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A Conference in Germany

Retired Ambassador Ömer Engin LÜTEM*
Armenian Studies, Issue 1, March -April - May 2001

 .Eä °="justify">A conference called "The Heavy Burden of History: An Attempt Toward Turkish - Armenian Dialogue" has convened in Mülheim an der Ruhr/ Germany on 23 to 25 of March, 2001 by the Protestant Academy of that town with the German-Armenian Society and German - Turkish Association for Social Sciences and Humanities.

The purpose of the conference was according to its brochure was to bring together Turkish and Armenian historians in order to analyze and discuss the events at the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918. It was hoped that the direct dialogue may contribute to a process of acknowledgement, understanding and reconciliation between these two people.

Noble purpose indeed! It could be done if a real dialogue was established during the meeting. The Turkish scholars who were invited to speak like Halil Berktay, Fikret Adan?r, Taner Akçam and Elçin Kür?at-Ahlers are all well kown for their pro-Armenian views, although there are some differences among them. Berktay and Adan?r are more "scientific", Akçam is rather an activist than a scholar. R?dvan Akar sounds like a propagandist. As they all supported the Armenian views and since the Armenians did the same, instead of the intended dialogue a kind of a monologue prevailed at the meeting.

A meaningful dialogue necessitates the expression of an adverse opinion. Unfortunately the scholars who defended that the events of 1915 were not a genocide had not been invited to the conference. Except of a very tiny minority almost all the Turks believed that as far as the Armenians are concerned there has never been a genocide. There is hundreds of scholars, writers, journalists etc who share this opinion. Therefore there has been no difficulty to find some qualified persons who would express a contrary view and thus create a real discussion at the meeting. It’s a pity that the organizers of the conference had no courage to invite them. Because of their absence the purpose of the conference which is the establishment of a dialogue between the Armenians and the Turks, has not been realized.

As for the Armenian speakers of the meeting Richard Hovannisian began his presentation by saying that there is no need to prove that a genocide was committed against the Armenians and that he will not discuss this matter. Could anyone imagine a scholar who would not stand a contrary opinion! How could a dialogue be established if one of the interested party refuses to talk with the other.

Mrs. Lorna Touryan Miller spoke about the survivors of the "genocide" and the trauma of the following generations of the Armenians. She tried to explain and to excuse the terrorist acts of some Armenians belonging to the third generation by that trauma. Its quite normal that the refugees of 1915, as anyone else who witnessed the tragic conditions of war, felt some kind of trauma. Their sons and daughters -the second generation- would have much less of that kind of a feeling. As for the third generation it is rather impossible for them to have any kind of trauma, the conditions of life being completely different and that they had few occasions to be influenced by their grandparents. But all the terrorist acts and the murder of the Turkish diplomats has been preformed by the Armenians belonging to the third generation. If most of the killers were professionals some of them acted under the influence of a trauma. This apparent contradiction could be explained by the fact that the third and the fourth generation of the Armenians are exposed at church, at school and during inter-Armenian activities to a kind of brain washing which tries to inculcate self-pitying, vengeance and hatred for the Turks. With such feelings it is not possible for the Armenians of the diaspora, as it was the case at the Mülheim conference, to contribute positively to an Armenian-Turkish dialogue.

The Turkish - Armenian reconciliation is a necessity especially after the independence of Armenia. To overcome the prejudices inherited from the past and to prepare a favorable ground for a future Turkish - Armenian entente by a continuous dialogue, Turks and Armenians should try to understand and respect their respective opinion.

* Director of AVIM -
- Armenian Studies, Issue 1, March -April - May 2001
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