A Ground-Breaking Turkish Conference : The Social and Economic History of Mardin Region, 1838-1938

A Ground-Breaking Turkish Conference : The Social and Economic History of Mardin Region, 1838-1938 09 November 2012
Mardin Turkey - Hrant Dink Foundation organised a conference entitled "The Social and Economic History of Mardin and the Region" in Mardin on November 2-3, co-sponsored by Mardin Chamber of Physicians, Mardin Law Society, KAMER Mardin Office, Mardin Film Society and Tur Abdin Syriac Culture and Solidarity Association. The aim of the meeting was to look at the social and economic development of Mardin and its environs between 1838 and 1938. The genocide perpetrated against the Christian population of the region in 1915 was also discussed extensively. It was said that being able to talk about these issues in Mardin was already a big achievement as it would have been impossible to have such a meeting in the past.

Opening Remarks

In the opening remarks of the event, Rakel Dink, mentioned the continuing sorrow and anguish experienced by the population of Anatolia [Turkey] today. She said: "In order to have democracy in a country, freedom and justice should be ensured for all citizens. Nobody can say that there is justice, nobody can mention that there is respect for the right to life, and nobody can claim that there is democracy in this country." Her reference was not only to the treatment to Armenians and Assyrians, but also to Kurds and others seeking the right to represent themselves without fear. In his own introductory remarks, Cengiz Aktar, from the Hrant Dink Foundation, focused on that fact that Turkish schools today still contained disgraceful statements about non-Muslim minorities.

Mardin 1915

Rakel Dink’s and Cengir Aktar’s somber remarks were echoed in David Gaunt’ keynote speech which gave a powerful depiction of how the local Christian population of Mardin—composed mainly of Assyrians and Armenians—was destroyed in a matter of a few months in 1915. He discussed the public humiliation of community leaders, who were chained and marched away in a procession leading to their murder. Gaunt stressed that Mardin was a major centre for the destruction of Christians in 1915. The entire population of Mardin—Gaunt aluded to Muslims—witnessed what happened. There was an almost theatrical aspect to the murders, because the pretty terraced houses of the city faced the plain on which the terrible killings were taking place. Gaunt’s stressed that the Mardin Conference was no ordinary conference: participants should not lose sight of the fact that a significant part of the local population that defined the area’s "social and economic history” was destroyed in 1915.

Panels and Discussion
The two-day meeting was organised in five sessions, each one covering much of the neglected, and often denied, history of the region: "A General Panorama of Mardin and it's Surroundings", "Ethnic Diversity ", "Third Party Intervention and Emerging Nationalisms", "Violence, Pogrom and Genocide ", "Post-traumatic Survival." The participants included well-known academics from abroad, such as David Gaunt, Eden Naby, Michael Abdalla, Andrew Palmer, Nineb Lamassu, Martin Tamcke, Naures Atto, Ara Sarafian, Hilmar Kaiser, Raymond Kevorkian, Ishkhan Chiftjian and Aryo Makko, as well as scholars from Turkey, such as Fusun Alioglu, Osman Koker, Elcin Macar, Ayse Gul Altinay, Suavi Aydin.

In the first day Fusun Alioglu introduced "Traditional Houses of Mardin", Osman Koker looked at "Population, Economy and Cultural Diversity in the Sandjak of Mardin at the beginning of the 20th Century,” Ara Sarafian focused on a case-study "Mapping Communities, 1878” while Abdurrahim Ozmen touched upon the traumas of Assyrians living in the area.

The second day of the conference concentrated on social intervention, nationalism and pogroms. The first session mentioned the missionaries and their institutions in the area; Mardin and its people between mid-19th century and end of WWI; Assimilation of an Assyrian village, Maare; Ethnic identity of Assyrians and Germans in Mardin. The second session examined the massacres, deportations and genocide. Suphi Aksoy and Tuma Celik talked about the deportations from Hakkari; Raymond Kevorkian indicated the common fate of Syriacs and Armenians in 1915; while Hilmar Kaiser presented his research about an earlier massacre of Yezidis. The last session discussed Post-traumatic survival. Ishkhan Chiftjian delivered some testimonies of Armenian and Syriac genocide survivors; Ayse Gul Altinay and Ramazan Aras talked about Islamised Armenians and Muslim Armenian Identity in the post 1915 Era.

Closing Remarks
The closing remarks were provided by Cengiz Aktar and David Gaunt. They agreed that there was a slow process in coming to terms with Turkey's tragic past and noted that eventalking about the real history of the TurAbdin region of Mardin would have proved impossible ten years earlier. The reference was to the recent restitution and renovation of an ancient Assyrian Monastery at TurAbdin to the Assyrian church. It was also noted that there was still insufficient material available to scholars working on this region. The was a need for further academic research in order to fully understand the area.

Some Final Comments

The main setback of this conference was the fact that there were too many papers in back to back panels. Consequently, each presentation was limited to 15 minutes, instead of 45. Some presentations were clearly curtailed by time limitations, but they continued to be discussed over the conference tea-breaks, lunches and dinners. While the Hrant Dink Foundation will make a conference video available on its website www.hrantdink.org sometime in December, the full conference papers will not be published until mid-2013.

The Mardin conference is a living testament to the good work carried out by the Hrant Dink Foundation, which was established in 2007 in the memory of Hrant Dink, the Turkish-Armenian journalist who was assassinated in Istanbul on 19 January 2007. Hrant Dink was an exponent of human rights and democracy in Turkey.;
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