By Emil Danielyan
In an unprecedented gesture, a group of Turkish intellectuals have publicly apologized for what they called a “great disaster” that befell the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian minority and urged their compatriots to follow suit.
“I cannot conscientiously accept the indifference to the great disaster that Ottoman Armenians suffered in 1915, and its denial. I reject this injustice and acting of my own will, I share the feelings and pains of my Armenian brothers and sisters, and I apologize to them,” reads a petition signed by them and published by the “Zaman” daily on Friday.
The newspaper said the signatories will ask other intellectuals and ordinary Turks alike to sign the petition. “We are searching for human beings,” one of them, scholar Baskin Oran, was quoted as saying. “We thought about urging the state to apologize but we decided to let individuals act according to their conscience. This call is for everybody.”
According to “Zaman,” some Turkish civil society representatives were quick to object to the campaign. “For me, all these events [of 1915] were the fault of Turkish nationalism flourishing at that time, and personally I don’t identify with it,” historian Ayse Hur told the paper. “So I do not feel the need to apologize personally.”
Another intellectual, Aytekin Yildiz, pointed to the signatories’ failure to describe as “genocide” the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians during the final years of the Ottoman Empire. “What do they mean by ‘great disaster’?” he said. “Let’s face it, it was genocide.”
The Turkish state vehemently denies that the Armenian massacres, a taboo subject until recently, constituted a genocide. It insists that Ottoman Armenians died in much smaller numbers as a result of civil strife, rather than a premeditated government policy.
The official version of events is increasingly questioned by independent Turkish scholars and other intellectuals, even if few of them publicly use the word genocide in reference to the mass killings and deporations. Dozens of them gathered at a private Istanbul university in 2005 for a landmark conference that sparked angry protests from Turkish nationalist groups.