University Armenian Societies host Taner Akcam

Located in an out-skirting UCL building, students, academics and the public were gifted the pleasure of having Professor Taner Akçam deliver a lecture on the contents of his research for his new book “The Young Turks: A crime against Humanity”, an event organised by CRAG, ANC and the UCL and SOAS Armenian societies.

After a brief introduction, Akçam detailed which evidence he used to support his thesis that the genocide of 1915 against the Armenians was carried out with “mathematical precision”. Akçam referred to sources from a variety of backgrounds which showed the triumvirate of Talaat, Enver and Djemal Pasha had actively aimed to lower the Armenian populations of the eastern regions to 5% of the total population and a slighter higher 10% in the more central regions, and had, by the end of the war, largely achieved this calculated liquidation.

However, during the question and answer section, a member of the audience asked why the mathematical calculations of the generals turned out to be inaccurate in the case of Deir ez-Zor, where the area was over-crowded with deported Armenians. Akçam answered that his genuine belief was that despite planning long-winding routes purposefully through hostile terrain and violent tribal areas, the drive of human spirit, hope and endurance meant many more families survived than the triumvirate expected. Akçam also addressed another very important point regarding the Greeks in the Armenian genocide, specifically whether they shared the same experiences. It was explained that the communities were treated differently at different times: during the years of the war, the main persecution fell upon the Armenians and Assyrians, whilst from the end of the war until Atatürk’s consolidation of power, the Pontic and Ionian Greek communities were subjected to the same force of genocide.

Like Professor Fatma Müge Göçek and Professor Uğur Ümit Üngör, Professor Taner Akçam is incredibly important in the Genocide debate as he is of Turkish descent completely cutting across arguments that the issue is stuck as Armenians vs. Turks.

Moreover, especially after recently visiting Turkey myself and speaking freely to many about the issue, I have come to realise that the way forward is by encouraging many more ‘Akçams’ to join the cause; to encourage many more Turks to examine the past as the Turkish community can have the biggest effect where it really matters – in Anatolia. This means one mustn’t categorise all Turks or force an accusative tone which maintains the “US” vs “THEM” approach; instead, only by working together with compassion and interest to rightfully examine the past can the genocide be accepted, recognised and learnt from. I shall end by including an extract from one of Akçam books relating to this aspect which I personally gained a lot from.

“A Turk and an Armenian living today generally tend to speak to each other in terms of their history. They take on the role of historical actors and speak on behalf of them. In their interaction with each other an Armenian today tends to see a Turk and use the term ‘Turk’ as someone who murdered his ancestors in 1915, while a Turk tends to see and label the Armenian as a ‘national traitor.’ In other words, both are incapable of viewing each other on their own personal terms in the present. […]One interesting result of this way of thinking reflects itself in the ‘accusation’ and ‘guilt’ problem. I would like to give some examples of how this way of thinking is a big obstacle in today’s Turkish–Armenian relations. Atom Egoyan’s 2002 film Ararat was strongly criticized in Turkey as being full of violence even if the violent scenes take up very little of the general flow of the movie. This critique indicates a major psychological problem within the Turkish community. I think the real reason why the violent scenes are perceived as so prevalent in the film, and why many Turks feel offended, is because they view these scenes as directed towards them personally. A friend of mine, whom I consider liberal-minded, wrote me the following after viewing the film with an Armenian friend. ‘I was very upset by the content of the film. It had me up all night. After seeing the film…we joined some Armenian friends for drinks. For the first time that I can remember I didn’t even enjoy drinking Ouzo. After a film like this, I don’t care what your thoughts are, being introduced as a Turk is not easy.’ After seeing the film, my friend felt that it was not the historical actors involved but rather he that was being accused of the cruel acts depicted. I know that generally in Turkey, this is how ‘genocide accusations’ are perceived. The present generation, perceiving itself accused of murder, has reverted to a position of psychological self-defence and has attempted to distance itself from such accusations.”

Akçam, Taner, From Empire to Republic: Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide, (London and New York, 2004), pp. 247-8.

— Raphael Gregorian

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