IN this special report Ryde historian NAIRI LEPEDJIAN answers TWT readers’ questions about the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
Q: What is the Armenian Genocide?
A: Unfortunately, Genocides or the systematic extermination of a group of people have been a part of the human experience since civilization began. The 1915 Armenian Genocide is not as well known as the Holocaust and that’s partly because some in the international community have failed to acknowledge it because of political reasons. But it was in fact the FIRST one of the most horrific mass exterminations in the history of mankind. In 1915 the blood thirsty Turks deported, enslaved, tortured and massacred more than 1.5 million in an effort to cleanse the Turkish nation. They included women, men and children with no exception, intellectuals, clergymen, scholars, musicians and men of art, without mercy even for those Armenian architects who had built and decorated the mosques for their religious worship.
Q: Why did the Genocide happen?
A: The most immediate cause of the Armenian Genocide was the brutal intolerance of a tyrannical regime. But there are additional factors that help explain how such a horrific event occurred. For one, many Turkish people resented the Armenians because they were generally more educated and wealthier. In addition, a new group of Turkish leaders, called the Young Turks took over the Ottoman empire in 1908 and dedicated themselves to eliminating the enemies of the state. They perpetuated suspicion, resentment and intolerance of the Armenians, even blaming them for the nations problems. The final cause that I would think about is World War I which began in 1914. At the time the Armenian communities were wedged between the Russian and Ottoman empires. So the Ottomans feared that the Armenians would defect to the Christian Russian empire instead of supporting Islamic Ottoman empire during the war. To the Young Turks, the Armenians were a social, religious and political enemy that needed to be eliminated.
Q: Some Turkish apologists claim the Armenians died as a result of mass migration of peoples including Greeks from Turkey and Turks from Greece ?
A: Why would a flourishing Armenian community choose to migrate and leave their comfortable homes and successful businesses behind?
In my view the Armenian Genocide was planned and executed for political reasons and not as a result of mass migration. The Armenian Genocide was a barbaric drive that was linked to a protracted deliberative process in which were involved the highest organs of the Turkish government, the military, the Interior ministry and the National Security authorities.
Q:Why do Armenians and many other nations describe it as Genocide?
A: The Armenian Genocide recognition is the formal acceptance that the systematic massacres and forced deportations committed by the Ottoman Empire constituted Genocide. The consensus of the historians and academic institutions on Holocaust and Genocide studies recognise this fact. However, despite the recognition of the genocidal character of the massacres in legitimate scholarships as well as in civil societies, at governmental level nations have been reticent to officially acknowledge the killings as Genocide on account of political concern over their relations with Turkey who has threatened the said nations with economic and diplomatic consequences.
As of 2017, governments and Parliaments of 28 countries including Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Russia as well as 45 states out of 50 United States have recognised the massacres as Genocide.
Q: The NSW Parliament recognises the Genocide. Why should the Federal Parliament follow NSW example?
A: A difficult question to answer. In terms of diplomatic relations with Turkey the Australian Government cannot risk offending the nation that jointly commemorates ANZAC day or it may jeopardise Australian’s ability to mourn the soldiers where they fell. Given the ANZAC legend is so key to Australian identity, this is a risk for Australian foreign policy.
From an ethical standpoint, however, the position of the Federal government not to acknowledge what is absolutely irrefutable according to academic and legal opinion means that the Federal government is condoning Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide.
The Federal government has chosen not to join in the moral reaction of other democracies that officially recognise the Genocide. Many of Australia’s allies like Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the Vatican to name a few have adopted a moral stance rather than a foreign policy ploy in recognising the Genocide.
It is not even improbable, among other things, that responsible political leaders who act according to public opinion, may not be aware how strongly that public opinion reacts under strong moral impetus..
As a senator, Obama in 2008 declared “The Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable….. as President I will recognise the Armenian Genocide”…WHICH HE NEVER DID !!!!!!
Sooner or later the U.S Congress will find the numbers for the two thirds majority needed for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The British government won’t be far behind. More Australian states will follow and inevitably, an unwilling Federal government will have to do so, and then the dilemma will be profound…
A question addressed to the members of the Australian Federal government: Why the massacres of the Poles and the Jews and recent mass killings and massacres in Middle East and Africa have been officially recognised as a crime against humanity and NOT the FIRST Genocide of the 20th century, the Armenian Genocide? Are we the unfortunate Armenians, as human beings, in any way of less value than those people?
Q:The Armenian Genocide has been described as a precursor to the Holocaust. Why is this so?
A: This is an issue with acute significance, an acuteness in providing clear and definitive answer to it.
However, a number of remarks Hitler made in the 1920s and 30s indicate that he was knowledgeable about both Armenians and Turks in general, about the historical record of the persecution of Armenians and their demise in Turkey through “annihilation”.
The relative ease with which the Armenian Genocide was consummated and the perpetrators escaped retributive justice was such as to impress the higher strata of Nazi leadership contemplating a similar initiative with respect to the Jews. (As a matter of fact the Turkish minister of interior of the time Tallat was the gifted precursor of Eichmann).
I myself see the lack of action and reaction following the Armenian Genocide as a critical precedent for the ensuing Jewish Holocaust of World War II. Indeed it has been reported that in trying to reassure doubters of the MORALITY and VIABILITY of his genocidal schemes, Hitler stated:
“WHO AFTER ALL, SPEAKS TODAY OF THE ANNIHILATION OF THE ARMENIANS”?
Q: How strongly is the Armenian Genocide part of the identity of Armenians living in Ryde?
A: For most of us, the Armenians, it is hard to be dispassionate about anything relating to the Armenian Genocide.
The central and most critical issue, the activating principle which unites all Armenians – a people not given to unity – whatever their political affiliation, whether living in United States, Canada, Europe or Australia, is that a great crime was committed against them by Ottoman Turkey in 1915 which has gone UNRECOGNISED and UNPUNISHED.
In the first World War and its aftermath 1.5 million Armenians perished through deportation, deliberate starvation and outright massacre. The size of this catastrophe and the calculated manner in which it was carried out, have given the memory of the events a stabbing, unresolved quality to the average aware Armenians.
The Armenian people, having survived the ordeal, remain steadfast to their faith and heritage, continuing to prosper throughout the world.
Q: Why do school students need to learn about the Armenian Genocide?
A: The Armenian Genocide, though not given such prominent treatment as the Jewish Holocaust which it precedes, still haunts the Western world and has assumed a new significance in the light of “ethnic cleansing” in many countries of the world.
The Armenian Genocide must be inscribed in the memories of everyone, and the tragic fate of the Armenian people must serve as a lesson for the youth.
The students should know that the world for all justification, draped itself in human rights, only to disguise the impotence of nations in doing justice by the weak.
The students should know about the Armenian Genocide as a warning about human potential for evil, especially as a result of racial hatred.
Learning about the Armenian Genocide teaches us Ôthat every generation owes to itself and the future generations to cherish the sanctity of human life, dignity and freedom.
Teaching students about the Armenian Genocide is important because we should remember and learn about these terrible events in our past, while continuing to work toward creating a more tolerant society.
The Armenian Genocide need to be addressed to all those Australians with true conscience of thought, the writers, the teachers, the scientists of international repute, the instructors of the rising generation and to friends.
Q: How is the Armenian Genocide linked to the ANZAC story?
A: On 24 April 2017, 102 years after the ill-fated Gallipoli landing school children in Australia are invited to observe a minute of silence to remember the fallen soldiers. On this same date another commemoration is taking place to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were massacred by the same enemy.
Effectively hidden behind the allied landing on the beach and indelibly linked to the ANZAC story by geography and timing, the Armenian Genocide is largely forgotten in Australia.
While Australian soldiers were landing in Turkey’s shoreline, the longstanding community of Armenians in Anatolia were being prosecuted, arrested and murdered in the early stages of what would become one of 20th century’s most systematic and far- reaching Genocides.
The Armenian Genocide does not feature strongly in the nation’s history, yet Australia was well aware of the atrocities at the time and among eyewitnesses were some of the ANZAC soldiers.
These servicemen not only saw the mass graves and deportations but even occasionally assisted Armenian civilians as is the case of Arthur James Mills who wrote of having carried a 4-year old girl to safety on his camel.
For further details of the involvement of the ANZAC troops and Australian civilians who witnessed the Armenian’s horrific ordeals, the readers are referred to the recently published (2016) book called “Armenia, Australia and the Great war” (authors: Professor Peter Stanley and Vicken Babkenian) and published by New South Publishing, University of New South Wales Press Ltd. Sydney.
The Armenian Genocide is, despite its invisibility in the contemporary Australian consciousness, closely linked to the story of Gallipoli.
On ANZAC day, 2017, silence will be observed and sunrises witnessed at dawn services. But as the day ends who would remember the brutal and systematic Genocide of the Armenians?
Australia has a moral imperative to acknowledge the connection between the ANZAC story and the Armenian Genocide and to stop acting as a partner in DENIAL.