The waiting ended. President Barack Obama issued his statement on “Armenian Remembrance Day” on Saturday, April 23, 2011. The text says:
“We solemnly remember the horrific events that took place ninety-six years ago, resulting in one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. In 1915, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. A full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all our interests.
Contested history destabilizes the present and stains the memory of those whose lives were taken, while reckoning with the past lays a sturdy foundation for a peaceful and prosperous shared future. History teaches us that our nations are stronger and our cause is more just when we appropriately recognize painful pasts and work to rebuild bridges of understanding toward a better tomorrow. The United States knows this lesson well from the dark chapters in our own history.
I support the courageous steps taken by individuals in Armenia and Turkey to foster a dialogue that acknowledges their common history. As we commemorate the Meds Yeghern and pay tribute to the memories of those who perished, we also recommit ourselves to ensuring that devastating events like these are never repeated. This is a contemporary cause that thousands of Armenian-Americans have made their own. The legacy of the Armenian people is one of resiliency, determination, and triumph over those who sought to destroy them. The United States has deeply benefited from the significant contributions to our nation by Armenian Americans, many of whom are descended from the survivors of the Meds Yeghern.
Americans of Armenian descent have strengthened our society and our communities with their rich culture and traditions. The spirit of the Armenian people in the face of this tragic history serves as an inspiration for all those who seek a more peaceful and just world. Our hearts and prayers are with Armenians everywhere as we recall the horrors of the Meds Yeghern, honor the memories of those who suffered, and pledge our friendship and deep respect for the people of Armenia.”
We have already heard the usual chorus of condemnation and deprecation for the failure of president Obama to honor his promise of 2008 and recognize the Armenian Genocide with the word “genocide.” Nothing new under the sun there.
There is no doubt in our mind that “genocide” is the right word to cover the legal aspect of the state-organized extermination of 1915 and following years. There is no doubt in our mind, either, that the native expressions Medz Yeghern ("Great Crime") and Aghed ("Catastrophe") are Armenian words that designate the state-organized extermination of 1915 and following years. (The latter, with some more expanded meaning.) The same way that Shoah ("Holocaust") in Hebrew designates the Jewish genocide and Nakba ("Catastrophe") in Arabic, the Palestinian displacement after 1948. There is no doubt, either, that since the late Pope John Paul II “disclosed” its potential during his 2001 prayer at the genocide monument in Yerevan, the words Medz Yeghern were seized by Americans and Turks altogether to be used as an euphemistic expression which could avoid the use of the G-word. As we have written in a previous article, some Armenian informant may have given them the wrong explanation, since they insist in using the translation “great calamity,” which is utterly wrong.
Thanks to them, one may say, those Armenian-Americans who ignore the Armenian language or refuse to learn it –because if you don’t know a language that you somehow consider your ancestors’ language, it won’t kill you if you learn it—learned of the existence of the words Medz Yeghern. In spite of their outrage –part of their ignorance—for their "discovery" and year-after-year use by President Obama since 2009, the words exist and are consistently used by Armenians also (yes, because there are Armenians who speak, write, and read Armenian, aren’t they?) as a synonym to the translated expression Haygagan Tseghasbanutiun (“Armenian Genocide”).
Therefore, Medz Yeghern = Great Crime = Haygagan Tseghasbanutiun = Armenian Genocide. Does President Obama know that he is using the same word that we use to name the same event? Someone must probably have told either him or his ghostwriter from the State Department. Do we know that he is using the same word that we use to name the same event? We probably don’t, if we don’t read Armenian.
Please look into Armenian-language newspapers since 1945, after the first time “tseghasbanutiun” was used and count how many times in any given newspaper we have used the word Medz Yeghern or simply Yeghern, even in the same article where we use tseghasbanutiun, as a synonym. Please also verify if the words Holocaust or Shoah have any legal value by themselves, since, the last time we checked, the Genocide Convention did not mention them. Nevertheless, they are consistently used in the U.S. (“Holocaust”) and Europe (“Shoah”) by non-Jews, the first being the translation of the second.
Now, since the beginning of the year, Armenian-American self-appointed commentators have consistently gone on record for bashing Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant for signing a contract with Turkish Airlines, despite having taken a position against genocide in Darfur (we don’t see why every time someone makes a deal with Turkey, we have to become more papists than the Pope), and for praising reality star Kim Kardashian’s upset regarding her cover photo on the Turkish edition of “Cosmopolitan” (hours later, K.K. had reportedly calmed down and signed a new photoshoot contract with the magazine, which our commentators conveniently omitted to note). To the extent of our knowledge of English, this is called “spinning.”
So, if we can spin a piece of news and take advantage of it to make some noise (positive or negative), why our spin doctors fail to do the same with Obama’s declaration? Why not to interpret “1.5 million Armenians” (not 300,000 as in a Turkish version) “massacred or marched to their death” (did they massacre or march by themselves?) “in the final days of the Ottoman Empire” (do we know the name of the state heir to the Ottoman Empire?) and exploit it to our advantage?
"Contested history destabilizes the present and stains the memory of those whose lives were taken, while reckoning with the past lays a sturdy foundation for a peaceful and prosperous shared future. History teaches us that our nations are stronger and our cause is more just when we appropriately recognize painful pasts and work to rebuild bridges of understanding toward a better tomorrow." Even this paragraph, which has also been rebuffed by our omniscient gurus, could also be used to our advantage. In fact, who is contesting history, not reckoning with the past and not recognizing painful pasts? Who do you think Obama is referring to?
We have come to the point where we are gradually finding common ground with Turkish commentators: while they take exception with Obama because they read behind his lines, we take exception because we refuse to read behind his lines.
“Genocide or death,” seems to be our motto.
If any reader thinks that Obama or any of his successors will use the word “Genocide,” and something will come out from that, please read the following paragraph and learn some history lesson, as we have recently done:
“Both houses [of Congress], by a joint resolution, unanimously endorsed the idea of a homeland in Palestine for the Jews, and on September 21, 1922, President Harding added his signature. The State Department considered the document distinctly annoying, and only at the last minute decided not to ask Harding to withhold his approval, and then for reasons dealing with congressional relations on another matter. But just as the careerists had refused to recognized Wilson’s public endorsement, so now they proceeded to ignore the resolution of 1922” (Melvin I. Urofsky, American Zionism from Herzl to the Holocaust, Garden City (NY): Anchor/Doubleday, 1975, p. 310).
American foreign policy regarding Turkey and the Armenian Genocide has been fully managed by the U.S. State Department at least since May 1947, when President Harry Truman enunciated his “doctrine.” The day that either the State Department is turned upside down or the Truman Doctrine is left aside, then you may expect some change.
In the meantime, remember that President Ronald Reagan uttered the word “genocide” thirty years ago, in 1981. Neither Turkey's foundations were shattered, nor U.S. policy changed. Again, there is nothing new under the sun. Before asking for change, let’s change ourselves.