TURKISH ATTEMPT TO HI-JACK GENOCIDE CONFERENCE IN DENMARK
left to right, Nicolas Tavitian, Rupen Boyadjian, Richard Hovannisian, Eric Markusen
Vartiter Kotcholosian Hovannisian, M.D.
Los Angeles--I attended an extraordinary conference on the Armenian Genocide in Copenhagen on May 10-11 of this year. It was extraordinary not only because of the sound scholarship of those who presented the evidence of the genocide and its denial but also because of the blatant attempt of the Turkish government to hijack the proceedings.
The conference. held at the University of Copenhagen, was sponsored by the Danish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, in cooperation with Aarhus University and the University of Southern Denmark. The moving force behind the conference was Professor Eric Markusen, a scholar known for his exposure of deniers of the Armenian Genocide and who proposed that this conference deal specifically with the issue of denial.
In consultations with Dr. Vahakn Dadrian and Professor Richard Hovannisian, the organizers put together a program that included a number of European specialists on the Armenian Genocide, as well as activists seeking official international recognition of the crime. At the suggestion of the organizers, it was decided to concentrate the first day on denial of the genocide, and then to consider in a roundtable on the second day the appropriateness of seeking legislative affirmation, as done in a number of countries, most recently France.
When the Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen learned of the conference, it began to urge the organizers to allow for a certain "balance" by including persons who would present the "Turkish view." Representations were apparently also made to the Danish Embassy in Ankara. The diplomatic intercession prompted the organizers to propose that on the second day of the conference a Turkish representative be heard about the appropriateness of legislative action on recognition. It was to be only in the context of this subject, however, and not one in which a forum would be provided for denial by the Turkish government.
Professors Dadrian and Hovannisian conceded to this arrangement, but soon found that this opened the door to additional changes. By the time the conference began, the title had been altered from "The Armenian Genocide and Its Denial" to "The Armenian Question: Allegations and Denial." For the uninformed, it would have been difficult to discern what was the Armenian Question and who was alleging and who was denying. During all this time, the Turkish Embassy continued to work politely and diplomatically to open the door wider, making a case for having not only Gunduz Aktam, a long-time Turkish ambassador and member of the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), to participate in the roundtable but also to include a Turkish member of parliament. But by the time the final program was printed, there were now two Turkish ambassadors and two members of parliament, representing the leadership of two political parties. The two ambassadors were present during most of the proceedings but the two parliamentarians came only to the session in which they were scheduled to speak, armed with packets of denial documents and accompanied by photographers and correspondents. In the background at all times was the counselor of the Turkish Embassy, who carried a large file from which on certain given queues he would extract questions and documents to hand to the Turkish spokesmen in an inane effort to challenge the evidence of the Armenian Genocide. Fortunately, both Dr. Dadrian and Dr. Hovannisian were able to discredit such attempts by citing "chapter and verse" when it came to the evidence.
The conference began on May 10 with opening comments by the Director of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center, Professor Uffe Ostergard, followed by the first session chaired by Professor Markusen. Dr. Dadrian presented a masterful
discourse on the Armenian Genocide, laying out in a clear and methodical fashion the evidence, primari
ly German and Turkish, of the premeditated and comprehensive destruction of the Armenian population by the Young Turk authorities and the "Special Organization." Professor Hovannisian continued with an equally-powerful exposé of the shifting strategies of denial of the Armenian Genocide from the time of its perpetration to the present. Drawing on the Turkish sources and authors themselves, he showed how denial had moved from partial acceptance immediately after World War I, to absolute denial and attempted repression of memory under the Kemalist regime, and, when that was not fully successful, to the invention of arguments to rationalize and to relativize the calamity. The interventions of the two Turkish ambassadors and their counselor during these presentations were ineffectual as they were met with strong, convincing responses.
The afternoon session on the first day included statements by Ragip Zarakolu of the Turkish Human Rights Association on the impact of the Armenian Genocide and its denial in contemporary Turkey, by Dr. Helene Piralian of Paris on the impact of denial on descendants of the survivors, and by Rupen Boyadjian of Zurich and Christopher Arzrouni of Copenhagen on the outlook of the third generation. Dr. Henning Lehmann of Aarhus University concluded the day with a moving account of Danish reactions to the Armenian Genocide and attempts to assist the survivors by such dedicated humanitarians as Karen Jeppe and Maria Jacobsen.
It was on the second day of the conference that the attempted hi-jacking took place. In a roundtable that was supposed to be devoted to the appropriateness of legislative bodies to act on recognition of the Armenian Genocide, Nicolas Tavitian, executive director of the Forum of European Armenian organizations, presented a clear and cogent overview of past and present parliamentary initiatives, member of the Swedish Parliament Murad Artin spoke on the legislative action in his country, and German researchers Wolfgang Gust and Dr. Tessa Hofmann of the Free University of Berlin focused on the German role in and evidence on the genocide. The first Turkish response was given by Ambassador Pulat Tacat, who recited in sequence the line of arguments that Professor Hovannisian had outlined the previous day, asserting in addition that passage of resolutions calling on Turkey to recognize the genocide had been influenced by threats of Armenian reprisals and terrorism.
Then, the bluster intensified with the Turkish parliamentarians, Bulent Akarcali, deputy leader of the Motherland Party, and Dr. Bayram Dayanikli of the Democratic Left Party. The pair created a stir, not only by having packets of blatant denial literature distributed but also by their outbursts while others were speaking. Akarcali, who had denounced the conference and the Holocaust-Genocide Center in the Turkish press prior to his arrival, was particularly shameless in his behavior and in his finger-pointing denial arguments. He denounced the Christian missionaries who he said had intentionally incited the Armenians and created a divide with the benevolently-disposed Turks. The current problems hindering Armenian-Turkish relations, he insisted, was the Armenian Diaspora with its violent fringes. He could only nod his head condescendingly, however, when I described my own witnessing of the disappearance but still-surviving memory everywhere of the Armenian villages in the plain of Erzerum and the cultured, progressive community of Ordu, the birthplaces of my parents
On his part, Dr. Dayanikli admonished the Armenians to abandon the genocide issue, pointing to the fact that the current Armenian republic was in dire straits, that much of its population had emigrated, and that pensioners received a pittance and even physicians, such as himself, received no more than 20 dollars a month, if they were lucky. Hence, if diasporan Armenians wish to help Armenia, they must put the genocide question aside and concentrate on improving and normalizing Armenian-Turkish relations.
Throughout these offensive declarations and exclamations, the scholars who had come to address the topic of the conference maintained a proper demeanor, without the demonstrative gestures that characterized the presentations of the Turkish deniers. Dr. Dadrian did respond by showing how the package of denial literature that the Turkish counselor had placed on each desk was full of falsehoods and distortions created by taking various passages entirely out of context. Nonetheless, a cloud had settled over the conference, in part because the organizers seemed to be at a loss as to handle the brash behavior of the Turkish officials or to insist on bringing the discussion back to the original topic of the roundtable.
Having performed their duties, the two members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly disappeared, leaving the afternoon to the ambassador who was the only person associated with the Turkish government originally scheduled to speak. Gunduz Aktan's topic, "Turkish-Armenian Dialogue: Challenges and Prospects," rolled up into one the most developed strands of denial. Feigning great empathy for the Armenians and for their losses, he carefully created a "Balkan model" of Armenian action in the Ottoman Empire, by which the Armenians aspired to independence with the support of the external powers. He then proceeded to spin a web of deception both regarding the historical and legal aspects of the Armenian Question. Since the Armenians quite naturally sought independence, as every people wishes to live independently, they cast themselves into the status of a political party. And because as a whole the Armenian element in the Ottoman Empire was transformed into a political movement, there is no way to maintain that it was subjected to genocide, because the U.N. Genocide Convention pertains to "racial, religious, ethnical, and national groups, as such." Since measures taken against political parties and groups do not meet the legal definition of genocide as defined by the U.N. Convention, therefore the sad fate of the Armenians must be excluded from being considered a genocide. And Aktam did not fail to repeat the relativization noted by Professor Hovannisian when he pointed out that as many as a hundred so-called genocides had occurred during the twentieth century, not the least of which were the repeated genocidal massacres and forced expulsions of Turkic Muslim elements from lands passing under the control of Christian powers.
What was most disconcerting in all of this was that Turkish deniers had been given most of the day to discuss almost everything except the subject of the roundtable dealing with legislative affirmation of the Armenian Genocide. Secondly, after having sat politely and quietly throughout the day without the interjections frequently heard from the denier side, Professor Richard Hovannisian asked to be recognized to make a concluding statement about the conference, how it had started, and where it had led. To his amazement and consternation, the Director of the Danish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, who was chairing the final session, denied him to the opportunity to give his assessment, this even though Hovannisian had submitted his request to speak in a timely fashion and made a final plea to be given "two minutes." The conference was summarily closed before Dr. Hovannisian could draw attention to how the gathering had changed from its planning stages to the present and how, despite all the negative aspects that had been demonstrated during the course of that day, it had nonetheless been instructional inasmuch as the Turkish officials had predictably reiterated point by point the arguments that Hovannisian had outlined in his own presentation. He was also denied the opportunity to thank Dr. Markusen for a well-intended initiative and to express the hope that the experience of this conference would make the organizers more cognizant of the pitfalls and even audacity to attempt to hi-jack such events
by the forces of denial.
That the Turkish officials had been present in large measure to appeal to their own constituencies was demonstrated by the reports immediately appearing in the Turkish press and the swift series of articles by Mr. Aktam in which he gives his own version of the conference and the role of the Turkish participants in countering the false claims of genocide, thanks to the alertness and efforts of the Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen. One may conclude from all that was said and done that if Ambassador Aktam is representative of those Turkish officials who claim to be advocates of Armenian-Turkish friendship and normalization of relations, then there are many rows to hoe before any positive results can realistically be anticipated.