Taner Akçam’s book titled “One Hundred Years of Apartheid/1918-1923 Turkey:
Taner Akçam’s book titled “One Hundred Years of Apartheid/1918-1923 Turkey: Independence and the Construction of the Apartheid Regime”, written by Taner Akçam, whom we know for his works on the recent history of Turkey, was published by Aras Publishing in the past months and went into its second edition in a short time. Based on his book, Akçam and I took a closer look at the policies of the Republican regime regarding minorities, which he defined as “Apartheid”. We are publishing the second and last part of our interview, which covers many topics.
In your book, you give a special place to the 1921 Tekalif-i Milliye law. What is the importance of this law in the context of your work?
The Tekalif-i Milliye Law (or orders) symbolizes the formation of the ‘Apartheid’ regime. What is in question are the 10 orders published on 7-8 August 1921. In order to wage the war, necessary goods and money are collected from the public with the promise of being paid in return. These orders are understandable, considering that the war against Greece was waged with great difficulty. In addition, it was promised that the goods and money collected would be compensated, and a receipt was given in return for the goods and money collected. However, the complexion of the matter becomes clear when the receipts begin to be paid. With the decisions taken in 1923 and 1924, it was decided that the goods and money collected from Christians would not be returned. And this amount already constituted 75% of the entire Tekalif-i Milliye. The state pays Muslim citizens for their goods and money, but not Christian citizens. The practice is very clear: Christians are not considered equal citizens, they are deprived of the most basic citizenship rights, and they are openly robbed by the state. The founding symbol of modern Turkey, which made this decision, is the parliament. In my book ‘One Hundred Years of Apartheid’, you can read how this robbery was carried out “according to the book” in the secret parliamentary session minutes of the period. Here too, there was a simple application of the ‘Apartheid’ system, which I would describe as “insidious and cunning”.
Were other measures taken in the First Parliament to prevent Christians from being considered citizens?
Of course, it is obvious, but before moving on to examples, the most basic fact that everyone should know is this: The Ankara government is a continuation of the Union and Progress government. And it continued to implement the project of creating a society without Christians, which the Committee of Union and Progress had put into effect since 1913, from where it left off from the first day. For example, Christians were not included in the elections for the Ankara Assembly. The right to vote and be elected was forcibly taken away from Christian citizens.
One of the first issues discussed by the Parliament immediately after its opening was the release of those on trial for the crime of the 1915 Armenian genocide. The decision was taken on May 8, 1920. The symbolic value of the decision taken in the second week of the opening is obvious. This was followed by the abolition of the courts dealing with “deportation cases” on August 11, 1920.
As can be seen, the Ankara Assembly is busy cleaning up the work left behind by the Armenian genocide. One of these important steps is the pardon of the murderers who were released from prisons and joined the Special Organization units for participating in the Armenian genocide. These murderers would be pardoned with an offer made by Mustafa Kemal and his friends on January 22, 1921. Forgiveness of murders against Christians was not limited to the years of genocide. With another law enacted on October 31, 1923, all murders committed by the Kuvayı Milliye forces after the Armistice of Mudros in 1918 were forgiven.
The measures taken against Christians will not be limited to the pardoning of criminals who participated in massacres. The Ankara government will continue the Committee of Union and Progress’s policy of plundering Armenian property. The first step in this regard was taken on September 14, 1922, and the law of September 26, 1915, which regulated the looting of Armenian properties by the Committee of Union and Progress, was re-enacted. As time passes, it will be necessary to make some new arrangements. With a law enacted on April 15, 1923, property confiscated or to be confiscated between 1918 and 1923 was also included in the law. In other words, we return to the Unionist system.
Another decision taken by the Parliament is to terminate the employment of Christian and Jewish citizens in the companies they work for. Foreign companies were invited to Ankara from Istanbul in May and June 1923 and were asked to fire Christian and Jewish citizens and hire Turks instead. A series of laws were made that prohibited Christians and Jews from working not only in civil servants but also in some professions. Apartheid was cemented with these laws.
Let’s just list some examples here: March 10, 1924 Law extending the Ottoman Bank Concession Period; Lawyers Law of April 2, 1924; Judges Law of 3 March 1926 and 4 July 1936; Civil Servant Law of 18 March 1926; Law on Pharmacies and Pharmacists of January 24, 1927; 28 May 1927 Industrial Encouragement Law; June 25, 1927 Inspection of Insurance and Insurance Companies
The Charter is an important cornerstone of the Apartheid system. Citizens were divided into two groups. “Turkish subjects Muslims” and Armenian, Greek and Jewish citizens. Muslims could return, regardless of the reasons they left. However, Armenian, Greek and Jewish citizens were banned from returning to the country. Only those who left with a passport and permission from the Ankara National Government could return. Those who were not wanted to return were defined in the law as “characters belonging to various tribes whose return is not desired”. With other newly enacted laws, foreign nationals of Turkish race were defined as “very valuable capital” and were encouraged to enter the country.
A document dated 1931 describing the internal structure of the General Directorate of Security of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is very important in this respect. The First Branch was named “First Branch Political Part”. The branch is divided into four parts. The task of the second part is as follows: “Grigoryan, Protestant, from Turkish or foreign citizens; “It is occupied with determining the activities, policies and follow-up of community affairs of Armenians, Turks, Greeks and Jews from all sects, including Catholics, determining and following up the religious and national establishments, religious and national institutions of all non-Muslims, and monitoring whether non-Muslim fugitives return to the country.”
The language of this document is very clear. A unit was established within the General Directorate of Security in order to continue the Unionist policies and not let Christians in, to expel those inside, and to keep those whom they could not expel as second-class citizens. Could there be a clearer image of the apartheid regime than this?
After 1923, Armenians, or rather non-Muslims, were prohibited from traveling within the country for a while. What kind of logic is being used here?
Travel bans started during the genocide process. One of the most important reasons for the travel bans during the Republican period was to deal a blow to the economic lives of Armenians, Greeks and Jews in Istanbul. Businessmen, especially merchants, were unable to trade with Anatolia and continue economic activities due to this ban. But because of this ban, for example, people living in Istanbul could not go to their summer houses. The bans continued until the end of the Second World War. This was a clear indicator of the Apartheid regime.
In the 1930s, there was a tendency to not allow Armenians to live in towns and villages. It seems that this is not extended to all of Turkey, but I think Armenians in some regions cannot escape being deported.
The application has been extended to all of Turkey. Concentration, especially in rural areas, was considered a serious security threat. In the 1930s, special military searches were carried out in the Dersim countryside and reports were written about the Armenians found. Those captured in the Sason operations were forcibly deported to Syria. Some regions were declared Military Restricted Zones to expel Armenians. According to the relevant law, foreigners were prohibited from residing in areas declared as Military Zones. Armenians, who were citizens of the Republic of Turkey, were declared “foreigners” and were forcibly removed from these regions.
They did not touch the few that remained, but every year the governors were asked for information about the number of Armenians in their regions. Among the questions asked was how many of these Armenians were “local” and how many were newcomers. Getting reports from the governors was not found sufficient. Every year, regular inspectors were sent to the regions and the changes in the Armenian population and the economic situation of the Armenians were reported. Economic assets such as goods, properties and companies were recorded. There are examples of such inspection reports in my book. The question that needs to be answered is: How do we explain these practices against Armenians, whose numbers have been reduced to almost poverty? The practices carried out against these people, who pose no threat to the security of the country, should be accepted as a clear example of racism.
If I ask something like this: Even though Agop Martayan had to change his surname (Dilaçar), he finds a place for himself in the regime. Berç Keresteciyan also changed his surname (Türker) and became a member of parliament. There are other similar examples. Are these examples that contradict your thesis or are they examples that support your thesis in some way?
Of course, supporting examples. The state with the strongest slavery system in America was the state of Virginia. But there were also black slave owners here. Could the existence of a black slave owner justify the absence of slavery? In Turkey, from time to time, they gave special permission to Armenian, Greek or Jewish MPs for show, included them in the parliament, etc. What I have quoted above is sufficient to clearly show the existence of an Apartheid regime in this country.
In summary, an open apartheid regime was established in this country with a series of open or secret laws and decrees issued after the opening of the new Parliament in April 1920, which is considered the beginning of modern Turkey. Many of these laws and decrees are still in force today. In cases where they were not in force, there was not the slightest reckoning about their wrongness. The spirit and existence of these laws continues to have an institutional impact.
In this interview, we discussed the Apartheid regime, which was created specifically for Armenians, who were at the bottom of the caste system. We haven’t even mentioned the Kurds and Alevis… The summary of the matter is this: In the centenary of the Republic, it is still not known that there is an Apartheid regime in the country, one of the important reasons for this is that this regime was established extremely “insidiously and cunningly”. What lies behind this “sneaky and cunning” is a fear arising from weakness. There is an interesting tradition that passed from Abdulhamid to the Unionists and from there to the Ankara regime: regimes know that they are weak and are afraid that when they take violent measures against Christians, this will create the possibility of foreign intervention. For this reason, they are trying to cover up their violent demonstrations with “sneaky and cunning” methods. No problem regarding democracy and human rights will be solved unless the “insidious and cunning” Apartheid regime in this country, resulting from this cowardice that has continued since Abdulhamid, is noticed. This is the sad truth.
(For the first part of the interview: “All the facilities of the state were reserved for the first group of Turks”)