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06 11 03 - Varie punti di Vista sulla questione Armena
Associazione della comunità Armena di roma e del Lazio,
Ci manda una raccolta dei dati e punti di vista di varie persone di diverse nazionalità sulla questione armena.
From: Alec Yaverian
Sent: Thursday, November 02, 2006 4:34 PM
Subject: Fw: The question of genocide

BBC Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 10:10 GMT
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Europe diary: Historical guilt

2 November 2006

BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell talks to Armenians in Turkey and asks why a massacre that took place nearly a century ago, and the question whether it was genocide, is such a sensitive issue in Turkey today.


map of Turkey
Luckily the last remaining Armenian village in Turkey does not rely on the mut berry for its living. It's plucked from the hedgerow and offered to me by two village women. It smells fantastic, a heady aroma a bit like rosemary. But it tastes of nothing and puckers the mouth. Instead it's the nectarine, turning from green to orange on the trees running down the hillside, that makes the village of Vakif its money.

The mayor, Berc Kartun, is more interested in talking about how his village's unique status attracts tourists, and the economic benefit of going organic, than discussing how his parents and grandparents died. "We are all rather tired of this question. We should let the historians settle it once and for all so it comes to a stop and you won't be asking our children the same thing."

My question of course is: "Was it genocide?"


Why is modern-day democratic Turkey so sensitive about something that happened nearly 100 years ago in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire? A BBC radio programme wants me to probe the delicate question of what the state's official attitude to the killings says about present-day Turkey.

Protesters form Turkish families, in the Netherlands
Dutch students of Turkish origin object to the dropping of election candidates who do not recognise the Armenian "genocide"

Q&A: Armenian 'genocide'
Nobody seriously disputes that many thousands of Armenians died in what is now eastern Turkey between 1914 and 1918. Some Turkish historians say 200,000 died, some Armenian historians say it was two million. Turkish writers are still prosecuted for calling it "genocide". But the French parliament has caused outrage in Turkey by voting to make denial that these killings were genocide a crime on a par with holocaust denial.

My first reaction to the programme's request was, "It's obvious". If Britain was asked to acknowledge guilt for something in the past, say the Irish potato famine, there would be fury in some quarters. If the government was pressed by its EU partners to officially label it "genocide" there might be an explosion of incandescent rage in certain papers. But the key is "some quarters" and "certain papers". There would be a lively debate, because many British liberals do feel guilt for the country's colonial past.

Certainly Martin Amis and Iain Banks wouldn't find themselves on trial for agreeing with the foreigners. Yet in Turkey top novelists do find themselves on trial for libelling their country - although the actual law says "insulting the Turkish republic", so I don't quite see how insulting the Ottoman Empire qualifies.


One of the things I value most about writing this diary is your comments. Even the rants, re-statements of obvious positions, and questioning of my intelligence, ability and motives interest me. But the majority of comments are both thoughtful and thought-provoking.

They often give me a new perspective and a greater understanding of the stories I am covering. So help me now. I'm not asking for a rehash of the old arguments, but why it is such a sensitive subject for Turks 90 years after the killings took place?


The village of Vakif (also known as Vakifli Koyu) was once one of several Armenian Christian villages dotting the hillside leading up to Mount Moses (Musa Dagh in Turkish, Musa Ler in Armenian) very near the Syrian border.

French warship, the Guichen
A French warship, the Guichen, came to the Armenians' rescue
In 1915, because of their ideal tactical position, the Christian villages were able to repulse the Ottoman attackers long enough to appeal to fellow Christians. They were rescued by a French warship and taken to safety, but later made their way home.

The international boundary fluctuated over the years. When the area again became Turkish in 1939, many of the villagers decided to go to Lebanon or Syria, but those that remained grouped together in Vakif.


Inside the single-room cafe men play cards and drink small glasses of tea as the rain lashes the citrus trees outside. When I talk to the mayor of oranges and selling laurel berry soap to tourists they chat noisily among themselves in Armenian. But when I ask about the past, the room falls silent. They stare intently at the mayor as though willing him not to say the wrong thing.

Body of Armenian girl
Admission of what happened is as important for some as the G-word
It turns out that one of the men is just back to visit his father-in-law, the oldest man in the village. Canik Capar was once a villager, but he is now a tourist. He says he once had a good job in a bank but was sacked when they found he was an Armenian and a Christian. He re-trained as a teacher in the 1970s but says the government didn't want Armenian teachers in the region at the time. He told me the atmosphere was often tense, and knowing what had happened in the past, he was always worried that things might turn nasty again.

So he left for Berlin, where he has lived ever since, and is now a German citizen. He tells us the obvious, that his friends have to be careful what they say. So, would he call what happened in 1915 genocide?

"I don't care what they call it, the important thing is they admit what was done."

And as an EU citizen now, does he think Turkey should be allowed to join?

"Like my [Armenian] patriarch in Istanbul, my heart and soul say No, but with my head I say Yes, because if they don't, they will turn towards the Middle East and that could lead to something happening to our people again."


The whole question of historical guilt is an interesting one. Should I bear any guilt for the sins the British committed in Africa, if they were sins, any more than I do for the crimes of Jack the Ripper committed around the same time?

Man killed during Mau Mau rebellion
Britons are learning about atrocities committed in colonial Kenya
And if I and my government do bear this burden, should we feel similar guilt for the evil committed by Elizabeth I against Catholics or Mary I against Protestants? Should we apologise to the French for the 100 Years War, and they to us for 1066? Thinking about it, weren't the "Normans" actually "Norsemen"? So should an apology be forthcoming from Denmark, Norway and Sweden?


I'm not going to speculate further about Turkey, but if it was Britain I suspect part of the problem would be a certain kind of nationalism.

It seems to me that nationalism comes in two distinct types. One is fiercely proud of the achievements of the country, its history and language. The other is prickly, always looking out for insult and offence and its main motivation seems to be not pride, or even prejudice, but nursing old wounds.

Let's call it stabinthebackism, in memory of the Weimar Republic. Any gentle poking of fun, questioning of values or tradition is seen as the latest sign that the barbarian hordes are already inside the gates.

It was, I believe, Spike Milligan who used to say that he enjoyed kicking the backs of people's chairs when they didn't rise for the national anthem at the end of a theatre performance or film in the cinema (as was once routine). He said he did it not because he cared much about the national anthem but because it was a good excuse for kicking people. There are those still with us who have a similar motivation, without the irony.

Please use the post form below to comment on any of the issues raised in the diary.

I think the Armenian massacre is a touchy Turkish subject for two reasons. 1) It has been denied and denied truths cause guilt and anger by those who deny. 2. Modern Turkey feels itself a different, better, nation and culture than the one that slew the Armenians. I've lived in Turkey and admire the people there greatly.
Marvin McConoughey, Corvallis, Oregon USA

Something that happened nearly 100 years ago is being brought up in order to hinder Turkey's membership of the EC. Armenia refuses to take part in a joint commission of historians, and the archives of the USSR have not been examined. No country has a clean slate, least of all France
Georgina Özer, Istanbul, Turkey

Much of Turkish music, architecture, cuisine and art have Armenian roots. If the Turks admit to the Armenian Genocide, they fear to lose a large part of what they believe is Turkish identity
David Whitman, Sydney Australia

A strong country accepts its painful past and a weak one denies it.
Georgina Burns, London

There is no question that it was genocide. Don't call it a "massacre". Call it what it is. The Turkish people feel guilty because they have learned the "party line" in their education, but in their hearts they know the truth. Historical guilt exists when the nation has not acknowledged its past.
Annette Gurdjian, Oregon, USA

I believe admitting to guilt would not be the problem as such. There is enough proof that terrible things have been done by one nation against another. I think the problem would rather be that by admitting guilt, one admits that one has been wrong and commited acts that should not be permitted. In the eyes of many, this could weeken the self-created identity "nation". So in the end it all comes down to the fact that the individuals' fear to lose his identity influences the policy making.
fatima, switzerland

You've asked for some insight into the Turkish mind, and I'm more than happy to oblige. Of course Turkey has its own share of fanatics who just want an excuse to "kick people", and they form one of the fiercest (and also one of the most unfocused and badly-led) centers of opposition to the debate of what actually happened in 1915. The cases opened against writers (I believe you actually had Orhan Pamuk's case in mind) were all the doing of these people, and so was the short lived proposal to recognize an "Algerian Genocide". But most people in Turkey simply do not believe that what took place can be classified as a genocide, and we have never seen proof to the contrary. I'm sure you've done a lot of research already, but you might want to remember the number of people who could actually be sentenced for war crimes against the Armenians were but a handful, even with English and American comissions ploughing the country deep for proof. However, the most important thing causing this indignation towards France is the simple injustice of it. In the past few years, Turkey has opened the imperial Ottoman archives to scholars, has allowed the free debate of what happened in 1915, and even though with the usual ups and downs, has adopted a much more liberal approach towards the issue.
Mehmet Cansoy, Istanbul- Turkey

Asking why Turkey finds it difficult to discuss atrocities in 1915 is a legitimate question. But an equally legitimate question is how many Ottoman Muslims died at the hands of Armenians and their Russians allies at that time and earlier. By all means suggest that Turkey should be more rational and open about these events, but why is it that Mark Mardwell does not speak to the Turks and Kurds in eastern Turkey with historic memories as the victims of massacres? It is an American historian Justin McCarthy in his book Death and Exile in the Ottoman Empire who claims that more Ottoman Muslims died in tne region than Armenians. Is it rational and open of Mark Mardell to ignore the victims and suffering on both sides? Are the Armenains rational and open when they try to label those massacres as 'genocide' of Armenians and ignore the Armenenian responsibility for massacres?
Barry Stocker, Istanbul, Turkey

I believe that nationalism of the second type (the one that you called the prickly nationalism) is becoming more and more popular in the former empires (e.g. Turkey or Russia).
Oksana, Laramie, Wyoming, USA

It's not possible to apologise for every past supposed historical wrong, should the British apologise to the Welsh and Irish for pushing their Celtic ancestors out of England or should Denmark pay reparations to Sweden and Norway for being their Imperial overlords during the Union of Kalmar. We can¿t keep apologising for the past but we also cannot ban discussion about such events. Denial of recent events is even more dangerous (as there may still be people who were alive at that time of the "genocide" or have parents who were there). I wasn¿t there in 1915 but I do know there is a vast supply of documents detailing the expulsion of Armenians, yet Turkey is one of the few countries which continues to deny it, to ban discussion is wrong to deny a historical wrong is even worse.
Daniel, Prague, Czech Republic

I agree with most of this article. people seems to point finger at the wrong doing of other for one reason or another.brit vs french german vs american congolesevs rwandan, japan vs korea vs china and so on. sens of denial when it comes to the negative side of history and of course much publicity for what is seemsto be the proud past. believe me the past will serve as a reference to todays issue. as humans we need to focus on the paresent for a better futur. thank you
muand, swansea wales

IN the first years of the last century Italy was busy gassing ethiopia, we were busy in what was then Persia. In the same way that we dont realistically expect the French to apologise for the aftermath of the risings in 1070, why should an apology be expected? It wouldnt mean anything to apologiser or apologisee. If out of direct living memory, such events are a matter of historical record, and care should be taken to see that that record is as accurate as is possible.
SImon , Nottingham

What is to be gained by Turkey relaxing its law to allow for freedom of speech in regards to the genocide? Everything. It's self-explanatory that free and open discourse among the people is one of the keystones of democracy. What is to be gained by the Turkish government admitting fault, wrong-doing, blah blah blah? A relative nothing. As you so succinctly put it, it creates an environment of "blaming"; I received a card from a friend on Battle of Hastings Day that read "Celebrating 940 years of French ruining the English language!" Why is it such a sensitive issue for Turkey? One can cite latent racism, obstinance, ignorance or out-right belligerence. Yet, I feel that Turkey would be right to refuse to accept responsibility for the massacres since it was "so long ago" (under another regime) AND who are we to call the kettle black? Turkey, however, is wrong for enforcing draconian laws that stifle the very democratic ideals that they will be flooded with if/when it becomes a member of the European Union.
Jeff, Athens, Greece

It's wrong to blame the current Turkish population for what happened during the first World War, however, it's also wrong to deny past injustices. Acceptance of guilt is the first step towards reconciliation. Where would the world have been today had the Germans continued to deny the holocaust committed by the Nazis? Humanity should have a higher place than politics. Officially recognising the Armenian Genocide should be one of the criteria for allowing Turkey into the EU.
Taniel Varoujan, Melbourne, Australia

A comment on Mr. Capar's demand that Turkey acknowledge that something important happened in 1915: an increasing number of Turks, such as myself, do believe that something important happened during WWI between the Armenian and non-Armenian inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire. However, we dispute both the number of dead, based on historical evidence, and more importantly the INTENT to commit genocide, which is a legal requirement, again based on the only information that is available. Turks object to being convicted of a crime without being given the chance to prove their innocence, or even to give their own view on the issue. The recent Turkish position of letting the historians decide is indicative of this desire for dialogue, and yet the Armenian diaspora and the nation of Armenia have rejected this suggestion. The diaspora has even tried to go one step further in France by trying to make it illegal to disagree with their narrow and admittedly biased version of events. !
Eren Alp, Toronto, Canada

Quite understandably, people get frustrated when their history is insulted. After all, history classes at schools, at least in this part of the world, only tell the good things our ancestors have achieved. But the most essential element of humanity is respect, for the opinions of people, their preferences, their beliefs. And that seems to be lacking from present day Turkey, which seems to me like a pampered kid, everyone wants to spank, but is afrain to do so because of political, economic and other interests. I guess the lack of respect leads to human suffering, like the suffering of Armenians, Kurds, Jews, Somalis, etc etc etc
Marios Neoptolemou, Nicosia, Cyprus

Being German I have to bear another "national guilt". It's hard at times but on the whole I think it is the only way to admit the horrible things that were done. Apologies won't bring back the dead but on the other hand, if we Germans would not apologize - what would that be? Admitting a horrible crime like that will help us to avoid it in future. I have to recognize the horrible deeds done in the past to learn from them. Never, never let it happen again! Wasn't just a few years ago that the Roman Catholic church apologized officially for all the horrible crimes done in her name? An apology long waited for. They admitted it. They were guilty in the past. That's their chance - our chance! - to learn and to do everything possible to prevent it in the future., Netherlands

I for one am a nationalist and believe that Turkey shouldn't be apologising for past mistakes, as you say, of the Ottoman Empire in the same way that we shouldn't be apologising for the slave trade of 200 years ago. Should I be apologising to the Malayans for my fathers actions during the Malay Peninsula actions of the late 50's/early 60's when he was in the navy? Perhaps I should apologise for my grandfathers actions towards the Germans during WWII? Absolutely ridiculous but I'm sure the debate will rage on in various forms for a long time yet.
Phil Bodycote, Colchester, England

I am an expat living in Turkey for the past 9 years. I feel that the Armenian question is a debate for historians and should not be used as a weapon in the decisions of whether or not Turkey should be allowed into the EU. Historically not one member of the EU can claim innocence in its past. But we are talking about a relatively new and very proud republic that has achieved enormous change (for the better of all) in its short existence, the current government is also achieving much in modernising and perhaps westernising an astonishingly complex country. I and many of my friends believe Turkey would be better off without joining and that it would be the West that would benefit more than Turkey if it Does.
Steve Traynor, Dalyan Mugla Turkey

Your comment on nationalism stikes the nail on the head. Let me take the argument one step further. All nations have moments in their history that make them feel especially proud. All of them have moments of shame as well. Accepting the latter as historical fact bears certain pre requisites. Democratic depth, elementary tolerance, and social openess are a few but probably do not exhaust the list. (Prickly) nationalism IS the opium of the people (as well as nations).
Yannis Dimarakis, Athens, Greece.

I agree that the question of historical guilt is a very interesting one. But I feel the most important aspect of history is that it is debated, recorded and in cases of genocide that it is at a minimum accepted and acknowledged, in order to show respect to those who lost their lives and their families. The other question I would ask is whether the histories of other entrants to the EU were explored and any areas of genocide highlighted before they joined the EU? If not, why is Turkey's history now in question? I have no issues with debating history, especially where attrocities against humankind have been or may have been committed, this is an essential for us to move forward and work towards creating a better future. But it seems wrong to use such sensitive issues for political gain.
Canan Sadik, Kent, UK

The Ottoman were a major power and empire that almost--just almost--was totally eclipsed within recent memory. Their contribution to World Civilization was immense. The need of the succeeding Turks to portray themselves in a benign light--just punishing rebellious ethnicities of an empire--is necessary for their own sense to saving the Ottomans via a self-defense plea. As an ancient historian I can only say that such cultural delusions are common, from the Assyrians onward. And more recently, I can cite the evidence for the deliberate withholding of water and medication from Boers who were concentrated into camps at a time when there was full knowledge of the risk of epidemics. Or giving smallpox blankets to American Indians by the US. And of course now, the grandchildren of the German camps now have millions of Palestinians behind walls, were access to water, power and food is rationed. Are the Israelis monsters? No, I see no difference. No special dispensation or veniality. I just see it as the stupidity of our specie, especially in a time when avian flu is now mutating in China as I write. Are we evil, do I believe in original sin? Nope, I 'm one of those who believes in what I like to call, original stupidity--the very shortsighted ability of individuals and cultures to do what seems at the moment is in their own best interest.
Jim Sibal, NYC, NY

I think this touches upon the near fanatical patriotism of the US.There's a form of nationalism that borders on fundalmentalism which is extremely dangerous. We now live in a world of censorship, my country right or wrong, where the lessons of the past are never explored or discussed in a rational way. Is there any other country in the world that is more hung up on national symbols and pits one's patriotism against the other? We're slowly creeping towards fascism in the US. I'm sorry this more a cry in the wilderness. The Turks need to atone for their sins and move on. God knows the US needs to confront it's past and atrocities and grow up.
Robert S. Cook, Fresno, CA USA

As a Conservative Southern White American Male, I am familiar with routinely being accused of happenings in the past with which I had absolutely nothing to do. Slavery, sexism, Jim Crow laws, and the Vietnam War are all somehow my fault. Of course I consider this type of labeling to be extremely unjust. That being said, there is a necessity for speaking the truth about what happened in the past. Admitting something happened (and calling it what it was) is not automatically an admission of guilt. And It sould be completely assinine for me to insist that anyone who calls slavery "slavery" be prosecuted because I don't feel guilty for what happened...
Jeremy Spiers, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

I think that it is an act of courage and self-honesty if a country, or representatives of that country's leaders, etc. can admit to acts of inhumanity in the present or past, not necessarily with a lot of guilt, but with a sense of responsibility. This is happening less and less nowadays it seems, especially in my country, where many of the citizens (see for example, writer Richard Flanagan of Tasmania, Australia, who has just published a book about what is happening in Australia at the present with the gradual erosing of human rights in this country) feel that this is no longer the country we could feel relatively happy about that tried to give others a 'fair go' etc. Nowadays, it seems very inhumane acts are sanctioned or hidden.
Toni Keeling, Launceston Australia

In America we have a similar experience. The substance of the history that I refer to here is the Vietnam War, which we lost, and which still divides the US as clearly as it did 40 years ago. The emotional scars to the nation's psyche have not healed. The G-word of Armenians by the Turks is another one of those issues. Just this year the American General who investigated the over 500 documented atrocity cases in the pentagon files went public and asked that the records be unsealed. This whole subject still hurts America and will continue to until we get completely honest about what happened. Each of us has our own peerspective on our own historical life events. Mine happens to be that of a combat soldier who volunteered for active service. While I am proud of the men that I served with (mostly), I am also aware that my country's policy was flawed from the beginning and at best poorly implemented.
John F. Beirne, Williamsport, PA, USA

Considering the large number of Turks and people of Turkish origin living here (particularly in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and my country) we should be working towards more integration and a greater understanding of their culture, not beating them over the head with an issue most of us (including your diarist), clearly have no understanding of.
Alexandra Skwara, Vienna, Austria

The continued denial by not only Turkey, but other countries, reflects the clash between nationalism and reality. There's little doubt that Turkey as a nation inflicted a terrible crime on Armenians nearly 100 years ago. But who are we, or any other country, to insist on their remorse and acknowledgement of that crime? Our own history is replete with less than honourable actions, as is the history of nearly every nation in Europe and beyond. It smacks of hypocrisy on the part of all who are pressing for Turkey to recognise their past deeds. We are hobbled enough in scrutinising the current actions of leaders and countries, for example the government of Israel, by past events that provoke shame and awkward silence. I have read articles that name the Turkish massacre of Armenians as the 'first' Holocaust of modern civilization. And it's possible, given the endless and neverending use of the European Holocaust to elicit shame and humiliation from those involved, that the people of Turkey fear the same constant attention directed at them.
alex, studying in Moscow

It would seem that its distasteful to subjugate and kill a lot of people within your own borders but not if they are really, really far away.
Andrew Molloy, Chester, Cheshire

In my opinion we should live in the present and work for the better understanding of the nations, raising old war time stories under any name would offend somebody somewhere, let's work out today's challenges and wish to have a bright future of coexistence and respect. Afghans are one those nations who were extremly oppressed by colinial powers.
Tamim, Kabul Afghanistan

If someone betrays you, kills you and afterall accuses you, what would you feel except anger... Yes, there was a bloodbath in 1915 in Anatolia. The nationalistic aspirations led to the Ottoman Armenians rebel against Istanbul. For this purpose they collaborated with the Ottoman Empire's enemies: Russia and France. I am deeply sorry about the Armenian innocent civilians, women and children. But I think they should be sorry for Turkish women and children killed by them as well! But instead of searching the truth, they engage a misinformation campain. Ask them why are they against setting up a truth commision composed of historians! What is wrong in establishing a commision with historians, academics who will search the truth. The most valued step, I think, would be to set up a commision which will search for the real truth instead of wasting time with arguments which have many political agendas.
haletuna kuterdem, Ankara, Turkey

My father was a soldier in the first world war in Palestine, and he and other soldiers rescued an Armenian priest and his family from the Turks. The Priest gave my father his only possession of any value a Challis for saving their lives. We still have this Challis,my father was of the opinion that the Turks were killing all Christians that they could find and this priest fled his home and village to save his and his family's lives. This does show that there was another side to the British in what was regarded as far off lands in those days.
peter deverell, England


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