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Modus Ponendo Tollens! The Armenian Genocide
Let me try to tie in three events that marked me as an Armenian from the Diaspora over the past few days.

16 June 2018   |   Armenian Issues   |   Subject  The Armenian Genocide

On 24 April 2018, millions of Armenians worldwide commemorated the 103rd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Although Armenians in the Republic - in cities like Yerevan, Gyumri or Vanadzor - were busy with the protests they were waging against an oligarchical system that had ruled the Republic for some two decades, they nonetheless took a pause of one day in order to visit Tsitsernakaberd (the Genocide Monument in Yerevan) and honour all those who were killed in this nasty chapter of history. In the Diaspora, from Paris to Buenos Aires, and from Beirut to Sydney, Armenians also came together to think of those who lost their lives in those atrocities that started in 1896, continued in 1909 and reached their apogee in 1915-1923.

But whilst Turkey shuffles its feet and refuses to recognise a genocide that also sadly slaughtered Assyrians and Pontic Greeks, the serious academic world is well beyond ‘researching’ the Armenian Genocide. Many international associations, not least the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), as well individual witnesses, historians, lawyers, psychologists and even some politicians, have posited time and again the incontrovertible evidence and unarguable veracity of this ugly event.

However, the modern-day Turkish establishment and its apologists continue relentlessly to deny this genocide with rehearsed and glib arguments that are truly farcical were they not also shameful and odious. Simply put, Armenians were almost wiped off the Ottoman map during the period 1915 till 1923 in a policy that was prompted as much by a Turkish Ottoman desire for exclusive dominion over a Pan-Turkic region as it was by a scarred sense of vindictiveness for its humiliating defeat in WWI. One need only read Donald Bloxham’s thoughtful The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism and the Destruction of Ottoman Armenians or Taner Akçam’s trenchant A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility (that uses Ottoman Turkish state documents and contemporary Turkish statements) to corroborate that the genocide against Armenians was a gripping reality. The city of Trabzon for example, where Hrant Dink’s killer in 2007 purportedly originated from, is simply one example amongst countless others of “killing members of a group” or “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” (according to the definition in Art II [a] & [c] of the Genocide Convention 1948) when Turkish authorities in 1915 herded thousands of Armenians on boats, set them off into the Black Sea and later drowned them with remorseless impunity.

Given this sobering reality, I believe that Turkish insistence on denial and its refusal to admit the guilt of its predecessor regime of the crime of genocide stems in part from a psychological phenomenon of overweening pride and a collective defensiveness against being accused of a criminal stigma that Turks in their opinion could not have possibly committed at the time. But as was written in an editorial I read a while back, if Turkey were to be candid about its past rather than hide behind threats, intimidation and obfuscations, it would also recall that Sultan Mehmed V tried to distance himself in 1916 from the actions of the CUP, the ‘state within the state’, and reassured the British Government that the perpetrators of those egregious crimes would be punished - as was the case with the four trials whose proceedings were included in the government gazette.

When Recep Tayyip Erdoğan moved from his job as Mayor of Istanbul and became prime minister in 2004, I recall telling a Turkish academic friend of mine that this might well be a kairos when Armenians and Turks would settle the issue of the genocide. However, I was quite wrong as I had overestimated Erdogan’s temperament and truthfulness. And alas, this phase of denial has intensified once more despite the encouraging initial steps adopted by Turkey in 2005 when negotiations for its possible accession to the EU started formally. Consequently, those hopes I had are receding, and a spirit of jingoism is settling in Turkey that is antithetical with any aspect of human rights or basic freedoms. Instead of moving forward, Turkey now shows perceptible signs of regression. Articles 301 or 312 of the Turkish Penal Code that have prosecuted Turks and non-Turks alike, those living in the country or abroad, either for “defaming Turkishness” or for “insulting Ataturk”, are stark examples of legal harassment and physical intimidation. Those who have suffered the brunt of such laws over the years include names that we in Europe might perhaps recognise such as Orhan Pamuk, Murat Belge, Elif Safak, Ragip Zarakolu, former EU Commissioner Joost Lagendjik, Supreme Head of the Armenian Apostolic Church HH Karekin II, the British artist Michael Dickinson and Taner Akçam. But there are a myriad other invisible Turks who are no less important and who have paid the price too.

When will Turkey decide to adopt a post-nationalist attitude to history? When will it realise that every time it strives to curtail any discussion on the Armenian Genocide, it draws wider attention to the subject of its culpability and inevitably links today’s Turkey with the crimes of its predecessor regime? When will it acknowledge history and in so doing also respect the memory of all the righteous Turks who risked life and limb during the genocide by protecting and sheltering Armenian friends and neighbours? When will certain elements within Turkish society realise that their campaign of vilification, libel, duplicity and smut on different Internet websites against prominent Turkish, Armenian or foreign scholars and journalists is not only scurrilous but depicts Turks in a less favourable light? Should Turkey not underline - rather than undermine - its forward-looking credentials? Yet when anyone - from the President of France to the Pope in Rome - speaks out about the Armenian genocide, a taboo gets breached and Turkish verbal sparks fly everywhere.

Contrary to many Armenian colleagues, I would argue that there is a large swathe of Armenians both in the Republic and in the Diaspora who are willing to bury the hatchet and move forward in their ties with Turkey. True, there are Armenian slogans against Turkey that are vitriolic too, but they are only one part of the story. There are equally many Armenians who wish an end to this conflict. However, for this reconciliation to occur genuinely and lead toward a rapprochement, Turkish chauvinism should expire, and the Turkish establishment must listen to some of its own academics and come clean on the genocide. The majority of Turks - minus the intelligentsia - do not know any better because there is a near-total curfew on knowledge (and therefore ignorance) about this subject-matter in Turkey today. Armenians in my opinion are willing to show a necessary measure of soul-searching about their 103-year-old bereavement. But it is unconscionable to expect them to move forward, forgive or forget or both, whilst there has been no apology or recognition or even the hint of a mea culpa coming out of Turkey that would help the healing process for both peoples.

Let me come back to the protests in Armenia that occurred over a month ago. Armenians paused for a day and visited the Genocide Monument to place a carnation near the eternal flame in memory of those martyrs who were sainted by the Armenian Apostolic Church. But they then returned to their protests in order to rid their homeland of the oppression that was stifling their future lives and hopes. If this means anything to me, it means that Armenians - especially the younger generations - thirst for life. They want to celebrate it and aspire to move forward. It is almost theological, isn’t it, with images of the cross leading to the Resurrection?

I started off my piece with a classicist philosophical expression: modus ponendo tollens. Indeed, it is my argument that Turkey has adopted a mode of ‘affirmation by denial’ that needs to end so that everyone - Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks - can stop using the past tense and focus instead on the future.

This article appeared in the Spring / Summer 2018 issue of “Christians Aware” magazine

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   Armenian Issues   |   16 June 2018


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