The hardest word

The international press gave some play over the weekend to Obama’s speech marking the 95th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians in the dying years of the Ottoman Empire.

Coverage focused mainly on his failure, for the second year, to honour a pledge made prior to his election to describe the massacres and forced deportations as ‘genocide’.

What received less attention were the signs that within Turkey itself a more honest appraisal of these events is emerging.

For the first time, hundreds of Turks broke a near century-old taboo by demonstrating publicly for a greater recognition of the tragedy at three places around Istanbul.

I spoke to Turkish newspaper columnist Mustafa Akyol, who writes for Star and Hurriyet Daily News, and was offered an insight into how attitudes towards the events are changing in Turkey:

“We’re now able to discuss this far more freely than five or six years ago. If someone had stood up then and said the word ‘genocide’, they could have ended up with a prison sentence or a fine.

“Until very recently the people who contested the official view were only a small group of secular liberals and they were seen by the nationalist establishment as snobbish and not part of the Turkish value system.

“Now there’s a new dimension and commentators with conservative Islamic credentials have also started to question the official narrative, and this is very important.

“A new ground is being found with a more critical attitude to the official rhetoric…

“I think that the issue should be discussed in Turkey not by forcing Turks to admit genocide but by encouraging them to understand what really happened.”

There were many contributions within the Turkish media over the weekend seeking to further this end, of which Akyol’s moving piece in the English-language Hurriyet Daily News was one. You can read it here.

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