Tuesday, April 24, 2007

April 24: remembering the Armenian Genocide

A grey day for us in Vancouver today, perhaps the appropriate atmosphere for timely reflections upon the sad anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Message from US President George Bush:
Each year on this day, we pause to remember the victims of one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, when as many as 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives in the final years of the Ottoman Empire, many of them victims of mass killings and forced exile.
I join my fellow Americans and Armenian people around the world in commemorating this tragedy and honoring the memory of the innocent lives that were taken. The world must never forget this painful chapter of its history.
All who cherish freedom and value the sanctity of human life look back on these horrific events in sorrow and disbelief. Many of those who survived were forced from their ancestral home and spread across the globe. Yet, in the midst of this terrible struggle, the world witnessed the indomitable spirit and character of the Armenian people. Many of the brave survivors came to America, where they have preserved a deep connection with their history and culture. Generations of Armenians in the United States have enriched our country and inspired us with their courage and conviction.
Today, we remember the past and also look forward to a brighter future. We commend the individuals in Armenia and Turkey who are working to normalize the relationship between their two countries. A sincere and open examination of the historic events of the late-Ottoman period is an essential part of this process. The United States supports and encourages those in both countries who are working to build a shared understanding of history as a basis for a more hopeful future.
We value the strong and vibrant ties between the United States and Armenia. Our Nation is grateful for Armenia's contributions to the war on terror, particularly for its efforts to help build a peaceful and democratic Iraq. The United States remains committed to working with Armenia and Azerbaijan to promote a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We are also working to promote democratic and economic reform in Armenia that will advance the cause of freedom and justice.
Laura and I express our deepest condolences to Armenian people around the world on this solemn day of remembrance. We stand together in our determination to build a more peaceful, more prosperous, and more just world.

This message carries a marked difference from the standard notes Bush has issued for this anniversary date on its previous occasions during his administration. This time he has far more detailed remarks on Turkey's possible change of heart regarding that nation's perpetual denial of history. I wonder if this increased focus has anything to do with subduing the controversial storm he caused last year by the dismissal of former ambassador to Armenia John Evans, fired for giving a speech where he refered to the Armenian Genocide, as a genocide, not the thesaurus-assisted dance around the truth that has characterized American policy on this issue for so long now. Evans' honesty went against current US policy, and so he was removed from his post. (The aftermath of the dismissal proved so tempestuous that the nominated replacement, Richard Hoagland, was never confirmed, leaving Armenia without any official ambassador whatsoever, as far as I know)

Hyelog (a site we recommend for news on Armenian-Turkish relations) provides a link to an article by Radio Free Europe's Armenian Service director Harry Tamrazian, on the glacier-like progress being made on the issue of Turkey's official recognition of their genocidal war on Armenians during World War I:

For the Armenian government, the fact that Turkey refuses to acknowledge the extent of the mass killings is disturbing. They still consider Turkey to be the biggest security threat for the country. Yerevan [the capital of Armenia] believes that that threat could be eliminated if Ankara recognizes the Armenian genocide.
There have been hopeful signs in Turkey in recent months. More and more Turkish intellectuals and academics have come forward to publicly challenge their government's stance on the issue, some calling for open debate. Turkish writer and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has been one of the most prominent and outspoken. He has said that over 1 million Armenians were killed in Turkey and no one wants to talk about it. He was charged by the Turkish authorities for insulting Turkishness under Article 301 of the penal code, but the charges were subsequently dropped.
Many hoped that things would change after the killing of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Thousands of Turks took to the streets to express their anger, chanting 'We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenians.' Many saw the outpouring of emotion as a sign that the reconciliation process had begun. But the Turkish government has not capitalized on that historic moment. Article 301, which makes it illegal to criticize Turkishness or the Turkish government, still remains on the books.

And so today we remember an historical injustice, in the shadow of another, ongoing one: denial of history chosen as the lesser of two evils, for political expediency.

[Photo of St-Vartan Armenian Apostolic Church in Vancouver, BC. ]

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