Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

It's a long and winding road to reconciliation for Turkey

Just for a moment, put aside the current Franco-Turkish war over the 20th century's first Holocaust - of the Armenians - and remember that Nicolas Sarkozy's electoral venality (500,000 French-Armenian voters want to hear him tell the truth) and Turkish nationalism (which feeds on holocaust denial) make a bad cocktail.

So here's a story of good cheer. I've just completed 21 interviews on Turkish radio, television and in newspapers, on the Armenian genocide.

Not all of my talks were about the deliberate mass murder of a million and a half Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 - there was much discussion of Syria and Kurdistan and whether Turkey should be a "role model" for the Arab world (another 24-hour wonder produced by the Washington dream team) - but there was some serious discussion about that most unmentionable subject.

The occasion was the launching of the Turkish language edition of my book The Great War for Civilisation - which includes an entire and detailed chapter on the genocide - and which has just appeared in Turkey without any imposition of the infamous law 301 (the 'anti-Turkishness' law).

The chapter on the Armenians, which states repeatedly that this first Holocaust of the 20th century was planned and executed by the Turkish authorities in Constantinople (Istanbul), is titled in Turkish, The First Genocide. And, for the most part, Turkish journalists and television presenters simply didn't question the veracity of what I wrote.

For many hundreds of thousands of Turks, the Armenian genocide is now a fact of history. The Turkish government still officially denies these atrocities.

Thousands of Turks are digging into their own family histories. Why, they are asking, did they have Armenian grandmothers and great-grandmothers? What is this secret history that has to be guarded by laws which can imprison you for merely discussing in public Turkey's responsibility for this genocide?

And I asked, repeatedly, on Turkish television and in the press, why a strong and brave country like Turkey - whose victory at Gallipoli remains one of the world's great military achievements, whose soldiers were the only UN unit in the Korean war who refused to be brainwashed - cannot acknowledge the terrible deeds which took place before almost all of them were born?

There are no surviving murderers - though there are a pitifully few surviving Armenian victims - and there can be no trials. Turkey still wants to join the EU and in four years the world will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

Why not acknowledge this history now? The Germans have apologised 1,000 times to the Jews; the US has apologised to native Americans for their 19th-century ethnic cleansing; the Australians to the Aborigines, the British to the Irish, the Ukrainians to the Poles for their mass rape, pillage and massacres under German occupation after 1941.

Only a few weeks ago, Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged that the Turkish army had massacred thousands of Kurds in the 1930s. The newspaper Zaman asked whether this might open the way to an acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide.

The only journalistic denial I came across was in a pre-interview discussion, when a producer described 1915 as a "mutual massacre". Like Bosnia, I asked? Silence.

At one of my Istanbul book autograph sessions, a young man asked me to sign a copy for his father who had seen me on television and liked what he heard. I signed the book. "My Dad," the man said, "is the chief of police for Istanbul."

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