ANKARA: Racism or transformation

Today’s Zaman

<mailto:[email protected]> [email protected]


Racism or transformation

I did not know what racism was until I went to the United States for
graduate studies. One of the first classes I had to attend was
"Relations and Politics of Race."

This was a novelty to me, and I came to realize that there were racial
problems in another world. My second experience came to me as a
distasteful soul searching. For a while I was spending time with a
female African American student. When we strolled through the streets
of downtown Philadelphia in the early 1970s or sat down in
coffeehouses, people shot us disapproving glances and the like. All of
this irritated me to the point of refraining from going out with her
though it caused me pain to succumb to such pressure. I had met with
no such collective sentiment in my own country and thus decided that
we Turks were free of racism.

The first incident that shook my firm belief was a statement by a
fellow graduate student in the Ph.D. program at New York State
University-Binghamton a few years later. The director of the sociology
department had invited new doctoral candidates to his home for a
welcome party so we could meet each other and our instructors. I
introduced myself as a Turk. To me this meant being a citizen of
Turkey and was also an ethnic identity. I had no idea that these two
could be two separate entities until another student introduced
himself as an Armenian from Ýstanbul, Turkey. I was dumbstruck. Not
that I did not know we had citizens of Armenian, Greek and other
origins, but the way an individual identity was expressed by
distinguishing between ethnic (or cultural) and official/legal
components had amazed me. The reality that someone could be an
Armenian or anything other but an ethnic Turk and a citizen of Turkey
came to me as a surprise.

From then on I began to question every official definition, trying to
differentiate between individual and collective identities and

The world was simple and comfortable no longer. However, this way I
could better understand why non-ethnic Turks felt as though they were
under pressure and subjected to unfair treatment being forced legally
to be a "Turk" despite being quite ready to be loyal citizens of the
Republic of Turkey.

The authoritarian, exclusive and unequal official definition of
citizenship has once again surfaced with the racist statements of the
director of the Turkish Historical Society (TTK) Professor Yusuf
Halaçoðlu. The "Armenian question" is one of official Turkey’s main
concerns. First of all there is a definitional problem. For Armenians
and many foreigners it means genocidal treatment of Armenian citizens
by the Ottoman government in 1915. For Turks who have adopted the
official line, it is matter of Armenian betrayal to the government and
country struggling with Russian occupation and ensuing deportation.

The Turkish side has all along defended the line that the incidents
had neither the intention nor the quality of genocide, which implies a
deliberate and official policy of wiping out a racial, ethnic or
religious group completely. This rationale has also been adopted by
the republican governments though Armenians and others argue that a
deliberate crime was planned and executed to get rid of the Armenians
on Ottoman soil.

Now there is a fresh entry to the official record that surprised
many of us. Professor Halaçoðlu claimed that "unfortunately, those
Armenians who feared for their lives converted to Islam and took on
Alevi Kurdish or Sunni Muslim Turkish identities." He also asserted
that there are no Alevi Kurds and those who say so are originally of
Turkish ethnic origin. The most frightening of his statements was that
since 1936, the state has conducted an in-depth survey of Armenians
who converted to Islam and the list is in his (the state’s)

This is an utterly racist outburst, but not one paid attention to the
timing of it. Halaçoðlu revealed these official racist practices of
tracking down former Armenians right before the Jewish Anti-Defamation
League declared its acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide during
the Ottoman era. This means the certain adoption of a similar
resolution in the US Congress that has been delayed for some time.
What the Turkish state reflex means is that Armenians did not
disappear in whole, they just changed shape.

Overnight they transformed into Turks and Muslims. Which is more
respectful for a state — to get rid of a people for the wrongdoings
of some, or to make them invisible by forcing them into conversion and


From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS