Sunday, April 26, 2015

Thoughts on the Armenian Genocide

We visited Istanbul two years ago for a week. As have millions before us, we fell in love with the city. I would love to return to Turkey for 1-2 months to see the rest of this great country, which has so much to offer: history, the early Church, culture - Cappadocia, Izmir, Ephesus, Pergamon, Gallipoli, Troy, Ankara (Ataturk’s Memorial and Inoye), Mount Ararat, Bursa, Van, Bodrum, Konya, Pamukkale. Even one month is too short for Istanbul. However, if anyone in the current Turkish Government reads this blog, I’ll probably be denied a visa. The Armenian Genocide is a proven historical fact. It was even contemporaneously reported, almost daily by the New York Times, as it unfolded. The United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire sent periodic reports to Washington. German soldiers took photos. About only two facts are unknown. First is the actual death toll. Was it 500,000, 1 million, 1.2 million, or 1.5 million? The answer is unknowable, but one critical fact is the roughly 82% drop in the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire from 2,133,190 in 1914 to 387,800 in 1922 according to a study by the University of Minnesota Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Many Armenians successfully fled. The Armenian diaspora includes Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Russia and the United States. For example, over 200,000 Armenian Americans claim residence in Los Angeles County. The second fact is that no written document from the Three Pashas ruling Turkey through the Committee on Union and Progress has been found ordering the deaths of the Armenians. The Deportation Order from Talat Pasha, and he kept abreast of the deportations by telegraph. The units executing the genocide did not act spontaneously; they received their orders, presumably oral, from someone, starting with Talat. Similarly, no written order has been found by Adolph Hitler authorizing the Holocaust. We know though the Armenian Genocide began on April 24, 1915 when 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders were arrested in Istanbul and subsequently executed. We also know that the Turkish Legislature enacted the Tehcir Law on May 29, 1915. It authorized the military to deport any one who posed a “threat to national security,” followed on September 13, 1915 by a statute authorizing the confiscation of abandoned Armenian property. General Enver Pasha led the Turkish Third Army into a disastrous defeat at Sarikemish against the Russian Army in 1914. He blamed his Armenian soldiers for the loss. Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman Army were disarmed and transferred out of active duty units into Labor Battalions, and subsequently killed. The Army and local authorities then rounded up the Armenians in Anatolia. Many were marched into the Syrian Desert to die from the elements or starvation. Armenians were shot, drowned, raped, tossed off cliffs, burned alive, and thrown overboard. Entire villages were burnt to the ground with the Armenians trapped inside. This was cruelty writ large. Anatolia is the heartland of Turkey. It was also home to over a million Armenian Christians when World War I began. The Armenians had been in Anatolia for millennia. The Ottomans wrote a chapter in “Man’s Inhumanity to Man” with the Armenian Genocide. It was a forerunner to the Nazi extermination of the Jews. German allies who witnessed the Armenian Genocide learned from it. Hitler is quoted as saying: “Who remembers the Armenians?” The Eurasian land mass traditionally lacked fixed political boundaries. Borders constantly changed with the vicissitudes of conquerors. Ethnic cleansing sometimes accompanied the changes. The end of World War I witnessed the creation of new countries out of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, Tsarist Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the fall of the Kaiser. Boundaries were shifted during and after World War II. The Soviet Union seized eastern Poland, while the Allies gave Prussia to Poland. The bloody partition of India ensued. Borders are still flexible. Germany (and Vietnam) have united, but Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia have split into pieces. The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in 15 new countries, but Mother Russia seems intent upon regaining control of many of them, starting with parts of Georgia and Ukraine. China is engaged in many border disputes with its neighbors, and the Mideast seems as fluid and volatile as ever. One of the greater lessons from the Armenian Genocide is how quickly people living together for generations will turn on their neighbors. It happened in Anatolia with Kurds being some of the most vicious Ottoman executioners of the Armenians. The Kurds have since been very apologetic to the Armenians. They had subsequently felt the wrath of the Turks. Neighbors turned on Jews during the Holocaust. The same pattern happened with the Rwanda Genocide, and more recently at the end of the Second Gulf War when Iraqi Sunnis turned on Iraqi Shia’a, and Shia’a turned on Sunnis. Serbian troops massacred Bosnian Muslims, especially at Srebrenica. Even the United States has the horrible experience on incarcerating the mainland Japanese Americans in concentration camps after Pearl Harbor. We did not though execute them. Let us also remember that individual Turks and Kurds saved Armenians from the genocide, just as Germans, Poles, French, Hungarian, Dutch, and the other people initially conquered by the Germans in World War II risked their lives to save Jews. Israel recognizes the “Righteous Among the Nations.” Several Ottoman officers refused to carry out genocide orders. No “Righteous Among the nations” for them, but they retained their honor and integrity. Thanks be to Allah. Turkey still does not admit the Armenian Genocide although it recognizes tragedies occurred. Several reasons explain the Turkish adamant, vehement denials. First is a matter of pride. It is hard to admit that one’s country has engaged in such atrocities. Japan has still not fully confronted its past, including the Korean “comfort women.” Turkey, with a degree of justification, believes it does not receive the respect it deserves from the West. The country has been kept out of the European Union, for what is probably bias against the Turks. The continuing denial of the Armenian Genocide will not help its case for admission to the EU. Second is the realization that many of the founding fathers of the Turkish Republic, albeit not Ataturk, had blood on their hands in the genocide. Many Turks profited from the Armenian demise in Anatolia. The Young Turks wanted an Armenia without Armenians, which became the heartland (Anatolia) of the Turkish Republic under Ataturk. The Ottomans lost an empire, but the Turks became a nation. Third is ignorance on the part of many Turks. They are not taught in school of the Armenian Genocide. Instead, they learn that Armenians killed half a million Turks during the War. The Ottomans were fighting Turkish rebels in Anatolia, who did not represent a large percent of the population. The Ottomans had been fighting rebellions for centuries as the size of the Empire continued to shrink. Fear also existed of the Armenians forming a “fifth column” with the Russians, just as many Americans feared he Japanese Americans would support Japan in World War II. The pictures and motion pictures exist of the Armenians being massacred. No such pictorial evidence exists of Armenians herding Turks into the Syrian Desert. No pictorial evidence exists of the Christian Armenians torching Turkish mosques. Fourth is the issue of reparations and compensation. The current tab is estimated to be in the trillions. Some Armenians will settle for an apology and acknowledgment of the genocide. Others want compensation. A compromise could presumably be reached, but no one seems to be working on one. Turkey will never be at peace with itself until it admits to the Armenian Genocide. Pope Francis stated in calling the Armenia Genocide the first genocide of the twentieth Century: "Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it." The tide of history is against the denial. The world says “Never Again.” Yes Never Again As we say never again, ethnic cleansing and genocide are occurring in North Africa and the Mideast. Christians, Jews, and Moslem lives are all at risk.

No comments: