Turkey should face up to an ugly episode in its history

The eagerness on the part of a country to deny the undeniable is in itself depressing. It is, however, doubly offensive when a country even attempts to suppress discussion of a crime, as Turkey is so keen to do. As The Independent reports today, the Turkish ambassador has complained about the inclusion of photographs relating to the 1915 Armenian genocide in an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London. According to the ambassador, claims that such a genocide took place are "completely false".

The eagerness on the part of a country to deny the undeniable is in itself depressing. It is, however, doubly offensive when a country even attempts to suppress discussion of a crime, as Turkey is so keen to do. As The Independent reports today, the Turkish ambassador has complained about the inclusion of photographs relating to the 1915 Armenian genocide in an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London. According to the ambassador, claims that such a genocide took place are "completely false".

It almost beggars belief. Imagine the German government declaring that, although a number of Jews died in the Second World War, it was because of poor health and as a result of the fighting. ("Regrettable - but that is what happens in war.") Now imagine, on top of that, Germany complaining vociferously if academics or museums dared to talk about the Holocaust.

It is, of course, a difficult "what if?" - almost unimaginable. And yet, in the year 2000, a member of the Western military alliance and an eager would-be member of the European Union indulges in such evasion. Turkey has never admitted the genocide of the Armenians, the horrific and well-documented events in which huge numbers were slaughtered. The Armenian community worldwide still bears the scars of that event, almost a century later. The feelings are all the stronger because of Hitler's reported remark: "Who now remembers the Armenians?" In that regard, the Turks still seem to hope that the answer is: nobody.

It would be interesting to know what evidence the ambassador has for saying that the claims are "absolutely false". Until now, after all, Turkish apologists have always had to rely on a mixture of half-truths and complete lies to maintain their point of view.

They have that in common with the apologists for Hitler and, on a smaller scale, with those who deny that Serbs killed civilians in Bosnia or Kosovo. The difference is that Turkey proclaims itself to be, and is widely accepted as, a functioning parliamentary democracy. It has even, after so many years of banging vainly on the European door, been accepted as a candidate for membership of the EU.

For a country with such aspirations to complain about historical facts is a disgrace. Turkey must learn an obvious lesson: admitting past crimes would make it look better, not worse, in the eyes of the world. Turkey should finally, 85 years on, admit that basic truth.

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