Armenian-Turkish Dialogue and Taner Akçam

The current problems, if not enmity, prejudice and hatred, between the Turkish and Armenian communities can almost entirely be traced back to the Genocide of 1915. This has been, and still is, the major stumbling block in Armenian-Turkish relations.

Frequently, the Armenians look at the year 1915 as the epitome and culmination of the misfortunes, misgovernment and tragedies they suffered under Ottoman Turkish rule. The Turkish state continues flatly to deny the events of 1915, often mitigating or denigrating the Armenian tragedy in various forms and to varying degrees.

They also claim that the vile acts of destruction committed against the Armenians are below the inherent dignity and honor of the Turkish people and the ideals of Turkish nationalism that gave rise to the modern Turkish state.

Any and all references to 1915 have not only polarized both the Armenians and the Turks but have also politicized their respective stands vis-à-vis one another.

They continue to suffer emotionally, as their viewpoints remain mutually unrecognized or unacceptable. They spend millions of dollars to silence one another’s voice and become all the more embittered, as they fail to come to terms with the unspeakable pain, loss and memories associated with 1915 and its attendant consequences.

The social actors engaged in this confrontation are the nation-states of Turkey and Armenia, the communities in both countries, including the Armenian minorities in Turkey, the Armenian diaspora, especially in France and the United States, and the nascent Turkish communities in Germany and the United States.

All of these actors (?)  have their separate interests, interpretations, and expectations from the discussion of the Armenian tragedy, and they all attempt to impose their respective views upon others.

As a whole, the Armenians are in agreement that what happened in 1915 was indeed genocide. They have different interpretations, however, as to why 1915 happened, where 1915 should be located in collective memory, and how this location should affect the present.

The views of the Turkish state, the Turkish diaspora, and the people of Turkey also differ widely on the assessment of 1915. The Turkish state has developed a master story that aims to deny and erase the genocide from Turkish collective memory. This master story has so far been viable because of the inherent disregard of the Turkish state for its own historical past. Since the Turkish nationalist project had to construct the Turkish nation-state in contradistinction to the Ottoman Empire, it construed and identified the birth of the Turkish state as the beginning of the history of the nation, rendering what had transpired earlier irrelevant.

While the Turkish diaspora seems to adhere to this official state line, the people of Turkey often do indeed have their own alternative narratives. These narratives circulate informally among groups and individuals, but are never brought into the public arena, for fear of retribution from the state.

Such contestation and discrepancies between and within the Armenian and Turkish communities, and the persistent lack of meaningful dialogue produce sadly significant consequences. Their failure to cultivate direct ties not only allows third parties to enter the public space and exploit Armenian-Turkish differences and disagreements to their advantage, it also forecloses opportunities to discuss, acknowledge and address problems and silences in their own histories.

The Armenian and Turkish communities can overcome such negative consequences by recognizing their shared past, the violence, shock and trauma they both have experienced, and the man-made tragedy inflicted on the Armenians.

One could certainly assert that the Armenians have experienced a double trauma: one resulting from the massacres of 1915, and the other from Turkey’s refusal to recognize the genocide. One of the first steps towards reconciliation through dialogue is the recognition of the trauma of the past affecting both the Armenians and the Turks.

Prior to 1915, the Armenians and Turks shared more than six centuries of common history. This common history can only be studied if 1915 is recognized as one, albeit major, historical instance to be analyzed within the context of the common history Turks and Armenians shared before and after 1915. Inability to do so would essentialize 1915.  The second step in reconciliation through dialogue is the recognition of the common history of the Armenian and Turkish communities.

In its account of what happened or did not happen to the Armenians, the master story of the Turkish nation-state chooses to emphasize the pain and suffering inflicted on the Turks themselves, as if this would in some way alleviate Armenian pain and lessen the Armenian tragedy.

The Turkish master story also claims that the denial of the Armenian tragedy and the exclusion of this group from its imagined community would decrease the pain and suffering of the Turks. The third step in reconciliation through dialogue is the recognition of the inherent biases present in the master story of the Turkish state.

Once these steps are taken jointly by the Armenian and Turkish sides, on equal terms and with mutual recognition and respect, the current insufferable atmosphere can be turned into a joint search for reconciliation through dialogue. Such a perspective is essential if Armenian and Turkish scholars are to explore history in a meaningful way and in all its shades, gray and otherwise.

There is an acute need and, indeed, much room for understanding, collaboration and joint exploration of all aspects, facets and details of Armenian-Turkish relations throughout history. For there is much prejudice to be shed, stereotypes to be destroyed, and many obscure areas to be explored in a constructive fashion. It is this spirit that has led us, two University of Michigan faculty, working in the field of Ottoman and Armenian history and culture, to work together with a view to promoting a scholarly dialogue and adopting a wider embrace of Armenian-Turkish studies.

In our approach and determination to work together, we have derived much inspiration from the person and work of Dr. Taner Akçam.

It is with a deep sense of privilege and honor that we introduce Dr. Taner Akçam’s collection of essays. For many years now, Dr. Akçam has been working tirelessly, and against tremendous odds, to overcome prejudices and biases and to promote understanding and better relations between Turks and Armenians. The focus of his scholarship has been the Armenian Genocide, its history and impact on Armenian-Turkish relations since 1915.

He has diligently delved into primary archival sources to understand and illuminate, and to analyze and interpret, some of the darker aspects of the Armenian tragedy and human behavior. In all his work, Dr. Akçam’s scholarship has been meticulous, his perspectives illuminating, and his moral fortitude inspiring.

What has also been remarkable about this gentleman is not only his perseverance, but also his genuine sense of optimism. His essays offer us a glimpse into the soul and work of a compassionate human being and a dispassionate scholar, endowed with a deep sense of social awareness and responsibility.

Dr. Akçam’s work has been so far published in Turkish and German and has therefore been inaccessible to the English-speaking public. The present volume brings together some of his essays in English translation.

We are certain that this volume will be of significant importance to those interested in the modern phase of Armenian-Turkish relations. We are also certain that its appearance will be gratifying to Dr. Akçam himself. A wider audience will read his work. This will translate into a greater impact and, hopefully, will stimulate more dispassionate research.

And there is no greater fulfillment for a Turk who began his arduous journey all alone, than to be joined by an increasing number of companions in quest of the truth and fruitful understanding between Turks and Armenians.

KEVORK BARDAKJIAN
University of Michigan
FATMA MÜGE GÖÇEK
University of Michigan

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4 Responses to “Armenian-Turkish Dialogue and Taner Akçam”


  1. 1 Oguz tolga December 2, 2006 at 9:13 am

    Mr Taner Akcam is wellpaid actor of the Armenian diaspora.Miss fatma Gocek is not getting payments from the diaspora as she says but she wants to be a shining star using the armenian interests if she even does not believe so.It is the rule of the game everybody use every oportunity as stepping stones .Look those armenians in Armenia.Nobody cares about them.they are dying in poverty but heroes of the diaspora don’t do anything for them.because diaspora can not steal anything but their dreams and hopes.In Turkish we say “anatolian soil is very fruitfull,at least 200.000 traitor have been grown easly””

  2. 2 Markarian via Keghi February 24, 2007 at 3:27 am

    The comment above reveals that the individual had to stoop to ad homineum attacks which belie no common sense.

    Well-paid? Puh-leeze! Do you have any idea how much academics really make? They’re not blinging, ya know!

    I don’t think that anyone would want to risk what Dr. Akcam is, which is his life. No amount of money is worth that. OR not being able to be near one’s father when he is sick. And dear, if he was all about the money, then he would not have chosen this profession-he would have preferred some capitalist reward intensive path in life.

    But- he chose honor despite the hardship.

    And answer this: Why is he getting charged under 301, the same as Dink?

    Think about this concept: The Generational Transmission

    Generational transmission is a very real phenomena. Social and generational transmission is what enables us to learn even to speak ( for the flip-side of this, look at the case of the neglected “Genie” who never learned to speak from being denied human contact).

    Hence, Armenians as the victims of the genocide have been denied several forms of generational transmission and have receieved in the socialization process another-trauma.

    Do you know what it is like to do the math and realize that your family went from over 50 to one person, and as a result of that and the depresssion and death that followed in the children of the surviviors that now-in 2007-you can count your family on your hand?where the rest rfemain in the middle east that they were bombed out of being? Lost again?

    Look, Turkish people-it’s not easy to do the right thing and take the courage to face history and the truth.It does not happen overnight and it is a long process. Here’s a case from overseas” X lived for years shoulder-to shoulder as a non-Native American in American Indian/First Nation communities and towns. From a small child and onwards , I had to come to grip with my role in their history , as part of my non-blood family married into people who were not Native Americans and settled on their territory, who received collectively privilege from the ethnocide of Native Americans.

    Likewise, white people have had to wrangle with history and the privilege they receive as a result of the historic construct-with real consequences- of white supremacy in the Americas and elsewhere, receive *unearned benefits* both tangible and subjective and socio-psycholgical ( the feeling of being “the norm” aagainst which all else is judged) that they take for granted as a result of generational transmission. To learn that while they may personally had not owned slaves , that they have received the benefit of a the labor of Africans by having access to “generational transmission of wealth and social connections” handed down to them but which African Americans do not have due to the effects of slavery and segregreation.

    The same with when I saw the pictures at Abu Ghraib or watch what is happening or witnessed Al-Durrah being shielded by his father.

    I open my eyes to all of them , learn not to Otherize while still maintaining my identity and culture.

    Turkish people who may deny, listen! You have received the benefit of the labor and land toils of Armenians and the traces are everywhere: in the rocks, the buildings, the soil itself- maybe your very own blood… However, Armenians have been denied the generational transmission due to them in form of the loss of land, people and labor. it’s laughable that many have spread the idea that we were all fat-cat richies: It’s just that when an Armenian was well-off under Turkish rule- they stood out like a sore thumb like any minorities do. To name them is just mere tokenism. Most all were peasants and workers, including mine. We’re not rolling in the dough, you know- most of us struggle like mad to survive, and most of were factory workers when we came, and had jack-nothing to hand down to our kids!

    I have learned to listen and find common ground.
    I have learned that the interest of the Other is also mine.AS they say in Argentina at the Plaza for Mothers of the Disappeared “Yo SOy Otro” /I am the the Other.
    I have learned to accept,to listen to the anger, to see my eyes on the face of others.
    From this is born solidarity and not injustice.
    From this is born a new society.

    You have so much to gain from doing the honorable thing . I hope that you see this.

    Some say that Armenians were traitors: I say that we were victims of the ultimate form of centrally planned state-terrorism: genocide.

  3. 3 murat tastan April 13, 2007 at 1:23 am

    STOP MISINFORMING AMERICAN PUBLIC……

    ALL YOU DO IS TO PASS YOUR ANIMOSITY TO

    YOUR NEXT GENERATION ,AMERICAN PUBLIC AND THE ENTIRE WORLD

    NO GENOCIDE HAS EVER TAKEN A PLACE

    AND THE ENTIRE WORLD SHALL GET THIS MESSAGE

    THERE WERE UNFORTUNATE INCIDENTS AT FIRST WORLD WAR THAT BOTH SIDES HAD HARMED EACH OTHER ….. THAT’S ALL

    YOU MUST STOP IMMEDIATELY YOUR ABSOLUTE NONSENSE HATRED CAMPAIGN TO SIMPLY HARM TURKISH NATION AND IT’S PEOPLE

    MISTAKENLY ACCUSING IS AS BAD AS GENOCIDE SO STOP YOUR CAMPAIGN…………………..

    HAVE SOME PEACE

    I RECENTLY SAW THE DOCUMENTARY ON PBS ( THE TV STATION I LOVE)…THE MANY PARTS OF THE DOCUMENTARY ARE SIMPLY BASED ON FULL OF ASSUMPTION SOME PARTS ARE CLEARLY DISPLAYING THE TRUTH..

    I THINK WE ALL MUST TAKE A SERIOUS CONSIDERATION OF THE TIME PERIOD OF FIRST WORLD WAR …. THE HISTORY CAN NOT BE CHANGED WITH NEITHER EMOTIONS NOR ASSUMPTIONS,,,

    TRUTH IS THE DEPORTATION OF THE GROUP OF ARMENIANS HAVE TAKEN PLACES AND UNFORTUNATELY ,SADLY THE POOR CONDITIONS OF WAR AND 1915 MAY HAVE HARMED THE DEPORTEES PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY, BUT THERE IS NO WAY ON EARTH YOU CAN CALL THIS DEPORTATIONS A ”GENOCIDE ”

    BOTH SIDES HAVE SHOWED SOME BRUTALITY , THE KIND OF BRUTALITY THAT USUALLY APPEARS IN EVERY WAR ….

    I WAS A STUDENT OF THE CITY OF VAN , AND IN THE CITY THERE IS A MUSEUM OF THE CITY THERE ARE EXHIBITIONS THERE THAT YOU VIRTUALLY SEE THE SKULLS AND SKELETONS OF TURKISH PEOPLE WHO HAVE KILLED BY ARMENIAN SIDE ..
    MY POINT IS ANY WAR IS BAD …..FIRST WORLD WAR WAS MEANINGLESS JUST LIKE ANY OTHER WARS, ALSO IT WAS THE END OF THE OTTOMANS , SO YOUNG TURKS HAD THE IDEA OF TURKISH NATIONALISM AND PATRIOTISM BUT NOT THE GENOCIDE…

    I M INVITING YOU ALL TO EXPLAIN THE HISTORY TO AMERICAN PUBLIC AND WHOLE WORLD ..
    I THINK YOUR WEB SITE OWES A VERY GOOD EXPLANATION TO PEOPLE, TO ANYONE WHO HAVE MISINFORMED BY YOU AND OTHER ARMENIAN, SOME AMERICAN HISTORIANS…
    THE CONFLICT OF ARMENIAN AND TURKISH SIDE AT THE TIME WAS JUST A CONFLICT THAT’S ALL
    BY THE WAY JUST A REMINDER THE TURKS HAVE RESPECTED TO ARMENIANS CULTURE, BELIEFS AND PEOPLE , IF YOU GO TO ISTANBUL THERE ARE MANY HISTORICAL ARMENIAN CHURCHES EXIST STILL STANDING BY THE MOSQUES AND SYNAGOGUES
    , MY BEST FRIEND IN HIGH SCHOOL WAS ARMENIAN HER NAME IS TANYA DEGIRMENCI ,WE ALL LIVED TOGETHER IN PEACE AND WE ALWAYS WILL…

    SOME OF PEOPLE LIKE TO PASS THE HATRED AND ANIMOSITY TO THEIR GENERATION AND TO THE ENTIRE WORLD SOME WILL PASS THE PEACE ..
    WE ARE ON THE PEACE SIDE AND ALWAYS WILL BE …
    BY THE WAY I LOVE YOU TANYA …

  4. 4 professional turkish translation agency October 9, 2014 at 7:13 am

    It’s in fact very difficult in this active life to listen news on Television, thus I only use
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