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Articles > Turkish viewpoint on Armenian subjects > Loss of social memory and its effects on foreign policy


By Dr. Havva Kök Arslan*

It is a common psychological self-defense mechanism to forget, deny or repress a negative experience such as a rape or form of sexual harassment that happened in a younger period of our life, or the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one.

When a person cannot cope with traumatic pain he or she will deny or repress it. However, the memories we alienate from our consciousness disturb us and play out in various forms of behavioral disorders in daily life. The pain in the subconscious stays with us in our dreams and in our daily lives in the form of behavioral disorders.

Do societies also deny or repress their pain? If we accept that societies also have memories, then it is possible to observe similar reactions at the social level. For example, did we not, as a nation, forget, deny or repress the trauma of the Balkan Wars that took place between 1912 and 1922?

In our recent history the biggest social trauma was the defeat in the Balkan Wars. In this defeat we lost Rumelia – the Balkan Peninsula – which constituted half of our lands. The western boundaries had to be withdrawn from the shores of the Adriatic Sea to Adrianople. Most of the cities lost were as Turkish as Bursa or Edirne. The architectural and social structure of Thessaloniki, Skopje and Sarajevo was not very different from that of Anatolia. Even today substantial similarities can be observed.

Our national and social consciousness has repressed the pain of the defeat in the Balkans and wants to forget it. It is even more bizarre that we have taught a lie in our school textbooks for years: that we were not defeated on any front in World War I, but were accepted as defeated because of the defeat of our allies.

The opposite of our reaction to what happened in the Balkans can be seen today among many Armenians. In 1915, only three years after the loss of all of those Rumelian cities in the Balkans, with the fear of a similar loss in Eastern Anatolia and of the establishment of an independent Armenia (which possibly could have been formed with the help of the Russian army and armed Armenian organizations), Armenians were relocated to southern parts of the Ottoman Empire – in what is today’s Syria.

Talat Pasha, the mastermind of this relocation, wrote in his memoirs that this turned into a tragedy. No matter what we call it, it is quite certain the whole event is one of the greatest pains of humanity. We psychologically buried this fact until our diplomats were allegedly assassinated by terrorists from the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, or ASALA, in the 1970s.

Today, “genocide” for Armenians, or “relocation” for Turks, is perceived differently by both sides. It has two dimensions: a psychological-humanitarian one and a political one. For Armenians, the Turkish denial of what they see as fact is met with anger because, they say, they were deported from their motherlands where they had lived for thousands of years and hundreds of thousands of them lost their lives during the deportation.

The political dimension of the fact is, however, much different. Armenians behave as if Turkey invaded an independent Armenia in 1915. The fact is that Armenians were Ottoman subjects and they were one of the Empire’s minorities. Most Armenians believe the cost of this genocide can only be compensated by the annexation of Eastern Anatolia to Armenia in accordance with the Sevres Treaty. Some of them also say they would accept some form of compensation payment.

If we browse Armenian websites we cannot find any evidence of Armenian demands for Turkish citizenship, or any wish to return to the land as Turkish citizens like their grandfathers. Instead of this, there is every indication that the ideal of Eastern Anatolia’s annexation to Armenia is firmly situated in their hearts.

It is a fact that most Armenians do not recognize the border drawn by the Gümrü and Moscow treaties after the battles between the forces of the Turkish Parliament and the Armenian Army, but rather see Eastern Anatolia as Western Armenia under occupation.

At the state level, they use Mount Ararat as their national symbol and claim it back from Turkey. This point of view is not only unrealistic but also shows the existence of a pathological national memory. If one moves with the same logic, Turks should not recognize the Karlovitz Treaty and dream of expanding our western borders to near Vienna. No sensible Turk has such a dream. Armenians may get angry with this metaphor, however there is no end to nationalistic daydreaming and many irrational claims that would bind Turkey’s presence in Europe to the Huns and Etruscans.

When we look at Turkish-Balkan relations today, Balkan immigrants who make up a sizeable proportion of Turkish society today are not grieving over the loss of the lands they were once masters of. Nonetheless, Turkey is returning to the Balkans, but this return is not on the back of an army, but through the Ziraat Bank, which was originally established in the Balkans.

Turkey not only supports the Balkan Muslims who were its allies in the region, but also tries to win over the Serbs who confront them and therefore tries to reestablish peace between nations. In this respect, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will definitely be recorded in history. With a very correct approach, Turkey tries not to repossess its former Rumelian provinces but tries to make the existing borders transparent and therefore establish peace and mutual understanding between nations.

What is to be done on the Armenian question then? First of all, we have to help Armenians quit their pathological reaction. For this, we should first end our own pathological reaction which says: "What can we do? What is done is done. You rebelled against us and killed our compatriots too." Whether they were Turkish, Kurdish or Armenian, those who died were our own citizens.

We have to express our sincere grief for the loss of our civilian Armenian citizens. This could be done in several ways. For instance, a monument for the victims of relocation could be erected in Eastern Anatolia. April 24, when Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul were arrested in groups, could be accepted as a day of commemoration for the victims of relocation. We could organize a day of fraternity with the Armenian Patriarch on that date. With such initiatives, April 24 could become a day of peace rather than a day of hatred as it is today.

With hate replaced by peace, borders will become transparent. Granting the right of citizenship to Armenians of Anatolian origin, who really are sincere in the desire to serve the common motherland should be seriously considered. What would Turkey lose if a street in Bitlis is named after William Saroyan, who was born in Bitlis? Or the world-famous duduk performer Djivan Gasparyan was given the key to the city of Muş, where he was born, along with Turkish citizenship and a passport?

*Dr. Havva Kök Arslan is a researcher at the USAK Peace Studies Center

Source: Hurriyet Daily News, 03 January 2011

Hrach Kalsahakian's view as published after the article in the comments section:

The Turkish author has made an effort to write the above. He is calling his compatriots to "express sincere grief" and to name streets here and there after famous Armenians. This is the maximum he wants to do. Anyway, he is more generous than others in the past. He compares what happened to Armenians to what happened to Turks in the Balkans. For him the comparison is correct as long as he is talking about peaceful and reasonable relocation or deportation of population. He refers to the Muslims in the Balkans as "allies" in the past and in the present. He forgets that his other half of the brain would justify the killing of Armenians because they are conceived as "allies" of foreign forces. In general, however, what he writes is the beginning of serious thought and can eventually release him from the psychological burden, provided that he develops his thoughts in the coming period. Certainly all roads will lead to apology and compensation, even if there is no Armenian in the equation.

Added: Wednesday, January 05, 2011
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