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Turkish, Armenian Intellectuals Seek New Ways To Bring Genocide Issue Into Open

  • Breffni O'Rourke

A monument in Yerevan to the 1915 massacre of ethnic Armenians

A monument in Yerevan to the 1915 massacre of ethnic Armenians

Some 200 Turkish academics, writers, and artists have issued over the Internet an apology for the massacre of ethnic Armenians in 1915, and they are inviting the Turkish public to join them in signing the petition.

In their apology, the signatories say their conscience will not allow them to deny what they call "the great catastrophe" that overtook Armenians in Turkey at that time, and that they share "the pain" of their "Armenian brothers and sisters, and apologize to them."

AP has reported that some 2,500 signatures were on the petition on December 15, the day the apology was launched on the Internet.

The petition itself avoids the inflammatory word "genocide," which has long been taboo in Turkey.

Some intellectuals imply that the petitioners lack moral courage by avoiding the term. But Gila Benmayor, a writer with Turkey's "Hurriyet" newspaper, says the petition is not meant to offend anyone, but is merely an expression of shared grief.

Gregory Stanton, the president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars and head of the Genocide Watch pressure group, says it is essential for the Turkish government to acknowledge the genocide as a way for both Yerevan and Ankara to move on from the past.

"One of the things we've discovered in studying genocide is that post-traumatic stress syndrome actually is inherited -- that is, it's passed on from one generation to the next," Stanton says. "So if you have this kind of trauma, it can actually affect future generations. And it's one of the reasons I'm convinced that the Pontic Greeks, for instance, and the Armenians from the Anatolia region of the Ottoman Empire are so concerned about having their genocides acknowledged, even though Turkey doesn't want to acknowledge it.

"And it's too bad, because really -- the current Turkish government didn't carry out that genocide," Stanton continues. "It would be very healthy for the Turkish government to acknowledge what happened in the past, just as the German government has acknowledged what the Nazis did."

Seen As Betrayal

The signatories are certainly not without courage. Despite the lapse of 90 years, the issue is still red hot. Turkish nationalists regard any attempt to brand Turks as genocidal as a betrayal of the country.

Only last year, Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was shot dead in Istanbul after repeated use of the word genocide to describe what had happened to the Armenians in 1915. His assassin was a teenage nationalist.

Meanwhile, in Yerevan, a group of 30 Armenian intellectuals have written an open letter to Turkish President Abdullah Gul, urging him to recognize the genocide. Referring to the almost century-old enmity between their two nations, the signatories say the historic memory of both nations is "deep and disturbing."

The chairman of the Union of Armenian Writers, Levon Ananian, says the fact that people on both sides of the closed Turkish-Armenian border are preoccupied with the same issue gives grounds for hope.

"The letter of Armenian intellectuals to Abdullah Gul and the initiative of Turkish intellectuals unequivocally prove that the wall between two countries -- the closed border -- can be demolished because we are starting to recognize each other," Ananian says. "When we recognize each other, then we have to try to understand each other. If we understand, then we should come to certain conclusions."

The December 9 open letter is meant to capitalize on the success of Gul's unprecedented visit to Yerevan in September, to attend a soccer match. That visit has led to a substantial thaw in relations, including talks between the two foreign ministers.

But until there is official Turkish recognition of the genocide, says the letter from Armenian intellectuals, there can be no real reconciliation between the two sides.

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