Bilhan’s AMB (R) Speech for Balkans Conference

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Murat Bilhan’s AMB (R) statement during the conference on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Balkan War, hosted by Hacettepe University in İstanbul, on Saturday 6th of October 2012....

Murat Bilhan’s AMB (R) statement during the conference on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Balkan War, hosted by Hacettepe University in İstanbul, on Saturday 6th of October 2012.

Distinguished participants,

I have chosen a topic that is both very controversial, as well as very sensitive in all sectors of our region. Having been a member of a family of Balkan origin, from both parents, I feel that it is some kind of a moral obligation for me to remember and also to remind others of this issue. The important thing here is that Balkan history- no matter how bloody and traumatic it may be- should not be used today as a source of vendetta, vengeance, retaliation or for the misdeeds of the past by any Balkan nation. On the contrary, it should be used to learn lessons from mistakes, to heal the wounds and scars and maybe, even trigger a consequential reconciliation of all parties in the region, on the model of Franco-German and all-European rapprochement after the Second World War. Being a member of a nation, and a family, having long suffered from the brutalities and atrocities of different forms of violence in the Balkans, I would like to underline that the intention of my presentation is just to look for ways and means of rapprochement, not to incite counter-violence.

The most tragic episode of the Balkan War of 1912-1913 has been the mass exodus of peoples in the region. Among the peoples, the most populated, and at the same time the most suffered ones, have been the Turks. This dramatic episode during the War has not been dealt with thoroughly and deservedly, despite the existence of many references and documents. Despite the fact that the annals of war written on all parties of the conflict, have been kept carefully by the military archives at the relevant countries, the civilian impacts have mostly been neglected, underestimated or even distorted. Turkish populations have been uprooted from their centuries-old homes, deprived of any human rights, in the contemporary sense, and pushed by force out of their fatherlands, considerable parts of which have been massacred. These actions have been described by terms such as genocide (see 1948 UN Convention), or even later as “ethnic cleansing“. To this day these crimes against humanity have not been punished, not even been mentioned but left to be forgotten into oblivion. Could anything be done now? Between one fifth to one third of the Anatolian population now in Turkey, consists of Balkan- origin people. The deep scars of this exodus are still being carried by the Turkish people and remnants of mutual resentment prevail in the region.

Main and big scale of Turkish migrations from the West, back into the East, i.e. to Anatolia have started in 1877-78 with the Turco-Russian War, when the Ottoman Empire was fatally and decisively defeated by its opponent, but amazingly restored from decease by the British Empire at the last moment with the heavy price of losing Cyprus. The second big wave was during and after the Balkan wars of 1912-1913. A very large flux of migration also happened during and after the First World War. One of the major migrations was due to the population exchange agreement between Turkey and Greece after the Turkish War of Independence, in the context of the Lausanne Treaty. During the Republican years of Turkey there has not only been shaking but also mutual migrations, triggered by various issues of friction, such as Bulgarian Turks’ forced migration as recent as the 1980s. On the model of Franco-German reconciliation, all the Balkan people should not forget to take lessons from their past mistakes, but should reconcile with each other and send the term “Balkanization“ as a term of denigration into history and replace it with eternal fraternity. These details will be elaborated in the statement.

If we look carefully to the past of the Balkan Peninsula, even earlier than the Ottoman rule, we see that many cross-migrations of nations, ethnicities, religious groups etc. Have taken place from all directions, during the course of millennia. The Balkans have lived in unity only under the rule of bigger external powers, such as Alexander the Great, The Hellenic Empire, The Roman Empire, The Byzantine Empire and The Ottoman Empire. For the rest of the Balkan history, we see chaos, intensive migration, wars, other conflicts, religious and ethnic violence and interference of extra-regional powers, the last of which has been the recent dismemberment of Yugoslavia.

The Balkans have always been a conglomerate of ethnicities, such as the Slavic groups Turkic groups, Hellenic groups, indigenous groups such as the Illyrians (present day Albanians), Romanic, or Latin groups –a legacy of the Roman empire- (such as the ethnically Slavic Romanians with Latin culture and language), later, groups from beyond such as the Armenians (during Byzantium) were introduced, Jewish groups (by the Ottomans in 1492) and Roman people (some indigenous and some immigres).

On the other hand the Balkans have also been a conglomerate of religious groups and sects. These could be mentioned as: the Orthodox groups (mainly coinciding with the Slavic and Hellenic groups), the Catholics (mainly consisting of Northern and Western Yugoslav peoples, such as the Slovenes, Croatians and some others, under the influence of the Austro- Hungarian Empire or the Hapsburg Dynasty), a little number of Protestant scattered in the Balkan countries, remaining from the Reformation years, some of them having adopted the sect because of the Germanic expansion, later to be followed by other European protestant countries and missionaries; Muslims by the Ottoman Empire ( Bosniacs, Albanians, Kosovars, Pomaks, etc.); Jews introduced and established by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th Century. This picture shows us that all mono-theist or Abrahamic religions exist in the Balkans.

Normally, one should expect that this grossly mixed group of a large variety of peoples- especially after their experiences under different empires as a unified part of these empires- should have established a pluralistic democratic society among themselves. But it has not turned out that way. There was always strife among them, as soon as the iron fist of the unifying power had been removed from over their heads, they moved into mutual self-destruction. One of the reasons for this phenomenon has been that almost each one of these countries has had ambitious nationalistic and territorial designs against another. Such as for instance, greater Bulgaria, greater Romania, greater Serbia, greater Macedonia, greater Albania, the “Megali idea“ of Greece etc. Even Turkey has begun to be accused, recently, of so-called “Neo-ottomanism“.

These irrational demands of expansionist and selfish ultra nationalist designs have been followed, based on the greedy and conflicting interests of extra-regional (meaning non-Balkan) bigger powers, such as Russia, Germany, Britain, Italy etc. and nowadays maybe the USA.

From the perspective of migration to and from the Balkans, we should also be careful not to concentrate and squeeze all the problems or issues into a very narrow and recent time span because waves of migration started very early on in the Balkan region. Just take the Turkic waves of migration. The encounter of these external waves of migrant tribes, among them Turkic Tribes with the indigenous groups of the region, such as the Albanians and Macedonians, moving from the frozen Russian steps (thermafrost) down into better climactic regions, such as fertile grazing lands and convenient soil for agriculture, have served as new homelands for those nomadic people to establish themselves. Among the pre-Ottoman Turkic ones, one can mention people such as the Golden Horde, Scythians, Kıpçak, Huns, Crimian Tartars and even the Bulgarians themselves who emigrated from the Tartar region. Their origins stem from the Kasan region in Asian Russia. They passed and crossed over the Black Sea region into their present homeland in Bulgaria during which they were converted to the Orthodox sect of Christianity by the Russian and Slavic culture dominating it presently. A similar yet different transformation happened to the Romanians under the influence of the Roman Empire they adopted their present Latin language etc.

During the most recent years this has been the main cause of conflict in the Balkans. This can be explained by the fact that the ethnic and religious groups are spread throughout the whole of the Balkan area, not distributed in conformity with the official borders. There are overlapping maps of population in the region. For instance there are about 850 thousand Turks in Bulgaria and in lesser numbers in other Balkan Countries. There are minorities and communities of every ethnic and religious group in the territory of the other.

Now, I would like to conclude my statement with some remarks on what to do next:

First- Hate speech, vengeance, vendetta, intolerance to differences, extremist nationalism, xenophobia, prejudices and other forms of religious and ethnic racism and separatism, creating among the already others, more “others“, should be avoided and put into the garbage box of history.

Second- By throwing into the garbage I don’t mean that what happened in the past should be forgotten. On the contrary, we should always remember the mistakes of the past and see how meaningless, awkward and absurd they were and learn from them.

Third- We should work together intensively to eliminate all hate literature in our school curriculum to avoid the poisoning of younger generations.

Fourth- We should take good examples from our immediate past such as the post Second World War rapprochement and reconciliation among European nations, not still ongoing bad examples from the middle-east.

Fifth- we should encourage our scientists and historians to work together to reach objective results.

Thank you, I shall be very grateful for any remarks, comments and questions. Thank you for your patience.

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