American Armenian scholar Ronald Grigor Suny, a prominent Soviet historian, attended the commemoration event held in Taksim on April 24. He wrote his observations of the commemoration and assessed the message of US President Trump and Turkish President Erdoğan.
The weather was beautiful on April 24,
2017, but the crowd at the commemoration of the 102nd anniversary of
the Armenian Genocide was small. Surrounded by a police cordon,
encircled by barriers, hundreds gathered at the Tunel end of Istiklal
to bear witness to what had happened over a century earlier and to
remember the martyred intellectuals and politicians who had been
rounded up on April 24, 1915, taken from Istanbul, many to be
murdered in the depths of Anatolia. The mood was somber but warm,
intimate, filled with a sense of solidarity, even kinship. The
Genocide commemorations around the world are the one time each year
that Armenians of different political parties, different social
backgrounds, even different religious denominations come together in
a common experience. Those moments define for a time what it means
to diverse individuals to be Armenian.
Of the many politicians who commented on the meaning of April 24, two declarations stand out. In the United States President Donald Trump issued an anodyne message that used the term Mets Yegern, but pointedly avoided the word “genocide.” He followed the practice of earlier American presidents who considered the strategic alliance with Turkey much more important than moral or historical matters. In Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a conciliatory statement, expressing sorrow for what had occurred a century ago. Again, the difficult problem of acknowledging frankly what had happened at the end of the Ottoman Empire to hundreds of thousands of Armenians and Assyrians was sidestepped.
Why is this issue so important so long after the tragedies of 1915? Because it is connected to the future of Turkey, to what path the country will take in the years to come. Facing the past is a necessary step to looking confidently into the future. Recognizing that crimes were committed in the transition from empire to republic makes possible the coming together of the different peoples living in the present to build together a democratic, tolerant, progressive Turkey. Not treating a wound leads to infection and even worse consequences. A healthy body requires clean hands willing and able to heal even when it hurts.