Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Thoughts on Threshold of Centennial

As we approach 2015, the 100th anniversary of the annihilation of the Armenian presence from their homeland of 4,000 years, we see major activities being planned by both Turkey and Armenians.
When Turkish acquaintances ask me what Armenians, especially the “evil diaspora,” are planning to do in 2015, I say they are planning programs to assert the historical facts about the vanishing of Armenians from Anatolia in 1915. Then I turn around with a question of my own: “What are the Turks doing?” Their short answer is that the Turks will continue to dismiss the “misinformation’’ that the Armenians are disseminating.
Thus, the Armenians in Armenia and the diaspora are redoubling their efforts to have the genocide recognized worldwide, while the Turks are continuing to pour more money and resources into their official denialist policy both within and outside Turkey. In an attempt to divert global attention from the genocide commemoration, Turkey has decided to promote the 100th anniversary of the World War I Gallipoli campaign, to be showcased as an historic event through government-supported activities worldwide and hailed as the “heroic resistance of the Turkish forces against the onslaught of the imperialistic powers at the Dardanelles Strait.”
One can easily deduce from these opposing strategies and efforts that the main stumbling block for Turkey and Armenia, as neighbors, in normalizing their relationship and the reconciliation of their respective civil societies is the divergence of both the interpretation and understanding of their shared history. The result is an impasse. By this time next year, I doubt there will be much change and the impasse will go on. The issue will continue to be treated as a political match, with points scored for Turkey if Obama continues saying “Medz Yeghern,” and points for Armenia if he says “Genocide.”
There are geopolitical, military, and economic reasons for the status quo to continue. Armenia may not be influential enough to overcome any of these reasons at present. Be that as it may, I believe Armenians can be more effective if they re-channel their resources, which are extremely limited in comparison to Turkey, in this struggle.
I see two main areas when Armenians can make some headway on this issue. In my humble opinion, neither one is addressed properly by Armenia and Armenians.
The first target in dealing with the genocide issue is the academic field, which is supposed to arrive at indisputable historic facts after thorough and objective research of a multitude of state archives, documents, communication records, and oral history findings. The struggle in this field regarding the Armenian Genocide can best be summarized as forces of truth versus money and power. On one side there is truth, defended by almost all of the international academia; on the other side, there is the falsification of truth by a handful of scholars generously rewarded with funds provided by the Turkish state.
The second target in dealing with the genocide issue is the general population of Turkey, with the objective of conveying to them the historical truth of 1915 and its consequences, which are still felt today. This truth is best served when delivered to the people of Turkey in Turkish, based on archival material and historic facts—from the 1880′s to 1922—directly from Turkish sources and their allies, including the factual consequences of the ongoing cover-up and denial by the state.
Academically, the only organization that spearheads and organizes objective research by independent scholars on this topic is the Zoryan Institute with its subsidiary, the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies. For the past 30-plus years, it has provided the highest standards of scholarship and objectivity in undertaking multi-disciplinary research and analysis. This includes documentation, lectures, conferences, and publications in seven languages related to human rights and genocide studies. The publications include more than 40 books, some of which are in several languages, and 2 major periodicals, with one dealing with genocide studies and the other the diaspora.
In addition, the Zoryan Institute provides research assistance to scholars, writers, journalists, filmmakers, government agencies, and other organizations. When Zoryan published Wolfgang Gust’s The Armenian Genocide 1915/16: Documents from the Diplomatic Archives of the German Office in German, English, and Turkish, prominent Turkish journalist Mehmet Ali Birand could only reflect: “When you read and study these documents, even if this is your first venture into this subject, there is no way you will deny the genocide and disagree with the Armenians.”
Even though the Turkish state defines Zoryan as a “propaganda center,” several scholars from Turkey have attended the Genocide and Human Rights University Program run by the Zoryan Institute at the University of Toronto, and many of them have become outspoken advocates of historic truth within Turkey and the rest of the world.
To best describe Zoryan’s contribution to scholarship is to quote from the “plea” made by the International Scholars of Genocide and Human Rights Studies last year in support of Zoryan’s fundraising activities: “For the past 30 years, the Institute has maintained an ambitious program to collect archival documentation, conduct original research, and publish books and periodicals. It also conducts university-level educational programs in the field of genocide and human rights studies, taking a comparative and interdisciplinary approach in its examination of the Jewish Holocaust, the Cambodian Genocide, and the Rwandan Genocide, among others, using the Armenian Genocide as a point of reference. In the process, using the highest academic standards, the Institute has strived to understand the phenomenon of genocide, establish the incontestable, historical truth of the Armenian Genocide, and raise awareness of it among academics and opinion-makers. In the face of the continuing problem of genocide in the 21st century, the Institute is to be commended for its service to the academic community and is recognized by scholars for providing leadership and a support structure in promoting the cause of universal human rights and the prevention of genocide.”
Despite its herculean efforts and outstanding results, the Zoryan Institute receives no appreciable financial support or acknowledgment from major Armenian organizations or the state. The institute is supported entirely by private donations. Against it, there exists the full power and unlimited funds of the Turkish state, and more recently the Azerbaijan state, which attempts to lure scholars to rewrite history. As a result, the Turkish State Historic Society reduces the number of 1915 Armenian victims with every new publication; at last count, a few thousand Armenians died of illness and hunger, while the number of Turkish victims of “genocide” perpetrated by the Armenians increases every year and is now more than two million. By the same strategy, the number of Azeri dead in the Khojalu “genocide” keeps increasing with every publication.
Dialogue between two conflicting parties can be meaningful only after both are aware of the truth and the facts. Even though the Turkish state has not allowed the truth to come out until recently, there are now clear signs that the taboos about 1915 are finally being broken and that there is an emerging “common body of knowledge” among Turkish citizens and, more importantly, among the opinion makers. Zoryan contributed immensely to the development of this “common body of knowledge” through conferences, seminars, and the books it helped publish by such authors as Yair Auron, Taner Akcam, Wolfgang Gust, Roger Smith, Vahakn Dadrian, and Rifat Bali.
Given all this, I strongly urge Armenians to support the Zoryan Institute so that it can continue to develop the common body of knowledge to be shared by Armenians and Turks. Hopefully, shared history will help these neighboring peoples reconcile with their pasts, and such reconciliation will help secure a future for generations to come.
I will elaborate on the second target—the population of Turkey—and its challenges in a separate article.

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