By Uzay Bulut
Turkey still denies the Armenian Genocide, during which 1.5 million Armenians perished. The Turkish state does not have just one policy or rhetoric concerning it. One could argue that there are four main narratives in Turkey concerning the genocide.
Narrative One: We Did Not Slaughter Armenians; Armenians Slaughtered Us
Accusing Armenians of being mass murderers and the actual perpetrators of genocide is a popular myth in Turkey.
Last year, a public stage play that depicted “the liberation of Aşkale [in Erzurum] from invasion” not only turned the historical facts regarding the genocide upside down but also converted them into hate-filled propaganda against the Armenians.
The play opened with the “immigration of Turks fleeing from Armenians.” In it, the Armenians begin drinking wine and eating chicken at a table set in the middle of a ceremony area. Upon the call of their commander, they start slaughtering Turks. They then burn down a mosque (a model made of cardboard), catch the imam as he is reciting the Azan (the Islamic call to prayer), and attack him in the city center. They force him to enter the mosque and then burn him alive. Afterward, they attack a Turkish family, murdering the housewife and her father-in-law in cold blood.
The play ended with Turkish high school students, playing the role of the Turkish militia, entering the town and killing the Armenian “gangs.”
Many state and government authorities, including the mayor, district governor, chief prosecutor, and garrison commander of the town, as well as many students and local people, attended the play.
An actor said that he has been playing the role of Ohannes, the Armenian battalion commander in the play, for about 30 years. So, such plays and speeches about the genocide have become “traditional performances” in Turkey.
Moreover, this narrative is what is now taught to Turkish schoolchildren in middle and high schools.
Professor Taner Akçam wrote a comprehensive article for the Armenian Weekly about how the 1915 genocide is depicted in Turkish history textbooks used during the 2014 and 2015 school years. Those books are either prepared by the Ministry of National Education or approved by the Ministry’s Instruction and Education Board.
“The textbooks characterize Armenians as people who are incited by foreigners, who aim to break apart the state and the country and who murdered Turks and Muslims,” Akçam wrote. “The Armenian Genocide, referred to as the ‘Armenian matter’ in textbooks, is described as a lie perpetrated in order to meet these goals and is defined as the biggest threat to Turkish national security. Another threat to national security is missionaries and their activities.”
But Turkey’s rhetoric concerning genocide is not limited to that narrative.
Narrative Two: Yes, We Did Slaughter Armenians. If They Do Not Behave, We Will Slaughter Them Again
This narrative is similar to the first one but takes it to a new and even more shameless level: to something to be proud of, and additional threats against the Armenian victims and other minorities. This sentiment is also openly and frequently expressed across Turkey.
For example, during the performance in Aşkale last year, Enver Başaran, the then mayor of the town, said, in part:
“The Armenians, who had been our ancestors’ neighbors for many years, formed gangs and carried out massacres in our lands with the encouragement and armed support of the Soviet Union following the Russian invasion.
“In your presence, I remember once again with mercy and gratitude our glorious ancestors who extirpated the Armenians, whose history is filled with blood and treason, from these lands.
“The hostility and hatred of those Armenian gangs that are a network of treason has never ended for these lands and for the noble Turkish nation. Those Armenian gangs that do not know any history, rules, or the law now carry out separatist activities in our lands through the terrorist organization PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party].
So this narrative proudly accepts that Turks slaughtered Armenians, but they have an excuse: “Yes, we did exterminate Armenians. But ask us why. Because they misbehaved and became traitors. And, if required, we will do it all over again. One cannot get even an inch of territory from Turkey.”
“We will do it all over again,” in fact, seems to indirectly target Kurds, declaring to Kurds that if they don’t behave well and accept Turkish superiority, Turks will exterminate them, too.
It is actually a common belief in Turkey that PKK members are not Kurdish but are, rather, Armenian. Turkish media often refers to the PKK and the pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) members as “Armenians” or “Christians.” Last year, for example, Turkish newspapers claimed that a PKK member killed in the city of Van was found to be wearing a cross necklace—something totally unacceptable according to Turkish-Islamic standards.
Accusing PKK members of being Christian or “uncircumcised” is widespread in the military and among government authorities, as well.
For example, after a group of Turkish soldiers and PKK members were killed in battle on September 8 of 2015, the principal consultant of President Tayip Erdogan and former Chairman of the Constitutional Commission of Turkey’s Parliament Burhan Kuzu wrote on his Twitter account: “So far, thousands of terrorists have been bumped off. This will continue. The corpses of the dead terrorists should definitely have autopsies. Many of them will be found to be uncircumcised. Wake up, my Kurdish brother, wake up now!”
This narrative aims at legitimizing the killings of PKK members or other Kurds because being uncircumcised implies being Christian or non-Muslim. And according to fanatic Muslims, it is “halal” (a good deed) to kill non-Muslims.
Linking the PKK with the Armenian identity is commonly stated by the ultranationalist segments of Turkish politics, such as the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) and the BDP (Great Unity Party).
In 1996, for example, in Turkey’s parliament, the interior minister at the time, Meral Akşener, who is a former MP from the MHP, said the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, was of “Armenian semen [seed].” She then clarified the remark by saying, “I did not refer to the Armenians living in Turkey. I referred to the Armenian race in general.”
“Armenian seed” is one of the most popular epithets in Turkey, often used for Kurds, as well. Kurds, or Kurds who request national rights, are “accused” of being Armenian. Many people in Turkey, including military personnel, openly refer to Kurds or Kurdish activists as “Armenians,” “dirty Armenians,” “Armenian bastards,” “Armenian sperm,” or “Armenian semen/seed.” Different versions of these epithets are also used to refer to Greeks and Jews.
Since August of last year, military curfews have been imposed on the predominantly Kurdish southeastern towns. When Turkish security forces destroyed the town of Cizre in September, 2015, they announced on a loudspeaker to the local Kurdish population: “Armenians are proud of you; you are all Armenians. You are Armenian bastards.”
The Human Rights Association of Turkey (IHD) also reported that the police announced to the Kurds of Cizre that they were “Armenian sperm.” Arın Gül Yeniaras, a lawyer who visited Cizre after those operations, wrote that “Everyone was talking about the announcements of the police forces from armored vehicles: “We will cleanse you all in two hours, Armenian bastards! Come on! Let’s play house, Armenian bastards!”
None of the police officers or soldiers responsible for these announcements has been brought to account, apparently because they acted in accordance with the official line of the Turkish regime.
It is not only Armenians who are publicly degraded with such vicious statements in Turkey. All non-Muslims, particularly Greeks and Jews, are also targeted publicly by politicians or military figures.
For example, after the Islamic memorial service at a mosque in Istanbul to commemorate the death of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was the founder of modern Turkey and the CHP (Republican People’s Party) in 2013, Muharrem İnce, its deputy president, said: “If there had been no Ataturk…your names would not be Ahmet, Hasan, Hüseyin today. Your names would be Dimitri or Yorgo. They need to know these things right.”
Sadly, no one within his party’s grassroots opposed or challenged him. This demonstrates two realities:
Dehumanizing and insulting Greeks is a norm in Turkey.
There seems to be almost no culture of intellectual dissent about certain issues within the CHP or any other mainstream party in Turkey. And this could partly stem from Turkish politicians’ constantly terrorizing dissidents in the country. In Turkey, even if you feel disturbed by statements degrading or threatening Greeks or other non-Muslims, you are to keep quiet, because you have been taught that if you speak up, you could be labeled as treacherous and accused of having “kafir” (infidel) roots.
And if anyone is declared to be “Armenian sperm” or “Greek sperm” or “Jewish sperm,” those people could be physically attacked or even murdered.
Turkish authorities have also proudly named several places such as schools, neighborhoods, streets, and boulevards after the very people who planned or were directly involved in the Armenian Genocide—an open message to not only Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks but also to Kurds and other dissidents: “This is the possible end awaiting you if you don’t obey us.”
Narrative Three: A Tragedy Happened During World War I. Armenians Slaughtered Us, and We Slaughtered Them. It Was Civil War. Let’s Forget About It…
This is the narrative Turkey uses for international observers. On April 24, 2015, for example, a message was sent by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the religious ceremony held in the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul on the 100th anniversary of the genocide. It said, in part:
“In World War I, which ranks among humanity’s major catastrophes, millions from all nations also perished within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire.
“I commemorate with compassion and respect all the Ottoman citizens, regardless of their ethnic and religious identity, who lost their lives under similar conditions during this war.”
In essence, what this message declares is this: “What happened in 1915 was never genocide. People kill each other in all wars. But we are such noble people we still remember all of the dead with love, so let’s forget about it and move on already.”
But, at the same time, Turkey teaches its children that Armenians were the perpetrators of genocide. Racist attacks against the bilingual Armenian weekly newspaper Agos, as well as against Armenian schools, are still widespread in Turkey. Also, Armenians are exposed to hate speech more than any other group, according to a periodic report on hate speech in the Turkish media, released by the Hrant Dink Foundation this year.
So, this third narrative, which is more “moderate” compared with the first and second ones, is just for show, intended for the outside world and particularly for the West: “Look, Turkey is changing for the better and taking steps to face its history. And this proves that we are a worthwhile NATO member an EU candidate.”
Narrative 4: Yes, Turkey Committed Genocide
This rhetoric is never directly stated by the Turkish government, but it is, at times, tolerated when presented by some intellectuals in the country.
Since 2010, rights activists in Turkey led by the Human Rights Association (IHD) have commemorated the 1915 genocide in cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, and Diyarbakir. The government has not prevented the commemoration events, nor has it arrested the organizers. For the government seems to use these events as a public relations stunt for the world. International media do cover these events, so it is easy marketing for Turkish “democracy.”
Particularly during the “policy of zero problems with neighbors” instituted by then-foreign minister and later prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (from 2009 to 2016), intellectuals who told the truth about the genocide were somewhat more tolerated by the government. Not because it also recognized the truth or wanted to encourage the Turkish public to learn more about the genocide, but because it wanted to look more democratic to the West.
An Overview of the Issue
Thus, Turkish state authorities use these four policies or narratives concerning the GSenocide based on the needs and interests of the country at different times.
They sometimes tolerate those who tell the truth if that tolerance might result in Western support for Turkey. But, at the same time, they arrest some of those who tell the truth about the Genocide. Mukaddes Alataş, a Kurdish human rights activist from Diyarbakir, for example, was recently arrested for “being a member of a terror organization.” Among the “evidence” used against her were her social media posts about the Armenian Genocide. She is still in jail.
Human rights activists in Turkey are thus taking immense risks by organizing or speaking out. At any time they could also be attacked, or even killed, by nationalists Turks hostile to Armenians. Hrant Dink, the editor-in-chief of Agos, was murdered in 2007 in front of the office of his newspaper in Istanbul. He had received numerous death threats from Turkish nationalists and was prosecuted three times for “denigrating Turkishness” in his writings and remarks about the Armenian Genocide.
Hence, there are strict limits to the tolerance of the Turkish government. And every now and then, the government sends a message to those who recognize the genocide: “Know your limits.”
In May, 2005, for example, Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University attempted to organize a conference about the Genocide. Scholars who say that what happened in 1915 was genocide were also invited. But the conference was canceled after then justice minister Cemil Çiçek accused those associated with the conference of “treason” and “stabbing Turkey in the back.”
Some 102 years have passed, but the denial of or even pride in the genocide is still the dominant ideology in Turkey, and it has largely escaped public scrutiny or critique. Why?
The government’s brainwashing of the people has created generations that blindly deny the Armenian Genocide. Turks, through various means, such as the educational system and the media, have been indoctrinated with the lie that there is no genocide or shame or guilt in their history.
But in an age of technology, where there is limitless access to all kinds of sources on the Internet, why is denial of genocide still so popular in Turkey?
This is largely due to the Islamic indoctrination of the Turkish masses. Sadly, traditional Islamic doctrine does not value non-Muslim lives as much as Muslime lives. Fourteen centuries of Islamic history demonstrate that there has never been legal or social equality of Muslims and non-Muslims in majority-Muslim societies. When religious or national dehumanization of non-Muslims, which, in Turkey’s case, includes Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Jews, Yazidis, and others, is reinforced by the government, the denial of genocide or massacres against them turns into a social pathology that is very difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.
Today, only 0.2 percent of Turkey’s population is Christian or Jewish. There are only around 2,000 Greeks, 20,000 Assyrians (Syriacs and Chaldeans), 60,000 Armenians, 350 Yazidis, and 15,000 Jews left in Turkey, a country with a total population of about 80 million.
The decline of the non-Muslim population has not been due to natural causes. The religious minorities in Turkey have for decades been decimated through methods such as murders, pogroms, forced expulsions, forced displacements, harassment, and various social and economic pressures that finally forced them to leave Turkey.
And one of the most important factors that normalizes, legitimizes, and makes murders and crimes against non-Muslims “morally acceptable” in Islamic societies is the tradition of jihad or Islamic identity. It was during the first campaign of expansion of Islamic armies in the seventh century that jihadists arrived in and invaded Asia Minor, which was then a majority-Christian area with sizable Jewish and Yazidi communities. During that period, several nations across continents, such as the Persian empire, the Byzantine empire, and northern Africa were invaded and occupied, making the Islamic world expand far beyond the borders of the Arabian Peninsula. And throughout centuries, jihadists have spread their faith by the sword, as sanctioned by Islamic scriptures. Today, the last Christian and Yazidi genocides are being committed by ISIS (Islamic State) in Syria and Iraq.
During Islamic invasions and later during Sharia rule, Christians and Jews were either murdered or become “dhimmis”: third-class, barely “tolerated” people in their dispossessed land who must pay a tax (the jizya) in exchange for so-called “protection.”
Historian Bat Ye’or places the continuum of Armenian massacres in Ottoman Turkey in an overall theological and juridical context, as follows:
“The genocide of the Armenians was the natural outcome of a policy inherent in the politically religious structure of Dhimmitude. This process of physically eliminating a rebel nation had already been used against the rebel Slav and Greek Christians, rescued from collective extermination by European intervention, although sometimes reluctantly.
“The genocide of the Armenians was a jihad. No Rayas (non-Muslim Dhimmis) took part in it. Despite the disapproval of many Muslim Turks and Arabs, and their refusal to collaborate in the crime, these massacres were perpetrated solely by Muslims and they alone profited from the booty: the victims’ property, houses, and lands granted to the Muhajirun (holy warrior jihadists), and the allocation to them of women and child slaves. The elimination of male children over the age of twelve was in accordance with the commandments of the jihad and conformed to the age fixed for the payment of the Jizya. The four stages of the liquidation, deportation, enslavement, forced conversion and massacre, reproduced the historic conditions of the jihad carried out in the Dar Al Harb from the seventh century on. Chronicles from a variety of sources, by Muslim authors in particular, give detailed descriptions of the organized massacres or deportation of captives, whose sufferings in forced marches behind the armies paralleled the Armenian experience in the twentieth century.”
Dr. Yektan Türkyılmaz, an expert of Turkish and Ottoman history, recently wrote a highly informative article concerning the wider background and historical process of the Armenian Genocide, detailing the massacres and persecutions not only of Armenians but also of Syriacs, Chaldeans, and Yazidis in Turkey and the rest of the region.
He wrote, in part: “It is without doubt that the annihilationist consensus between the central government in Istanbul, the military commanders, governors, low-level and middle-level officials, many Kurdish tribes, and Circassian militia etc. was built on Islamic identity…. The emphasis here is that a certain narrative was functional in ‘legitimizing’ massacres, destruction and pillaging and making them ‘conscientiously doable.”
Türkyılmaz added that “the Armenian Genocide was the most important turning point of the Muslimization of the Middle East.”
Apart from Islam’s doctrinal dehumanization of non-Muslims, there is also the role of shame versus honor in Islamic societies. In countries such as Turkey, there is nothing worse than shame because it taints one’s family, tribe, and country. That encourages people to either deny the Genocide and other crimes that their ancestors have committed or accuse the accuser of the same thing or even worse. Western societies, however, are guilt-driven. They admit guilt and move on. Muslim societies are largely honor-driven. They almost never admit guilt and don’t move on.
The Turkish Republic, established in 1923, still has not officially recognized, has not apologized for, or made reparations for any of the crimes or wrongdoings at any time in its history.
And never once in their history have Turkish people taken to the streets en masse in protest as the non-Muslim citizens of the country were (and still are) exposed to persecution such as pogroms, massacres, or confiscations of their properties. The Turkish state has carried out its annihilationist policies either with the active participation or the silent approval of the vast majority of the public.
But what is even more striking is that in Turkey there is not one form of denial of the genocide, but several. And all of them have one thing in common: a complete lack of humanity by the perpetrators, past and present.
So, what is to be done? Scholar Andrew G. Bostom, who has written extensively about the Armenian Genocide and history of jihad, wrote in 2015: “The historical record of the jihad genocide of the Armenians a century ago, through the present day jihadist atrocities against Christian communities in the Middle East, and beyond, demonstrates that ancient Islamic jihad war theory continues to be acted upon by Muslims, regularly, across the globe, till now. What remains is for the Muslim intelligentsia to acknowledge, and then eliminate this practice.”
Dr. Bostom also notes that for Muslims to re-examine and criticize their history, the U.S. should lead the way, officially recognize the Genocide, and demand the perpetrators do the same: “A quarter century later, it is now readily apparent such a long overdue, mea culpa-based Muslim self-examination will never begin if the non-Muslim, especially Christian, targets of jihad genocide, remain in their own abject state of jihad denial. U.S. politicians could help facilitate that Muslim re-evaluation process by not only demanding recognition of the Armenian Genocide, but further identifying those mass killings as a jihad genocide, specifically.”