[lg policy] A Turkish Scholar Talks About the Armenian Genocide

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Mon Mar 29 21:40:38 UTC 2010

A Turkish Scholar Talks About the Armenian Genocide

By Andrea Fuller

Taner Akçam made history in the 1990s as the first Turkish academic to
publicly acknowledge that an Armenian genocide took place, an
assertion long disputed by the Turkish government. An estimated 1.5
million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire died beginning in 1915 and
culminating in the years following World War I. The Armenian National
Institute, in Washington, says those lives were lost through mass
slaughter, starvation, and disease as Armenians were displaced by the
Ottoman government.

This month Mr. Akçam, an associate professor of history at Clark
University, will again break new ground when he leads one of the first
international conferences of Armenian-genocide scholars, April 9 to
10, sponsored by the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide
Studies at Clark. Mr. Akçam grew up in Turkey, where he was arrested
in the 1970s for leading a revolutionary student journal that
criticized the government. He spent a year in prison before escaping
and immigrating to Germany, where he earned his Ph.D. The scholar has
received numerous death threats from Turkish ultranationalists, who
have also vandalized his Wikipedia page and called him a terrorist, he

Mr. Akçam is working on a book about political trials of the
perpetrators of the Armenian genocide, based on daily newspaper
coverage from that time. He is also collecting oral histories from the
last survivors of a massacre in the Dersim region in the 1930s.

Q. In your youth, you were arrested for your protest activities in
Turkey. Why did you put your mind to becoming a scholar and not simply
an activist?

A. When I was a student at the university, my dream was to be a
scholar. The Turkish justice system and the Turkish political system
put a hold on my dream.

Q. What is your opinion of the controversial resolution recently
approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, labeling the Ottoman
killings of Armenians during the World War I era a genocide?

A. The Congress's history of failed resolutions in recognition of the
Armenian genocide has started to grow old ... I personally strongly
wish that the United States would change its policy toward Turkey. If
democracy and facing history is good for the United States, the same
should be true for Turkey.

Q. Turkish authorities oppose the use of the term "genocide" for the
events after World War I. Can Armenians and Turks ever reconcile their

A. Definitely. There is a very strong process of transformation in
Turkey. ... I'm very much confident that this process will move
forward and Turkey will face its own history in an honest way.

Q. Do you often do research in Turkey?

A. My research of course involves going to Turkey, but I am scared to
go and work in the archives. It is still risky for me to work in the
archives or to show myself in certain places regularly. Not because of
the Turkish government, but because of ... ultranationalist groups.

Q. What kind of relationship do you have with other Turkish historians?

A. I would say that I am well respected among these critical scholars.
Whether they agree with each of the positions that I have is another
issue. The main problem in Turkey today is freedom of speech. Because
of that, most of the scholars cannot come up and write and say what
they really think about 1915.

Q. Why is it so important that we study the Armenian genocide?

A. If we don't face our wrongdoings in the past, we cannot create a
democratic future. If we want to prevent further mass killings and
further genocide, we have to understand why it happened in the past.



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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