By Ambassador (Ret.) Şükrü M. Elekdağ
Former Member of Parliament,  Republican People’s Party (CHP) İstanbul

December 22, 2008 – Architects of the recent apology campaign declared that their underlying purpose was not to charge Turkey with genocide, nor did they use this term in the actual wording of the statement.  Apparently, they intended to reflect on the individual feelings of those who empathize with the Armenians of Anatolia, suffering from decades of insensitivity and injustice. The exact wording of the statement reads:

“My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to the Ottoman Armenians and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that they were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers and sisters. I apologize to them.”

This masterfully crafted apologetic statement might seem to the good hearted as the product of an innocent and benevolent initiative.  Yet, the conceptual content of the statement as well as its loaded terminology clearly indicate the highly politicized motivations of the campaign’s pioneers.

The term “Great Catastrophe” means “Genocide”

Among the several controversial terms employed in this statement, perhaps the most striking one is “The Great Catastrophe.”  Essentially, this is the exact translation of the Armenian “Medz Yeghern” – a term that refers to the events of 1915 as genocide.  Put differently, “Medz Yeghern” is often taken to be synonymous with “genocide” in the Armenian language.  It is quite analogous to the Jews’ usage of “shoah” in Hebrew when referring to the Holocaust.  This is precisely why Armenian statesmen and public opinion were delighted to hear Pope Jean Paul II’s 2001 public prayer at the genocide memorial in Yerevan, when he used the term “Medz Yeghern.”  The term also appeared in several of the recently published English language books’ titles, referring to the events of 1915 as genocide.

This situation demonstrates what the apologists heinously sought to camouflage under the term “Great Catastrophe.” In this regard, the apologetic statement is in fact an apologia of genocide recognition.  This is why the apology campaign is cheered and welcomed by the Armenian lobby groups in the United States, among which the leading one – Armenian Assembly of America – made the following statement: “An irreversible trend has commenced in Turkey. This public apology is a first step in that direction and will inevitably lead Turkey in coming to grips with its genocidal past.”  These remarks should be taken as a clear warning for the dangers to come.  The apology campaign signals the existence of domestic support from Turkey’s within to those who pursue a hostile genocide campaign abroad, seeking to pass a series of parliamentary resolutions incriminating Turkey.  Would it be unfair then to suggest that the apologetic statements’ pioneers, unwittingly or not, find themselves in a situation where they collaborate with Turkey’s foes and stab her in the back?

Associating the Events of 1915 with the Holocaust is a Grave Mistake

A second key term used in the statement is “denial.”  Refusing to acknowledge the existence (historical occurrence) of the Holocaust introduced the term “denialism” to legal literature, which now constitutes a separate category in criminal law.  A prominent example of such a category would be the Gayysot Act (Loi Gayysot) in France. By definition “denial” is an intrinsic part of the crime of genocide since the act of denial is preceded by such motives as concealing the truth and erasing memories of the past.  Armenian militants seek to impeach Turkey with “denialism” by associating their own experience with the Holocaust.  By doing so, however, they blatantly ignore the fact that unlike the Armenian allegations vis-à-vis 1915, Jewish Holocaust had been recognized by international tribunals based on irrefutable evidence.

Reputable Historians’ Views

The third essential term in this statement is the “apology.” According to the statement it is the Great Catastrophe (Genocide), for which the signee would apologize.  Nevertheless, whether or not the events of 1915 could be categorized as genocide is a much-debated issue in both historical and legal professions.  In fact, some of the world’s most reputable historians such as Bernard Lewis, Stanford Shaw, Guenter Lewy, Michael Gunter, Andrew Mango and Norman Stone disproved the genocide theory based on archival references.  Bearing in mind these scholars’ publications, there seems to be a consensus on the following points:

  • The events of 1915 that have been reconstructed and forged into being as genocide could by no means be defined with this term.  The reasons that lay behind the deportation of a portion of the Armenian millet were not even closely related to their ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs.  Never had the Porte possessed the motive nor taken the decision to systematically exterminate the Armenians in part or en masse.
  • The Ottoman state had never pursued a policy towards its Armenian subjects analogous to European anti-Semites, who encouraged a public hostility towards the Jews. The Armenian deportation resolution was limited to certain areas, leaving out major capitals such as Istanbul and Izmir.
  • In a period when the Ottoman State was dealing with the Great War for survival, the Armenian bandits collaborated with the enemy (Russians) and committed treason against the state, displaying a rigid armed resistance against the Ottoman security forces in order to weaken the national security and defense of the empire.  Under these circumstances, deportation was a just and legal measure, which aimed at restoring national security and preserving the integrity of the army for survival.

Joint Historical Commission

The maintenance of peace and harmony between Turkey and Armenia depends highly on replacing their mutually exclusive official historiographies with a shared vision on the subject, through which the two peoples could finally reach historical consensus when looking back in retrospect. With this in mind, the author of this article thus came up with a proposal for creating a Joint Historical Commission (hereafter JHC) – a body of Turkish and Armenian historians who would collaborate and revisit the events of 1915 to reveal the truth.

This proposal also envisaged a neutral apparatus – similar to that of a notary – that would oversee the opening of both Armenian and Turkish archives in their entirety and the conclusion of scholarly research on the subject with utmost seriousness in order to shed light on all aspects of the problem.

Upon this proposal I had to find a common ground between Mr. Deniz Baykal, the major opposition party leader, and Mr. Abdullah Gul, who was then the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Finally in March 8 2005, Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Baykal made a joint public declaration regarding the JHC proposal.  On April 13 2005 the Turkish Grand National Assembly supported the proposal with a declaration that passed unanimously.

Looking at the printed press, we understand that this proposal, which had been ignored by Erevan for the past three years, now constitutes one of the major foci of the secret negotiations that currently take place between the two governments.  What we need to emphasize here is the fact that Turkey has never dodged an initiative to uncover the truth and Turkey has essentially been the more willing party to unearth the truth.  It is primarily this reason that led us formulate the scientific research proposal, which the apology campaign’s instigators consciously ignored.  Therefore our humble advise for them is to show the earnestness they deserve and give up this unfortunate and dangerous campaign, which not only contradicts the interests of our state but also basic reasoning and rationality.

Last but not least, when speaking about the unfortunate nature of this apology we need to remind them of their disrespect for not sparing a similar sensitivity to the families of the hundreds of thousands of Turkish and Muslim peoples or our valued diplomats who perished at the hands of the Armenian bandits.