Thursday, March 29, 2007

Jared Goldberg: The ghost of genocides past

The Michigan Daily
If we truly want to honor the victims in Darfur and understand how to help them, we should recognize and remember one of the first genocides of the 20th century, that of the Armenian people.
Activism against the genocide in Darfur has become omnipresent. Students Taking Action Now in Darfur has just joined with the new group Will Work for Food to help raise awareness and aid those suffering in the conflict. Students have the power to change the world. We have done it before, and the creation of groups like Will Work for Food and STAND will show future generations that not everyone was silent.

The genocide in Darfur however, is definitely not the first modern genocide. Genocides were common throughout history, even before the Holocaust. If we truly want to honor the victims in Darfur and understand how to help them, we should recognize and remember one of the first genocides of the 20th century, that of the Armenian people.

April 24 will mark the 92nd anniversary of the arrest and eventual murder of Armenian leaders in Turkey. Though for centuries Armenians lacked an independent government and were not equal citizens in the Ottoman Empire, (which controlled much of Central Asia and Eastern Europe, including historic Armenia), the rise of Armenian political institutions and groups in the 19th century gave hope that Armenians would eventually have their own state.

Several years before World War I, a groups of reformers within the waning Ottoman Empire, known as the Young Turks, gained considerable power. While some wanted to liberalize the empire and grant more rights to minorities, a faction known as the Committee of Union and Progress rose in the ranks. By 1913, three leaders known as the Three Pashas, assumed control of the country. Much of their ideology was overtly racist and expansionist.

What had begun as a policy of arrest and detainment evolved into a campaign of deportation, starvation and mass murder. By the end of World War I in 1918, much of historic Armenia, including the famous Mount Ararat, had been completely "cleansed" of Armenians. Over a million people were dead. To put this in perspective, it is estimated that the total number of Armenians within the Ottoman Empire was no more than 3 million.

Unlike the Holocaust, or even the events in Darfur, the Armenian Genocide is still not recognized by some countries. While Turkey's denial comes as no surprise, other countries like America and Great Britain do not use the word genocide to describe the events. Undeniably, though the many parallels between Hitler's extermination policies and those of the Turkish government between 1915-1917 are clear; each can only be described as genocidal.

So why the persistent denial? Why is there no pressure on the modern government of Turkey to recognize past horrors? Why are Western governments apprehensive about turning up such pressure? And, perhaps the bigger issue, why do we acknowledge the Holocaust, Rwanda, the Balkans and now Darfur as acts of mass murder to be universally condemned while at the same time forget the genocide that some have argued made it all possible?

I have my own theory about this complacency: the nation-state. Modern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East are states built on the foundations of the nation, whatever your definition of nation is. World War I created the concept that nations deserve their own states. Our world, since the downfall of empires and colonialism, has seen the birth of numerous such states. For the modern state of Turkey, much of whose current territory encompasses historic Armenia, the genocide marks its birth as a nation-state, arising from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. To recognize it, in the views of some, is an admission of original sin.

Other countries in Europe and elsewhere during and after World War I also committed atrocities in their quest for independence. Recognition of the Armenian genocide would indict the entire nation-state system, a system that has created new identities for people across the world - identities which have liberated many from oppression in centuries past.

The nation-state is an imperfect creation, but remembering the Armenian genocide doesn't invalidate it. The Turkish people, like the Armenian people, are free to determine their own destiny in this world. But to deny the deaths of a million people does a grave injustice.

If we want our efforts to stop genocide in Darfur to be successful or even have any significant meaning, we should always remember the Armenian genocide.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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