Notes From Hairenik
April 13, 2006
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.

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Anonymous Anarchistian said...
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.
Perhaps the opposite is also true. i.e., that "free, independent republic" needs to comprehend that the diaspora needs its attention in what pertains to the genocide.

When this Armenian republic speaks in the name of all Armenians, and places no difference between locals and diasporans, I will give it my "undivided attention". Until then, I will continue to criticize it, even attack it. I am afraid a state run by the likes of Oskanian and Kocharian does not deserve anything other than that, let alone the undivided attention of the diaspora.

Armenia does not speak in my name, and in the name of survivors of the Genocide. I prefer to remain "stateless" than to support those who do not deem Genocide recognition as a prerequisite for ties between Turkey and Armenia. I cannot and will not support such a state. I cannot betray the memory of my ancestors who were murdered for the simple fact that they were Armenians.

To be silent is to be complicit. And Armenia is exactly that.

Anonymous harry said...
You make many valid points. Let me say that I have met Armenians who only vaguely know that some kind of injustice happened in the distant past. It is not wrong to bring this crime to the attention of the world. It does have a bearing on the security of today's Armenia. It is the Armenians' fault that they have not formulated what they want to achieve. It is a fact that overseas Armenians through their organizations have not contributed to Armenian nation building since 1991. There was much self congratulation in the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake. But in reality what the diaspora did was truly pathetic and embarrassing.
The problem is that Armenians have been led by loud mouth demagogues and pot bellied fornicating bishops. Not democrats, not real activisits, who care for the well being of Armenian individuals and collective entities. It is not surprising that the interests of the Armenian poor in Armenia are being ignored by such Armenians. If the ARF or the ADL or the Armenian church have no time say, for trafficked victims in Turkey and Dubai, how do I know that they really care about the 1915-23 genocide? Genocide recognition is being pursued mainly by the wrong people for their own agendas at the expense of solidarity but it doesn't mean it should not be raised by those who are committed to the welfare of the Armenian nation

Anonymous Nessuna said...
I'll have to agree with Harry on this one. Then again, I think pursuing genocide recognition not neccessarily at the expense of addressing domestic issues is possible.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Anarchistian, there are so many families in Armenia that think about their daily physicial existance. To demand from them to think about Genocide recognition and other concepts is not realistic. Many Armenians in Armenia would love to see the border open, if it is going to slightly improve their miserable conditions.


Anonymous sarcastictothebone said...
each one of you had a point which makes sense in the long run, but we all know that oppression poses people into unity, since Armenians were oppressed by the Turks and their rights were snatched from them they had more patriotic feelings towards their nation, now that we are a free nation, we are so not united, I can’t accept the fact that Armenians would alienate me or look down on me just because I am living in diaspora, we all know when nations unite they can make a positive difference , when are we gonna break that chains and join hands just to create one united free nation

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
According to an email newsletter I received listing events being held in the Los Angeles area, which includes Glendale and Hollywood, 17 commemorative events, including commemoration ceremonies, concerts, art exhibits, and an "open mic night," are being held from April 22 to April 30. A maximum of three, maybe five events including an art exhibit and a concert would have been enough. It also shows how divided the community is there--there are five commemoration events alone, which from my experience involve an audience sitting and listening to lectures from historians or political party representatives about what they already know. A rally, a march, and a protest in front of the Turkish consolate are also being held. It's overkill, plain and simple. It's time for Armenians to start getting activated on issues regarding their own future. But I don't know when that is going to happen. Again, it has to start happening soon. Things in Armenia are not as rosy as many Armenians living in the diaspora may think. Azerbaijan is threatening immediate war over Nagorno Karabagh again, about which Armenia is still in denial. The renewal of war will cripple Armenia's economy, which has peaked to an all-time inflated high after over 15 years of building up. Armenians need to wake up--it's time.

Anonymous harry said...
You said "Armenians need to wake up" -- I couldn't agree any more.

Armenians need to set up popular-based committees that look after the interests of each neighborhood. Solidarity is the answer. Fellow-feeling among Armenians is missing. The Turks have plenty of that. Pan-Turkism, the ideology, is about Turks helping one another as well as empire building. The ruling AKP party in Turkey was (and is) founded on community-based Islamic solidarity.
Those who focus on April 24 (but have no time for helping a fellow Armenian) have found an easy way to make publicity for themselves and fool a section of the public into believing that Armenia's destiny is 'in good hands'