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WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MAY 21?

Hasan KANBOLAT
21 May 2008 - Today's Zaman
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!à‡`="justify">How many people in Turkish society know about what happened in 1864? Does the year 1864 have any significance for ordinary people? I don’t think so. May 21, 1864 is the day when the exile and genocide campaign led by the Russian Empire during its invasion of the northern Caucasus in the 19th century ended. 

Wstern Caucasus -- the Adiges, Wubihs, Abkhazs and Karaçay-Balkars -- had perished as a result of a campaign of forced migration and genocide. Almost all members of the Wubihs, the local people of Soçi, had been exterminated in the genocidal campaign; those remaining were forced to migrate to the Ottoman territories -- in this way, the members of this nation were wiped out forever. May 21 represents the anniversary of the painful memories in the past and is observed in silence every year as a day of mourning by the peoples settled in the northwestern Caucasus.

Turkish people who know the year 1915 because of allegations in relation to the Armenian question often have no idea about the year 1864. Why does Turkey have to be defensive all the time vis-à-vis the Armenian genocide allegations? Why is Turkey afraid of its history? Actually, Turkey does not need to fear its past, simply because almost half the people currently living in Turkey are descendants of people who were subject to ethnic cleansing, extermination and genocidal campaigns in the past in different parts of the world. The Adiges, Wubihs, Karaçay and Balkars, Kosaks and Abhkazs of the northwestern Caucasus; the Chechens, the Dagestan people and the Ossets from the northeastern Caucasus; Karabakhs, Azeris, Ah?skans, Terekemes and Karapapaks from the southern Caucasus; Balkan Turks, Albanians, Bosnians, Pomaks, Ulahs, Torbe?es and Macedonians from Balkans; Arabs and Jews from Spain; Turks from Crete and Rodos; Cypriots from Cyprus; Turks, Palestinians and Kurds from the Middle East; Uzbeks, Turkmens, the Kyrgyz, Kazakhs and Tajiks from Central Asia; and Uygurs from Far East have come to Turkey throughout the past 150 years in pursuit of peace and survival following brutal campaigns against their existence in their original lands. The Anatolian soil has been the land where immigrants and those escaping extermination and annihilation have found peace; why doesn’t Turkey make strong reference to this fact? Why hasn’t a memorial for the genocidal campaigns our ancestors were subjected to been erected in our country? Who are we waiting for? Recently, there have been some attempts to throw roses and cloves on the Bosporus in memory of pains past, but don’t our ancestors deserve a glorious memorial? Don’t the people from the Caucasus, the Balkans, Cyprus, Crete, Rhodes, Crimea, Central Asia, East Turkistan, Afghanistan and other places deserve a monument?

The Armenian genocide allegations occupy a central place on Turkey’s agenda. Some Turkish intellectuals rely on an Armenian tragedy discourse. Don’t the people who currently constitute half of the population in Turkey and had to migrate to Turkish soil because of genocidal campaigns in their homelands in the last 150 years have a tragedy? Don’t the Crimean Tatars and Cretan Turks have a tragedy? Is it impossible for non-Christians to suffer a tragedy? Turkish intellectuals should investigate the details of the tragedy of their fellows first instead of the tragedies of neighbors. They should stress that Armenians were asked to migrate and not deported because the Armenians were displaced within the Ottoman soil. They were moved from Anatolia to the Middle East because of the war conditions during World War I. They were not deported. However the Turks and Muslims were deported from the Russian Empire. It is not possible to speak of deportation without exile and cross-border migration. May 21 should be observed in Turkey as a remembrance day for our ancestors.

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