The German-Turkish Solution to Darfur

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Ms. Muir, author of Reflections in Bullough’s Pond, the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award, is writing a book on nationalism.

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Last week week a group of Turkish academics was expected to gather at the Bo gaziçi (Bosphorus) University to hold a conference on "Ottoman Armenians in the Period of the Empire's Collapse."

The day before the conference was scheduled to convene, the Turkish Minister of Justice, Cemil Çiçek, rose in Parliament to denounce it, "This is a stab in the back to the Turkish nation... this is irresponsibility… We must put an end to this cycle of treason and insult, of spreading propaganda against the [Turkish] nation..."

With Turkish academics being accused of treason by the Minister of Justice, the Rector of the Bo gaziçi University felt compelled to cancel the meeting. The contrast with Germany’s encounter with its past could not be greater.

Earlier this month, when Jews around the world commemorated the Holocaust, German Consuls solemnly intoned the now ritual pledge, “never again.” In Berlin, a paltry gathering of angry Germans protested the “cult of guilt” which, they said, was imposed on Germany after the war.

Germans should be proud of themselves for feeling guilty. They have, after all, faced the truth of their great crime. Turks do not feel guilty over the Armenian genocide because, to their shame, they continue to deny that it happened. Almost a century has passed since the Armenian genocide, but it is still not possible for Turkey to deal honestly with its past. Or even to hold a small academic meeting with papers on such topics as “Archives and the Armenian Question,” and “The Armenian Question in the Ottoman Assembly, November-December 1918.”

The question of whether young people born decades after a great crime should feel guilt over the sins of their fathers is a serious one. Germans do feel guilty because they recognize that nations collectively bear the responsibility for the actions they take. And beyond guilt, there is self-doubt. There was something in the culture of the German nation, after all, that enabled the Holocaust to be conceived and carried out. The bearers of German culture therefore feel a kind of self-doubt unknown, for example, to Danish youth. This is because Denmark, unlike Austria - which joined the Reich and enthusiastically participated in the final solution - smuggled most of its Jews out of Nazi-controlled territory.

There is much to be proud of in Germany’s past, but many young Germans quite correctly feel that the sources of pride must be weighed against the magnitude of the Holocaust.

Neither Holocaust memorials nor Holocaust education have the power to wash the blood of millions of murdered Jews, Roma, and others from Germany’s conscience. Heeding the wisdom of Jewish theology just might.

Jews have an unusual set of rules about penitence. Acknowledging guilt is essential but, in Jewish tradition, it is not sufficient. Rabbinical wisdom teaches that apology to the victim is required, which Germany has done. The guilty party is required to make restitution for the harm inflicted, which Germany has attempted to do to the extent that such a thing is possible. But the final step only comes when the penitent faces the same situation a second time, and acts righteously.

Germany and Turkey now have that chance. These two nations can atone for the guilt of genocide by going to Sudan and ending the genocide that the Sudanese government is committing in Darfur.

At the end of the First World War the government of Turkey behaved very much as the government of Sudan is now behaving. The Turkish Army murdered tens of thousands of Greeks, a native population that predated the Turks in Anatolia by more than a millennium. In a calculated policy of ethnic cleansing, 1,400,000 Greeks were driven from their ancestral homes. The fate of the Armenians was far worse.

Two million Armenians lived on land that had once been the Kingdom of Armenia, the region that is now southeastern Turkey. Here, Turkey committed the first genocide of the modern era. Much as the government of Sudan is now doing, Turkey murdered over a million Armenians, ethnically cleansed the Greeks, and stole the homelands of its victims.

As Turkish historian Taner Ak çam has written, “The Turkish Republic was born out of the destruction of the Christian populations in Anatolia and the establishment of a homogenous Muslim state.”

Unlike Germans, Turks have hardly taken the first step towards repentance.

The Turkish government continues to deny that the events of 1915 to 1921 ever took place. Turkey has been trying to convince the EU that it deserves membership. Why not do something that would show the world not Turkish equality, but Turkish moral superiority to the European nations that have sat on their hands as genocide happened in Germany, in Cambodia, in the Balkans, in Rwanda, and now in Sudan?

For Turkey, it would be a first step toward the kind of national maturation that will enable an honest examination of the great crimes committed against the Armenians and the Greeks.

For Germany, going to Sudan would enable young Germans to emerge from the dark shadow of National Socialism by giving themselves and their children a grand historic episode in which they could take unmitigated and redemptive pride.

And for the world, there would finally be some substance given to the now-empty repetitions of “never again.”

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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I am not an expert on Sudan, but surely it does not require a primary school moral compass to recognize that one helps other people in dire need because it is the right thing to do, not because one is "uniquely positioned to gain something". Moral arguments based on amorality are worthless.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

"Good deeds are incentivized" sounds an awful lot like "the ends justify the means". Turkey apparently has inherited little guilt (in the view of many Turks today). Germany's vastly greater sense of guilt at its past history of violent intervention in other countries makes it about the least likely candidate to spearhead an unprecedented (since the days of Leopold and Mussolini) European intervention into the heart of Africa. We are not talking polite demonstrations, disinvestment campaigns, or banning the Sudanese soccer team from international competitions here, but something like Kosovo times ten: massive military deployments with all the collateral damage and unintended consequences associated with them. I am not saying it cannot or should not happen, but one might have thought that the folly of Bush's Iraq fiasco had taught a lesson or two about the need for BOTH decisive action and multilateral action. The article and the author's attempts to "explain" it afterwards amount to a weird and ahistorical idea in search of a rationale.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

The whole world, not just a few countries, needs to act much more decisively against horrors such as Darfur. To the shame of the whole world, not just Germany and Turkey, no credible action of this sort appears likely any time soon. Coming up with an effective strategy for intervening in the internal affairs of individual misbehaving countries is not an easy matter under any circumstances (despite what the Black Helicopter School of UN-ology pretends) but having Germany and Turkey invade Sudan on their own is just about the most counterproductive approach imaginable.

N. Friedman - 6/9/2005

Ms. Muir,

Left out of these narratives is the participation of the Kurds and the Syrian Muslims in the genocide. Which is to say, the issue with respect to the Armenians clearly involved religion. The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, by Bat Ye'or, notes that the perpetrators of the massacres, Muslim Turks, Kurds and Syrians, followed the traditional rules of what is permissible in a Jihad against a party which has violated a dhimma [concessionary pact accepted by a captured "nation"].

Aygul Balcioglu - 6/8/2005

Here is a website regarding German effort to do good in Sudan:

Here is a website regarding Turkish effort to do good in Sudan:

The point I would like to make is the fact that people are good and people are bad. They do certain things under certain circumstances. That is where the details are becoming VERY important. As humans we are strong to do our best as we know how; we are weak to surrender to our fears....Judging that as not sincere, not enough, not proper, not perfect, not ideal etc.... is a big responsibility to carry. Especially for the past events where one might fall into trap of evaluating past with current acceptable human standards. It should not be taken lightly, exercised impatiently and quickly.....

For Germans and Turks to provide help in Sudan; to require that they should jointly declare their quilt for their dark past, just because the author thought that is a good idea, is an elitist, top-down approach and not-that-practical way to bring people to work towards better ends...

Edward Siegler - 6/8/2005

I gave the link to the article about Kennan twice. Here's the one on Wolfowitz:

Edward Siegler - 6/8/2005

This discussion hints at but does not address a question that is perhaps the most important one of our time: What is the proper use of military force? Can the military be used to advance humanitarian or ethical goals or are relations between countries better governed, or more properly governed, by principles of realpolitic? The following articles are overviews of the ideas of George Kennan and Paul Wolfowitz. Kennan - best known for his strategy of containment that guided American cold war policy for decades - is said to exemplify the best sort of approach to international relations. Wolfowitz is presented as a dangerously misguided ideologue. I don't agree with the conclusions here, but I found the articles very worthwhile for their thought-provoking treatment of two diametrically opposed worldviews. These are some tough issues that deserve serious consideration.

Diana Applebaum - 6/8/2005

"one helps other people in dire need because it is the right thing to do"

primary school morality is all well and good unless, of course, one wishes to see things get done in the real world

grouwnups recognize that waiting for people to do the right thing can produce very long waits

that is why good deeds are incentivized. For example, we put the names of donors on the chairs they endow, the buildings they pay for, and even on entire universities as a way of encouraging people to build universities. We also let them take a tax deduction.

In the case of Darfur, everyone recognizes that stopping the killing is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, no one has stepped up to the plate with adequate resources. I am simply pointing out that Germany and Turkey would gain a unique benefit - relief form a burden of inherited guilt - above and beyond the benefit of knowing that one has done the right thing that any nation choosing to intervene would experience.

Diana Applebaum - 6/7/2005

The goal of the piece is indeed to help the people in Darfur.

Like most of the world, I have watched in helpless horror.

We all know that someone ought to intervene. As yet, no one has. Just as no nation intervened on behalf of the Roma, the Jews, or the Armenians.

What I hope to point out here is that Germany and Turkey, laboring under loads of guilt for acts committed not by the current generation but by their forebears, are uniquely positioned to gain something beyond the merit in heaven that any people who act will gain. For German and Turkish people of conscience, this is a unique opportunity to lay the spectre of the past. I hope that Germans and Turks will see it this way, and act in righteousness.

Aygul Balcioglu - 6/7/2005

The problem with this passionate piece is the fact that it offers very quick and general diagnosis and solution(s) to the very complex historical and current human experiences. The details need to be released for all of the dark human experiences mentioned in the piece; before one can draw conclusions about the similarities, discrepancies, virtues, guilts and solutions. The author is impatient to draw conclusions. That may not be the good way to help people in Darfur, if that is the ultimate goal of the piece.

Diana Applebaum - 6/7/2005

Numbers: The question of how many Armenians were murdered and driven to their deaths may never be settled. But, while it is not an unimportant question, the outline of the event does not change whenther the number is 500,000, 1,000,000 or even higher.

Numbers aside, this was a deliberate attempt to exterminate a people.

The reason, of course, was that an objective observer looking at Anatolia could not help but see something resembing the map produced at the Treaty of Sevres: an Anatolia with a concentrated Armenian population in historic Armenia, a concentrated Greek population - both peasants and urbanites - in the historically Greek areas of Trebizond and the Aegean coast, Kurds concentrated in the far east, and Turkish concentrations in a large area roughly centered on Ankara.

Really, it is difficult to see an argument form principle that denies sovereignty to three of Anatolia's indigenous ethnic gorups (Greeks, Armenians, and Kurds) while affirming that right only to a the late-arriving Turks (the Kurds, of course, also arrive in eastern Anatolia late in history.) But regardless of who arrived when, a century ago there were four distinct national groups occupying regions of Anatolia, albeit with population concentrations, not exclusive Greek or Armenian areas. Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson saw was the right of each of these nations to sovereignty. The Turks decided to have all of Asia Minor, and further decided that they could have it only if they expelled or exterminated the Greeks and Armenians. There is much denial, but no credible doubt that the genocide was devised and directed by the CUP, using both official and auxiliary forces.

The question of when to call Turkey Turkey is slippery. Yet the term "Turkey" refers to both the nation and the post-Ottoman state. The Turkish nation unquestionably committed this genocide, even if the Turkish State was not yet formed form the ruins of Empire. As Akcam tells us the Ottoman reformers of the late 19th century, the Young Turks, and the CUP were all dedicated to the idea of Turkish domination. In the earlier phase, the idea was that Turks would continue to rule and Christians obey in a reformed empire, later, the idea took hold that only by expelling and/or murdering the Christian millets could Turkey form a strong nation state.

The end of the Ottoman Empire does not comprise the handover of power form one group to another, as the end of the Raj meant that Brits were replaced by Inidans. The end of the Ottoman Empire meant only that the same ruling group ceased to call itself Ottoman and began to call itself Turkish. The ruling class did not cease to be both Turkish and Muslim merely because it ceased to rule an empire.

patrick william farrell - 6/7/2005

Ms. Muir writes:

"Turkey committed the first genocide of the modern era."

Yet she soon after quotes Taner Akcam as writing:

"The Turkish Republic was born out of the destruction of the Christian populations in Anatolia..."

There is a contradiction here that I assume might catch the eye of a few. So Turkey both committed the genocide as well as gave birth to itself by doing so? This is a paradox fit only for philosophers it seems. How can an entity, in this case the nation of Turkey, both do something and yet be born out of what it does?

Fortunately, we are able to bring the issue back securely into the realm of history when we remember the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Republic was declared in 1923. This is a simple "fact" that should be accounted for when making somber summaries of the mistakes of the past.

I have one more problem with Ms. Muir's otherwise notable and interesting piece. The only historian she cites is Taner Akcam. According to Akcam, it was not the Turkish military that carried out the deportations and killings, but gangs of released criminals and the gendarmerie. Indeed, as the staunch genocide deniers in Turkey glory in pointing out, the Turkish military's extensive archives have very little to say about the deportations and massacres. This is because they didn't do it, according to Akcam.

Lastly, a point that is more a quibble then a criticism is the numbers Ms. Muir cites. I'm reluctant to over state the importance of the number of murdered people in state-sanctioned and organized killing. Genocide is genocide, and the number that ends up dead shouldn't affect the injustice or moral repulsiveness of the attempt. But I know that the numbers bandied about on the Armenian Genocide is a major sore spot for those in Turkey who are willing to consider the issue openly. It is always the extreme number that is cited, and in this case Muir sets the number significantly higher than Akcam sees them.

It is extremely difficult to reasonably characterize the complexities of the events in these times. But when the Armenian genocide is at issue, the complexities are paved over, and the "sick man of Europe" is not the massive and dying Ottoman Empire collapsing from external and internal factors, but modern Turkey. Perhaps it really is a problem for philosophers.

Edward Siegler - 6/6/2005

The overwhelming tendency among humans is to consider our own needs, wants, desires and problems and pretty much forget that other people exist unless they are interfering with us or there is something for us to gain from them. This is nowhere more evident than in the case of genocide. The internal affairs of another nation can be safely ignored, unless we need something to use as a political football, in which case the blame for the horror shows around the world can be kicked around in an attempt to discredit our opponents.

Iraq under Hussein? North Korea under Kim Jong Ill? Whose fault is it? It's not mine, maybe it's yours.

Asking for Germany and Turkey to mount an expedition to Darfur has a certain moral ring to it, but is about as likely as a U.N. intervention. A torrent of hot anti-genocide rhetoric directed at the Sudan is about all I would ask for, but apparently these countries are incapable of doing even this. Just imagine the relief that can be felt now that the African Union said that it did not want any "foreign troops" interfering in Darfur. The Africans are sure to handle it in their own way, so we can safely turn the channel to another reality show now.

Edward Siegler - 6/6/2005 about all the world seems capable of when it comes to responding to genocide. What Germany and Turkey could do is take the lead in responding to Darfur - speak out or even scream out against it; push for international cooperation in addressing this horror; commit a large amount of resources to humanitarian aid efforts; and ask the evil empire, um, I mean the U.S., to live up to its ideals and join the effort. There are any number of things that can be done to short of armed intervention by Germany and Turkey on their own - although putting together an intervention force and asking for a "coalition of the willing" to join might not be a bad idea when you consider that this might be the most effective way to end the horror the soonest.

But we can all rest easy now: The African Union recently proclaimed that they do not want any "foreign troop" coming into Darfur. The meeting was held in Libyia with Colonel Kadaffi giving it his full blessing. What a relief - they'll handle this thing on their own and we won't have to be bothered with it any more.