Mark A. Wolfgram
Why does Turkish Denialism of Genocide against Christians Persist?: An Examination of the Political and
My conference paper will draw upon the research I recently completed for my new book, Antigone’s Ghosts: The Long Legacy of War and Genocide in Five Countries. The paper will touch upon the following themes related to the conference: (1) Perceptions, Memory and Denialism, (2) The Legacy of Extermination and (3) Comparative Dimensions. Antigone’s Ghosts offers a comparison of Germany, Japan, Spain, Yugoslavia and Turkey. Obviously, for this conference, I would focus on the research for Turkey, but still locate Turkey in comparison with the other cases. What makes Antigone’s Ghosts unique is its comparative framework along both political and cultural dimensions. As Alejandro Baer (University of Minnesota) has written, “Antigone’s Ghosts is unique and very ambitious in its comparative scope.”
Why has the Turkish state and, by and large, Turkish society opted for the denial of mass violence and genocide against its Christian populations in the early part of the twentieth-century? This is clearly out of step with broader trends within Western societies, which have come to value some self-critical evaluation of the national history. In terms of politics, the presentence of authoritarianism in Turkey has harmed this process of dealing with the mass violence and genocide, as the state, going back to its founder in Atatürk, has opted for denialism. The state’s extensive control over educational institutions has been a key extension of its power over this issue. But there are also deeply rooted cultural traditions that mitigate against a self-critical investigation into the difficult national history: collectivism rather than individualism; support for strong patriarchy in families; educational values that weaken critical thinking; and moral reasoning that is group oriented rather than universal in nature. While there has been some movement toward recognizing this genocide against Christians within Turkish society, the state continues to play an extremely negative role in suppressing these discussions and blocking reconciliation.