In the last post, I examined the political and business interests that prevent archaeological work. In this one, I want to show both (part of) the context and (one of) the product(s) of the consequent historical amnesia: the prevalence and impunity of ultranationalists, who make it dangerous for community members to perform anti-racist and anti-nationalist cultural heritage work, even within the relatively free and democratic spaces of the resisters’ occupations.
Memorials destroyed and denied: the politics of the Armenian Genocide at Gezi Park
Two of the collectively-proposed Occupy Gezi Manifesto’s demands are evidence of the protesters’ historical awareness and moral bravery. Directly contradicting the state’s and the nationalist faction/majority’s position that recognition of the Armenian Genocide is a criminal insult to the Turkish nation and state, they insist:
- Turkey must come to terms with the Armenian Genocide.
- The government must investigate the assassination of Hrant Dink [an Armenian Turkish journalist who campaigned for historical truth and community reconciliation].
They also renamed one of their avenues Hrant Dink Street (Hrant Dink Caddesi). When the Say Stop to Racism and Nationalism Initiative (Irkçılığa ve Milliyetçiliğe Dur De! Girişimi) released an accompanying video, ‘an account with 40,000 followers called “Turkish Police”‘ shared it under the title, ‘here are the Armenian traitors’.
When I shared the news that Gezi occupiers were going to (re-)establish a memorial to the Armenian Genocide at Gezi Park, a Turkish Gezi activist commented: ‘I refuse [deny] that lie. We never made a genocide against Armenians. On the contrary Armenians killed more Turk[s] in eastern Turkey in 1915. Today we live in peace with Armenians. The ones who will try this provocation in Gezi will be punished by all Gezi supporters.’
When I warned some people at Gezi Park, I was reassured, ‘these will remain threats in word only. There’s nothing to worry about. [Bunlar sadece sözde kalan tehditler. Endişelinecek bir şey yok.]’ Unfortunately, there was something to worry about. The anti-racist activists explained to (Turkish historian of the Armenian Genocide) Taner Akçam,
There was a very tense atmosphere. The numbers of Turkish flags had increased 3 or 5 fold in the Park. About an hour before the start, a group of people gathered in front of our stand and started shouting “We can’t have you erecting a genocide memorial here!” We got warnings from the Taksim-Platform organizers… that there could be provocations.
There were a lot of us… gathered there and we could have gone ahead with our plan anyway; but it seemed certain that the symbolic monument would be destroyed.
The character of the constituents in the area had changed yesterday; because Taksim Platform called for a meeting yesterday and a lot of “ulusalcı-nationalists [extremist nationalists]” came. There had been even an attack on the Kurds; the nationalists had tried to chase them off the area. They didn’t even want to permit an artist friend from shouting out “Long [Live] Peace” in Kurdish from the stage.
Bottom line is, there were a lot of nationalists around yesterday…. It was clearly an organized campaign. It seemed wise to cancel the memorial subject and avoid adding to the tension.
(There’s also a Turkish-language explanation: Soykırım Anıtı Dikilme Projesi Olmadı.)
How freely can you discuss the Armenian Genocide?
The anti-racist activists concluded: ‘Unfortunately, we experienced just how freely you can debate the “Armenian issue” in one of the freest environments around’. Indeed. And this pile of shit has several layers.
The establishment of false memory
There is massive official, semi-official and unofficial propaganda that brainwashes society. Even many anti-racist, anti-nationalist members of Turkish society believe that the Armenian Genocide is a myth. The law can be used to censor people who try to challenge the propaganda.
Worse than the legal punishment is the extra-judicial punishment: even without conviction, the threat of the law can be used to identify “enemies of the state” who can then be targeted by fascist gangs and paramilitaries. Hrant Dink was thus marked before (and for) his assassination.
The people, who grow up to believe that the Armenian Genocide is a libel against their nation and their ancestors (rather than a reality, for which not their ancestors but para-state elements were responsible), then impose that unreality on their descendants. It is a literally vicious circle.
Yet there are also many who immediately claim that Armenian civilians were not marched to death or massacred, then eventually argue that those things happened, but they did not constitute genocide, because the Armenians “deserved” (or “needed”) to be killed.
The silencing of alternative voices
And the threat of violence is not rare: its perpetrators are not restricted to mafia hitmen; its victims are not restricted to high-profile targets; its occurrences are not restricted to moments of crisis. Once, a Grey Wolf (an armed ultranationalist fascist) warned me that, if we had not been drinking together with common acquaintances, he would have shot me between the eyes. Another time, I had to flee my (thankfully temporary) accommodation and take up residence in a Kurdish hostel under the direct threat of violence from “ordinary” members of society.
So, how freely can you discuss the Armenian Genocide in Turkey? Not very, unless you enjoy pain…