By Loris Chobanian
Numerous University Scholars who have studied the scourge of Genocide and mass murder have come to the conclusion and discovered that whereas humans sympathize and have compassion for single individuals who have been killed or tortured, they generally remain untouched and show less compassion for situations of mass murder. So it is with many heads of state like the President of the United States or leaders of Great Britain. Before he was elected, President Barack Hussein Obama promised numerous times that if elected he would definitely recognize the Armenian Genocide. Since he became president he has consistently refused to utter the words Armenian Genocide. Justice and sense of fairness have lost their meaning and politics determines the new interpretations. As for Great Britain, Ottoman Turks promised them access to the Middle Eastern oil fields.
I recently came across two books by Professor Stefan Ihrig of Israel’s Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, Ataturk and the Nazi Imagination and Justifying Genocide: Germany and the Armenians from Bismarck to Hitler.
I very highly recommend these books. Professor Ihrig competently delves into exploring the German state of mind during the World War I by exposing what was written in the German journals and newspapers that expressed admiration for the way the Ottoman Turks and Mustafa Kemal dealt with eliminating its minorities. This was becoming a precedent and a model for Germany to eradicate its own undesirable population. All Armenians should read these books. Professor Ihrig has informed me that ever since these books have been published there has been an organized effort from Turkey and the Turks to eradicate and remove all copies of these books from bookstores and libraries. Which reminds me, years ago in the mid – 1960s I heard that Turkey had been sending Turkish agents that would remove from libraries all books by Lord James Bryce, especially Lord Bryce’s REPORT ON TURKISH ATROCITIES IN ARMENIA. I had read this book in the 1960’s and had it checked out from the Louisiana State University library. On a return visit to LSU during the 1970’s I made a point to check out and see if the Lord Bryce book was still available at the Louisiana State University library. It was gone – and no one knew who had removed it.
As a composer I have had a strong interest in the subject of mass murder and specifically the Armenian Genocide. My composition Requiem – April 24, for Chorus and Orchestra can be heard on YOUTUBE. In 1915 my mother and grandmother were victims of the Armenian Genocide and walked seven months from Erzurum to Mosul. The adult males of the family were taken to Kemah and were executed. The rest of the large family perished including my mother’s little brother Yedvart whose brains were scattered in my mother’s lap. Though dressed in a little girls’ dress the Turks had discovered Yedvart was a boy. My grandmother was with child and Turkish soldiers plucked the new born baby and threw him in the Euphrates River. For about 20 years in Baghdad, many old women, Armenian Genocide survivors visited my grandmother on Saturday afternoons and told their gruesome individual stories. These old women, dressed in black, cried and drank their coffee as if in a ritual. The savagery of the stories of the Turkish soldiers raping, dismembering and brutalizing of the helpless individual Armenian women and children was unimaginable. How can these Turkish soldiers be considered human? Years ago at LSU I had to baby-sit for a Turkish child. The baby kept smiling at me and I would have protected him with my life. For many years I have tried to wipe out the memory of these atrocities but somehow they do come back with a vengeance. These stories were unimaginable. Turkey is 99% Muslim. Recently many well educated and enlightened Turkish scholars have reported that the present Turkish government continues to have the same aspirations of eliminating all traces of what once was a thriving Armenian nation in central Anatolia. All scholars who intend to write about the history of Lesser Asia are ordered by the Turkish government to avoid mentioning the word “Armenian.”
Before I came to the US in 1960, I had many well educated and enlightened Muslim friends. From 1958 through 1960 I held the position of Secretary to the Director General of Distribution of Oil in Iraq. The Director General, a Muslim, was a well-educated scholar, a graduate of Oxford University and an endless source of knowledge. He introduced me to lists of scholarly books, operas and symphonies. It was at his home, that for the first time, I heard J. S. Bach’s Passion According to St. Mathew and Bach’s Mass in B Minor. The Muslim Holy Book, the Quran contains peaceful passages similar to those in the Bible. But it also includes numerous references that command Muslim believers to kill and eliminate non-believers. That is exactly what the Ottoman Muslim Turks did to the Christian Armenians. It is incredible that the world mass media and especially the US general public imply that they are unaware of the Quran’s implicit commands to eradicate non-Muslims. Most Muslims of the world do not read Arabic and probably have never read the Quran. Extremists like the followers of ISIS very much are aware of these commands and execute them explicitly.
More often, when crimes perpetrated in the name of the Muslim religion are mentioned, there are those who immediately argue that in history similar atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity. One is reminded of the “Tu Quoque” fallacy. No evil can be justified just because it has also been perpetrated by others. It is true that the period of the European Inquisition was nefarious and malevolent. Thomas Jefferson stated that more evil has been perpetrated in the name of Christianity. But the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries also witnessed a dramatic European Enlightenment. Isn’t it about time that the rest of the world follow suit?
It was in 1960 during the first week I was in the United States that I came in contact with the ugly reality of racism in the United States. While dining in a restaurant in Baton Rouge, LA, I noticed three African American girls who were standing at the door of the restaurant waiting for their order. They were not allowed to come in. The United States has had a shameful history of racial violence and Black Americans deserve better. In 2008 it seemed like finally a Black American could be elected President that would finally support the Black American family, help the Blacks with education, create opportunities for them and help them improve their lives. Alas, during the last several years the exact opposite has materialized. Black American scholars are expressing their disappointment in the present state of affairs. Native Americans have not fared any better. Not much is being said about their ill-treatment and abuse. Once again the general public seems to have less compassion when large scale injustices have been perpetrated against masses of people or against entire nations. Invariably people are more concerned with their individual self-interest. One is reminded of Jean Rostand’s witticism: “Kill a man and you are an assassin. Kill millions of men and you are a conqueror. Kill everyone and you are a god.”
(Loris Ohannes Chobanian, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Composition and Guitar as well as Composer-in-Residence at Baldwin Wallace University. Winner of the Cleveland Arts Prize, he has taught at the Oberlin Conservatory and the University of Akron. He was instrumental in establishing the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory Guitar and Composition programs as well as the Focus Contemporary Music Festival.)