Nieuws - 7 juni 2007

Armenian genocide

After reading In the News: 'It is an issue between Armenians and Turks' (Resource #09, 2 November 2006), I was amazed that an independent student newspaper had suddenly become an organ of Turkish propaganda.

I was born in the Caucasus, in the Asian part of Russia, close to Turkey and Georgia (not in Armenia). I am not an Armenian, nor am I financed by any Armenian lobby. I just want to put several things straight (solely for truth's sake). I have travelled all over the Caucasus region, and talked to many ethnic groups (there are some 85 of them) including Turks. The article by Burcu Ekmekci is written so skilfully as to present the Armenian genocide by the Turkish Empire as just an 'ethnic group' conflict case, a very local (and rather irrelevant, at least for Europe) issue.

This is a conscious lie, or at least a crass inconsistency. I know the history of the Caucasus well, and have had access to documents and institutions unavailable elsewhere in the world. Armenia is one of the oldest states in the world and one of the oldest civilizations. It had its literature, government and civil society long before the Turks arrived (with the help of the sword) from Central Asia, and destroyed (or, forcefully ‘turkicised’) lots of minor ethnic groups by the way. No-one cared then about any ethnic group and no-one could then file a case in Strasbourg at the Human Rights tribunal.

The Adygeis, Ossetians and Chechens living in Turkey are real ethnic groups who have never claimed any sort of autonomy (unlike the Kurds, but that's a different story - also bloody, unfortunately). But Armenia was an independent state, limited and amputated in medieval times by Ottoman Turkey, and virtually smashed to death in 1915 (while the crumbling Russian empire was busy elsewhere). Read an excellent book by Demos Shakarian 'Happiest people on Earth', to mention just one source. There are lots of photographs of dead women and children, killed by the Yanychars (Janissaries, elite Turkish troops) just for their refusal to denounce Christianity.

The slogan of the sabre-rattling Yanychars at the time was 'kristian tazi' - 'Christian dog'. Of course killing or maltreating a dog was not genocide. It was at worst a violation of an animal’s rights. A living being had to accept the 'only true religion', and then it would be upgraded to humanity. Are the words 'Yanychar' and 'tazi' completely foreign to Ms Ekmekci? That would be strange.

More about the reasons of blotting Armenia out from the map in 1915. During the First World War, Turkey supported Germany (hoping to gain something back from Russia, France and England). Armenia supported the Entente - France, England and later the US. So, the military operation (with Turkish troops outnumbering Armenian at the rate of 35:1) was a sort of revenge. Admittedly, there were some Armenian guerrillas (today's cliché for them would be 'terrorists') in Istanbul, then the capital. Normally, guerrillas are a matter for the police, or a similar internal force. But killing 1.5 million unarmed men for about 10 bombings and several shoot-outs?

No guerrillas would ever attempt to gain control of Istanbul, and everyone knew that. The Armenian guerrillas never were a serious danger to the Turkish state. Simply, Armenia was 'too big' and the Ottoman Empire was only too happy to avenge several painful defeats from the Russian Empire by severely snapping at its small protégé.

Europe is not making too much fuss about Turkey’s past or the current Cyprus problem (also skilfully avoided by Ms Ekmekci). Why is Turkey so concerned about the rights of Turks in Cyprus, yet does not lift a finger about rights of Turks in Russia? There are many reliable sources (Der Spiegel, Guardian) describing the current and sometimes acute persecutions of Russian-born Turks. They have been beaten, expelled from their land, intimidated and mobbed. As a result, they have fled for protection to Germany, Canada and the US, interestingly, mostly to Christian countries, although they themselves are Muslims and should be protected first by the vast Muslim world. Why are they not protected by 'strong, industrial' Turkey (at least diplomatically, as no other means are on the agenda)? Is it only because Russia has nuclear weapons and strategic bombers, and Cyprus does not? I cannot find any other answer. 'A wolf that only attacks weaklings is a jackal' (Caucasian proverb).

The extremely stubborn opposition of a former empire to recognising (let alone asking pardon, as Germany did for the Holocaust) its cruel past is, however, the biggest stumbling block, which even the most liberal Eurocrats won't be able to overlook. Why? Because the cruel past moulds the unstable (and potentially violent) present. The EU will never accept any arbitrary use of force (or, long-term consequences of it) within its borders.

To end, I add a couple of autobiographical facts, to emphasise my lack of bias. I left Russia in 1992 and renounced my Russian citizenship in 1997 as a protest against the Chechen war. I did not want to participate in genocide of Chechens by Russian troops. I was able to take a stand, at least at a personal level, for Muslim Chechens, myself being evangelical Christian. Is Ms Ekmekci able to take a stand for the obvious truth, at least by looking just one recognised historical fact in the eye?

Alex Russ, Russian-born EU citizen