Armenia Before Namibia

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenia and Namibia are worlds apart; the first one is in the Caucasus and the latter in Southwestern Africa. Relations or the relevance of one to the other is scarce in their histories, except for the fact that Namibia turns out to be the favorite destination of Armenia’s second president, Robert Kocharian, for safari and lion hunting. It is also rumored that he has investments in Namibian diamond mines.

The other connection is evident through Germany, a former colonial power whose leaders’ hands are soaked in the blood of both Armenians and Namibians.

Last year, when the German Parliament passed the resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide, there was also a moment of honesty in the bill to recognize German culpability in the execution of the Armenian Genocide.

German history begins and ends in genocides: the Herero extermination, the Armenian Genocide and the Jewish Holocaust.

In 1884 the German government under Otto Von Bismarck proclaimed a protectorate over southwest Africa. Germany as a colonial power carved out German South-West Africa, which eventually became the independent country of Namibia.

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Namibia is sparsely populated to this day (population over 2.2 million) because of its inhospitable terrain. After the German occupation, conflict began to arise between the settlers and the indigenous people circa the 1890s. In 1903, the Nama tribe revolted, later joined by the Herero in 1904. Germany pursued a ruthless military campaign which resulted in the deaths of about 54,000 Herero natives (out of a total population of 70,000). The survivors were driven to the desert to perish.

A book by David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen titled The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and Colonial Roots of Nazism (2001) traces the German penchant for ethnic cleansing to that era and it states that the survivors of the Herero revolt were interned in concentration camps and systematically starved and worked to death.

All these elements seem like they were a dress rehearsal for the Armenian Genocide and later for the Jewish Holocaust.

A reviewer of the above book, Fredrick Brown, has made an interesting discovery and a link to later German atrocities. He writers: “When I discovered that Herman Goering’s father had been involved, it was simple link to make that decimation of the Herero and Nama peoples might have been a precursor to future Nazi horrors.”

But all is not forgotten. Although the German descendants continue living in Namibia and some vestiges still remain intact, a controversy arose in the city of Swakompund, mostly populated by Germans, about a statue erected in memory of the war in the extermination of the Herero people. The monument, which was known as Laboe Marine Denkmal or the Laboe Naval Memorial, was completed in 1936 to commemorate the soldiers who helped crush the rebellion by Herero and Nama tribes. The local people have been asking for the removal of that offensive memorial, similar to the statue of Talaat Pasha in Istanbul.

A recent New York Times article addressing the development of this century-old issue said: “The push for the removal comes as the governments of Germany and Namibia are engaging in negotiations to close one of the grimmest chapters in Africa’s colonial history, the genocide of tens of thousands of Herero and Nama between 1904 and 1908. After decades of denial, German officials say they are ready to acknowledge the genocide formally, issue an apology and offer compensation.”

If the murder of 54,000 ethnic people is acknowledged as a genocide, how would the murder of 1.5 million people be qualified? Acknowledging that episode of history as genocide refutes all arguments against the Armenian Genocide that at that time Rafael Lemkin had not coined the term genocide or the United Nations Genocide Convention of 1948 was not yet declared and further that no Nuremberg trials were held to define the event as genocide.

Apologists and deniers will try to find loopholes to argue against the Armenian Genocide but to no avail.

The Holocaust took place before the UN Genocide convention and Germany never invaded Israel (which did not exist then) but compensation was given to the new country after the formation of Israel and continues to this day.

The acknowledgement of the Herero Genocide is not yet a fact, but the German admission of the Armenian Genocide is. Thus, it behooves the Armenian government to engage the German government and negotiate a compensation package.

Of course, human life is valuable and the body count is immaterial in this case. But a case in point should be made: The Turks came from the steppes of Central Asia to the plains of Anatolia to destroy civilizations that had existed for millennia there, including the Armenians and Greeks, and adding insult to injury, they still continue to desecrate those lands.

Germany acted in collusion with the Ittihadist government during the Armenian Genocide. In fact, there is a distinct methodology in the extermination of the Herero people, the Armenians and the Jews and others during World War II.

During World War I, the Berlin-Baghdad railway was a strategic priority for the Germans as well as the Ottomans, who murdered Armenians because they supposedly hampered the war effort by inhabiting the lands where the railroad was eventually constructed. Therefore, Germany had a vested interest in the removal of people blocking the advancement of that strategic project.

The Green Party leader in the German Parliament, Cem Ozdemir, revealed a historic perspective in drafting the Genocide resolution, which also included the mention of German culpability, which gives Armenians a legal leg to stand on, as well as a different dimension from all other prior resolutions.

The Armenian government must take the initiative to begin the process. This case cannot be left to the lawyers who wrested compensation from the insurance companies and then denigrated the case and insulted the memory of martyrs by publically embarrassing each other. In fact, two of the lawyers are currently under investigation.

Armenians have or should have empathy towards all the nations who have experienced mass extermination. The descendants of the Herero people certainly deserve compensation which the German government is ready to offer.

The Armenian Genocide and the German responsibility have already been admitted. Therefore, that sequence places Armenia first to receive compensation.

Thus, Armenia before Namibia.