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The Armenian Genocide: Your Voice Still Matters Today!
First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me! Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)

24 April 2021   |   Armenian Issues   |   Subject  The Armenian Genocide

Those of you who follow events in the Southern Caucasus might well recall that a war broke out on the morning of 27 September 2020 along the Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact which had been established in the aftermath of an earlier war that had lasted from 1988 to 1994. The latest clashes ended on 9 November 2020 when Russia stepped in and mediated a truce between Azerbaijanis and Armenians. These six weeks were fierce and bloody, and the Armenians suffered a major defeat that saw parts of the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh (which Armenians call Artsakh) pass into Azerbaijani control.

One consequence of this war, given the demographic realities of the Caucasus, was that it fed into many Armenian psyches a livid fear that Turkey and Azerbaijan were intent upon a second genocide against Armenians - to complete what they had failed to achieve during WWI. This is a classic example of collective PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) even if the original trauma itself were over a century old.

But what is this century-old original trauma, and what is the organic vinculum between a war that was fought some six months ago and a genocide that occurred over one hundred years ago?

I should perhaps start off by briefly refreshing readers’ memories about a genocide that some scholars suggest was the first of the 20th century. This was a devastating tragedy tucked inside a carefully-planned crime, and most credible or independent scholars today agree that it resulted in the slaying of Armenians across Turkey, the deportation of others across the Syrian Desert and the displacement of new Armenian communities elsewhere in the Diaspora - including in the Arab World, where many Muslims offered hearth and home to Armenians fleeing to the Levant. Moreover, most social scientists and genocide scholars agree that this genocide conformed to the five benchmarks of the UN Genocide Convention of 1948.

I connect the defeat that Armenians suffered a few months ago and the concomitant fears that it released amongst them with the calamity that was visited upon Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in the same neighbourhood. Why? Because the savagery with which Armenians were persecuted during the genocide has remained in the genes of successive Armenian generations. And if you think haply that I am exaggerating in my reading of this chapter of Ottoman history, all you need to do is search on your computer the German physician Armin T Wegner and his many photographs of Armenian indescribable suffering.

However, despite testimonials or statements from many historians and politicians like our own Arnold Toynbee, James Bryce or Winston Churchill, recognition by some countries is nonetheless no closer today. They persist in their refusal to define these wholesale pogroms as genocide. Today, in 2021, the UK and Israel are two key countries that resist implacably to recognise the Armenian Genocide. To my mind, their unethical standpoints are a function of their geo-political interests. Recognition is no longer about moral or humanitarian considerations. It is about not ruffling Turkish sensitivities.

Throughout my professional life, I have often been besieged by the superior power of incessantly repeated lies. But my mind still boggles when I think that Israel, which itself suffered the Jewish Holocaust during WWII, would deny the Armenian genocide for crass political calculations. Read the new book by Professor Israel W Charny, Israel's Failed Response to the Armenian Genocide: Denial, State Deception, Truth versus Politicization of History, to gauge how politics intrudes violently into the realm of ethics.

Over many years, I have met people who often commiserated with the victims of the Armenian Genocide but who also queried whether it was practical to keep dredging up this issue - almost as a fixation - at every opportunity. Surely, their arguments suggested, an event that took place many cobwebby years ago should be laid to rest. I can certainly empathise with such feelings - after all, with a world constantly congested by genocidal events from Timor to Rwanda and Kosovo, let alone from the Muslim Rohingya people in Myanmar to Uighurs in the northwest of China, it is ‘distracting’ or perhaps even ‘embarrassing’ for our politicians to re-visit constantly the yellowing pages of history!

However, I disagree with this anachronistic justification! Even if I were to overrule the incontrovertible historical and legal body of evidence conferring recognition upon the Armenian Genocide, there still remains a potent psychological component - what I call the PTSD factor. A wholesale massacre of over one million Armenians has scarred the collective psyche of their progeny, and has created in the process a trauma that is imbedded in a majority of their mind-sets or outlooks. Talk to most Armenians today - whether old or young, from Lebanon, Syria and Palestine or from the USA, Germany and Argentina - and it becomes clear that this burden is not getting any lighter with every new generation. Simply put, denial without relief continues to scour Armenian psyches and betray their memories.

So for the open wounds to begin their process of healing and eventual reconciliation, it is important to effect closure. Yet, closure can come only with recognition so it would be possible to lay to rest some of the ghosts haunting many Armenians let alone all those righteous Turks who also speak out against this denial. Let me be candid: I too seek an end to this saga, but I cannot seek it without the sine qua non of recognition.

Given the harrowing testimonies of many Christian missionaries in Anatolia during WWI, the likes of Dr Clarence Ussher in Van for instance who described vividly the atrocities perpetrated against Armenians by Ottoman Turkey in 1915, the German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller comes to mind. His probing statement in 1946 is sobering, but I wish he had added one more sentence as he prodded our collective conscience: Then they came for the Armenians, and I did not speak out because I was not an Armenian!

This article was originally posted on the blog page of Embrace the Middle East at:

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   Armenian Issues   |   24 April 2020


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