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dispatches caused huge public outrage, has since been superseded by the release of secret documents pertaining to the so-called Sledgehammer Plan, which proposed extreme measures (the bombing of major mosques, the shooting down of a Turkish jet, and the rounding up of named dissidents in football stadiums) all to provoke or consolidate a coup. Many of those implicated are now under interrogation or behind bars — these include high-ranking officers on active duty as well as retired generals, admirals and air force commanders. It is an entirely unprecedented situation and no one is sure where it might lead.
How did all this begin? Many credit the EU, or rather, its accession process, which called for Turkey’s army and state bureaucracies to democratise. But to leave it there would be to occlude, or at least underestimate, Turkey’s democratisers – by which I mean the diverse networks – Kurdish and Alevi, Islamist and secularist, social democrat, leftist, and feminist, academic and activist, Muslim and non-Muslim – that have, in addition to fighting for legal and structural changes, mounted an ever more ambitious challenge to state ideology and the official history that sustains it. Though its concerns are as diverse as they are themselves, they agree on the importance of telling the truth about Anatolia’s Armenians.
So education, or rather, re-education, is of central importance: until now, the Turkish public has largely accepted the official history because that is the only version that has ever been available to them. The adulation of Atatürk might be state-sponsored and state-enforced, but outside those areas that have suffered greatly at the hands of the military, it can also be heartfelt. How to reach those Turks whose very identity rests on their pride in Atatürk, and whose belief in his official history was cemented in primary school? And how to be heard over the din created in recent years by the republic’s ultranationalist publishers, newspapers, websites, TV dramatists and film makers, who have been working overtime to provide narratives that don’t just confirm the official history, but make it shinier and more seductive than ever?
One way is to suggest, through family memoirs, that Turks might not be as Turkish as they like to think. The lawyer Fethiye Çetin did just this with her memoir My Grandmother, in which she revealed that her maternal grandmother had confessed to her late in life that she was not a Muslim Turk but had been born Armenian, having been pulled from a death march by a police commissar who then brought her up as his own. Çetin is also the lawyer of Hrant Dink’s family. The memoir was first published in 2004 – a year before Orhan Pamuk was prosecuted, when any Turk publicly acknowledging the
Lawyer and writer Fethiye Çetin talks to the media as she leaves court in Istanbul, 2 July 2007
Credit: Osman Orsal/Reuters secret histories – maureen freely