It is always with much disappointment, shame, regret, and frustration that despite being well-educated to a high level in the British state system, I managed to spend a good proportion of my life never having heard about the Armenian Genocide. It says a lot about how the world views the Armenian people and the importance to modern politics of such a terrible event in the early years of the 20th Century.
It is alleged that Hitler, in planning his atrocities, had already seen how in less than thirty years, the collective memory of the 1915 Genocide had been erased, and how this would be the same in the case of the Poles and the Jews. This was supposedly part of his rationale for proceeding down this path. How right he was, and how right he continues to be.
In the UK, only a small percentage of people know where Armenia is, and even less will have heard of the genocide. Conversely, I would estimate that 90%+ would be aware of the Jewish holocaust – this is entirely down to what we are taught in schools, what we see on TV, and what is considered to be “mainstream”.
[ For the benefit of those who are not sure I have inserted a small map. Although it is a small country today, centuries ago it was much larger – and stretched to the Mediterranean, and is considered by many to be the “cradle of civilisation”]
The plan to rid Turkey ( Ottoman Empire as it was then, ruled by the Young Turk regime) of the Armenians was hatched in 1911, and preceded the descent into World War 1 by 3 years. The Empire was on its last legs and was branded as “the sick man of Europe” by Czar Nicholas of Russia. It was becoming desperate and in search of any scapegoat for its decrepit state. The Armenians were that scapegoat.
The 1st phase of the massacres started with the arrest and murder of 1000 people on 24 April 1915. From this point on there were further mass killings, deportations, death marches where women and children succumbed to dehydration and starvation in the vast Syrian desert. The genocide of the people was reinforced by the destruction of many sacred churches as part of the act to rid the land of the Armenian prescence.
Modern day politics results in the weak dancing around the issues and not taking a principled stance. The Armenians have little political weight in the world to drive this through – if they had oil, precious elements, or significant political leverage, this would be different. Barack Obama has broken his pre-election pledge to formally recognise the genocide, no doubt in the face of much political and commercial lobbying. The UK is another major country that has not made its position clear. However in December 2010, the London Borough of Ealing Council did unilaterally declare its recognition and has erected a plaque in the local area stating that fact.
In certain countries within Europe, denying the Jewish holocaust is an offence which can result in imprisonment. Holocaust denial generally is considered “intellectual suicide” such is the force behind this subject and group pressure. As a modern global community why should we be distinguishing between which particular genocide we consider to be important, and the destruction of which particular people we consider to be acceptable. It should not be based on an ethnic groupings political clout, economic sway, or accident of geography – we should be principled regardless of consequences, and hold the perpetrators to account.
The Armenians are a fine people, who maintain a dignity despite this tragic past. Each and every day the citizens of Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, see the magnificant Mount Ararat, their spiritual, iconic, root, standing proud, principled, unmoved waiting for them, across the border in modern-day Turkey, a land poached from them a few years after the genocide. It holds its position, waiting for their return, the last vestige of Armenian culture, as a monument to the fallen millions, ….back to their stolen land!
Categories: Armenian Genocide