Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Turkish Armed Forces To Return Seized Documents to Turkish Government

I wanted to briefly highlight an interesting piece in Today's Zaman from last week entitled "General Staff to return documents seized in coup times" which involves the return of seized documents from one part of the Turkish government to another.  The article reports that the Turkish Armed Forces are "aiming" to return documents seized "from the Office of the President, the Prime Ministry and Parliament during the May 27, 1960 and Sept. 12, 1980 military interventions" to "their rightful owners." The piece notes that
In addition to key information about the events that occurred during the two coups, the archives to be returned include documents on the Dersim massacre of 1938 and the 1915 killings of Armenians under the Ottoman administration. There are thousands of official documents, orders and images among the archives, which were seized from various institutions.
The article states that the documents are expected to be delivered "by Sept. 12, 2012" and that "[h]istorians and researchers will be able to access these documents for research once they have been returned."

Why are they doing this now?  The article notes that the Turkish Parliament is "preparing to establish a new commission to investigate Turkey's past military takeovers at the request of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan" and that the return of the documents "is also part of a wider project by the military to consolidate its archives." Given the reference to some of the documents including information relevant to the "1915 killings of Armenians under the Ottoman administration," however, I also wonder whether the timing could also be related to the recent controversy between Turkey and France over a proposed French law criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide.  In late February, the French Constitutional Council struck down the draft law, but, as the N.Y. Times reported,
controversy over the bill is likely to persist, however.  President Nicolas Sarkozy, who backed the legislation, vowed to submit a new bill with revised language.  He has in the past indicated that he would push to see that denial of an Armenian genocide is made a crime even if the council ruled against the draft law.
Finally, an aspect of the article that might raise a red flag for archivists is the repeated references to the armed forces "reorganizing" and "re-categorizing" the documents prior to returning them, which may present concerns about the preservation of context.