Why does Turkey deny the Armenian genocide?
It’s a one million dollar question. I think there are two main reasons. The first reason is that Turkey doesn’t want to compensate the victims of the Armenian Genocide, to pay reparations. The second reason is that some of the founding fathers of the Turkish nation were perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. So Turkey of today was established by the Union and Progress Party, that was the one which organized the Armenian Genocide. So the issue of recognizing the Armenian Genocide involves an important part of the Turkish identity.
Why did you decide to struggle for the recognition of the Armenian genocide?
The starting point was that I was working in Hamburg and I studied the history of the Ottoman Empire and the events of the Twentieth century. I didn’t know anything about the Armenian Genocide and I did not even know there were Armenians in Turkey. When I came across this topic I was interested in knowing more and I didn’t know up to this point it is politicized. I started studying the issue out of academic interest. I started studying the victims of torture and I felt I should learn more beyond the Turkish official position. In those years I was also influenced by Hrant Dink’s assassination.
Are you afraid this commitment might lead you to face consequences in Turkey?
Not anymore. I think Hrant Dink’s assassination was a turning point. I think today there is much more opening in civil society and it is much easier to talk about the Armenian genocide than before.
What’s happening now in Turkey?
There is a new social movement. You can compare it to the Occupy Wall Street Movement in the United States. It involves the younger generations. They demand democracy, human rights and the right to participate in the decisions. It is a movement of civil society and we will need to see how Turkey reacts to this new generation that wants democracy and wants Turkey to recognize human rights.
You have written that Turks view the Armenians as traitors and Armenians view the Turks as the murderers of their ancestors. How can these people look at eachother in the present and is there room for reconciliation? Is there something you would suggest, maybe a book, to help both parties face this process of acceptance and possible reconciliation?
There is a Turkish proverb about people starting “smelling eachother”, i.e. getting closer to eachother and examining eachother. So here the issue is about people starting to talk to eachother. Only dialogue, talking to eachother, not considering the other as too bad and facing the historical past can help reconciliation.
Does the West accept your research about the Armenian genocide?
Yes, I currently live and teach at university in the United States and there are mixed group of Turkish and Armenian students dealing with this topic. So it is widely accepted in the United States and there is a possibility to train a new generation of scholars.