05 March 2007

1467) Joint Armenian-Turkish "Genocide" Study - Will It Go Forward? & Mass Burial Debate

Mass burial debate continues
Talin Suciyan
In October 2006 a mass grave was found in Dara/Nusaybin in Turkey. No investigation was done to identify the remains. After the mass media brought the matter to the attention of the public, Prof. Yusuf Halacoglu of the Turkish Historical Society (THS) claimed that the burial remained from Roman times, adding that THS is ready to form an international group of experts to conduct a site investigation. Meanwhile, Prof. David Gaunt of Södertörns University gave several interviews to the Turkish media, arguing that the remains may belong to Assyrians, Chaldeans, or Armenians. Mr. Gaunt based his argument on the historical incidents known to have happened in that area, and added that only a site investigation could determine the provenance of the bodies. Mr. Gaunt's presumptions were challenged by Mr. Halacoglu, who claimed they could not be correct.

As a response to Mr. Halacoglu's challenge, in January David Gaunt wrote a letter to the THS, stating that he would appreciate to be a part of an international researchers' group. Mr. Gaunt had three main requirements: First, researchers should have full access to any site that could have the probability of being a mass grave; second, to interview the local people concerning the mass grave; and third, to have full independence in investigating the burial and the area around it. Mr. Halacoglu accepted the requirements, and both sides were to set up dates for starting the research. A couple of days after this mail correspondence, Hrant Dink was killed and the process stopped.

On February 11, Yusuf Halacoglu was in the headlines of Hurriyet daily newspaper, announcing the cooperation between Sweedish and Turkish historians, after almost one month. Right after this, on February 13, another news item appeared in Hurriyet, this time concerning the dates proposed by Mr. Gaunt. He had proposed to start the field work between April 23 and 25, 2007. Hurriyet's title for the news item was, "Sweedish professor's cunning of 24 April."

After both news items appeared in Hurriyet, Mr. Gaunt issued a press release and wrote a letter to Mr. Halacoglu.

Mr. Gaunt's press release summarizes the process from October to this date and continues as follows:

"After the first news was spread, authorities cordoned off the cave and only some government agencies had access. Finally in December the site was closed off and the opening was buried. The head of the Turkish Historical Society (TTK), Professor Yusuf Halaçoglu challenged my suggestions and insisted that the bodies found were from Roman times. Thereafter he made many statements to the press challenging a Swedish delegation to investigate the site. This intensified after a debate in the Swedish parliament on December 12, 2006, which was based on reports in Turkish press (not upon my initiative, as some mistakenly believe).

"In mid-January 2007, I sent up a trial balloon to see if there was any substance to the TKK statements and I proposed to start negotiations on making a joint investigation. It was apparent that the only way any independent scientist would have to study the grave was through some sort of collaboration with the TKK. I am fully acquainted with its abysmal track record on the Armenian-Turkish issues and was, and still am, very hesitant. We had not progressed further than discussing the possible dates for an initial planning meeting, when Hrant Dink was assassinated. I immediately put these negotiations on ice. Apparently, however, the TTK is very hot to pursue this matter and today has gone to Hurriyet revealing the very small amount of progress we had up until the assassination and making some further provocative and totally inappropriate statements.

"This investigation of the mass grave must be seriously planned. If the TTK wants to rush in and do an incomplete job in a hurry, there will be no reason for me to continue negotiations. For the sake of legitimacy alone, the TTK cannot expect to do the investigation all by itself and use the independent researchers only for PR purposes in attempts to influence public opinion. I envision a long scientific investigation with international co-operation. This first meeting can only begin the process of identifying the long lost victims in that mass grave."

Further, Mr. Gaunt wrote a letter to Mr. Halacoglu and stated that there are very difficult issues, such as the budget, the size, the qualifications, and the composition of the investigation team, the cooperation of local universities for offices and for adequate storage of the remains during the investigation, the organization for the search for DNA among people whose ancestors might be in the grave. He wrote "Perhaps I overstate my position, but for clarity it will be impossible for us to call this a joint effort, and it risks the legitimacy of the whole enterprise, if the TTK takes on all responsibility for the investigative work and the independent researchers are kept at arms length, until there is a press conference."

Mr. Gaunt thinks that there have been previous investigations done by the Turkish government delegations and he wrote he would like Mr. Halacoglu to share the findings. "Please correct me if I am wrong, but I have reason to believe that there have been several Turkish government delegations that have already inspected the grave. You made statements yourself, so I assume the TTK participated. It would be very useful for our common planning if you could send over copies of whatever material there is in whatever form, which has already been assembled."

In the news item that appeared in Hurriyet, it was claimed that Mr. Gaunt initiated the debate in parliament on the mass grave in December 2006. In the letter, Mr. Gaunt points out that only members of parliament can initiate a debate, and as he is not a member of parliament, he cannot do so. It was the initiative of members who read the articles appeared in the media.

As far as the dates are concerned, Mr. Gaunt said to Nokta weekly magazine that he proposed April 22`26, including the arrival and departure dates, and for field work April 23`25. "I have managed to clear the time 22`26 April by cancelling some speaking engagements in the United States for which I already made preparations to be away from the university. That the dates include April 24 has to do with the nature of my research and the several speaking engagements which I have had to cancel in order to accommodate the Turkish Historical Society's insistence on meeting soon with me. If it was only a matter of a one-day meeting in a major city, then I could of course have suggested other times like a weekend."

Mr. Halacoglu has suggested that based on the outcome of the investigation, the ones whose statements proved to be wrong should publicly apologize. Mr. Gaunt reminded him that in scientific circles, new interpretations, new facts, new materials, new techniques, and unexpected results can always happen, and scientists learn from them and are not embarrassed by new knowledge. He underlined that as historians, they must first pay respect to the past and honor memory by identifying whoever is enclosed in these long-lost graves, whatever ethnicity they happen to have had.

Talin Suciyan is a correspondent for Istanbul's Nokta magazine. She reports from time to time for the Armenian Reporter.

A joint Armenian-Turkish study on the Genocide is proposed - but will it go forward?
Chris Zakian

PARAMUS, N.J. - Last week may have seen the start of the first joint scholarly project by an Armenian historian and a Turkish historian who denies the Armenian Genocide. Though at this writing it is not certain that the joint venture will actually go forward, Ara Sarafian, of the United Kingdom's Gomidas Institute, and Dr. Yusuf Halacoglu, the head of the Turkish Historical Society, have both commented publicly that they would welcome the opportunity to collaborate on a historical investigation.

According to Mr. Sarafian, the possibility of a collaborative study was brought up during a March 2006 conference at Istanbul University, where Mr. Sarafian - a leading authority on the Armenian Genocide and editor of a critical edition of the British Parliamentary Blue Book, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915`16 - was asked by Dr. Halacoglu about cooperating on joint projects regarding the events of 1915.

Mr. Sarafian agreed, but nothing further transpired. The subject came up again when Mr. Sarafian was interviewed in February 2007 by the Turkish journal Notka; he outlined the conditions for what he would consider a serious and rigorous study.

Last week the Turkish newspaper Sabah put the question to Mr. Halacoglu, who responded that he would accept such a proposal.

In a press release issued on February 26, Mr. Sarafian set forward the parameters for a study that would be acceptable to him and to disinterested scholars. Earlier, he had posed a question that the study could seek to settle. "The Turkish official thesis maintains that the deportations of 1915 were an orderly affair and all relevant records on those deportations can still be found in Ottoman archives in Turkey. According to the formal administration of deportations, there should be lists of all deportees, village by village, person by person, showing when people were deported, where they were sent, and how they were resettled. There should be records of their original properties and how they were compensated at their places of exile."

Mr. Halacoglu would have to produce these records.

The parameters of the study, as formulated by Mr. Sarafian would be the following:

First, Mr. Sarafian would present Mr. Halacoglu the relevant records that explain why he thinks the events of 1915 in Harput should be called "abuse," "massacre," and "genocide," and not simply a deportation program.

Second, Mr. Halacoglu would present Ottoman records that detail how deportations were implemented in Harput and its surrounding villages.

Third, both parties would critically examine the materials presented in each set of records, to see if either one can make a convincing case.

Transparency of the proceedings, and openness to the broader scholarly community, would be critical conditions of any collaboration, Sarafian underlined.

As of this writing, Mr. Halacoglu has not unambiguously given his assent to these basic parameters.

In the meantime, the prospect of such a joint collaboration has received mixed reactions - especially in Armenian quarters, where some insist that it could play into the hands of Genocide deniers who would relish the opportunity to claim that the historicity of the Genocide is in some sense an "open" scholarly question.

A balanced, though cautious, view was expressed by University of Michigan historian Professor Gerard Libaridian, who in reply to the inquiry of the Armenian Reporter wrote: "In principle, any effort to produce and exchange documents is welcome; this problem requires debate and exchange in a variety of formats. To succeed, however, any project requires clear - and usually modest - goals, lucid intellectual underpinnings, scholarly integrity, and teamwork."

Mr. Libaridian added: "We have seen a few such projects fail in the past. Halacoglu, for example, does not inspire confidence as a historian, while Sarafian seems to be taking on Halacoglu, i,e., the Turkish state, all on his own. This area has suffered tremendously from a number of problems. The most important of these is the confusion between the politics of Genocide recognition and scholarly pursuits."

Rep. Sherman says the vote on the Genocide resolution is up to the Speaker And Karabakh's future status is up to Armenians

On February 28, Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.) gave a quick interview to our Washington Editor Emil Sanamyan. Below is the transcript of that interview, followed by facts about the member of Congress.

Reporter: What are the chances for the Foreign Affairs Committee consideration of H. Res. 106 in the near term?

Rep. Sherman: I think ultimately it will be a decision made by Speaker Pelosi. If either Speaker Pelosi or [Foreign Affairs Committee] Chairman [Tom] Lantos want, [the resolution] goes forward.

Reporter: What is the indication of the position taken by Chairman Lantos?

Rep. Sherman: I think that the chairman's position is not known to me at this time. The Speaker - and she is obviously much more important to this process ultimately [for the resolution] reaching the House floor [to be voted on] - has been supportive of this resolution consistently in her term in Congress. I do know that the State Department is going to try to change Speaker Pelosi's mind.

Reporter: Technically, can this resolution go to the House floor without Committee consideration?

Rep. Sherman: I would think that if Speaker Pelosi made it clear that she wanted it on the floor the Committee would act first. Yet, if for some reason the Committee did not act and the Speaker wanted it on the floor, it will be on the floor

Reporter: What is your reaction to the threats made by Turkish officials over this resolution?

Rep. Sherman: I believe French-Turkish relations improved after France passed the Genocide resolution, and I can't imagine why the outcome would be any different for the United States.

Reporter: And your reaction to the Bush Administration's opposition to this resolution?

Rep. Sherman: History is history, and it doesn't change because certain [military] bases are strategically well-located. And if you want to be the world's only superpower, you have to stay true to the truth. If instead the truth is something you negotiate, it is hard to think that the world is going to acquiesce in [the United States] being the only superpower.

Reporter: You have long supported Armenian-American issues. What are the reasons for that support?

Rep. Sherman: Because the last act of genocide is genocide denial. Because those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Those who obscure it are doomed to repeat it. Because Hitler was able to turn to his inner circle and say, "Who remembers the Armenians?" And if we don't remember the Armenians, then Hitler will have correctly observed that ignoring the first genocide of the 20th century paves the way for other genocides. Finally, because the ultimate Turkish acknowledgement of the Genocide is good for Turkey.

Because, where would the United States be if we denied slavery? Or if we denied that we had committed genocide against quite a number of Native American peoples? I would hope that if not in the resolution itself, [then] in the mix of discussion about the resolution, this resolution will be a humble resolution. With the humility of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where we stand up and say, look, the United States has committed great crimes in its past, and other countries have as well, and it is time to acknowledge what happened in the Ottoman Empire.

Not as if we who point it out do so out of a sense of overbearing smugness. We should not be passing this resolution in smugness. We should be passing it because it is the truth, and because there is a lot of truth about the United States that we also have to acknowledge.

Reporter: Turning to another issue on the minds of many Armenian-Americans - the Karabakh conflict. How do you see it eventually resolved?

Rep. Sherman: I am not aware of any earth-shattering developments regarding Artsakh. It was tantalizing when [the parties] came close to an agreement [in the past].

The United States has got to disabuse the Azeris of the view that they are going to pump a lot of oil and get a lot of power and somehow create new realities. We should be re-doubling our efforts to serve as an intermediary, to try to have this issue resolved.

I think that the people of Artsakh have made it plain that they want to live in an Armenian state. Whether that is an independent, second Armenian state, or whether it is fully incorporated into the Republic of Armenia - it is for the Armenians to decide.

Reporter: Is ongoing U.S. security assistance to Azerbaijan undermining regional stability, and should Congress take a closer look at these assistance programs to Azerbaijan?

Rep. Sherman: First and foremost, you should require parity [in security assistance to Azerbaijan and Armenia] at least, if not favoritism of Armenia, which I think has been far more willing to settle the conflict than Azerbaijan. Aid to the military of Azerbaijan could be a problem, and aid that did not at least enshrine parity would be worse. Given the fact that Azerbaijan is participating in the blockade of Armenia, I would like to see zero military aid. Certainly, military aid to Azerbaijan is not a good idea; but departing from parity is even worse.

Facts about Rep. Brad Sherman
Constituency: Represents California's 27th district, located in the northern suburbs of Los Angeles, including parts of Sherman Oaks, Burbank, Northridge, Tarzana, Granada Hills, and Sunland.

Role in the 110th Congress: Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation, and Trade. Original co-sponsor of House Resolution 106, affirming the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide.

Personal details: Born in 1954, in Los Angeles. Jewish. J.D. from Harvard University, 1979. Attorney, accountant. Single.


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