By Edmond Y. Azadian
Why is the Armenian Genocide relevant today, after 97 years? This question is asked often by non-Armenians and sometimes even by Armenians themselves. Therefore, we need a broader definition of that act of ethnic cleansing that befell the Armenian nation in order to understand its relevance today.
First of all, the Genocide is not an act that began and ended in 1915. It had a long history before that date — and it has been continuing since that date — with the single purpose of exterminating the entire Armenian race from the face of the earth.
Nazi Germany invented the concept of “vital space” just before and during World War II. Their goal was to extend and expand Germany at the expense of other nations. But the Turks had already been practicing that philosophy ever since they set foot on the Anatolian plateau by displacing and exterminating the local people, and from there on, building their empire.
The major obstacle in their way was the declining Byzantine Empire, which was destroyed effectively by Fatih Sultan Muhammad in 1453 AD.
The corruption, political myopia and loss of self-respect contributed to the downfall of the Byzantines, perhaps more than the might of the emerging Ottomans.
Armenia and the Armenians became the collateral damage in that apocalyptic collision.
From then on, it was a natural process for the Turks to seek and attain that vital space in their need for settlement and expansion.
The process of genocide began against the Armenians with the imposition of the Ottoman rule on historic Armenia.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was adopted by the United Nations on December 9, 1948, can be applied retroactively against the Turkish government, which continually violated the principles of that convention.
Article 2 of the UN Convention defines genocide in the following terms:
a) killing members of the group;
b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to the members of the group;
c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d) imposing measures intended to prevent birth within the group and
e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
All the above conditions were imposed on the Armenians by the Ottoman rulers, a time which Turkey’s present foreign minister considers one when there were ideal and idyllic relations between the rulers and their slave society.
The most cynical condition imposed on the Armenians was section (e) of the article 2, namely “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” This case was a wicked component of the Janissary system, whereby the Ottoman government would seek and kidnap (or “collect,” as the term was) the recruits as part of devshirmes, the name given to the young kidnapping victims. After years of rigorous military training, these converts were transformed into the most brutal force used to repress the Armenians and other Christians, the very people who had given birth to them.
The 1915 Genocide was only a modern version of what was being perpetrated against the Armenians for centuries before that date. But the Genocide was not a single act that took place at a certain date and ended at a certain date. It is a process that has continued since 1915 and continues even to this day. That is why it is important to broaden its definition and its existential impact on the Armenian history.
After Turkey was defeated during World War I, the Ittihadist leaders fled the country to avoid the punishments the military trials were expected to mete out, but the rank and file, the government apparatchiks who actually carried out the grisly orders of their leaders, were still in the country and ready to change their skin and enter the service of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, whose policy of the Turkification of Turkey was no different from that of his predecessors. That is why the Kemalist forces were equally ruthless in dumping the Greeks into the sea in Smyrna and deporting the Armenians from Cilicia.
One of the reasons historian Taner Akçam believes Turkey is reluctant to recognize the Genocide is the fear of compensation, since most of the families ruling Turkey’s economy now have been sitting on wealth confiscated from the Armenians.
Ataturk’s Turkification policy was more modern, effective and thorough, albeit with all the trimmings of racism, which the West chose to ignore.
Ataturk and his successors were no more charitable than their Ittihadist predecessors, as they demonstrated time and again their ruthless policies against the minorities, especially the Armenians, virtually destroying Armenian schools and applying all manner of legal gymnastics to the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923.
And then, another deportation during World War II and its aftermath, concocting a tax rule, called Wealth Tax (Varlik Vergisi) which ruined the Armenian, Greek and Jewish communities and murdered many of its business leaders in the labor camps of Ashkala.
This was the visible phase of the continuing Genocide told by Armenians leaving Istanbul, especially after the barbaric attacks of September 6, 1955, in demonstrations sanctioned and organized by the government, as later revelations came to prove.
Incidentally, similar demonstrations were organized by the government in Istanbul to commemorate the “genocide” of Khojali (in Karabagh), with the participation of the Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas and the Minister of Interior Idris Naim Sahim. The latter spoke to a bloodthirsty crowd vowing to avenge the blood of Khojali victims.
While these violent acts of terror were being perpetrated against Armenians in Istanbul recently, the inexorable process of genocide was continuing against the surviving Armenians in the interior. Millions of them have been silently converted to Islam or have tried to conceal their identity in any way they could in order to escape arbitrary killing, persecution, property confiscation and abuse for being “gavours.” The outside world seldom hears about the plight of those left behind.
Recently, an interesting book was published by a young writer whose family had survived in the interiors, in Palu, close to the Syrian border. The book is titled Grey Wolves and White Doves.
Although it is presented as a work of fiction, every abuse, insult and murder perpetrated against Armenians in that region and described in the book can be corroborated by eyewitness accounts.
The book does not delve into the Genocide era nor the Ashkala period; instead, it gives insights into the 1960s and ’70s.
The description of a single incident gives the entire tenor of
this 400-page docudrama.
The protagonist, Jonah, and his two brothers, are being taken to the passport office in Istanbul to receive exit visas to leave for the Armenian seminary in Jerusalem: “[the passport officer] was clearly intrigued. Armenians from the Mardin District. His tone was one of astonishment mixed with a healthy dose of contempt. ‘I thought we had solved the Armenian question and no gavours were left in Anatolia.’”
The reluctance of the officer — who had taken the boys to be Jews — softens upon receiving the proper amount of bribes and he issues the visas with the following comments: “What do I care if the Jewish bastards go to Jerusalem or not? As far as I’m concerned, it would be so much the better for Turkey if they did. We need to get rid of all of you! Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Kurds — all the same despicable vermin!”
Today, the official mentality of the government is no different. The Turkish government today continues to commit cultural genocide against 2,000 Armenian churches and monasteries, showcasing only the Akhtamar and Diyrabekir churches to dupe Europe.
The Genocide not only killed 1.5 million, but also many more unborn millions. This is not an unusual demographic projection, since it has its precedence. Thus, when Poland joined the EU, its president demanded that his country be given voting power in the EU Parliament than its actual population warranted, arguing that Poland’s population today would have been 25 million more had it not been for the Nazi extermination. Today the number of Kurds in Turkey has grown to 20-22 million. Had Armenians been left in their historic habitat, they would certainly have matched that number.
Therefore, the guilt of the Genocide extends over the unborn, which would have ranked Armenia among the major powers in the region.
Unfortunately, today the Azeri President Ilham Aliyev speaks with contempt about the dwindling population of Armenia, a direct result of the Turkish-Azeri blockade in their continuing policy of destroying Armenia.
The Genocide has also another dimension, which we consider to be our curse, but we seldom relate to the Turkish plan of assimilating Armenians. During the negotiations leading to the signing of the Lausanne Treaty, Lord Curzon of Britain asked the Turkish representative, Ismet Onunu, whether Turkey would be willing to absorb the surviving Armenian refugees, and Onunu cynically retorts: “There are vast and vacant lands in Canada and Brazil. Why don’t you settle them there?”
And Armenians did exactly what Onunu had prescribed for them.
Yes, indeed, Armenians are living in affluent societies, but material wealth does not compensate for the loss of identity. And who said that had Armenians continued to live in their ancestral lands, they would be less affluent than they are today in the West?
The child who cannot utter his mother tongue is a continuing victim of the Genocide, no matter how much opulence is afforded to him.
Unfortunately, world powers are still courting their “trusted ally” and dancing around the word “genocide” while Turkey’s guilt is festering and poisoning modern history and civilization.