THE AFFIRMATION OF THE GENOCIDE OF THE ARMENIANS
A HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER'S POINT OF VIEW
Dr. Tessa Hofmann (Berlin)
Ladies and gentlemen,
Last weekend Great Britain commemorated, for the third year, the Holocaust of the European Jewry. For me, a German and a citizen of Berlin, it was an honour and privilege to share the week-end before the Third Holocaust Memorial with a synagogue congregation, who had invited me and my Armenian colleague Dr. Gerayer Koutcharian to London in order to exhibit our documentation of historic photographs on the Armenian genocide. I felt the more moved since the invitation came from a co-patriot, a Jewish lady from Berlin who had survived the Shoah as one of those ten thousand Jewish children who got permission to emigrate to Britain in 1938; most of them did never see their family again. And there were more such survivors in the congregation. I think it is very meaningful that a common desire for human rights, in particular for the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide unites members of different religious, cultural and ethnic background and even members of na-tions who fell victim to the most threatening crime humanity knows, with those who belong to a nation which committed this crime. In London we united in order to commemorate all the victims of genocide in the 20th century, but in particular the Arme-nians.
Interestingly, there are many common features between the genocides of Word War I and World War II. The very word genocide was first used in regards to crimes against Armenians by the American missionary Corinna Shattuck, when about 3,000 Armenians were burnt alive in their cathedral at Urfa in 1895. The prominent French-Jewish socialist and journalist Bernard Lazare also called the slaughter of Armenians during the years 1894 until 1896 a holocaust, and even Winston Churchill described in volume 4 of his book "The World Crisis" the "massacre of countless thousands of defenceless Armenians" during the First World War as an "administrative holocaust". War and periods of transition, it seems, are especially dangerous situations for mi-norities. They provide the pretext for the abolition of parliamentary control, for the introduction of emergency laws, for the conspiracy of a ruling nationalist elite against the citizen. Genocide starts in brains and thoughts. It begins with the dehumanisation of the chosen victim group. The Young Turks wrote and spoke about the Armenians as a virus or microbes in the national Turkish body which subsequently had to be cured from them. The Nazis had a similar perception of Jews. Forced labour became a mean of annihilation already during the First World War. Armenians and Jews were transferred to the places of their annihilation by railway and in wagons otherwise used for the transportation of animals. Another common feature are medical experiments on the victims.
It is sometimes argued that the annihilation of one and half millions of ethnic Armenians of Ottoman citizenship during the war years 1915 and 1916 was no genocide simply because the UN convention in the punishment and prevention of the crime of genocide was adopted in 1948. Would that be true, we had to delete the Shoah of the European Jewry from the list of genocides as well, for the Nuremberg Tribunals were held already in 1946 and not on the legal ground of the UN convention, but the London Agreement of 1945. Nobody in his senses, however, doubts that the Shoah is a genocide. Lesser known is the fact that Raphael Lemkin, the author of the UN convention had the examples of the Armenian and the Jewish genocides in mind when he worked out this convention. Or that he tried already in 1932 at the occasion of a conference of lawyers from the League of Nations at Madrid to introduce a drafted convention on the punishment of genocide, for Lemkin rightly feared a repetition of the crime once the Turkish perpetrators went away with the annihilation of the Armenians. Today, scholars of genocide studies consider the genocide of the Armenians as one of the four "total genocides" (R. Melson) of the 20th century. Having consulted the rich Political Archives of the Foreign Office of Germany, I have no doubt that this definition of total genocide can be applied to the Armenian genocide. In a letter to the German head of government, the Ambassador in Constantinople, Baron Hans von Wangenheim qualified the "expulsion and deportation" of the Ottoman Armenians as early as on the 7th of July, 1915, as the intention "to annihilate the Armenian race in the entire Turkish Empire." According to the estimation of the German Embassy of October 4, 1916, from a pre-war population of 2,5 millions of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire one and half had been killed by slaughter, starvation and epidemics.
Despite the many archival proves and despite the fact that all serious scholars of genocide acknowledge this annihilation as the first mass scale genocide of the 20th century, the ruling Turkish elite continues to deny the historical fact of the genocide of the Armenians, by two reasons. First and in general, perpetrators normally do not admit their crimes voluntarily, in particular not crimes of state. Germany is exceptional because the victorious allies held tribunals and forced the confrontation with their crimes upon the defeated Germans. Secondly, the links between Republican Turkey and the Ottoman regime of the so called Young Turks are immensely close. Not only had the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal, himself been a member of the Young Turkish party, but also a member of its so called "special organisation", the notorious intelligence service "Teskilat-i mahsusa" which became the main co-ordinator and organizer of the annihilation of the Ottoman Armenians. Kemal did not hesitate to recruit the members of its death squads into his own irregular army in 1919 and to implement the structures of the "Teskilat-i mahsusa" into the new Turkey. The grateful killers served him well when Kemal exterminated the Greek population of the Pontos region and afterwards the Greeks in Ionia together with the last remaining Armenians. They also served him in 1920 during the military intervention in Eastern Transcaucasia and the subsequent slaughters committed at Kars, Alexandropol and in other cities which then belonged to the Republic of Armenia. As one Turkish scholar said: the Republic of Turkey is built on the bone of the annihilated Armenians.
Scholars of genocide define the denial of genocide as the final stage of the crime itself, for denial in all its varieties causes persistent unbearable pain to survivors and their descendants. The crime of Negationismus includes minimization or attempted justification. It took 95 years, until the German Foreign Minister, Mr Joschka Fischer, officially apologized in Namibia for the first genocide of the 20th century, the genocide of 60 to 80,000 Hereros. But the Armenians still wait for such an acknowledgment by contemporary Turkey. Among all genocide victim groups of the 20th century, Armenians suffer from the longest denial. Only a few month ago, in May 2002, an international conference at Copenhagen, organised by the Copenhagen Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies was "hijacked" by the Turkish Embassy of Copenhagen, and Armenian scholars from families of genocide survivors had to listen for hours to negationist and insulting speeches of Turkish diplomats and MPs about "genocide allegations", without being given the right to reply. This example stands for many others.
But not only Armenians need and long for the recognition. In contemporary Turkey, citizens who publicly mentioned the Genocide of the Armenians or the Arameans/Assyrians during WW1 are persecuted by law for "provoking inter-ethnic hatred", offence or treason. On the other hand, official Turkey still venerates the authors and some of the henchmen of the genocide as national heroes, and boulevards or public squares are named in their honour. And the largest Turkish daily paper, "Hürriyet", appears every day under the racist slogan "Turkey to the Turks!" But despite all this there are Turkish dissidents in Turkey or in exile who found the courage to speak out and demand knowledge of all pages of their national history. Remarkably, in 1999 a human rights organisation of Turkish citizens based in Frankfurt sent a petition to the Grand Assembly in Ankara which called upon the Turkish lawmakers to recognize the genocide of the Armenians as a first step to reconcile Turks and Armenians. This petition was signed by more than ten thousand citizens of the Republic of Turkey. Remarkably too, that the Turkish publisher Ragip Zarakolu continues to print translations of Armenian writers or reports on the Armenian genocide, including the Turkish translation of the Talat Pasha court proceedings. These are encouraging acts of solidarity which demand our own solidarity.
The European Parliament has called on Turkey in three resolutions since 1987 to acknowledge the genocide on the Armenians as a historical fact, arguing that this recognition would provide more regional stability in regards to Turkey's neighbour, Armenia, and provide more democratisation, in particular in regard to Turkey's Armenian minority of about 60,000. But the European Community failed to consider the importance of the recognition for Turkey itself and its home affairs. In particular, a more active support for those citizens of Turkey or exiled Turks is necessary who dared to speak out the truth. Until this day, official Turkey represents and reflects its history in a very selective way. But every society has the right and the obligation to know its complete national history, including the black pages. It also needs to know about acts of humanity and those Righteous among the nations who resisted and helped or saved lives of the persecuted. Instead of the veneration of the Turkish equivalent of Heinrich Himmler or Eichmann, Turkey should be encouraged to discover its equivalent of Oscar Schindler. Let me please conclude with the remark that the so called "Armenian cause" has become an international one, for the official recognition of a denied state crime does concern us all.
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