Armenian Genocide: the Redeeming Words By Bahjat Rizk

Armenian Genocide: the Redeeming Words

Bahjat Rizk

Many articles, books and documentaries have been produced for the Armenian Genocide Centennial on April 24- 2015 (1.5 million dead), which remains one of the greatest human tragedies of the beginning of the 20th century and of WWI.

The testimonies, images and stories which outline this wounded memory are almost unbearable. It is essential to fight forgetfulness for all these sufferings not to have been in vain, so that they rather serve as a lesson to all humanity, beyond the cultural differences defining our nations.

There is of course a political dimension to the ongoing controversy between political authorities in Ankara (Civil war) and Yerevan (Genocide), which the international community tries to arbitrate at best.

We all know now that was is cultural is also political, since they are the two sides of the same coin; one reflecting and translating the other; one being the soul, the other  representing action. Humans need both dimensions to maintain a dignified existence. Nations, like individuals, experience the world concretely, fight, struggle, transmit and seek roots in order to survive and preserve themselves.

However, it should be admitted that throughout history, and especially in times of crisis, great cultures have generated disproportionate and criminal ideologies in order to mobilize and preserve themselves. Great nations have had gloomy phases where the dark forces of instinct were unleashed. Between the executioner and the victim, words are redeeming for both.

To recognize the Armenian genocide does not at all mean that Turkey (and before it the Ottoman Empire that lasted for about five centuries) is not a great nation with a vast culture throughout history; quite to the contrary, it is a way for Turkey to rehabilitate itself in its own eyes first, then in the eyes of the world. It is to open a new page, fully acknowledging its past and resolutely turning to the future to become again a great nation. Turkey does not have anything to lose by honestly revisiting that hateful and despised period. It would only come out greater, for it would have recovered, in comparison, its bright period. There is no splendor without misery, no glory without decline, no greatness without abyss.

The word “genocide” was coined in 1944, towards the end of WWII, to describe the Jewish genocide perpetrated by Nazi ideology (National Socialism). Recognizing it did not prevent Germany from reconstructing itself as a great, modern, prosperous and peaceful nation. The nation is the essential continuity for a political and cultural community that may experience decay phases, but can also regenerate itself.

Moreover, the Armenian people have a legitimate need for the tragedy to be recognized under an exact name because, by its scale (more than two thirds of the Armenian population living in Ottoman territories), it constitutes the Armenians’ fate and future. Naming things after a traumatic violence is essential, even vital, for self-reconstruction because it is a way of restoring a shattered context, a mirror broken into a thousand pieces, a bond suddenly and savagely severed; it rationalize an irrational pain; it helps overcoming a terrible fracture, restoring the buried or repressed memory and the dismembered, scattered body. For humans in great suffering, it is necessary to put words to the unspeakable. It is a way to recognize (to be re-born with) and to resume existence. By fiercely refusing for a century now the term “genocide”, modern (political) Turkey denies the Armenian people who were living on its soil and negates itself. Fortunately, many free minds within the Turkish people empathically understand this issue and actively advocate for its recognition, because they feel they belong to a common history and a common humanity. One of the most committed is Hasan Cemal, Djamel Pacha’s own grand-son. Djamel Pacha, along with Talaat and Enver, had established a military dictatorship in 1913 and orchestrated the genocide.

A nation survives by its interests and its conquests, but also by the moral and human values it defends. There is a limit that should be respected, among the most powerful before the weak. By recognizing the Armenian genocide, Turkey would name things in order to overcome them, it would restore that limit.


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