The Events in Anatolia of 1915 Are Incomparable to the Holocaust

The only way to build a peaceful future for Turks and Armenians is via dialogue.

Doğan Işık
Doğan Işık
 Armenian people gather during an anniversary ceremony at a site called "Dudan," believed to be a mass grave of the Armenian Genocide, April 22, 2015.
Armenian people gather during an anniversary ceremony at a site called "Dudan," believed to be a mass grave of the Armenian Genocide, April 22, 2015.Credit: AFP
Doğan Işık
Doğan Işık

By comparing the events that took place in Anatolia in 1915 to those of the Holocaust, Mr. Israel W. Charny and Mr. Yair Auron, in their article “Would Israel tolerate calling the Holocaust a 'massacre?'” (Haaretz, April 30), consciously ignore the facts on the ground.

1915 was a year of disasters. Back then, the Western press was describing the Turks as ignorant and unworthy of residing on European soil, while the most powerful and supposedly civilized countries were making secret agreements to share the remaining pieces of Turkey. In April 1915, the advancing Russian army already occupied a large part of Anatolia. In Gallipoli, British and French warships were fiercely bombarding the Turkish defense lines, and an army of the entente was landing to open the way to take stanbul from the Turks. In Istanbul, 15-year-olds were being sent to hold the lines in anakkale. Armenian armed forces, gearing up for a nation state of their own in eastern Anatolia, where they constituted a minority of the population, were leading the Russian troops and attacking the supply lines of the Turkish army. So the Ottoman Empire decided to apply relocation.

The Ottomans would never have opted for relocation had there never been a Russian occupation supported by Armenian armed forces. All Turks and Armenians would have continued to live exactly as they did for the previous 800 years, sharing their cities, life, music, food and friendship. War brought heavy losses for all in Anatolia.

Today, Turkey remembers all these losses of Anatolia and seeks a path of unity going forward. A religious ceremony was held at the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul on April 24 to commemorate the Armenian losses in 1915. The ceremony was attended by Turkish Minister of European Union Affairs Volkan Bozkr, and a message from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was read out. In the message, Erdoğan commemorated all the Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives in World War I and extended his condolences to their children and grandchildren.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in a message earlier this year, said “Having already underscored the inhumane consequences of the relocation policies essentially enforced under wartime circumstances, including that of 1915, Turkey shares the suffering of Armenians and, with patience and resolve, is endeavoring to re-establish empathy between the two peoples.” In a separate statement, Davutoğlu emphasized that “our common responsibility and calling today is to heal century-old wounds and re-establish our human ties once again.”

Within its commitment to a just memory, Turkey called for the establishment of a joint historical commission to study the tragic events of 1915. Remembering and narrating the history in an unselective and objective manner based on archival documentation is the way to overcome the historical controversy that has arisen due to different national narratives and the personal memories of Turks and Armenians.

Armenia, carried away by a one-sided narrative, still occupies a fifth of the internationally-recognized territory of Azerbaijan. One must not forget that this occupation has caused one million Azerbaijan Turks to leave their homes. Azerbaijan, despite this military occupation, endeavors to develop and uphold contemporary Western values in a very difficult region.

Allegations of the Republic of Armenia do not change the fact that genocide is a crime that is well defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

Under this convention, "genocide" is a legal term that can only be applied when established under the law by a competent court. The Genocide Convention is also not retroactive, thus cannot be applied to earlier periods. In the case of Perinçek v. Switzerland, the European Court of Human Rights made a distinction between the clear establishment of the Holocaust by an international court and the lack thereof as regards the events of 1915.

A peaceful common future between Turks and Armenians can only be built through dialogue.

As the article of Mr. Charny and Mr Auron mentions the Holocaust, it is necessary to emphasize that during the Holocaust, many European Jews found refuge in Turkey, and Turkish diplomats in Europe rescued hundreds of Jews from the hands of the Nazi regime. Today, Turkey is an observer country at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Speaker of Turkish Grand National Assembly Cemil içek attended the official Holocaust Memorial Day event in Ankara, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt avuşoğlu attended the ceremony in Auschwitz. The annual ceremony to commemorate the victims of the Struma was attended by Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer elik. The Grand Edirne Synagogue, a masterpiece belonging to the Turkish Jewish community descending from Jews that took refuge in the Ottoman Empire back in 1492, was reopened by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arnç on March 26, after an extensive restoration, with a joyous ceremony attended by local dignitaries and members of the Turkish Jewish community from both stanbul and Tel Aviv.

These events reflect the Turkish attitude to the memory of the Holocaust in particular and the Jewish people.

The writer has been the second secretary and charge d’affaires a.i. of the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv since September 2011. Prior to that, he served as third secretary in the Turkish Embassy in Prishtina and at the Balkans Department of the Turkish Foreign Ministry in Ankara.

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