“I would define amnesia as a social sickness in Turkey […] I mean to say that the ‘will to forget’ history is directly bound to the genocide of the Armenians.”
Identification with the Soil
Does an historical period called the Middle Ages exist at all in Turkey, and if it does, can it be taught with impartiality in Turkish Junior (Orta) and Senior (Lise) high schools today? Can it be taught dispassionately and open-minded at a university level? For many mediaevalists, Eastern or Western, these questions may appear incongruous: they are not in Turkey! In fact, for any mediaevalist living and working in Turkey these questions probe deeply into very sensitive zones of identity-structuring and nationalism which, for the moment, have been either ‘settled’ by the handful of Turkish mediaevalists, historians and philologists, or deferred pending the European decision on Turkey’s entry into the European Union.
The issue is a vital one whose crux is undoubtedly the onerous ontological identity to the Anatolian soil. Now this in itself seems rather benign since all countries inscribe the History of their nations into the soil upon which they shed their blood and tears in conquering it. And in Turkey’s case this is legitimate, and no historical data, scientific or propagandist, will ever refute this victory. However, it is not the blood and tears shed on this soil that has provoked anger and frustration on the part of many foreign historians and geographers who deal with the relationship between the communities of mediaeval Turkey, but the conscious and unsophisticated manner in which Turkish historians have practically ‘eliminated’ or ‘evacuated’ all the non-Turkish figures whose historical roles during that period were as important as the roles of the invading, settling and sedentarizing Turkish Oghuz, Seljuk and Ottoman dynasties. The Armenian, Greek and Syriac people and their cultures have been forgotten or minimized; have been ‘scaled down’ or altogether ‘wiped off’ the Anatolian Middle Age map. Indeed, the concept of Alterity has hardly perturbed the minds of Turkish intellectuals; and this for obvious ideological reasons.
How would it look to the Turkish child today if he or she were to learn that their ancestors swept into Turkey as nomad warrior bands, jostling, juxtaposing, side-stepping, crushing or ‘pacifying’ the sedentarized Armenian, Greek or Syriac who had been inhabiting that soil some seven to nine centuries before them? How would the same child react if taught that those nomad Turks had learnt the Art of construction from the Armenians, court poetry, miniature painting and the Art of Statehood from the Persians and to a lesser extent from the very Byzantine Empire they were slowly but surely gnawing away and would defeat? How could the child ever identify him or herself to a soil that had been laboured and cultivated by ‘foreigners’, upon which States had been founded and had flourished, and whose written cultures attest to this telluric appropriation and early Statehood? Should this same child be asked to identify himself to the nomad-warrior Turks, migrating from Mongolia over intermittent periods and in myriad hordes that cannot claim any historical unity between them, one which would betoken a Turkic History from Mongolia to Turkey from the eighth century to the fall of Constantinople in 1453?
How then have Turkish historians dealt with these perplexing ontological issues? How should a History, whose founding ideologies necessarily must sow a people’s identity into the soil which they have long since settled, fix into the minds of its makers the frontiers of ontological identity, nationalism and patriotism? How will Turkish children ‘feel at home’ if their home, for over eight centuries had been more populated by sedentarized foreigners than by migrating Turks? These problems found their solutions in the most awkward, ideological and ill-scholarly fashion. Here I shall enumerate three of them before I propose a more historical one, less tainted with exigent nationalistic imperatives.
Turkification of Anatolia
Founded in 1912, the members of the Türk Ocağı (The Home or Hearth of the Turks), an academic association that seeks to inscribe the History of Turkey deep into Anatolian soil, realized the ontological danger of a mediaeval Anatolia whose Turkic population lay dispersed over thousands of kilometres without any ethnic unity or central governing authority. More annoying was the bald fact that the indigenous Armenians in Eastern Turkey (the Armenian Kingdom) outnumbered the conquerors by four score if not more! Eminent historians such as Ziya Gökalp, chief advocate of the Turkish ‘overman’ whose misunderstanding of Nietzsche clearly exposed his own beliefs of the ‘over-Turk,’  Fuat Köprülü, founder of the Türkiyat Enstitütü (the Institute of Turcology) in 1924, Furuk Sümer, specialist in the studies of Dede Korkut, Sebahattin Eyuboğlu (writer and poet) and Ahmet Caferoğlu, director of Türkiyat Mecmuası (Journal of Turcology), the organ of the Institute of Turcology, all conjured up a series of root-settling solutions to plant the Turks firmly in Anatolia’s culturally rich soil.
The most ‘logical’ (but less historical) thesis was the Hittite Solution. In 1931, historians ‘discovered’ extraordinary historical and cultural links between the Hittites and the Turks. Soon it was revealed that the Turks were in fact direct descendants of this hoary, civilizing nation. As could be expected, this fantastic theory could not withstand serious historical scrutiny, although it did establish a foundation for the Empire Solution that we shall soon succinctly retrace. This being said, although the theory was thoroughly abandoned, we still read in some very official documents references to the Hittite Solution of Anatolia, which if not guaranteeing Turkic ‘direct’ ancestry, does at least provide scholars with an assimilating theory whose civilizing components, the utmost being the values of sedentarization, fully integrate the Turks into Anatolian soil, making them thus inheritors of this Empire. A noble Empire from whose rich Anatolian roots the Greeks had quaffed, which undeniably transformed them into a civilized people, and thanks to which the ‘Greek miracle’ ceases to be miraculous since it was the Hittites who were the civilizing agents. There is no doubt then that this Hittite-Turkish civilizing tandem make the Turks heirs of a European culture. Thus reasoned the former president of Turkey, Turgut Ōzal (1927-1993) in his book La Turquie en Europe (Turkey in Europe)  written in French in 1988, then translated into Turkish. It goes without saying that the former president, no stranger to Türk Ocağı meetings since 1979, wished his book to be read by European officials, and a public whose ignorance of Turkey’s History was commensurate to the lucidity of those Turkish intellectuals who transformed it! Be that as it may, the Hittite Solution once disowned, another was required…
The flagrant geographical inter-linking Turkic continuum furnished Turkish ideologues with an answer to the nomad/sedentary dichotomy: The Turks had always been a settled people, and the ‘succession’ of their empires is there to vouch for it. In Anatolia, Oghuz, Seljuks and Ottomans, due to their tightly knit centralized governments, gradually pacified and civilized those Stateless and unorganized Anatolian Armenians, Greeks and Syriacs.
To overcome the nomad/sedentary problematic, the Empire Solution was concocted: In one sweep of the eye the nomadic clans migrating slowly from Mongolia to Anatolia formed an incredible chain of linking empires which began at the immemorial Göktürk tombstone inscriptions at Orkhon in Mongolia and strung out straight through to the Ottoman territories of Turkey. This train of empires, drawn out in vivid colours on school maps, gives the impression that they were juxtaposed in some majestic inter-linking geographical continuum or unity both in Space and in Time. The Göktürk Empire stretches from Mongolia to the Caspian Sea in one purple streak between 542 and 630, divided into the Eastern and Western Göktürk State, as if it had been under one centralized ruler. The Great Seljuk Empire (1038-1194) begins at Herat and reaches Bursa without a break in its swath of bright green, within which the Anatolian Seljuk State radiates in vivid red (1077-1242) smack in the middle of Anatolia. The Ottoman House succeeds the Seljuks and establishes their empire between 1299 and 1566. The Kingdom of Armenian is wantonly obliterated on these historical maps, whereas the Byzantine Empire is clearly indicated as well as the Kingdom of Trabzon. The flagrant geographical inter-linking Turkic continuum furnished Turkish ideologues with an answer to the nomad/sedentary dichotomy: The Turks had always been a settled people, and the ‘succession’ of their empires is there to vouch for it. In Anatolia, Oghuz, Seljuks and Ottomans, due to their tightly knit centralized governments, gradually pacified and civilized those Stateless and unorganized Anatolian Armenians, Greeks and Syriacs. Stimulating though it might have been, it sufficed to peruse the History of these conquering tribes and clans to comprehend that their empires were neither linked nor centralized, be it temporally or geographically. Attila, Babur, Alp Arslan, Osman, Mehmed the Conqueror, Genghis Khan or Timur had very little in common, if indeed chieftains such as Attila, Genghis Khan, or Timur could be considered as Turks at all! These ’empires’ were in fact kinglets, as separate from one another as the names that qualify them! Be that as it may, it is this Empire Solution that holds the school child’s attention today.
Finally, the most ‘logical’ solution to the problem of soil identity has been the Nonexistence of the Other Solution. The Turks, after their stunning victory over the Byzantine armies at Manzikert in 1071, settled in Anatolia. Their organized military, juridical and political system spread far and wide over a vast, ’empty’ territory, filling it, little by little until the final blow to Constantinople in 1453 and to Trabzon in 1461. In this story of Middle Age Turkey, written in all school manuals, there is hardly any mention of Armenians, Greeks or Syriacs. References that are ventured are so ambiguous and purposely elliptic that a layman to historical research would immediately conclude that Anatolia was indeed without any sedentary population prior to the arrival of the Seljuks. Imagine what junior or senior high school children must then conclude? Turkish children firmly believe that the majority of those scattered ‘nomadic’ gayrimüslim  roaming the Anatolian plateau were gradually assimilated by the conquering Seljuks, the Ottomans, and consequently converted and civilized by them. In sum, the Turks civilized Anatolia. And that is how the Anadolu Medeniyet, the Turkish Civilization was founded…
The Quest for Identity
Now it is known by many well-read people of the world that these theories or positions seek to find and fix an identity of a community or ethnic group whose modern nation lacks a fundamental assurance of a sedentarized, thus solid ontological identity which would place them soundly in the soil that has become theirs. This lack of ontological identity has led them either to deny partially the existence of peoples who settled and thrived for centuries on that Anatolian soil, or disfigure their role in the making of the Turkish nation. This denial or disfigurement has falsified History books, and consequently warped the minds of Turkish youths. A History without historical partners is impossible, but this impossibility has not thwarted Turkish intellectuals’ unrelenting campaign to promote a monolithic identification, a self-sufficient, hermaphrodite existence, reducing the Other to a few condescending lines, treating this Other as ‘neighbours’ as if they had lived in foreign countries and not in Anatolia! Anatolian mediaeval History has been transformed into a monologic tale of a protagonist without interlocutors.
When the Seljuk chief Alp Arslan invaded the Armenian kingdom and the Byzantine Empire, the word ‘Ermenistan’ ‘Armenia’ and her capital ‘Ani’ are noted in reference to Alp Arslan’s victory. It is the sole reference to the existence of an Armenia and its capital in all the four school books that I have examined.
The majority of Turks agree then that the Seljuks and the Ottomans assimilated all the tiny clusters of wandering nomads of the empty Anatolian plains, making them, thus, masters of that land, and it goes without saying, masters of their History. Such were the assimilating forces of those mediaeval Turks. In the words of Sebahattin Eyuboğlu: “The Greeks became Turks.” Turgut Özal, in his enthusiasm even went so far as to say that “Homer was our compatriot.” Logically, all the ‘foreign’ Anatolian communities, because they were unorganized, Stateless and helplessly nomadic in nature, ‘became’ Turkish under the aegis of the long line of benevolent, civilizing sultans of the Ottoman House from 1281 to 1924, then under the nationalist patronage of the Young Turks and Republican heads of State. The ‘gayrı-Türk’ (the local foreign Turk) shifted from a djimmi state under Muslim ‘protection’ to the ‘ikinci sınıf vatandaş' ‘the second zone citizen’ through the Young Turk and Republican process of ‘Türkleştirilmesi’ ‘Turkification’…
Schoolbook Examination: An Ideological Discursive Strategy or ‘Resmi Tarih’
To illustrate the lack of intellectual criticism and probity of the Ministers of Education in Turkey, and the inadequacy of consideration towards the Armenian community (to all the ‘local foreigners’ who had founded kingdoms, States and empires on Turkish soil long before the arrival of the Turkic nomads), I have scrutinized the junior and senior high school History schoolbooks (lise 9 sınıf, lise 10 and lise 11 sınıflar) imposed by the Minister of Education (YŐK).
The ‘lise 9’ schoolbook emphasizes the dawn of the Turkish race: the Orta Asya Uygarlığı (the Central Asian Civilization) which stretches in bright rose from Manchuria to the Caspian Sea without any break (page 53), dominates in size and in chromatic brilliance the Chinese, Indian, Persian and Roman empires. The Urartur (Urartian) civilization (900-600 B.C.) founded around Lake Van (Tuşpa) is noted, yet neither arrow, sign nor name indicates the Armenian nation that migrated there, conquered it, and established its own civilization…
Strong emphasis is made on the Islamic expansion from the times of Mohammed, the four Caliphates and Turkish adoption of Islam. A map is provided which colourfully illuminates the ‘Köktürk Devleti’ (State), and on that map is enumerated every Turkic tribe or dynasty of Central Asia: Bulgar, Oğuz, Kıpçaklar, Kimlek and Kırgız.
When the Seljuk chief Alp Arslan invaded the Armenian kingdom and the Byzantine Empire (1063-1072), the word ‘Ermenistan’ ‘Armenia’ and her capital ‘Ani’ are noted in reference to Alp Arslan’s victory at Manzikert. It is the sole reference to the existence of an Armenia and its capital in all the four school books that I have examined (pp. 165-166). The references are worth citing:
“…1064 yılında büyük bir ordu ile Azerbaycan’a girdi. Kendisi Ermenistan üzerinden Gürcistan’a doğru ilerken oğlu Melikşah’ı vezir Nizamülmülk ile birlikte Doğu Andadolu’ya gönderdi. Ani ve Kars kalerlerini geçirdi. Hristiyanların kutsal yerlerinden biri olan, sağkam kaleleri ve kileseleri bulunan Ani Kalesi’nin fethi Islam dünyasından büyük bir sevinçle karşılandı.” (p. 165)
“In the year 1064, he (Alp Arslan), penetrated Azerbaycan with a huge army. He himself carried on from Armenia straight into Georgia whilst he sent his son Melikshah and the vizir Nizamülmülk together to Eastern Anatolia. The castles of Ani and Kars fell into his hands. Being one of the sacred places of Christianity, with its robust fortresses and churches, the inhabitants of Ani Castle greeted the conquering Islam of the world with great joy.”
Whether the king, the bishops, knights and peasants of Ani greeted Alp Arslan with great joy is impossible to verify. What does emerge from this singular reference to Armenia, and to Ani in particular, is that these two precise references to Armenian mediaeval culture initiate the triadic discursive strategy that runs through all the junior and senior school textbooks.
Firstly, the author of this text stresses that the Christian populations were treated benevolently, were even acclaimed as their saviors: from whom? From the tyrannical Greek Byzantines! We shall read this running strategy in the tenth and the eleventh grade textbooks when Orhan the Gazi and Mehmed Fatih treat the Armenians more kindly, more convivially, more favorably than the Greeks ever did. The victorious Turks, thus, place themselves in an intermediary position as juridical and social judges who distribute equity amongst the ‘warring’ Christian communities, hence pacified by the advent of a fair and just Islamic code of law. Here at Ani, the Christian population welcomes the Turks with open arms for they have been salvaged from their real enemies, the Byzantine Greeks, who, having been defeated, were pushed further West. In the tenth grade schoolbook, after Orhan Gazi’s victory over Byzantine armies at Kütaya, he allows the Armenians to move their spiritual centre to Bursa, safely within the embraces of a sound and just Turkish Islam: “’1326: Orhan Bey Ermenilerin Bizans zulümden kurtulmaları için ruhani merkezlerini Kütaya’dan Bursa’ya taşıttı…” 
Secondly, Turkish social and juridical magnanimity towards the Armenians throughout the Seljuk and Ottoman periods, as emphasized in the schoolbooks, prepares the pupil psychologically for the Armenian’s traitorous and rebellious attitude towards the Turks at the end of the XIX century, and consequently, justifies Turkish wrath and rage unleashed against them, and the reason for their necessary deportation. Were not the Armenians called the milletsadıka ‘the loyal community’? Loyal because the Turks treated them loyally, fairly, justly? Why then did that ungrateful, disloyal community turn against their benefactors, their protectors? The discursive strategy is so aptly threaded that no pupil would ever put into doubt the Turks’ benignity and adroitness towards their ‘loyal community.’ For this very reason Armenian fortresses and churches are mentioned, for this sole reference imprints the image of the Turk not as an invading nomad conqueror who destroys sacred edifices, but as a civilizing force that unifies the conflicting or warring Christian communities into one strong, sound and just political unity! It was the Turks who provided and guaranteed this civilizing unity, and the Ottoman and Turkish Republic regimes are the very political achievements of this grand Turkish unifying force.
The triadic discourse weaves a subtle psychological thread through the minds of Turkish pupils that strengthens with each passing school year, with each new textbook commented on: the civilizing Turks were betrayed by the ingratiating Armenians, and punishment, consequently, justly meted out.
Thirdly, because there is no further mention of either Armenia or Ani in any of the high school textbooks it stands to reason that the Armenian nation disappeared completely off the map, so to speak. There is not one photo of an Armenian church, school, monastery or house in any of the four books, whereas hundreds of photos acclaim the sacred moments, art and artifices of the ‘Turkic’ peoples from China to Europe! It then stands to reason that the Armenian exists no longer in the aftermath of the Seljuk invasions since no mention of their towns or sacred lieus can be found either on maps or in texts! The Armenians, however, suddenly burst upon the Turkish historical scene again when tenth grade school books evoke their treason, their rebellions and mass slaughtering of Turks before, during and after the First World War with texts and photos to illumine and provide proof of their despicable acts, buttressed by keywords such as ‘çete' ‘gangs’, ‘isyanlar’ ‘insurgents’, ‘Ermeni terör’. The sudden ‘disappearance’ of the Armenians in Turkish History, and their sudden reappearance in guise of traitors and killers of Turks, breakers of the Turkish nation, is strategically supported by hundreds of maps on which the names of the Turkic tribes, nations and towns are boldly printed: Akkoyunlar, Çerkezistan, Gürcistan, Karabağ, Azerbaycan, Naçivan, Tiflis, Kars, Baku, Abaza. are clearly visible, whereas no mention of Armenia, of Yerevan, of Etchmiadzin, of Dvin – an important trading center between Tabriz and Kars – of Lake Sevan’s pale blue waters… The triadic discourse weaves a subtle psychological thread through the minds of Turkish pupils that strengthens with each passing school year, with each new textbook commented on: the civilizing Turks were betrayed by the ingratiating Armenians, and punishment, consequently, justly meted out…
Indeed, it is on page 187 where pupils begin to learn the implications and results of the Tanzimat Reforms of the XIX century, of the terrible truth of Armenian ingratitude, treachery, and ruthlessness; where the pupil begins to comprehend the logic of the triadic discourse as the true, underlying factor that triggered the deportation (tehcir). We shall not delve into this uncouth propaganda, however, it should be pointed out that the ‘çete’ did not act alone, but connived with the Russians, the French and the British to overthrow the Ottoman Empire, which is undoubtedly true as regards a small percentage of the Armenian population. Yet, no reference is ever made to the 60,000 Armenians who served in the Ottoman Empire to defend their sultan, only sentences that besmirch the Armenian and connote him and her as they who sought to ‘break up’ the empire ‘parçalamak isteyen…,’ who attacked the Ottoman Bank in Istanbul (1896), who rose against their protectors in Sassoun (1904). Nothing is said of the Kurdish Hamidiye and the Ottoman army that taunted and hounded the Armenians of Sassoun to such an intolerable extent that no other solution than to fight was to be found…
On page 202, the authors of the textbook print a photo of fleeing Muslim refugees from the Balkanic wars. Why is no photo of Captain Armin Wegner’s collection, printed of deported Armenians straggling through the deserts of Southern Turkey or Northern Syria towards Rasul-ul-Ain, dying of thirst, hunger and cruelty? Is there no sorrow and suffering that cannot be shared? Or is the choice of the victim more important than the abomination of the act? For indeed, the photos on pages 205 and 206 represent Armenian ‘gangs’ ready for slaughter; one particular caption reads: “Ermeni çetelerce yakılmış bir Türk köyünden görünüm” “A view of a Turkish village destroyed (by) Armenian gangs.” A sentence on page 205 is startling: “…savunmasız masum pek çok Türk’ün öldürülmesiyle sonuçlandı,..” when describing the strategy of the Armenians in their pursuit of a separate nation in connivance with the Russians “as a result of which defenseless, innocent Turks were killed.” Dr. Yusuf Halaçoğlu, the writer of these reflections, even points out that if a million and a half Armenians had been slain during the deportation where then were the bodies buried? Where are their gravestones to be found? “Eğer iddia edildiği gibi bir buçuk milyon insan katledilmiş olsaydı bunların toplu mezarlara gömülmesi gerekmez miydi? Bu toplu mezarlar nerelerde bulunmaktadır.” (page 207) This type of ‘reasoning’ passes comment, but note the word ‘insan’ ‘man’ instead of Armenian, and the dubitive suffix ‘-miş’ which steers the mood of the verb (and the mind of a pupil!) ‘katletmek’ ‘to assassinate, massacre’ towards the uncertainty of any mass killing or groundlessly supposed genocide. Who would have buried the slain Armenians: the Kurds…the Turkish soldiers?
Dozens of pages of photos and short documents which paint the Armenians as the most ungrateful of Ottoman subjects! At the end of the manual, Russians, too, are evoked who supported Armenian revolt, treason and acts of barbarism against their benefactors. On page 188, the caption of the photo reads: “Amasya’da Ermenilerden Alınan silahlar.” “Armenians taking up arms in Amasya.” Pupils learn that Armenians encouraged (kışkırmayan) acts of terror, and even killed those Armenians who refused to take up arms against the Turks.
The schoolbook notes that during the Tanzimat Reform period many community schools were founded: the Greeks owned 4,390 schools whilst the Armenian community (Apostolic, Catholic and Protestant) owned 851. On page 197, pupils are informed that because of all the different types of adolescent education in Turkey: medrese, tanzimat mektepleri (schools), askerî mektepler, azınlık ve yabancı okulları (minority and foreign schools) the road was open to negativeness due to the diversity of the school education, creating thus a contrariness in society: “Bu zıtlıklar toplumda çesitli olumsuzluklara yol açtı.” (page 197) What solution should then be taken: the homogeneous road of Turkification (assimilation), or extermination? Assimilation of the Armenian population was as impossible or improbable as would have been the assimilation of the Turkish population under similar circumstances. Each identified him or herself to their ancestral heritage, to their rights of complete sovereignty of body, mind and spirit… to their linguistic and cultural legacy…
The schoolbook for the eleventh grade pupil, which continues to emphasize the Turkic civilization spanning from the Uyghurs in China to the Gagauz in Romania, and the Muslim communities of Bulgaria, again reinforces the reasons and the results of the European reforms of the Tanzimat period with an interesting illustration on page 119, where different figures of the ‘milletler’ are depicted in their ‘national’ attire, and above each, in bubbles like in a cartoon script, their happy remarks about the reforms are cited.
For example, “vergiler tüm Osmanlı vatandaşlarında eşit alınacak.” “All Ottoman subjects will pay equal taxes.” “Cemaatim artık asker olabilecek. Banka ve şirket kurabileceğiz.” “My community from now on will be able to enrol in the army. We shall be able to found banks and companies.”
Besides these brief references to Armenians (and to the other communities), nothing more of interest can be noted in this eleventh grade schoolbook.
It is in another edition of the tenth grade schoolbook  that a pupil fully understands the duplicity and perfidy of the Armenian in his or her daily relationship with the Turks, and the perfect logic of the decision by Turkish authorities to deport the Armenian population.
On pages 66 and 67, interesting and objective comments are made on three of the national communities of the Ottoman Empire: “Osmanlı Devleti’nda Ermenilerin Durumlu” (The Armenian situation in the Ottoman State), which is the longest of the three; then factual information is given about the Jewish and the Syriac communities.
What is stated about the Armenians cannot be refuted: “…özgürce yaşamalarına müsade etmiştir.” “(Armenians) were given permission to live freely on the land.” Armenians were given permission to hold office: “Ermenilerden Osmanlı idaresinde 33 mebus (deputies), 22 bakan (ministers), 29 general, 7 büyükelçi (ambassadors), 1 konsolos, 17 öğretim üyesi (members of education), 41 yüksek dereceli memur (high ranking officials) görev almıştır.”
In 1461, Fatih the Conqueror permitted religious practice of Armenians. He gave them rights to their own education, and these rights played a large role in the social progress of the Armenian community: “Ermenilere verilen bu geniş haklar Ermeni toplumuna gelişmesinde büyük rol oynamışler.” (page 66) As a result of which, many Armenians migrated from their mountain villages to Istanbul: “Fatih dönemindeki by gelişmeler sonucunda Istanbul’a yoğun bir Ermeni göçü yaşandı.” Pupils also learn that Sultan Yavuz Selim(1516) granted church and monastery property rights to Armenians in Jerusalem, where they founded their patriarchate: “…tüm kilese ve manastırların hakkını Küdüs Ermeni patrikhanesi’ne verdi.”
In 1831, the Catholic Armenian Church was granted permission to establish itself, which put an end to the conflicts between the Catholic and the Apostalate Churches, the separation of which, allowing a better unification of the Armenian community and with the Turks, thanks to the tolerance and the freedom bestowed upon the community by the Turks: “Höşgörü ve özgürlüğün bir sonucu olarak Türklerle en fazla kaynaşan topluluk Ermeniler oldu.”  It is also noted that the first Armenian printing press was founded in 1567 in Istanbul, and that no objection or opposition was made by the Ottoman authorities to the six books of Armenian stamp that were printed.
These informative facts prepare the pupil psychologically (and ideologically) for the dozens of pages of photos and short documents which paint the Armenians as the most ungrateful of Ottoman subjects! At the end of the manual, Russians, too, are evoked who supported Armenian revolt, treason and acts of barbarism against their benefactors.
On page 188, the caption of the photo reads: “Amasya’da Ermenilerden Alınan silahlar.” “Armenians taking up arms in Amasya.”
Pupils learn that Armenians encouraged (kışkırmayan) acts of terror, and even killed those Armenians who refused to take up arms against the Turks: “Isyana Ermeniler terör eylemleri devam etti. Hatta isyana katılmayın Ermeniler dahi öldürdüler.” (page 189)
The word ‘terör’ and more particularly, ‘Ermeni terör’ is written boldly on these concluding pages of the tenth grade manual. It is a key word that combines nicely with ‘suikast’ ‘conspiracy’ in defining how the Armenians managed to rise up in arms (ayaklanmaklar çıkartıldı), and how they were supported by Russia, England and France. At one point the manual cites Bogos Nubar Paşa who states emphatically that 1,400,000 Turks were killed by the Armenian ‘çeteler,’ and later by ASALA, a terror organization to which the author devotes several pages of emotionally charged accusations, as well as decrying and denouncing as ‘groundless,’ ‘asılsız,’ the accusation of an Armenian Genocide by the many countries of the world that have acknowledged it. An ‘unfortunate’ acknowledgement given the fact that Talat Bey provided all the assurance and need to the conduct of the Armenians towards their new lands of implantation. Orders that are enumerated on page 212. On page 216, we read these concluding remarks by the author: “Maalesef 24 Nişan gününü başta Fransa, Italya, Arjantin, Rusya, Kanada, Yunanistan (Greece), Lübnan (Lebanon), Uruguay ve Güney Kibris Rum yönetim ( Greek Northern Cyprus) olmak üzere, ABD’nın yirmi eyaletinde ’27 states of the United States) kabul ettirdiler.” Note the adverb which begins the doleful admission of world ignorance and misunderstanding of the Turkish nation: ‘Maalesef ‘ ‘Unfortunately.’ A rueful statement indeed that scorns to tolerate the myriad facts of evidence of the Armenian Genocide, gleaned upon years of research by dozens of countries. For any acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide would cast serious and perhaps subversive doubts concerning dozens of Republican years of re-writing a History to which the majority of Turks fully adhere, and over which they would prefer to refute categorically or even shed their blood rather than face world ignominy, or worse still, disgrace in the eyes of the Armenian Diaspora…
No dialogue is established, no dialectic effort to portray the Armenian as protagonists in the building of the Turkish nation.
No attempt is undertaken to offer analyses or comments or photos to represent a people whose presence on Turkish soil was not only legitimate but served Seljuk, Ottoman and Republican interests.
No reference or comment enlightens pupils on Armenian architecture, religion, diplomacy, education or medical treatment.
No illuminating note is given to the Armenian contribution of the drafting of the 1876 Constitution.
In short, in none of the schoolbooks that I have examined is the Armenian given any benefit of a doubt, any right to his or her own defense. No dialogue is established, no dialectic effort to portray the Armenian as protagonists in the building of the Turkish nation. No attempt is undertaken to offer analyses or comments or photos to represent a people whose presence on Turkish soil was not only legitimate but served Seljuk, Ottoman and Republican interests in all fields of social intercourse. Absolutely no reference or comment enlightens pupils on Armenian architecture, religion, diplomacy, education or medical treatment. No illuminating note is given to the Armenian contribution of the drafting of the 1876 Constitution. The very dignity of the Armenian people has not only been disregarded, it has been thoroughly blackened by an impartial and biased representation of a History that the two peoples have shared for ten centuries. Indeed, the logic of the triadic discursive strategy, concocted by the ‘think-tanks’ of YÖK, overwhelms the pupil, leaving very little ‘space’ for reflection and perspicacity. And it is this point, this ‘space’ that I shall now investigate.
The book Parce qu’ils sont Arméniens , written by Pınar Selek, a former pupil of the Turkish school system in the 1980s at Istanbul, throws a confirming light on this discursive strategy, bolstered by the anti-Armenian sentiment and discourses pronounced by her teachers…
Pınar’s book opens with a class composition imposed by the Minister of Education in all primary schools of Turkey, and whose subject matter was ‘le génocide arménien est une imposture’ ‘the Armenian genocide is a sham’, and whose instructions ‘consignes’ were ‘prouver que les Arméniens d’Anatolie n’ont pas été exterminés’ ‘prove that the Armenians of Anatolia were not exterminated’ (page 11). The ideological manipulation behind this assignment is crude in its intention, exposing quite clearly the Minister of Education’s unilateral methods of educating Turkish youth on the History of Turkey…
Pınar’s own memories recall that she never had Armenian friends at school or in her neighbourhood because the teachers would tell her that they were ‘très radins’ ‘very stingy’ (page 11). She then recalls that her grandparents used to refer to the Armenians as gülyabanis ‘creatures of ill-doings.’ Her history teacher told her class that all Armenians were terrorists, and that they wished to harm the unity of the country: “Les Arméniens seraient tous des terroristes, et ils auraient voulu nuire à l’unité du pays.” (page 12) The same professor would also expound that the words ‘ermeni’ and ‘terörist’ shared the same etymological root ‘er’ because ‘er’ refers to a soldier, and brings to mind an army, death, killings, massacres! “Et er fait penser à l’armée, nous rappelle les morts, les tueries, les massacres.” (page 12). These killings and massacres were not perpetrated by the Ottoman army or by the Hamidiye squadrons, Kurdish or Turkish, but by the Armenian ‘çeteler’ who would rape Turkish children and then drink their blood: “Alors que les Arméniens… Eux, ils s’en prendraient surtout aux enfants de notre âge. Ils les violeraient d’abord, puis ils boiraient leur sang.” (page 12)
Pınar would ask her parents about these blood-drinking brutes when she got home after school, and they would respond in ire:
“Il n’y a pas d’Arméniens, ça n’existe pas, qui t’a raconté tout ça? Et que je n’entende plus ce mot dans ta bouche.” “There are no Armenians, that doesn’t exist, who told you all that? I don’t want to hear you say that word again.” (page 12)
Pınar cannot understand why in her schoolbooks, and in her mother’s village, which was heavily populated by Armenians, nothing is ever said of the Armenians: “Mais alors que sont devenus les Arméniens?” (page 13) “What had become of them?” Throughout her school years Pınar would continuously hear teachers say that the Armenians had “raped Turkish women and had sold others into slavery”: “Ils ont violé les femmes[…], ont vendu les autres.” (page 14) And “they cut the throats of children, adults,” “Enfants, adultes, ils nous ont tous égorgés.” (page 14) “But finally God came to the Turk’s rescue, punished the Armenians and with a wave of the hand sent them all to hell”: “Mais finalement, Allah les a châtiés, et d’un geste de la main, Il les a envoyés en enfer.” (page 14)
What Pınar Selek heard as a pupil, and what the Turkish Minister of Education imposed on all primary schools reveals that neither the strategic discourse imposed by Ankara nor the anti-Armenian sentiment of the servants of that discourse has hardly changed since the founding of the Republic. When a Minister of Education demands that pupils comment on “la révélation de la vérité contre les mensonges arméniens,” “the revelation of the truth against Armenian lies,” it is evident that not only a solid, discursive strategy has been woven by the ‘think-tanks’ of YŐK, but that this discourse has been systematically enforced by the authorities to those subalterns who serve the State; a heteronymous tactic that obstructs any critical thinking or action on the part of a teacher or a pupil, be it at an educative level or a moral one. This heteronymous tactic has had strong political and social implications on Turkish citizens throughout the Republic…
Pınar’s book is peppered with such school-day recollections, I shall not enumerate them all here. Several of them, nonetheless, should be evoked. Pupils were made to repeat formulae in class as demanded by the military regime after the 1980 coup d’Etat:
“Qui sont nos ennemis de l’intérieur? Et ceux de l’étranger?” “Who are our internal enemies? And those of foreign countries?” (page 22) Indeed, “the Turks had many enemies”: “Les Turcs avaient beaucoup d’ennemis.” Terrorists, communists, Armenians: The words were interchangeable. But “the devil, the Armenian was the internal enemy of the Turk”: “… le diable nommé “Arménien” était l’éternel ennemi du Turc. Arménien signifiait comploteur, collaborateur, traître, ennemi de l’intérieur, assassin.” “Armenian meant a plotter, a collaborator, a traitor, an internal enemy, a murderer.” (page 22) And on the same page we read: “L’injure “bâtard d’Arménien” tenait le haut le pavé parmi le insultes les plus populaires.” “The insult ‘Armenian bastard’ was at the top of the list of the most popular invectives.”
Another quite popular expression to describe and define an Armenian at that time was the figurative formula ‘rebuts de l’épée’ ‘rejects of the sword’. ”Rebut évoquait la saleté, les déchets, les résidus qu’on a du mal à extraire d’entre les dents,” “The word ‘rebut’ evokes filth, waste, the residue that one has difficulty removing between the teeth.” (page 28)
In spite of this ideological brainwashing, Pınar Selek was able to maintain a distance between fact and fantasy, research and lies, human dignity and hysterical befouling. Her testimony is proof of this dignified distance. How many Turkish pupils were and are able to do the same? How many believe in and fully adhere to each written sentence and printed photo in their schoolbooks… in and to their teacher’ invective discourses, official or ‘personal’?
Pınar’s book evokes the difficulty of an Armenian pupil, an Armenian teacher, an Armenian shopkeeper… an Armenian tout court living in Turkey. She empathizes with them, yet cannot really imagine what it would be like to be an Armenian Turk. Her encounters and debates with the Armenians of Istanbul, the books that she read, suggested by the Armenian intellectuals of Istanbul, notably Franz Werfel’s Les Quarante Jours du Musa Dagh, her friendship with the founder of the first Armenian-Turkish newspaper, Agos, Hrant Dink, not only confirmed her school day impressions of the ideological manipulation by the Turkish authorities in primary, middle and high schools, but more than ever convinced her of the pressing necessity to find a solution to this ‘histoire maudite’, ‘accursed History’ (page 69), and to begin reflecting on a History of Turkey that would not exclude the Armenian peoples. The assassination of Hrant Dink in 2007 temporarily thwarted this enormous project, and prompted her arrest and imprisonment. 
To end my brief note on Pınar Selek’s testimony, I shall cite this paragraph as a concluding impression of her school-day recollections of the Armenian people:
It is this last sentence that sounds the very foundations of the Nonexistence of the Other solution adopted by Turkish intellectuals and their institutional and political outlets. Their official discourse defies all historical research, all historical testimonies, all acts of conscious or of good will towards those who seek to resuscitate this existence, rehabilitating it thus in a History of Turkey that was built with the Turks, the Greeks, the Kurds, the Syriacs, the Jews and the many other ‘minority communities’ of the Seljuk kinglets, Ottoman Empire, Turkish Republic. It is this existential resuscitation and rehabilitation that has motivated and guided me in the ‘programme’ that I have drafted out for the Turkish senior high schools and universities…
I here, then, purpose to sketch out an alternative solution to the mediaeval problematic of Turkey in the hope of replanting the Armenians in the historical soil of Turkey, be it mediaeval or modern.
Throughout mediaeval Europe and Asia, between the VIII° and IX° centuries, enormous social and political upheavals occurred. These convulsions were due to ethnic wars which, willy-nilly, provoked assimilation, integration, mutual co-habitation or annihilation. The Middle Ages of Europe and Asia were forged by ethnic intercourse and inter-cultural restructuring. Now the many years that I have spent in Turkey have offered me unique opportunities of researching Armenian, Byzantine Greek, and to some extent Syriac exchanges (I do not know the Syriac language) of the Middle Ages. Unique indeed, for no other country in the world can emblazon three mediaeval epic tales of such distinct cultural heritage, of such distinct language and religious background, and yet which were recited on the same Anatolian soil, converging and diverging in an ever coming and going succession of oral and written fonts, of nomad and sedentary ethic traits: David of Sassoun, Dede Korkut and Digenis Akritas are those mediaeval monuments that make-up a large part of mediaeval Turkey. These three epic tales could act as candidates for a proper study of the Turkish Middle Ages if Turks considered them as works tantamount in historical and cultural probity. And as could be expected, neither Turgut Özal made any mention of them, so infatuated was he with Homer’s Iliad, and to a lesser extent Gilgamesh, nor the ‘think-tanks’ of YÖK.
The Turks, in general, have such a low opinion of Armenians and Greeks (all non-Muslims being simply gavur!) that any positive attitude, no matter how far back into time, would entail years and years of introspection, self-criticism and historical open-mindedness.
These texts should be read and understood as creations wrought from those Middle Ages, not to be idolized or venerated and thus rendered politically manipulative and static, but taught as a cultural, historical and literary story of the Middle Ages, whose dramatic plots and traditional wisdom link them to Modern Turkey. In this sense, David of Sassoun, Dede Korkut and Digenis Akritas should not be perused as mere models of some by-gone, primitive era, isolated from ours, enshrined in museum-cases, but read as living mediaeval testimonies from whose careful exegesis Turks may draw historical, literary and cultural inspiration as a means of creative criticism in view of interpreting the historical present. Indeed, all contact with texts initiates a bond between an object and a subject within an historical framework. The object here is three mediaeval texts and the subject, today’s children of Turkey. The subject must learn to share an objective common past in order to comprehend the issues of the present.
Such pedagogical inventiveness requires concrete propositions. First, David of Sassoun and Digenis Akritas must be translated into Turkish, the first directly from Armenian (and not from English or French!), the second from the Byzantine Greek. There is no lack of good translators in Turkey for this task. Second, broad-minded History or literature teachers must be recruited and formed to effect the sensitive mission of ‘filling in’ the many blanks that perforate nearly ten centuries of co-habitation in order to make junior and senior high school children alive to the Other’s vital role in his or her History, to accept Otherness as part of him or herself, of his or her History of Turkey. We realize that this is no easy task to accomplish. The Turks, in general, have such a low opinion of Armenians and Greeks (in reality the majority of them confound their existence altogether, all non-Muslims being simply gavur!) that any positive attitude, no matter how far back into time, would entail years and years of introspection, self-criticism and historical open-mindedness. This could be achieved only if Ankara provides the incentive and the material, given the fact that all educational projects must have the full approval of the Turkish Board of Education, a puissant centralized and unimaginative authority that leaves very little margin for individual initiatives.
Some Pedagogical Propositions
Once the Armenian and the Byzantine Greek epic tales have been translated and glossed with the Dede Korkut legends in guise of a schoolbook manual, History or literature teachers would have at their disposal material from which a mediaeval History of Turkey would become a reality because the three principal actors of that History share commensurate roles. Exercises could be devised by which teachers expose the notion of Hero-worship, so common and necessary at a time of Nation-building and identity-seeking. The Incarnation of a Hero as a major existential theme attracts adolescents’ attention to the role of that individual within a traditional society which is striving towards Statehood. These heroes may be solitary (Digenis Akritas), fantastic (David of Sassoun) or charismatic (Boğaç Khan, Bamsı Beyrek, Deli Dumrul). Whatever high or low deeds they performed, whatever splendor they achieved or reprobation they succumbed to, these heroic figures incited bards and wandering musicians to sing their adventures from village to village, incited scribes to write down in many versions their emboldened acts so that they would never be forgotten..
To comprehend the complex Turkish-Armenian-Greek relationship today one must take the time to understand when and how this triadic relation formed and expanded during the Middle Ages. Without this unrewarding but necessary existential scrutiny, relations between Turk and Armenian and Turk and Greek will remain mantled in deprecatory rhetoric, overshadowed by lost or misplaced documents, buried under layers of the historical and thus ontological Nonexistence of the Other…
Zoological references, be they symbolic or traditional, could be compared; for example horses, be they the knight’s trusty companion, magical or for sacrificial slaughter. Wolves, dogs, ravens and ferocious lions all play important thematic and structural roles in the three tales. Fantastic creatures, too, are weaved within the thematic and symbolic tissue of the plots. It is because White Demons, genies, fairies, cyclopes, Amazons and dragons emerge and merge within a strange world hovering between Reality and the Fantastic that these compositional techniques and Figures indeed point to a common reservoir of shared storytelling within a confined geographic area rather than parallel growths of them.
At a more advanced level, the distinctions and analogies of mediaeval Gregorian or Apostolic Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Turkish Islam as read in their epic contexts should be investigated so that Turkish youths will learn that the Armenian and the Greek are not identical, and that their religions are still present in Turkey today. In universities, comparing the translations of each text will surely provide professors and students the key to alterity; that is, identity to and with the Other. An alterity that enriches and enlightens. Let us not forget, too, that poetic translating is an exercise in alterity, however, this activity should be done by eleventh and twelfth grade students, and at university levels.
From the Book of Dede Korkut (legend three), Bamsı Beyrek the mighty Oghuz warrior, married the Christian girl who helped him escape from his prison tower, abandoning his Oghuz fiancée. Kan Turalı (legend six) married a Christian princess. Tepegöz, the cyclopes (legend eight), was born from the union of a woodlands fairy and an Oghuz shepherd, and whose life was cleaved between an Oghuz upbringing and a wild, remote one in the mountains. We may also add here that Tepegöz’s unusual childhood strength when being brought up in the Oghuz camp is remarkably analogous to the young David’s in Egypt.
These few examples, and there are many more, truly imply that these very different peoples did not always make war on one another, and that the existence of each, even intimate, was fully known to the others. Of utmost importance is the nomad and sedentary dichotomy that must be evoked and interpreted to high school children as an ethical, sociological and political differential between the invading nomad Turks and the settled, sedentarized Armenian and Greek populations of Anatolia. It is indeed a question of perspective: who and what are nomads? Who and what are a settled, sedentarized people? Are these two opus vivendi antagonistic or complementary? The Turkic nomads gradually assimilated into a more sedentarized lifestyle through contact with the Armenian and Greek population. This integrating and assimilating process can be evoked and exploited in class rooms because it is undoubtedly the base of Turkic and Armenian-Greek relations, mediaeval and modern!
The execution of mediaeval epic poetry, too, acts as one of the principal binding factors between all Anatolian peoples, who today still enjoy a good story, orally delivered. Word borrowing through linguistic contacts should also be explored. Simple etymological research would surely delight many children about how words and idioms travel from language to language. Cultural exchanges should be emphasized, and not cultural ghettos; similarly, semantic polysemy and not monosemy. Teachers should encourage children to seek out the many analogous formulaic expressions common in all three epic and modern languages instead of asserting the obvious idiomatic uniqueness of each. Good Turkish etymological dictionaries should become a classroom habit when exploring the many Armenian and Greek words that have crept into the Turkish language, and contrariwise, those of Turkic origin that illumine the Armenian and the Greek languages. Toponymic references could be compared between the three tales by collating the different names of each place and locating them on a modern map. Names of mountains, rivers and plains could also be collated and located.
Our three mediaeval narrations are versed in traditional wisdom, many of whose traditions converge in all three texts, especially in guise of proverbial sayings, maxims and old-age truisms, versed in the vital importance of ethnic responsibility, one of which being community exchanges through exogamic marriage. For example, David’s ancestors and himself came from both mixed upbringings and supernatural ones: David’s grandfather Sanasar was indeed carried in the womb of an Armenian princess, Dzovinar, but was born in the lake waters that belonged to the Caliph of Bagdad, and was raised in the lands of the Arabs. David was born of Armenian parents but his Egyptian wet-nurse, Ismil Khandouth, raised him. She is also the bearer of David’s half-brother, Melik of Misir, born through the sin of David’s father Great Mehr, and against whom David fought and put to death. David’s upbringing too was in Egypt (Mısır), and his illegitimate love for Sultane Tchemechlik, of Arab descent, gave birth to the daughter who killed him!
Digenis Akritas was of dual descent, Greek and Arab, and his epic adventures included marriage to a Byzantine Christian, Eudokia, laying with an abandoned Arab girl in the desert whom he saved and returned to her fiancé, and loving a beautiful Amazon whom he then killed!
The Turkic nomads gradually assimilated into a more sedentarized lifestyle through contact with the Armenian and Greek population. This integrating and assimilating process can be evoked and exploited in class rooms because it is undoubtedly the base of Turkic and Armenian-Greek relations, mediaeval and modern!
Having worked on the three mediaeval epic tales myself, and having taught in the Turkish school system from the Preparatory classes in primary schools through to fourth-year University levels for twelve years, these briefly sketched preliminary propositions aim to lay bare a reality that has been subtly concealed. They presume no ideological commitment, nor do they seek to undermine or undervalue the Turkish nation. It is a mediaeval historical reality that the three epic tales trace and evince through their converging and diverging themes, idioms, stories, through their oral and written histories of their mediaeval and modern creation, execution and reception. They evince, above all else, that three communities shared the same soil for many centuries, and that their stories comprise a mediaeval History of Turkey. A grand History indeed, during which no actor played a superior or inferior role: all roles are equitable when we adduce critically Turkey’s mediaeval History. Delicate though it may appear, this nascent pedagogy which I have, up till now, only laid the base of the edification, once undertaken seriously, that is nationally, would provide Turkish teachers with material to elucidate some of today’s identity problems that Turkish children (and adults!) are confronted by, without having recourse to historical belittling, ontological effacing or existential disparagement. The texts implicitly voice these problems. However, they require unbiased teachers to learn, assimilate and transmit their historical, literary and cultural values, explicitly; namely, the sense of their truths! This is a pedagogue’s vocation. And if it were accomplished there would be less need to file lawsuits against journalists or writers whose statements oftentimes read arbitrary or crude because neither preceded nor succeeded by any historical reference to the Middle Ages in Turkey, however brief it may be. For to comprehend the complex Turkish-Armenian-Greek relationship today one must take the time to understand when and how this triadic relation formed and expanded during the Middle Ages. Without this unrewarding but necessary existential scrutiny, relations between Turk and Armenian and Turk and Greek will remain mantled in deprecatory rhetoric, overshadowed by lost or misplaced documents, buried under layers of the historical and thus ontological Nonexistence of the Other…