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Despite Denial, Turks and Kurds Remember Armenian Genocide, Says Reparations Scholar

YEREVAN–The Turkish Government is denying a genocide its own population remembers, according to Dr. Uğur Ümit Üngör, who spoke via simulcast from the Netherlands on May 2, 2013 during the American University of Armenia’s (AUA) annual commemorative talk on the Armenian Genocide.

Dr. Üngör’s colloquium, titled “Lost in Commemoration: The Armenian Genocide in Memory and Identity,” explored the dichotomy between Turkey’s official state history and popular social memory.

“Yes it is true that Turkey is denying the genocide, but it is the Turkish state that is denying the genocide,” said Dr. Üngör, speaking from the Netherlands, where he works as the director of graduate studies at Amsterdam’s Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies. “I think that Turkish society knows about the Genocide, that they acknowledge the Genocide, and finally that a lot of people have memories about the Genocide. It should be a task of researchers to unearth and expose these memories.”

In his remarks, Dr. Üngör deconstructed the phenomenon of Turkish denial, from its Young Turk origins to its evolution into an official state policy, seeking to reconstruct a new national memory, minus the crime and its victims.

Dr. Üngör peeled away at Turkey’s complex social fabric, revealing multiple conflicting national narratives about the Armenian Genocide. He examined the unofficial policies implemented by the Young Turk regime during World War I and the subsequent development of an official state policy by successive Turkish governments. He then compared the narrative taught in schools, promoted in academia, and projected through foreign policy to a very different reality on the ground in eastern Turkey, where many Turks and Kurds hold vivid memories about the crime.

In his conclusion, Dr. Üngör underscored the Turkish government’s failure to completely eradicate the memory of the Genocide from the lands and people it administers.

In remarks introducing Dr. Üngör, AUA President Dr. Bruce Boghosian discussed the continuing evolution of discourse about the Armenian Genocide, explaining that it is moving away from being regarding as an isolated historical event, and toward being understood as an ongoing historical process.

“A genocide can not properly be considered over until it is no longer denied,” said Dr. Boghosian. “The Armenian Genocide has the dubious distinction of being one of the longest denied, and hence, longest continuing genocidal episodes in modern human history. From this perspective it should not be considered the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, it should be considered the Armenian Genocide of 1915-2013 and counting.”

Dr. Üngör  is the author of Confiscation and Destruction: The Young Turk Seizure of Armenian Property, which is a detailed accounting of all the property seized from Armenians during the Genocide to create the modern state of Turkey. He is also the author of the award-winning book The Making of Modern Turkey: Nation and State in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-1950, which examines the process of social engineering, mass violence and genocide the Young Turks and their Republican successors utilized as they tried to create a homogeneous Turkey. He is currently working on a book on paramilitaries in comparative perspective.

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia and affiliated with the University of California. AUA provides a global education in Armenia and the region, offering high-quality, graduate and undergraduate studies, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting public service and democratic values.

 

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