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9.9.14

Armenian Genocide: Erdogan Must Say the Truth



Edward Nalbandian
 Translated by Vartan Matiossian
 
This is the verbatim translation of the French article that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic Armenia recently published in the Parisian daily "Le Figaro". Several outlets of Armenia (Armenian Public Radio, News.am, Tert.am) posted an English version on September 6, called "full version" in Tert. am, as well as in "Asbarez," which reprinted it on September 8. According to Tert.am, there were "slight abridgements" in the version published by "Le Figaro," which were far from being "slight": FOUR entire paragraphs and HALF of FOUR others were left out, without counting some significant textual differences.


Missed opportunities fill the history of international relations.
The statement of Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the eve of the 99th anniversary of the genocide of the Armenians is such an unfortunate case. The artificial notions of “common pain” and “fair memory” and the appeal to the Turks and Armenians to “follow Erdogan’s lead” are misleading. Has not Ahmet Davutoglu declared that, “the main goal of Erdogan’s statement is to prevent international efforts towards the recognition of the genocide”? Instead of concrete steps towards reconciliation, here is a call looking forward to countering the international recognition of the Armenian genocide.
It is hard to find a nation nostalgic towards its centuries-old suppression in its ancestral homeland. Any oppressed nation cannot share the nostalgia towards the Ottoman Empire. Like other empires, the Ottoman Empire was built upon and forcefully sustained through suppression of the basic rights and freedoms of many of its citizens.
Mr Davutoglu’s differentiation of the Western and Turkish perception of sufferings by Christians and Muslims is astonishing. The Armenian Genocide is not only part of Armenian or western memory and history, but also of the memory of the Muslim world. One of the earliest references to the Armenian Genocide belongs to Muslim witness Fayez El Ghossein, who in 1916 published his work entitled “The Massacres in Armenia.” Sharif and Emir of Mecca Husayn ibn Ali was one of the prominent Islamic leaders, who acted against the program of physical annihilation of the Armenians and called on his subjects to defend Armenians as they would defend themselves and their children. In 1919-1921 the large-scale extermination of Armenians were referred such Turkish public figures as Refi Cevat, Ahmet Refik Altinay. Many Muslim historians refer to the massacres of Armenians as genocide, while Arab historian Moussa Prince used the term “Armenocide”, considering it as “the most genocidal genocide.”
For the sake of “just memory” artificial political actions and calls are not needed, while those, who dare express their opinion freely are killed like Hrant Dink, or exiled like Orhan Pamuk, or taken to custody, like Ragıp Zarakolu.
Davutoglu is playing the same old tune of the commission of historians “in order to find the truth”. A competent institution on the issue, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, has discarded this idea by calling Ankara to accept facts proven long ago. We need concrete progress and not worn-out tactics. The ratification of the Zurich Protocols, the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations, the opening of the borders could pave the way to the difficult path of reconciliation. The sub-commission on historical dimension, as envisaged by those protocols, could implement a dialogue with the aim to restore mutual confidence between our two nations. It is impossible to do it by putting under question once again the reality of the Armenian genocide.
Mr. Erdogan has yet underlined that in 1915 “many Ottoman citizens lost their lives, regardless of their religion or their origin,” trying to morally equalize war losses and the systematic annihilation of civilians targeted by their ethnic origin; actually, the systematic annihilation of Armenian civilians perpetrated in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire is a genocide as defined by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Did the Turkish president forget the indictment of the 1919 Turkish Military Tribunal, which formally proved that the large-scale massacres of the Armenians were a state policy, and sentenced its main instigators to death? Didn’t he notice that Rafael Lemkin referred to the Armenian example to develop the concept of genocide? Should I remind that on May 24, 1915 France, Great Britain, and Russia issued a special declaration by which they warned the perpetrators of the atrocities of their personal responsibility for “these new crimes [of Turkey] against humanity and civilization”? The Armenian genocide was planned with genocidal intent beyond any reasonable doubt. Meanwhile an attempt is made by the Turkish officials to equate the losses of the war and the systematic annihilation of Armenians, as a result of which millions of my predecessors lost their lives, homes, lands, properties.There was an attempt to strip millions of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire of their right to life, as well as their past – more than 2000 cultural and religious monuments were destroyed and the survivors were driven off the lands they had inhabited for many centuries, before Turks came to this region. In 1915 one of the chief masterminds of the Armenian genocide, then Interior Minister Mehmed Talaat Pasha confessed to Germany’s Consul General that “there is no Armenian question, because there are no more Armenians.” He was wrong, but the nature, magnitude and the consequences of that horrible crime are far beyond the definition of “suffering.”
Erdogan rhetorically asks: “If such a genocide occurred, would there have been any Armenians living in this country?” Today a large number of Jews live in Germany, but no one would dare put under question once again the reality of the Shoah. Or, how can one speak of “relocation”, when 1.5 million of people died or were killed? Planned marching people to the dessert, starving them to death, killing most of them en route is not a relocation, it is a “death march,” it is a genocide.
The denial of the genocide, the atmosphere of impunity paved the way for the repetition of new crimes against humanity. Genocide denial is considered by scholars as the last phase of the crime of genocide. The existence of certain people who deny it does not mean that there is a “controversy.” Official denial imposed by the Turkish state does not erase the factuality of a genocide which nobody doubts. Turkey makes a controversy with herself.
Is it possible to make the descendants of genocide survivors, spread all over the world, a part of the complicity of genocide denial? Is it possible to equate perpetrators and victims of genocide by such clichés as “common pain”? It is appalling to imagine that the perpetrators of the Holocaust, of genocides in Cambodia, in Rwanda, and other crimes against humanity, can be equated with the victims. Is it even possible to consider genocide survivors’ descendants as “Turkish diaspora”, which some Turkish politicians are trying to do today?
Esther Mujawayo, survivor of the Tutsi genocide, has recalled before the UN Human Rights Council that today “the fourth generation of Armenian is still waiting.” The entire international community waits for Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide. The sincere desire of reconciliation must be proven by the recognition and condemnation of this crime. The Turkish government must not refrain from taking this path that thousands of Turkish citizens have already chosen.
Davutoglu has taken composer Komitas as an example of Armenians’ creative action in the Ottoman Empire. “Just memory” should contribute to make known the life of Komitas, who was a witness to the Genocide. It should recall the horrors that led him to say that “this distress will drive us mad!” It should underscore that, from 1916 onwards and for 20 years, this distress drove him to end his life a psychiatric hospital.
On April 24, 2003, when we were unveiling the Komitas statue in Paris, I expressed hope that this memorial to the victims of the Armenian genocide could symbolize the memory of the victims of all genocides of the 20th century, that it would become a site of contemplation for all those who consider tolerance and respect to human life and dignity are continuous duty, that there would bow not only the children of those who suffered in their body and their soul, but also the children of those who caused those sufferings. The route to reconciliation does not take the tortuous paths of denial, but the straight and clear roads of memory and awareness, because true reconciliation does not mean either forgetting the past or poisoning younger generations with denialist tales. Turkey must reconcile with its own past to be able to build its future.
The President of Armenia has invited his Turkish colleague on April 24, 1915, on the occasion of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. We sincerely hope that it will not be a missed opportunity and the President of Turkey will be in Yerevan on that day.

"Le Figaro," September 6, 2014


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