Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Armenian Genocide

I write this as I watch a free DVD distributed in the TIME by Armenian Groups documenting the history of the genocide on Armenia by the Ottoman Turks.

The story is very familiar. A massacre by design, of innocent, unarmed population, while the world looked on. The supposedly modernising Young Turks turned monsters in the name of national interest. Imperial powers pursued self-interest - as the French Ambassador observed the primacy of business interests over human ones. And the Turkish Government - not unlike the Holocaust denials - denied that there was anything, to this day.
And, very timely. Hrant Dink's blood has not dried yet. The debate on genocide denial is live and well, and currently weighing against Turkey in its discussions with EU. Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Prize in literature contributed to the global awareness of the issue, and Turkey's, despite its modernisation, almost medieval stance regarding this. Not surprisingly, Pamuk is also considered to be under threat.
There are two issues here. First, the Turkish government's failure to accept the responsibility of the genocide. One would think this should be relatively easy. A crime committed so far back in history! However, it is always, surprisingly, so painful - Japan is still wrestling with what it did during the 2nd World War - and so improbable by the nation concerned.
One would wonder, then, how much technology and this apparent progress in lifestyle changes us. Why do Japan, a great economic power, a modern nation, find it so difficult to come to terms with its deeds? Why Turkey, a modern, secular nation, still not able to accept its responsibility in this genocide?
I feel the answer lies in the question. Nationalism, the great creed of the 18th and 19th centuries, justified these horrors. It still does. To be a proud Japanese, or a proud Turk, precedes the necessity of becoming a decent human being. It will seem demeaning for a proud Turkish Prime Minister to accept that killing, in the name of national unity, of more than a million unarmed human beings were unjust. It will be shameful for Japan. It will be - for all future criminals who will justify beastly behaviour in the name of National Interest. [When Blair says that he needed to fight in Iraq to secure British way of life, he is using this line of logic]
Second, the international community, if there is one, almost always failed to stop these massacres. It is always because the leaders that time acted on self-interest. So was it in Armenia, in Europe in 1930s, in Tienanmen, in Serbia, in Darfur. The deployment of muscle and men followed oil and money far more often than human lives. And, of course, no one blames Woodrow Wilson or Lloyd George of being incompetent and inhuman for failing to raising even a finger while Armenians were slaughtered. [I hope history will be as kind to today's leaders for failing to act on the many atrocities happening right now]
I shall sleep tonight with a bad dream. I shall remember how Hitler felt emboldened - on August 22, 1939, he asked, "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
Every crime unpunished creates precedence for another terrible crime. As we look the other side, seeds of destruction take hold. When the respect for human life and dignity are lost, we lose everything - our world order reaches a breaking point.
I just hope it will last my time.

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