The Fateful Year — 2015


 

By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenians around the world will cross the threshold of the year 2015 with trepidation and anticipation. However, there is no magic in numbers — whatever did not happen in a full century will not happen in a single year and whatever was not achieved in 100 years will not be achieved in one year.

However, the symbolism of the centennial resides in the fact that Armenians will take stock of what happened in the entire past century, to find out what they learned through their experience to be able to assess the future and take the proper actions so that the gory burden of history would not drag on for another century.

The irony is that after walking for 100 years, we are still only at the beginning of our journey. The devastating blow of the Genocide was so monumental that for 50 years — while licking their wounds — the Armenians could not fathom the enormity of the tragedy: an entire population was uprooted from its ancestral land of 3,000 years and scattered around the world.

Mass destruction of human lives was witnessed many times in history, but this was unique in its intent, magnitude and the results. The Holocaust, the better-known genocide which took place a few decades later in Europe, followed much the same model.

When the Armenians woke up from their stupor, half a century had already elapsed and the world around them had changed dramatically.

The year 1965 was a turning point in our collective realization of the trauma. In that year, the Armenians began to engage in political activism, scholarly endeavors and reshaping the collective memory.

Genghis Khan, Talaat Pasha, Hitler and Stalin did not suffer any deficiency in intelligence; they suffered from a deficiency of humanity and conscience. In their case, intelligence and humanity were mutually exclusive. They were perverted geniuses as they doggedly pursued their bloodthirsty goals, treating human lives as so many expendable commodities in the process.

To make an impact on human civilization — no matter how nefariously — one needs a tremendous amount of prowess, which unfortunately this gruesome foursome possessed.

For the Turks, Talaat Pasha was a visionary leader. Today, when President Erdogan boasts of a 98-percent Muslim population in Turkey, he certainly credits that achievement in homogeneity to Talaat Pasha’s vision, who believed that Turkey could assimilate Kurds and Alevis through religion. But Armenians did not have any common denominator with the Turks, in Talaat’s calculations; therefore he assigned them for extermination.

A few years ago, a Turkish defense minister asked rhetorically whether Turkey would have been at its present dimensions if it had not expelled the Armenians and Greeks.

After the Genocide, when Ittihadist government functionaries changed hats and joined Ataturk’s Milli Movement, they continued their genocidal policy of dumping the Greeks in the Aegean Sea in Smyrna and deporting Armenians from Cilicia. Even the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey intended the further Islamization of the latter. The case has been thoroughly researched by Taner Akçam in his book, A Shameful Act.

Today, 20 to 25 million Kurds account for almost one third of Turkey’s population and they are considered a threat to the country’s territorial integrity. Although there are no reliable statistics from pre-World War I Turkey, the Armenian population then matched the Kurdish population. Had the Armenians been allowed a natural growth like the Kurds, they would have been even more of a serious threat to Turkey’s homogeneous nature. Therefore, 2015 should mark not only the anniversary for the loss of 1.5 million lives, but also the unborn generations, which have been lost forever.

Talaat Pasha and the Ittihadist triumvirate were so cunning in their designs that the Armenian leadership could not possibly anticipate the existential threat that was about to immolate them.

Today’s Armenian scene probably corresponds to the conditions the Turks could imagine; an amorphous group of people scattered around the globe, most of the time at odds with each other individually or in groups but seldom together as a force against the perpetrators. The majority of the group in the Diaspora has lost its national consciousness and sense of preserving its heritage, leaving the responsibility of carrying the mission for justice to a minority who bears in its blood the burden of history.

Soviet Armenia has been the harbinger of maintaining the culture and keeping the population together, even by coercion, but being a part (or particle) of a global political entity, it could not serve as a legal base, which our cause needed. Today, independent Armenia can move both as a legal and political force, if depopulation does not erode its vitality.

Despite their meager forces, Diaspora Armenians have carried the torch and the powerful Turkish state reckons with them and considers them more than a nuisance.

In 1946, during the founding of the United Nations, the Armenians were able to present their case, although through two diverse groups, which demonstrated the inherent weakness of our case.

Ever since, Armenians have been developing political awareness to mobilize themselves in Western democracies and thus far have been able to serve as a counterweight to Turkey’s organized onslaught and allocated hefty resources.

Jean Marie Carzou published a book in France titled An Exemplary Genocide. The Armenian Genocide was indeed an exemplary one, as it conforms to all the historical, legal and moral definitions of the act of genocide. The irony is that any truth and any morally correct act cannot stand on their own and they will collapse unless supported by military and political power. That is why Turkey and its denialist partners can trample the truth with impunity and it is up to the Armenians and human rights organization to fight for the truth in an unequal battleground.

The Armenian extermination directly led to the coining of the term “genocide.” Indeed, international jurist Raphael Lemkin, who came up with the word in 1944, cited the Turkish extermination of the Armenians and the Nazi extermination of the Jews at the defining examples of what he meant by the term.

In 1997, the International Association of Genocide Scholars unanimously posted a resolution affirming the historic reality of the Armenian Genocide.

In June 2000, 126 leading scholars of the Holocaust, including Elie Wiesel and Yehuda Bauer, published a statement in the New York Times declaring the “incontestable fact of the Armenian Genocide” and urged Western democracies to acknowledge it.

The much-maligned TARC (Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission) submitted its findings in 2002 to the International Center for Transitional Justice, which affirmed that wholesale mass murder of the Armenians in their homeland amounted to genocide. The Turks were party to TARC and soon distanced themselves when even a group like TARC, considered soft and designed to appease all, could only reach the one conclusion that all other legitimate groups did regarding this issue.

More than 20 countries have passed different legislative resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide and the number is growing, the latest being Bolivia.

After a long period of silence, the Turks found out that they are at the losing end of an advocacy battle and changed their policy first by reacting to any country recognizing the Genocide and by allocating sizable resources for PR and especially buying scholars and history chairs in academic centers. That is why one of their favorite campaign themes has become “let us leave history to historians and not to legislatures,” with the hope that eventually the fate of the Armenian Genocide may be determined by the scholars getting paid to form their points of view.

The Armenian Genocide issue has been politicized and used over time — alternatively — by the state of Israel, the US and the European Union, every time one of them had an exe to grind with Turkey or needed to extort a political concession from Ankara.

As Turkey and Azerbaijan allocated more funding trying to win the battle on the scholarly front, the number of denialists is growing in addition to Bernard Lewis (who had to pay a symbolic fine to the French court for denying the Armenian Genocide), Stanford Shaw, Justin McCarthy, Guenter Lewy, Heath W. Lowry are considered the old guard of the denialist front, as new names have been added to the ranks taking a more aggressive posture, such as Hakan Yavuz (University of Utah), Sinan Ciddi, David C. Cuthell, Sabri Sayari and others.

On the other hand, a majority of the members of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, headed by Israel Charny, are solidly behind the veracity of the Armenian Genocide.

In recent years, with the crack of the wall of silence in Turkey, a new phenomenon has developed, as Turkish scholars came out in support of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide — scholars such as Taner Akçam, Halil Berktay, Murad Belge, Fikret Adanir, Fuad Bundar, Baskin Oran, Ugur Umit Ungor, Fatma Goçek and others.

The pioneer of the movement was the courageous journalist Hrant Dink, who sacrificed his life for his cause. Dink maintained that Turkey had been closed for three generations and that it would take time and immense effort to change. “The problem Turkey faces today is neither a problem of ‘denial’ nor ‘acknowledgement,’” he wrote in 2005. “Turkey’s main problem is comprehension and for the process of comprehension, Turkey seriously needs an alternative study of history and for this, a democratic environment.”

For most of these Turkish scholars, the thrust was the democratization of Turkey. The country had to come clean regarding its dark past, in order to be eligible to join the civilized nations of the world. Therefore, the issue of Genocide was the essential incidental. The primary goal was the emancipation of Turkey from its historic burden.

The Armenians should not assume that the majority of Turkish scholars would go beyond the recognition of the Genocide by the government and that mostly for self-serving purposes, rather than for historic justice. Try to mention territorial claims from Turkey and you will see that you part ways with them.

During one of the Genocide scholars’ meetings in Yerevan, I was startled by Baskin Oran, the fiercest critic of the current Turkish government, who happens to support the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. He jumped from his seat when he heard one of the speakers mentioning territorial claims: “Who is that nationalist?” he asked with anger.

Not only do we have limitations with those scholars, we will also face the Kurds when push comes to shove. Today, the Kurds have been apologizing to the Armenians individually and as a group, for their ancestors’ collusion in the Genocide. The day they attain their autonomy or independence, their tune will certainly change. And the Kurds are sitting right on our historic lands.

Huge endeavors have been undertaken by Armenian historians in developing a credible body of Genocide scholarship that can withstand historic and legal scrutiny and challenges. In the West, Vahakn Dadrian has been the pioneer in dissecting history with mathematical accuracy. Many scholars have followed suit.

Richard Hovannisian’s contributions have also paved the way. In free societies, scholars are not supposed to hold identical views on issues , as they do in autocratic countries, where the state dictates the “truth” and the scholars have to endorse that truth and find or manufacture evidence to support that “truth.”

But when it comes to the study of genocide, there is divergence among Armenian historians. Some of the young scholars in Armenia accuse their colleagues in the US of being traitors, as if they have sold their souls to the Turks or to the US. The counter accusation is that Genocide scholarship has been developing on nationalists lines in Armenia and therefore lacks credibility in the West. No visible effort has been exerted to narrow the divide and mobilize forces towards true and solid scholarship.

Some scholars in the west try to undermine the foundations of Dadrian’s work in genocide studies, in an effort to enhance their own images.

There is also a very dangerous issue which should not be sacrificed to competing egos: the truth at the foundation of the definition of Genocide. Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on Genocide, adopted in 1948, defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such.”

The Turks, eventually may settle for any term except the world “genocide,” because the latter carries legal consequences in terms of punishment and reparations.

Next, they would pay any price to interject a shade of benefit of doubt about the intent or premeditation portion of the act of genocide. Unfortunately, some scholars are buying into the apologists’ argument to make their scholarship marketable in the West.

After considering documents at the military tribunals in Istanbul at the end of World War I, after reading Morgenthau’s statement that the Ottoman government has determined to exterminate the Armenians and after reviewing Talaat Pasha’s Black Book, newly discovered and published by Murad Bardakci then could not be any question about the premeditated nature of the Armenian Genocide.

Armenia must serve as the hub of Genocide studies. The inroads that Armenians have developed in the academic circles in Europe and Russia will help to internationalize the issue of the Genocide. In that sense, Yuri Georgivich Barsegov, an expert in international law, has made a huge contribution by publishing two volumes under the title The Armenian Genocide: A Crime Under International Law.

We will be facing the Turks on political, scholarly, cultural, moral and even military fronts, and solid scholarship can serve as an awesome weapon in the hands of all activists and groups, the Armenian Assembly, the Armenian National Committee, the Zoryan Institute, political parties and organizations in Europe, South America and in the newly energized Armenian community in Russia.

One of the breakthroughs of the past century was the military and the armed struggle for the recognition of the Genocide.

No matter where one stands — morally and legally — on the issue of armed struggle or terrorism, one cannot fail to notice the results achieved by that struggle. In the 1970s, almost 75 Turkish diplomats were assassinated throughout the world. Granted, they were all career diplomats with no blood on their hands. But they represented and symbolized a state which had exterminated 1.5 million innocent souls and sitting on their ashes, continued to deny the crime. The comfort of the Turkish state was shaken and the case of the Armenian Genocide was thrust on the international scene.

In a paper published in Foreign Affairs magazine, Thomas de Waal makes the following statement: “When Turkish historians finally returned to the topic [of Genocide] in the late 1970s, they did so in response to a wave of terrorist attacks on Turkish diplomats in Western Europe, most of them carried out by Armenian militants based in Beirut. … Turkish society has began to revisit the dark pages of its past.”

This was one of the bloody stages of Armenians struggle which also had its unintended consequences.

Thus, a Spanish journalist, Jose Antonio Gurriaran, a contributor to the Pueblo newspaper, was injured by a bomb blast planted in a phone booth by Armenian youth. That incident sparked in him the interest to research and find out why the bomb was planted in the first place. He published a book titled La Bomba, and ever since, he has become an advocate for the recognition of the Genocide.

Similarly, the famous Turkish novelist Elif Shafak has discovered the Armenian Genocide in a traumatic way; growing up as the daughter of a Turkish diplomat, she shivered every time she heard the word Armenian for fear that her mother, a career diplomat, would get assassinated. Once she became older, she wanted to find out why Armenian youth were so intent on drawing Turkish blood. Later on, she featured the Armenian Genocide in one of her novels, The Bastard of Istanbul, and published it in defiance of the Turkish court.

We face 2015 with many unfulfilled dreams and projects. We have more problems to face than our dreams. The remains of the Genocide victims are not yet buried, nor is their quest for justice attained. The struggle is ahead of us. Some historians and editorialists tell the public that we have crossed a stage of recognition and we need to concentrate on compensation. A footnote on the report of a UN rapporteur about the Armenian Genocide is not equivalent to UN recognition. Nor can President Ronald Reagan’s reference to the Armenian Genocide memorial be counted as recognition, especially when it was recanted later.

Recognition and quest for compensation go hand in hand. Recognition will only enhance the chances of compensation.

Whatever was not achieved in one century, will be carried over to the next century, until the future generations can bring closure and justice to this deep wound.