May 8, 2012

Exploring the dark side of Turkey’s past

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s one of Queens College’s Year of Turkey events, a lecture disseminating and analyzing the Armenian genocide in Turkey worked to uncover a less pleasant aspect of the country’s past.

After a letter to the editor published by The Knight News last semester lambasted QC’s decision to host Year of Turkey in light of its history of violence, Fatma Müge Göçek was invited to decipher the genocide and the subsequent denial of it by most Turks.

“The Year of Turkey is not a celebration, it’s an exploration. It’s not a triumphant look, it’s an examination,” said history professor Mark Rosenblum, director of the Center for Jewish Studies and the Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding.

The April 25 event — a day after Armenian Martyrs’ Day, which memorializes the death of roughly 1.5 million Armenians from 1915-1923 — garnered enough attention to warrant both a Free Hour and night session.

Göçek was born and raised in Turkey and is one of the leaders in the study of the collective violence perpetrated against Armenians. She is a women’s studies and sociology professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

As a country, Turkey has yet to acknowledge that genocide was committed against their Armenian residents.

“The issue is a festering sore and a sore only stops to fester once you give it attention,” Göçek said. “The Armenian genocide – yes, genocide – needs to be approached in the same way. It needs to be acknowledged first and then the healing process will begin.”

The letter to the editor by Sean Leahy stated that nothing about Turkey should be discussed at QC because doing so would “glorify a nation” responsible for many deaths.

“It is simply lamentable that an academic institution with Armenians amongst both its faculty and student population could send such a callous message of disregard by shamelessly promoting this farcical enterprise campus-wide with banners and online advertising,” Lahey wrote in his letter.

Rosenblum believes Turkey is worthy to study because of its clout in the region. He added that the point of the Year of Turkey was not at all to glorify the country, but rather to explore it.

We wanted to have a discourse about this. Nations are not born on shiny floors with white gloves and that needs to be acknowledged,” said Rosenblum about the decision.

Students and community members seemed to have acknowledged it: the night lecture had 42 attendees and, according to Göçek, the event during Free Hour had more than three times that amount.

Attendee and sophomore Nick Azcona thought the school’s decision to focus on Turkey was a good one.

“Turkey is a country of increasing international relevance and a NATO ally of the United States,” Azcona said. “It’s fundamentally a net good to know more about such countries, especially when they are key international players in various questions.”
Adam Kisting, a senior who attended the Free Hour event, also approved of the choice.

“I thought that perhaps a year was a long time to spend on a single country, but there’s still programs that bring in unique people with very interesting scholarly works, Kisting said. “So it looks like a year was just about right.”

Though the issue is one that often leads to a divided audience, Kisting found that the attendees were all highly engaged and said that people were really just curious to learn more through questioning Göçek.

A historical sociologist by training, Göçek has explored official state and government documents, Turkish and minority literature, oral accounts and memoirs in her research.

“I think it is very important to be able to see beyond one’s national interest and communal interest and to get an interest instead in humanity,” said Göçek of her decision to research the genocide.
Also in attendance was QC Muslim Students Association Chaplain Ali Mermer. Originally from Turkey, Mermer looked at the event from a different perspective: “Every human being is sacred. We need to learn from our past mistakes that by killing a person, one kills his ideas, his faith. We may disagree with the belief of a person but we have to respect her existence.”

However, Göçek added, “violence can only be understood if and when the people experiencing it come to terms with it.”

In the 2012-13 academic year, following the Year of China and the Year of Turkey, QC will begin to explore India.

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