‘You Will Burn in Hell’

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‘You Will Burn in Hell’

By Ismail Akbulut

“You will burn in hell! Since you’ve committed treason, you’re no longer worthy to carry out God’s mission!” That’s a curse recently hurled at me by one of my own relatives, a Muslim Turk, in reaction to my latest op-ed: “Why I Am Grateful to Erdogan, the Dictator of Turkey” [Armenian Mirror-Spectator, November 4] My sin was to violate two of the most “sacred” narratives of Turkish mythology.

In the Islamic tradition, Muslims believe that there is life after death. Either one is cast into hell as a punishment for sins, or is granted access to pass through the gates of paradise. Obviously, no Muslim wants as his or her fate to spend eternity in hell. Why, then, would my own family member curse me with this fate instead of send me loving blessings? Here I will respond to some of the reactions to my previous article, and elaborate on why some believe I have committed blasphemy.

Many Muslims tend to believe that God was on their side during certain historical periods, because of their personal piety and work towards protecting Islam in general. Frankly, today most supporters of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, believe that the Turkish-led Ottoman Empire was part of God’s divine mission, and they still grieve its defeat in 1922.

As some of my Turkish readers reminded me, in the official Turkish narrative held by many as sacred and inviolable, the Armenians were guilty for the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the land protected and favored by no other than God himself. The multiethnic and religiously diverse Ottoman Empire, known for its relative tolerance vis-à-vis its minorities, entered WWI as an ally of the Central Powers. In this construction of history, Armenians, considered as the “trustworthy citizens” of the Ottoman Empire, collectively committed treason by rebelling and collaborating with the enemies, including the Russians and French, against the “holy” Ottoman Empire.

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In this version, the “vulnerable” Ottoman Empire was “forced” to proactively relocate all Armenians, in order to protect them from Turks’ revenge and to protect Turks from Armenians as well. During the “required” relocation, many Armenians died due to inclement weather, or were killed by Kurdish rebels (not Turks). Therefore, as this narrative puts it, what happened was indeed unfortunate, but really just a part of the collective suffering of those nations involved at that time, and in this light, must not be considered a genocide.

As much as this “sacrosanct” myth attempts to address why at least hundreds of thousands of Armenians died (up to a million and a half), and so many were brutally deported, it ignores, disregards, and denies the massacres of Armenian intellectuals, men, women, and children in the heartland of the Ottoman Empire committed by Ottomans using state power and means. The official Turkish version, which silences history, lacks credibility as it has a lot of holes that can only be filled with cement, through categorically denying and destroying evidence of those crimes. Thus, I regard this version as an apologetic excuse for the crimes the Ottomans committed; a rewriting of history in which Turkish glory conveniently remain untainted.

Thus, my first heretical sin was to committed treason by collaborating with an Armenian newspaper, a newspaper that had been established by “traitors” who were responsible for the fall of the “holy” Ottoman Empire. But this is not all. No, my sins did not end there…

In Turkey, those that supported a greater role for religion in the public realm suffered under the Kemalist secularists for decades, until the rise of Erdogan in 2002. Many saw this as a sign from God, and here we come to the second “sacred” narrative, in which God came to redeem the pious in Turkey. He did this through empowering Erdogan, bestowing him with a divine mission to restore the Ottoman Empire from its ashes, like a phoenix. In this mythology, the figure of Erdogan portends the renaissance and Golden Age of Islam. His “holy” leadership deserves unconditional loyalty, as it is championed by God himself. Thus, arguing against him or criticizing him is equal to rebelling against God. Indeed, in this paradigm, a person who defies God deserves nothing more than to be cast into hellfire. I became a sinner the moment I criticized him and called him a dictator—according to this creed, I have committed a grave form of blasphemy and must burn. Sadly, even one of my own relatives is ready to throw me into the flames.

Well, this is not the end of this article. The wonderful news is that in fact, I also received overwhelmingly positive, encouraging, supporting, and heartening messages.

I received notes from a variety of readers including legislators, academics, journalists, authors, Turkish and Armenian intellectuals, religious leaders, human rights activists, and from friends and family who genuinely thanked me for the courage to articulate what thousands feel these days but don’t dare to say out loud.

Topics: Turkey

One private message from a prominent Armenian intellectual who recently fled Turkey, in which he commended me for my article, made me especially happy. Reading through all of the messages, I got the impression that most of the supportive voices are of those who suffer today or in the past from oppression by despotic regimes.

As I was raised in a background that preached the denial of the Armenian genocide for a century, I totally get it why some of the readers of Armenian background might look at me with suspicion, mistrust and mixed feelings. However, in my personal life as a practicing Muslim who lived his entire life in the West, I realize that we can only overcome mistrust if we listen to each other and try to understand one another. I am very hopeful that we can foster mutual understanding, caring friendships and a peaceful future if we open our ears, eyes and hearts for one another.

Today, I am more hopeful about the future than I was yesterday.

(Ismail Akbulut is board president of a Colorado-based non-profit, Multicultural Mosaic Foundation [http://www.mosaicfoundation.org/mmf/] [Twitter @IsmailDenver])