As we approach the 91st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I want to discuss a few points regarding the views Armenians have regarding their own history, and where they expect to go in the future.
Millions of people from what is today considered Eastern Turkey were driven to the four corners of the globe from 1915 until just after the Ottoman Empire’s collapse. The reason why the Armenian Diaspora exists in such magnitude today is a direct result of the Genocide. There are only a handful of Armenians living in the world who were not affected by the Genocide in one way or another. Most lost family members who fell under the sword or from disease and starvation, while thousands others simply fled to Russian-occupied or Eastern Armenia—now the Republic of Armenia—as well as to the Middle East, the United States, and Iran. The Genocide was followed by decades of silence about the tragedy, then gradual discussion, calls for recognition and reparations, and now simply worldwide public acknowledgement, the latter having become an absolute obsession.
The Genocide is now an event for the Armenians. It is the main attraction regarding the Armenians’ identity and legacy. They strive so hard to promote the horrors of their past that they aim to be identified first by their claim to being victims of the “first genocide of the 20th century,” rather than being known for their distinctive culture or, more importantly, their struggle to foster democracy in a new world free from Soviet rule for over 15 years. A search on the Internet reveals that over 2,180,000 results appear for Web sites or Web pages that mention something related to the Armenian Genocide. About 140 such sites are available for near immediate viewing, depending on the Internet connection speed. One popular online Web site, which sells Armenian music, books, gifts, videos, among other things stocks 106 items related to the Genocide, 65 of them being books. There are dozens of titles in the English language alone written by scholars proving the existence of the Genocide with references to detailed memorandums drafted by Ottoman government leaders, official documents, archived photographs, testimonies from survivors, analyses of the intentions for further Turkish expansion or pan-Turanism, surveys of Ottoman domestic as well as foreign policies, and so forth. Notable Armenian writers as well as novices—both in fiction and non-fiction—have begun to capitalize on the Genocide as a revenue generator, publishing books about how the Genocide allegedly affected them psychologically as sons and daughters of survivors. Still others have become historians in their own right, obsessed with finding more and more previously undiscovered (by them) information in any printed or other recorded form related to the Genocide and cataloging it. I have met people who spend all their spare time on such projects. There are countless recordings of music dedicated to the memory of the victims. Art has also been affected, with paintings reflecting impressions the atrocities have left on the artists—most notably shown in Arshile Gorky’s work “The Artist and His Mother.” For the last five years an annual graphic design contest has been held each year for the campaign poster that would best visualize the promotion of Armenian Genocide recognition. Clearly the Genocide is incorporated into various aspects of daily life for many Armenians who are incapable of separating the event from their personas.
In the Boston area alone, where I am from, at least a dozen commemorative events will be held during the next 14 days, including lectures by prominent historians who specialize in the Armenian Genocide, documentary film screenings, a “candlelight march,” solemn ceremonies, art exhibits, and discussion forums, as listed in an emailed calendar of events service to which I subscribe. I daresay that the list is incomplete
Recognition of the Genocide by the US and Turkey long ago became a political movement uniting Armenians around the world in a common struggle, indeed as a way to maintain a sense of identity in environments that invite assimilation, even more so a vehicle than the Armenian Church. Monuments can be found in Armenian communities most everywhere by now. The pilgrimage to the Tsitserakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial every year on April 24 can be compared to that made by thousands of Muslims making their way to the Mecca during Dhu al-Hijjah.
Thus the acceptance of the Armenian Genocide has become a kind of religion, worshiped by attesters and deniers alike. Its acceptance is worshipped in the sense that people still struggle in coming to terms with the understanding that a tragedy occurred of some magnitude and search for limitless knowledge to prove that it did or did not exist. Attesters have unwavering faith in what they are convinced is truth, while deniers seek faith in their convictions that the Genocide is a farce.
New future goals to be accomplished by the Armenians must be defined now so that undertakings can begin, whether or not the Genocide is recognized by the US and Turkey. The Armenians claim that the present-day Turkish government must acknowledge the horrors for which the Ottoman “Young Turk” government was held accountable. But what else do they expect? Talks of mass reparations in the form of financial reimbursement and reclaiming of lands are just that. No nation in the world community fully accepts those claims seriously, including ironically the Armenians. They are not vigilant about pushing other issues—yet to be determined—forward, seemingly resolute only to hear the Turkish government admit to the committal of Genocide by its preceding government. But then? What do the Armenians desire to achieve after that acceptance, and why do they not begin rallying around those goals now? Who is to decide what those goals must be, and who will be responsible for bringing Armenians together to realize them, once again collectively?
The Armenians are so blinded by their past they cannot seem to comprehend that a free, independent republic was founded that needs their undivided attention. Although it may comprise a fraction of the historic Armenian lands, most of which are now part of Turkey and are where most Genocide survivors are from, the Republic of Armenia nevertheless exists. Armenians in their Diaspora use the occupation of their ancestral lands as one of several excuses to ignore Armenia. They protest, albeit validly, that the Armenian government does not grant them the right to citizenship, but they fail to understand that community building as well as civil society development can be carried out by individuals who have the capabilities as well as the resources alongside Armenia’s native citizens. Political divisions, communication barriers, governmental corruption, and ideological differences are also excuses for failing to become actively involved in the proactive development of Armenia, where promoting individual self-sufficiency is perhaps most important. I have long written on these pages that change comes from within, from the bottom up. Not only are the citizens of Armenia responsible for instilling change in their own societies, the entire Armenian society must work towards nation building. It is only natural to do so.
Indeed the past should not be forgotten. But the Armenians have always managed to overcome past tragedies, including loss of statehood, natural disasters of centuries or the recent past, and other devastating atrocities committed against them during the course of their over 2,000 year history. But eventually, the Armenians have to move on to perpetuate their legacy. They need to decide very soon how they want to continue as nation still searching for its identity in the 21st century.
Labels: Social and Cultural, Thoughts and Musings