Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

It has been a decade since I started immersing myself in the subject of the Armenian Genocide, a subject of utmost controversy and tension around the world, especially surrounding the date of April 24. That is when the world’s Armenians remember and commemorate their ancestors who perished under the Ottoman Empire, during the horrific events leading up to and during the year 1915. And just when I thought I had said everything I could possibly say on the subject – from my non-academic yet educated position of a Turkish-American – enter the quirky pages of Turkey’s Ülkü takvimi, an old-fashioned daily calendar found in bookstores all over the country. It is filled with everything from interesting quotes, to family recipes, to prayer schedules, not to mention “this day in history” notes about certain important dates in the nation’s history. Here’s what I read in 2014 on April 24:

“Osmanlı Hükümeti, Ermenilerin Türk halkına yönelik saldırılarının artması üzerine, Ermeni Komitelerini kapattı; masum insanları katleden 2345 komitacı tutuklandı. Dışarıdaki Ermenilerin her yıl “Ermeni soykırımı yıldönümü” diye andıkları 24 Nisan budur.” Translation: “In light of the increasing attacks by the Armenians against the Turkish people, the Ottoman government closed down the Armenian committees and arrested the 2345 committee members who had slaughtered innocent people. This is basically what the “Armenian Genocide commemoration” comes down to, the date of April 24, memorialized by those Armenians who live abroad.”

I remember reading this at the time and thinking of writing a pithy little article about the offensive evasiveness of this historical tidbit.  But waiting for the year 2015 made more sense, especially since the Turkish government and its leaders had been speaking about a vision of reconciliation with our Armenian brothers and sisters. And so I waited for April 24, 2015…when much to my surprise, I found not a word about the date of April 24. “Oh good” I said to myself with an innocent naivete, “somebody at the Ülkü calendar headquarters is thinking hard about what to write in here next year.”  And so here we are in 2016, and on April 24 I find that the “this day in history” quotes: the exact same passage as two years ago! With not a single change!

Speaking of quotes, here is one Turkish expression I find most appropriate to use at this time: “Sıfıra sıfır, elde var sıfır.” (zero times zero makes zero). And here’s another one: “İki ileri bir geri (two steps forward and one step back).  So what happened to Turkey facing its history? The government’s new vision towards reconciliation with their Armenian brothers and sisters? Seems like any vision of reconciliation has taken more than a few steps back in Turkey and the backwards direction doesn’t seem to be limited to those who write for the Ülkü calendar.

Burdened by the Syrian refugee crisis and its ambition to hold on to power, the Turkish government has single-handedly maneuvered a repeat election, held onto its majority in the Parliament, and basically chose the national security narrative over that of a true and honest reconciliation.  Aided and abetted by a nationalist discourse (bordering on outright racism at times), and the heavy hand of the military, it has concentrated on eliminating any challenge to its authority in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast…not only by demolishing people’s homes, seizing places of worship such as the Armenian Surp Giragos church, but also by crushing the hopes of those who were clinging to the possibility of lasting and effective change in the way the Turkish state was hard-wired to act from day one.