Age, Australia
April 28 2005

Turkey's wilful forgetting
April 29, 2005

If Turkey wants to be part of the EU it must be prepared to face up
to its history.

'Who remembers today the Armenians?" Adolf Hitler is reputed to have
said as he prepared to invade Poland. Ninety years after the killing
of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I
many people do still remember - most of all the descendants of those
who were murdered. In April 1915 Turkish soldiers arrested hundreds
of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople,
then tortured and executed them. The Ottoman authorities then ordered
the mass expulsion of Armenians from eastern Anatolia, where they
were suspected of working with Russia to create a separate state. The
slaughter of Armenians continued over the next several years.
Terrible atrocities were carried out, even against children. This has
become known as the first genocide of the 20th century. What has kept
bitterness alive is Turkey's insistence that no genocide ever took
place, although it admits many thousands of people died as a result
of "civil strife".

AdvertisementNow the Armenians are seeking international recognition
that their people were victims of a deliberate campaign of
extermination. One thing gives hope they might achieve this: Turkey's
desire to become part of the European Union. France, which is one of
15 countries to recognise the Armenian genocide, has called on Turkey
to set the record straight before it can join the EU. The Turkish
Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has recently proposed a joint
Turkish and Armenian commission to investigate the genocide claims.
The proposal is welcome, even though its critics say most of the
incriminating evidence has been expunged from the Turkish archives.

Turkey has been guilty of wilful amnesia. Germany has managed to
reinstate itself as a responsible international citizen because of
its recognition of, and contrition for, its Nazi past. Japan is
belatedly realising the importance of properly apologising for its
wartime atrocities. Turkey wants to be seen as moderate and
progressive, fit to be part of Europe, and to that end it has
instituted significant social and human rights reforms. But if it is
to be permitted to join the EU it must be prepared to own up to its
past. As history shows, victims do not forget, and forgiveness is not
possible before an acknowledgement of the wrongs committed.