April 24 marks the day of remembrance for the purported 1.5 million Armenians who perished in the year 1915 during what Armenians refer to as Mec Yeġeṙn. While Armenians have pushed for years to pass laws in other states acknowledging Mec Yeġeṙn as "genocide" such efforts have done little to yield recognition of the tragedy inside Turkey. However, despite these efforts, an increasing number of Turks are exploring the history of the events of 1915 when what was then the Ottoman Empire systematically eliminated the Armenian population then living in Anatolia after concerns that Armenians were cooperating with the Russians to bring about dissolution of the Empire.
Yesterday, for the second year in a row, Turks gathered in Taksim Square to pay homage to the Armenians who lost their lives almost 100 years ago and call for a "coming to terms history." The first demonstration of this kind was held last year when the world was paying more attention to whether United States President Barack Obama would refer to Mec Yeġeṙn as "genocide" in his annual speech commemorating the tragedy. He did not, but what did not get noticed, and in what my mind is more important, is that Taksim was home to Turks raising awareness of the issue. Whether they called Mec Yeġeṙn "genocide" is less important than that there is now a lively discussion in Turkey that was not at all present 5-10 years ago. Last year hundreds of Turkish intellectuals and common citizens signed an online apology for what they referred to as "the Great Catastrophe." From Hurriyet Daily News:
Apart from two events in Istanbul, sit-ins were held simultaneously in Ankara, İzmir, Diyarbakır, Bursa and Bodrum. Prayers for the tragedies were conducted in all Armenian churches in Istanbul after the Easters prayer. The church’s limited their commemorations to prayers and no statement were made.For coverage of the demonstration last year and the strong efforts to pass a genocide resolution in the U.S. House last year, click here. For more on Turkish efforts to address the Armenian question, which is still difficult in Turkey given the country's many laws limiting freedom of expression, click here.
The first of the events in Istanbul was held in Sultanahmet by the Human Rights Association, or İHD, in front of the Turk Islam Artifacts Museum at 2 p.m. The crowd gathered with red cloves and read a press statement. The cloves had the names of Armenian intellectuals who were taken from their homes in Istanbul on April 24, 1915, and died in exile. The black banners held by the crowd read, “The Museum – prison of 1915” and “The intellectuals were held before sent to the journey of death.” The names of 250 intellectuals were read and the crowd left the cloves and banners near a tree in front of the museum before disassembling.
Ayşe Günarsu, member of the İHD Istanbul branch and the Commission Against Racism and Discrimination, spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. She said they were there to refresh a memory that society was made to forget. “This location where the museum stands used to be İbrahimpaşa Palace in those years; also called the Central Prison. The intellectuals were gathered here and then sent to exile from Haydarpaşa train station. Many of the intellectuals never returned.” Günaysu said the Turkish intellectuals are too late “to commemorate the genocide.” İHD held a protest at Haydarpaşa last year.
“This is a matter of conscience,” said İhsan Kaçar, another member of the commission. “Intellectuals are not sufficient for Turkey to face itself. The NGOs need to have a clear stance on this matter. Facing the Armenian taboo will mean Turkey has to face its own history.”