Heading Towards the Centennial Observations on the 95th Anniversary of the Genocide

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

The history of the Genocide has come a long way but it has not yet met its destination. The centennial year is around the corner and it is incumbent upon all Armenian organizations and the government to take stock, review the past and identify the failures and achievements along the road so that the next five years’ struggle could benefit from that long experience.

A historical perspective is in order here to identify the real causes of genocide and to find out what would have prevented it and then deal with the consequences of that monumental tragedy.

No one can underestimate the cunning and the intelligence of the evil; they only need to be defined as qualities put into use for destructive purposes.

Talaat Pasha, the brain of the Ittihadist triumvirate, was that kind of a leader; he knew how to read and analyze history, and in light of that analysis, predict the future.

One of the clauses of the Berlin Treaty of 1878 stipulated that the Sultan to carry reforms in the Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire, under the supervision of European commissioners. These kinds of guarantees were provided to the Armenian subjects in order to undermine the Czarist Russian claims that it was occupying Ottoman territory, stretching all the way to San Stefano (Adrianopolis) on the Black Sea to protect minorities.

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However, Sultan Abdul Hamid was able to manipulate the Western powers for many decades, without implementing the treaty obligations. He even organized the 1894-96 massacres of the Armenians, with 300,000 casualties, in a direct challenge to the West.

On the eve of World War I, the Sultan was deposed during the 1908 Revolution and Ittihad and Terrakki was already in power. However, the reforms in the six Armenian provinces were in progress and by 1914, two of the commissioners, Hoff and Vesteneng, had arrived in Turkey to carry out their missions. Mind you, all along, these provinces were designated as Armenian, much like all the occupied nations in the Balkans.

In view of the Ottoman losses in the Balkans, the Ittihadist leaders realized what was to come in the rest of Asia Minor and they resorted to the unthinkable: to depopulate historic Armenia from its indigenous people and to claim Turkey for the Turks. World War I was a perfect cover for the crime.

As far as Turkey’s historic perspective is concerned, the Ittihadist leaders executed an unprecedented plan to make even today’s Turkish leaders grateful and appreciative. Indeed Turkey’s present defense minister, Vecdi Gonul, even boasted in Belgium recently asking the rhetorical question whether present-day Turks would enjoy a unified country had they not deported their indigenous peoples, like Armenians and Greeks. It is questionable at this time whether such a plan was also intended for the Kurdish population, which today threatens the territorial integrity of Turkey, or there was a miscalculation by the Ittihadist leaders to absorb and assimilate the Sunni Kurds as their co-religionists.

However, successive Turkish administrations have been trying to curb Kurdish aspirations, beginning with the brutal suppression of the 1937 Dersim Revolt by the Kurds. The war that was against the Kurdish liberation movement is being carried even today by the Erdogan’s government, labeling the Kurdish minority’s struggle for self-determination as “terrorism.”

The Genocide was such a heinous crime that it took Armenians 50 years to realize what kind of devastation had been unleashed at them.

Indeed, the 50th anniversary of the Genocide marked a watershed in the struggle for its recognition. For 50 years, Armenians, scattered around the world, had been crying about their losses and were trying to put together their personal and family lives. Exceptions being justice rendered to the perpetrators Talaat, Jemal and Enver by Shahan Natali, Tehlirian, Arshavir Shirakian, Melkonian and other revenge seekers.

These leaders had already been convicted by the Military Tribunal in Istanbul in the aftermath of World War I and they had conveniently escaped the country for comfortable lives in Germany and elsewhere.
The 50th anniversary is generally considered the beginning of political activism on a broad scale.

The struggle for Genocide recognition has several dimensions. The struggle was carried and continues to be carried out on the scholarly front, media front and political front as well as on the governmental level.

Before the 50th anniversary, very few scholarly publications were available. These were mostly memoirs, eyewitness accounts and other documents. Many of the publications had not crossed the language barrier; therefore they were accessible to the Armenian readers only.

One major publication was Kersan Aharonian’s Hooshamadian Medz Yegherni, an honest effort to bring together source materials for future academic studies.

Since 1965, many scholarly publications have emerged, led by monumental works by Vahakn Dadrian, Richard Hovannisian, Yves Ternon and many others. What is significant at this time is that many non-Armenians scholars such as Israel Charny, Yair Auron, Robert Melson and others have joined the ranks to help overcome the stubborn news media which persistently use the terms and characterizations as “the so-called genocide” and “what Armenians call genocide.”

In fact, more than 120 renowned genocide scholars came up with a powerful statement to give credibility to the use of the word genocide with reference to the events that befell Armenians in Ottoman Turkey.

A more recent development is the emergence of Turkish scholars who have come out to support the historic truth, which makes the Turkish authorities very uncomfortable and xenophobic and the extremists enraged. Those scholars are Taner Akçam, Halil Berktay, Murad Bilge, Fatma Muge Goçek and others.

A cautionary note is in order here: Armenians, mostly, are carried away that these Turkish scholars finally have come to uphold our cause. That perception is basically inaccurate, since these scholars are true Turkish patriots who, unlike the authorities, believe that Turkey cannot join the family of civilized nations in Europe with bloody hands. It has to reckon with its history, cleanse itself out like Germany and then apply for membership to the European Union.

From that point on, these scholars part ways with the Armenians. What they expect from the Turkish government is to recognize the Armenian Genocide. They do not necessarily believe in reparations, compensation or any territorial concessions. For them, Turkey is a country in its present borders, which they also share and enjoy.

Some scholars and publications, motivated by some shrewd expediency, advise the Turks to detach themselves from the Ittihadists and claim that they have no part in the events. But who would be taken by that ruse, when present-day Turks are enjoying the fruits of that crime. They have taken Armenian lands and property and they claim is to be their own.

Also, many of the Ittihadist criminals were rehabilitated in Kemal Ataturk’s Milli movement to build the present Republic of Turkey, as Taner Akçam’s research shows. And Kemal himself continued the genocidal policy of his predecessors by massacring and deporting Greeks from Smyrna and depopulating Cilicia of Armenians. He also began the extermination of Kurds, which continues to this day.

During World War II, Turkey’s Prime Minister Ismet Inonu asked Hitler to exhume the remains of Talaat Pasha from Berlin to be brought to Istanbul to be buried in Independence Square in Sisli.

How can present-day Turks escape responsibility and detach themselves from their criminal ancestors, despite Mr. Erdogan’s contestation that Turkey’s history is “spotless?”

The second front of the Genocide battle is in the media, to which the Turks have allotted a large chunk of the state budget.

They are successful in some countries, especially in Islamic countries where they present the ongoing struggle between Turks and Armenians and between Azeris and Armenians as a war between Muslims and Christians. But the picture is different in Europe and the United States, where Armenians have won many battles by political activism and have educated major newspapers such as the New York Times, the LA Times, the Boston Globe and Le Monde, to call a spade a spade.

People without a background in history tend to discredit the political parties, but recognition must be given to those parties and lobbying groups for having carried the media battle successfully against Turkey’s well-oiled lobbying efforts, because justice is on our side.

For example, who could have bought a cup of coffee for a celebrated columnist like Robert Fiske in order for him to write scathing articles in the UK’s daily Independent?

The third front of the struggle is the political arena, where parties and lobbying groups are very active. However, many individuals also have taken up the cause to fight for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Already, some 20 countries have recognized the Genocide in one form or another.

Every year new countries and legislatures are joining their ranks. Those recognitions have been achieved through many avenues and machinations; some countries seek justice and adopt resolutions while other countries are influenced by lobbying groups, such as France. Others adopt resolutions to settle scores with Turkey, including, again, France and Germany, which have used the Genocide issue as a self-serving cudgel to prevent Turkey from joining the European Union. Still others, like Israel’s government, use the bones of our martyrs as bargaining chips to wrest concessions from Turkey and then shamelessly deny the Genocide, such as Shimon Peres did, during his term as foreign minister.
Another factor contributing to internationalization of the Genocide cause was the political violence. Here we have to tread carefully not to sound as supporting, endorsing or condoning terrorism. But, wherever one stands on the issue of terrorism, one cannot deny the fact that political violence was a defining factor to bring the Armenian Genocide into international focus.

Some 75 Turkish diplomats were assassinated and the Turkish government was dismayed and shaken. At that time, Turkey’s Foreign minister Zafer Caglayangil assumed that the Armenian political parties were behind these violent acts and he summoned their leaders for consultation. But Turkey found out that the political parties were not in a position to carry out those acts.

It is ironic that a Spanish journalist lost his leg when a bomb went off in a phone booth in Madrid in 1980, instead of holding a grudge against the perpetrators, conducted some research and published a book called La Bomba in support of Genocide recognition.

The political battle has been elevated to the governmental level. Now Armenians have been holding the leader of the most powerful country in the world, President Barack Obama, to task to make good on his pledge to recognize the Genocide.

There was no government in the world where the foreign policy agenda of the Armenian Genocide was included. Today it is on the agenda of the Armenian government.

The formation of the diaspora was the direct result of the Genocide. It was considered a curse and it remains a curse in many ways. But as far as the Genocide battle goes, the factor of the disapora is turning into a blessing in disguise, because wherever the Turks go, around the world, they will be facing Armenian activists. They created the diaspora and they have to live with the consequences. Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu has realized that the diaspora is a factor to be reckoned with. He is planning to meet with the diaspora leaders to pit them against the Armenian government.

But it seems that the Turks have not yet learned one thing: whenever they meet any Armenians whether in Yerevan, Bourj Hamoud, Paris or Glendale, they will get only one single answer: “Recognize the Genocide.”

Much has been learned in 95 years to carry the battle, yet more will be leaned in the coming years. Armenians, armed with that experience, will plan the centennial commemoration of the Genocide in five years.

The centennial has to cease being an anniversary of mourning — it has to become the celebration of the survival of the Armenian spirit.

We have to celebrate the exemplary unity in symposia, exhibitions, gala affairs in major cities of the world, such as New York, Paris, Yerevan and Beirut, with the participation of Armenian celebrities and non-Armenian dignitaries. It would be most appropriate to invite on that occasion the ambassadors, ministers or presidents of those countries recognizing the Genocide and honoring them on that occasion.

The Genocide Museum in Washington, we hope, will be complete and operating by then, to demonstrate to the world that despite the unspeakable tragedy that befell our people, Armenians survived.

If by then Turkey has come to terms with its past and recognizes the Genocide, the centennial commemorations can be extended to Ankara and Istanbul.
And perhaps, Talaat Square may be renamed Dink Square.

Didn’t many Turks chant, “We are all Hrant Dinks?”