New developments have come to light about a meeting last week chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey of his High Advisory Board, which essentially ordered a crackdown on efforts around the world to recognize the Armenian Genocide by individuals or advocacy organizations.
The Hurriyet Daily News reported Tuesday that during the meeting it Erdogan instructed the body to form “a new autonomous and civilian body” with the sole purpose of denying the Armenian Genocide, which was characterized as “Turkey’s main foreign policy issues.”
According to the information obtained, the proposal to develop a new strategy regarding the Armenian Genocide claims came up in the agenda three months ago when new lawsuits were filed in US courts Armenians. However, the meeting was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, reported the Hurriyet Daily News in an article that was translated by the scholar Nurhan Becidyan and made available to the Armenian press by professor Taner Akcam, chair of the Armenian Genocide Studies program at Clark University.
Erdogan convened the June 16 meeting to formulate Turkey’s response to “groundless and anti-Turkey allegations regarding the events of 1915,” with his Communications Director Fahrettin Altun reiterating that Turkey would not allow the “seeds of hostility” to be sown through “distorted historical events.”
In a statement, Altun accused the “Armenian lobby” of exploiting the “challenging and painful era endured by all Ottoman citizens for the sake of political calculations through lies and slanders that were invented by various power groups.”
At that meeting, presidential advisors Cemil Çicek and Seyit Sertçelik expressed that there is not a single institution that deals directly with the Armenian Genocide and develops strategy to counter the “claims.” It was also stated that depending on the topic, relevant ministries were engaged, but a holistic policy had not be developed.
According to the Hurriyet story, the Presidential High Advisory Council claimed that the Armenian lobby had not brought the genocide “allegations” to the International Court of Justice due to the possibility of rejection, but recently had changed its strategy. It was stated that the lobbying efforts were being made to make the Armenian Genocide a crime against humanity instead of genocide.
It was stated that there is a need for an institution whose only job would be to look at the issue from all angles and not only politically, but also include cultural, history, propaganda and legal aspects. It has been decided that this institution will be an autonomous, independent civil structure that is not directly related to the government and the state.
Statement of Taner Akçam to Recent Decision of Turkish Government
According to a report in the June 23, 2020 edition of Turkish Hürriyet daily, Turkey has taken the decision to establish “a new autonomous and civil institution” in order “to respond to the accusations of genocide and to develop a strategy [to counter them].” The decision was taken at the 5-hour meeting of the President’s High Advisory Board on June 16, 2020.
At the meeting it was determined that Turkey’s principal failing in this regard was that it did not possess a single institution to deal directly with the Armenian claims and develop a [counter-argument] and strategy” and that it “had not developed a comprehensive strategy”. Therefore, it was decided to form a new institution to address this shortcoming.
The “sole task” of this new organization would be to “view the various dimensions of the topic—such culture, history, propaganda, and law, not merely politics—as a whole.” Additionally, as part of the decision it was also stated that “the institution would be an autonomous and civil [society] initiative without direct connection to the government or state.”
Ultimately, this news must be greeted with the acknowledgment of another, bitter truth: Today, in all of North America there does not exist a single research center or academic program at a University that deals solely or directly with the Armenian genocide or that has been created for this purpose.
There are approximately 250 programs at American universities devoted to studying the Holocaust. Some of these are simply research institutes. Against this background, the complete absence of such programs—research or otherwise—that deal directly and exclusively with the Armenian genocide is all the more marked and a bitter pill to swallow.
Let us again stress: apart from the devoted and priceless efforts of various independent and civil society Armenian institutions and individual scholars that make valuable contributions to Armenian Studies, including the study of the Armenian Genocide, there is no institutionalization within American academia of this field, and a relative paucity of research and studies. The biggest challenge for the further advancement of this field is the absence of institutional structures within American universities.
In the last years, at all events to which I have been invited, at all opportunities I have had to speak publicly I have dwelled at length on the need to “institutionalize” Armenian genocide research. I have highlighted the impossibility of responding effectively to the Turkey’s extensive and well-funded “denialist industry” without the existence of competing organizations or institutions. It would be foolish to assume that merely because we have the truth of historical facts on our side that this is the only factor determining who will prevail in the long run.
I wish I could say that my pleas have thus far fallen on fertile ground, but it has not been the case. Perhaps this latest initiative by the Turkish government will finally set off an alarm bell, one that allows others to see the critical importance of this matter.
Let’s hope that Ankara’s action will somehow drive home the urgency of the matter and rouse those concerned from their complacency. One of the most important ways to counter Turkish denialism and Turkey’s new initiative is precisely this: the institutionalization of Armenian genocide research within an academic setting.