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27.11.12

The Instrumentalization of the "Great Catastrophe"

Vartan Matiossian
 
It was a pleasant surprise to find out, a few days ago, that our first article, "The Birth of 'Great Calamity: How Medz Yeghern Was Introduced onto the World Stage" (The Armenian Weekly, October 25, 2012, see also elsewhere in this blog), had appeared in French on November 12 on the website of Collectif VAN (Vigilance Armenienne contre le Negationnisme), a non-partisan alliance against Turkish denial actively working in France since 2004 (www.collectifvan.org). Here is the main paragraph of the well-crafted introduction to Tigran Mheryan's translation, signed by the Collectif VAN:
"Le choix des termes est capital pour la conservation de la mémoire des victimes et pour la vérité historique. Depuis qu’elle a été utilisée par le pape Jean-Paul II au mémorial du génocide arménien à Erevan et dans les allocutions du président Bush aux Etats-Unis, l’expression arménienne Medz Yeghern - qui est systématiquement traduite par « Grande Catastrophe » en lieu et place de « Grand Crime » - est instrumentalisée par les médias, notamment les médias turcs, avec la volonté d’en dénaturer complètement le sens premier et de retirer toute intention génocidaire. L’article ci-dessous invite à une étude chronologique des sources sémantiques de l’expression Medz Yeghern et montre que si le pape a utilisé celle-ci, il a également employé le terme de « génocide », ce que les médias se gardent bien de mentionner."
(The choice of words is fundamental to preserving the memory of the victims and historical truth. Since it has been utilized by Pope John Paul II at the memorial of the Armenian genocide in Yerevan and in the statements of President Bush in the United States, the Armenian expression Medz Yeghern -- which is systematically translated as "Great Catastrophe" instead of "Great Crime" -- is instrumentalized (*) by the media, particularly the Turkish media, with the purpose of fully denaturing the primary sense and eliminating any genocidal intention. The following article offers a chronological study of the semantic sources of the expression Medz Yeghern and shows that, if the Pope used the latter, he also used the term 'genocide,' which the media make sure not to mention).
The second article, "The Turkish-Made 'Great Calamity': How 'Medz Yeghern' Became ' Büyük Felâket" (The Armenian Weekly, November 7, 2012, see elsewhere in this blog), was translated by Gilbert Beguian and appeared on the website of the premier French Armenian monthly, Nouvelles d'Armenie Magazine (www.armenews.com), on November 17 (corrected version). It also had a comment by the translator attached to it:
"On peut trouver toutes les raisons qu’on voudra pour employer Medz Yeghern, Tseghespanoutioun, plutôt que Grande Catastrophe, Grande Calamité ( !), Grand Crime, Grand massacre, Grande tragédie, ... 
Depuis Raphaël Lemkin, le seul terme qui convient pour qualifier, caractériser ce que les Turcs ont fait aux Arméniens, le mot unique et exact, c’est Génocide. Quand on emploie une autre expression, ou un autre mot, c’est nécessairement réducteur. On ne le fait que pour des raisons qui sont uniquement politiques. Le journaliste d’Asbarez l’avait bien vu, lui, le 24 décembre 2008 (note xix)."
(All sort of reasons may be found to utilize Medz Yeghern, Tseghaspanoutioun, also Great Catastrophe, Great Calamity (!), Great Crime, Great massacre, Great tragedy...
Since Raphael Lemkin, the only term that is convenient to qualify and characterize what the Turks had done to the Armenians, the unique and exact word, is Genocide. When another expression is employed, or another word, it is necessarily reductive. This is not done for any reasons but purely political ones. The journalist of "Asbarez" had seen it well on December 24, 2008 (footnote 19)).
As we will see, there is a subtle difference between "naming" and "qualifying." We maintain that: 
1) The events of 1915 qualify as genocide; 
2) It does not mean that their name is "genocide."
The series is still ongoing (the third article is "When Dictionaries Are Left Unopened: How ''Medz Yeghern'' Turned into Terminology of Denial," The Armenian Weekly, November 27, 2012, see elsewhere in this blog). We are grateful to the French Armenian websites for closely following it.

(*) To instrumentalize: to use something or someone for one's own agenda.

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