Turks have long endured Armenian accusations of genocide by the Ottoman state under the triarchy of Enver, Cemal and Talat despite the fact that Turks have repudiated the Ottoman state in 1923. Moreover, Armenians are a small but free minority in Turkey now, and have long enjoyed many more freedoms to maintain their ethnic identity than have the Kurds, although this is now changing slowly in favour of the Kurds.
The Turks are anxious to deny the charge of genocide, fearing that admitting it would burden them with compensation claims. Besides, the historical record is contested, despite the fact that even some Turkish historians like Taner Akçam and Halil Berktay claim that there was a genocide.
I have found from my own incomplete and sporadic inquiries into this question that there is a much greater diversity of views on this among Turkish historians than among the Armenians. I also discovered that there are at least three different positions.
1. There was no genocide, but an attempt to relocate the Armenian population from the main population centres in the South-East of what is now Turkey because of their alignment with the Russian side. Many Armenians died in the process of being moved, but there was neither an intent nor a motive nor a plan to exterminate them.
2. There were orders issued to kill the Armenians who were found to be supporting the Russians, but in certain areas, these orders were rather freely interpreted by the local governors. Nevertheless, it did not amount to a genocide.
3. There were orders issued to kill off the Armenians which were carried out not only in Erzurum, Kars, Van, etc, but also elsewhere in Turkey as well.
Turkish historians can be found supporting each of these positions. On the other hand, some records show that after the first world war, British attempts to establish the massacres failed, and those Ottoman officials who had been arrested and removed to Cyprus on charges that they were involved had to be released.
If practicing historians have grounds to differ among themselves to such an extent, then it probably means that the evidence is inconclusive, and it is wise for those of us who are not practicing historians to keep an open mind on this question, examine as much of the evidence as we can, keep up with the the debate among historians, and make up our own minds on the basis of the most compelling evidence and its interpretation - not an easy task for most of us.
I also believe that even if genocide is eventually proven, there is no international law under which the present Turkish state can be held to be responsible. The German practice of compensation to the Jews is not a comparable precedent because the events in the German case were much more recent, many of the perpetrators were still alive, many of them were corporate entities like Bayer, and there was also a large element of guilt on the part of the German people which compensation went some way to assuaging. The responsibility of the present Turkish state towards the descendants of the victims of such a genocide is not even a moral one, just as I cannot be reasonably be held to be morally responsible for any crimes committed by my grandfather.
There IS a frequently ignored moral dimension to this issue, however, and that dimension exists even if there was no genocide. What happened here was that large numbers of people were victimized (either “ethnically cleansed”, killed through neglect or just massacred). But there is a moral responsibility for everyone, Turks AND others, to try and ensure that such crimes (and victimization of innocent people IS a crime) are never repeated again. To be more specific, there is a responsibility to ensure that innocent people are not victimized for actions taken by their leaders. This is what has happened repeatedly and with impunity under the auspices of the Great and the Good - the so-called international community - in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq, to cite only the cases in the last fifteen years.
When Turks defend themselves (unnecessarily in my view) by claiming that there was no genocide, only a movement of populations, they forget that this is not really a defence against a crime, because what was done was bad enough. What was done was wrong for the same reason that the actions of the Israeli government in Palestine, of France in Algeria, of India in Kashmir and the north-east of the country, of the US in Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq and a number of other countries, are wrong. The fact that the ethnic cleansing was done to stop the contamination of the Armenian population with Russian instigation against the Ottoman state does not make it right, but it is certainly a lesser crime than killing them off. And because we live in the kind of world that we do, it may sometimes be necessary to commit a lesser wrong to avoid committing a larger one. But it still remains a moral truth that innocent people should not be victimized for the actions of their leaders.
If I were a Turk, my position would be as follows: I’m not sure that there was a genocide. But even if there was, it changes nothing for the present. I cannot, and don’t need to, either defend or apologize for a crime committed 90 years ago. Secondly, even if there was no genocide, whatever happened there was bad enough. That's why we should say or do nothing to trivialise the pain of those who lost their family in those horrendous events. We should instead ascertain the truth of what happened, as far as possible, understand why they happened, and learn from the events how to prevent their recurrence. As citizens of the 21st century, we should try and ensure, in whatever way possible, that such victimization of innocent people does not recur anywhere in the world.
Any other stance – either of indifference or of partisanship – increases the chances of similar things happening again.