The Murder of Memory

By Samantha Testa

April 30, 2014

This time next year will mark the 100 year anniversary of the death of 1.5 million Armenians during the genocide that began in 1915. To this day, however, Turkey has gone to great lengths to deny that genocide occurred and that denial is coming at a high cost.  This denial has created ongoing tension not only between Turkey and Armenia, but between Turkey and other nations as well.

The Armenians cannot move on from their past until they feel they have been given the recognition they deserve. “‘History’ declared Turkish writer Sechuk Tezgul, ‘is waiting for that honest Turkish leader… who will apologize to the Armenian people…’”[i] An apology for genocide may be hard to make, but it is necessary. It enables Turkish society to question why this happened and to avoid doing it again in the future.

Turkey has gone to great lengths to cover up evidence that they intentionally killed the Armenians. Turkish author, Orhan Pamuk, was charged by law enforcement for referring to what happened to the Armenians as genocide. Pamuk was charged under the Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which states that anyone who denigrates Turkishness is a criminal. This law, which helps cover up the genocide, is a violation of human rights in the eyes of the European Union (EU). Essentially, Article 301 and the Turkish government’s use of it to stifle discussion of the Armenian Genocide is costing Turkey a place in the EU.

Genocide denial is costing Turkey a lot more than just the EU, it is keeping alive hostile feelings between Armenians and Turks. In 2007, a Turkish citizen of Armenian ancestry who worked as the editor-in-chief of a Turkish-Armenian magazine, Hrant Dink, was murdered. Just two years prior to his death, Dink was arrested and charged under Article 301 for openly discussing the Armenian genocide. When he turned up dead shortly thereafter, it was not hard for people to deduce that his death was related to his statements about the genocide.[ii] The government may not have physically executed his death, but they did inspire the act that killed him. The law promotes Turkish nationalism, so it is no surprise that a patriotic Turk came forward and murdered an Armenian for speaking out against Turkey.

Turkey has not only internal problems, but international ones as well. In 2007, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bill that would formally recognize the events from 1914-1918 as genocide. Turkey’s immediate response was to withdraw their ambassador and to threaten to deny the U.S. access to the NATO airbase in Turkey. At the time the U.S. was heavily involved in that area of the world, so efforts to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote were suspended due to pressure put on the U.S. by Turkey.[iii]

Genocide denial is also dangerous because it puts Turkey in the position to commit genocide again.Studies … prove that the single best predictor of future genocide is denial of a past genocide coupled with impunity for its perpetrators… Genocide deniers are three times more likely to commit genocide again.”[iv] Who is to say they will not go after the Armenians or the Kurds, like they have in the past?

Turkey claims that what happened to Armenians occurred in the context of war. For a mass killing to be defined genocide the intent to exterminate the race or group in one way or another must be there and Turkey claims that this was not their intent. They were simply acting in self-defense. However, numerous scholars and other historians have found overwhelming evidence that what the Turkish government did was premeditated and not out of defense, but out of desire to exterminate the Armenian people. Is the nature of war so different that it becomes acceptable to intentionally murder over one million innocent men, women and children? Today, many Turks believe that this is the case and that is why they did not commit genocide.

According to Jay Winter, war and genocide very much go hand in hand. Thus, Turkey’s “cover of war” argument cannot stand. “… A substantial part of a long-established and prosperous civilian community with identifiable religious and cultural beliefs had been wiped out; these people were sentenced to death because of who they were.”[v] That is the nature of genocide, the extermination of an entire race. The Turkish government nearly wiped the Armenians and their culture completely off the planet, and that was no accident. That is not necessary to win a war, not ever.

After all this time, Armenia still wants to mend its relationship with Turkey. They will never be able to form a real relationship with Turkey, however, until Turkey gives them the recognition they deserve. The Armenian people need closure, they need peace, and most importantly they need to know that this will never happen again.

As mentioned before, a leader can come to power in Turkey who will admit what his ancestors did and attempt to create a healthy relationship with Armenia. Another possible solution is that other world powers could put pressure on Turkey to admit to the genocide, because it is the right thing to do. When U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau was in Turkey during the genocide he spoke with leader Talaat Pasha. Talaat asked him, “Why are you so interested in the Armenians anyway? You are a Jew, these people are Christians..” to which Morgenthau replied: “You don’t seem to realize that I am not here as a Jew but as the American Ambassador.….I do not appeal to you in the name of any race or religion, but merely as a human being..”[vi] This life should not be about politics, it should be about the shared human experience. Air space and naval bases should not be more important than human rights. Once the world believes this, the Armenians will get the justice they deserve.

Samantha Testa is a Sophomore at Villanova University School of Business in Villanova, Pennsylvania. This article is summarized from an academic paper that was submitted for the course “The Nature of Genocide.”


[i] Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. London: Routledge, 2006. 115. Print.

[ii] “Turkish-Armenian Writer Shot Dead.” BBC News. BBC, 19 Jan. 2007. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.

[iii] “Turkey Recalls Ambassador to U.S. Over Armenian Genocide Bill.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 11 Oct. 2007. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.

[iv] Stanton, Gregory. “The Cost of Denial.” Genocide Watch. Genocide Watch, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

[v] Winter, Jay. “Under Cover of War." The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective. By Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan. New York: Cambridge UP, 2003. 189-213. Print.

[vi] Morgenthau, Henry. Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page, 1918. 333-34. Print.

Analysis: Protests in Turkey Continue to Rage

image

By: AAA Summer Interns – Robert Avakian, Hamlet Tamazian, Matt Hanessian, and Alex Azarian

           Turkey’s economy has grown tremendously over the last decade, but the fundamental rights and freedoms of Turkish citizens have not kept pace. A day before the beginning of the Taksim Square protests a report titled “Why Turkey is Thriving” was published. The report applauded Turkey’s economic achievements and went so far as to state that other countries should learn from Turkey’s example.[1] It is evident that Turkey has made significant economic strides, but at what cost? What is being sacrificed in exchange for economic success? So far it has been the freedom and social progress of the people, as many see Erdogan and his AKP party creeping toward Islamization.

            On May 28, the Taksim Square protests began as a peaceful sit-in. GeziPark, one of the last patches of green in Istanbul, had been designated for development – construction of a new shopping mall that would resemble old Ottoman military barracks. Soon after the sit-in began police arrived. Meanwhile, CNN Turk, the local CNN outlet, was broadcasting nature documentaries about penguins. NTV, a major news channel in the area, did not report the unrest for six days.[2] While Turkish media smothered the real news, they also smothered the fundamental freedoms of their fellow countrymen.

            Police attempted to disperse the peaceful protesters, prompting White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to express America’s “serious concerns” about the “excessive use of force by police,”[3] who continued to use batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and high pressure water cannons. News of the police crackdown on peaceful protesters attracted an even larger crowd and reached the masses, spreading to other parts of the country. The latest reports detailed that 5,000 protesters and 600 police officers had been injured, and 5 people have been killed.[4] Another botched response from the government became the final straw in a string of incidents that left average Turks wanting more from their government and Erdogan, in particular.

image

            Newly enacted bans on alcohol arrived on the heels of an ongoing headscarf controversy. Protesters were quoted as saying, “Erdogan doesn’t let you breath.”[5] In response to the bans on alcohol one protester responded “Who are you to tell me not to drink? Are you my father, my grandfather? You can’t tell me how to live.”[6] Meanwhile, at the outset of the protests, Erdogan left the country to visit Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Before departing he expressed his view of the situation, calling the protesters “drunks, extremists,” and also blaming Twitter for the demonstrations.[7] In the first several hours of the protests, Twitter and social media were the only ways to spread news as local media would not cover the events – further illustrating Erdogan’s suppression of freedoms and control of the media. More troubling is the report that forthcoming regulations will monitor social media for those who are “inciting people or coordinating and directing events that would cause social incidents or endanger material and physical public safety through manipulative, false news.”[8]

            Regulations and articles have been signed into law and abused by the Turkish government for decades as a means to an end. Signed into law under Erdogan’s rule, Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code is a classic example. Article 301 states that “publicly denigrating Turkishness” is a punishable offense. The extreme use of this law became most evident in the case of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, who was hauled off to court and became a target for extremists. The suffocation of a free press in Turkey continues today as “The imprisonment of journalists is having a ‘chilling effect’ on Turkey’s media, which exercised self-censorship during this month’s anti-government protests, Europe’s main rights and democracy watchdog said.”[9] Adding further tension to the protests has been the demographic differences between the protesters and those in Erdogan’s camp.

            The “rioters” mainly come from the economic middle and lower classes that have been excluded from central areas of the city due to the ruling political party’s favoritism of the wealthy during this time of rapid development and foreign investment.[10] The protesters are cognizant that their civil rights are being withheld. While the rich get richer, the middle and lower classes stand up for democratic and societal progress. A segment of the opposition is particularly upset about the proposed style of the mall, which is reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire barracks that had been built over an Armenian cemetery and previously torn down.[11] It is clear that these peaceful protesters wish to progress as a democratic society, and view this particular proposed style of construction as inflammatory and a step backwards.

image

            Even though the situation remains unsettled, the effects of the protests are felt not just outside Istanbul, but beyond Turkey’s borders as well. In Azerbaijan, many are sharing photos and spreading the news of the protests from Turkey through social media. A young Azerbaijani journalist said he felt “sorry for Azerbaijan” because “Due to our own passive political life, and a society that doesn’t advance, young people are living through the lives of their neighbors.”[12]

            Others are keeping an eye on Turkey as economic interests clash with access to basic freedoms and democratic values. Archbishop Vicken Aykazyan, Legate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, visited Taksim Square during the protests. Speaking about Turkish growing pains he said “something is changing in Turkish society.” According to Archbishop Aykazyan, some of the protesters told him that “this is for our freedom, our rights.” It was palpable that because of “their convictions…they had to do something,” he said.

            At the heart of this conflict is access to natural freedoms, and the disappointment felt by the Turkish people in their government’s lack of social progress. Daron Acemoglu captured the severity of the situation in his New York Times opinion piece: “the Turkish news media still seems cowed into submission, so much so that it did not report much on how the small protests against a new shopping center on one of the few remaining parks in Istanbul turned into a spontaneous mass movement challenging Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarianism.”[13]


  1. “Why Turkey Is Thriving.” Sachs, Jeffrey D. Project Syndicate. May 27, 2013
  2. “When Turkey was not Thriving.” Erten, Ceyda and Voeten, Eric. The Monkey Cage. June 4, 2013
  3. “White House Briefing with Spokesperson Jay Carney.” Carney, Jay. Embassy of the United States – Ankara, Turkey. June 3, 2013
  4. “No Clear Result after Turkish PM, Protesters Meet.” The Associated Press. CBCnews CBC/Radio Canada. June 13, 2013. Web. June 15, 2013.
  5. “Protests in Turkey: Will Taksim Become Erdogan’s Tahrir Square?” Zalewski, Piotr. Time World. June 2, 2013
  6. Id.
  7. “When Turkey was not Thriving.” Erten, Ceyda and Voeten, Eric. The Monkey Cage. June 4, 2013
  8. “Turkey Arrests Dozens in Crackdown on Protests.” Kareem Fahim and Sebnem Arsu. The New York Times. June 18, 2013
  9. “Jailing of reporters has “chilling effect” on Turkish media: OSCE.” Dahl, Fredrik. Reuters. June 13, 2013
  10. “Generation Y on the Rise in Turkey.” Birdal, Mehmet S. Ahram Online. June 12, 2013. Web. June 13, 2013.
  11. Id.
  12. “As Turkish Protests Rage, Baku Watches With Interest.” Sindelar, Daisy. Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. June 3, 2013
  13. “Development Won’t Ensure Democracy in Turkey.” Acemoglu, Daron. New York Times. June 5, 2013

Further suggested reading: