Akcam Links Armenian Genocide to Turkish Nationalism And Ethnic Cleansing

MAHWAH, NJMore than 300 students, faculty, and community members gathered on March 29 at Ramapo College to hear Taner Akcam speak out on the first genocide of the twentieth century. For over an hour, Akcam linked the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917 to Ottoman Turkey’s population policy implemented on the eve of World War I to maintain Turkish hegemony over a diminished and endangered empire. The event was sponsored by Ramapo College’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the Armenian National Committee of New Jersey, with introductory remarks by Dr. Antranig Kasbarian, Nagorno-Karabagh Program Director of the New York-based Tufenkian Foundation. One of the first Turkish academics to acknowledge and discuss openly the Armenian Genocide, Akcam based his talk was on his book A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility. Acclaimed by Nobel Laureate in Literature Orhan Pamuk as "the definitive account of the organized destruction of the Ottoman Armenia’s written by a brave Turkish scholar who has devoted his life to chronicling the events," it was published by Metropolitan Books last November. Making extensive use of Ottoman and other sources previously unused by historians of any nationality, Akcam placed the genocide within the context of Turkish nationalism. He showed an empire in a state of collapse that is plagued by dissension and contradiction. In its dying breath, as Akcam’s research bears out, it lashed out against and attempted to constrain its ethnic and religious minorities. The Turkish government adopted a policy of "ethnic cleansing" Greeks and Albanians were deported from southwestern Turkey, while Moslem Kurds, Central Asians and Arabs were moved from their domiciles in the eastern Turkey and subject to Turkification. The culmination of this process was the first of the 20th Century’s genocides in which over a million Armenian men, women and children lost their lives and livelihoods through organized killing, rape, and deportation. Professor Akcam made this tragedy come alive by citing from telegrams and other documen’s penned by the Ottoman Turkish leadership. They poignantly depict a situation in the government pursued its policy of maintaining minority representation in most areas to 5-10% of the total population against the Armenia’s with particular vehemence. Among the Turkish claims and myths that Ackam put to rest was that the government drafted a policy and put aside funds to compensate Armenia’s for confiscations and loss of income incurred during the expulsions. Document after document unearthed by Ackam reveal that the authorities erected a deliberate a smokescreen to hide widespread persecution and expropriation. Ani Tchaghlasian, Chairwoman of the ANC of NJ commented, "We want to thank Rampao College for working with the ANC of NJ to help organize such a successful event. Given the recent rise of threats towards Turkish scholars who speak out on the Armenian genocide, following Hrant Dink’s assassination, we would also like to thank Taner for giving his time to help enlighten the community on this historical fact." Taner Akcam was born in the province of Ardahan, Turkey, in 1953. He became interested in Turkish politics at an early age. As the editor in chief of a student political journal, he was arrested in 1976 and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Amnesty International adopted him as one of their first prisoners of conscience, and a year later he escaped by digging a tunnel with a stove leg and fled to Germany, where he received political asylum. In 1988, Akcam began work as a research scientist at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. While researching the late Ottoman Empire and early Republic, especially the history of political violence and torture in Turkey, he became interested in the Armenian genocide. In 1996 he received his doctorate from the University of Hanover with a dissertation entitled "The Turkish National Movement and the Armenian Genocide Against the Background of the Military Tribunals in Istanbul Between 1919 and 1922." Since 2002 he has been a visiting associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota. Akcam is the author of ten books and numerous articles in Turkish, German, English, and other languages.


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