Sunday, April 29, 2007

Remembering the Armenian Genocide

This last week marked the 92nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.  During the First World War, a coalition of ultranationalist and reformists within the Ottoman Empire conducted a genocide resulting in the systematic murders of over 1.5 million Armenian people in their ancestral homelands.  The reformists, known as the Young Turks, emerged within the Ottoman State in the late 19th century and were mostly composed of young military students.

Following the revolution and the deposition of the sultan, the Young Turks sought to strengthen the Ottoman State through a centralization of power and authority and a Turkish ultranationalist ideology to eliminate the already existing multi-ethnic movements.  The Young Turks and their newly empowered political organization, the Committee of Union and Progress (or in Turkish: İttihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti), carefully set up a special organization (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa) that conducted the slaughter and fatal deportation of the Armenian people who lived in regions lying in present-day Turkey.  The campaign was initiated as part of an organized plan to eliminate the Armenians.

In 1915, the Young Turk government (CUP) began a campaign of deportation and forced Armenian populations throughout the region into starvation.  The CUP sought to end the Armenian question in regards to the peoples’ rights.  The campaign began with disarmament of all Armenians serving in the military, followed by the systematic killing of religious, political and intellectual leaders.  The deportation of the Armenian population was formally declared on May 27th of 1915.  Most of the men were slaughtered while the women, children and elderly were forced to march for days without food or water and consequently died of starvation.  Thousands of others were massacred.

Armenian Genocide

Today, 21 countries have officially recognized the 1915 deportations and massacres as an official genocide.  However, the Turkish State continues to deny the occurrence of the genocide despite evidence that the systematic deportations and massacres of the Armenian people did indeed take place and constitute genocide by all definitions.  In Turkey, people are arrested for merely suggesting that the events that took place were genocide.

The Turkish government has made several efforts to eliminate recognition of the genocide by spending large sums of money and through lobbying in Washington DC.  One example of such efforts was reported by the Washington Post in October 2000 when a bill seeking United States recognition of the Armenian genocide was considered by U.S. Congress.  During this time, the Turkish government threatened to end a $4.5 billion deal in military trade with the U.S.  The bill consequently failed.

Even today, official recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the United States remains uncertain.  Politicians in Washington DC have suggested that passing any resolution to recognize the genocide would lead to bitter relations between the United States and it’s Turkish ally.  While a new resolution is supported by 191 House members, it is still unclear whether or not the resolution will make it to the Congressional floor.  If it does, however, it is expected to pass.

While recognition of the genocide by all people and countries around the world is important, the recognition of ongoing injustices within Turkey should also be a high priority.  To this day, Turkey remains a state consumed by ultranationalist ideology that harms any progression of the state towards democracy and that feeds hostility to the non-Turkish citizens in the country.  The Armenian Question was answered by the Young Turk government through genocide.  The Kurdish Question that exists today in Turkey is also being answered by countless atrocities of ethnocide, displacements and the denial of several rights of people of Kurdish descent. 

Unfortunately, without pressure on Turkey by the international community to recognize the events that occurred 92 years ago as a genocide, Turkey may never be able to admit their current injustices against the Kurdish people.  Without first admitting the facts, any reform can be viewed as an impossible task.  Recent changes that were supposedly made in Turkey in order to be consistent with EU standards have been deemed as simply theoretical.  The EU Turkey Civic Commission has addressed issues that indicate, “True democratic reform can only occur if Turkey undertakes new political reform to its state institutions and banishes adherence to ethnic nationalism which is the root cause of the conflict and Turkey’s endemic instability.”

Such ultranationalist ideology and state policy continues to harm the ethnic minorities in Turkey and the Armenians still there today as well.  Hrant Dink, a journalist and prominent member of the Armenian minority in Turkey, was critical of the Turkish denial of the genocide and worked towards Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and minority rights in Turkey.  He was prosecuted three times for allegedly denigrating Turkishness, a law punishable by up to sixth months to ten years; such is a law that demonstrates the ultranationalist ideology that exists in Turkey.

Hrant Dink

Hrant Dink was murdered on January of 2007 by a Turkish nationalist.  While several arrests have been made, many people have protested that the case remains unresolved.  Since his murder, documents have shown up revealing Dink’s fear for his own life as he was constantly threatened by nationalists especially during the last few years of his life.  The most curious document was that which revealed that Hrant Dink was particularly fearing his life during his court trials and his encounters with generals of the Turkish military.  All this is still a result of the dangerous problems that still plague Turkey since the days of the genocide and the lack of progress being made to address these problems.

The barbaric acts of destruction and genocide have been committed throughout history and past mistakes have often been repeated; the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the Kurdish Genocide in Iraq and the current genocide in Darfur, as well as all other past and present atrocities exist today.  These barbaric acts must be recognized and condemned.  The silent stance that the world took in each of these cases was and is just as much a factor as to why they were repeated and why they continue today. 

Silence is deadly.

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