Monday, April 26, 2010

a controversial historical matter

a monument to the Armenian genocide in Bikfaya, Lebanon

Canto: You've been talking about how human society rights itself, or fights its way back to health, by facing its invaders, its peculiarities, and defeating them, or assimilating them in a more benign form maybe...
Jacinta: Like with endosymbiosis...
Canto: Yet often there's a struggle to face the past, and a wholesale denialism, as with holocaust denialism, but that's just a loopy fringe thing. In other cases the denialism is more 'mainstream' if you like, as with Japan and its 'war heroes', and Turkey and the Armenian genocide. What do you think of this last example - there was an article in this weekend's Australian about it.
Jacinta: I tried to emphasize last time that though it's 'natural' that we move towards health after troubled times, that shouldn't diminish our respect our respect for those who put themselves about, and even sacrifice their lives, for the sake of a healthier, fairer, more balanced system. Also, people disagree, often violently, over what such a system should be like. Some people feel it should be based on suppression of the 'wrong attitudes', and some of those people really believe, in the case of the Armenian genocide - well, first of all they reject the term 'genocide' as a gross exaggeration, or even a complete lie - that it's an anti-Turkish conspiracy.
Canto: Designed to destabilize Turkey - there we are with health and balance again.
Jacinta: The second secretary to the Turkish embassy in Canberra described the claims as  'a systematic  campaign of defamation carried out by Armenian lobby groups living in various countries all over the world. Any recognition or any resolution accusing the Turkish nation of a crime that it has not committed is unacceptable. The allegations are totally groundless and baseless.' A pretty unequivocal response. However, Australian politicians Maxine McKew and Joe Hockey have both made speeches acknowledging the Armenian genocide. McKew is the member for Bennelong, which has a large Armenian population...
Canto: Ah yes, those Armenian lobby groups...
Jacinta: And Hockey has an Armenian grandfather. So we have contradictory claims, and what do we do? We look at the evidence.
Canto: Only twenty countries have so far recognized the Armenian genocide [among them Britain, France and  Switzerland], but Australia isn't one of them. I would imagine that for many nations, recognition would depend on issues of diplomacy and trade rather than truth or falsity.
Jacinta: The Wikipedia article on the subject, while anonymous as usual...
Canto: Obviously written by an Armenian lobbyist..
Jacinta: It seems to be well-documented and footnoted, with photos of the forced marches, of the bones of massacred Armenians, and descriptions from observers at the time, such as ambassador Henry Morgenthau, of the US, who reported that what was happening to the Armenians was public knowledge, freely admitted by many Turks. The famous historian Arnold Toynbee published a book about the treatment of the Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in 1916, including much eyewitness testimony. It seems to have held up well, in spite of claims at the time that it was just anti-Turkish wartime propaganda. In short, while the extent of the extermination will always be arguable [Wiki puts the numbers at one to one and half million], the claim that it didn't happen at all seems absurd. The treatment of Armenians by the Turks became increasingly Draconian towards the end of the nineteenth century, leading to the Hamidian massacres [under Sultan Hamid II] in 1895-6, and various other pogroms and massacres up to the 'official' genocide of 1915-22.
Canto: So there appears to be plentiful evidence. And this diplomat's comments suggest that there's still quite a bit of anti-Armenian bigotry in that part of the world. Does he claim that there was no killing at all, or is he quibbling about the term 'genocide'?
Jacinta: Yes, it isn't clear, but there appears to be a wealth of info about it online. Just reading some of the comments on different articles, though, tells me how emotive and polarizing the subject is.
Canto: Well, I've found this well-written, and thoroughly footnoted, piece which discusses the event or events as a 'disputed genocide'. It ends on a reasoned note, I think, with these remarks:
Some Turkish and Armenian historians have suggested recently that it is time to "step back from the was-it-genocide-or-not dialogue of the deaf, which only leads to mutual recrimination" and instead concentrate on empirically grounded historical research that seeks a common pool of firm knowledge.[56] Time will tell whether it will be possible to rescue history from nationalists who have plundered history to serve their own political ends.
Jacinta: Sounds sensible. So we, who are new to the subject, must reserve our judgment, not having fully analysed the evidence. Clearly the Armenians became a target because of their siding with Russia during the Great War...
Canto: Not surprising, then, that Russia is one of the countries that has officially recognized the genocide.
Jacinta: But whether there was an intention to exterminate the Armenians in Turkey, that's the big genocide question. Not that this matters much to the victims.

No comments:

Post a Comment