Friday, October 06, 2006

Staring Down History

Igdir is a rather nondescript, if not unpleasant, modern city in far eastern Turkey, close on to the Armenian border. The region is noted throughout Turkey for its apricots. I can attest to the fact that they are indeed heavenly--juicy and the size of peaches. The region's shame, however, is this monstrosity. For this is the monument to the "Turkish Genocide." That's right; not the Armenian Genocide, but the Turkish Genocide. Turkey, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, maintains that there was no systematic genocide against the Armenians between 1915 and 1918, that while some Armenians did die during the "troubles," it was nowhere near the 1 to 1.5 million figure usually cited, that this part of Turkey was never primarily ethnic Armenian and that as many innocent Turks died as did Armenians. This monument, with museum underneath, is meant to perpetuate and validate this lie. Supposedly, the monument was built in such a location that, on a clear day, it could be seen in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.

My hosts wanted me to see this. The museum contained several rooms with official statements from Turkish historical conferences, old photographs showing Armenian "guerrilla" fighters (with guns!), and pictures from the 1990s unearthing of Turkish graveyards, supposedly showing the victims of the Armenians. The musuem sought to hammer through 3 points:

1. the Armenians "had it good" under the Ottomans
2. the Armenians were armed
3. that Turkish deaths equalled, if not exceeded those of the Armenians

The first point does have some merit. In many ways, Ottoman Armenians functioned in the same way as Jews did in many European societies. This appeared to be more of a Constantinople phenomenon, however. The fact that there were some armed Armenian freedom fighters is not news. So what? The museum's implication is that all were. Their panaramas depicting Armenian priests urging bloodthirsty hordes against the "innocent" Turks were particularly revolting. The third point is their Big Lie. Certainly, some innocent Turks lost their lives in this era. No one denies that. But Turkey resolutely denies the magnitude of Armenian deaths, or that there was any aspect of systematic "ethnic cleansing."

My host and I had a somewhat spirited discussion later on. He observed that many of the Armenians were not killed by the Ottoman troops, but rather, died of disease. "Like starvation," I asked? He excitedly replied, "Yes! Yes!" My sarcasm was lost on him. In other words, the only deaths that counted were those Armenians actually shot, stabbed, drowned or clubbed to death; not those who died of starvation.

I can understand Armenian anger towards Turkey. But this illogical Turkish animosity against Armenia baffles me. Would they not stay in line as they were being executed? Apparently, the fact that Armenians refuse to concede the point on what happened, and that the Armenian diaspora keeps the issue alive, infuriates many Turks. My host even thought tiny Armenia had designs on this part of Turkey, which would be comparable, I suppose, to Paraguay having designs on Brazil.

In my view, this is the main obstacle to Turkey joining the EU, or indeed, Turkey taking its rightful place on the world stage. By this, I do not mean the fact that they are Muslim, for frankly, they wear that very lightly. No, it is rather their infuriating nationalism, xenophobia, historical amnesia, and simple Turkocentric view of everything.

I love Turkey. I have friends there. I've traveled there three times, and hope to return. But this attitude becomes really, really hard to take at times. Much of it could be dismissed as mere silliness, were it not for the fact that it is believed, just as they largely believe 9-11 to be a U.S. government conspiracy. For example, I learned that: the Great Wall of China was built to keep out the Turks; that a Turk probably discovered America before Columbus (I suppose he will have to get in line behind the Norse, the Chinese, and according to Mormon theology--the lost tribe of Israel); that the American Indians are actually a Turkic people (could be); and on and on it goes. The 5 raised swords of the Igdir monument depict various stages of Turkish history, with a bas relief below each. One depicts a fierce Turkish soldier underneath a double eagle ensignia. I pointed this out to my host and said, "that's a Byzantine symbol!" He replied, "no, it's Turkish." I said, "no, I know a little about this sort of thing. That is definitely the Byzantine double eagle." "They got it from the Turks," he confidently replied. End of discussion.

I readily agree that the Ottoman Empire worked better in the Middle East than anything that has come along since. Think about it. But no, Turkey is not ready. And it will never be unless it honestly engages its own history.


Anonymous said...

"Turkey is not ready". For many of us on the frontlines in increasingly Turkic Western Europe, there is a sense that Turkey will never be ready, and never can be ready...for reasons that your earlier contributions on Islam spell out.
Best regards,
Michaelk Borussia

Terry (John) said...


As much as I would like to hope otherwise, I know that you are absolutely correct. I think about my westernized friends in Istanbul, but then realize that they are not representative of even Istanbul, much less Turkey.

Out of curiousity, where are you in Europe?

Kindest regards,


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this incredible documentation of a visit to the Igdir monument. It is really ashame, Turkey is just not prepared to take a real look at their history. Until then they will never understand the truth behind this incident, why some of them resisted as they so forcefully pointed out in their museum, and what really happened to them. Thank you for this first-hand account of a visit to the notorious Igdir monument to the "Armenian Genocide of Turks".