Saturday, April 23, 2016

One Hundred and One Years

It was April of 1915 on a warm sunny day in Kars, Western Armenia. Nikol Sahakyan was a wealthy and well-respected Armenian landowner with strong ties with the Turkish government, better known as Nikol Agha (Chief). Daily he was hearing the stories and rumors of the Armenian intellectuals rounded up and executed in Constantinople. He was hearing that one by one Armenian government officials were being terminated and disappearing. He heard of the Young Turks and their official resolutions to solve the ‘Armenian Question’ by beginning massive campaign of deportation and execution. He had remained confident and hopeful that his close ties with the local authorities would save him and his family and was remaining in Kars. 

But as his neighbors were gathering their belongings in horror as the Young Turks had reportedly wiped out and destroyed neighboring cities, killing and displacing Christian Armenians, he was having second thoughts on this warm sunny day. Increasingly fearful, he ordered his three sons and daughter to get ready to leave urgently. Unable to get all the gold that was buried in the base of his house and thinking he would come back for that later, he grabbed a jug of gold with other belongings for the road, and took off with his kids on a horse cart. As they were leaving Kars in haste, reaching the outskirts of the city, he could see a group of Turkish soldiers close by in the horizon. Immediately realizing these are Young Turks scouring the neighborhood, he told his kids to get off the cart and run towards the mountains, where he would meet them later. He told them not to worry as he would be able to talk to the Turks, use his connections and give them the gold to save his life. His son, Mekhak was only 10 years old. As he started running with his brothers and sister towards the mountains, hiding behind the hills, he saw his Dad meet the group of Young Turks, talk to them for a couple of minutes. Then in horror he watched his Dad being dragged off the cart, thrown to the ground, beaten and stabbed by the soldiers. He was frozen from fear and wanted to scream, instead was only able to gasp for air. His older brothers grabbed him and dragged him along from the area. That scene was permanently engraved in his memories and haunted him for the rest of his life.

That is how Mekhak and his siblings escaped to Northeastern Armenia, city of Gyumri/Leninakan. Mekhak raised a big family (Photo below), where my Mother was one of his younger daughters. Carrying the torture of the genocide and his father’s slaughter deep in his heart, he was suffering in private, telling his kids the stories of his father’s killing and their escape, lamenting the horrible historic page that he personally lived through, which today we know as the Armenian Genocide, the first genocide of the 20th century. In the Soviet Union, Armenia’s autonomy was wiped out and Armenians could not even utter the word ‘genocide’, not to mention seek any reparations from Turkey. The larger geopolitical goals of Russia as the center of the USSR took precedence over the rights of Armenians to their historic land. Perhaps for vengeance for his father’s death, he fought in World War II, was seriously wounded during the siege of Kursk and returned to take care of his family.

This was the story of over a million of Armenians living as subjects of Ottoman Empire in 1915. My paternal grandfather was similarly a child living with his family in Eastern Turkey/Western Armenia and escaped with his sister through the mountains to Northeastern Armenia, where he settled and raised a big family.
"Turks are coming!" is deeply seated in the Armenian genome. It is a story of profound deprivation, suffering, desolation, despair, fear, anger, hopelessness. Only Armenians as victims and survivors of persecution and mass executions begun by the Turks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries know what this feeling is like. 

The Armenian Genocide: Historic Background. From publication by Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region, 2015  
"Armenians have inhabited their ancestral homeland at the crossroads of Europe and Asia for over 4,000 years. At the height of its existence, Armenia encompassed more than 100,000 square miles with borders on the Mediterranean, Black and Caspian seas and spanning almost the entire Caucasus region. Through the centuries, Armenia was administered at various times by the Romans, the Persians, and other empires, leading up to the rule over Armenia by the Ottoman Empire starting in the 14th Century until it was defeated and dismantled at the end of World War I.

Being the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion in 301 A.D., Armenians have been subjected to persecution throughout the centuries in large part due to their refusal to renounce their faith as the rise of Islamic states in the region seized control. To defend the indigenous Armenian population from continued onslaught by the Ottoman government, Armenians began organizing around newly-founded political parties, most notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), founded in 1890 in Tbilisi, Georgia, in an effort to protect the rights and seek equality for the Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire. Yet the persecution continued. In 1894-1896, Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II ordered the massacre of over 300,000 Armenians in an attempt to rid the Ottoman Empire of most of its Christian population, followed by the massacre of 30,000 Armenians in Adana in 1909. 

This government plan to exterminate a large segment of its population culminated in the Armenian Genocide of 1915, whereby the Ottoman Turkish government, in its pan-Turanistic quest to unite all Turkic peoples from the Mediterranean Sea into Central Asia, executed a plan to annihilate all indigenous Christian population which stood in its way. Over 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered in a systemic plan of extermination, virtually eliminating the indigenous Armenian People from its ancestral homeland. Yet, the Ottoman Turks failed in their attempt at total annihilation. Survivors of the Armenian Genocide scattered all over the world and created an organized Armenian Diaspora which has continued to thrive for the past century far away from the Homeland.

Today, only 3,000,000 Armenians live within the borders of the second Independent Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) which together comprise barely one-sixth of ancestral Armenia. The majority of currently occupied land remains under Turkish control in Western Armenia, with  additional Armenian territory in Nakhichevan remaining under occupation by Azerbaijan.
The last century was the most devastating and pivotal time for the Armenian People. At the start of the 20th century within the Ottoman Empire, the Committee of Union and Progress, known as the “Young Turks” came to power in 1908 led by Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha, Minister of War Enver Pasha and Naval Minister Djemal Pasha, joining World War I on the side of the Central Powers with Germany against the Allies and primarily Britain and Russia. 

On April 24, 1915, under cover of war, the Young Turk government rounded up over 200 Armenian political, cultural and religious leaders in Constantinople and executed them. This was followed by mass murders of Armenian men in the interior cities, towns and villages, then by deportations and massacres of defenseless Armenian women, children and elderly as they were marched into the desert to die after their belongings were pillaged, their homes destroyed and they were subjected to rape and other brutalities. 

Armenian massacres were widely reported in the U.S. press at the time. The Allied Powers- England, France and Russia issued a statement in May of 1915 explicitly charging the Ottoman Turkish Empire with committing a “crime against humanity and civilization” and pledging to punish the perpetrators.
In 1918, Theodore Roosevelt called the Armenian massacres “the greatest crime of the war.”
In President Herbert Hoover’s memoirs, he wrote, “Probably Armenia was known to the American school child in 1919 only a little less than England… of the staunch Christians who were massacred periodically by the Mohammedan Turk…”

On November 22, 1920, President Woodraw Wilson issued his final arbitral award which by its own terms was legally binding, giving Armenia full title and rights over less than half of the Armenian historic Homeland, including the provinces of Van, Bitlis, Erzerum and Trebizond. With the declaration of independence of Republic of Turkey and Ataturk’s rise to power, however, the Allied Powers were forced back to the negotiating table to sign the Treaty of Lausanne and abandoned their intent to protect Armenia in favor of adopting a policy deeming Turkey to be a strategic ally.
In 1921, having lost all protection from the U.S. and the Allied Powers, the independent Republic of Armenia succumbed to pressure to cede itself to the Soviet Union where it remained as the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic for seven decades. The Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh were placed under autonomous control of Soviet Azerbaijan by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. In 1991 when the Soviet Union dismantled, a second Independent Republic of Armenia was declared on one-sixth of the territory granted to Armenia by the Wilsonian Arbitral Award, and the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh also proclaimed its independence.

Twenty years after the Armenian Genocide, Adolf Hitler was emboldened by the world’s failure to punish Turkey for its mass murder of Armenians. On ordering his commanders to attack Poland without provocation in 1939, he dismissed objections by asking, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Not having been held legally or morally responsible for its crimes during World War I, the modern-day Turkish Government continues to act with impunity as it engages in a well-financed and well-supported campaign of denialism and distortion of history.”

The world witnessed Nazism and the Jewish Holocaust soon after in the 20th century, as the crimes against humanity of World War I went unpunished. With the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, and terrorism as a weapon of religious persecution in the 21st century, the world is on the brink of World War III. Had the humanity brought Turkey to answer for its crimes against humanity, as was the Armenian Genocide, the world today would have been a different place... Impunity gets history repeated over and over again..

To date, Armenia's security in the region surrounded by extremely hostile Turkey to the west and Azerbaijan to the east is in grave danger. On April 2, 2016 Azerbaijan attacked Nagorno Karabakh without provocation or warning. Nagorno Karabakh, the last remnant of the Armenian historic land is still up for grabs and survival of this nation is at stake.  

Our collective wounds are still bleeding because of continuous denial and increasing acts of hostility... We are in eternal search for closure and justice... Until then, our national psyche will be torn between suffering and triumph, defeat and victory...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Clean water is a human right!

As the nation was disturbed with the recent Flint water disaster, the federal court tosses one of the lawsuits out, claiming essentially, the Flint residents have no remedy for the wrongs alleged under federal law and should pursue their claims solely in state court. For more here. Clearly, here justice was not served well, as there is evidence that the state knew about the crisis and failed to do anything because it did not care enough about the residents of Flint, Michigan, predominantly low-income African-Americans. If federal courts are not a proper venue for wrongs committed by states in violation of civil rights, what are they for?! If clean water is not considered a fundamental right, what is?!