[This is a second letter by my friend Taner Akcam, a Turkish historian, to the Turkish government leaders, published by  Taraf, a Turkish daily.  I post it here because I don’t know of any other location on the internet where you can find a decently formatted version of it in English.]

The genocide of 1915 isn’t even a topic of discussion for the American Congress or the White House.
In the end, we’re trying to stifle a society that accepts and repeats to others the reality of the genocide of 1915, every day of the year except one, the one day we manage to shut them up.

We tell them “If I hear that word on your lips, I’ll wash your mouth out with soap!” And they go mum for that one day for fear of getting soap in their mouth. Not because they really don’t believe it, but because they’re willing to not use that word, that one day of the year.

We know that when the matter comes up for a vote, they’re not voting to decide “whether 1915 was genocide.” They’re voting over this: “If we use the word genocide on this one day, this one time, will the Turks get angry? If we say genocide, will they close the Incirlik Air Force base?” In the end the decision they make is basically this: “What happened in 1915 was genocide but to further America’s interests in the Middle East we won’t use that word this one day on this special occasion.”

Do you realize that you present this as a victory to the Turkish people? This is what I don’t get: What is the reason for the intense pleasure and satisfaction that is derived from being able to take the position “I know they believe in the reality of the genocide, but I’m threatening them, and I’m making them fearful. I am able to prevent them from using that word for that one day.” Can someone explain to me the source of pride in doing that?

There’s another aspect to this, however, one that is very shameful and demeaning. It’s something that most people seem to be missing. Do the ones who bully and boast that “we’re not going to let them use the word genocide to describe 1915” realize that they end up making the Turkish person the butt of ridicule, something out of one of those insulting lampoon-like verses from satirist Neyzen Tevfik? You know the ones, they start with “I dunno, you might get mad, but….”[2] In just this way, every year, American presidents, who refrain from using the word genocide on April 24th, nevertheless find words that are even more horrific to describe and condemn what happened during the Armenian genocide.

And yet, every year when those horrific words are spoken, the fact that the word genocide isn’t used has begun to be presented in Turkey with great joy and displays of victory. We’ve become this nation that goes into angry fits over the word “genocide” but doesn’t bat an eyelash, in fact gets secretly pleased, over words that are far uglier and more dishonorable.

Do we understand that we have become a nation that enjoys the fact that 1915 is described as a mass annihilation? Do we not realize that by letting this kind of conversation occur in the corridors of Washington - “Let’s not use the word genocide but we’ll find something even worse to describe it. That seems to make the Turks happy” – we’ve allowed ourselves to be demeaned and we’ve become a laughing stock?

It all comes back around to the same question: how did we lose our sense of shame? And how much longer is this going to go on? And another question: What do we really want to do? What will we do if one day the US Congress or the President comes out and says “Enough already...What do you hope to achieve by trying to prevent me from saying what I believe? How far do you think you can go on policies that are based upon making sure I tell a lie for one day? I’m going to use that word on the one day you’ve been threatening to shut me up. I’m going to say what I think; I’m going to declare 1915 to be genocide. What are you going to do about it?”

Does everything we have to say about 1915 consist of threatening the US Congress and the Presidents on that one day? Wouldn’t it be far more gentlemanly to say to someone who already recognizes 1915 to be genocide, “Feel free to say whatever you believe, friend.” Wouldn’t it be far more honest and civilized to say, “If you’ve refrained from saying what you believe in, because of threats from me, because of intimidation from me, then I apologize”? Don’t we need to develop policies that will save the Turks and Turkey from having to endure every single year the shame of thinking “I wish we could just get past this month of April”? And don’t we need to honestly talk about and feel shame about what happened during that terrible time in history in order to truthfully confront 1915?

In 1915, the Unionist gang smeared a black stain on the forehead of this nation. For 95 years instead of trying to remove this stain, we’ve defended those acts and developed denialist policies to justify what happened. As if the stain of 1915 isn’t enough, every year on April 24th we’ve become a nation that actually feels happy hearing American presidents condemn in their own words that “1.5 million Armenians were annihilated” because the word genocide isn’t uttered in that condemnation.

We need to wash off this black stain and end this shamefulness. But how? That will be the subject of the next article!….


[1] Dersim is the name of a province where a distinct ethnic-religious group (Kirmanci) lives. In 1937-8 around 40-50.000 of these people were massacred by Turkish Army. 1979 in province Marash around 200 Alevi (a religious minority) were massacred by extreme-nationalists, supported by security forces. On July 2, 1993 in Sivas 37 Alevi intellectuals were burned alive in a hotel as a result of an attack by mob supported by security forces.

[2] Here is addressed to hypocrites who take secret pleasure in shameful acts that they refuse to acknowledge by name.

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