Cheering and Hissing

So, we’ve got an apology. Yay, woo-hoo, ole, yes, fine, maybe, boo, razz, curses. Where does your reaction fall in this range? Here it is, one more time, in case you missed what’s been all over the Armenian media for more than three weeks.

"My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenia’s were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers. I apologize to them." And in the original Turkish: "My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenia’s were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers. I apologize to them." And in the original Turkish: “1915’te Osmanli Ermenileri’nin maruz kaldigi Buyuk Felaket’e duyarsiz kalinmasini, bunun inkar edilmesini vicdanim kabul etmiyor. Bu adaletsizligi reddediyor, kendi payima Ermeni kardeslerimin duygu ve acilarini paylasiyor, onlardan ozur diliyorum.”

As of this writing the count is 22881, and if you want to check for yourself, the website is www.ozurdiliyoruz.com. It gives a total count of signers and shows some of the names, but I couldn’t access more. The list seems to be spread over 30 pages, but for whatever reason, only the first would show, with 100 names on it. Another page shows a different set of names where I actually recognized two names. One of these is FethiyE Chetin, author of a book about discovering her Armenian roots, a grandmother. So she’s apologizing to herself?

This whole thing is weird– uncomfortable, novel, exciting. But is it any good? How thrilled should we be, if at all? When will the letdown come? Is a cynical and/or cautiouos approach the way to go?

First of all, those doing the apologizing are not the one from whom it must come to be relevant in any meaningful way. It’s the government of the Republic of Turkey that must apologize, and thus necessarily recognize the Genocide. In this sense, President Gul’s support of people who are signing on to this online-petition-apology is welcome and heartening. But the President of Turkey is not the real governing power, the Prime Minister is, and he, Erdogan, has staked out an opposite position. Could they be playing good-cop/bad-cop for Europe’s benefit?

Let’s talk numbers, somewhat rounded. Turkey’s population, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, is about 72 million. Of those, some 20%, or 14.5 million, are Kurds whose apologizing has been going on, arguably sufficiently, for many years. At any rate, theirs is a qualitatively different apology. They were not the state that used its machinery to organize the killing. That leaves us with 57.5 million Turks. But, again according to the CIA, in 2006, Turkey had 13.15 million internet users. I’m going to hazard that today, on the cusp of 2009, that number is 15 million. Again, remove Kurds’ 20% (though this is also not quite fair since more Kurds live in the less developed parts of the country, i.e. Western Armenia, with proportionately less internet access), and we’re left with 12 million. That puts the ratio of petition signers, to date, at less than 0.2%– not exactly an overwhelming, awe inspiring, figure.

Then we have this “great catastrophe” stuff. Maybe they’re just using a translation of our own, older, usage of “medz yeghern”. Regardless, it’s not “genocide”. So, it’s at best substandard, more likely intentionally evasive for political and personal safety reasons, or possibly intentionally duplicitous. “Ottoman Armenia’s” is another suspicious usage. What about Kemalists’ murders and chronologically tandem Tatar/Azeri Killings? All these occurred under the same sick Pan-Turkist/Turan’st ideology.

So where do we go from here? Certainly, we should hail and encourage this effort. It is a step in the right direction. Turkish society and its collective consciousness must come to terms with its own horrible past. We can do little but keep the pressure up for them to do so. We should not be lulled into any overly warm’n’fuzzy sense of progress. All it would take is another coup by Turkey’s ever “vigilant” generals to unravel the years of internal efforts that have gotten a small portion of Turkey’s people to even this slightly better point. By all accounts, from an Armenian perspective this is a positive but far from sufficient step. Finally, we should be very alert to, and preempt, the inevitable argument that will emanate from the Turkish government and be taken up by their lackeys worldwide that runs, “see, we’re making internal progress, no need for international Genocide recognition”.

Be alert, be encouraging, and be active in the new year on this and all other relevant fronts.

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