Commentary: Moving towards Genocide Centennial


By Edmond Y. Azadian

In four years’ time, 2015, the world Armenian community will mark the first centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Although mass preparations are not in sight yet, the landmark is in the minds and hearts of every Armenian.

Those who had advocated the “wisdom” of the forgive-and-forget policy (believing that the murder of 1.5 million souls was trivial) have come to realize that during the last 100 years, not only the Genocide was not forgotten, but efforts to bring universal acceptance to that monumental tragedy have intensified, the mission and the message having transcended from one generation to the other.

The survivors of the Genocide, after piecing their lives together, organized themselves to meet the challenges of denial. After murdering a nation and taking over its ancestral homeland, the Turks have directed the denial campaign into many realms: academia, the media, politics and culture. Fortunately, Armenians have been able to meet the challenges successfully, by producing many academic volumes, by confronting the Turks in the media and politics, with relatively scarce resources. Yet much remains to be done.

The Genocide centennial will mark a watershed, and efforts and organized work need to be intensified to do justice to the Genocide victims.

It took almost an entire century to make a crack in the wall of silence in Turkey. Today many historians, writers, journalists and politicians in Turkey have taken up the cause of the Armenian Genocide, bringing the message to the Turkish masses, which have been fed with all kinds of distortions in history. Ironically, the Kurds, who were active participants and accomplices in executing the Genocide, have become the most vocal group in Turkey supporting the Genocide recognition, because they also fell victim to the Turkish rulers’ genocidal policies.

While the house of cards is crumbling around Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he still persistently continues to ask Armenians to produce one single proof that the Turks have committed a genocide against Armenians. His recent visit to Moscow was planned to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the Treaties of Moscow and Kars signed between the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and leader of the Russian Revolution and founder of the USSR Vladimir Lenin to give away historic Armenian territory to Turkey. He presented a copy of the Peace and Fraternity Treaty to Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev, announcing at a press conference, “The document is a turning point in our history; our Eastern borders were recognized by Moscow agreement.” The symbolism was directed at Armenia, since Armenia refused to bite the bait and accept the Moscow and Kars treaties by signing the Protocols. The Turks are now carrying the ball to Moscow.

Many historians and legal experts have raised questions about the legality of that treaty. The Moscow Treaty was signed by the Soviet government in Moscow on March 16, 1921, without Armenia’s participation. On October 13, 1921 the Kars Treaty was imposed on the Armenians by Moscow.

In addition, Ataturk’s Turkey was not even recognized at that time as a functioning government in order to be able to sign an internationally-binding treaty with any country. That treaty is especially without validity now because Moscow does not sit across the border from Turkey to give away Armenian territory to any party.

Thus Erdogan’s theatrics are part and parcel of the Turkish denial machinery to prevent any future territorial claims by Armenia. Turkey’s former dictator, Kenan Evren, once warned Armenians by saying: “Territories are gained by blood. Come and take any piece of Turkey’s land if you can.” We have to take Evren by his word, because history has so many surprises.

Another symbolic action Mr. Erdogan is about to pursue, is to dismantle the goodwill monument erected in Kars extending a hand of friendship to Armenia.

The Genocide centennial is the most opportune occasion for Armenia to come up with its own symbolism. Armenia abounds with monuments, but this one will not prove to be superfluous. The Tzitzernakaberd Monument is a magnificent memorial to the victims of the Genocide. But we do not yet have a monument memorializing the mass murder of Armenian writers, artists and intellectuals. It seems ironic that the great assassins of history seem also to be competent literary critics to be able to select the best of the crop and mark them for execution. Talaat Pasha’s ruse was to behead the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire, before deporting the population to the desert for annihilation. Thus he selected Krikor Zohrab, Daniel Varoujan, Yerukhan, Komitas, Siamanto, Indra, Ruben Sevak and others and marked them for murder. Zohrab’s skull was smashed with a rock and Varujan’s fingers were severed and he was blinded before he was killed. There has never been a collective monument to these Armenian giants, whose greatness made them targets for torture and a painful, public death to quench the bloodlust of the Young Turk regime.

Meanwhile, another great assassin of history, Stalin, proved to be an equally capable literary critic, as he chose Charents, Mahari, Zabel Yessayan, Bakunts and Mugurditch Armen to be exiled to Siberia or murdered outright. These greats were killed in order to silence their intellects and their brave, original voices.

One hundred years later it is neither practical nor possible to trace the remains of our murdered writers within the current borders of Turkey. However, it is unbelievable that Charents’ remains cannot be traced within the borders of Armenia. Perhaps there are still people alive with blood on their hands.

Therefore, a centennial monument dedicated to all the murdered writers calls for two wings. In one section, the names of the Genocide victims could be inscribed, in a format that we see on the Vietnam War Veterans’ memorial in Washington, DC. The other wing can be dedicated to the writers and other creative forces who fell victim to Stalin’s purges.

The monument could be erected somewhere near the current Armenian-Turkish border, with many elements of symbolism; to remind the Turks of their unspeakable crime and to mark the aspiration of all Armenians to recover lost historic territory across the border.

The Yerablur Monument is dedicated to all the heroes who have fallen in defense of Armenian lands, from General Antranik to Vazgen Sargisian, and all those in between, including all the victims of the war in Karabagh.

This monument will also give an opportunity to the intelligentsia in Armenia to revise their value system and express their recognition of Western Armenian writers and values.

When Armenia became part of the Soviet empire, values were codified and frozen in time. All the artists, writers and intellectuals who had been living within the borders were accepted as part of our national treasury. Western Armenian values and writers, therefore, did not enjoy equal opportunity.

Armenia’s currency and streets are dedicated to all Eastern Armenian writers and intellectuals and, save for some individual exceptions, Western Armenian writers continue their exile from our Homeland.

Especially today, when the diaspora is bound to lose its identity, the Western Armenian intellectual treasury deserves more than just lip service.

Our challenges are great in our march towards the centennial. This monument will correct many old mistakes and herald a more hopeful, healthy and stronger future.