Brotherhood by homeland
Four years ago, around this time of year, we were upside down. In a country where no one was able to recall for decades the massacres against the Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, 31,000 citizens presented a public apology for not being able to remember and share the pains of their fellow Armenian citizens.
Four years is a very short time for such a protracted unconsciousness. However, I believe that visible progress has been achieved since that time to better understand what happened in the past. Of course, efforts to remember did not start with the apology campaign. The Belge and Aras publishing houses, the Agos daily, Hrant Dink himself and the 2005 Conference on Ottoman Armenians were key milestones towards addressing the wall of ignorance and indifference. But through the apology campaign, the call to remember acquired a public character.

What progress since then? It is hard to even keep track of all that has happened in terms of recollecting the Armenian tragedy. Our citizens and our society have assumed the biggest share in carrying out the remembrance efforts. Pious people are now at the forefront of these endeavors. Public authorities, though they lag behind and react to societal initiatives with stately reflexes, have stopped short of blocking them, at least, and have even sometimes lent their support. The restoration of the Ahtamar Church in Van with public funds is of that nature. Yet there is still a long way to go.

It is a well-known fact that when they get excited, politicians make hefty references to brotherhood and national unity. In Turkey, the exaltations go like this: "I see every ethnic element in this country as an asset. All ethnic groups, including the Turks, the Kurds, the Laz, the Circassians, the Abkhaz, the Bosniaks and the Arabs, are all alike and equal. We fought together in Malazgirt. We fought shoulder-to-shoulder in Kosovo, Sarıkamış, Yemen, Çanakkale and the War of Independence. All people from different ethnic backgrounds are our brothers."

Religious identity defines the politicians' embracive approach regarding nationality and citizenship. In the definition of national unity, the politician refers to the ancient and more recent ethnicities of Anatolia with the exception of non-Muslims. Have you ever heard a politician, after listing the Turks, the Kurds, the Arabs and the Circassians, name the Armenians, the Greeks and the Syriacs? There is no reference to non-Muslims in defining nationhood simply because the Turkish nation is inherently defined by Islam. Accordingly, non-Muslims are not included in the definition of the Turkish nation. Everyone in the republic is a citizen with the exception of non-Muslims.

Let me invite you to think about this matter by recalling what a wise man, Ahmet Mithat Efendi, wrote about hundreds of years ago. The excerpt is from a book by Fazıl Gökçek called "Osmanlı Kapısında Büyümek -- Ahmet Mithat Efendi'nin Hikaye ve Romanlarında Gayrimüslim Osmanlılar" (Non-Muslim Ottomans in the stories and novels of Ahmet Mithat Efendi). Aware of the damage caused to the social fabric by clashing national endeavors in the late Ottoman Empire, Ahmet Mithat Efendi wrote the following in his Tercüman-ı Hakikat daily two months after the promulgation of the constitutional monarchy on Sept. 17, 1908:

"Establishing brotherhood with our Christian citizens does not mean our submission to them; it means avoiding the tricks that create such a submission. But we should leave these political considerations aside and let us think about the meaning of brotherhood with Christians. We need to do this because we live together with them in a city or town. The rising sun bestows life upon all of us. The pouring rain feeds us all. Natural disasters, including earthquakes, affect us all. We enjoy the weddings of one another. We feel pain and sadness because of each other's sickness and funerals. In essence, we are to be considered as partners in the same civilization. Considering that all these factors create a sort of brotherhood between us and given that we cannot call it brotherhood by religion nor by blood, will it be catastrophic if we call it brotherhood by homeland?"

As I said, there is still a long way to go, even to reach the wisdom of Ahmet Mithat Efendi.

CENGİZ AKTAR (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-12-20 12:00:01
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