Monday, April 27, 2009

Turkey’s Reckoning Day Should Arrive, and Faster…

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on April 28th, 2009- 

-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 28 Nisan 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

President Obama released the much-anticipated Presidential statement on Armenian Remembrance Day on Friday, April 24th. Apparently the recent fast tracked diplomatic relations that started between Armenia and Turkey obligated Obama not to utter the word of “genocide” as he promised sturdily and without leaving any doubt that he would do in his presidential campaign. For my part, I have been also very curious to see how, for this time, Obama will be able to please the both sides, as the consensus became the twin word of his administration. Though Obama couldn’t please both sides this time, neither did he attract much anger from either side. In short, Obama walked the fine line once more.

Obama reiterated in the statement what he had said in Ankara, that his “own view of what occurred in 1915, and [his] view of that history has not changed.” It is a dubious approach. If one’s view is not changed over an issue, why then the words. The answer, I believe, Obama did not want to be remembered as a spoiler of this historic moment of reconciliation for domestic gains. In the Presidential statement, Obama asked both parties to come to a “reckoning with the past” because that “holds out the powerful promise of reconciliation.” I cannot agree more with this part of the statement.

During the run up to this statement day in recent months, Turkish leadership sensed that a very dangerous phase waits for Turkish-US relations and unless they change their course in Turkish-Armenian relations, it was going to be very damaging as well as embarrassing for them. The Turkish leaders distinguished this time that an American President was not bluffing. This time, the tragic events were going to be called, what the Armenians think they should be called. And it is very possible that this truth had been told to the Turkish Government officials behind closed doors.

After all, if the leader of the free world calls you a name, well… it would really look bad. Thus it seemed that the Turkish leaders decided to play the role of statesmanship this time. The Turkish foreign diplomats seemed sincere and serious to do something fundamental: Turkey was determined to overcome the populism and the rising chauvinism. Slowly, but nevertheless surely, Turkey leaves the door ajar. The road map for the relationship is prepared, and the parties are courageously setting aside the thorny issues for the time being.

In a way, it was a victory for Turkey as it proved that it could change. Turkey leaped forward in the style of statesmanship. But one wonders if this really could be called statesmanship? Is Turkey only capable of taking stern steps when, somebody, very important like Obama shows a big stick? If Turkey was able to start a dialog with Armenia, and was audacious enough to set aside the bristly matters, why has it not been done before?

The state of Armenia has done their part of disgrace in their history. Nobody can deny that. That part is theirs to figure out. They will come around and apologize as well, as some of the Armenian intellectuals did after the Turkish initiative for an apology to the Armenian people. The fading Ottoman Empire was like a wounded animal and in that time of madness, partly to defend itself did some things terribly wrong: it was an erroneous chapter that was filled with unjustly behavior. We can still debate what it was and how it was. And we should debate while working on the history with historians. Though, the intention should not be to bail Turkey out of the discussion.

By no means should this process of reckoning discourage and disappoint Turkish society. Turkey should not feel ghastly about its history. On the contrary, the Turkish history has great heroes. Our past presents many more bright pages than dark ones. We had good soldiers, great victories, grandeur days and hundred years. Mustafa Kemal, the founder of the new Turkish Republic, for one, would cover a lot of that space. Let’s cherish him and many more heroes without making them a taboo.

While talking about reckoning, I would even suggest to go further. Why can’t we also discuss some of the bad Sultans we had in the Ottoman times. Do our children or we have to live in a dream world to imagine we have a flawless past but terrible present? Isn’t it true that many of the late Ottoman emperors weren’t adequate enough to steer the empire. And the new Republic of Turkey was founded with a heroic uprising and did magnificent exertion to recover from its loss of men, women and infrastructures during World War I to catch up with other advanced peers. But the same young Republic acted with many narrow-minded policies for too long to offend some of its segments. Why is it that we cannot admit some of this narrow-mindedness?

An ambitious Turkey, which increasingly desires to live in peace with its neighbors, must take on some of the saddles that come with it. For example, shedding light on and discussing our own history, asking questions and admitting errors, with its dark and white pages, are remembrances of being a part of a great history and self-confidence.

It is true that the major Western countries, minorities of the late Ottoman time and religious fanatics did their part to paralyze Ottoman society in the past. But these historic realities should not confuse today’s young Turkish society to see the whole western world as part of a grand conspiracy that wants to divide Turkey’s mainland. Yes, the minorities, including Armenians, during the late Ottoman time left a bad taste in the mouth, especially when the Turkish land was being invaded. But that doesn’t perplex the Turkish laws to neglect them and treat them as second-class citizens, even today. And religious fanatics and madrasa system held us back too, maybe for centuries. This also shouldn’t stop us thinking religion is a part of the modern society and modern people. And the devout Muslims, too, may wish Turkey to succeed. The people of Turkey must remember, “Life is a full of trade-offs.” It is true, if you are not ready for compromises, you might end up losing whatever you got!!




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