26.4.14

Words Matter: Memo to Those Who Do Not Know What "Meds Yeghern" Means

Vartan Matiossian
 
On April 24 U.S. President Barack Obama issued his sixth statement on "Armenian Remembrance Day" where he used once again the Armenian expression "Meds Yeghern," which has become his staple since 2009 and has been mentioned 13 times in his statements. So far, none of our knowledgeable political activists and political commentators has ever taken the pains to let know the White House what "Meds Yeghern" actually means in the Armenian language. (Oh yes, they have given a lesson of their utter ignorance, repeating a dozen of times that it means... "Great Calamity"!) (*) Of course, they will never do it, because 1) they do not know the Armenian language and refuse to learn what they need to learn, 2) they are stuck in their self-defeatist attitude of taking a punch below the belt and then crying foul, instead of returning it with a jab to the face. (And, unfortunately, the Armenian public that fills the online comments of our weeklies with hot air knows nothing better than to swallow hook, line, and sinker their "genocide or die" dogma.) Here are the relevant paragraphs of the April 23, 2014 message of Serge Sargsyan, President of the Republic of Armenia, in their Armenian original and English translation. Both have been excerpted from the texts found at the website of the Presidency of Armenia (www.president.am).


Այսօր մենք խնկարկում ենք Հայոց մեծ եղեռնի անմեղ զոհերի յիշատակը: Մէկ ու կէս միլիոն հայորդիներ զոհ դարձան մի այնպիսի յանցագործութեան, որն այն ժամանակ դեռ անուն չունէր: (...) Այսօր, գրեթե հարիւր տարուայ հեռաւորութիւնից դիտելիս, ակնյայտ է, որ մենք՝ որպէս ազգ, պատրաստ չենք եղել դիմակայելու նման հարուածի՝ ո՛չ հոգեբանօրէն, ո՛չ կազմակերպուելու առումով: Հայ ժողովրդի բոլոր հատուածները եւ բոլոր սերունդները շարունակում են մինչեւ այսօր իրենց ճակատագրի վրայ զգալ այն հարուածի հետևանքները, որ մեզ հասցրեց Մեծ եղեռնը: (...)  Սիրելի՛ հայրենակիցներ, Ապրիլի 24-ը միայն խորհրդանշական տարեթիւ է. բոլորի համար էլ պարզ է, որ հայերի ցեղասպանութիւնը մէկ օրում չի սկսվել և մեկ օրում չի աւարտուել: (...) Այսօր մենք Հայոց ցեղասպանութեան 100-րդ տարելիցի շեմին ենք:  (...) Ցանկացած հանրութիւն, նաեւ՝ թուրքերը, պէտք է հպարտանայ իր այն նախնիներով, որոնք կեանքեր են փրկել եւ ձեռնոց նետել ցեղասպանութեանը: Մենք հիշում ենք սա: Մենք երախտագիտությամբ ենք լցված նաեւ այն երկրների ու ժողովուրդների հանդէպ, որոնք ապաստան տուեցին ցեղասպանութիւնից մազապուրծ մեր հայրենակիցներին: (...)  Հայոց ցեղասպանութեան հարիւրամեակին մենք մօտենում ենք ուղղուող մէջքով, բաց ճակատով եւ պետութեամբ, որ կոչւում է Հայաստանի Հանրապետութիւն (...):
Today we bow to the memory of the innocent victims of the Armenian Genocide [in Armenian, Hayots Medz Yeghern]. One and a half million Armenians fell prey to such a crime which did not have a name at that time. (...) Today, nearly a hundred years after the Genocide, it is obvious that we as a nation were not ready to undergo those hardships neither psychologically nor in terms of an organization degree. Up until now, all the parts of Armenian people and all generations have known what the outcomes of the Genocide [in Armenian, Medz Yeghern] feel like. (...) The 24th of April is just a symbolic date: it is clear that the Armenian Genocide [in Armenian, Hayots Tseghasbanutiun] was not initiated and put an end in one day. Moreover, it is alive as far as the successor of the Ottoman Turkey continues its policy of utter denial. (...) Today, we stand on the threshold of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide [in Armenian, Hayots Tseghasbanutiun]. (...). Every society including Turks should be proud of their ancestors who rescued lives and threw down the gauntlet to the Genocide [in Armenian, Tseghasbanutiun]. We remember this. We express our gratitude to all the countries and peoples who granted asylum to our compatriots having had a narrow escape from the Genocide [in Armenian, Tseghasbanutiun]. (...)
We are approaching the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide [in Armenian, Hayots Tseghasbanutiun] with a straightening back, open-faced and having a state whose name is the Republic of Armenia. (...)

Anyone who may read English will notice that Serge Sargsyan has used three times Hayots Tseghasbanutiun (plus two times Tseghasbanutiun) and two times Hayots Medz Yeghern or Medz Yeghern to name the same historical event, always translated Armenian Genocide. One may ask why people have spent six years blaming and cursing Obama for not using the word "genocide" he had used as a candidate and promised to use as a president (but he was not the first and will not probably be the last), instead of telling him on April 24, 2009 something along the lines of: "After using the word 'genocide' 21 times as a candidate, you have just admitted that 'I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed.' Therefore, Mr. President, despite your noticeable efforts to not say 'genocide,' you have just used Medz Yeghern, the Armenian words for Armenian Genocide. It does not matter in what language you have said it: you have said it!" Have they ever heard of the tale of the emperor's new clothes and how it ended? Or do they think that the Armenian language has nothing to do with the Armenian Cause? (**)

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(*) Mustafa Akyol starts his column "Erdoğan and the Armenians" (Hurriyet Daily News, April 26, 2014) with the following phrase: "Right on the eve of April 24, the day that Armenians all across the world commemorate the Meds Yeghern, or the “Great Calamity” that Turks inflicted on them in 1915, Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan took a surprising step (...)" There is no calamity "inflicted" on people, either natural-made or man-made. (Who "inflicts" an earthquake? Who "inflicts" a building collapse?) Open an Armenian dictionary and learn: The Medz Yeghern was the Great (Evil) Crime (literally translated) that Turks inflicted on Armenians in 1915, and the Aghed was the Calamity that Armenians endured, courtesy of the Turkish Great Crime. "Great Evil Crime" = "most evil crime." The most evil crime is called... genocide.
(**) But Rasim Ozal Kutahyali, a columnist for Taraf, starts his article "How I faced the Armenian genocide" (Al-Monitor, April 22, 2014) with the following paragraph: "Another April 24 is coming around. A landmark in Middle Eastern history, the date this year will mar the 99th anniversary of the catastrophe of 1915. Ninety-nine years ago, one of the region’s Christian peoples, the Armenians, fell victim to a great tragedy they call Metz Yeghern, or genocide." It seems that some Turks, unlike most Armenians, have already learned what Medz Yeghern means.

3 comments:

  1. Antranig KasbarianApril 26, 2014 at 6:03 PM

    Thank you, Vartan, for these comments. I’m not looking for a polemic, but i think you must acknowledge an additional point: Medz Yeghern is a cultural term used largely for communication AMONG Armenians, not a political term for discourse in the international arena. We should distinguish between the two contexts: Serzh Sargsyan is not running an Armenian institute on literature or language; he is the President of RoA. As such, he must take care not to fall into a trap. Everyone knows that the accepted term in the legal/political sphere is not Medz Yeghern, nor Shoah, nor any other such term. The correct term is Genocide, and if we are addressing this matter politically, then Genocide must be the word to use... since, as you correctly note, words do matter.

    I am pleasantly surprised that Pres. Sargsyan uses the term Tseghasbanutiun alongside Medz Yeghern. However, i am greatly displeased when APPARENTLY he prefers to use Medz Yeghern when holding political discussions, as he did this week during meetings with US House Foreign Affairs Committee members. For the purpose of such meetings, the distinction between terms does matter.

    As for the hypothetical approach to Obama (i.e. "You have said it"), i worry that such approaches will simply amount to preaching to ourselves. We may be satisfied in pronouncing this, but i highly doubt there will be any echo, any conversation from the Obama side, if we were to seize upon that argument. Given the way this political game has been played, that scenario simply doesn't work.

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  2. Thank you for your comment, Antranig. Please be reminded of one thing: Medz Yeghern is NOT a "cultural term," it is as "cultural" as Shoah is, which is used all over the world by presidents and political leaders, including President Obama, mind you, as synonym of Holocaust. And President Sargsyan is NOT the first to use "Hayots Tseghasbanutiun" alongside "Medz Yeghern." Open the Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia (vol. 7, 1981) and read the entry "Medz Yeghern," where "Hayeri Tseghasbanutiun" [Genocide of the Armenians, Armenian Genocide] comes immediately after as synonym. Does it ring a bell? Yes, one bell: Medz Yeghern and Armenian Genocide are synonymously used, from the Republic of Armenia and the Diaspora. But when Armenian Americans ignore, whether purposefully or not, their ancestral language, then it is when non-Armenians, from Turkey to the United States take advantage, as they did. If we had seized to the argument on April 25, 2009, as I said (and let's not forget that Medz Yeghern literally means "Great Crime," it never meant "Great Calamity," as Armenian American commentators went on and on with an insistence deserving a better cause), then be sure that you would have heard a conversation from the Obama side: at the very least, they would have dropped "Medz Yeghern" as a hot potato on 2010. But nobody did, and the result is before your eyes.

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  3. Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge that, unlike Obama, some others did learn something, whether with or without our help, such as the American Jewish Committee: "In a month of solemn remembrance of the atrocities of the last century – from the 20th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide to the annual commemoration in Israel and the United States of the Holocaust – we pause in mournful tribute to the memories of the estimated 1.5 million victims of the Meds Yeghern, the Genocide of Armenians, committed in the final years of the Ottoman Empire." (see www.ajc.org).

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