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From Armenian Genocide to Jewish Holocaust - Dr. Harry Hagopian LL.D, KOG-KSL

Holocaust Memorial Day 2003! For the third year running, and in compliance with the Statement of Commitment issued by the Home Office Race Equality Unit on 25 September 2000, the United Kingdom vows to remember on the 27th of January 'the victims of the Jewish Holocaust and of all genocides'. The first commemorative event took place in London, followed last year by Manchester. This year is the turn of Edinburgh, and the Scottish capital has been quite busy in the countdown toward finalising those events that are included in the official commemorative programmes.

In this context, the London-based Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (CRAG) has worked quite assiduously with different governmental agencies and other organisations in order to help Armenians assume their rightful place in commemorating the victims of their genocide of 1915 - almost one and half million Armenian Turkish men, women and children - who were slain, tortured or deported from Ottoman Turkey during World War I.

I have been privileged to help CRAG with some of the contacts and decisions leading to an Armenian participation at the various commemorative events in Edinburgh as well as in London or elsewhere in the country. And in the process of assisting with those efforts, I have also been struck [yet again] with four home truths that I also consider as four hurdles.

The first sad hurdle, almost a non-starter in its own right, is the fact that the British Government does not recognise the Armenian Genocide. Despite a credible plethora of British historians, eyewitness accounts, archival evidence and even political endorsements, the Government has balked to date from recognising this genocide as the first of the 20th century! In so doing, it has also ignored the decisions of many EU and non-EU states, let alone the 1987 Resolution of the European Parliament, that have not only recognised the Armenian Genocide but have also affirmed that it falls within the definition and ambit of the 1948 Convention. Not only that, but it seems to me that the Government is increasingly at loggerheads with a number of British institutions that are slowly but surely endorsing the historical evidence of the genocide. The Imperial War Museum, in the context of its current exhibition 'Crimes Against Humanity', is the latest in a series of government-affiliated bodies to give its tacit endorsement to this genocide. The BBC has also covered this 'controversial' topic in past programmes - not least in the documentary 'Armenia: Betrayed' shown last weekend.

But why is the British Government - like those of the USA and Germany - hesitant to recognise the Armenian Genocide? The answer is painfully easy! The compromise being made here is between the truth and political expediency! Since Turkey remains a major military and geo-strategic ally of some Western powers, the truth and its code of ethics (insofar as Reulian intuitive definitions go) are overlooked in favour of realpolitik and political calculations.

The second sad hurdle is Turkey itself! Unlike Germany that has admitted its culpability for the Nazi atrocities during World War II, Turkey has maintained its refrain of denial and refused to admit any responsibility for the deaths of countless innocent Armenians. Strangely enough, and although it expostulates vociferously against any accusation of orchestrating or condoning this genocide, it fails to explain the massive reduction of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey during World War I! Did they vanish in thin air if they were not murdered or forcibly displaced from their own homes? Despite its attempts to knock at the doors of the European Union (most recently at the EU Copenhagen Summit) and acclaim itself a democratic country, Turkey overlooks its own faultlines in a language and a stance that are both falsifying of the truth and uncompromising in their positions! As a secular post-Ottoman Ataturkist state, this attitude is undermining its own credibility. Turkey must assume its responsibility and admit that the world order cannot be defined according to its own wants or wonts alone. Joining the democratic club of nations also requires shedding off all those otiose, belligerent and ugly negations that fly in the face of the truth! In fact, once that acknowledgement is achieved, relations between Armenia and Turkey - let alone between future Armenian and Turkish generations - could improve bit by bit.

The third sad hurdle is the Jewish lobby! It is painful to note that Israel and a considerable number of Jewish organisations balk at the idea of lending their own moral recognition to the Armenian Genocide. With the notable exception of some Israeli and Jewish historians, authors, progressive or reform Jews and synagogues or politicians, it remains clear to me that the official Jewish attitude is to decry or negate the Armenian Genocide. Considering that the Führer himself is attributed to having said. 'Who today remembers the Armenians' when planning his own genocide, one conclusion remains staggeringly painful! It is almost as if some Jews would wish to construct a theology of suffering that is exclusive to themselves - and thereby out of bounds for Armenians. In fact, it is not the first time that the Jewish lobby is deemed to have joined forces with the Turkish lobby in order to defeat any motion recognising the Armenian Genocide. Many political commentators recall the joint efforts deployed both by the Turkish and Jewish lobbies during the Clinton Administration in order to defeat the Genocide Recognition Bill and thwart recognition in the US Congress.

Finally, the fourth sad hurdle is the Armenian one! It is a hurdle that is also sadder to me since it is self-inflicted. It seems to me that we Armenians have simply not mastered the art of working constructively together! We often act like well-meaning but separate archipelagos, creating our own fiefdoms and often defending them regardless of the broader goal. In some instances, power bases or solipsistic interests become synchronous with the national cause itself, despite the fact that most of us would defend our actions in the very national words or expressions against which we are actually working in our lives! As we battle for the truth, should we not pool our efforts rather than neuter each other's endeavours?

In the six months I have collaborated with CRAG, I have come to appreciate its lofty goal of attaining recognition by the United Kingdom of the Armenian Genocide. I have come to detect the vivid potential CRAG carries with it, and the pools of young and revivifying energies that could be unleashed toward this vision. Besides, such a vision is not unipolar as some would have it! It is not one or the other, as some would want us to believe either! Rather, it straddles politics, lobbying efforts, academia and grassroots support. However, I must admit to high levels of frustration at how internecine rivalries and personal agendas sap at times the energies that are crucial toward achieving an overarching message.

I have a personal investment in the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. I am the grandson of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. As a young boy, my maternal grandfather witnessed five of his relatives being killed during the genocide - one of them garrotted even! My maternal grandmother also saw her older cousin surrender the will to live as they were all being force-marched in the Der el Zor Syrian Desert. She decided to end her life by jumping into one of the wells alongside the route Armenians were being forced to take on their march. Yet, to my grandmother's amazement, her cousin came out of the well she had leapt into because it was already padded to the brim with Armenian dead bodies!

With a recalcitrant British Government not too rushed to recognise the Armenian Genocide, with an implacable Turkish resistance to any debate - internal or external - about the genocide, with the Jewish hesitation to share the notion of suffering with Armenians, and with an Armenian propensity to quibble with each other, is it not time to focus on studied and long-term strategies leading toward recognition of this abominable chapter of suffering? Is it not time to explore ways in which a Genocide Desk could perhaps be set up at the United Nations to facilitate the implementation and follow-up of the Convention itself? Is it not high time that the annual Holocaust Memorial Day commemorative events become truly an educational tool that utilise the lessons of all past genocides in order to help prevent all future ones?

Having the genocide denied is tantamount to dying twice! Indeed, denying the heavy human toll paid by Armenians during World War I stokes a national 'obsession' that is baptised in loss, frustration and anger. It ensures that the wounds would never heal until that day when those very sacrifices will have been duly recognised and therefore exonerated.

Surely, precious little else could be allowed to detract the attention of Armenians from the goalpost that would ensure the Armenian Genocide standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Jewish Holocaust and other genocides in the commemorative events of HMD 2004? Otherwise, I truly wonder what the Armenian victims of their Genocide would think of us today?

© hbv-H @ 27 January 2003

Dr Harry Hagopian holds a post-research Doctoral LL.D in Public International Law, and a Masters LL.M in Conflict Resolution. He was Editor of the Law Gazette in 1981, and author of two short books and several academic articles.

He is part-time Consultant with the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

This copyrighted article represents his personal views.

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