: “How can Taner accuse his old friends, and even his own brother, as potential perpetrators of genocide?”
Barely concealing his disdain, Cahit asked of his brother: “As you place the blame on your own neighborhood, can there be a more harrowing psychological ruin [for you]? … Where is your heart, and your conscience?”
The ultimate indignity came when the younger Akçam concluded that only someone who was politically and ideologically blind, and someone who had lost his scruples and his sense of loyalty, could do what his brother had done.
In the background of such emotional outburst was the fact that, while Taner Akçam jumped the prison in 1977 into the safety of Germany and escaped the tribulations of the 1980 military coup, in the coup’s aftermath his brother was put on trial for unauthorized activities, faced death by hanging, and was imprisoned for 8 years. Obviously, a lecture on fascism and the struggles of socialists was the last thing the younger Akçam wanted to hear from a sibling he considered unscruppled and untrustworthy.
A revisionist professor
There was more to Akçam’s false accusations. He twisted history and put finger on “our neighborhood’ as the perpetrator of the May 27 (1960), March 12 (1971) and – obliquely – September 12 (1980) military interventions in Turkey. Evidently to hide his own past, and the embarrassment therewith, in his accounting he glossed over the 1980 military coup and the events (including his role) that preceded it.
He dallied further into the past and noted that his “neighborhood” was also responsible for the so-called “Armenian genocide” and the Dersim events (1937).
But he was quick to disown any blame – a point that also drew ridicule from the younger Akçam. Instead, Taner Akçam conveniently placed the blame on “our administrators.” Socialists like him, while closely affiliated with the administrators, had deep disagreements with them. It was all the fault of the administrators, not the socialists like him, he argued.
Nice scapegoat, these administrators were! All that exonerated Akçam and made him squeaky clean!
As to why “we socialists” never faced up to the criminal acts in Turkish history, Akçam argued that animosity toward the “other” neighborhood was far more important than facing up to criminal acts. “Our culture was such that we [preferred to] blame the Armenians for cooperating with the imperialists while we were fighting our war of independence, and the Dersimians represented a backward and feudal system.”
Then Akçam made his grandstand by calling on “our” neighborhood to face up to its crimes.
In such argumentation Akçam conveniently dismissed the criminality of the Armenian gangs in the massacre of more than a half-million Moslems, the fatal blow that the Armenian rebellion had inflicted on the fighting ability of the Ottoman armies in wartime, and ignored the fact the Dersim episode was instigated by reactionary feudal lords that had conspired against the young Turkish republic.
Akçam also chose not to mention the bloody 1993 Madimak episode in the Anatolian city of Sivas. A crowd of fanatic Islamists (from the “other” neighborhood), amid chants of “Allah-ü Ekber,” set fire to a hotel where a group of left-leaning intellectuals had assembled. In the ensuing mayhem 37 artists and writers lost their lives.
Akçam’s analysis of past events is the hallmark of an academician who follows a one-track, necessarily biased, approach to historical events.
In his call to confront one’s criminal history, Akçam should turn the tables and first ask the Armenians and “other” neighborhood to confront their criminality. Why, for example, are the Armenian archives in Yerevan and Boston closed while all Turkish ones open? What are the Armenians hiding?
And when will the likes of the “Madimak crowd” see the light of Enlightenment?
Summing it up
The Taraf-Birgün episode raised the specter of a history professor who, by the reckoning of his own brother, was long in false accusations but short in scruples and trustworthiness. The episode also caught the professor in contradictions and brought to light his biased, one-track approach to traumatic events in Turkish history in the past 100 years.
Will all this make any difference as regards Akçam’s credibility as a scholar for the Armenian money masters who sponsor his academic career – like the Zoryan Institute and the Cafesjian Family Foundation when Akçam was at the University of Minnesota, and now the Arams, the Kaloosdians and the Mugars at Clark University? Considering that the professor’s criminal past has so far made no difference, the answer must be a firm “no.” Obviously, the professor is serving a useful – in fact very useful – purpose for the Armenian lobby.
It must be a wondrous world when the “golden” Armenian coffers can sustain an academic chair in history when, as in Akçam’s case, the holder of that chair happens to have his degree in sociology.
In fact, we should not be too surprised if the spinmasters of the Armenian lobby call on their “prince charming” to come to the aid of the Armenian mob charged last month with the largest Medicare fraud in U.S. history. Could the professor argue that the mob job was actually the “dirty work” of the Turks? Never say “no.”
To rephrase his brother’s question, in which “neighborhood” does Taner Akçam stand when it comes to truth?
Surely, the professor must be able to answer that question himself without help from his old-time mentor, Professor Vahakn Dadrian.
A deeper question is, why Akçam-the-professor would write in a newspaper such as Taraf which has a reputation of acting as a rogue agent of the government on unsubstantiated allegations relating to the opposition, and whose executive editor, Ahmet Altan, in his own words, would be willing to sell out his country “for a woman’s breast and the shade of a cherry tree.” …. But that would be a different story.
Addendum: The above article was first submitted (as an exception) to “Armenian Genocide Resource Center,” http://armenians-1915.blogspot.com. Initially, the host welcomed the article and published it as an “exclusive” on its website. Half a day later the post was mysteriously removed from the website. Query as to why it was removed elicited no satisfactory response.