09 October 2006

1101) Armenian Question Between Genocide, Tragedy, Hypocrisy (Barin Kayaoğlu)

It seems sensible to ask Turkey to recognize the so-called “Armenian Genocide” if it is to join the European Union that supposedly roots itself on the principles of human dignity. The Germans came out clean, why should the Turks not do the same? Only that the Turks did not actually commit a genocide is where things get murky. . .

One can go back and forth as to whether the tragedies at the turn of the twentieth century culminating in the forced relocation of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian citizens count as a genocide or not. Article 2 of the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” (1948) calls the following acts a genocide, when they are committed with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical [sic], racial or religious group”: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring the children of the group to another group.1 The Ottoman government’s express intent to annihilate Armenians is a dubious claim although that there was an ensuing carnage is not. What happened after its decision to deport millet-i sad?ka (which literally meant “the loyal nation” in Ottoman tradition) in 1915 did cause hundreds of thousands of souls to perish. Those people were an essential fabric of Ottoman society. They could have been an even more essential element in modern Turkey because of their inherent ingenuity in the arts, sciences, education, and government administration.

But that is only part of the story. We still cannot find the document clearly indicating that the Ottoman government wanted to destroy its Armenian populace per the Endlösung der Judenfrage (Final Solution of the Jewish Question) that Nazi officials devised at the Wannsee Conference outside Berlin in January 1942. The Ottoman Empire was in the midst of World War I and it was not being ruled, shall we say, by the ablest of rulers. The ruling junta of Enver, Cemal, and Talat Pashas never had a thorough appreciation of logistics. Enver’s catastrophic blunder in ordering a Turkish army to march to the Russian front in summer uniforms in the winter of 1914-1915 had left 80,000 of those men freezing in the Caucasian winter before they could even reach the battlefield (the Sar?kam?? catastrophe). Ordering people to roam around the land was easy for the triumvirate who had never commanded large numbers of troops.

The story has an Armenian dimension to it as well. The Ottoman government was not acting in a vacuum at the turn of the twentieth century. Armenian nationalists with nothing but independence in mind and their wild imagination to reach that goal had been engaging in systematic terrorism against the Ottoman state and its citizens of all ethnicities – Turkish, Armenian, and Kurdish. Mutual killings became so common at the time that it became impossible to speak of civil order. How can any government be expected to react when a terrorist group threatens not only the existence of that state, but also the lives of its citizens (i.e. the Bush administration and the “war on terror)? The Ottoman government, without a doubt, reacted in the most maladroit fashion but that is not the same thing as committing genocide. If every government’s ineptitude was tantamount to genocide, not a single government would go untouched from the accusation.

Another facet of the Armenian dimension ties to our times and it is the truly disturbing one. The Defense Ministry of the Republic of Armenia today bestows the “Drastamat Kanayan Medal” to “honor those who have given extraordinary service to the Armenian nation.”2 What the Armenians honor in the person of Kanayan is this: “Dro” Kanayan was an Armenian general in Hitler’s Wehrmacht during World War II, commanding the 812th Armenian Legion in the Caucasus with the primary duty of policing the Nazi rear (read: round up Jews, Soviet partisans, homosexuals, and Gypsies and hand them over to Nazi executioners). With the German retreat from Russia, the 812th was relocated to Holland, where it fought the Western Allies during Operation Market Garden in October 1944.

It is a truly crazy world. Armenians blame Turks for something parallel to the Holocaust, only failing to mention that they themselves were instrumental in the destruction of six million Jews. Never mind that Armenians give medals after the man who oversaw that. Brace yourselves folks, the Armenian Defense Ministry just might start spawning other medals soon: “Adolf Hitler Medal of Honor,” “Heinrich Himmler Medal of Freedom,” “Adolf Eichmann Medal of Wisdom” and so the list may go on.

Beyond my extravagant statements, it is truly not my intention to perpetuate mutual animosity between Armenians and Turks. Living in Lebanon for three years, I had many Armenian friends; many held very hostile ideas about Turks. But it was possible to see how similar we were despite our differences. I have had Turkish-Armenian friends in the past and have Armenian-American friends today, all of whom are great individuals.

I believe that Armenia and Turkey can do the same thing – they can be friends. In order to resolve the impasse, the two countries should sincerely apologize from each other, erect memorials on both sides of the border and inaugurate them in ceremonies attended by Turkish and Armenian presidents. The actual argument over what happened can come later.

09 October 2006
Turkish Weekly

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