The past weekend, the Bagazici University hosted a conference organized by the Hrant Dink Foundation, in cooperation with Sabanci and Bilgi University in Istanbul and titled “A destroyed civilization: the wealth of Non-Muslims at the end of the Ottoman period and the beginning of the Republican era. “
The theme of the conference was the Armenians, Greeks, Jews and Arameans (Syriacs) at the time of the Ottoman Empire and that of the Republic.
The period studied was 1894-1896 massacres of Armenians that occurred during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II until today. Finally, for over a century, we observe a broken order, and also the violence and injustice that result. The pogroms against Greeks Aegean, deportation and genocide of Armenians and Syriacs in 1915-1916, trade in Orthodox and Muslim populations of 1923 and then the deportation of Greeks in 1964 is the emergence points over a century of violence and suffering endured by non-Muslims.
In a summary list of reasons for the breakdown of order are: Muslims who took refuge in Anatolia in the 19th century, the Caucasus and the Balkans, hoping naturally get their share of the cake, the forced settlement of nomads who began developing since the mid 19th century, the religious cleansing that was undertaken in the name of building a nation-state based on religion, and gender non-Muslims-Muslims resulted from the Tanzimat reforms of the 19th century.
The human dimensions of the destroyed civilization is overwhelming. We speak of some 1.5 million Armenians and 1.5 million Greeks left on an overall population of 13 million in 1923.
The conference largely focused on economic, political, social and cultural rights of the destroyed civilization. As for the economic dimension, the disappearance of non-Muslims sectors of agriculture and industry, loss and dispossession of their financial and physical capital and the destruction of human capital has led to huge losses and the collapse of Anatolia. Not only many production activities – such as textiles, silk and vineyards – were fatally disorganized, but the enormous wealth of ancient agricultural knowledge has also evaporated. Severe damage was reported to the seasonal migration of craftsmen between Anatolia and Istanbul, a tradition dating back to the times of Byzantium. Likewise were destroyed economic relations with Europe that had been established and strengthened for years between industrial and non-Muslim merchants from Anatolia and Istanbul.
The plundering, looting and seizures forces have mainly benefited the state and some local notables. Nevertheless, the loss of human capital became placed as always major problems for the continuation of business. It is not possible to decree the creation of a middle class or create by pressing a magic button; the whole economy collapsed altogether. From this point of view, the forced expulsion of non-Muslims in these lands denotes an absolutely irrational thinking.
Meanwhile, the illegal confiscation and seizure of assets of non-Muslims that we have observed since 1850, had its justification in compensation which had no result so far. With regard to cultural annihilation, the most tangible examples are given by the systematic and deliberate destruction of thousands of buildings, monasteries, churches, schools, homes, gardens and farms belonging to non-Muslims after their annihilation or their forced departure.
Taken together, the 27 papers presented in the conference were very informative for the participants. And the presence of so many young researchers at the conference is a reason to hope. At the same time, however, the conference has reminded us all how we know little about our painful past.
Finally, I will quote the writer Yasar Kemal disappeared in his book ‘Yagmurcuk usu’:
“Son, if you return to this village, you do not adopt the houses abandoned by the Armenians, an abandoned nest can bring life and prosperity to the bird that settles it, the cruelty of the scene only grows cruelty”.
By Cengiz Aktar
Translation Gilbert Béguian