Monday, December 24, 2007

Timely recognition of the Armenian genocide

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong
December 24, 2007 Monday

December 24, 2007 Monday
South China Morning Post, Hong Kong
by Paul Harris

The US Congress' foreign affairs panel created a stir this autumn when it agreed that the deportation of 2 million Armenians from Turkey, between 1915 and 1923, was genocide.

Some asked why Congress was provoking America's ally over something that happened so long ago. The answer relates to the nature of genocide - an attempt to destroy a particular national, racial, religious or ethnic group in whole or in part - which is so awful that it is hard to comprehend and confront.

Germany's slow, painful recognition of the scale and evil of the Nazi genocide of Jews and gypsies has been exceptional. Other genocides, smaller in absolute numbers of victims but still horrifying, have not had the recognition they demand. Denial and self-deception are common. Only televised video footage of the 1994 Srebrenica mass killing of Muslims finally convinced many Serbs that it was true, and not propaganda.

In 1803, France attempted to exterminate the rebellious former slave population of Haiti, tying people of all ages and both sexes to cannon-balls and throwing them into the sea.

In 1904, general Lothar von Trotha, commander of German forces in South West Africa (today's Namibia), issued his "extermination order" to kill all the Herrero people - 65,000 of whom were killed before the outcry forced him to stop.

The Turkish genocide of the Armenians was in two phases, both on a bigger scale than Srebrenica, Haiti or the Herreros. The lack of international response to the first encouraged the second.

In 1894, Armenians in the Turkish empire seeking equal civil rights with Turks held a demonstration in Istanbul. Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid made this an excuse to use police and organised mobs to kill not just the demonstrators but at least 100,000 Armenians across Turkey - most dramatically at Urfa, where 3,000 were burned to death inside the cathedral.

In England and the United States, the public outcry put pressure on the governments to do something. Elsewhere there was little interest.

That lack of reaction encouraged the revolutionary Young Turks movement, which overthrew Abdul Hamid in 1908, to plan genocide on a bigger scale during the first world war. The Young Turks feared that Armenians would support Russia if it invaded, and decided to remove the threat by removing the Armenians. The entire populations of many Armenian villages were massacred.

Other Armenians were driven from their homes on forced marches of hundreds of kilometres without adequate food, and died of starvation or exhaustion; or were shot when they fell behind. Estimates of the numbers that died vary between 1million and 1.5 million. There are virtually no Armenians today in their former heartland provinces. The Armenians' fate was widely reported by foreigners living in the affected areas and confirmed by detailed investigations after Turkey's defeat.

The main organiser, Young Turk leader Mehmet Talaat, was assassinated in Hamburg in 1921 by an Armenian, Soghomon Tehlirian. A German jury, after hearing Talaat's telegrams ordering the genocide, acquitted Tehlirian of murder.

The Armenian genocide was a direct encouragement to Hitler to embark on the extermination of the Jews. In 1939, as German armies invaded Poland, he ordered them to ignore the laws of war and mercilessly kill civilians, with the words: "Who remembers the Armenians?"

Turkey remains in denial about the Armenian genocide, and this April forced the closure of a United Nations exhibition about the Rwanda genocide because of references to it. Without recognition of what happened, a terrible injustice continues to the memory of the dead and their surviving relatives, and the prevention of future genocide is harder.

That is why it is particularly timely and appropriate that the US Congress panel voted to recognise the Armenian genocide - at last.

Paul Harris is a barrister and was the founding chairman of Human Rights Monitor

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong
January 4, 2008 Friday


Common sense to recognise genocide proof

I would like to thank Paul Harris for his courageous article ("Timely recognition of the Armenian genocide", December 24), in which he calls upon the United States to recognise the Armenian genocide, not only to honour the memory of those who were massacred, but also as a warning to other nations, which would commit the act of genocide, that they would also be held to account.

However, I must take issue with the reply written by Turkey's consul general, Raif Karaca ("US should examine history, not legislate it", December 28).

First, Mr Karaca claims that "many internationally renowned historians" agree the deportations were for security measures. However, only a handful of historians take this view.

In contrast, the International Association of Genocide Scholars - which represents the main body of scholars who study genocide and whose hundreds of members have no affiliations with any government - unanimously agreed that what happened to the Armenians during the first world war was genocide.

Mr Karaca says the Turkish government has opened "all Turkish archives of that period" for researchers. However, in March 2005, the Turkish [newspaper] Zaman brought to light that only a selected 2,000 out of the 300,000 documents were open to the public.

Finally, Mr Karaca claims that "the passing of such resolutions by foreign parliaments is simply irrelevant". He fails to see the relevance that crimes of genocide need to be recognised by governments, not historians, in order to stop future genocides.

The US Congress is not attempting to rewrite the history books. By recognising the genocide took place, Congress will show to the world that it will not allow similar crimes to happen again.

It is common sense to examine history. However, it is also common sense to recognise what history has already proved.

Katia M. Peltekian, Beirut, Lebanon

The Turkish Consul's Letter

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong
December 28, 2007 Friday


US should examine history, not legislate it

I refer to Paul Harris' article ("Timely recognition of the Armenian genocide", December 24), urging the United States Congress to adopt a resolution which would characterise as "genocide" the decision taken by the Ottoman government, in 1915, with regard to the relocation of a portion of its Armenian subjects who were in collaboration with invading forces.

The nature of the events that took place in Anatolia in 1915 and prior to it, is still being debated. Contrary to Armenian claims, many internationally-renowned historians consider the relocation decision in this period as a war-time security measure taken under the conditions of the first world war.

It is blatantly obvious foreign governments, including that of the US, do not have a task or function to rewrite history by distorting a matter which specifically concerns the common history of Turks and Armenians. The responsibility of governments is to further improve relations between peoples and look to the future, not to the past.

Turkey has been advocating for years that disputed periods in history should be evaluated by historians, not by legislative bodies.

Turkey's call to Armenia in 2005 to examine our common history through the study of uncontested archive documents by historians from Turkey, Armenia, and if necessary from a third country, is a clear manifestation of this approach.

While our proposal aimed at reconciling the opposing narratives between Turkey and Armenia with regard to the events of 1915 - through a sincere and open dialogue - is still on the table and has not, as yet, been responded to favourably by Armenia, the passing of such resolutions by foreign governments is simply irrelevant.

The period in question is marked with immense mutual suffering from the atrocities of the first world war.

Countless individual stories have been passed from generation to generation among Turks, Armenians and others who then made up the Ottoman Empire. But the complex political history and dynamics of that tumultuous period are yet to be fully grasped. Each life lost is one too many, whether it is Armenian or Turkish. It is truly regrettable there is no mention today of Turkish or Muslim lives lost during the same period, in the same region.

Turkey has no difficulties in facing its past. All Turkish archives of that period, including military ones, are open to the entire international academic community.

However, important Armenian archives are not.

We eagerly await a positive response from Armenia to our proposal, agreeing to establish a joint research commission. Meanwhile, the ill-conceived agenda of Armenia to promote the adoption of such resolutions by foreign governments, both behind the scenes and recently out in the open, continues.

Common sense would require efforts to examine history, not to legislate it.

Raif Karaca,

Turkish consul-general in Hong Kong



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