Thursday, October 11, 2007

If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck...

Article Two of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as carrying out acts intended "to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group."

"The Turks have embarked upon the total extermination of the Armenians in Transcaucasia...The aim of Turkish policy is, as I have reiterated, the taking of possession of Armenian districts and the extermination of the Armenians. Talaat's government wants to destroy all Armenians, not just in Turkey but also outside Turkey. On the basis of all the reports and news coming to me here in Tiflis (Tbilisi) there hardly can be any doubt that the Turks systematically are aiming at the extermination of the few hundred thousand Armenians whom they left alive until now..."

-- Major General Otto von Lossow
Acting military attaché and head
of the German Military Plenipotentiary
in the Ottoman Empire, 1918

Soldiers were coming. People screamed in the distance. Homes were being burned. There was no time to flee. No place to go. Mother and Father frantically hid the children under the bed and begged them to be silent. When the soldiers broke down the door, they tied Father down to a chair and bound Mother's hands and feet. They made Father watch as they raped Mother and she screamed and screamed. When they were done, they slashed Mother's throat. Then, they cut off Father's penis and shoved it down his throat. He bled uncontrollably as he choked to death on his own genitals.

Then, the soldiers left. They never noticed the children, who watched in silent horror from beneath the bed.

One of those children was the grandparent of a friend of mine. My friend is an Armenian from Paris. Her grandfather was an Armenian child in the Ottoman Empire. He eventually made his way to France, as did many other Armenians after this nightmare. And he never let his family forget what he witnessed when his parents were tortured and murdered.

This story runs through my head fairly often, honestly. I don't want to, but I can see it in my head. It makes me sick.

I am ashamed to say that the Armenian genocide was not part of my world history instruction at all in school. Not a word about it. And, to my embarrassment, I really didn't know about it until I moved to Moscow - after college - and found myself in a community of diasporan Armenians, each one with a family tragedy burned into their memories.

When my mother was a little child, her stepmother used to urge her and her brother to clean their dinner plates, reminding them "there are children starving in Armenia!" That was the early 1920s. When I was a small child, my mother used to say the same thing to me, but it didn't mean anything, just like her references to the refrigerator as the "icebox" or talking about "saving your Confederate money." Random turns of phrase from a different lifetime.

Then, I learned.

Sorry, Turkey. When you work very hard to remove all traces of a people from the face of the Earth, that's genocide. It made me sick to hear Bush (shaking in his boots, surely, over the thought of losing a key ally in the region) call it "mass killings" yesterday. That sanitizes genocide a bit, doesn't it?

I just heard that Turkey has recalled its ambassador to the U.S. because of the House resolution declaring the massacre of Armenians at Turkish hands nearly a century ago "genocide." Before Bush chastises Congress again for taking this symbolic action, he should sit down with a room full of survivors, witnesses, and their children. He should experience the nightmares they carry with them every day.

History is a social earthquake with aftershocks that ripple and spread for centuries, sometimes millenia, after the moment has passed. It is up to us to keep the truth of history, not sanitize it for our own needs.

The word is genocide.


BOB said...

We have a spinless idiot in the White House...I lost my grandparents in the genocide...IT WAS GENOCIDE...the Turks must fess up to what they did in 1915...

Chuck said...

I think politicians love to whitewash history as much as they can in the furthering of their objectives. Japan liked to try and pretend its atrocities in WWII never occurred, and as the survivors of them pass away, I wonder if the truth will be lost as time goes on.

Anonymous said...

It was genocide, point blank, GENOCIDE. I think the Turks need it pointed out that as Americans our hands are the bloodiest of all nations. What do they think happened to all the Indians? Just like them we have atrocity in our past and it's time they acknowledge it as we have done.