ANKARA: The Relation Between History And Politics According To Hanio

Sahin Alpay

Zaman, Turkey
Nov 15 2006

No doubt M. Sukru Hanioglu is at the top of the list of historians
illuminating the last period of Ottoman history. Leaving aside the
articles he has written in various academic magazines and books,
a list of the books he has authored is enough in itself to show the
dimensions of his contribution:

"Preparation for a Revolution: The Young Turks, 1902-1908," Oxford
University Press, 2000.

"The Young Turks in Opposition," Oxford University Press, 1995.

"Kendi Mektuplariyle Enver Pasha (Enver Pasha in Light of His Own
Letters)," Der Publications, 1989.

Professor Hanioglu has been a faculty member at Princeton University,
one of the U.S.’s most distinguished universities, from the 1990’s to
date, and chairman of the Middle East Research Department for the last
three years. He is a source of pride for Turkey as a social scientist,
not only for being an extremely fastidious researcher and superior
analyst, but also with his intellectual character tied to independent
values and critical method.

His new book is entitled "Osmanli’dan Cumhuriyet’e Zihniyet, Siyaset
ve Tarih (World-view, Politics and History from the Ottomans to the
Republic, Baglam Publications, 2006), and it is comprised of articles
published in Zaman newspaper from the fall of 2002 to the summer
of 2006. I am very happy that a short time after I began writing for
Zaman, I encouraged my old friend Professor Hanioglu to write for Zaman
once every two weeks as well. His Zaman articles, which combine his
broad knowledge of history with an analytical logic, are the most
valuable contribution made in recent years to the understanding of
Turkey’s presence in light of the historical behind-the-scenes reality
of the transitional period from the Ottomans to the Republic.

In regard to the interest shown to these articles, Hanioglu says the
following: "These commentaries that were aimed at bringing different
perspectives to current issues received an unexpected amount of
interest. While messages related to my academic publications generally
don’t reach two-digit numbers, I received close to 50 notes after
each newspaper commentary. I had an opportunity to exchange ideas
with many people, even if it was in a virtual realm." (p. 9)

In this article I want to dwell on his last piece, published in
Zaman in two parts, entitled "History, Politics and the 1915 Tragedy
in Light of the Vote in the French Assembly" (October 26-27), which
was not included in Professor Hanioglu’s book, but which is extremely
worthy of attention. Here Hanioglu interprets the relationship between
history and politics in view of the bill accepted on October 12th by
the French Assembly that makes denial of the "Armenian Genocide" a
crime. He takes this "denial" argument even further: It is impossible
to leave history to historians, and it is inevitable that politics
interpret history. The problem is not with politics’ interpreting
history; it is with imposing your interpretation, as the only truth,
on society and prohibiting debate. (In this respect, Hanioglu reminds
those supporting the thesis, "Let’s leave history to historians,"
that the Turkish Parliament declared May 27th as a "Constitution and
Freedom Holiday" on April 3, 1963, and that it made it a crime to
"insult the memory of Ataturk" on July 25, 1951.)

Hanioglu points out that it is past the time for producing politics
by means of free discussion instead of countering prohibition with
prohibition, when taking up the issue stemming from the question,
"What Happened to the Ottoman Armenians?" In other words, the most
important historian of the Union and Progress period says to stop
curtailing debate by means of Turkish penal code 301 and elsewhere
and, instead, allow for the production of new and result-oriented
politics by means of free historical debate to counter the campaign
for "recognizing genocide" and now "punishment for the denial of
genocide." Actually, this is the task before us.

With this opportunity, I would like to note on the record that I am
one of those eagerly awaiting his book-in-progress on the Committee
for Union and Progress’ reign of power (1908-1918).

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