Kadir Akin, with his second book, paves the way for Turkish socialists to pursue their common history with Armenians faithfully and intersectionally, to offer a perspective on what has been left out of history of socialists on the lands they live today.
BY CIHAN ERDAL
Paul Ricoeur, in Memory, History, Forgetting (2004)*, argues that ‘no such thing as a historical reality exists readymade, so that science merely has to reproduce it faithfully. The historical reality, because it is human, is ambiguous and inexhaustible’ (p. 334).
In his book Sakli Tarihin Izinde: Osmanli’da Modernlesme, Anayasa, Sosyalizmin Kökleri ve Ermeni Vekiller (Tracing the Hidden History: Modernization, Constitution, the Roots of Socialism and Armenian Deputies in the Ottoman Empire), Kadir Akin traces the history of the socialist movement led by Armenian intellectuals and deputies as the members of the Chamber of Deputies of the Ottoman Empire during the Second Constitutional Monarchy (1908-1915) not as an academic-historian but as a socialist-intellectual and engaged-researcher.
As a researcher who is committed to contributing to a more faithful relationship with the historical reality of Turkey, Akin attends to challenge both the nationalistic/’right-wing’ and alternative/’left-wing’ accounts of the past, by shedding light on the pivotal roles of Armenian, Greek, Jewish, and Bulgarian revolutionaries in the emergence of socialist politics in the late Ottoman era. In his preface to the book, Ertugrul Kürkçü, the current Honorary President of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), aptly describes Akin’s endeavour as the following:
“Rather than doing historiography, he wants to contribute to the restoration of the wounded (historical) consciousness of the Left by calling on historians and historiography to help. Sakli Tarihin Izinde invites the socialist movement with all its fractions, the Left, libertarian and critical citizens to re-approach the state, nation, republic, democracy and socialism in the context of the Armenian Genocide (p. 17-18)”.
Akin’s first book Armenian Revolutionary Paramaz, which was published in April 2015 (Dipnot Yayinlari), should also be regarded as an invitation to the Turkish Left to recall the struggle of Armenian socialist Paramaz (Matdeos Sarkisyan), who was one of the leading militants of the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (SDHP).
The assassination of Hrant Dink marked a milestone for reckoning with the past evils of our country, particularly for our generation in Turkey who engaged in politics throughout the 2000s. The unforgettable chain of conscience and minds of the country, following our great loss, unsettled the dominant, hostile imaginaries of Armenians, who had been taught to us over decades as being ‘giaours’, ‘nationalist separatists’, ‘traitors’, or ‘spies’ by the Kemalist historiography.
Particularly striking is that the discursive-imaginary orientation of the Turkish Left towards its past has never been fully free of such dominant-nationalist modes of approaching history. The narrative of the past struggles of socialists in Turkey in the 20th century has predominantly built on the heroic stories of some prominent political figures, who suffered from execution, exile, imprisonment, or torture.
However, until the time Akin’s book was published in 2015, very few of the socialists, leftists, and democrats in Turkey knew the name of the Armenian Revolutionary Paramaz, who was, after an unlawful trial that lasted for 17 days, executed with 19 other comrades in Beyazit Square in 1915.
Such shameful disregard and silence, indeed, was not accidental, given the fact that the hegemonic discourse in the Left used to see no harm in starting its historical trajectory with the foundation of the Turkish Communist Party in 1920 and the significant role of its founder Mustafa Suphi.
Kadir Akin unearths the truth that the Turkish socialists embodied the chauvinist perspective for so long, which historically categorized the political Armenian groups as the ones who were in cahoots with the imperialists.
In an interview with Akin (Sert, 2021)***, the writer describes how excited he was when he first read Paramaz’s defense at the Van Court while he was on trial in 1897, and highlights Paramaz’s internationalist political perspective:
“Our demand is to live on equal terms with Armenians, Turks, Kurds, Greeks, Alevis, Laz, Yazidis, Syriacs, Arabs and Copts. As a revolutionary, I believe we will achieve this goal. (…) We are not nationalists, we are not guided by the ”nation-building motivation”. We are friends of the people, not chauvinistic nationalists. We know that a nationalist rule will maintain the same order. Our demand is that all inhabitants of Armenia, Armenians, Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Laz, Circassians, Assyrians, Yazidis and Mitrib elect their own rulers by their own will and vote. We demand this future for all inhabitants of Armenia, for all Ottoman peoples”.
Uncovering a forgotten past
Kadir Akin, with his second book Sakli Tarihin Izinde, paves the way for Turkish socialists to pursue their common history with Armenians faithfully and intersectionally, to offer a perspective on what has been left out of history of socialists on the lands they live today.
Akin makes it clear that there is more scholarly, political, and ethical effort needed in encountering the struggles of Armenian, Greek, Jewish, and Bulgarian socialists in the late Ottoman era, which has faded into oblivion over decades and has not yet been recognized adequately.
While uncovering this forgotten past, Akin meticulously provides a broader narrative in the book for readers to comprehend the historical conditions in which those Armenian intellectuals-deputies fought for their revolutionary ideas. This includes the poverty brought by the economic destruction during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid, the 1908 Workers’ Strikes, how the demands of the Christian peoples of the Ottoman were suppressed under the Islamist policies of Abdulhamid, the relations between the Unionists and Armenian politicians who opposed the tyranny, the conflicts between the Armenian Parties (EDF and SDHP) and the initiatives of their coalition-building, and importantly, how the path to the Armenian genocide has been developed.
What makes Akin’s contribution unique is that it redeems the past struggles of Armenian deputies—including Krikor Zohrab, Hampartzum Boyaciyan, Vartkes Serangülyan, Vahan Papazyan, and Dimitar Wlahof– who served in the General Assembly of the Ottoman Empire (1908-1915) as the leading actors of a movement for socialism, equality, and freedom for all peoples of Ottoman.
How many of us had knowledge about their existence and struggles? How many of us knew about Vahan Papazyan speaking out on the education policies (May 8, 1911), Vartkes Serengülyan defending the labor rights against capitalist class, or the historic speech of Hampartzum Boyaciyan on workers’ fraternity (May 13, 1909) in the Chamber of Deputies?
Kadir Akin illustrates how Armenian deputies believed in the internationalist fight for the workers’ fraternity, women’s rights, freedom of the press, and socialism, which would break down prejudices between and unite all the people of the Ottoman.
Sakli Tarihin Izinde offers a proposal to reimagine the unforgotten past, the past-present relations, and the future of internationalist-socialist struggle in Turkey. Re-approaching the history of socialist movement alongside the truth which Kadir Akin enables us to recognize, journeying to the path for a multicultural, democratic, and equal society becomes more possible.
Recalling the radical history does not only transform our collective memory, but also expands the capability for building a different country and world ahead.
* Ricoeur, Paul (2004) Memory, History, Forgetting. Translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London.
** Akin, Kadir (July 2021) Sakli Tarihin Izinde: Osmanli’da Modernlesme, Anayasa, Sosyalizmin Kökleri ve Ermeni Vekiller. Dipnot Yayinlari
** Sert, Soner (2021, August 26). “Kadir Akin: Sosyalist hareket tarih bilincinden yoksun durumda”, Gazete Duvar. https://www.gazeteduvar.com.tr/kadir-akin-sosyalist-hareket-tarih-bilincinden-yoksun-durumda-haber-1532607
About Cihan Erdal
Cihan Erdal is a doctoral researcher in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University in Canada. His research interests include social movements, activist youth cultures, contemporary experiences of time and temporalities, memory studies, neoliberalism, intersectionality, citizenship and social policy.