Thursday, 8 May 2008

Genocide or not genocide?

Patriarch Karekin of the Eastern (non-Catholic) Armenian Church has passionately appealed in St Peter's square for the massacre of his people which took place in Turkey in and around 1915 to be recognized as true genocide. You can read about it here. The Holy Father also spoke strongly against the massacre, but he held back from using the G-word. The French lower house of parliament tried to introduce a bill to criminalize the denial of genocide of the Armenians, but the Senate blocked it. Similarly, President Bush has blocked a condemnation in the US legislature. The reason?
Well, it seems that there are two interest groups who resist labelling the deaths as genocide. One group is, of course, the Turks themselves. I should have thought that it could have been easy enough to heap the blame on the decadent Ottoman sultanate and say 'well, that was then; we, secular Ataturkists, are different'. But, it seems, they are not willing to go down that route. In fact, it is asserted that they have gone out of their way to destroy Christian monuments to bolster their claim that they are the original inhabitants of Turkey, and, incredibly, that there never were any Christians in Asia Minor. William Dalrymple in his book From the Holy Mountain (which I highly recommend) goes into this quite thoroughly.
You might care to take a look at the pictures; they are from Great Architecture of the World, a book that I received for my 16th birthday in 1977, and which was one of my favourite presents ever. I remember being fascinated by these ghostly ruined churches from the area of Lake Van—clearly very ancient, as the relief of David and Goliath shows. But I never grasped the significance of the last of these pictures, the one with the frescoes under the arch. For these frescoes or paintings to have survived in the open air like this, the church's destruction must have happened relatively recently. Turkey has begun to make some amends: the church illustrated at the top here, which has the David and Goliath relief, has been restored—though as a museum–by the Turkish Government. Read about it here, here (Western versions) and here (Turkish version).
I am told, though, that there is another group interested in keeping the g-word out of the Armenian context. This is some vocal Jewish groups, who feel that recognizing the Armenian massacre as a genocide will somehow detract from what they believe to be the uniqueness of their own holocaust. Whatever next, after all, might be recognized as an act of genocide? The Irish Potato Famine?
So I suppose it was for fear of annoying the Turks that the French held back from the g-word. No doubt it was the powerful US Jewish lobby that restrained Dubya.
The Holy Father has succeeded in annoying members of both groups during his pontificate already; perhaps he didn't want to exacerbate things.
But I really feel that the Armenians have been dealt with badly over this whole business.

In looking around the net for some more sites concerned with this issue, I have been rather unpleasantly suprised. I found a site that blamed the Jews for the Armenian slaughter, for instance, and on Google and Yahoo searches, there came up only one site that suggested that the Jews disapproved of the Armenian claim to Genocide status, this being the site of a holocaust denier. Perhaps some of you can come up with some links. Something is weird here.


littlem said...

Turkish holocaust deniers spread their poisonous message openly on the streets in France. Unfortunately, the only link Google turns up to the story with pictures is on a singularly insalubrious site (here).

One can only imagine what would happen if someone were to walk through the street carrying banners declaring "Il n'y a jamais eu de genocide juif" instead.

the owl of the remove said...

I agree with you 100% Father! I have always had a soft spot for the Armenians - and William Dalrymple's book is wonderful!

Ttony said...

The weirdness comes from something you have (unconsciously?) alluded to in your post. There are Jews who want the Shoah to be the only Holocaust, and any other Holocaust will diminish the exclusive evil of what the Nazis were trying to do. There are Armenians who, seeing the effect of the Shoah on the West think that to raise their cause in parallel is the least that the West should do to remember the Wrong done to them. "My Wrong is as Big as your Wrong." "No it isn't - mine's bigger."

Don't get involved, Father.