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30.1.14

Bashar al-Assad Did Not Recognize the Armenian Genocide, Period

 Vartan Matiossian

As the readers of this blog know, Syrian President Bashar-al Assad has gone on record comparing the Armenian genocide to the brutal killing of civilians by foreign fighters in Syria during an interview with Agence France Press (AFP): "In more recent modern times, it reminds us of the massacres perpetrated by the Ottomans against the Armenians when they killed a million and a half Armenians and half a million Orthodox Syriacs in Syria and in Turkish territory." 
In his latest column ("Asbarez," January 28, 2014; "The Armenian Weekly," January 29, 2014), Armenian American commentator Harut Sassounian has reflected on this reference to the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians: "This is the first time that any Syrian head of state has acknowledged the Armenian mass murders and identified the perpetrator as Ottoman Turkey." Maybe it is, maybe it is not. Do we know for sure that, since the independence of Syria in 1946, no Syrian head of state has ever put together the words "Armenian," "massacre," and "Turkey" in the same paragraph?

According to Sassounian, Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, made a similar remark two days later: "How about the Armenian Genocide where 1.5 million people were killed?" For the benefit of the reader, we are going to transcribe Jaafari's remark from his press conference held in Geneva on January 22, 2014, according to the voice-over English translation we found in YouTube: "Every time an issue comes to the surface, people claim there is a need for an international tribunal. In that case, why didn't they take Bush, Sarkozy, Hollande, and others who have waged war and killed many people? How about the Armenian genocide where 5 million [sic] people were killed?" (1) We cannot ascertain, indeed, whether the mistaken number of "five million" comes from the speaker (who spoke in Arabic, but was doubled by the voiceover) or the translator.
Sassounian noted the obvious fact that Assad's words are part of his lashing back at the hostile actions of the Turkish government against Syria and concluded: "Despite Pres. Assad's political motivations, Armenians should welcome his belated statement on the Armenian Genocide. After refraining from acknowledging the Genocide for all the wrong reasons for so long, at least now the Syrian President is on record telling the truth about past and present Turkish atrocities!"
The columnist has also mentioned Abd al-Qader Qaddura, Speaker of the Syrian Parliament, as "the only other high ranking Syrian official who has acknowledged the Armenian Genocide." Qaddura — who, by the way, ended his tenure as speaker in 2002 and passed away in 2013 — inscribed a poignant statement in the book of remembrance of the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan on July 16, 2001: "As we visit the memorial and museum of the genocide that the Armenian nation suffered in 1915, we stand in full admiration and respect in front of those heroes that faced death with courage and heroism. Their children and grandchildren continued after them to immortalize their courage and struggle…. With great respect we bow our heads in memory of the martyrs of the Armenian nation — our friends — and hail their ability for resoluteness and triumph. We will work together to liberate every human being from aggression and oppression." Incidentally, this is a statement that seems not to have been widely publicized until the publication of Sassounian's article — we have not found a single reference to it on the Internet — which comes months after Qaddura's death. It is a private document that perhaps was not intended to be released in his lifetime.
Most importantly, it is absolutely baffling that a veteran and well-known campaigner for the recognition of the Armenian genocide during more than thirty years may naively accept that the President of Syria in 2014 has recognized the Armenian genocide without using the word "genocide." 
Is it necessary to remind anyone that the current President of the United States has used similar and even stronger wording in every presidential statement since 2009? Still, writers like Sassounian on the forefront and other followers, as well as various Armenian organizations have not failed to remind us once and again, in all possible and impossible ways, that Barack Obama has not recognized the Armenian genocide because he has not used the word "genocide."
Therefore, we are forced to humbly ask from appointed and self-appointed defenders of the Armenian Cause, on the verge of the hundredth anniversary, to come to an agreement as to what "recognition of the Armenian genocide" entails.
Is it the acknowledgement of the Turkish savagery in 1915 and following years? If it is that (re Assad's declaration), Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently used the term "inhumane" to label the deportations of 1915. Doesn't that acknowledge Turkish savagery? Perhaps someone will tell us that he has recognized the genocide too.
Or is "recognition" the qualification with the use of the legal word "genocide" or even an equivalent expression?
How come Assad "is on record telling the truth about past and present Turkish atrocities" and we are told Armenians should welcome his statement under the misleading title "Syrian President Finally Recognizes the Armenian Genocide," while Obama has been repeatedly bashed for not keeping his promise as a candidate and has been told that "Armenian Americans reject your offensive word games on genocide"? (2)
After scolding Obama a hundred times for using the word Medz Yeghern instead of "genocide" (and even ignorantly daring to call "terminology of denial" our own Armenian word), now we have the chutzpah of applauding Assad for using "massacres" instead of "genocide."
Who is playing "offensive word games on genocide" then? 
One is forced to recall the biblical saying and repeat it in its entirety: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"
Let's be clear: this is not a matter of Assad or Obama, but of ... logic.
Some of us may not be either political scientists or political activists, or be actively involved in politics or politicking, but we are able to read English... and to think by ourselves.
For better or for worse, we do not forget what we read either.


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(1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWzZ58sYayY, segment from 40:58 to 41:27.
(2) Harut Sassounian, "Mr. President, Armenian American Reject Your Offensive Word Games on Genocide," The Armenian Weekly, April 28, 2011.

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