Genocide 100Society

BBC: Armenian tragedy still raw in Turkey 100 years on

On the threshold of the Armenian Genocide centennial, the BBC presents a report about Sevag Balikci, an ethnic Armenian killed in the Turkish army. 

Sevag Balikci never got to see his new bedroom.

His family, ethnic Armenians from Turkey, moved into their Istanbul apartment at the start of 2011.

Sevag was finishing his military service in the south-east. On 24 April, aged 25, he was shot dead by a fellow recruit.

The judge called it an accident, sentencing the killer to four years in prison. The family is convinced it was an intentional act by a Turkish nationalist, timed for maximum effect.

The 24th April is the date on which Armenians commemorate the darkest moment in their history: when – 100 years ago this week – they began to be rounded up in a crumbling Ottoman Empire and were deported or killed.

“The genocide was being commemorated and the killer wanted to intimidate people through my son,” says Ani Belakci, Sevag’s mother.

“An Armenian had to die on that day – and Sevag was available.

“The authorities have leant on witnesses to change statements – it suits them to say it’s an accident.”

“A century ago, my family were killed in the genocide – and now one of their descendants, my son, has met the same fate.”

Three hundred Turkish intellectuals signed a petition asking Armenia for forgiveness, among them Ahmet Insel, a professor at Galatasaray University.

“This was a genocide and a crime against humanity,” he says, standing outside the Islamic Arts museum in Istanbul, the site where the first Armenians were rounded up.

“Turkey has a moral obligation to recognise it as such, so as to become a civilised modern democracy.”

He says he does not expect formal recognition within the next 10 years.

“The charge of genocide could mean Armenians claim financial compensation from Turkey – that’s one factor holding it back.”

At the heart of Istanbul’s Armenian cemetery lies the grave of Sevag Balikci. A marble slab bears his name, picture and the date: 24 April 2011.

But among the surrounding graves, not a single one dates from 1915.

In fact, there is no cemetery in Turkey dedicated to those victims, such is the refusal to mark what happened.

A sign, say Turkey’s critics, of a country still unable to face its past.

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