Turkish Scholar Taner Akcam Advocates Change in Policy of Genocide Denial


Dr. Taner Akcam, one of the first Turkish scholars acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, delivered two important lectures in Southern California last week. Based on historical research, he analyzed the underpinnings of Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide and proposed solutions for its official acknowledgment.

Prof. Akcam made his first presentation at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino on May 6, before the screening of Dr. J. Michael Hagopian’s Genocide documentary “The River Ran Red.” Rabbis Harold Schulweis and Edward Feinstein, Jewish World Watch President Janice Kamenir-Reznik, Dr. Hagopian, 96, a genocide survivor, and Archbishop Hovnan Derderian made brief remarks.

Dr. Akcam, Associate Professor of History and Chair of Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University, explained that the “continuity” of the “military and civilian bureaucracy,” which has been ruling Turkey ever since the inception of the Republic in 1923, is a key reason for denial of the Armenian Genocide. “The founders perceived the ethnic-cultural plurality of society at that time to constitute a problem for the continuity and security of the state.”

Specifically, the Professor identified Hasan Fehmi Bey, a leader of the Union and Progress party that implemented the Armenian Genocide, who had confessed in a speech to Parliament in 1920 that his group knew the international community would call them “murderers” for eliminating the Armenians. However, he indicated that his party’s leaders were prepared to accept being called “murderers,” as their aim was securing “the future of the fatherland.”

In his second presentation on May 7, organized by the Armenian Rights Council of America in Altadena, Dr. Akcam disclosed that “Ergenekon,” the recently exposed criminal group that enjoyed support of the Turkish military, had prepared a hit list of five individuals, including journalist Hrant Dink, Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, and Akcam himself, all targeted for assassination because they spoke out on the Armenian Genocide. They were condemned to death as “Traitors to National Security.”

In Akcam’s view, this mindset was not simply the perverted view of an isolated terror group, but that of Turkey’s legal establishment. During the sentencing of two Turkish-Armenian journalists in 2007 for using the term genocide, a Judge ruled that: “Talk about genocide, both in Turkey and in other countries, unfavorably affects national security and the national interest. The claim of genocide… has become part of and the means of special plans aiming to change the geographic, political boundaries of Turkey… and a campaign to demolish its physical and legal structure.” The ruling further stated that the Republic of Turkey is under “a hostile diplomatic siege consisting of genocide resolutions.… The acceptance of this claim may lead in future centuries to a questioning of the sovereignty rights of the Republic of Turkey over the lands on which it is claimed these events occurred.”

According to Akcam, the United States is avoiding the official recognition of the Armenian Genocide out of a similar misguided concern for national security in the Middle East. He stated that “Morality is a very real issue, and for realpolitik to be successful in the region; moral values, in this instance, the specific one of acknowledging historic wrongdoings, must be integrated into a policy of national security…. Failure to confront history honestly is one of the major reasons for insecurity and instability in the region.”
Akcam revealed that after World War I, Turkey’s leaders, including Mustafa Kemal, acknowledged the Armenian massacres and favored the prosecution of their perpetrators in order to gain support of the Allies for the preservation of the territorial integrity of Ottoman Turkey.

However, the hopes of Turkey’s leaders were dashed on both counts. The Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 called for dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, while the Istanbul Court Martial sentenced to death in absentia the Turkish national leadership, including Mustafa Kemal.

Akcam indicated that the Turkish mindset to this day views “democratization, freedom of thought and speech, open and frank debate about history, [and] acknowledgment of one’s past historical misdeeds, as a threat to national security. Those who invite society to engage in an open examination of the past are therefore labeled ‘traitors’ and made targets of smear campaigns — dragged into courts and prosecuted under Turkish Criminal Code Article 301 for ‘insulting Turkishness.’”

Akcam warned the United States that any policy “that ignores morality and forgets the addressing of historic wrongdoings is doomed to fail in the end.” He suggested that Turkey should be made to understand that “bullying and threatening others is not the behavior of an international actor. Turkey cannot continue with the same repressive domestic policies towards its own history and minorities under the guise of national security and cannot threaten other countries in expressing their thoughts on 1915, and at the same time pretend to be a member of democratic countries in the world. An open, official acknowledgment by the US government might force Turkey to understand that blackmailing and threatening other states and suppressing and persecuting its own intellectuals do not offer solutions for historical problems and for security.”

At a small gathering, after the May 7 lecture, Akcam disclosed for the first time an alarming incident that had taken place in 1995, following a talk he had delivered on the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan. At the last minute, he had cautiously decided to give a milder version of his prepared remarks. Upon his return to Istanbul, he was shocked when confronted at the airport by Turkish police who had in their possession the harsher version of his talk. He had handed that original version to Armenian officials — the organizers of the Genocide conference. Someone in Armenia must have leaked his text to the Turkish authorities. Dr. Akcam was able to save his neck from Turkish intelligence agents by showing them the copy of the milder speech that he had actually delivered!

Who’s Watchin’ the Sheriff?


Many of you may immediately think that I’m referring to Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, AZ.  You know, they guy who’s appointed himself the grand protector of the American Southwest by chasing after ghosts, i.e. hassling people in his crusade to “round up illegal aliens”.  Fortunately, as the LATimes and CBS News have reported, he’s probably being investigated for abuse of power—the guy is going after elected officials who disagreed with his policies.

But Arpaio can serve as an example.  Even watchers have to be watched.  And, watching/oversight is very important, as evidenced by the economic mess the Wall Street casino-style bankers have put the whole world in.

Coincidentally though, this article was prompted by another sheriff.  This is a man who enjoys wide respect and support.  That extends to the Armenian community, and the feeling is mutual.  He is present at Armenian community events with tremendous frequency. He was even married in an Armenian church, I understand.  He is Sheriff Lee Baca of LA county.

It turns out Baca is visiting Azerbaijan.  The context is a homeland security committee he serves on.  In the same context, he has also visited Armenia and numerous other countries.  But it is still unsettling to get the news from Azeri sources.  It sounds bad.  So, really, what he should have done is let our community leadership know he had to go.  All it would have taken is for his secretary to make a phone call or three.  But there’s also the possibility he’s not sufficiently sensitized to this.  That means it’s our leadership’s failing to do so.  And, this is a chronic problem in our political organizations’ relations with elected officials.  The latter are supported in their campaigns for holding the right positions.  Then, something is needed, and the elected doesn’t deliver.  We start to complain.  Then it turns out, we never did the “ask”!  They can’t read minds.  Let’s do things right.

And while we’re on the topic of watchers needing overseeing, how about that MMS (Minerals Management Service), an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior?  MMS is charged with making sure the federal government collects royalties from the extractive industries availing themselves of the riches (oil, gas, and other mineral resources) underlying the U.S.’ outer continental shelf.  It is also supposed to oversee the companies doing this work.  That’s a tough pairing to accomplish, to start with.  Factor in that its employees have been “caught in bed”, and not just figuratively speaking, with the people they’re supposed to be checking up on.  They’ve also accepted gifts from those they’re supposedly keeping in line.  Now it is proposed that the two functions be separated.   I don’t hold out much hope of improvement until the mindset throughout the country changes and “regulation” is no longer a dirty word.

We all have to be vigilant, as citizens and residents of the country, states, and cities we inhabit.  Otherwise, things are likely to occur that will make the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico look like syrup on pakhlava.

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  1. john papazian said:

    Thank you Dr. Taner,your work greatly appreciated and I can only prey that all Turks can move on from that terrible time.I will never hold responsible any Turk for the crimes commetted by the likes of Tallet.Just as many peoples that were once foes I believe that Turks and Armenians will become freinds again.As to the current political nonsence,neither governments are acting on the best intrests of their peoples.Western meddling really isn’t helping since it is always a half hearted attempt to appease both sides at once.

  2. Alex Postallian said:

    It is truly amazing, that this one turk(?) out of millions speaks the truth,and knows the true history.He must have been educated in another country.So the millions of YELLOW STAIN turkey are still in the dark,and LYING.

  3. Christo said:

    Not everyone Armenian is fooled by these turkish academics who seem to want to take the helm and steer the Armenian genocide issue to the advantage of the turks, taner akcam is no exception. Will someone explain to me in a rational way, and trust me I asked him this question point blank to his face and he was stunned. How is a student studying in turkey, gets sentenced to 9 years in prison, after serving a little more than 1 year escapes a turkish prison, makes it all the way to Germany, gets introduced to Prof. Dadrian and eventually becomes a candidate to a Ph.D. degree under the supervision of Prof. Dadrian? I can’t understand how all these 9, ten, 15 year old kurdish children are imprisoned and can’t even escape? How come Abdulla Ocalan can’t seem to escape his prison????? I still remember his tone of voice two years ago at an event sponsored by the OIA and the AGBU, when this turk being the “honored” lecturer pointed his finger at the audience and said “You the Diaspora, need to back off in order for the government of turkey can negotiate with the RoA. We all remember April 22, 2009. My point is all these Armenian organizations are jumping for joy for these turkish “academics” accepting and making apologies but, in reality they are cleaners. Their objective is to clean the image of the turk/turkey.
    Was it necessary for taner to make these allegations that in 1995 someone in Armenia had leaked his lecture to MIT in turkey. Why didn’t he name the handful of people that he handed the lecture to??? What was he implying that Armenians are traitors??? Well taner, since, the MIT has many agents all over europe and the states, have they not had a meeting with you?? Is it because you are also an MIT agent?

  4. john papazian said:

    If Taner went back to Turkey today,they’ld kill him the moment he steped off the plane.As to the state of Turkish prisons watch a movie called Midnight Run,also banned in Turkey.As much as they,the Turks,deny everthing a few do not.Being so skeptical to the point we dismiss any attempt by any Turk to own up to history is a mistake.I’m not saying just forgive and forget but if one man can help get the word out,so much the better.I’ve read the book and its actually a good read.