By Edmond Y. Azadian
The year 2015 proved to be an exhilarating one for Armenians. This year capped a full century of traumatic living, struggling for recognition against political ploys and well-deserved plaudits. Armenians, fragmented and decimated by the Genocide, came to realize — after an entire century of frustrations — that their cause was more powerful than their collective clout could project and that it continued to have relevance for the international community and resonate in world politics.
It is true that some countries have supported the Armenian Genocide, not purely motivated by altruism; they have used the issue to promote their own national or political interests. That is the nature of politics and we need to understand it; we even need to take the initiative to find other countries whose interests run parallel to ours to further sensitize world public opinion towards the issue of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
Armenians have never claimed that their tragedy was a unique experience, though they have justification to do so. Cambodia and Rwanda are still in existence after their respective and tragic genocides. Ukraine survived the Holodomor (famine) of 1932-33 foisted upon it by Josef Stalin. In contrast, Armenians were the only nation that lost its historic homeland after the murder of 1.5 million of its people. The argument can be made that the Holocaust of the Jews, on the contrary, helped them regain their lost homeland of 2,000 years. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 continued to remain an unfulfilled promise, until the revelations of the Nuremberg trials shook the conscience of humanity, leading the international community to support the creation of a homeland for the Jews in 1948.
The centennial year was a moment of reckoning for the Armenians as well as the Turks.
There are virtually no survivors of the Genocide, yet the cause is alive and well. The succeeding generations have come up with more powerful means to pursue the cause and the existence of an independent Armenian republic constitutes the foundation and the promise for future restitution.
The Turks were equally stunned that after a full century of denial, the world is still talking about the Armenian Genocide; and additionally, the issue has made inroads into the national conscience of many Turks who feel that the collective shame needs to be wiped off their national image, to be able to admitted into the family of civilized nations.
The righteous Turks are our partners to a point; they wish to emancipate their nation from the stigma of the historic shame. Once we begin to talk to them about reparations or territorial claims, they depart our course.
The activities undertaken during the centennial year and their world impact placed the issue of the Armenian Genocide on an irreversible trajectory — more nations joined the ranks of those recognizing the Genocide, the legal status of Genocide was further consolidated within the framework of international law, more scholarly works were produced by Armenian, Turkish and Western authors. In addition, spiritual leaders and public relations icons came to testify about the truthfulness of the historic facts and finally Armenia and Armenians globally were able to organize a centennial commemoration on an unprecedented level.
In fact, Pope Francis’ celebration of Divine Liturgy in memory of Armenian victims, on April 12, 2015 and his unequivocal statement on the Genocide set the international tone in motion; the Kardashian sisters, Serj Tankian, Atom Egoyan, Charles Aznavour, George and Amal Clooney raised their voices to amplify the public relations movement.
Turkey’s reaction, by contrast, was motivated by panic and seemed woefully inadequate to counter the eloquent and frequent arguments in support of Genocide recognition. The Erdogan government mobilized its state resources to dampen the impact of the Genocide commemorations by moving the commemoration of the centennial of the Gallipoli campaign to April 24, which only demonstrated Turkey’s desperation. Turkey’s reaction raised the challenge higher still. Armenia was able to bring four presidents and 50 delegates representing the national assemblies of their respective countries to express their solidarity with Armenia at a forum organized at a remarkably sophisticated level.
Twenty countries had recognized the Armenian Genocide prior to this year. In 2015, four more were added to the list: the legislative bodies of Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria and Luxemburg adopted resolutions on the matter.
Despite the fact that 5 million Turks in Germany may oppose the move, it is hoped that Angela Merkel’s government will soon add its voice too.
There are negligible numbers of Armenians that are living in Chile, Paraguay and Bolivia, but Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian’s visit to South America made a difference. It should be noted that after the fall of the military dictatorships in the region, many of those countries have been conducting an independent foreign policy. A case in point is that only Nicaragua and Venezuela have recognized the independence of Abkhazia, perhaps creating a precedent for the recognition of Nagorno Karabagh.
Forty three out of 50 states in the US have recognized the Genocide. The federal government and successive presidents have reneged on their official pledges for recognition and may continue to do so for a while. President Obama’s message came close to describing the Genocide (without using the word) and his speech at the Turkish parliament was remarkable, but US presidents have to borrow some courage from French presidents to go the extra mile. Turkey may threaten a backlash, but will soon back down.
Despite its politically motivated verdict in the Perinçek case, the European Court of Human Rights once again sensitized European public opinion on the Genocide issue. The European parliament resolution further amplified the impact.
For any case to stand up in the glare of a global focus, it needs to be substantiated by academic research. For many years, Genocide studies suffered from the paucity of scholarly works. But recent years have produced a massive number of academic volumes — Ugur Umit Ungor’s The Young Turk Seizure of Armenian Property, Taner Akçam’s Young Turk Crime against Humanity, Merrill D. Peterson’s Starving Armenians, Ara Sarafian’s Talaat Pasha’s Report on the Armenian Genocide, Murat Bardakçi’s Talaat Pasha’s Black Book, Wolfgang Gust’s The Armenian Genocide, Akçam and Vahakn Dadrian’s Judgment at Istanbul and many others — which have paved the way for centennial publications such as Vicken Cheterian’s Open Wounds: Armenians, Turks and a Century of Genocide, Thomas de Waal’s Great Catastrophe, Eugene Rogan’s The Fall of the Ottomans, Ronald Suny’s They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else, Lou Ureneck’s The Great Fire, Eric Bogosian’s Operation Nemesis, but most significantly Geoffrey Robertson’s An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians? Robertson also represented the Armenians at the Perinçek case, along with Amal Clooney.
The above volumes do not form an exhaustive list; other scholarly works are being released regularly.
There is overwhelming documentation and analysis in the se volumes to defeat any counter argument or denial.
In view of the mountain of evidence, President Erdogan still insists, “let the Armenians produce one single document that Ottoman Turkey has committed genocide.”
After reading the account of Istanbul military trials of 1919 and especially Talaat Pasha’s Black Book, where Genocide is planned with mathematical precision, no one can question the intent and the premeditation of the Armenian Genocide.
After crossing the centennial stage, there are voices in the Armenian community that suggest the Genocide has gained recognition and that now we should concentrate on reparations.
There is no question that the centennial proved to be a landmark victory for the Armenian cause, but more work needs to be done on the international level, especially in Turkey. The latter can only be achieved by Turkish scholars and human rights activists. Recognition and compensation go hand in hand.
The punishment of the Genocide was not only the loss of 1.5 million souls nor the loss of our historic homeland; in addition to those losses we suffered the fragmentation of the Armenian nation. The Turkish planners did such a thorough job that for 100 years Armenians could not recover, come together and speak to the world with one voice. That was the ultimate punishment. A full century after the Genocide, the diaspora Armenians have not achieved unity and every faction claims to represent the diaspora.
The centennial committee formed in Yerevan includes government representation as well as diasporan members. Plans are underway to make that committee a permanent body where diaspora meets Armenia. If wisdom reigns, after 100 years we can claim that Armenians are united.
One hundred years ago the Genocide was meant to destroy the Armenian nation and reduce it into pieces, yet ironically, after a full century, the Genocide issue remains the only factor that unites the Armenians and helps them to think and perform as a sovereign nation.