Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Politics of Official Apologies

An Interview with Melissa Nobles
By Khatchig Mouradian and Melissa Nobles

March, 22 2008

Melissa Nobles is Associate Professor of Political Science at MIT. She holds a BA in history from Brown University and an MA and PhD in political science from Yale University. Her research interests include retrospective justice and the comparative study of racial and ethnic politics. She is the author of Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics (Stanford University Press, 2000) and The Politics of Official Apologies (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

In this interview, conducted in her office at MIT on March 11, we discuss why and how governments apologize—or do not apologize—for crimes committed in their country in the past and what significance apology—or the absence of it—can have on the descendents of the victims and the perpetrators.

Khatchig Mouradian—How did you become interested in the politics of official apologies?

Melissa Nobles—I became interested when, in 1998, I read an article in the New York Times about the Canadian government’s apology to indigenous Canadians. I thought that was interesting and unusual, because governments don’t usually apologize. Then I became aware of the Turkish government’s refusal to apologize for the Armenian genocide. That also interested me. I knew that the U.S. government had apologized to Japanese-Americans for their internment during WWII, but also realized that the U.S. had not apologized to Native Americans or to African-Americans for their experiences. So my interest was both in cases where governments did apologize and where governments did not apologize.

K.M.—In the book, you make a distinction between apology offered by governments and ones offered by heads of state. Why is this distinction important?

M.N.—It is important because government apologies typically require more actors and tend to be the result of more deliberation. The parliament, commissions and historians are involved, so more people are weighing in and it’s more of a collective decision. Moreover, typically government apologies have been accompanied by reparations. Examples of such apologies and reparations are the German government’s apology and ongoing reparations to surviving Jews after WWII and the state of Israel, and U.S. President Ronald Reagan providing $20,000 to surviving Japanese-Americans affected by the internment.

Apologies that come from heads of state are important, of course, because the person giving them is either the executive or government official, but they are not necessarily the result of deliberation, so they are more unpredictable and don’t usually come with any kind of compensation. They tend to be more fleeting. I thought that’s the distinction that should be taken into account.

K.M.—Speaking of reparations, in the book you write, “For vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, moral appeals are often central to political argument and action. … But at the same time, group members also express skepticism about the ultimate worth of moral appeals because although they may be essential, they are infrequently followed by action.” Do you feel that action is necessary for apologies to have meaning?

M.N.—I do. Note that action can be broadly or narrowly defined. We might think about action as an apology that marks the beginnings of a government and citizenry talking more seriously about their own history. Action can be something not regulated by the state or there may be a commission that recommends compensation. But what is the least desirable is an apology that is just said and is followed by nothing—no discussion, or any kind of deliberation or compensation—because then, it falls flat. Action need not be synonymous with reparations as such, but it needs to be something more than a mere utterance, which, once said, dies.

K.M.—Have there been cases where an official apology has not been followed by any concrete steps—a sort of “I apologize, now let’s go home”? You mention in the book how some governments have refrained from apologizing mainly because of what might come next…

M.N.—In general, the “let’s go home” apologies have been given by heads of state. I haven’t found too many cases of governments giving apologies that haven’t been followed by something. An example would be what’s going on now in Australia, where there’s resistance at least to doing something that would be directly tied to the apology. At the same time they’re saying, We are going to change Aboriginal policy-making, we’re going to take action, but we’re not going to give money to the specific victims of this particular government policy [of forcibly removing Aboriginal children from their parent’s care].

Governments are reluctant to apologize precisely because of the concern that there are going to be demands for money. But governments have more power; they decide what they’re going to do. So while there is a tension, I don’t think it’s a tension that’s insurmountable. The issue is framed by political elites. They can decide to give nothing and they often times make this decision.

K.M.—Isn’t there also some dominance relation here? After all, it’s the dominant group that is deciding what to say and what to give.

M.N.—Absolutely. This is certainly an unequal dynamic. Much of the dissatisfaction with symbolic politics is that it points up the relative powerlessness of the groups that are asking for apologies.

If you’re in power and feel that you don’t need anything from the groups that have victimized you, you would not ask for apologies. It is the less powerful that do. The less powerful groups have fewer resources and rely upon moral appeals in order to get what they want. And there’s value, of course, in bringing morality to bear. That’s just the dynamic of the world in which we live.

But you’re absolutely right, there is asymmetry here. The powerful can do as little as they want and, many times, they do nothing. They ignore them. They won’t apologize. On the other hand, the group can continue to express their dissatisfaction, and continue to demand it. The demand—just the idea that they’re being asked for it—can be discomforting to the powerful. That may be all that the side demanding apology can do.

K.M.—I want to bring democracy into the discussion. It would be easy to argue that democracy should help countries face their past, but there are some very striking examples that show that this is not the case. For example, the United States has not apologized for slavery or the genocide of the Native Americans. What are your thoughts on this?

M.N.—Democracy is the rule of the majority and there are inherent disadvantages for minority groups within democracies. (Native Americans, in this example, are less than one percent of the American population; black Americans are 12 percent). And even though democracies allow for an expression of desires and preferences, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get what you want. It typically means that minority groups have to get the majority on board. That’s why moral appeal is sometimes what’s needed.

The majority decides whether it will pay any attention to the minority. They can choose to ignore the minority, and, as I’ve said, they oftentimes do. So what minorities have to do is try to find a way to make the majority listen. And usually appeals to history, appeals to the conscience are the peaceful ways that are used. There are violent ways, of course, but those haven’t been the avenues chosen by Native Americans or African-Americans for obvious reasons.

The hope is that public discourse within democracies will force a discussion. There’s a need for a robust debate in the public arena, which makes freedom of speech, freedom of universities and other freedoms that democracy provides so important. Without those freedoms, change definitely wouldn’t happen.

K.M.—In the context of democracy and the minorities within that democracy, do you feel that as long as there has been no apology, the power asymmetry and the domination are still there?

M.N.—Yes, it’s kind of unavoidable. Look at the situation of the Native Americans. It’s disgraceful and makes one despair a great deal. It’s our country’s history. We don’t want to talk about it, or we barely talk about it. Even when we do talk, we certainly talk about it incompletely. And more than that, I think many Americans thing that the dispossession of the Native Americans was justified in some way. They think, we certainly are not going to give anything back, we love the U.S. now and the Native American circumstance is just the unfortunate result of history. I think that some dimension of domination will always be there and seems to be unavoidable. It is also, of course, not a thing that anyone who has a conscience would celebrate. It should cause us discomfort at the very least and I think there is no real discussion in the U.S. about Native Americans because of that discomfort and the implications of taking their situation seriously.

K.M.—You have written, “Feelings of ‘nonresponsibility’ are powerful constraints against state support for apologies. Feelings of national pride, derived from certain interpretations of national history, also play a role.” What is shocking is that in each and every case that I know of and that you mention in the book, the victimizers or their descendents—the dominant group—deal the exact same way with the victim group and its demands. This issue seems to cut across civilizations.

M.N.—It is shocking. There are lots of justifications for not feeling responsible. The most obvious is the argument that “I was not personally responsible.” But, of course, that’s a pretty easy one to challenge. People aren’t responsible for what goes well in their countries, but they claim it, right? So it’s kind of selective claiming: “I like the constitution but I hate slavery.” Being part of a country requires the good and bad, but it is human nature to want to bask in the glory and then ignore the bad. Once I decide that I’m not responsible for the act, why would I apologize for it?
Once this particular position takes hold, everything else follows and makes apology impossible. So the point is to always try to deal with that issue of responsibility by telling the person, “You are not individually responsible, we get that, but somehow you are a beneficiary of, or you benefited from, the historical circumstances in which you were born in such a way that you must now think about making amends.”

The challenge is to try and get people to see that they are somehow responsible. Not that they themselves are responsible, but that somehow they should accept responsibility, even if they were not personally involved.

One thing the research has shown is that feelings of guilt are determined by whether you think you are personally responsible or not. If you recognize that your group, the group with which you are associated, was responsible and you feel guilt about it, then you’re likely to apologize.

K.M.—How can the descendants of the victimizers argue for an apology?

M.N.—Politicians make it such that the descendents are able to say, “OK, this happened in the past, apologizing is the right thing to do.” It helps to talk about the past but think about the future. So they use the term acknowledgement without necessarily assigning guilt. That’s what Australia’s Prime Minister did. He apologized to Aboriginal Australians straightforwardly. He basically said, “We acknowledge what happened and we are sorry.” But then he said, “Now we’re moving forward. The reason we are apologizing is to make a better community for Australian Aboriginal peoples.” So one approach that politicians use is not to dwell upon the past; even as they acknowledge the past, they quickly move from it. That seems to be the tactic that works best. If you dwell too much on the past, if there’s too much discussion about the past, then it becomes fertile ground for those who oppose giving the apology. The idea is to always keep looking at the big picture, and one useful big picture is the future. I think that’s the way that successful apologies are done and politicians recognize that.

K.M.—Countless massacres and crimes against humanity have been committed in the last two centuries alone. At some point, one might argue that everyone has to say sorry to everyone else. Why are some apologies more “important” than others?

M.N.—The aggrieved groups themselves must ask for it and others have to see something in it for them. In fact, not everyone is asking for apologies because there’s a certain distrust of apology. Some people ask, “What’s that apology going to do?” They think, “They don’t mean it,” or “If I have to ask for it then it’s not worth getting,” or “They are morally bankrupt and don’t even know that they should apologize,” or “Whatever they could do for me wouldn’t be worth it.” So there are reasons why some people wouldn’t even think about asking for an apology, because they think it would be somehow tainted.

Are some apologies more important than others? I don’t think there are absolute measures. But at least in politics, it seems, the ones that are considered worthy are the ones where the people who are giving it stand to gain too.

K.M.—If a crime happened in the past but continues to have great implications today and cause great distress, do you think it’s more “worthy” of being addressed? I have in mind the Native Americans, African-Americans…

M.N.—I agree with the gist of your argument. But many would argue that what happened in the U.S. happened. That we have found other ways of dealing with African-American and Native American grievances, and apology is kind of beside the point. They would say that an apology would be so polarizing that it will do more harm than good.

In general, though, I think that if any party is going to do it, it’s the Democrats, although they haven’t endorsed an apology—not even Bill Clinton.

K.M.—What do you think about gestures by ordinary people who apologize despite their government’s reluctance to do so?

M.N.—Australia is a good example of that. When former Prime Minister John Howard refused to apologize, he ended up inadvertently fostering what is known as the people’s movement. Australians themselves were signing sorry books. Some critics judged it as political theatre, but I didn’t view it that way. The Australians were telling Aboriginal Australians, “Listening to you makes me think about what happened, makes me think about you as a neighbor that I care about. The government can’t change our attitudes. We’re citizens, and we can apologize.”

It seems to me that an official apology accompanied by real, serious engagement by the population—as we’ve seen in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, yet haven’t seen here in the U.S.—makes a big difference in the quality of life in those countries.

Khatchig Mouradian is a journalist, writer and translator, based in Boston. He is the editor of the Armenian Weekly. He can be contacted at:

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Complicity with Evil: An Interview with Adam LeBor

By Khatchig Mouradian

March, 15 2008

Adam LeBor is an author and journalist based in Budapest, Hungary. He writes for The Times (of London), the Economist, the Jewish Chronicle and the New York Times. He is the author of six non-fiction books, including Milosevic: A Biography, City of Oranges: An Intimate History of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa and Complicity with Evil: The United Nations in the Age of Modern Genocide.
In this interview, conducted by phone, we talk about the role the UN played—and oftentimes failed to play—when genocide and crimes against humanity were committed.

Khatchig Mouradian—In Complicity with Evil, you call on the UN to return to its founding principles and set the agenda of the Security Council instead of following the lead of the great powers. Do you think such a drastic shift in the UN’s approach would be possible under current circumstances?
Adam LeBor—It would be difficult, that’s for sure. That’s the ideal that I think should happen. The problem with the UN is that the powers on the Security Council follow their own national interests more than the interests of the UN, but one place where there is room to maneuver is within the Secretariat. And if the Secretary General and other Secretariat officials don’t just follow the whims of the great powers but actually say, “Look, the UN is here to safeguard human rights, prevent genocide, that’s why it was founded, not to be used to pursue your national interests,” if the Secretariat kept making that point, it could, perhaps, have an effect.
This sounds very general, but let’s look at, for example, what happened in Bosnia. Many UN officials focused primarily on preserving the UN’s impartiality and also following the interests of the great powers. Those UN officials did have an effect on the ground, but it wasn’t a good effect.

K.M.—You mentioned the issue of UN impartiality. In the book you highlight the UN’s “reluctance to distinguish victim from aggressor” and “continued equal treatment of the parties” as the biggest blows to the credibility of UN peacekeeping. Can you explain?
A.L.—We saw that in Bosnia, we saw it in Rwanda, and we are still seeing it in Darfur. In Bosnia, at the Sarajevo airport, UN soldiers were shining spotlights on people who were trying to run across the airfield to get out of the besieged city, and the Serbs would fire on them. The airport was controlled by the UN, and the UN believed it had to be neutral.
You have this obsession with neutrality. You have the main UN political official, Yakushi Akashi, who refuses to authorize air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs because he believes that it would weaken Slobodan Milosevic—and the latter was needed to make a peace deal.
You see the same thing in Rwanda, where the UN, under pressure by the Clinton Administration—in what was surely one of the Administration’s most shameful moments—actually pulled out 90 percent of the troops that were there.
You see the same situation now in Darfur. Sudan is treated as an honored partner in negotiations. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon meets the Sudanese president and talks about how he believes the Sudanese president is committed to ending the carnage in Darfur, and then, a few weeks later, another 12,000 people are displaced and hundreds of more people are killed. All this is because no one seems to be willing to say that the UN is not founded to give a platform of membership to regimes carrying out genocide.
There’s a mentality that we can’t get involved in what’s going on. We just have to always be these impartial arbiters. But there comes a point when impartiality means siding with the aggressor.

K.M.—How do you think this false notion of impartiality can be changed? After all, some would argue that the UN is the organization that brings all countries together and once the concept of impartiality is left open to different interpretations, member states could raise the argument that the UN is, in fact, taking sides.
A.L.—This is the great question: How can the organization protect human rights when the people carrying out the human rights abuses are members of the UN? I would argue there are means and methods by which UN member states that carry out egregious violations can be suspended or expelled—there’s a provision for that in the UN Charter. Also, the agenda can be set. Look at what’s happening now on the new Human Rights Council. We have a spectacle of countries refusing to take any action against Sudan and Zimbabwe, obsessing about what Israel is doing. Now, to be sure, there are human rights issues in Israel and Palestine, but there are also many other human rights issues going on in the world. But you have member states of these organizations focusing only on their own interests, rather than having any actual interests in human rights violations. That’s one area that needs a lot of attention.

K.M.—This is also a problem in the media. How do you feel about bringing up human rights violations elsewhere to “justify” or divert attention from other human rights abuses? Wouldn’t a universal approach to human rights help all sides?
A.L.—The media in countries often reflects their country’s interests, especially in non-democratic regimes. For example, most Arab regimes and much of the Arab media hasn’t engaged over Darfur. Some of them don’t believe it’s happening, some of them say it’s another Western plot to dismember another Arab country, same as in Iraq. You see a kind of selective judgment. But until there are absolute standards applied, it weakens the whole cause of human rights. If, for example, the Arab media is always talking about Gaza and the West Bank—and of course, I say again, there are human rights violations that need to be addressed there—but the same media never says anything about what’s happening in Darfur or refugees in the Western Sahara or the lack of human rights in most Arab countries or the fact that there’s no free press and bloggers are arrested, then it becomes very difficult to share outrage over other issues. We need less selective judgment, and clearer, absolute judgments over what’s wrong, whether or not it is convenient to look at a certain issue.

K.M.—I want to return to the issue of the Secretariat. Wouldn’t you agree that the hands of the Secretariat are tied when it comes to setting the agenda as long as members of the Security Council are not willing to make concessions?
A.L.—I think it would demand a concession by the countries on the Security Council, especially the five permanent members, to accept that Secretariat officials should have more power and should be able to set the agenda of the UN. But at the moment, it just doesn’t seem to be happening. Look at how the political establishment in the U.S., for example, views the UN. They see it as an anti-Western organization, and so why would we hand over any diplomatic power to an organization like this? We go back to the problem of selective judgment here. The General Assembly and the new Human Rights Council are refusing to engage on Zimbabwe or on Sudan but only engages on things that interest it. This actually helps the people who want to keep the UN weak. The Republicans can say, look at these people, they are not concerned about human rights, they are concerned about their own short-term politically expedient interests. So, that selective judgment does a lot of damage.

K.M.—Talk about why the UN is, as you say, “passively complicit with evil.”
A.L.—The reason I called my book “Complicity with Evil” is because it’s actually the UN’s own words. In 2000, the UN released its report on peacekeeping failures in Bosnia, Rwanda and some other places. The UN’s own words were that its continued obsession with impartiality, with not engaging while human rights abuses were going on in front of UN peacekeepers, has arguably made the organization guilty of being “complicit with evil.” And it has been. There are people in the organization that realize this and want to change it.

K.M.—What role do you see for the UN today in Darfur?
A.L.—When people talk about Darfur, especially the U.S and Britain, they say that we can’t do anything in Darfur because of Iraq. But there are many things that can be done without sending the 101st Airborne Division in. You can have serious, meaningful sanctions on the Sudanese government, on the president and the people organizing the genocide and the human rights abuses. You can have sanctions on the oil industry. You can have a more active International Criminal Court (ICC). You can see the contempt Sudan holds the UN in when one of the four people indicted by the ICC is actually promoted after the indictment and made the minister in charge of refugee affairs. You can see that a country like Sudan has no fear of the UN whatsoever, couldn’t care less what it does. The way to address that is also to start focusing on the individuals that are actually running these regimes and to seriously target them in terms of sanctions, travel bans and freezing their assets. This had quite strong effects during the Milosevic regime, when the genocide was going on in Bosnia, because people started to get nervous that they’d never get their money or be able to leave the country. They started to turn on each other and started to reach out to the ICC saying that they had information and were ready to make a deal. All this makes the regime crack.

K.M.—Do you think the U.S.’s use of the term “genocide” to describe the killings in Darfur has helped in any way?
A.L.—I thought the whole U.S. position on the use of the term “genocide” in Darfur was completely bizarre. Clearly, it is genocide. Genocide does not necessarily mean mass extermination, as it happened in the Holocaust or Rwanda. It means the intention to destroy a group. And that is exactly what is happening in Darfur in terms of the communities that are being targeted and destroyed as a group. There’s a lot of furor over the use of the word and this furor distracts from what’s going on. America says it is genocide, but then refuses to take any action to stop this genocide. The UN says it’s not a genocide, although some acts have been committed that resemble genocide. You have this, in some way, irrelevant debate over the word, while the slaughter continues.

K.M.—How do you see the future of UN peacekeeping?
A.L.—I think a lot of lessons have been learned from Rwanda, where UN troops evacuated places and left the Tutsis there to be slaughtered by the Hutus who were waiting outside the front door. And from what happened in Srebrenica, where Dutch peacekeepers literally forced Muslim men and boys into the arms of the Bosnian Serbs who then took them away and slaughtered them. I think important lessons have been learned, unfortunately at the cost of a lot of human lives and suffering.
Now, where there is a meaningful peacekeeping force, like in Congo and Liberia, it is more robust and muscular. The department of peacekeeping operations has a sub-department called Best Practices, which looks at each mission and works out how to make it work better.
But the problem is when the troops aren’t there. If you look in Darfur, there’s supposed to be 26,000 troops, but there’s only a fraction of them there. Sudan is insisting that only peacekeepers from African countries be deployed. It is doing that because African countries don’t have the experience and the logistics to mount effective peacekeeping operations. They simply don’t have the capability that Western countries have. So it’s all very clever, very convenient.
I would say that where peacekeepers are properly deployed, they are making a difference. But they need to get there.

Khatchig Mouradian is a journalist, writer and translator, based in Boston. He is the editor of the Armenian Weekly. He can be contacted at:

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Saturday, March 8, 2008

An Interview with Hilmar Kaiser

By Khatchig Mouradian

The Armenian Weekly
March 8, 2008

Hilmar Kaiser is a scholar of the Armenian genocide who is also known in scholarly circles and the Armenian community for the controversy he generates with some of his lectures and interviews. We first sat down at the editorial offices of the Aztag Daily in Beirut on Sept. 22, 2005, for a fascinating interview about the Ottoman archives and the Armenian genocide.
Kaiser received his PhD from the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He specializes in Ottoman social and economic history as well as the Armenian genocide. He has done research in more than 60 archives worldwide, including the Ottoman Archives in Istanbul.

His published works—monographs, edited volumes and articles—include “Imperialism, Racism, and Development Theories: The Construction of a Dominant Paradigm on Ottoman Armenians,” “At the Crossroads of Der Zor: Death Survival and Humanitarian Resistance in Aleppo, 1915-1917,” “The Baghdad Railway and the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1916: A Case Study in German Resistance and Complicity,” “1915-1916 Ermeni Soykirimi Sirasinda Ermeni Mulkleri, Osmanli Hukuku ve Milliyet Politikalari,” “Le genocide armenien: negation a ‘l’allemande’” and “From Empire to Republic: The Continuities for Turkish Denial.”

In this interview, conducted in Boston in Dec. 2007, Kaiser discusses the archives and speaks about his views on Turkish scholars—both the liberals and state-sponsored genocide deniers.

Khatchig Mouradian—Let’s talk about your Turkish colleagues and how they approach the Armenian issue.

Hilmar Kaiser—When I looked in Turkey over the past year for organized “academic” treatment of the Armenian issue, I could identify at least eight centers, which are in competition with each other; and then, within the centers there is competition. What you have there is a flourishing chaos. This is also understandable because the Turkish government puts money into it. The government puts money into the project without having a right assessment, so they burn a lot of money on staff that has zero impact.

There has to be a realization in certain circles—especially at the Turkish Historical Society—that this level doesn’t suffice. Some people claim “our product is inefficient because it’s only in Turkish and no one can read it.” They should understand that it is good that no one can read it, because once it is translated, it will do more damage than anything else. Some authors areas if talking in their own bathroom.

But now within the Turkish Historical Society and among some others there is agreement that production has to meet U.S. University press standards and anything else is a total waste of time.

We agreed that we disagree, and then we had discussions about the concept of genocide, we have now discussed joint projects. It’s something else if that will happen or not, but we at least explored what can be done together, in areas where basically you wouldn’t burn the house. After two and a half years in the Turkish archives, they got used to me being in Turkey, there was no scandal, slowly they got used that I am a reality and they get more comfortable and confident about the situation.

Personally, I have no problem talking to official historians or genocide deniers because these guys have the nationalist credentials. They don’t have to prove that they’re not Armenian spies so they are very cool about it. They are very surprised that I don’t talk to the “liberals” about it, and I tell them very clearly that it is, in my view, a self-deception to think that a few Turkish scholars—regardless of how good or how bad their work is, how respectable or unrespectable they are—who represent a very small layer, a very privileged layer of Turkish society, the société, the upper one percent, will change the country.

These people teach at very few places where very few students go to and they basically dismiss a whole state university system with tens of thousands of history students. So I just ignore them. If you want to talk to people who train the teachers in Turkey, who go to countrywide universities, you have to talk to other people.

From a German perspective—I am German and it inspires me given the dialogue of the 1970s and 1980s between east and west—it was always clear that engaging the other side is inevitable and you make them part of the solution. We can’t get rid of all of those we don’t like and then start everything from the beginning, because these people will fight to the end if they have nothing to lose. Respectable scholarship has nothing to do with the name of the person who has written it—it is assessed on its own merit. So people might change and agreements might replace disagreements. Never give up too easy.

There’s a substance on which you can move on and I have been involved in it during the last few years. There are hopeless cases among historians in Turkey, of course. At one dinner, one outed himself as a fan of Adolf Hitler. In Germany, I would report him to the police and he wouldn’t leave the country for what he said. This was, at the same time, Holocaust denial, racism and a call for inter-ethnic violence. You don’t have to deal with those guys. There are clear standards. These standards are not to be compromised. But the other guys, I don’t boycott them, clearly.

K.M.—You criticize the liberal scholars. But most of the decent scholarship by Turks on the Armenian genocide is done by the liberal scholars and not the ones on the state’s payroll, am I wrong?

H.K.—You have to look at the footnotes. Every book tells you what you have done, at least what you claim to have done. Much of it is based on published resources. It shows that they are not at the cutting edge. If you want original research on a certain issue, given the low state of our knowledge because of archival issues and other issues, you have to put in the time. All these concepts about the Armenian genocide are developed on generalization of a very narrow source basis. We have developed a lot of Holy Grail items that we hear over and over again, but these are generalizations of local events that didn’t necessarily spread. There is a lot of crap that we have to throw out, and we have the documents to make that point. One has to be more humble and more relaxed about it and be careful about one’s findings.

K.M.—Talk about your relation with the head of the Turkish Historical Society Yusuf Halacoglu.

H.K.—I met him at the Istanbul conference almost two years ago. Then I visited him at the Historical Society’s conference about a year ago, where he received me in a very friendly manner. Then we had little contact and I visited him in June and in November again. Halacoglu is the only Turkish historian who has put material on the table I cannot reconcile with my current knowledge. He is an extremely smart guy, very professional. He is ahead of me in some regards.

K.M.—Why do you say that?

H.K.—He has the material on the prosecution of war criminals during the war. Meanwhile, I have obtained my own copy of the material, but there has to be academic respect—it means, he has the right to publish it first.

According to this material, people who stole money, killed etc., were punished. The list identifies the perpetrators, what they did and what their punishment was. We know, for example, that the murderers of Zohrab and Vartkes Effendi were executed by Djemal, and there were other executions. People who stole money from the Armenian population and put it in their own pocket instead of transferring it to the government got punished. We know this but we need a careful analysis of it. We have no decisive answer yet.

K.M.—But they aren’t punishing them for stealing from the Armenians, are they?

H.K.—We haven’t researched that. This element is surely part of it, but do we really fully account for it?

K.M.—How would you qualify Halacoglu’s scholarship…

H.K.—The book on the 16th century is very good…

K.M.—No, I mean his scholarship on the Armenian genocide…

H.K.—This is not so easy, you have to see who is he. He is the representative of the Turkish state. If there is a real debate between persons with intellect and command of sources, Halacoglu leads the Turkish team.

Dismissing him for past weak scholarship or political fanaticism—or whatever argument you want to bring up and you may even have something in support of your point—will not necessarily be productive. Don’t underestimate Yusuf Halacoglu. I respect him. I might disagree with him emphatically but I’m comfortable that I don’t have a fight with him at this point. The academic resources of an entire state converge on this one person. The Armenians have nobody coming even close to the shadow of him.

On the other hand, he is not antagonistic like the fascist I just mentioned. Halacoglu is interested in dialogue, the question is on what terms. He has no problem to talk with me, to talk with others…

K.M.—The way you are describing a notorious genocide denier might come as a surprise to many…

H.K.—First of all, the description of deniers as a group is false. You have people who are fully paid talking heads who have nothing to offer; they are, unfortunately, the people who write the briefs for Erdogan when he goes abroad. Then you have the kind of politically well-connected third-rate academic creatures who are only interested in escalating the situation because they can only live on escalation, because they have nothing to offer. And then you have people who have serious disagreements with you.

The way Turkish materials have been used in one recent English-language publication in this country—which is celebrated as great research—is totally unscholarly. The celebration is there because no one is able to check the sources. If that publication had been an Armenian genocide denial publication, there would have been an outcry. Same methods of misrepresentation of sources, speculation, you name it. It’s all there.

K.M.—Can you give a concrete example?

H.K.—For example, one scholar claims that the president of the Ottoman Chamber was going to Germany in March 1915 to coordinate the decision of the Armenian genocide, and he gives the source. The source says exactly the opposite. I don’t want to go now into detail because I am publishing it.

K.M.—Talk about the Ottoman archives. What has changed in the past couple of years?

H.K.—The Directorate for Demography in the Ministry of the Interior was reopened. This collection was open for some time in the 1990s and was closed for at least two years since 2005. This was a reopening, not a new opening of collections.

The opening of other files is rapid, tremendous. They have opened the Ministry of the Interior files for the Abdul-Hamidian period until the second constitutional period. This is massive.
They have also opened the files of the Paris embassy and they are opening more embassy files now. This is at a pace that has never been there.

However, there are still files—collections we spoke of in our previous interview, like the files of the so-called abandoned property commissions—that are not made available. We also don’t have possibly the most crucial files on WWI concerning the Armenians, because they were removed in 1919 from the files that were opened so far and have been put in a new collection for the purposes of the government. So this is not—as some people now claim—a cleansing of archives. This is just that certain files were carried from one office to another office in the context of administrative organization. This stuff, from what I understand, is not going to be opened soon, not because the archivists are not motivated, not because they are not interested, but simply because you have so many people and so much work. There is a lack of resources.

There is no political opposition now towards declassification and processing. What they simply don’t have is sufficient resources, which is regrettable.

K.M.—What is the significance of the embassy files regarding the Armenian issue?

H.K.—I haven’t worked with this, but, for example, the catalogs indicate that the embassy files of London, St. Petersburg, Paris provide a lot of insight into the massacres of the 1890s. Also, the embassies were spying outposts. They were spying on the Armenian diaspora communities and the spying was directed by the Ministry of the Interior through the embassies. So you find a lot of Ministry of the Interior material in embassy files and you find embassy reports to the Ministry of the Interior. This is very important because we might have lost some material—physically totally rotten—because of maintenance problems. So you might lose the draft in the Ministry of Interior file but since the letter went out to the embassy, you can have it in the embassy file, because the Paris embassy had a better storage facility. Some of these files have been very recently repatriated, which is exciting.

K.M.—You are talking about hundreds of thousands of files, and among them, thousands of files might have relevance regarding the Armenian issue. How many people are actually involved in researching these files?

H.K.—There is increasing interest among Turkish historians in Istanbul and the provinces who have not been involved in organized campaigns so far against Turkish “traitors” who say it was a genocide or against “Armenian allegations.” But what has transpired now during my talks is that the Armenians have become a topic. One scholar is publishing 16th-century tax registers from Yerevan—in Istanbul, not Yerevan. This has nothing to do with the genocide but is very important for Armenian history. We have 19th-century income tax registers, 1840s, very important again. So where we are going right now is a periodization of the Armenian cause/issue/problem, as it is called in Turkey. The people no longer mix together the Tanzimat era, Abdul-Hamid era, second constitutional period with the genocide and then the occupation period. We see now increasingly very well-respected and motivated scholars working on it not just because they want to prove or disprove something—that might be just one aspect in it—but because there is interest in the material.

From the outside, Dr. Taner Akcam was there some time ago for three weeks, and now he lectures us on the Ottoman archives, for which I’m very thankful. Then, Garabed Moumdjian was there with me in 2006 for two weeks working on the Young Turks on the ARF. He has sent shock waves through the whole establishment. Every time I think about it I’m laughing. An Armenian walked in, he spoke better Turkish than the Turks, he read Ottoman, handwritten documents like we read the New York Times, he talked to the archival staff in Arabic... The idea of the ARF, fanatic, blood-drinking killer and so on got a devastating blow. There’s no one else. He’s the only Armenian who went there possibly in decades (before, only Ara Sarafian went). Which shows that these programs, whatever they do, don’t do one thing: They don’t bring people to that point where many people had hoped they would bring them. So we’re at that point and, this year, it seems I was alone.

K.M.—There’s so much research that needs to be done in these archives. Why is the interest by scholars from outside Turkey so little?

H.K.—I was criticized by some less-informed elements in the Armenian diaspora for going to the archives because now they cannot say it’s closed anymore. Why did we push for having it open if we don’t want it open? For some people, this was obviously just political talk. I have to be very critical about this. All these donations the community put into research, obviously none of it is coming there. So when I am going there, people should not think that I am going on an Armenian ticket. If there was five percent Armenian money in it, it would be nice.

My colleagues ask me in Turkey where all these Armenians are. They feared that the moment they opened the door, a mob would raid their place. So you had basically the cavalry waiting for the Indians to attack and in four to five years one lone Indian has showed up. And so they understand that their projections of a big Armenian conspiracy is just a formulation of their own fears that has relatively little to do with reality.

When I say the archives are open, it’s limited, clear, but there certainly is no excuse not to do it. It’s a very simple thing. Crucial evidence, about whose existence we know, is not available at this time. But there is no excuse not to exhaust what they have made available, because this has to be done anyhow. If people say, Well we want to see the rest and then we’ll do something, well that is unprofessional. One has to be at the cutting edge of research. I think this kind of concept is not present.

K.M.—What do you think about Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s proposal for a joint historical commission?

H.K.—A commission would have little to do. We have gone pretty well through the Ottoman archives and not much is left on World War I. So what should a commission do? Xerox the documents a second time? That would be perfect nonsense. The cataloging of WWI files has to make rapid progress to provide an archival basis for a commission. The issue is an illustration that Erdogan does not have the best advisors when it comes to the Armenian genocide. These people develop ideas without checking first whether the pre-conditions for their own proposal exist within their own institutions.

Another matter is getting rid of such obstacles as Article 301. I cannot expect anyone to agree with me when that would mean he would be regarded as a criminal for doing so. The AKP government in Ankara has inherited a mess created by its predecessors over decades. So it is small steps for the time being, while hoping that the AKP does its homework and continues its overall positive course.