By Harut Sassounian
The Armenian Genocide is rarely discussed in the Turkish Parliament; and even rarer are statements calling for its recognition.
On January 14, 2016, two of the three recently elected Armenian members of the Turkish Parliament boldly dared to raise the issue of the Armenian Genocide in their parliamentary remarks.
Selina Dogan, representing the opposition Kemalist CHP Party (Republican People’s Party), made the following statement in Parliament: “Since this issue concerns not only Armenians but also Turkey, therefore, it should be raised in the Turkish Parliament and not in other parliaments. Otherwise, on every April 24, we will continue making trite statements and hastily rid this topic from our minds. I am convinced that none of us is interested in doing so. I would like to remind you that during a 2015 public rally in Erzurum, the Prime Minister clearly stated that the deportation is a Crime against Humanity.”
Garo Paylan, representing the Kurdish opposition HDP Party, then took the floor and also spoke about the Armenian Genocide: “One hundred years ago the Armenian people were uprooted and exterminated by a decision of the State. My family — grandfather and his family — also suffered from these events. My grandfather was orphaned, having lost both parents. I am from the generation of orphans and leftovers of the sword, living in this land. My race is massacred.”
As Paylan was speaking, several members of Parliament shouted in disapproval. Baki Shimshek, member of the ultra-nationalist opposition MHP Party, warned: “We are in the Turkish National Assembly. No one can say that genocide was committed. Such rudeness is unacceptable!”
Although this was an unusual discussion, it was not the first time that affirmative statements were made in the Turkish Parliament on the Armenian Genocide. In November 2014, Sebahat Tuncel of HDP Party proposed a resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide. Tuncel urged Pres. Erdogan to come to the Parliament to acknowledge and apologize for the Armenian Genocide and other mass crimes. The resolution also asked Erdogan to repeat his apology publicly at one of the sites of mass killings, and declare April 24 as an official Day of Mourning. In addition, the Parliament was requested to form a Truth Commission and make public all documents in state archives pertaining to these mass crimes. Finally, the proposed resolution sought moral and material restitution for descendants of the victims. Not surprisingly, Tuncel’s resolution was quickly suppressed, never to see the light of day again!
As I reported over a year ago, Tuncel’s proposal was not the first time that a resolution was submitted to the Turkish Parliament to recognize the Armenian Genocide. On November 4, 1918, the newly-constituted Ottoman Turkish Parliament discussed at length the crimes committed by the Young Turk Government, after a motion was presented stating: “A population of one million people guilty of nothing except belonging to the Armenian nation were massacred and exterminated, including even women and children.” In response, Minister of Interior Ali Fethi Okyar declared: “It is the intention of the government to cure every single injustice done up until now, as far as the means allow, to make possible the return to their homes of those sent into exile, and to compensate for their material loss as far as possible.”
As a result of this motion, a Parliamentary Investigative Committee was set up to collect all relevant documents describing the actions of those responsible for what was then called, “Armenian deportations and massacres.” The evidence was turned over to the Turkish Military Tribunal and those found guilty were hanged or given lengthy prison sentences.
In addition to this parliamentary motion, we need to recall the words of Kemal Ataturk, first President of the Republic of Turkey, who was quoted by the Los Angeles Examiner on August 1, 1926, as stating: “These leftovers from the former Young Turk Party who should have been made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse from their homes and massacred.”
The combination of the 1918 Parliamentary motion, the guilty verdicts of the Turkish Military Tribunals, and the damning words of President Kemal Ataturk qualify Turkey as the first country that recognized the Armenian Genocide!
Consequently, rather than seeking recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey, Armenians should demand restitution for all their losses, as promised 98 years ago by Minister of Interior Fethi Okyar!