In 1915 it was the Centenary of the victory of the British Army over Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo which signaled the decline of his power and ultimately his personal exile. Whilst an important event in British history, with the world in total chaos, it was an irrelevant marker in time.
Next year will see the Centenary of the start of the First World War and , in the UK, there will be many forms of recognition and celebration during the subsequent 4 years. Many will see these activities, – it is one of the things we do very well in the UK; it will be an act of extended national Remembrance that usually just happens on one day each year on November 11. The events will be solemn, dignified, and involve the usual pageantry, and will be respectful in remembering those people that died during that period. It will also be a history lesson for many, seen through a fuzzy black and white portal, down the decades to a time that is distant from us. We will honour and remember during the moment but ignore any semblance of present-day significance.
As Henry Porter in The Sunday Times ( UK Newspaper) wrote on 4 August 2013 about these celebrations “So this is the moment that the Great War is given over to myth and the care of historians. However seemingly enormous, its relevance to us is gradually reduced”. It would take a committed academic historian to draw a connection between the events during that war, and the world’s crises today. And this is how it will be seen by everyone – a small pin-prick in time through the wrong end of the telescope.
The Armenian world will not need to be reminded that 1915 is the totemic start to the Genocide of their people and, plans are underway, to commemorate this passing Centenary. I say totemic, as it is at this point that it was considered that the Genocide started. And possibly in the minds of many uninformed people, the point at which it ended. However, both of these are wrong.
In Frederick Greene’s book “Armenian Massacres and Turkish Tyrrany” written in 1896 (p.314) he says:
“…..we are primarily responsible for their sufferings; because they are the innocent victims of our selfish pursuit of political interests – which have none the less eluded our grasp and left us empty-handed, and face to face with the calamitous results of our egotism”
“The condition of Armenian Christians when we first interfered in 1878 was, from a humane point of view, deplorable…….we allowed things to drift from bad to worse, mismanagement to develop into malignity, oppression to merge in extermination, and for the space of 17 years we deliberately shut our eyes and closed our ears to the ghastly sights and lugubrious sounds that accompanied the horrors of Turkish misrule in Armenia…..But our unfortunate action and inaction made themselves immediately and fatally felt in the very homes and at the firesides of hundreds of thousands of Christian men and women, driving them into exile, shutting them up in noisome prisons, and subjecting them to every conceivable species of indignity, outrage and death”
“The time has come for every reasoning inhabitant of these islands deliberately to accept or repudiate his share of the joint indirect responsibility of the British nation for a series of the hugest and foulest crimes that have ever stained the pages of human history. The Armenian people in Anatolia are being exterminated, root and branch, by Turks and Kurds”
This relates to the Hamidian massacres of 1896, and the decline over the previous 17 years. Whilst the numbers are not as great as in the period after 1915, this still constitutes a genocide of the Armenian people. The actions by the Azeris during the Nagorno-Karabakh war to rid the region of Armenians by the systematic bombing of civilian areas were nothing short of genocidal. That threatening tendency from the surrounding Turkic nations continues to this day.
My concern about the “commemoration” of the 1915 Genocide is that, to the extent that uninterested people listen to the message, it will be seen as a history lesson which has no bearing on the world today . However, the opportunity exists to highlight the pattern of behavior by the Turkic nations towards Armenia over the last 140 years, and create a powerful emotional thread between the terrors of the previous Genocides, the reality of the Azeri aggression during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, the plight of the people today in Karabakh and the threat of future aggression that hangs over them .
The overriding message has to be that the Armenian Genocide is not a moment in history but part of an insidious continuum and, like with a cancer in remission, one can never truly be complacent.
Categories: Armenian Genocide