By Günal Kurşun
July 16, 2015
In my last article, about the Srebrenica genocide, which was commemorated for the 20th time annually by thousands last week, I wrote that I recognized a great importance in Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic's visit to Srebrenica. Though he was the target of the ongoing rage of the crowd, I think he has to understand it, and I've received dozens of comments on my article, which brought to mind another issue.
I discussed in my article that his visit was a very brave move, comparable only to former German Chancellor Willy Brandt's kneeled apology to Polish Jews during a visit to a Warsaw ghetto in 1970. Brandt was not guilty himself, but he apologized on behalf of his nation. Neither was Vucic guilty, and we have to view his visit as an apology on behalf of Serbs who would like to repair ties with their neighbors. What would happen if a similar visit was made by a Turkish prime minister? What would be the consequences for Turkey and her neighbors?
Let's visualize together that a Turkish prime minister makes a visit to Armenia's capital Yerevan and that his first stop coming from the airport is Tsitsernakaberd, specifically the Armenian Genocide Memorial Museum. Even before seeing his Armenian counterpart, feeling sincere agony, the Turkish prime minister gets down on his knees and reads a silent Fatiha, a chapter from the Koran, for all the souls and victims, both Armenian and Turkish, who suffered. Is this so unreasonable to expect?
Maybe a more realistic dream could come true: As is known, Serbia's former president, Boris Tadic, has already apologized, first to Bosnians and then to Croats, for war crimes committed by his nationals during war. Tadic was the first major Serbian politician to apologize for the atrocities committed. This apology triggered a storm of criticism in 2007. Vucic, a former secretary-general of the Serbian Radical Party, blamed Tadic for “admitting to something that objectively didn't exist.”
Earlier this week, I read in a newspaper that Rejha Avdic, the mother of a Srebrenica victim, has said: “Yesterday, Serbia's former President Tadic told Vucic, ‘Go to Srebrenica and apologize to the people there.' Vucic replied: ‘I'll never admit that it was genocide. I'll go to Srebrenica with my head held high.'” This explains, though does not justify, the bottles and stones thrown at Vucic during his visit, but can you see how similar these situations are?
I'm sure that in our more realistic dream, the Turkish prime minister would use exactly the same words as Vucic and “never admit that it was a genocide,” but still go to Tsitsernakaberd.
Confronting the past requires courage, and Vucic showed some this week. He definitely knew that if Serbia wants to be a part of the civilized world and find peace, he had to attend the 20th commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide in order to show that Serbia is ready to confront its shameful past.
Whenever I say this, I receive two types of responses. The first type says that these two incidents are not comparable, that Serbia lost the war but Turkey won, so I shouldn't expect an apology from the winner, as winners don't apologize. I also receive responses asking why I don't ever write about the Hocaly genocide Armenians committed against Azeris, or about the Akkerman Turks of Crimea, or the Muslim minority in Greece, the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, or the Uyghur Turks in China. Indeed, all these subjects deserve an article each, but in this article, I would like to express a selfish approach.
These are not Turkey's problems, these are Turks' problems. These are Armenia's, Russia's, Geece's, Bulgaria's or China's problems. Of course, they have to confront the atrocities they committed, but it is something for those countries' prime ministers to confront. If they do, their countries will benefit. My attitude is that it is important to first clean out the closet. Should winners sometimes apologize? I believe so, if they have the conscience to, and if the truth sets everyone free.