By Suleiman Ramo, Special Contributor to SDT
105 years have passed since the massacres have been committed against the Armenians during the Ottoman Empire, and the issue is alive in the form of an open Armenian wound awaiting recognition by Turkey, and for Turkey to take moral and political responsibility for it. Armenian communities, as well as the archives of many countries, especially Turkey and Britain, have thousands of pieces of evidence, facts, and historical documents that confirm the occurrence of genocide against the Armenians: their displacement from their homes, gathering them in desert sites, then carrying out mass killings by Turkish soldiers, by decision of the highest Ottoman authorities.
Accordingly, Armenians at home and abroad do their best to make this matter a sacred national one, present on the agenda of international forums, and they work at all levels to force Turkey to acknowledge this crime of genocide.
The Armenians say that the culmination of the massacres was on April 24, 1915, when Turkish soldiers executed thousands of Armenians in the Syrian desert of Deir Ezzor after they were forcibly removed there. It has become customary that every year on this day the Turks and the Armenians reach a state of tension in relations between the two historical neighbors. Perhaps what hurts Turkey more is not the huge events organized by the Armenians on the anniversary of the genocide, but international and specifically western positions, which tend to describe what happened as genocide. This recognition confers upon Turkey a political, moral and legal responsibility.
The Armenians say that what happened against them was an organized genocide, after the Ottoman Empire accused them of treason and working for the benefit of Russia, which had been at war with the Ottoman Empire for many years, while Turkey believes that what happened was not genocide but acts of killing that occurred because of the circumstances of the First World War and the Armenian coup against the Ottoman Empire, and that the victims were not only Armenians but also Turks.
In the Armenian documents, there are many statistics that say that the number of their victims amounted to 1.5 million Armenians, and that they were killed through organized warfare, through campaigns of arrest, collection and physical killing, as well as the death of many in exile due to hunger and disease, and that the killings were launched by a decision of Itihadi Supreme Authorities, began at first with the arrest of cultural, intellectual and economic elites in major cities, especially Istanbul, and murdering many of them, then the killings moved to the eastern states bordering Russia where the war is, before the authorities launched massive expulsions of Armenians in the form of convoys (numbered in 1915 to 306 convoys, thousands of whom died during the flights) guarded by the Ottoman forces, and most of them were deported to Syria (Deir Al-Zour and Ras Al-Ain – Sri Kanyeh), northern Iraq and Kurdistan region.
The documents add that about 400,000 Armenians died in concentration camps due to hunger, disease, cold, lack of water and food, while more than 300,000 detainees were killed in massacres committed by Turkish soldiers (192,000 in Deir Al-Zour, 40,000 in Ras al-Ain, 80,000 in Istanbul and 10,000 in Izmir) and nearly 500,000 people were killed in the eastern provinces.
According to the Armenian documents, the massacres were not only limited to civilians, but also affected Ottoman soldiers of Armenian origin, as a decision was issued to demilitarize them at the beginning, then kill them. Their number reached about 120,000 soldiers. Only about 700,000 Armenians out of more than two million Armenians survived in 1915, and most of the survivors fled to the areas that were controlled by the Russian army.
On the other hand, Turkey says that the number of victims was only about three hundred thousand Armenians, just as the same victims from the Turks, and that the deportation campaigns that took place in the Syrian desert, specifically Deir Ezzor Governorate, were not aimed at killing, but were to protect the Armenians after spreading an atmosphere of hostility against the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire because of their treachery and working with the Russians. Turkey adds that it was the circumstances of the war that were the main cause of these killings, and that the Armenians themselves committed killings against the Turks and the Kurds in many eastern regions with Russian support.
Between the Armenian and Turkish accounts, the reports of the relevant international centers and bodies estimate the number of victims to reach one million Armenians, and they confirm that what happened were massacres prepared by a political decision of the highest authorities in Istanbul, which was the capital of the Ottoman caliphate at the time.
Many believe that the perpetration of these massacres had an economic dimension, as the Armenians, especially in Istanbul, were among the most important owners of money, business, industry and trade, and they were disposed of to seize their money and property with the care and approval of the higher authorities.
In fact, over the past decades, Armenians at home and abroad have endeavored to keep the issue of massacres alive by organizing annual events and moving in international forums to approve genocide, and the Armenians based their move on this to the law of preventing genocide, which was approved by the United Nations in 1951 and placed under international law.
The Armenians often compare what happened to them to the massacres and genocide committed in Rwanda, Cambodia, Liberia, Yugoslavia and Germany. They see themselves in the footsteps of international recognition as the massacres committed against Tutsis in Rwanda and are seeking to obtain a similar declaration regarding the Armenian genocide, but it is interesting here that the Armenians are not only demanding the recognition of genocide as a crime by putting the responsibility on Turkey, but they claim current historical rights within Turkey regarding areas that they see land inside Turkish territory and are called Western Armenia, where their historical and religious symbols exist. As the Armenian reports say, before the massacres there were more than a thousand Armenian churches inside Turkey, while only 98 of them remain today.
Political Dimensions in an Open Issue
Ankara may not have expected the size of international recognition of the Armenian genocide, especially the recognition of the American Congress, as well as the decision of the European Parliament in this regard, which has led to more tension in Turkish-European and American relations, as the issue of international recognition of the Armenian genocide has become a difficult challenge to Turkish diplomacy and at the same time, a continuous success of Armenian diplomacy, especially as Turkey began to feel the chain of recognition by many western countries of the genocide, as the number of countries that have recognized genocide so far has reached 32, as well as dozens of international organizations and bodies, including the United Nations, the European Parliament, and the World Council of Churches. Turkey feels in depth that this chain of recognition is a success for Armenian lobbies abroad, especially in the United States.
In essence, Turkey sees that the series of international recognition comes to push it to acknowledge the commitment of the genocide that it says it did not do, especially since Turkey has approved Law (301), which criminalizes recognition of the slaughters committed during the era of the Ottoman Empire, but the irony is that, in light of all this, Turkey is moving again and strongly to revive the Ottoman identity of Turkey, although this causes many historical, geographical, political, and ideological problems for it with neighboring countries and the world. Indeed, there is a feeling among Armenians and those who support the cause of the genocide that Turkey has tried from the beginning to circumvent this crime through multiple paths and levels, perhaps the most important of which are:
- Placing the crime of extermination in the context of killings during the battles that took place during the First World War in an attempt to evade the consequences of recognizing the crime of genocide, even though historical documents confirm that the slaughtering took place according to a previously studied policy, and this was clearly demonstrated in campaigns targeting Armenian intellectuals and their intellectual, literary and cultural products before turning into a mass arrests and gathering the Armenians in detention centers, then deporting them to the desert and committing mass killings.
- Trying to mix papers by saying that the victims are not only Armenians but also Turks, putting the matter in the category of betraying the Armenians for The Sublime Porte, by saying that they cooperated with the Russians during the war period, and also by reducing the number of victims that they do not exceed three hundred thousand Armenians, although historical documents indicate that the number of victims amounted to approximately one and a half million Armenians.
- Attempting to erase the Armenian memory, their antiquities, their religious places and their civilized identity, as reports indicate that the Ottoman authorities practiced alongside human annihilation the cultural genocide, as they focused on erasing the cultural, intellectual and spiritual product, and because of this policy the Armenian presence witnessed a kind of extermination and eradication, where it was forced many Armenians to register themselves as Turks to avoid killing, sanctions, sieges and oppression.
This policy that Turkey pursued against the Armenians and other national and religious peoples and minorities may have succeeded in limiting the vitality of the peoples and their ability to express themselves, identity, history and geography for a period of time, but history proves that the open wound, the power of will and the facts of history and geography were stronger than these authoritarian measures. The Armenian nation has succeeded, despite all crimes to keep the genocide alive, through the following facts:
- The Armenians succeeded in transferring the issue of genocide to international forums and making it included in the parliaments of most countries of the world.
- Armenia succeeded in pushing Turkey to negotiate the issue of extermination, which was evident in Zurich agreement in 2009 before the agreement was frozen after Turkey linked the opening of a new page in relations between the two countries with new conditions, including the matter of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorny Karabakh region.
- The Armenians succeeded in winning friendships of many peoples and countries and brought sympathy to their cause, including the civil society movement in Turkey, where we started witnessing a Turkish internal movement calling for recognition of the crime of genocide.
- The movement of many countries’ recognition of the crime of genocide has placed Turkey in a state of tension in its relations with these countries, and Erdogan’s threats to withdraw ambassadors from countries that recognize the crime of genocide are known.
In the face of the progress that the Armenians are making towards bringing international recognition to the crime of genocide, it is clear that the Turkish government is trying in various ways to circumvent the recognition of the crime of genocide through the following facts:
- Erdogan’s mentality and Ottoman culture do not indicate a change in the essence of the Turkish discourse that is based on denial of the crime, and this mentality is an expression of the continued repression and the policy of exclusion towards peoples and national and religious minorities.
- Erdogan’s call to form a committee of historians to discuss the issue, restore some churches, talk about joint suffering and other formal steps comes within the framework of attempts to simplify the issue and circumvent it.
- Trying to buy the positions of states and even blackmailing and threatening countries to prevent them from approving the crime of genocide, and here Erdogan’s weapon is to make contract deals and political blackmail, as the case raised by the issue of what France committed in Algeria whenever France spoke about the Armenian genocide.
Indeed, despite all the previous Turkish measures, it can be said that the Armenians succeeded to a great extent in including the issue of genocide on the agenda of international forums, and keeping this issue alive, despite all Turkey’s attempts to continue to deny and circumvent it.
From genocide of Armenians to genocide of Kurds
In the footsteps of his Ottoman ancestors, Erdogan continues to commit massacres and occupation, but this time against the Kurds. In the Kurdish regions inside Turkey, Erdogan’s war against the Kurds exceeded all borders. In addition to the campaigns of killing and displacement, Turkey practiced erasing the Kurdish identity from history and culture, so he demolished the old city of Diyarbakir-Amed, on the pretext of real estate development, and destroyed the ruins of the historic Husinkef region, with the pretext of generating electricity, where Husinkef formed the jewel of the Kurdish civilization more than ten centuries ago. In Syria and under the pretext of Turkish national security, Erdogan launched a series of wars against the Kurds.
From the occupation of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain / Sri Kaniye, Turkey is practicing a policy of social and cultural genocide against the Kurds, by changing the demographic structure of the Kurdish areas and bringing the settlers associated with it to settle in these areas. Perhaps the most dangerous thing here, is releasing the hands of terrorist groups that practice killing, assassination and seizure on the homes of the Kurds, displacement, demographic change and formation of new societal structures at the expense of the owners of the land, their identity, and their existence, all of the above took place in Afrin and Ras al-Ain, in the form of an ethnic genocide of a component rooted in these areas, and constitutes the basis of its cultural and social identity amid silence and international collusion regarding Erdogan’s crimes against the Kurds.