Turkey 'lost battle with truth' over Armenia genocide: academic

Istanbul (AFP) - Turkey has lost the battle with truth over its refusal to acknowledge the mass killings of Armenians during World War I as genocide, a Turkish academic who helped break a long-standing taboo on the issue said.

Cengiz Aktar was one of four Turkish intellectuals who in 2008 launched a campaign known as "Ozur Diliyoruz" ("I Apologise") calling for a collective apology for the "great catastrophe" inflicted on Armenians from 1915.

Armenians in Armenia and the diaspora will on April 24 mark the 100th anniversary of what they see as the start of a campaign of genocide by Ottoman forces in World War I to wipe them out of Anatolia.

But Turkey to this day has vehemently denied any genocide took place and the Turkish state can in theory under the penal code prosecute anyone who dares to do so.

"I think that Turkey has lost its battle with truth," Aktar, a political scientist at the private Sabanci university in Istanbul told AFP in an interview.

"No-one believes any more in this primitive negationism. The skeleton is so big that it just won't go back in the cupboard."

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year presented Armenians with unprecedented condolences for a shared tragedy but Aktar said it does not seem that the government is prepared to go any further.

"This was better than nothing but it is still very far from what the crimes committed in 1915 requires."

Aktar credits Erdogan, who has dominated Turkey for over a decade, with ending many of the taboos in Turkey but said that on the Armenian issue "he stopped on the way".

"What is lacking in Turkey is a visionary person who is prepared to tackle this question head on.

"The sole aim of the government in the year 2015 is to limit its losses," he said.

Aktar said that one of the main problems was with education, saying many Turks do not know what happened and some use the word "Armenian" as an insult.

"And when there is some education it is so misguided and falsified that it is an insult," he added.

- 'Foundations of the nation' -

Armenians say that 1.5 million of their ancestors were killed in the massacres, but Turkish government officials claim that hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Christians were killed on both sides in a shared wartime tragedy.

Aktar said there was also a genuine fear in Turkey that the descendants of Armenians who were killed or expelled could return to reclaim assets or land that were taken from them in 1915.

Recalling also the expulsion and killing of Orthodox Greeks up to the foundation of modern Turkey in 1923, he added:

"There is above all the fact that modern Turkey is built on the expulsion and annihilation of the non-Muslims who lived in Anatolia.

"Putting that in question is to put in question the foundations of the Turkish nation and for now it is impossible."

But Aktar said he had been encouraged by signs of an evolution in Turkish civil society, with seminars and publications assisting the work of memory.

"A recent opinion poll showed that nine percent of Turks are in favour of recognising the genocide. But I am sure this is much more than just five years ago."

"The genie is out of the bottle. The evolution will be slow but will happen, I believe it."

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