Taner Akcam, a Turkish-German historian and professor, and the first academic in Turkey to openly address the Armenian Genocide issue, compares the current crisis in the country to the “dark periods” faced in 1970s-1990s.In an interview with Tert.am, Akcam shared his concerns over the continuing uncertainty, and the population’s wide support to violence and oppression. “The developments in Turkey today are indeed very concerning – no one can figure out what will happen tomorrow. Leaving out the Ottoman period, Turkey faced similar dark periods in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, especially after the 1971 and 1980 military coups. However, there is a fundamental difference between what occurred then and what is happening now. In the past, a military regime was attacking the entirety of the population. Everyone faced oppression but everyone also knew this oppression would end sooner or later. Furthermore, these oppressive tactics did not have large popular support. Now, unfortunately, 50-60% of the population unquestioningly supports the type of oppression and violence taking place today. This mass support is the most worry-inducing factor today,” he said.
Akcam, who is honored with the 2018 Outstanding Upstander Award from the World Without Genocide organization, also addressed Turkey’s policy of denial and the differences in the public attitudes towards the Armenian Genocide recognition.
“It is difficult to speak about a single attitude of the Turkish population on the matter of the events of 1915. If we were to compare Turkey to a train, this train has many different wagons. Each wagon develops an attitude towards history in a different manner. For example, the Kurds are more inclined to accept the crimes committed in the past. Denial is more widespread among the Turks. Furthermore, the most important problems are a lack of knowledge or awareness and the ‘who cares’ attitude. Turkish society feels that there are more urgent and pressing problems to deal with and that what happened 100 years ago is less important. In the 2000s, and especially after the assassination of Hrant Dink, we experienced some important developments on the topic of opening up to facing history. However, this was also removed in the current oppressive regime. I believe that the success achieved on the civil society level is very important. However, in the short term, I do not expect any positive steps being taken by either the government or the population regarding the denial of the genocide.
Asked to comment on the Turkey-Armenia relations and President Serzh Sargsyan’s strong-worded statement regarding the 2009 Zurich Protocols (that Turkey’s leadership is mistaken if they think those documents can be held hostage forever and ratified only at the most opportune occasion from their very point of view), the historian said he has little hope that the issue will ever be brought to the agenda. “It seems that on the Turkish front, the protocols have long been buried. I do not think that they will be brought up again in the near future. It seems that the softening of Turkish-Armenian relations is left for a different spring…” he noted.