Friday, October 12, 2007

Get with the Pogrom

The first modern genocide of the 20th century was between 1915 to 1923 when the Young Turks in the Ottoman-controlled government of Turkey massacred hundreds of thousands to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians. The pogrom has been formally recognized as a genocide by 22 countries. The United States is not among them.
Officially, the Turkish government rejects what happened to the Armenians as a genocide, and claims the Turks of Anatolia experienced a genocide by the Armenians.
The U.S. Congress introduced a resolution calling on Turkey to officially declare what happened to the Armenians as “genocide”. But President Bush recognizes Turkey is an ally in the War on Terrorism and wants the resolution squashed. Presidents as far back as Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton also opposed legislation to recognize the Armenian genocide.
Okay, let’s get some things straight. I don’t think the Armenians are saints. They’ve been at war in the neighboring Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan for a long time, over a territorial turf war over land they claim is theirs.
Growing up, I’ve seen Armenian kids whose parents told them to hate the Turks for the genocide. Understanding this blind, absolute hatred of all Turkish people and culture as a youth, I now know how the Palestinians hate the Israelis and vice versa. Conditioned hatred is the worst.
Armenian writer Ara Baliozian (one of my early mentors as a writer) criticized this conditioned loathing and historical hatred when he wrote; “Armenians enjoy reading about Turks because they love to hate.”
I never bought the argument modern Armenians should hate modern Turkey because of the genocide. It was a different government at a different time. Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which went into effect in 2005 makes it a crime to insult “Turkishness.” Ferit Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist was prosecuted under Article 301 for telling a magazine “Thirty thousand Kurds and million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody dares to talk about it.” The charges were later dropped.
Turkey claims that 1.6 million figure of Armenian dead wasn’t by genocide but by wars and displacement. So it isn’t mass extermination by government, but a series of unfortunate events. Kinda like they were in the wrong place at the wrong time type of thing. Like you have one world war and there goes the neighborhood.
Using this logic, you could say during the early 1940s the Nazis gave Jews homes, jobs and a way to contribute to the war effort. They also made lampshades out of their skin, but we won’t mention that.
We’re probably going to attack Iran, whose leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust. So how’s that different with Turkey denying the Armenian genocide?
I guess denying the Holocaust is bad, while denial of the Armenian genocide is politically convenient, especially when you have to use Turkey’s airspace and roads.
America should deny something uncomfortable from its own past. Like slavery. The purposeful servitude and degradation of Africans for personal profit? Didn’t happen here. No, sir! How about the displacement and slaughter of the American Indians? That really didn’t happen either; they love living on reservations. It’s like camping to them.
By denying painful chapters of your history, you’re depriving future generations from understanding your culture. Nobody has the luxury of being an infallible civilization. Nations experienced their dark periods, downslides and times of strife at the hands of murderers and madmen. Just ask the Russians who endured Stalin, the Italians who suffered through Mussolini, or Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Then there was that whole Dark Ages thing with bubonic plague and barbarian hordes.
Sociologist Anny Bakalian wrote in her 1993 book “Armenian-Americans”: “In 1915, the deliberate and systematic policy of the Young Turk government was to annihilate the Armenian people and eradicate their presence from their ancestral lands. Seventy-five years later, the trauma of the Genocide and deportations continues to hover in the forefront of Armenian collective consciousness.”
Armenians keep pushing for public recognition and Turkey doesn’t want to yield. This whole thing is a frustrating exercise in stubbornness. Ignorance and hate feed off each other and both sides are vilified by the other, yet the dead remain dead and history a remote and sketchy thing, carried in the minds of people who remembered.
Like my grandfather, who was born in Turkey in 1916, at the height of the genocide, and who survived because a Turkish woman kept him safe while his mother fled to America. He and his brother were later reunited with their mother in the United States, but their sister vanished, a probable victim of the genocide.
Turkey doesn’t want to admit their glorious history hit a snag during World War I with the Armenian genocide. But it’s the 21st Century. Turkey can do the world a favor and still retain its national dignity. It can admit, “Hey, the Ottomans and Young Turks killed these people, not us. Things got a little nutty here between 1915 and 1923, and lots of people died. It was a genocide, but that’s not going to happen here again, because we’re not the Ottomans. So if you’re planning a vacation, visit Istanbul. We’re all that’s happenin’ on the Bosporus!”

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