By Alin Ozinian*, Today's Zaman, 13 October 2013 /

Even though the image of Armenians in Turkey emerges from historic
reflexes, the official approach to history and the syndrome of
domestic and external circles, there is absolutely an Armenian story
that everybody in these lands has heard.

While the 1915 issue is officially narrated as though it is an ethnic
issue, suggesting that Armenians were deported because of treason
due to the discussions over a "so-called genocide" or "nonsensical
arguments" of the diaspora, this is actually the greatest economic
victory of republican history.

The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) announced a piece of
legislation in 1915 without delay on how to deal with properties left
behind by Armenians. Under this legislation, the government would set
up commissions for abandoned properties in the regions where people
were deported. The commissions would seal the abandoned houses and
record the goods and properties left behind in the houses after being
appraised. The remaining properties would be sold in auctions and
the revenues would be transferred to the property bodies on behalf of
the owners. Goods and items as well as sacred books in the churches
would be identified and preserved on the spot.

People who claimed that those who were murdered during this time
owed them money were required to apply to the commissions within
two months. This did not go as planned; the application periods were
reduced and some barriers were introduced. However, there was no need
for barriers; those who were sent to exile in the Deir Zor deserts had
no knowledge of this commission and they did not have the courage to
look back. It was obvious at the beginning that no one would benefit
from this legislation. Every decision and step was more painful than
what was left behind. The murder of Armenian people, the deportation
of those who remained, the mass killings en route, the destroyed
families, the lost mothers, children and spouses... Now it was time
to take care of the houses, gardens and fields of the Armenians who
were no longer there.

A commission that wouldn't work

It was no secret that the commission would not work; some of the seized
properties of Armenians were plundered by leading Turkish, Kurdish
and Circassian figures; some of them were given to migrants from the
Balkans. Some of these properties were even granted to persons and
institutions for free so that they could emerge as Muslim-Turkish
entrepreneurs. American envoy Henry Morgenthau, in his memoirs,
said that Talat Pa┼~_a, one of the founders of the CUP, told him:
"I wish you had applied to American insurance companies to get the
full list of Armenian beneficiaries. Armenians are all dead now;
they have no inheritors left to collect their monies. Their assets
and properties are all left to the state."

Urfa Governor Nusret Bey, who was found guilty and then executed
by a court-martial in 1921 because he ordered the massacres during
the deportation, and Bogazlayan District Governor Kemal Bey, who was
executed for the same reason, were declared national martyrs. Later,
their families were given their share of the abandoned properties;
this was one of the cruelest moments of the Armenian fate whose
planning was never admitted to.

By a decree in 1927, real estate worth TL 20,000 abandoned by
Armenians was transferred to family members of the Bogazlayan
district governor. Properties were also given to the family
of Urfa Governor Nusret Bey. The transfers were not limited to
these: Dr. Bahattin ┼~^akir, one of the cruelest leaders of the
Special Organization (Te┼~_kilat─▒ Mahsusa), Diyarbak─▒r Governor
Dr. Re┼~_id and Cemal Pa┼~_a, who was assassinated in Tbilisi, were
also given properties. The punishment for massacring Armenians was
mind-blowing. Hasan Cemal, the grandson of Cemal Pa┼~_a, in his book
"1915: Armenian Genocide," refers to a mansion in Kurtulu┼~_ which
was predominantly Armenian; the mansion was given to his family. In
the same book, Cemal also refers to something that remained almost
unknown. During the years he was working at the Cumhuriyet daily,
he told the story of the Matosyan Printing House.

"[Journalist and author] Nadir Nadi had said: 'After the owner of
Matosyan left the country, it was sold to my father. [Mustafa Kemal]
Ataturk rushed for the printing house. If you tried to bring in a
machine from overseas, you would have needed a long time. However,
there was now an idle machine..."

In fact, Yunus Nadi, the most favored and popular journalist of the
young republic and one of the close confidants of Ataturk, never paid a
dime after taking over control of the printing house in 1924 for which
he paid only a small amount. Subsequently, he even asked for a refund
from the state because after the transfer of the machines, all were
destroyed in a fire that erupted in the printing house; no trace of
these properties was ever found. Nadi, who sold off all properties and
items in the Matosyan Printing House, sold the books in the library
to the Ministry of Education; these books were later transferred to
the Gazi Education Institute. A news report published by the Tanin
daily stated that the value of the Matosyan library alone was greater
than the amount which Yunus Nadi paid for the Matosyan Printing House.

Disconnect people from the past

After the declaration of the republic, Turkey adopted the Latin
alphabet. Unlike the conventional story, the alphabet revolution went
beyond the goal of educating people and making them literate. In fact,
this was an attempt to disconnect people from the past so that they
would not have any link to their history.

The General Directorate of Land Registry and Cadastre in 2005 requested
the digitalization of the deed records of the time and their storage in
the digital medium. However, the National Security Council's body of
war preparations noted that this was against national interests. As
a result, this initiative was successfully aborted. In this way,
the CUP was able to preserve its dark past.

The Matosyan Printing House, one of the most important printing
houses of the Ottoman era, was transformed into the premises of
the Cumhuriyet daily, which served as the watchdog of the regime,
while one of the houses of the Kasapyan family was seized and later
converted to the Cankaya presidential palace. In short, the newly
established republican regime was based on the suffering of Armenians,
their loss as well as their rights and properties.

In the aftermath of the law on abandoned properties which turned into a
process of seizure, Armenian assets, the main basis of the republican
regime, were Turkified along with Greek and Jewish properties. The
seizure of the foundation properties was the last move in 1974. The
traces of Armenian presence in these lands were almost wiped out
after 100 years but some steps were recently taken despite problems
with the Law on Foundations. The pro-CUP figures and structure are,
for the first time, being defeated by these steps and measures.

*Alin Ozinian is an independent analyst.