Can Germany be a model for Turkey in confrontation with past atrocities?
I have been in Berlin, Germany for the last few days. We, some journalists and human rights activists from Turkey, have been invited here by the European Academy Berlin, with the financial support of the Germany's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a conference titled "Difficult Heritage of the Past."
We are here to observe how Germany faced its problematic past including the atrocities committed by Nazis.

Before attending the conference I had a few prejudices about Germany's progress in facing its Nazi past. Firstly, I thought, this was an involuntary confrontation, Germans were forced to look at their troubled past by external powers who had them on their knees after World War II. So how could they be a model for any country that will face its past voluntarily?

I was also quite prejudiced about whether they really did confront their past. If they confronted their past how was it possible then that many neo-Nazis still live in the country? Did we not witness the collaboration between members of Germany's intelligence agency and neo-Nazis who committed serial murders of Muslims, and have been dubbed the "kebab murders" since most of the immigrant victims were running kebab houses?

For the question of involuntary confrontation with the past, I came to the conclusion that I was doing a little bit of injustice to Germany in this regard. They may have started this process after a devastating defeat, but it is clear that Germans created a new world, which is basically based on an endless process of remembering, commemorating and confronting the past. I was extremely impressed and touched when I saw a particular wall in one of the kindergarten classrooms in Berlin. The school is in the Bavyera region. The wall is based on a very innovative idea of remembering the past. Every year teachers wants their students to look at an album of the Jews who once lived in this neighborhood and were taken out of their homes by Nazis. Students are requested to draw parallels between their own lives and with one of these Jews who were exiled from there. The students then identify themselves with one of these Jews and write their name on a brick, later on they put these bricks, one on top of the other. There is already quite a high wall there. This school alone showed how "remembering" has become a part of daily life in Germany.

As soon as I saw it I really wished that one day our children would do a similar thing. I imagined children in İstanbul building a wall by writing on bricks the names of Armenian intellectuals who were taken from their homes on April 24, 1915 and never came back again. I really wish that we can do a similar thing in Turkey in the near future.

I still could not find answers to the second question, namely neo-Nazis and their connection with the intelligence agency; however, I observed that confronting the past is a clear state policy here in Germany. Museums, exhibitions and the school curriculum all show how the state apparatus invested in this endeavor. So little by little I started to realize that Turkey can significantly benefit from the German experience on this difficult terrain of confrontation with the past. While I was attending the program I also developed some ideas for a new framework that I think might by quite useful for Turkey. I will continue sharing my observations on this learning tour with you.

ORHAN KEMAL CENGİZ (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-11-23 10:00:02
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