After Coup Attempt, Turkish Scholar Boldly Speaks on Armenian Genocide

Harut Sassounian
Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN

On July 13, two days before the coup attempt in Turkey, Professor Halil Berktay of Istanbul’s Sabanci University answered six written questions on the Armenian Genocide posed by El Pais, Spain’s largest newspaper. But when El Pais did not publish his answers, Dr. Berktay decided on August 15 to post his interview on a Turkish website, Serbestiyet, under the title: “With or without the coup, genocide was and is genocide.”

Berktay, a liberal Turkish scholar, told El Pais that he has repeatedly recognized the Armenian Genocide ever since 2002. He described the genocide as “the near-complete extermination and annihilation of Ottoman Armenians.” acknowledged that for his honest views on the Armenian Genocide, “especially before 2002, and even afterwards (though no longer by the government), there has been a huge amount  of informal, extra-legal pressure, blackmail, threats or other forms of psychological terror brought to bear on people like me, which I and others have all had to face.”

Answering a question from El Pais: “why does Turkey refuse to review the past?” Dr. Berktay responded: “Back in the 1980’s and 90’s… the denialism of the past was based on ancestor worship or ideological allegiance to Unionism and Ataturkism. What had happened to the Armenians in 1915 was seen as a black blot for Turkish nationalism. Also, while it was not committed by or under the Kemalist Republic, because the Republic had ended up inheriting the mantle of a territory ethnically cleansed of the Armenians, it was in the nature of an inadmissible impurity for the desired lily-white legitimacy of the Kemalist Revolution. So a taboo was placed on it; it became part of the unmentionable and undiscussable. Here and there a few academics, mostly living and working abroad, did speak up. They were lonely voices in the wilderness.” Berktay then added: beginning in 2000, “things began to change,” with an increasing number of Turkish scholars speaking out on the Armenian Genocide.

The most interesting part of Bertkay’s interview is his stated reason for the Turkish government’s reluctance to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide: “It may be that the Turkish government does not know what might happen if it were to go ahead and say yes, it was genocide. What would Armenia likely do or demand? Is it going to ask for material compensation, or even land? That is what the Dashnaks as radical Armenian nationalists have been saying all along: Three R’s, as they put it, Recognition, Reparation, Restitution (of land). Certainly the last is something that no Turkish government can possibly ever concede. It is very likely, therefore, that before they take any further step, they would like Armenia to show its hand. Conversely, as long as Armenia keeps its cards close to its chest, recognizing the genocide as genocide will have to wait.”

A careful reading of the Professor’s above statement indicates that he finds the return of lands to Armenia by Turkey not possible, but does not rule out reparations. In my view, while Armenians rightly claim their historic lands, they are willing to accept reparations as an initial step.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Berktay’s answers is his explanation of Turkey’s reasons for refusal to face its sordid past: “Faced with the peculiar challenge of recognizing the Armenian genocide, large sections of the Turkish public as well as the AKP keep asking, and will keep asking: Why us? And why only us? Are all nations being asked to atone for their past equally stringently? Or is it just Turkey? Meanwhile, what about what ‘they’ did to ‘us’ in the first place? If we recognize the Armenian genocide, will they, too, ever so slightly recognize the tragic plight of the Muslim Turks of Crete, mainland Greece, Bulgaria or Serbia? Who speaks for the Turk? Do we have any friends in the world?”

While I do not agree with some of Berktay’s explanations, I cannot expect him to have the same position on Armenian issues as I do. After all, he is a Turk, but a righteous Turk, which is not what one can say about Turkish leaders and large segments of Turkish society that still deny the historical facts of the Armenian Genocide!

Berktay has taken a great risk by posting his answers on the Armenian Genocide on the internet, particularly in the current brutal atmosphere since the July coup attempt when tens of thousands of innocent Turkish citizens have been summarily arrested and thrown into jail!

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11 Comments

  1. jda said:

    If you go back to read the famous interview he gave Radikal in about 2000, he explains that as a graduate student at Yale, he saw photographic documentation of the Genocide, about which he had learned nothing in Turkey. His interview, if memory serves, says that he broke down and sobbed. (Maybe yes, but then again, maybe no. Many Turks of his age had grandparents who knew and participated in the Hamidian Massacres, the Genocide, the Massacres in the Caucasus, and the Destruction of “Kurds” and Armenians lasting into the 1930’s. I think it was common knowledge for his generation, although he might – might – be telling the truth, especially if he is from western Turkey.

    His interview remarks now give the standard reasons as to why the state admits nothing. I think there is a deeper and far more fundamental reason which Armenians and Greeks have difficulty seeing. Turks, like Chinese, Japanese, and other “imperial” peoples see themselves as a superior race. We cannot imagine this, because to us a “Turk” is a backward rural Hillbilly circa 1915. We were not there however for the Kemal Ataturk etc. campaign commencing in 1923 that Turks were racially and socially advanced over all others. My theory is that the Imperial Race is furious that a lesser dhimmi people dare speak against them in public. I think they deny the Genocide mainly because as our supposed Overlords, Turks should not be criticized by the lowest caste Christians.

  2. joe said:

    great analysis. I have asked that same question whether any Turkish scholar that truthfully understands what happened to the Armenian nation, would ever agree to lands returned? I doubt any would. Any talk of that is by radical Armenians. Lets be clear: the 7 Armenian district does not belong to Turkey. Its stolen property through state planned mass murder. The abandonment property laws of 1915, where Armenian property was deemed abandoned and therefore ‘property of the Turkish state’, as the CUP Masons knew 100% that the rightful owners were not coming back, which is proof of their financial intensions . The main purpose of the Armenian genocide was theft. I do agree that acknowledgement and compensation is better then nothing yet I believe Turks are a very long way from any acknowledgment. Turks have this sudo superiority complex as a race that I believe they use to justify horrific action towards others they deem lesser or a threat. Its their “right” to rob you, steal your daughter, make you pay extra taxes, come to your village and kill to prove a point . This is what the reality for the Armenian nation was under this Turkish scourge. Turks are no friends. And as long as the AG is “the biggest threat to the Turkish state” which is how they view it, then Armenia needs to always be at a heightened alert. UNITY is our answer. ONE ARMENIA.

  3. Raffi said:

    ….Restitution (of land). Certainly the last is something that no Turkish government can possibly ever concede…. I believe by only mentioning it is shooting oneself in the foot and is destructive to Armenian cause.

  4. Arsha said:

    Thanks for all those, that admitting the Armenian Genocide halo end. Since my childhood I’ve listened to my fathers stories,
    I assure you I could fill a book of 1000 pages. I didn’t need to take notes. Every day, for years he told me the same & added a little new ones. What his family went through & more he grew up, of course he heard from other’s stories.
    The most cruel, the most violent, the most unthinkable tortures to my beloved nation; to its parallel goes my hatred towards Turks, not trusting them at all. Even with some educated Turks admitting genocide, mentally I would like to believe it, my heart don’t.

  5. Ari said:

    Western Armenia belongs to Armenians, NOT the Turks or the Kurds. Time is on the side of justice and the stolen lands will be returned to their rightful owners, the Armenians.

  6. HIRAIR said:

    the turk knowns this was a complete GENOCIDE ,PHYSICAL, CULTURALAND RELIGIOUS THIS WAS PHYSICAL=THE MURDER OF THE ARMENIAN PEOPLE WITHOUT REMORSE, CULTURAL=THE DESTRUCTION OF ARMENIAN CHURCHES AND INSTITUTIONS, AND CONVERSION OF ARMENIAN CHURCHES TO MOSQUES, RELIGIOUS=THE FORCED CONVERSION OF SOME ARMENIANS TO ISLAM, LASTLY THE BIGGEST SIN IS THE DENIAL OF THE TRUTH OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE BY TURKEY.

  7. ARMAN said:

    as an armenian from turkey make no mistake, turkey will never admit to genocide as long as the return of land is imposed on them.take that of the table then in a few years when the public learns more and more about what happened then the government will accept and let us have a few properties back as a museum run by the government or the patrikhane .even today the kurds admit to what happened but as soon as you mention return of land or they are coming to buy land for their return,they will tell to your face over our dead bodies.

  8. ARMAN said:

    as an armenian from turkey make no mistake, turkey will never admit to genocide as long as the return of land is imposed on them.take that of the table then in a few years when the public learns more and more about what happened then the government will accept and let us have a few properties back as a museum run by the government or the patrikhane .even today the kurds admit to what happened but as soon as you mention return of land or they are coming to buy land for their return,they will tell to your face over our dead bodies. what happened to us has not ended.in the 1920’s armenians will not allowed to return.1930’s most of the armenians left in the east were kicked out. 1936 they did an inventory of all institutions 1942 the war tax came which overnight bankrupted all well of non muslims.1955 the pogrom against greeks and armenians in the 1960’s the pressure they put on business that the taxes were not paid and the worst part in 1974 over the cyprus issue they came out with a law saying 1936 inventory was misunderstood.the minoritys cannot expend beyond what they declared and they came and took 1000’s of property back and gave it back to the original owners for free or sold it.they put an end to this just a few years back to join eu which will not happen. so how can one expect a government like that to give land back

  9. David said:

    THERE IS A LOT OF TOPICS I WILL AGREE WITH ARMAN, BUT NOT THIS CURRENT SUBJECT.
    ( Over a period peoples/countries perceptions change due to various reasons and phenomenon )

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