Can We Finally All say “Armenian Genocide”?

So now the Catholic pope is an Islamophobe, too! How exactly did he demonstrate an excessive and unreasonable fear of Muslims, which is supposedly what Islamophia is all about?  And just when did the Pontiff acquire this mental condition?  After all, isn’t this the same pope who prayed alongside Turkey’s Grand Mufti inside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul mere months ago?

Pope Francis’ offence was to call the 1915 mass killing of 1.5 million Armenian Christians a “genocide,” the first pope ever to do so.  A few days later, the EU followed suit.  Turkey, of course, continues to deny the existence of any organized campaign  to wipe out the country’s Christian Armenian population.  The hundreds of thousands of Armenian Christians who died a century ago were the unfortunate victims of warfare and famine, Turkey insists.

No one expected Turkey’s leaders to react well to the Pope’s recent statement, but who would have predicted verbal attacks on the character of the Pope himself?  The Turkish government recalled its ambassador from Rome, and the Vatican envoy was summoned to Ankara where he was informed that the Turkish government was “disappointed and saddened” by the Pope’s statement.  Turkey’s Prime Minister Davutoglu said the Pope’s comments were “not fitting of the Pope.”  Turkey’s Foreign Minister Cavusoglu accused the Pope of stoking hatred:  “The Pope’s declaration, divorced from historical and legal facts, is unacceptable.  Religious posts are not positions to stoke hatred and grudges on baseless claims.”  Mehmet Gormez, head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, the highest religious authority in Turkey, called the Pope’s statement “immoral” and irreconcilable “with basic Christian values.”  Gormez believes the Pope chose the word ‘genocide’ due to growing Islamophobia in Europe, a consequence of poor immigration policies.  In other words, the Pope’s statement derived not from a heartfelt conviction, but was merely a reflection of the anti-Muslim mood of the people.

Why Pope Francis spoke the words “Armenian genocide” at this point in time undoubtedly has something to do with the fact that 24 April 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide.  On that day a century ago, the Turkish government arrested and executed 250 Armenian intellectuals, the first move in a premeditated campaign to exterminate an entire people.

The Ottoman Empire had entered the Great War on the side of the Central Powers (Germany and Austro-Hungary) which brought Turkey up against its old foe, Russia.  The Turkish government viewed its Armenian population, which was largely Christian, with suspicion, wondering:  Would the Armenians take the side of the Orthodox-Christian Russians and operate as a Fifth Column inside Turkey?   Some Armenian volunteer battalions, it seems, had indeed helped the Russian army fight the Turks in the Caucuses.  A decision was taken by the Turkish government to deport the entire Armenian population from the war zone in the east to an arid region in what is now Syria.

It was soon apparent what the Turkish government really had in mind for their Armenian minority.  Relocation was only a pretext.  Women, children, the sick and the elderly, were forced to march through the desert in the blazing sun without food and water, without proper clothing in many cases.  They were escorted by Turkish gendarmes who deliberately led them along tortuous, indirect routes through mountains and wilderness areas and away from Turkish villages in order to prolong their ordeal.  Those who stopped to rest were shot.  It has been estimated that 75% of the Armenians who set out never made it all the way.

The rest of the world was made aware of the dire situation of the Armenian people by American diplomats stationed in Turkey (the US was not at war with Turkey).  The American ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, for instance, had cabled Washington DC in July 1915 to warn that a “campaign of race extermination is in progress.”  The US consul in Aleppo, Syria, Jesse Jackson, had watched the deportee convoys arriving.  He sent a report to Washington DC, claiming to have seen mass graves holding up to 60,000 people.

Adding to the unbearable heat, the lack of food and water, and the extreme fatigue was the constant threat of a brutal death at the hands of a killing squad.  Set up by the Turkish government, this cadre of criminals and thugs drowned deportees, threw them off cliffs, crucified them, burned them alive.  They kidnapped children, forced young girls into harems, raped women and turned them into sex-slaves.  Those who survived the journey south into the Syrian desert were herded into huge open-air concentration camps–25 camps in number–where they starved to death or were killed by sadistic guards.

The world knew what was happening, wrung its collective hands, and did nothing.  Most people then forgot about it.  But one man didn’t.  During an interview by a German newspaper in 1931, Adolph Hitler told the editor that when deciding Germany’s future, one should “[t]hink of the biblical deportations and the massacres of the Middle Ages and remember the extermination of the Armenians.”

And one week before he invaded Poland in September of 1939, in an address to his commanding generals at Obersalzberg, Hitler is reported to have said:

…I have placed my death-head formations in readiness–for the present only in the East–with orders to send them to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language.  Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need.  Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”  (Document L-3)

Hitler clearly took note of the world’s indifference to the slaughter of the Armenian people.  Would the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis have happened if the Ottoman Turks had been held accountable for their role in the first genocide of the twentieth century?  Was Hitler’s Final Solution a consequence of the world’s inaction in 1915?  We’ll never know the answer to that.


The Republic of Armenia has chosen the forget-me-not flower as the official emblem of the centennial year observance of the Armenian Genocide (courtesy Pixabay)

Who would have brought the perpetrators to trial?  Consider:  Today marks the official observance of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, and yet, one hundred years after the event, only twenty or so countries out of 196 officially recognize the catastrophe as a “genocide.”  As of today, that small number also includes Germany and Austria–but not the UK or US or even Israel.  In 2008, then presidential candidate Obama promised he would acknowledge it, saying, “Armenian genocide is a widely documented fact.”  I guess the American military bases in Erdogan’s Turkey trump that “widely documented fact.”

Why did Pope Francis speak the words “Armenian genocide” at this point in time, knowing full well how it would infuriate Turkey’s leaders?  I believe he felt compelled to speak up now, not only because today marks the centennial observance of the Armenian Genocide, but because of the current catastrophe unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa.  Christians are being lined up and beheaded on Libya’s beaches.  Christians are being tossed off migrant boats to drown in the Mediterranean.  Christians are being shot in shopping malls in Kenya.  Christian women and girls are being raped and turned into sex-slaves.  The atrocities of 1915 are recurring before our very eyes.  How will the international community respond to this catastrophe?


The Lausanne Deal: Peace, but Only for a Time

There’s an unsettling feeling shared by many that the world has just entered another ‘Neville Chamberlain’ moment in time, a suspicion that the six major world powers who participated in the Lausanne negotiations have been outmanoeuvred and ‘outfoxed’ by a wily Islamic Republic of Iran. Neville Chamberlain, you will recall, was the well-meaning but naïve British Prime Minister who thought he could do a deal with Herr Hitler. When Nazi Germany threatened to take over all of Czechoslovakia unless Britain supported its plans to annex the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland, Chamberlain went to Berchtesgaden to meet with Hitler personally. Der Fuhrer promised not to make any further territorial demands if he was given the Sudetenland. In a shameless act of appeasement, Chamberlain granted Hitler his wish. On 29 September 1938, Britain, France, Italy, and Germany signed the Munich Pact which transferred the Sudetenland to Germany. Czechoslovakia was never even consulted. Upon his return to Britain, a triumphant Chamberlain announced, “I believe it is peace for our time.”

We all know how that worked out. In March 1939, Germany annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia. Years later, it was revealed that it had been Benito Mussolini, representing fascist Italy in Munich, who proposed the plan that came to be implemented by the four world powers–a plan written, in fact, by the German Foreign Office.

Neville Chamberlain has been vilified as a pathetically-naïve dupe of der Fuhrer. In fairness to Chamberlain, however, how many world leaders at the time–apart from an astute Winston Churchill–perceived the gravity of the threat posed by Hitler and his Third Reich? It is often forgotten that Chamberlain returned from Germany to public acclaim and cheering crowds in Britain.

The P5 plus 1 (the six permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and Iran have been meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland for the past eight days in an attempt to hammer out a deal which would restrict Iran’s nuclear activity to peaceful purposes. Iran, in return, would have the sanctions imposed on it by the international community lifted. At one stage in the negotiations, with the possibility of a preliminary draft agreed to by all seven countries looking increasingly unlikely, the P5 plus 1 lowered their expectations. They would be content now with a joint ‘statement of goals’.

Hasn’t Iran already stated its goals to anyone paying attention? In a recent speech marking the Persian new Year, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, didn’t hesitate to join with the rabble calling for America’s destruction. When people started hollering “Death to America” as is their wont, Khamenei responded: “Of course, yes, death to America, because America is the original source of this pressure [not sure what ‘pressure’ he meant].” And the response from the Obama white House? Pay no attention; it’s only “intended for a domestic audience.”

Then, on Tuesday, the commander of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRG), Brigadier General Naqdi, announced that “erasing Israel off the map is non-negotiable.” The brazenness of Iran’s spiritual and military leaders in calling openly for the destruction of America and the annihilation of Israel–at the very time that the P5 plus 1 negotiators were meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister–is ‘jaw-dropping ‘ in its audacity. One thing to be said in Neville Chamberlain’s defence: He didn’t know what Hitler had in mind for Germany’s neighbours, indeed, for the rest of the world. The P5 plus 1, on the other hand, unlike Chamberlain, will never be able to plead ignorance.

Word has just come that the P5 plus 1 negotiators, along with Iran, have drafted what they are calling “the framework of an agreement” which sets the stage for a final agreement to be reached by June 30. The hard work of writing the final text now begins. Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif claims the agreement will show that Iran’s nuclear program is “exclusively peaceful, has always been and always will remain exclusively peaceful.” An upbeat President Obama asserts with confidence that the deal cuts off “every pathway that Iran could take to build nuclear weapons.” This “historic” deal, President Obama insists, leaves the US, its allies, and the whole world safer.

I for one won’t be breaking out the champagne just yet. Has Iran indicated that it has given up its intention to eliminate the ‘Zionist enemy’ as it refers to Israel? That it will stop funding terrorism? Or cease fight proxy wars? By boasting that this deal “cuts off every pathway that Iran could take to build nuclear weapons,” President Obama has in effect issued a challenge to Iran’s scientists, mullahs, and military leaders to prove him wrong. Until Iran accepts the existence of the Jewish state, no framework, or deal, or agreement–whatever name you want to give it–will make the world any safer.