ISTANBUL—On the eve of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, Turkish and Armenian-American organizations, assembled with record-breaking number of Diaspora Armenians from around the world, called on the Turkish government to recognize the truth of the historic events, issue an unequivocal apology, and move towards accountability and reparations, DurDe and Project 2015 said Tuesday at a press conference in Istanbul. The concerted campaign by Ottoman leaders a century ago resulted in the deaths and exile of the vast majority of their Armenian citizens, but successive Turkish governments have failed to recognize or take responsibility for the deliberate and systematic mass extermination of the ethnic group.
“We have come together with Armenians from around the globe with a single, unified message to the Turkish government: recognize the genocide, so we can move forward on a project of reconciliation,” said Levent Sensever of DurDe. “Whatever the position of our government, we want the world to know that many citizens of Turkey recognize the truth about the terrible crime against Armenians, and to pay our respects to the victims and the survivors.”
The groups have been working with a number of other organizations in Turkey and Europe for the past two years to coordinate the participation of Armenians from around the world in centennial commemoration events in Istanbul, including some of the following events.
-Concert at the Istanbul Congress Center on April 22;
-Public assembly near Taksim Square on the evening of April 24, as well as the decoration of a Wishing Tree in the square;
-Events at Sultanahmet Square and Haydarpașa Station, where Armenians were rounded up, imprisoned and deported;
-Memorial service at Șişli Armenian Apostolic Cemetery, where Sevag Şahin Balikçi is buried; Balikçi was an Armenian soldier serving in the Turkish military who was murdered by a Turkish soldier on April 24, 2011; and
-An academic conference on the Armenian Genocide sponsored by UCLA and Istanbul’s Tarih Vakfi (History Foundation), convening at Boǧaziçi University on April 26.
Project 2015 has assembled a record-breaking delegation of almost 200 Armenians from around the world to participate in the commemoration events. Project 2015’s participants include nationals from 15 countries, including Armenia, the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Burundi, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Hong Kong (China).
“As Armenians, we have come to Istanbul in record numbers to memorialize the brutal massacre of our family members, and to remind the Turkish government that 100 years later, we are still seeking justice and accountability, and will continue in our quest as long as it takes,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, board member of Project 2015. “We are heartened to see so many citizens of Turkey ready to face this country’s past and look now to the government to come to terms with an undoubtedly difficult and painful truth.”
The groups urged representatives of the international community to attend the commemoration events organized in Istanbul on April 24.
“We have invited governments and non-governmental organizations alike to join us for this historic centennial of what is a global tragedy and a crime against humanity,” said Whitson. “Governments sending representatives to the Gallipoli commemoration should in particular ensure that they also send representatives to the Armenian Genocide commemoration in Istanbul.”
Genocide is recognized as a crime under international law and defined as the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious or national group under the 1948 Genocide Convention. While the destruction of the Armenian population through massacres and deportations preceded the Convention, the deliberate and systematic actions of the Ottoman authorities undoubtedly meet the 1948 definition. Recognition of the internationally wrongful acts committed against the Ottoman Armenian population would constitute the first step in addressing the obligations of the Turkish government towards the survivors of the massacres and their descendants under international law.
In 2014, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his condolences to the grandchildren of “Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century” but failed to acknowledge the role of the Ottoman government in systematically causing these losses. The Turkish government has refused to recognize the massacres of the Armenians as genocide.
“President Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu have a moral duty to use their unique position of leadership to lead the people of Turkey to come to terms with the near-total destruction of one of our region’s oldest indigenous communities,” Sensever said. “We will stand tall and proud as citizens of Turkey when we can say that our government has paved a way for truth and accountability that will let us all move forward, at last.”
“Erdogan should apply the Islamic principles he has claimed guide him above politics and do the right thing with respect to recognizing and apologizing for the Armenian Genocide,” said Whitson. “Leadership in this issue means stepping forward and acknowledging the past unequivocally, without looking for political trade-offs from Armenians.”
The groups also urged the Turkish government to take confidence-building measures that would demonstrate its sincerity in addressing what it has acknowledged were tragic and terrible events leading to the near total extermination of the Armenian population. Among the gestures that the government could take is the establishment of an independent council commission with a government-funded endowment to restore 100 Armenian churches and monuments throughout the country within 10 years. The commission should work in cooperation with Turkish and Armenian architects who can survey, select and design the restoration of these important heritage sites.
“100 years since the near-total extermination of its minority Armenian population and the destruction of its centuries-old institutions, one thing the Turkish government can do is move to restore Armenian heritage sites throughout the country,” said Nancy Kricorian, Project 2015 board member. “Such a gesture would not substitute for reparations, but would indicate a good faith desire to reestablish what past governments allowed to be recklessly destroyed.”
Discussion of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey remains a highly sensitive subject in Turkey and subject to criminal sanctions. The Turkish government has prosecuted journalists, writers and academics for making reference to the Armenian Genocide. However, past commemorations of the Armenian Genocide in Istanbul have taken place without incident, and with the benefit of municipal police protection. Yet Bilgi University canceled a conference planned to coincide with the centennial, apparently on the grounds that the academic discussion of the Genocide in Turkey remains too controversial. While the conference organizers will now hold the conference at Boǧaziçi University, its cancellation by Bilgi University stands as a poignant reminder of latter-day Genocide denial and its consequences.
DurDe is one of Turkey’s leading civil and human rights organizations, working to combat racism, nationalism and hate crimes. It is an activist network that in recent years has played an important role in organizing commemorations for the Armenian Genocide in Istanbul. Project 2015 is a US-based non-profit organization comprised of Armenians, Turks and Americans to encourage global participation in the commemoration events in Istanbul.