Q&A: Confronting Turkey's 'dark history'

Al Jazeera spoke with Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor Yetvart Danzikyan about the Armenian "genocide" debate.

    Q&A: Confronting Turkey's 'dark history'
    'Turkey should stop seeing the issue as an insult to the state, religion and nation,' Danzikyan says [Huseyin Narin/Al Jazeera]

    The centenary of the 1915 Armenian mass killings was commemorated last month, amid fresh debate over whether the events can be called a "genocide".

    Ankara agrees that many Armenians died in ethnic fighting and the deportation process between 1915 and 1917 during World War I, putting its estimate at 300,000 casualties. Armenia says 1.5 million died in the process, including on the march to Syria, in what it calls a genocide - an accusation denied by Turkey, which says there was no systematic attempt to destroy Armenians.

    Al Jazeera talked to Yetvart Danzikyan, the editor-in-chief of Turkey's Agos newspaper, about Turkey's approach to the Armenian issue.

    RELATED: Q&A: The legal battle over 'Armenian genocide'

    Al Jazeera: What is the motivation for Turkey's policy towards the Armenian issue? What would Turkey lose or gain if it acknowledged 1915 as 'genocide'?

    Yetvart Danzikyan: If Turkey acknowledged the genocide, it would not lose anything. It would become a country that faced its dark history. The Justice and Development [AK] Party's perspective on the issue is this: This might have happened in other country's histories, but this would never happen in ours. 

    In the government's view, Turkey's ancestors would never conduct a genocide - other countries do. What happened to Armenians fits with the definition of genocide. The fact that there was no defined concept of genocide in 1915 doesn't mean it wasn't one. No one actually blames Turks or Turkey as a country; the state itself internalises it. Nobody is saying Turks or Turkey's ancestors did it. However, the Committee of Union and Progress government of the time planned the genocide and carried it out. This is what we are saying. It wasn't an aspect of the war going on back then as the government claims, it was planned. Name by name, district by district, Armenians were taken away. Even the number of Armenians to stay and to be taken away were clear.  

    Armenians mark centenary of mass killing

    Facing these would put Turkey in another [higher] league of countries in the world. Turkey should stop seeing the issue as an insult to the state, religion, and nation.

    Al Jazeera: This is not special to the AK party government. Many governments with opposite ideologies followed the same policy on the Armenian issue.  Isn't it hard to change such a deep-rooted policy? 

    Danzikyan: It has never changed, true. However, the AK party is the most politically [distinct] movement from the Committee of Union and Progress. This is self-proclaimed in the party's statements. And actually, they had been in a power struggle until five years ago with the successors of the Committee of Union and Progress' ideology - the Turkish army and the deep state organised around it. Despite the fact that the AK party prevailed in this fight, it still lays claim to this incident carried out by the same mentality.

    Al Jazeera: Do you think the AK party really lays claim to it? Or does it act in a pragmatic way because society is highly opinionated on the issue through the state's long-standing view?

    Danzikyan: The AK party is a pragmatist party, so it is hard for me to foresee the motivations of its actions. However, the remarks by the party up until today, including the one saying 'our ancestors wouldn't do such a thing', shows that [they embrace it]. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently called the pope's statement [acknowledging the genocide] and the [European] parliament's resolution on the issue 'hate speech'. The AK party directs these remarks to itself through such statements.

    As a pragmatist party, the AK party also plays to its nationalist base through such remarks, particularly by bashing the West. This is what neo-nationalists and the deep state did for years. The AK party adds the Islam aspect to nationalism in its remarks. That seems the only difference.

    Al Jazeera: How dominant is the concept of the 'Armenian genocide' in the daily lives of Turkish Armenians? How much influence does it have in their views towards the country and the state?

    Danzikyan: Well, there is a generation of Armenians who are not interested in the genocide issue. They think that dealing with it causes problems and don't want to be insistent on the matter. When the government makes a positive move - such as an official being present at the Armenian Patriarchate's April 24 ceremony and Erdogan's message being read there - some of the Armenians say that there are positive developments and there is no reason to be in a dispute with the state.

    There is also a group which believes that, as long as the denial persists, they are not going to live comfortably in the country. They want Turkey to face the past. Turkish Armenians are not homogeneous. 

    Al Jazeera: What do you think about the messages of condolences and dialogue that government officials have sent to Armenians in the last two years?

    Danizkyan: It is a positive development. However, if you look at the content of the messages, you will see that the Turkish government wants 1915 to be memorialised the way it defines it. They refer to the war conditions of the time, implying responsibility also on Armenians, etc. As long as Turkish Armenians are okay with these arguments, they are the government's friends. Others are the foes.

    The messages are also unbalanced. One day [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan criticises the commemoration ceremony in Yerevan. The next day he releases a message and has it read at the Armenian Patriarchate, sending his condolences to Armenians. He also changed the commemoration of the Gallipoli battle to April 24, making it a rival ceremony. He was in Canakkale himself [at the Gallipoli commemoration]; his message is at the patriarchate. What are we supposed to do with this?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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