By Edmond Y. Azadian
Last year marked the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. The ceremonial and political activities evolving from that occasion proved to be far reaching, so much so that people began wondering what could be done the following year to match or surpass the 2015 commemorations.
On the occasion of the 101st anniversary, Azerbaijan perpetrated a four-day war, upon Ankara’s instigation. Losses were heavy and the mood was somber in Armenia. Despite adversity, a dignified commemoration was held, at the same time broadening our horizon. The events, which accompanied the commemoration, this year in Armenia came to prove that as a nation, we are being emancipated from the parochial frame of mind which thus far has shaped our political thinking.
We have always assumed that our victimhood was known all over the world, therefore we are entitled to some justice. Unfortunately, political processes do not work that way. Unless we raise our pain to a universal level and share it with the world, we remain sidelined. Also, on that level, there is some tacit reciprocity; if we don’t care and share other people’s pain, why should they care about our issues?
The Jews, as well, are caught in the same dichotomy; some of them uphold the uniqueness of the Holocaust, demanding paramount retribution, but more illuminated leaders view the phenomenon of the Holocaust within the perspective of man’s inhumanity to man and they empathize with the other victims of mass extermination.
Whatever took place in Armenia this year can be qualified as the universalization of our collective pain. The reference is, of course, to Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, the brainchild of Ruben Vardanyan, Nubar Afeyan and Vartan Gregorian. George Clooney’s presentation of the prize was a colossal media event, in addition to its great humanitarian aspect.
The winner of the prize was someone far removed from Armenia. She is Marguerite Barankitse, a humanitarian who founded Maison Shalom in Burundi. As the first Aurora Prize laureate, Barankitse will receive $100,000 and continue the cycle of giving by donation the accompanying $1-million award to organizations that have inspired her work. She has saved almost 30,000 children and in 2008, she opened a hospital which has treated 80,000 people.
Some might think that the award money could be used for more urgent needs in Armenia. But that would be a self-serving agenda. The impact of the award has been global and eventually will benefit Armenia and Armenians in many ways. A selfless individual dedicated to saving children is something we as Armenians have seen. While tens of thousands of children were drowned by the Trabzon governor in the Black Sea, there were those children who were saved by Western volunteers and missionaries.
“Marguerite Barankitse serves as a reminder of the impact that one person can have even when encountering seemingly insurmountable persecution and injustice,” said Clooney when presenting the award.
Ruben Vardanyan’s thinking fell within the same parameter when he founded the Dilijan International School, making Armenia a magnet for international students.
There is another lesson to be learned from this phenomenon; the concept and the execution of globalizing our cause do not come from our traditional power structures of lay and religious leadership; they come from individuals whose purses, pulses and perceptions are synchronized.
This humanitarian endeavor will also generate political dividends.
Therefore, it behooves us to broaden our thinking in line with the project just outlined above.
We have a perennial struggle with Turkey. As our power dwindles gradually in Armenia and the diaspora, Turkey is rising to the stature of a regional power. Our struggle is somewhat of a David and Goliath if we don’t align ourselves with other groups who have suffered at the hands of the Turks, especially the Greeks and Kurds.
Our political relations with the Greeks do not go too far, especially in the diaspora. Fortunately, Armenia has been cooperating with Greece on the state level.
But the Kurds are waging a life-and-death struggle currently, yet we remain mere spectators to that struggle. Granted, we have some grievances from the past as the Kurdish tribes were used historically by the Turkish authorities to massacre Armenians and usurp their properties. But, many Kurds have realized the mistakes of the previous generations and individual leaders and groups have apologized publically. They will certainly appreciate the value of their friendship with the Armenians once they attain their autonomy or independence in Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
At this time, Turkey has been conducting a ruthless massacre of the Kurds and the West has cleared its conscience by labeling the Kurds as terrorists. Besides Turkey’s atrocities and battles within its territories, it has created a power upheaval in Syria by supporting ISIS and murdering Kurds in full contradiction of US policy.
“Under the pretext of combatting PKK members, Turkish authorities are bombing the infrastructures and residential neighborhoods across Sirnak and Diyarbakir,” says Hoshin Ebdullah, a Kurdish lawyer and human rights activist. “Dozens of civilians have been killed, hundreds injured and tens of thousands displaced due to the brutal operations by Turkish forces in the southeastern part of the country,” Ebdullah told ARA news. “More than 100,000 displaced people have been documented in two months, while many others remain in war-town towns and villages in the Kurdish region.”
A man-made humanitarian crisis is being staged in view of the entire world, yet political expediency is forcing the powers-that-be to keep silent.
The Kurdish deputies in the Turkish parliament have been emboldened. One of them, a female member, delivered an impassioned speech, shouting: “You will pay for the blood you are shedding in Kurdistan.”
There were video clips featuring other Kurds taking the podium and expressing their outrage. They all mention that the Turks belong in Central Asia, yet they have taken over land from the Armenians, Assyrians Greeks and Kurds.
They are all cognizant that President Erdogan has been manipulating the legislature to lift their immunity and send them to jail.
Even if he cannot garner enough votes, no illegal step will stop him from sending the Kurdish parliamentarians to jail.
In the past decades the Kurds in Turkey have been fighting for their independence. Their jailed leader, Abdullah Oçalan toned down the demands to settle for some language and cultural rights. Thus, negotiations continued between the government and Kurdish leaders. But, in July 2015, Erdogan reversed his course and began his war against the Kurds, a war that has caused 40,000 casualties since 1980.
Erdogan resorted to war because he considered the Kurdish bloc in the parliament as an impediment to his rise to absolute power. But above all, gauging developments in Iraq, where an autonomous Kurdistan came forth, and in Syria, where the Kurds have almost carved an enclave for themselves, it was not very difficult for him to foresee the domino effect that these developments could bring to Turkey
The Kurds have been fighting for the same lands that the Armenians claim as their own. Should they attain autonomy or independence, Armenians have to deal with them.
What are Armenians doing today when the Kurds are in dire need of their support?
Armenians in large part have become apolitical. Otherwise, they would have sent volunteers. But above all, the Kurds need political support to have their voices heard. It would be legitimate to coordinate our political actions with the Kurds around the world, so that in addition to a formal apology we may expect some territorial settlements from them. Being on the land, they have already won them 90 percent of the argument.
It is time for visionary and creative politics for Armenians.