“Europeans’ memory”: an overview of Turkish debates

By Ayhan Kaya | 26 September 2011

To quote this document: Ayhan Kaya, ““Europeans’ memory”: an overview of Turkish debates”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Monday 26 September 2011, http://www.nouvelle-europe.eu/node/1256, displayed on 28 February 2020

Prof. Ayhan Kaya, Director of European Institute of Istanbul Bilgi University speaks about the importance of researching European memory. He underlined that what is concealed in memory is very much linked to the present time with reference to the transformative effect of the European Union on Turkey.

The EU perspective has provided the Turkish public with an opportunity to come to terms with its own past, a Turkish “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” (coming to terms with the past). Two widely debated and controversialconferences on the “Ottoman Armenians during the Demise of the Empire” and the “Kurdish Question” were organized at the Istanbul Bilgi University, on 25-26 September 2005 and 11-12 March 2006 respectively. Although the judiciary acted favourably towards the lawsuits claimed by some ultra-nationalist lawyers, both conferences paved the way for public discussion of two subjects that had hitherto been taboo in contemporary Turkish history.

Another international conference was hosted on 26-27 May 2005 by the Istanbul Bilgi University’s Centre for Migration Research, on the theme of the emigration of Assyrians who were forced to leave Eastern Anatolia in the aftermath of the foundation of the Republic in 1920s. Participants from various European countries including Sweden, Germany, France and Belgium witn an Assyrian background openly expressed their excitement at seeing the radical democratic transformation that Turkey had recently gone through.

Another conference, on the theme “Meeting in Istanbul: past and present”, was organized by the Greek minority in Istanbul, to bring together intellectuals from the Anatolian-Greek diaspora and the Greeks of Istanbul (30 June -2 July 2006). Apart from the fact that such conferences could be organized in contemporary Turkey without encountering any major public intervention, the latter conference was even hosted by the AKP-affiliated Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.

All of these legal and political changes bear witness to the transformation of Turkey regarding its position with regards to the notion of diversity. This transformation translates into a discursive shift, which officially recognizes Turkey as a multicultural country. That is to say that multiculturalism is no longer just a phenomenon in Turkey; it is also an officially recognized legal and political fact. This was also the time when the debates revolving around the Habermassian idea of constitutional patriotism became more vocal.

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