Denial after the genocide
1927: Mustafa Kemal, founder of the Turkish Republic, at the second congress of the republican people’s party, laid the foundations for the official denier historiography of the state. Embracing the nationalist ideology, Kemal spoke about immoral minorities and used only the historical events that put minorities in a negative light. The outcome, as Marcello Flores points out, is to start the process of separation and expulsion of the Armenians from the history of the Ottoman Empire and to expelled the surviving Armenians. The decrees of deportation previously issued were cancelled, but not the decree of seizure of the abandoned goods.
1930: Foundation of the Turkish Historical Society and declaration, according to which the measures taken towards the Armenians were necessary in order to build a great nation and a compact Turkish social body. The Turkish Historical Society added that the Turks had always been the original inhabitants of Anatolia and the Hittites, who were Indo-European by the way, were the ancestors of the modern Turks. This marked the birth of the rewriting of history to political purposes.
The Turkish diplomacy operated in all possible ways to make sure the massacres against the Armenians were not even mentioned and even disappeared from the nations’ memory. Taboos were created to prevent the Turkish society from remembering emotionally harming facts: there had to be a new beginning.
1945: Turkey became a UN Member, then in 1948 it signed the Convention on Genocide and as the Armenian pressure put up, a “scientifically set up” denier work started. There was the attempt to demolish the evidence and the thesis of the absence of a criminal intent by the government of the Young Turks was put forward. The government above all wanted to hide the planning and intent of the crime, sine qua non condition for the possibility to include it in the legal category of “genocide” adopted by the UN in 1948, with the consequences that we know: no statute of limitations and compensation.
In Ankara, true laboratories of disinformation were set up, organizing the Turkish version of the causes and events related to the “alleged genocide”. The documents collected by lord Bryce and Toynbee were disputed, the Diary of American ambassador Henry Morgenthau was rejected, as were the books by Johannes Lepsius, the writings of Italian consul Giacomo Gorrini, and the reports of the missionaries.
1989: The Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, with an act aimed at appear as glamorous and aimed at belying the non denier historians, says he would open the archives. Then it was discovered that the available documents arrived up to 1894, and two different pathways had been created, one for the Turkish historians and one for the foreigners.
In those years, a team of Western denier historians emerged, and top research positions funded by Turkey were set up, that re-proposed the denier tese on the basis of pretentious “scientific data”: those historians include Heath Lowry, Justin Mc Carthy, Stanford Shaw and Bernard Lewis, who in 1995 was sentenced by the tribunal of Paris to a symbolic fine for denying genocide.
Why deny the Armenian genocide today?
In Turkey, today, article 301 of the criminal code defines as a crime the fact of talking about the Armenian genocide: doing so means attacking the power that keeps the historical truth, and thus it becomes an attack against the national identity.
Today’s Turks are not responsible for the genocide, but the denial continues because doing anything different would mean upsetting the historiographical construction that has stood since the Thirties, to make room for the historical truth, with the consequence of letting the Armenian reality, which was accurately expelled from the horizon of new Turkey, emerge. Then, the serious problem of compensation or reparations would be put before the people’s attention.
There is an “original sin” at the basis of Republican Turkey. It was established politically and economically on the basis of genocide, and the major responsible for the apparatus of the Union and Progress Committee came together in it. The fathers of the Turkish homeland would be identified with the villains. Turkey could not be condemn them, if not by repudiating itself. In this frame work, therefore, the words of Pope Francis are particularly important, who in a homily of 12 April 2015 – to mark the centennial of the Metz Yeghern – defined the extermination of the Armenians as the “first genocide of the Twentieth Century”.