WATERTOWN–On July 23, Resmi Gazete (Official Gazette) announced that Yusuf Halacoglu, the head of the Turkish Historical Society (TTK) since Sept. 21, 1993, was dismissed from his position.
Halacoglu had become notorious following a number of issues that were highly publicized–at least in Turkey–like his denial of the Armenian Genocide in Switzerland and the investigation against him in that country; his debates with and challenges to genocide scholars Taner Akcam, David Gaunt, and Ara Sarafian; and, most recently, his $20 million offer to the ARF to open its archives here in Watertown (better known in the Turkish media as the “Boston archives”).
For years, progressive Turkish scholars have urged Ankara to replace Halacoglu. In off-the-record interviews I conducted on July 23, several of these scholars said they were very happy with the decision.
According to the Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet, Halacoglu–who is called Yusuf hoca (teacher) by many in the TTK–said he is currently on vacation (in Bodrum) and the developmen’s took place without his prior knowledge. Halacoglu added, “This is something that can happen any time. One of the Seyhulislams [a title of superior authority on Islam] says, %u218We are people who are used to pack up and be on our way. We can go anywhere anytime.’ I believe the same. Today you do this duty for the state; tomorrow you continue as a scientist. These are normal things. I perceive these things as normal.”
Turkish commentators and political analysts I talked to generally agreed that Halacoglu’s contract was terminated because the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) wanted to appoint someone close to the AKP. Halacoglu was very close to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), an ultra-nationalist party that has 71 seats in the Turkish parliament. According to some sources, his ties to what is known as the “Deep State” in Turkey may have contributed to the decision of not renewing his yearly contract as well.
It is also likely that the AKP was not happy with the extreme radical and confrontational course Halacoglu had taken on the Armenian Genocide and the Kurdish issue. Whether this signals a change of policy regarding the Armenian issue–in the current, generally positive atmosphere between Turkey and Armenia–is not clear, however. Many think that although the AKP may have been unhappy with Halacoglu’s confrontational approach regarding the genocide, the party is not prepared to face off with the army nor the bureaucracy either on the Armenian issue. Therefore, no major change in its policy should be expected.
Dr. Ali Birinci, a prolific scholar called a “conservative,” “Islamist,” and nationalist” by those who know him, will replace Halacoglu. Although most commentators and researchers I spoke to say that in all likelihood Birinci will not take the TTK in a completely new direction–at least as far as the Armenian issue is concerned–it is expected that he will at least not employ Halacoglu’s sensationalist tactics. Scholars familiar with Birinci’s work consider him a serious researcher who has sometimes challenged the “established” historical knowledge in Turkey. Although Birinci does not have publications on the Armenian Genocide, one Turkish-born scholar expressed a “minute hope” that he would employ his training and experience to gradually challenge the fossilized denialist rhetoric on the genocide issue.
So what will become of Halacoglu? He will retain his position at Gazi University and probably continue publishing works on what he calls the “alleged Armenian genocide.” There are a few–very few–scholars who believe that recently Halacoglu, having realized how untenable his position was, had begun to work on publishing more credible research and to venture into what one scholar called “constructive cooperation” with researchers who acknowledge the genocide. Judging from the experiences of Gaunt and Sarafian, however, this sounds highly unlikely. Yet if he was, indeed, contemplating a fresh start, it is never too late. Either way, we have not heard the last from Yusuf hoca, who kept the Turkish–and, to a lesser extent, Armenian–media busy for years.