“POLITICIZED HISTORY”? GENOCIDE RECOGNITION AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR HISTORIANS

“POLITICIZED HISTORY”? GENOCIDE RECOGNITION AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR HISTORIANS

On 12 December The US Congress finally and somewhat unexpectedly adopted a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Even without the resolution is not legally binding and the Trump administration distanced from it, yet it can be quite consequential. A leading expert in the Armenian Genocide, Prof. Taner Akçam states that the resolution’s legal ramifications could be quite unpleasant for the Turkish government and that seems something they cannot miss.

Text : Tigran Zakaryan

 

 

Condemning Condemnation

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, presidential administration, foreign minister and other in the Turkish political establishment rushed to condemn what was defined in terms like “false accusations”, “politicized history” and so on. Erdoğan, notoriously acclaimed for his bizarre statements, went as far as stating that Turkey had a history of “two thousand years” should “retaliate” by recognizing the U.S. atrocities committed against the native peoples of North America as genocide.

Pointing a finger at controversial and bloody colonial past of Western countries is not a novelty in the armory of the Turkish state’s responses to Armenian genocide recognition statements by major European states.  The threat to recognize French atrocities committed in Algeria during the colonial era was one to name a few.  

Far from being impressive, it does not justify the Ottoman leaders’ decisions back a hundred years ago and merely suggests a complicity in silencing the memory of the Armenian genocide.

Another striking pattern in those arguments is their invariable reference to the colonial past of Western countries, which is in unison with the official founding myth of the Republican of Turkey as an active fighter against imperialist oppression. However, a second look at this argument shows that the argument is very precarious as what logically can be inferred from it is that the Ottoman Armenians were a colonized ethnic group, rather than Ottoman citizens in full right as the reinstated constitution of 1908 stated.

 

Entangled in denialist web

With this and other previous resolutions it became clear that the efficiency of “academic” denialism is below the expected level. The issue was even discussed at the level of Turkey’s National Security Council and Erdogan personally stated that the state support to academic attempts at “countering genocide claims” will be provided.

To note, the same Erdogan and other Turkish leaders repeatedly called for “leaving history to historians”.

What those “historians” in service of the Turkish official cause suggest is nothing new. They include “ruse” terms and language tricks, which describe what happened in terms of a “relocation”, “intercommunal clashes” or “sectarian violence”, silencing altogether the issue of the Ottoman authorities’ responsibility and proofs of genocidal intent, even shifting blame on the Armenians.   

Constant claims by the Turkish authorities on Armenian “closed archives” as opposed to Turkish “open” archives is yet another propaganda trick, dismissed by a number of scholars, including aforementioned Taner Akçam, who showed that there are top secret archival materials on genocide the existence of which is falsely denied by the Turkish state. 

 

What a Historian could do?

Historians are not judges – this is what a number of renowned historians state. They are not lobbyists, lawmakers or politicians either, although quite a number of their findings have political value.

Their prime task is finding fact where possible and point to closed doors. It would be a futile enterprise to engage in symmetrical responding to denialism, as most of such claims are baseless, distorted and often recurrent. The historical research should not be guided by today’s political interests either.

In fact what the authors of denialism would dream is making history as much dependent on politics as possible. This would square odds – one ideologically infused history would fight another one with no revealing the facts and their adequate interpretations. This could fundamentally undermine the Armenian genocide research.

Armenian genocide research should be given a state sponsorship in Armenia, however the research should not be a politically motivated one with propaganda aims and research should be conducted with an eye on the global developments in the field across the world.

Armenian and diaspora decision makers investing in Armenian genocide studies need to clearly differentiate propaganda from genuine research. Propaganda based on research can be quite efficient, however research should not be based on propaganda.

Armenia will need more and young genocide scholars who are able to speak the academic language of the world and offer new insights into the tragic history of this part of the world which occurred almost a hundred years ago.

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