Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ninety-nine years...

“Turks are coming!” This phrase has a soul-piercing, blood-chilling effect on every Armenian around the globe. The pantheon of Armenian ethnicity and nationhood is cloaked with heavy drips of blood. The development and unprecedented rise of Islam in the Middle East culminated in the victory of the Ottoman Turkey in 1453, with the final collapse of the Byzantine Empire. Constantinople (or Polis) was renamed Istanbul, and the Ottoman Turkey proved to be a ruthless empire of war and conquest. The fall of the Byzantine Empire was the historic doomsday of Armenians, the first nation to officially adopt Christianity as their religion. Art-loving, peaceful Armenians, similar in their heritage to the Greeks, were greatly overwhelmed in numbers by war-mongering Turks, who soon took over all of historic Armenian lands, by reducing Armenians to an ethnic minority residing in the Ottoman Empire and Eastern Armenia (current Armenia).

The seeds of fate were sown and ripened in the World War I, when Ottoman Turkey artfully used the excuse of war to resolve the pestering ‘Armenian question.’ As Armenian intellectuals residing in Turkey had co-existed with Turks and had risen in the ranks, they were lobbying for equal rights and recognition of freedom of religion and self-autonomy. This movement was internally coined as the ‘Armenian Question’ by the Ottoman government officials. It was a real thorn in their imperialistic goals of expansion, and conversion of all ethnicities to Islam. Armenians historically refused to convert to Islam and sought autonomy to be able to survive and maintain their language, culture, identity, religion.

 As World War I was waging in the background, the Ottoman officials masterminded a skillful and ‘brilliant’ resolution of the ‘Armenian Question.’ The plan was to forcefully remove and displace all Armenians residing in the empire, using any and all methods. This was understood by the executioners as including killing, starvation, deportation. The ‘Gyavur’ as the Armenians were pejoratively called, were to be quickly eliminated from the face of the Earth. To execute the plan, first, all intellectuals with connections and power, were rounded up, imprisoned and then disappeared on mass scale. Then, forced displacement began. All Armenians were rounded up and forced to deport. Since this process was too slow, mass killings of Armenians on unprecedented scale began. The world had not yet seen a similar systematic and targeted killing of a whole nation before. The rate of killings was so fast that by the time Armenians could seek help from other nations, the large majority of Armenians in Turkey, were ruthlessly killed. The numbers could never be accurate, but on the basis of the number of Armenians residing in Turkey, and those who survived, the estimated total was at least 1.5 million Armenian massacres.

              Both my grandfathers as kids were survivors. One escaped with his older brother, leaving behind his entire family, that was massacred. The other escaped through the desert and mountains to current Northern Armenia, carrying his younger sister on his back. The survivors spread around the globe, as living eyewitnesses to a GENOCIDE, as a testament to one of the worst crimes against humanity.

              Genocide is defined as killing of a ‘genom’, or race. All the historic chronicles indisputably proved that the Ottoman Turks were targeting Armenians to be wiped out from the face of the Earth, as the Nazis were targeting Jews or Interahamwe were targeting Tutsis.  While this was the first mass genocide of the 20th century, it was not the last. However, while the other genocides and crimes against humanity were accordingly punished and perpetrators brought to justice in various International Tribunals, the Armenian genocide went unpunished. Turkey was never brought to justice by the world to answer for its cruel acts against humanity. Furthermore, its shameful denial has received a silent imprimatur or ‘approval’ of world powers, most notably the United States, whose geopolitical interests in the Middle East have demanded alliance with Turkey. Silence and impunity have grown deep roots in the national psyche of Armenians. If a crime of such magnitude goes unpunished by the world community, the entire concept of justice on Earth is in grave danger. If the humanity were truly determined not to repeat such crimes, it would have brought justice to the victims and survivors. Indeed, it was this inaction of the world that allowed for the repetition of similar crimes against humanity in the 20th and 21st centuries, including the Jewish Holocaust, Rwandan genocide, and most recently, Darfur.  

This week we are commemorating the 99th year of the Armenian Genocide. As we renew our pledge to seek official recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the face of age-old denial by Turkey, we mourn over the innocent victims, whose tragic deaths have left an indelible scar and will scornfully sear the conscience of mankind as long as it exists on Earth.

Justice is not an abstract concept, but a truth-searching engine, a pre-condition to human survival. But while the world still remains silent in the face of denial, it is a word with no meaning.


No comments: