Sunday, April 21, 2013

April 2013: The 98th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

     From the onset of this e-letter project, I have dedicated the April letter to the events of 1915: The Genocide of the Armenians by the Turks. This year is no different. As this year marks the 98th anniversary of our national tragedy, you can be assured I will write about this for at least the next two years as 2015 will mark the 100th anniversary.
     We Armenians are obsessed by this. There is no other way to say it. I bristled when a friend said I was obsessed and wrote about it in April 2005. I have to admit that I am and we are. As obsessed as we are by this, the Turks, and I especially mean their government, is as obsessed with adamantly denying it ever happened and suggest that Armenians actually massacred Turks. 
     Here is a hard fact for many Armenians. Let’s face it. They won. They eradicated their country of the vast majority of us. They did whatever they wanted. They did whatever they wanted despite the protests of other countries. After their crushing win over us, they did what winners did... they have continued to do what they want. And what is it they have wanted? Simple stated, they want nothing to do with the Armenians. They wish we would just go away and never be heard from ever again.
     This is a blunt black and white truth. They won.
     We struck back as best we could. In 1918, we fought off the Turks at Sardarabad, Karakeliseh, and Bash Abaran to protect our last presence in the region: the Republic of Armenia. If we had failed then, we would have truly had no presence where we had lived for centuries.
     At the same time, a small group dedicated themselves to assassinating the architects and perpetrators of the genocide. The ARF authorized Operation Nemesis which was a group of dedicated soldiers tasked with executing the perpetrators and architects of the genocide. From June 1920 to July 1922, they killed seven of the guilty that included two of the Young Turk ruling triumvirate: Talaat Pasha and Djemal Pasha.
     With the fall of the 1918 Republic of Armenia to the Soviets, we Armenians went into a deep sleep. We spent that time healing the best we could, building new families, building new churches and community centers in whatever communities we ended up around the world. My Grandparents escaped many in their families did not. My maternal Grandfather was the only in his family to survive. My Mother never knew her Grandparents. My Father only knew his maternal Grandparents and that was because they had the foresight to immigrate to the US after the 1890 and 1905 massacres that were preludes to the 1915 Genocide.

     There are many stories of that generation of survivors not talking about what happened. They were ripped from their 19th century lives and lifestyles and thrust shocked and awed into a gritty and industrial 20th century different in every way from the mostly agrarian they had lived. It was dark times for the Armenian People, but as Armenians have always done, they built new lives, new families, and new communities.
     We did not wake up and collectively confront the Genocide until 1965, the 50th anniversary of our national tragedy.
     We suffered, immeasurably, when it happened. We suffer still in a measured way. If we compare what we may have been if the Young Turks had let us be equal citizens, we would have had much greater numbers today in the Republic of Turkey. Our Western Armenian Culture would have grown and thrived into something that is very different from what we have today. There could be 5 to 10 million Armenians, maybe more, living in what today is Turkey.

     I have often compared the Armenian - Turkish issues with the American - American Indian situation. Allow me to do so again. What would the US look like today, if we had allowed the Indian Culture to survive in autonomous regions rather than imprison them on reservations and try to force fit our culture and values on them. How many Indians would there be in this country today? What would their culture and contribution be? We can barely speculate on the impact that would have on these United States.
     On Facebook, the commemorative posts are in full swing. There are photos of places, people, and lit candles. There are all kinds of messages accompanying the photos. Four of these messages stand out in my mind.
  • We will never forget
  • We will never forgive
  • We will always remember
  • Never again
We should never ever forget. We may, hopefully, become less obsessive about it but we should never forget. As a nation, we still remember Vartan Mamigonian and what he and his followers died for in 451 (click here to read about it). What happened in 1915 is minimally at that level as events go in Armenian history.
     Definitely, as Armenians who experienced the cold calculated plan for our extermination and the barbaric and horrific execution of that plan, we should be the vanguard of Never Again. We should be protesting and screaming whenever Genocide is being attempted. We should be hand in hand with the Jews doing this. We should. They should. We aren't. We aren't for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, is that obsession with what happened to us.
     Secondly, Armenians have never been a people who speak out very loudly for others. We might feel, individually, for others but we never collectively advocate for others. Having had the occasion to visit a Catholic Church a few times this year, they almost always have a second passing of the plate to support a special cause be it a food kitchen here or a medical clinic there or earthquake victims somewhere. I have only seen that in an Armenian church once. We are simply too inwardly focused. We give to our own. The economics of our communities are tenuous and every dollar counts. Armenian organizations locally, nationally, and internationally compete for those dollars. But, simply and truly, we are too inwardly focused. 
     I am not sure I like the Never Forgive part of these messages. Never Forgive is a shackle that will weigh us down and limit our growth and progression as a people. We are the first Christian nation. Our neighbors have for some reason taken great offense at that for centuries. We have been attacked and martyred for it. Our greatest victory Vartanandz was in fact a devastating and crushing military defeat by the Persians. But, they were impressed with how fiercely we fought for our religion that they allowed us to worship freely. 1915, in the simplest and most naive sense, was done for the same reason. We were different, proud, and did not want to assimilate... hence lose our identity.
     Never forgiving is not part of that identity. If we are the first Christian nation, we probably should accept the teachings of the fellow who died to forgive all of us for our sins. It is hard to forgive, however, when officially there has been no contrition.
     The Turkish government is nowhere near contrition. Their simple retort was that it did not happen as the Armenians portray events. They deny any premeditated genocidal intent. They claim it was war time and there were many casualties on both sides. Furthermore, it was, in fact, Armenian brigands and revolutionaries that massacred Turks and not the other way around. Seeds of doubt are cast and nurtured expertly. They fund academics to counteract the Armenian, Turkish, and other scholars that spread the "Armenian version" of the truth. Their intransigence and denial is impressive, infuriating, baffling, and any other a number of adjectives and expletives.

     Minimally, the Turkish strategy is delay until it goes away. In the worst case, the Turks still have some vision of Pan-Turanism and the struggling Republics of Armenia and Artsakh are the first stepping stone of that plan. In either extreme, the Turkish Government never ever wants to and probably never ever will entertain any kinds of restitution. They for sure do not want to give up a pebble of occupied Western Armenia.
     A Wilde Idea: As is often the case in the preparation of these letters, the perfect quote often appears out of the ether of the internet at just the right time. Witness this gem of an example:

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much
                                                                          ~ Oscar Wilde
      After reading this wonderful quote, I firmly believe we should drop the Never part of Never Forgive. We should actually forgive the Turks and we should do it on the grandest scale possible. We should do it on April 24, 2015, the 100th Anniversary of the day we mark as the start of the Genocide. We should do it at Dzidzernapert or Etchmiadzian in the Republic of Armenia. The two Catholicoses should lead and the two Patriarchs should have a role. There should be a requiem service for all that died in the Genocide and all the survivors who have hence passed on. Then, we should have a special service of forgiveness. The leadership of the government of Armenia and all major Diaspora leaders should be present. We should invite major leaders of the world including Obama. All of the church, government, and civic leaders should sign a very formal invitation to the President and Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey to officially attend the service and then partake of Madagh afterwards. Wouldn't that be incredibly powerful? Wouldn't that make us a nation among nations?
     The Turkish leaders would be in a tough position if they agreed to attend. They would be in a tough position if they chose not to attend. Even if they choose not to participate, we should do it anyway. It is the right thing to do according to our professed faith.
     It would be huge. It would be magnanimous. It would be unprecedented in the history of mankind (or what little I know about the history of mankind). It would be headline news like we have never experienced in any Genocide commemoration before or after.
     We are obsessed simply because there has been no closure. Many of us believe we should "Never Forgive" and therefore seal ourselves, as a people, from that closure. If we are not going to get it through contrition and restitution from the Turkish Government any time soon, let’s simply bestow a little closure for both peoples ourselves.
     OK. Let's be honest. The probability of the cockamamie Wilde plan actually happening is pretty close to zero. Clearly, I am motivated by contrarian appeal of Oscar Wilde’s quote.
     The "Never Forgive" crowd will probably never, ever, no way Jose, go for it. They will begin to hate me and I will be thrown under the proverbial "Never Forgive" bus. The academics will consider this as more evidence that I am a dilettante, logically unsound, and naive. I cannot even imagine how the politicians would react.
     One would think that because forgiveness is so fundamental to Christianity, that the church would have a hard time not doing this. I am certain they would find a way. They might simply state that we utter forgiveness ever time we say or sing the Lord's Prayer. We say and sing the Lord's Prayer (as we forgive those who trespass against us) at every Genocide requiem, so therefore, ipso facto, presto chango, we forgive the Turks every year. While this might be technically true, that is not the impression that any Armenians or Turks that I know have.
     This Wilde idea is at least worth discussing and considering. Nothing we have done for 48 years since 1965 has really gotten us anywhere in terms of closure, contrition, and certainly nothing we have done has resulted in any restitution. Maybe this forgiveness idea will but we have to be pure of heart and go into it with no expectations. Minimally, it would, as Wilde noted, annoy the Turks… while we continue to press for recognition, contrition, and restitution from the Republic of Turkey. 

     A much less Wilde idea: I must emphasize that I am in no way advocating that we stop our efforts for restitution and compensation for what was done. Even if we forgive them, we have to work the political side of the issue and drive for closure in that regard. There is an outstanding debt. The Republic of Turkey simply owes the Armenians for the lands, properties, and wealth they stole from us.
     If this resonates with the Armenians reading this letter, than I urge one and all to read Michael Bobelian’s book, Children of Armenia. It is well researched and crafted. It is also, as most books on the subject of the Genocide, disturbing at times to read. He does provide an excellent history of the Genocide and the changing politics surrounding it since.
     If you are an American Armenian it is almost mandatory that you read this excellent book. He covers the political awakening of the Armenians in US beginning with the 50th anniversary of the Genocide. Bobelian reminds us of the bold act of Gourgen Yanikian in 1973 as well as the rise of the Armenian lobbying organizations.
     Bobelian also gives a clear history how the US went from being pro-Armenian to pro-Turkey. He covers the tireless efforts of Vahan Cardashian in the 1920s and 30s. I personally never knew about the role of Admiral Mark L. Bristol, Allen W. Dulles, and Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes in turning the US policy from pro-Armenian to pro-Turkish. They followed the lead of Admiral Bristol’s who was the US high commissioner in the Ottoman Empire post WWI. Admiral Bristol was no friend to the Armenians.
     No matter how Armenians might denigrate the Turks and the Turkish government, we all have to agree on the skills of their leaders and diplomats in influencing and blackmailing the United States. Any progress our lobbying organizations, led by the Armenian National Committee, are making are slow and hard fought.
     We often focus on the numbers of people who were killed in the Genocide. We talk about a lost culture and lifestyle. Michael Bobelian provides a most interesting passage regarding the magnitude of what the Armenians lost economically:
The Ottomans seized bank accounts, assumed businesses, and ransacked communal properties, including 2,043 churches. One contemporaneous estimate of the looted assets totaled $3.7 billion (about $44 billion in today’s dollars). The American consul in Syria described the process as “a gigantic plundering scheme.” No stone was left unturned, not even the riches that could be extracted from the deaths themselves. At one point, Talaat asked the American ambassador Henry Morgenthau to hand over lists of Armenians insured by American companies so that the empire could inherit the proceeds of the dead.
     Where did that money go? It was taken at the end of the Ottoman Empire. It is easily argued that the Republic of Turkey is founded on this plunder. We need more work in this area to see how and where our money was used. Then we need to go after it.
     $44 Billion is a lot of money. We should outline exactly what we want in terms of restitution and reparation. The Turkish Government needs to come clean, do the right thing, and pay us what they stole in today’s dollars. Perhaps if we forgave them, their consciences would weigh so heavy, there would be no choice to offer compensation. I am not counting on this.
     Politically we should never cease our efforts until both sides get closure: recognition, contrition, and restitution.
     It should be an interesting few years leading to the 100th Anniversary of the horrible event in our history.

1 comment:

  1. The Armenian hubris virtually precludes an organized proclamation of our nation's forgiveness. However, I have faith in our people's willingness to have intellectual discourse with proper objectivity. Unfortunately, Armenian Republic -- to my knowledge -- has yet to bring forth any plans thereof.

    Thank you for recommending Bobelian's book; I had not heard of it until now. As a CPA who is interested in transitioning (after a few years of experience) from financial auditing to economic damages / financial litigation support, I would zealously volunteer my time to help ascertain and attest the wealth that was wrongfully expropriated from our forefathers.

    Thank you for the enriching post!