Interview with Baskin Oran

Baskin Oran, 63, is a political science professor at the University of Ankara. In mid- December, he launched an online campaign together with almost 1,000 Turkish intellectuals to gather signatures for an apology to the Armenians for war crimes committed by the Ottomans during World War I.
'Eroding One of Turkey's Biggest Taboos'
More than 25,000 Turks have added their names to an online statement apologizing for Ottoman war crimes committed during World War I.
SPIEGEL spoke with campaign initiator Baskin Oran.

SPIEGEL: Since the beginning of your online campaign, more than 25,000 Turks have signed a statement apologizing for war crimes committed by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. More than a million Armenians lost their lives in the catastrophic events, which began in 1915. Is this the beginning of a critical examination of the past?
Baskin Oran: The Turks who are now apologizing are not responsible for the sins of 1915. There is no collective crime, but there is a collective conscience. With our campaign, we are eroding one of Turkey's biggest taboos. But still, the campaign is coming decades late.

SPIEGEL: Turkish nationalists say that you are damaging the country's image. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agrees.

Oran: I disagree. I think that our image abroad will actually improve. Beyond that, though, it is the grandchildren of the Armenians who should finally hear an apology -- in a country like Turkey, where there is no "culture of apology."

SPIEGEL: What effect will the campaign have on Turkish-Armenian relations?

Oran: The majority of Armenians welcome our initiative. But there are hardliners who criticize our petition for not specifically using the word "genocide." They are afraid that our apology could foil Armenian demands for reparations. Such people merely see us as lackeys of the Turkish state.

SPIEGEL: What kind of reactions have you received from Turkish citizens.

Oran: Unfortunately, they have mostly been negative. Every day, I personally receive around 200 pieces of hate mail. Many accuse me of having insulted the Turkish people. But one has to bear in mind that every child here learns that Armenians killed Muslims. Our education is to blame for the country's collective amnesia. In eastern Turkey, though, it is true that, in the past, many people did suffer from Armenian revenge attacks.

Interview conducted by Daniel Steinvorth
What I don't understand is: 'why the Turkish PM and Armer Forces slammed this innocent initiative? Is it not the official line in Turkish politics that not politicians but historians/intelectuals must solve the Armenian issue, not politicians?


None said…
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the earth.
Anonymous said…
Beautiful sentence Manx!
Anonymous said…
It must be clear, regarding my name, that I'm a Turk of Armenian descent. And I am proud that one of my fellow country men has the guts to talk about what troubled the Armenian people: we can not face history by facts only but conscience is a factor we don't can ignore.
Happy New Year Hans and your co-bloggers.
Anonymous said…
One of the independent guys in Turkey.
And he shows how hypocratic we are;
'no interference by Turkish politicians but interference by state officials are allowed'...
Anonymous said…
War is war. And there were people dying. That's all.
No 'genocide' no massacres. Yes, one, by the Armenians.
It's logical, it threatens the recent rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey.

You described this initiative as sabotage of the gradually improving relations between Turkey and Armenia. Isn't this an exaggeration?

My statement was not exactly like that; but I should note that I did not like this campaign. First, there is a problem regarding the timing. If this were initiated last year in an attempt to force both societies to take some action, maybe we would not have this problem right now. But currently there is no need for this. At a time when there is rapprochement between the two societies, this campaign prepared the ground on which people like \Canan Arıtman and radical groups will raise their voices. The Dashnaks [an Armenian ultranationalist group] on the Armenian side now say, "Well, why do you need a dialogue process now? These guys have just come to your terms; they are about to admit their fault. Just be patient for a few years; Obama also took office; you should consider this, as well." The Dashnaks were opposed to dialogue; they were isolated. You should also note that [Armenian President Serzh] Sarksyan is also a radical; but he has come to this point: "If we fail to have an agreement with the Turks, we can't ensure Armenia's survival." They inevitably have to maintain good ties with Turkey.

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