An independent research project on the Greek Ottoman genocide that started in 1912
Six foot installation with original artwork of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
A Law to Be Remembered By
“Peace at home, peace in the world.” This was said by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, army general, founder of Turkey and active participant in the Greek Genocide. The Greek Genocide started in 1914 when the Ottoman Empire, operating in current day Turkey, feared that the Greeks living in Asia Minor would aid their enemies in WWI. The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) that took power in 1908 claimed that the Christian Greeks were tainting the population and threatening the integrity of the Muslim majority. It started as any genocide has, with cultivated hatred and gradual isolation of the Greek Ottomans. This charge for separation was led by the German Palestine Bank, which urged Muslims at the time to cut off all commercial dealings, and then proceeded to take away all privileges and basic human rights. The Ottoman Empire initiated the first phase of extermination by deporting 250,000 Greeks from Thrace, claiming that the people living there were planning a revolution. Next came drafting all healthy Greek men into labor battalions and eliminating all privileges, such as that ability to own property and valuables. It ended with full denial that it ever happened. I did a lot of research about the horrors that Greek people went through during this time, but then I remembered the cycle of genocide that we were taught. I remembered that while some aspects of the Greek Genocide were unique to it, genocide follows a pattern. I decided to focus on a person then, one that could have stopped this genocide with the wave of his hand. He did not stop it, but actively participated and led this genocide: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Another aspect of this genocide that interested me was the idea of Turkification, which is part of the reasoning for genocide, to have one Muslim nation-state. The Turkish Students Association at Columbia University said about Ataturk and his actions following WWI, “The new homogeneous nation-state stood in sharp contrast to the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire out of whose ashes it arose,” meaning to say that the genocide was successful in its mission to eradicate every minority. This genocide is not recognized by nearly any nation, considering the fact that there is a statue of Ataturk in a city that he burned to the ground, one in Washington D.C., and another housed in Australia. The effects of this genocide are clear even today with 97.8% of Turkey identifying as Muslim. In my project, I wanted to represent that there are levels of motivation and deceit that cannot be fully registered in 2D, whether they come from pride or clouded military ideals.
The main idea for my project centered around Turkish Law #5816, in which people in Turkey are silenced from defaming Ataturk’s legacy. No person can stand against him without fear of a ruined life and five year prison sentence. Arslan Bulut, a journalist with the opposition Yenicag newspaper said, "nearly 80 years after his death, he remains the poster boy of modern Turkey," which can perhaps give an explanation as to why he is so heavily protected. There are statues of him in a town that he burned down, and still his poster is hung up in schools. I focused on this aspect because I find it very interesting that an entire government and people can be legally required to forget about crimes that have been committed. Eight years of horrific history were erased to make one man a hero.
The main message I want to convey is that a person can be capable of both terrible and amazing things and that the terrible cannot be overlooked so that an individual can be worshipped. Ataturk was an early feminist, and that is an incredible thing concerning any leader, but he commited genocide. He fought for equality and dragged his nation out of the mud of being a slave to another, but he commited genocide. However many great things he accomplished as the founder of Turkey, there are over 1,000,000 people that never got the chance to accomplish anything. Over one million people were torn from their home and their families and their lives, and they have been forgotten. Visit 1606 23rd Street, NW, Washington, DC and you will see a statue of Ataturk, tall and proud. He may have been proud of his actions, it doesn’t mean that we should be.
There is a spiral of denial in Turkey, one that started in its early days and is still being broadcast: Turkey did not commit a genocide. I wanted to represent this in my exhibition, the further you go into the spiral, instead of it becoming more construed, there are new measures of the truth. During this project, I have found myself to be very adaptable, and that is not a quality I come into lightly. I am usually very afraid to change a concept and to improve it, because that means it was not perfect in the first place. This project has helped me grow. I have always been the artsy type, but I took a new direction in showing off my skills in digital art. I constructed this project from start to finish by myself, with a lot of support from my peers and it has allowed me to be confident in my individual abilities.