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Turkey has Long Been Living with Unburied Bodies of Victims of Past Atrocities: Orhan Kemal Cengiz

This Sunday for the second time in Turkey’s history, commemorations for Armenian massacres in the past will be held throughout Turkey.

The first commemoration was held in İstanbul last year. This year not only in İstanbul but also in Ankara and Diyarbakır and in some other towns people will sit in silence in the streets to remember and remind the public of a “great tragedy” that happened in this country in 1915.

These ceremonies are being organized by the Say Stop to Racism and Nationalism! initiative. Five or 10 years ago, we could not imagine that people would sit in the streets to commemorate the 1915 massacres and that they would be able to do that without being attacked or harassed.

First of all, it would not be possible to get permission from the authorities. The police would declare this street demonstration “illegal,” and they would attack the demonstrators before anyone else. Being beaten by the police would be a best-case scenario, of course. Most probably there would have been much more dangerous provocations. You would have been attacked by some organized ultranationalist groups, and the police would just watch what was happening.

If these things are not happening and do not happen, we should give the credit to this government. Last year the police in İstanbul took all necessary measures to protect demonstrators from any attacks and I hope this year’s ceremonies throughout the country will take place in such a peaceful manner again. Last year’s ceremony was a turning point in Turkey and this year will add another dimension to this quite new phenomenon. This government may still maintain the same bureaucratic attitude at the official level for 1915, but we should read these demonstrations and protection of demonstrators as the government’s timid and unofficial support for this process of “remembering” the past of Turkey.

It is hard to believe that we were able to start discussing the Armenian genocide taboo only as of 2005, when Bilgi University held an international symposium on the subject. Back then, there were counter-demonstrations organized by members of the Ergenekon gang. Just a couple of weeks ago Bilgi University published the compilation of the deliberations of speakers at the conference.

When I look at 1915, I see it as a devastating earthquake, the aftershocks of which have continued throughout the recent history of Turkey. The earthquake of 1915 has just created the new landscape from which modern Turkey’s political order derived. If you ask me, state gangs, a widespread culture of verbal lynching and this mood have all been inherited due to not confronting this tragedy. During the whole history of modern Turkey, we have witnessed the aftershocks of this devastating earthquake in the form of pogroms, verbal lynching and the assassination of individuals from vulnerable groups in Turkey. The Hrant Dink murder in 2007 was one of the last rings of this long chain of earthquakes.

Turkey has not passed the critical threshold in which this bloody past will just be history. This dark side of the country has not fully come to light yet. It will take a long time to confront this past. We are just at the beginning of a long healing process. Here in Turkey we have long been living together with the unburied bodies of victims of past atrocities. The year 1915 was just the beginning; it was the biggest earthquake, but it continues to have consequences in different forms.

These commemorations may be seen as small things that are carried out by a bunch of people, but their symbolic value is just so great. This Sunday, on Apr. 24, we will be in Taksim Square in İstanbul, in Sakarya Square in Ankara, in the Human Rights Park in Diyarbakir and in Municipality Square in Bodrum to commemorate the victims of the 1915 tragedy in Turkey. We will sit in silence to remember the victims.

Article by Orhan Kemal Cengiz originally published by Today’s Zaman.