Monday, 15 December 2008

Turkish intellectuals to Armenians: "I apologise"

I posted about the initiative by a group of Turkish intellectuals to launch an online petition personally apologising for 1915 "great disaster" (read genocide) suffered by Armenians. Even though they did not mention the G-word, this is a remarkable step forward by a group of Turkish thinkers in a country where Armenian Genocide still remains a taboo, albeit a broken one, and where by mere mentioning of the Genocide one could get persecuted or killed.

Not surprisingly then this initiative was condemned by the nationalist politicians as an "insult to the Turkish nation". They were joined today by a group of retired ambassadors who slammed the recent internet campaign launched to issue a public apology to Armenians regarding the 1915 incidents.

Today The Independent covered the story saying that "Around 200 Turkish intellectuals and academics are to apologise on the Internet today for the ethnic cleansing of Armenians during the First World War, in the most public sign yet that Turkey's most sensitive taboo is slowly melting away."

This petition was indeed launched today, and the website (in Turkish) opened for signatures now. As BBC indicates, "in the first few hours after the petition was launched, more than 1,000 people had signed their names beneath it."

In fact, numbers are growing. At the time of writing this post, there were 2424 signatories there.

BBC's Sarah Rainsford provides more details to the story in a report entitled Turkish thinkers' Armenia apology:

An internet petition has been launched in Turkey, apologising for the "great catastrophe of 1915" when hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Armenians died.

Armenians and many international historians describe as "genocide" the massacres and deaths during a forced deportation from eastern Turkey.

Turkey firmly denies that, saying those killed were just victims of war.

The petition - the first of its kind - was initiated by prominent Turkish academics and newspaper columnists.

They say they want to challenge the official denial and provoke discussion in Turkish society about what happened.

The petition is entitled "I apologise", and a short statement at the top rejects what it calls the ignorance and denial in Turkey of what the Ottoman Armenians suffered in 1915.

It then apologises for the pain that was caused.

It is a bold and original step in a country where writer Hrant Dink was killed just last year for openly saying that the events of 1915 were genocide.

Sparking discussion

Nationalist politicians have condemned the move as an insult to the Turkish nation, and the organisers have received abusive emails.

Turkey admits that many Armenians were killed but it denies any genocide, saying the deaths happened during widespread fighting in World War I.

The petition does not call on the state to apologise for what happened and it deliberately avoids the highly controversial definition of genocide.

But the Turkish academic who dreamed up the idea says he hopes it will spark a proper discussion of what happened and promote empathy for what the Armenians suffered.

Cengiz Aktar called it the responsibility of all Turks to think and talk openly about how, and why, the Armenian people disappeared from a land they inhabited for 4,000 years.

The petition's authors say they have received many encouraging comments.

In the first few hours after the petition was launched, more than 1,000 people had signed their names beneath it.

*photo - via BBC


artmika said...

Via Hetq Online:

The December 15th Hurriyet Daily News reports that Turkish President Abdullah Gul stated ‘everyone can express their opinions freely’ while referring to the recent internet campaign launched to issue a public apology to Armenians regarding the events of 1915.

Gul’s remarks came during a joint press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Parvanov. The two leaders discussed regional and international issues and opportunities for cooperation in relevant fields.

Richard said...

Very interesting. The web site shows Amberin Zaman (correspondent for the Economist and wife of U.S. diplomat in Armenia Joseph Pennington) has signed the apology.

Lots happening in Turkey. Now if they can only bring themselves to use "G" word...

artmika said...

I am not surprised with Amberin Zaman. Her reports for the Economist always called for reconciliation and for Turkey to face up its history and past.

On the other hand, in contrast with Turkish president's more neutral stance, BBC reports that Turkey's prime minister has criticised a Turkish internet petition. Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "I find it unreasonable to apologise when there is no reason". Mr Erdogan said the petition risked stirring trouble. He called it "irrational" and "wrong".

Not surprised with Erdogan's opinion too. What is important, as you noted too, there are lots of interesting developments happening in Turkey, and from the inside. Let's hope it will get developed further.

Anonymous said...

[...] there are lots of interesting developments happening in Turkey, and from the inside.

And I think it is this point that matters most. The issue is one that Turkey needs to resolve for its own sake as well as for Armenia. It's still a small step, but a significant one and is a sign that things are opening up.

However, as was the case with Hrant Dink's murder, such developments also result in a nationalist backlash, but unfortunately, that's one of the nastier stages that all change has to pass through.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, Ditord introduced me to Nagehan Alci, a Turkish journalist and columnist for Aksam newspaper, last week and we've met up twice now at the rock bar. She's leaving tomorrow morning, but we're meeting up again tonight with a whole load of Diasporans and locals.

Anyway, from the conversations we've had so far, I'm actually feeling very optimistic about the possibility for the normalizing of relations between Armenia and Turkey although there is the risk of a nationalist backlash in the latter, it seems. For sure, the response from Armenians to her and recent initiatives there seem positive.

artmika said...

...and this is yet another good sign - increasing numbers of mutual visits.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, and actually, Nage brought along another Turkish person -- a young businesswoman -- to her farewell drink. Interestingly, Duygu said she had Armenian and Kurdish roots from many generations back although she of course considered herself to be a Turk.

Anyway, great to meet both. Hoping for more such visits in the future and thanks to Ditord for the initial introduction. Really nice to meet them both.

artmika said...

Dink-2? - Turkish intellectuals under attack for "I apologise" campaign