Sunday, June 3, 2007

An Interview with Halil Berktay

The Specter of the Armenian Genocide
An Interview with Halil Berktay
By Khatchig Mouradian
Aztag Daily
November 12, 2005

Halil Berktay was one of the organizers of the first conference held in Turkey in late September that challenged the Turkish state’s policy of denying the Armenian genocide. After having been postponed twice because of pressure exerted by nationalist circles from within the Turkish government and judiciary, the conference, titled “The Ottoman Armenians during the decline of the Ottoman Empire,” was held at Bilgi University in Istanbul and was heralded as a step towards the elimination of the taboo of the Armenian genocide within the Turkish society.

In the past few years, Halil Berktay has consistently spoken in various Turkish and international forums about the systematic deportation and mass killings of Ottoman Armenians during the First World War, describing those events as “the horrors of 1915”, “the events of 1915”, “ethnic cleansing”, “proto-genocide”, and very recently as “genocide.”

Halil Berktay received his B.A. and M.A. in Economics from Yale University in the USA and his PhD in History from Birmingham University in the United Kingdom. His research covers Turkish nationalism and the social and economic history of Europe. He is currently professor of history in Sabanci University, a prestigious private institution of higher learning in Istanbul.

In this interview, conducted by phone on 18 October, 2005, we discussed his presentation at a conference organized by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which was held in Yerevan in 6-8 of October. During this conversation, he also shared his views on important topics like nationalism, “the specter of the Armenian genocide”, and the prospects of Turkey facing its past.

Khatchig Mouradian- You recently participated in a conference held in Yerevan and organized by NATO. Can you tell us about this conference?

Halil Berktay- This was the 61st installment of the Rose-Roth seminars organized by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. It was devoted to the broad theme of regional cooperation in the South Caucasus and organized in conjunction with the National Parliament of the Republic of Armenia. Members from parliamentary delegations from various countries, observers from different countries coming under various headings, ambassadors based in Yerevan, and a large Armenian contingent were attending.

I was invited to speak on security in the South Caucasus. I was the only Turk in this seminar; the Turkish parliamentary delegation was supposed to be there, they were invited, and I was informally given to understand that it was not because of political reasons that they did not attend. Rather, I was told, there were some utterly mundane or practical reasons behind their absence.

K.M. - This was the official explanation given by Ankara as well, wasn’t it?

H.B. - Now that I spoke there and I made an out of the ordinary kind of presentation, and now that it has had reverberations, Turkish diplomats are trying to explain why they didn’t attend the seminar. They’re saying that Turkey and Armenia don’t have diplomatic relations and they are speaking of the difficulty in traveling to Yerevan. Come on, give me a break! There are regular plane flights between Istanbul and Yerevan, and the planes are just packed full. And although there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries, there’s a lively trade and a lively movement of human beings.

I don’t know why they did not come. Today, in the daily newspaper Star, there is an article denouncing the willful neglect of the Turkish parliamentarians in not going to Yerevan, and for that matter, when they learned that I would be going, not forcing a cancellation of the seminar. It seems that the Turkish nationalists are not only trying to obstruct and prohibit conferences in Turkey, but also outside. Whether this is one step forward or one step back, I’m not quite sure.

K.M. – In covering the conference, the Armenian media highlighted the fact that in your speech, you said that the events of 1915 amounted to genocide. Did the fact that you made such a statement in a non-academic conference taking place in Armenia itself, create a fiercer reaction in Turkey?

H.B. - It might not have been intended that way, but I did not say what I said accidentally and in a haphazard kind of way.

When I got the invitation and I saw the program I thought, “My God, I will be like a fish out of water, because this is not an academic conference”, but then I thought, “If I were invited by the EU and EC I would go and talk, wouldn’t I? And this is a NATO seminar, what difference does it make? There are going to be people from all over Europe there, and it is yet another forum for me to make some points concerning the various aspects or dimensions of 1915.”

I went in that spirit and I’m glad that I did.

My remarks were certainly not limited to saying that 1915 was genocide. My remarks went far beyond that. The Armenian press played up this dimension of “here is a Turkish historian in Yerevan saying that it was genocide”. I knew that there was a possibility that such a thing would happen. I did realize from the outset that the Armenian press was likely to overplay what I said about 1915 and that when this eventually was picked up in Turkey, the Turkish state and the media would once more be focusing on the same word.

I had been saying in Turkey and in other international forums that in some sense what happened in 1915 was genocide or it was proto-genocide or, even leaving aside the word “genocide”:

a) It was clear that the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire were rounded up, socially deracinated and deported, and, therefore, in the process, comprehensively uprooted and dispossessed, for no other reason than that they were Armenians.

b) It was very clear that simultaneously, extra-legal secret orders for massacres to be organized were sent out to the Teşkilât-ı Mahsusa, the special organization of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP).

For me to repeat these historical facts or the evidence thereof, and then to ask the question “was it genocide?” was nothing new. I could argue that it was always much more difficult to say it in Turkey than in Yerevan. So it is not as if I’m undertaking this analysis for the first time and it’s completely unheard of. Maybe if I had not been speaking up in public in Turkey and in Europe and in the US and everywhere about this, maybe if Yerevan was going to be the first time, it might have been inappropriate.

K.M. - It is only recently that you have started using the word “Genocide” without prefixes. Taking into account how politicized the use of the “G” word has become, I assume the reaction on both sides was predictable.

H.B. - In my presentation opening the Istanbul conference, I spoke about this at great length. I said it is very unfortunate that what happened in 1915-16 and the fate of the Ottoman Armenians during the demise of the Empire boils down to “Was it genocide or not?” This is an extreme case of reductionism. If you have a mixed audience or Turks and Armenians (this is what happened when I was speaking at Mulheim in Germany in March 2001), if you say yes it was genocide, the Armenians cheer you and the Turks boo you, and everybody stops listening, because they heard what they came to hear. And if you say no, it was not genocide, exactly the reverse happens: the Armenians boo the Turks cheer and again, everybody stops to listen. The question of readdressing the historicity of what happened in 1915-1916 is how do we break away from the bind of these two mutually exclusive antagonistic nationalist attitudes and how do we liberate the historical discussion and try to attempt a fresh interpretation.

K.M. – In an interview published today in the Turkish daily newspaper Radikal, you mention the speech of the vice-president of the Armenian Assembly, which preceded your presentation and had an impact on your presentation and on your interventions during the question and answer session.

H.B. – Yes. In the program that I originally had, the speakers were just going to be the Executive Director of LINKS (South Caucasus Parliamentary Initiative) Dennis Sammut and myself. When I got the final program there were three papers, the first of which was Vahan Hovhannisian’s. I learned that Mr. Hovhannisian had not been there originally, but apparently when it became clear that a Turk was going to be on the program, the Armenian side insisted on having a speaker.

And Mr. Hovhannisian gave a very rigid, dogmatic, Dashnak type Armenian nationalist version of Turkish-Armenian relations. It was absolutely rigid, full of deep seated hostility towards Turkey and Turks and everything Turkish. It was in his tone of voice, in the style of his sentences, everything! Turkey was being blamed for everything in the Armenian past, present, and possibly future. At one point, there was one striking sentence that I noted down. Mr. Hovhannisian was talking of Turkey accusing Armenia of holding 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory under occupation, and he asked: What moral right does a country holding 36 percent of Cyprus under military occupation has, to talk this way? I came back to this later and I said, “We have a saying in Turkish, “tenjere dibin kara”; “seninki benden kara.” These two kettles are supposed to be talking to one another and one says, “You got a black bottom,” and the other says, “Your bottom is blacker than mine.” And I added, “But I am morally at ease, because in my own personal life, I had all along recognized the Armenian genocide and I had always been opposed to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. So I would be morally consistent if I were also opposed to Armenian occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory, leaving aside whether it is numerically correct. But can Mr. Hovhannisian speak of the same kind of consistency for himself?”

K.M – You said that your remarks in Yerevan went far beyond the statement that what happened in 1915 amounted to genocide. Can you share with us the main points that you raised during your presentation and various later interventions?

H.B. - Speaking after Hovhannisian, Dennis Sammut extensively criticized him for bringing in “too much historical baggage”. So my talk fell neatly in place.

My presentation was titled “The History, Historiography, and the Current Politics of the Armenian Genocide”. I started by referring to the opening sentences of the communist manifesto, obliquely. I said, “I hope it does not sound strange in a post communist society, to refer to a famous political tract of the mid 19th century which speaks of a certain specter haunting Europe at that time. Paraphrasing this, I might say that a certain specter is haunting the South Caucasus today; the specter of the Armenian genocide. The big difference is, whereas Marx and Engels spoke of the Pope, the Tsar, Metternich, and Guizot entering into a holy alliance to exorcise what they saw as the specter of communism, various types and varieties of Turkish and Armenian nationalisms seem to be bent on not exorcising the specter of 1915-16, but actually invigorating it, rejuvenating it, fanning its flames, and persisting in holding us captive to the unionist murderers and the Dashnaktsutiun komitadjis of 1915. My question, as a historian, is: How can we liberate the present from being captive, in bondage, to the ghosts of 1915? I can approach this problem only through the tools of my profession, historical sensitivity and understanding and working through culture. By temperament, by nature and by training; that’s virtually the only thing that I am capable of. My inclination is to regard politicians and parliamentarians, including NATO parliamentarians, as an evil, a necessary evil, perhaps an absolutely necessary evil, in the sense that the best that they can possibly do is impose temporary safeguards against the Hobbesian dimensions of human nature, but in the case of profound national cleavages like the one that we are faced with, we cannot really expect long term solutions from them, because although they can work out ceasefires, non aggression agreements, peacekeeping missions et cetera, fundamentally, if peace is going to be long term and genuine, we’ve got to do this through the hearts and minds of people. This is where people working for historical understanding, like myself, come in.

I continued by saying that we have recently had the first conference outside the official discourse in Turkey about the Ottoman Armenians during the demise of the empire. It has been a very liberating and empowering experience, and I would like to begin by summarizing a few key points of than conference.

1) What actually happened in 1915-16?

I gave my considered assessment and said that the papers submitted at this conference clearly demonstrated that this was no accident, this was not a marginal or small thing, it was not a geographically or demographically limited thing, virtually the entirety of Ottoman Armenians has been ordered to be rounded up, socially deracinated, uprooted, dispossesses, and deported for no reason other than that they were Armenians and, secondly, that there was very strong evidence that the accompanied violence and massacres had not started spontaneously or despite the best intentions of the state to protect the convoys of the deportees. Rather, there was strong evidence to the effect that there were orders issued, disseminated, and executed through the Teşkilât-ı Mahsusa and that this in turn triggered secondary and tertiary rounds of violence and massacres once it became clear that the Armenians were fair game and that the shooting season was open on them.

Such situations bring out the best and worse in people, as in the case of Germany. Some people were helping, trying to protect the Armenians, and some people were just jumping on the bandwagon of violence, and there is no easy way to know whether it was the Lockian or Hobbesian side which dominated. We don’t have an easy guide into how people behave in such circumstances; the ball seems to bounce that way and this way.

2) Was it genocide?

It fits the clauses of the 1948 UN convention comprehensively, and in that light, if we are permitted to take those categorizations and apply them to an event that occured 33 years earlier, then we have to say, “Yes, it was genocide”.

Then I asked: is there a methodological problem in this? Yes, because in 1915 such a convention did not exist, such legality did not exist, and, furthermore, the human experience and thinking that ultimately went into that convention, did not exist. I’m not saying that there were no people at the time who objected to ethnic cleansing, I’m saying that a comprehensive, universal, and global circulation of an anti-genocidal ethos did not exist and it was not part and parcel of the atmosphere in which statesmen, politicians, warlords, including Unionist warlords, functioned at that time. This is a very significant methodological problem for a historian. The accumulation and rise of such an ethos, regardless of whether it is actually written in a national or international law, can, in fact, make an enormous difference as a deterrent.

K.M. - Was this ethos present during the Second World War when the Nazis committed genocide against the Jews and the Roma?

H.B. - That is a more difficult question. But let me say that Hitler’s alleged statement that “who, today, remembers the Armenians?” indirectly hints at the existence of such an ethos. It is usually taken as the contrary, but I would beg to differ on that point. After 1918, an enormous amount was written on the concept of genocide. At that juncture, anti-militarism and hostilities against nationalisms that had led the world to the Great War became very strong, and it that context, the Social Darwinistic theories of the previous era also came under very heavy criticism. Within all that, one can say that there was a considerably development towards 1939 in the creation of a new kind of international humanistic ethos on this question.

K.M. - So you are implying that Hitler had more moral deterrents in his time than did the CUP during WW1.

Yes. Hitler, of course, was riding the crest of a very racist Arian Nazi ideology, which he used in order to override the existing elements of the new ethos. 1912-1915 was a much more comprehensively nationalist era, in the sense that there was no critical self awareness about nationalism and the Social Darwinistic component of nationalism at that time. That is to say, the ideologists in late 19th and early 20th century Europe (German ideologists of the Bismarkian era, all kinds of Social Darwinistic thinkers in Britain, France, Germany, and tsarist Russia) perceived the world order as the law of the jungle, and the struggles between nations were seen in terms of the struggles for the survival of the fittest. Each nationalism was basically justifying itself by reference to this very harsh, rigid, violence prone ideology.

Throughout the remaining two thirds of my talk, I focused on criticizing Armenian nationalist historiography basically over the question of the role Armenian revolutionary organizations and their activities and their miscalculations played in taking these people, including themselves, to 1915. I was very careful about how I said this.

3) How did things get to 1915?

On this question, there is Turkish nationalist historiography, Armenian nationalist historiography, and the possibility of a third option. Turkish nationalist historiography puts the entire blame at the door of:

a) The great powers that imperialistically incited, provoked, and supported Armenian nationalists in their great designs.

b) Those Armenian nationalists themselves, who are said to have started it all, and to have caused so many casualties to local and regional Muslim Turks and had comprehensively extended their activities so far, especially under war conditions in the eastern front, that the state was left with no option except the tehcir, the deportation.

On the other hand, when it comes to discussing 1915, Armenian nationalist historiography tries to say as little as possible, or says hardly anything at all, about these Armenian nationalist organizations. This is funny, because these organizations are there in Armenian textbooks and literature. They are “our heroes” and “our liberation fighters.” Of course, in these lyricized accounts, nobody says anything about what they were actually doing on the ground and what was the human cost of their actions to the other side. Armenian textbooks and literature are not alone in this regard. The same is true of Bulgarian, Greek, and Turkish textbooks and literature.

Also, for nationalists, the liberation of the nation justifies everything that is done to others. Not just to the Ottoman state, but in terms of the ethnic cleansing of a certain piece of compact territory from other and undesirable elements. And what we have to recognize about the actual historicity of the late 19th and early 20th century is that the whole scene was full of such competing, rival, and mutually hostile nationalisms. Against this, the late Ottoman or proto-Turkish state tried to preserve its law and order and defend its territories. If in the year 2005, we persist in looking at 1915 in the eyes of the people of that time, each of which were justifying their actions by reference to this kind of imperial nationalist or opposition nationalist kind of ideology, there is no solution. Modern historiography has to find a breakthrough. We cannot adopt a single perspective.

K.M. – You say, “There is Turkish nationalist historiography, Armenian nationalist historiography, and the possibility of a third option.” This gives the impression that the Armenian genocide is not an established fact outside circle of Armenian nationalist historians. As you know, there is an international body of scholarship on this issue…

H.B. - I’m not saying that this historiography doesn’t exist already, I am trying to point to it. I’m not trying to pretend that a better historiography is going to start with us. This is purely for purposes of mental illustration, a thought experiment.

K.M. – Taking into consideration the fact that the Turkish state tries to balance the deportation and killing of the entire Armenian population with the localized acts of Armenian revolutionaries, I cannot help but think that sometimes when we compare these two utterly incomparable things, we may inadvertently be supporting the Turkish official stance of a “middle” position.

H.B. - To say that there are two poles does not mean that the truth is exactly in the middle. That does not follow. This is not to say they are symmetrically wrong and equally wrong. I have always explained that. However, it is true that the Turkish and Armenian nationalists use each other’s mistakes as a kind of exercise in apologetics for themselves.

Of course there are all kinds of contested patrimonies in nationalisms, but the most contested patrimony of all is contested victimhood. All nationalisms, regardless of what they might have done to other on the ground, like to portray themselves as fundamental pure and innocent victims and the targets of injustice. As if our wars, in which we are heroic, have never hurt other people, but their wars have always hurt us and have caused us suffering. Secondly, of course, Armenian nationalism is afraid that any touching upon the Armenian nationalist organizations at that time will turn into apologetics for Turkish nationalist historiography, and in this there is an element of truth, because this is precisely what happens with Turkish nationalist historiography. However, I have to say this: In the terms bringing up their respective nationalist agendas in the 19th century, and in the early 20th century, the Greeks, the Bulgarians, the Armenians, and the Turks were all after clearing territory for themselves in preparation for nation statehood, and, let’s face it, case after case and for a long time, this attempt of clearing territory for themselves took the form of ethnic cleansing on the ground. There were areas in the Ottoman Empire, which for a long time became the setting for an intermittent, sporadic now flaring up now subsiding kind of protracted local level, low density ethnic warfare between different nationalists. The Pontus region and the Balkans were cases in point.

Let us recognize that this kind of ethnic warfare is a dirty thing on both sides. It is a kind of quasi-socialist Marxist justification of our “just wars” to pretend that national liberation organizations exercise violence only and only against the regular forces of the oppressive state they are revolting against. No they don’t do that, they also exercise ethnic cleansing violence against each other’s villages, irregulars, women and children. This is reality. This is a kind of ethnic warfare in which one man’s hero is another man’s monster. Take the case of Topal Osman (Osman the Lame) in the Pontus region. He is a Turkish national hero, but for Greek families, he was a monster. They would try to scare their children into obedience by saying, “Hush, Topal Osman is coming”. Let us recognize that the case was pretty much the same with the Armenian Dashnaktsutiun guerillas and Turkish irregulars. I’m not saying that it was unilateral and I’m not equating it to what happened in 1915. Furthermore, I am not saying that there’s a linear cause and effect relationship between this kind of ethnic warfare and the tehcir and the accompanying orders in 1915. The presence of this kind of bilateral or trilateral ethnic warfare at a regional level, for me, is no reason to say that 1915 was not genocide but it was patriotic self defense, because there was no other way out. You cannot make this jump; this is what Turkish nationalists are doing today. This cause and effect connection cannot be made for two reasons:

a) There is no way in which it can be demonstrated that the Unionists were incapable of just using much more ordinary police measures to deal with the Armenian guerillas. If we accept that every state has a law and order problem, and that there was something like an Armenian revolt in certain regions of Anatolia, I simply cannot accept that they could not have dealt with this through normal means. It was not that the eastern front was collapsing or anything.

b) There is no way to jump from the Ottoman government’s need to deal with the Armenian revolts to deporting all Ottoman Armenians from all over Anatolia and the Balkans for no other reason than that they were Armenians.

In between, there enters ideology. The point is, and this is what Turkish nationalism overlooks comprehensively, that by 1912-13, and especially after the traumatic Balkan wars, the unionist leadership had already acquired a comprehensive ethnic cleansing mentality. They had arrived at the crystallization of their own version of Social Darwinistic, violent, anxious, and, therefore, malicious and malevolent unionist nationalism. That is to say, it was their ideology that was telling them “we cannot have a patriotic self defense unless and until we have an Anatolia that has been comprehensively Turkified. That is to say, they had acquired a nationalist ideological perspective of regarding all non-Turks as suspect, hostile elements. It was this ideology that led to the tehcir and the accompanying orders. That is why it is a mediated cause and effect relationship, and what one can say about nationalist revolutionary activity and the intervention of great powers is that they heavily and strongly contributed to the anxious and fearful defensive and therefore bristling kind of Turkish nationalist and ethnic cleansing mentality. It was this ideology, in turn, which lead to the horrors of 1915. Having said all that, look at it this way: Were there many Muslims and Turks who also died, were killed, murdered, their villages burned down, their women and children carried off, and are there many mass graves in eastern Anatolia? Yes. These things happened. This observation might be very important psychologically and mentally for the Armenian side of the debate. I am not saying that it is equivalent to what happened in 1915, because that was not low density ethnic warfare, it was the Ottoman state versus all Armenians. It was state declaring war on its subjects. Without apologizing for and condoning anything, there is something that has to be recognized by Armenian historiography. If you don’t take stock of this fact, if you don’t address it, if you don’t try to cope with it, then what will happen is that you will not be able to understand the Turkish feelings of having been victimized. Recognition of this could contribute to liberating us all around.

The next question I asked during my talk was:

4) Why is recognizing the genocide so difficult for Turkey?

Each nationalism has an enormous, excessive degree of epistemological self confidence. All nationalisms believe in the immaculate conception of their respective nation states. This is like kids talking about where they have come from. Up to a certain point, kids believe that their parents did not have sex; there might be filthy things in other parents’ lives, like sex and love making, but not my parents. The stork brought me! Likewise, in post national revolutionary societies, the nationalists like to believe or pretend that other peoples’ revolutions were dirty, filthy, violent, cruel, and brutal, but not ours. Ours was purely white and innocent. This is also true for Turkish nationalism which believes in the immaculate conception of the Turkish state.

This is all the more strengthened in the case of Turkey because it has been a late coming nationalism. The French and the Germans had fought in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and then in WWI and in WWII and as a result, through very bloody lessons, maybe they have learned to get over their mutual century long antagonisms. On the other hand, countries like Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey or Armenia, are still just beginning to go through the early waves of distancing themselves from and taking a critical look at their nation state formative nationalist ideologists. It is a delayed process, and it is still going on.

Another difficulty for Turkey is the decades of forgetting. The perpetrators of 1915 seemed to be on the verge of being brought to justice in 1918-19. This justice was taking place in occupied Istanbul, under the guns of occupying powers and involvement in those trials seems, for Turkish nationalists, tantamount to treason and collaboration with the occupying powers. The Anatolian resistance and the Kemalist revolution took place during 1919-22 and then, because this new modern westernizing secular republic was created in 1923, itself wanted to forget the Armenian question, and also because non of the former entente powers had any interest in reminding this new Turkey of the Armenian question (they were all engaged in courting it and flirting with it as a new bastion of modernity in the Middle East), and because the Armenian Diaspora that had barely managed to survive the storm of 1915 was still too weak, and just struggling to cling to life, Turkey and the Turkish society relapsed into decades of forgetting. It was not conspiratorial, it just spontaneously happened. Consider what happens in a particular society if the production and reproduction of knowledge is disrupted, discontinued. A collective amnesia sets in. And what happened becomes like hearsay. Then from the late 70s and onwards, you have the ASALA terrorist attacks on Turkish diplomats abroad, and Turkish society starts to go through a very rude awakening. What is this? What are these people talking about when they refer to 1915? And of course the worse thing is all the ASALA attacks are happening at a time of military dictatorship in Turkey which is exercising a comprehensive clamp on the press and is able to comprehensively manipulate public opinion by saying “all these are slanders, this is pure fabrication nothing like this ever happened.” It is easy to persuade the public to start believing a myth history of the so-called Armenian accusations and slanders of genocide. This is when the slanders and false accusations discourse really picks off.

The problem today is, over the last 30 years, under various governments not so interested in Europeanization and globalization and democratization, Turkish diplomacy has progressively dug itself into a hole. They have been trying to dig defensive trenches against what they called the Armenian slanders and accusations, but they kept digging so much that now they are way at the bottom of a deep well and there’s no way to get out of it. The heart of the problem is not really Armenian territorial demands or compensation et cetera. You have continued to repeat a line for decades. How can you now turn around and say, “You know what we have been telling you for decades? Well, you know, it isn’t exactly correct”. Turkey must be helped in this process. It is wrong to keep bashing Turkish on the head with the big stick of the Armenian question. This question can only be resolved through the liberation of the conversation inside Turkey itself. That is to say, it cannot be an immediate political demand or condition or precondition for anything. One has to be very realistic about this. It will take a long time to break through censorship and psychological terror to gradually enlighten the Turkish public about what actually happened in 1915. It can only be a byproduct of a full and comprehensive democratization and Europeanization in Turkey, not vice versa. You can’t put the cart before the horse.

K.M. – In an attempt to take matters into its own hands, the Turkish government has proposed setting up a joint historians’ commission. What’s your take on that?

H.B. – In the Turkish proposal, the Turkish government appoints so many historians, the Armenian government would be expected to appoint an equal number of Armenian historians and they will be supposed and expected to sit down and discuss the actual facts of what happened in 1915. I would have no hope for such a commission. If the Turkish government appoints the most die-hard official historians of the Turkish nationalist thesis, and if the same is done by the Armenian government, they would get absolutely nowhere. There won’t be any real scholarly dialogue. They will be just historian-lawyers for their respective states. And the worst of it is, they wouldn’t even have the self confidence of the actual politicians. Should the slightest hint of a compromise arise, they would immediately go back and ask the people who appointed them if they are allowed to agree on such a compromise. They wouldn’t have any initiative. They will be even more connected to their nation states than the politicians with political imperative. There has to be a way to get around this. If you create a commission like this, these people will be flinging figurative stories at each other. They will be throwing documents and each side will be arguing for his and only his victimhood.

Why don’t we reconsider this idea of a commission? The Turkish government appoints ten Turkish historians but also picks and appoints 5 Armenian or Diaspora Armenian historians. And the Armenian government, likewise, appoints 10 Armenian and 5 Turkish or Turkish Diaspora historians. Then these thirty historians collectively appoint ten international historian, non-Turks and non-Armenians. Now in that case we would have real dialogue.

1 comment:

untriangulated said...

fascinating post. thank you for sharing