JOOST – The dead body in the wardrobe

The dead body in the wardrobeWith April 24 clearly on the horizon, there is no escape anymore.That day, people all around the world will remember the Armenian Genocide.

The Turkish government has made a shameless and all-too-transparent effort to try and distract attention from this centennial by shifting the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign from April 25 to the same day. It wonand#39t work and it will unnecessarily discredit Turkey.

In the run-up to April 24, much will be said and written about what happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915. Thomas de Waal, a British journalist and writer who works as a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, decided to write a book titled andldquoreat Catastrophe: Armenians and Turks in the Shadow of Genocideandrdquo in which he focuses on what came after 1915.

De Waal is a specialist on Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and for good reasons he does not try to write another history of the 1915-1916 events. The book starts with a fair and balanced treatment of what has already been written about the deportations and massacres that took place in those years.

What makes the book an invaluable contribution to the debate, however, is his description of the long-term impact these traumatic events have had on Turks but especially on Armenians, and his effort to go beyond the question that has dominated the discussion for so long now: Should these events be labeled as genocide or not?De Waal makes his own position on this burning question clear at the beginning of the book. He uses the term andldquoArmenian Genocideandrdquo because, after much reading, he andquotrespectfully agreed with the scholarly consensus that what happened to the Armenians in 1915-1916 did indeed fit the 1948 United Nations definition of genocide.

At the same time, along with many others, I do so with mixed feelings, having also reached the conclusion that the and#39-wordand#39 has become both legalistic and over-emotional, and that it obstructs the understanding of the historical rights and wrongs of the issue as much as it illuminates themandrdquo That nuanced perspective sets the tone for the rest of the book.De Waal underlines that for the first 50 years after 1915, the debate among diaspora Armenians was not about 1915 but about the legitimacy of Soviet Armenia It was only after 1965 that genocide recognition became crucial for identity-building among Armenians, especially those living outside of the country.

It took a long time for Turks to understand this preoccupation but De Waal is optimistic that one day Turkish society will come to terms with the issue of how up to 2 million Armenians andquotwent missingandquot at the end of the Ottoman Empire. He quotes Cengiz Aktar as saying that andquotthe dead body is too heavy to keep in the wardrobe.

andrdquoBut De Waal also highlights the problem of timing when he quotes an Armenian from DiyarbakIr, now living in New Jersey: andquotFor the Turks, 100 years is too soon for us, it is too late.andrdquo As De Waal recognizes, most Turks still reject the andldquoenocideandrdquo label because they feel it equates the actions of their grandfathers with those of the Nazis.

For the Armenians, there is simply no other term that can deliver justice for the suffering of their own grandparents. De Waal tries to find a way out of this trap, making it clear he personally prefers the term andldquoreat Catastropheandrdquo but also accepting the fact that deleting the word andldquoenocideandrdquo from the debate or replacing it with, for instance, andldquocrimes against humanity,andrdquo is unlikely to happen.

His conclusion: andquotAlmost no one, it seems, admits to genocide. But the only other way forward requires that Turkey shed its paranoia about the implications of the word and#39enocideand#39.

This is a long-term aspiration that is more likely to come about through enhanced Armenian-Turkish dialogue than through confrontation. The word then could become normalized and acceptable throughout Turkish society, as it already has become for a small progressive group.

Possibly, the day when Turkish society as a whole accepts the word and#39enocideand#39 in relation to the Armenians is the day when the Genocide can become a Catastrophe again.andrdquo.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman