‘Better late than never’: Why the anticipated US recognition of the Armenian Genocide is significant

A US classification of Ottoman Turkey's campaign against the Armenian people as genocide will be a first step in achieving long sought-after justice, experts say. (Alamy)
A US classification of Ottoman Turkey's campaign against the Armenian people as genocide will be a first step in achieving long sought-after justice, experts say. (Alamy)
Short Url
Updated 26 April 2021

‘Better late than never’: Why the anticipated US recognition of the Armenian Genocide is significant

A US classification of Ottoman Turkey's campaign against the Armenian people as genocide will be a first step in achieving long sought-after justice, experts say. (Alamy)
  • Ethnic Armenians watching closely for signs of formal genocide recognition by US President Biden
  • Armenians wonder if Ottoman Turkey’s crimes set a precedent for subsequent mass killings

DUBAI: Armenians mark April 24 each year as a day of sorrow. It was on this date in 1915 when the Ottoman Empire launched the first in a brutal succession of atrocities against the ethnic group living under its dominion, going on to kill more than 1 million and driving many more into exile.

To this day, modern Turkey refuses to acknowledge the crimes committed during the twilight of the ancient regime.

Whether living in the Middle East, North America, Russia or modern-day Armenia, it is likely every Armenian has a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent who witnessed the genocide firsthand.

This year, many of them will be watching closely for signs of formal recognition from the US government.

“Virtually every Armenian alive today is a descendant of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide,” said Chris Bohjalian, the New York Times bestselling author of “The Sandcastle Girls.” His sweeping historical love story, published in 2012, draws on his own Armenian heritage and the experiences of his grandparents.

“The Ottoman Empire systematically annihilated 1.5 million of its Armenian citizens, plus 300,000 Assyrians and countless Greeks, and that was after exterminating 250,000 Armenians a generation earlier in the Hamidian massacres. Moreover, Turkey denies the blood on the hands of its Ottoman predecessor,” he told Arab News.

On that spring day in the early months of the First World War, Ottoman authorities rounded up and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals. In the weeks that followed, thousands of ordinary Armenians were forced from their homes and sent on death marches across the Mesopotamian desert.

“The day means an enormous amount to Armenians because we are grieving our ancestors, the loss of much of our homeland, and our culture in eastern Turkey — and we are grieving it all as an open wound because Turkey has never acknowledged the crime and much of the world doesn’t even know it occurred — or its magnitude, if they know a little bit.”

In fact, Bohjalian wonders whether the Nazi Holocaust, which came a quarter of a century later, would have occurred without the precedent of the Armenian Genocide.




A picture released by the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute dated 1915 purportedly shows soldiers standing over skulls of victims from the Armenian village of Sheyxalan in the Mush valley, on the Caucasus front during the First World War. (STR/AGMI/AFP)

“It might have. But in ‘Justifying Genocide,’ scholar Stefan Ihrig argues convincingly that the Armenian Genocide made the Holocaust more likely. The most quoted line from my novel ‘The Sandcastle Girls,’ is this: ‘There is a line connecting the Armenians and the Jews and the Cambodians and the Bosnians and the Rwandans. There are obviously more, but really, how much genocide can one sentence handle?’ So, I believe we still have lessons to learn,” he added.

Indeed, the parallel is often drawn between the Armenian Genocide and the many other mass displacements and wholesale slaughters that followed over the course of the 20th century.

Joseph Kechichian, senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, in Riyadh, told Arab News: “(Former German leader Adolf) Hitler is famous for having used the term, ‘who remembers the Armenian nation?’ when he embarked on his own murderous deeds.

“One supposes that the other significant consequence of the Armenian Genocide is the denial that successive Turkish governments practiced, even if the last Ottoman rulers acknowledged it and actually tried a number of officials who were found guilty.

“Contentious does not even begin to explain the hurt that Armenians feel, for denial translates into a second genocide — albeit a psychological one. Eventually, righteous Turks — and there are a lot of them — will own up to the dark chapters of their history and come to terms with it. But it seems that we are not there yet,” he said.

Turkey acknowledges that many Armenians were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during the First World War but disputes the figures and denies that the killings were orchestrated or constitute a genocide.

THENUMBER

* 1.5m - Highest estimate of Armenian deaths by massacre, starvation or exhaustion.

Kechichian’s own paternal grandmother was among the victims. “Imagine how growing up without a grandmother — and in my orphaned father’s case, a mother — affects you,” he added.

“We never kissed her hand, not even once, and she was always missed. We spoke about her all the time and my late father had teary eyes each and every time he thought of his mother.”

Almost every Armenian family has a similar story to tell.

“But we are believers and pray for the souls of those lost. We also ask the Lord to forgive those who committed the atrocities and enlighten their successors so that they too can find peace. Denial is ugly and unbecoming and it hurts survivors and their offspring, no matter the elapsed time,” Kechichian said.

For Armen Sahakyan, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America — Western Region, the genocide never really ended.

“It continues to this very day in Turkey and Azerbaijan’s ongoing attempts to attack, empty, and ultimately erase the presence of Armenians in their ancient homeland,” he told Arab News, referring to last year’s Nagorno-Karabakh war.

“The Armenian Genocide is Turkey’s ‘original sin,’ setting the stage for over a century of human rights violations and repression against all dissidents of the Turkish state and undermining its own democratic future.”

READ MORE

US President Joe Biden would become the first US president to recognize the systematic killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 onwards in modern-day Turkey as a “genocide,” a step already taken by the Senate and the House of Representatives in 2019. More here.

According to Sahakyan, without a truthful, just, and comprehensive resolution of the Armenian Genocide, Turkey stands no chance of becoming a reliable ally of the West and “will continue its destructive domestic as well as foreign policy throughout the wider Mediterranean.”

US President Joe Biden has indicated he will officially recognize the displacement and slaughter of the Armenian people in 1915 as a genocide — a move that would mark a significant break with past administrations, ever cautious not to offend their nominal NATO ally, Turkey.




US President Joe Biden has indicated he will officially recognize the displacement and slaughter of the Armenian people in 1915 as a genocide. (AFP/File Photo)

Always quick on the draw, the Turkish government has given warning that the US “needs to respect international law.”

Speaking recently to broadcaster Haberturk, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said: “Statements that have no legal binding will have no benefit, but they will harm ties. If the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs.”

Bohjalian said recognition from Washington would mean a great deal. “It would thrill me. But will we ever see justice? We may see the word ‘genocide’ used by a US president on April 24 this year, but will we ever get back Van? Ararat? Shusha? Not in my lifetime. Nevertheless, I hope with all my heart that Biden uses the word ‘genocide.’”

Sahakyan noted that such a recognition from the White House — following on the heels of 2019’s Congressional resolutions — would be the culmination of a century of tireless work by the Armenian-American community and friends of Armenia.

“It must inform US policy, at every level, including in supporting Armenia — a blockaded, landlocked, partitioned, genocide-survivor state — against continued attempts by Ankara and Baku to complete this crime.




Armenian orphans being deported from Turkey in around 1920. (Shutterstock/File Photo)

“The US recognition of the Armenian Genocide would also be a tribute to America’s own heroic role in saving hundreds of thousands of survivors of the genocide through the Near East Relief,” he said.

A century on, the genocide remains a landmark event in modern history and one that besmirches the character of Turkey even today, said Peter Balakian, author of “The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response” — another New York Times bestseller.

He told Arab News: “Turkey has shown no apology, let alone restitution and reparation. Other nations have demanded that Turkey deal with the Armenian Genocide aftermath, but it seems that this will only happen when Turkey can develop a true democracy in which its government can foster a culture of self-criticism and minority and human rights.”

For Balakian, recognition is the first step, no matter how long it takes. “We have waited for some semblance of justice for over a century,” he added.

--------------

Twitter: @CalineMalek


Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
Updated 07 December 2021

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
  • A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown
  • Details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces

VIENNA: Unvaccinated individuals will continue to stay in lockdown even after Austria lifts its wider coronavirus measure for the general public on Sunday, Chancellor Karl Nehammer confirmed on Tuesday, a day after he took office.
Austria’s two-week-old lockdown aimed to counter a surge in daily COVID-19 infections to record levels, with restaurants, bars, theaters, museums and non-essential shops shut to all but take-away business. Hotels are closed to tourists.
A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown, barring them from roughly the same places that are now shut, and allowed to leave home only for the same few reasons as the public now, such as going to work.
“The lockdown for the unvaccinated is staying,” Nehammer told a news conference, while confirming that the wider curbs would be lifted on Sunday as planned.
However, details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces.
“For all the unvaccinated who are suffering from the fact they are staying in lockdown, there is a clear offer: you can come out of it if you seize the chance to get vaccinated,” Nehammer said, adding that his aim was to encourage as many as possible to get their first dose of vaccine.
Asked if restaurants and hotels would re-open at the weekend, Nehammer said that had already been agreed with provincial governors and the aim was to re-open businesses as broadly as possible.
The question that remained was what safety measures and curbs needed to be adopted, he added.


Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
Updated 07 December 2021

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
  • Move follows government ban on all arrivals to combat spread of omicron variant
  • Irish carrier is largest airline in Europe, which is facing severe COVID-19 outbreak

LONDON: Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has canceled all flights to Morocco until February 2022.

The move follows a total ban by the Moroccan government on flights arriving in the North African country until Dec. 13 to combat the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

It is not yet clear whether the ban will extend beyond the initial December deadline.

Other countries, including Japan and Israel, have also implemented stringent flight bans in an attempt to prevent the spread of the new variant.

Irish carrier Ryanair usually flies thousands of flights a day across Europe and beyond. The continent’s COVID-19 outbreak is far worse than many other places in the world, including Morocco, which recorded just 90 cases in the last 24 hours compared with 50,000 in Britain.


One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
Updated 07 December 2021

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
  • Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary

SANARY-SUR-MER,France: French rescue workers on Tuesday recovered a man’s body from the rubble of a residential building destroyed overnight in a suspected gas explosion, and were scrambling to find two other people still missing after extracting a woman and a baby alive.
The woman and baby as well as three others were injured in the blast in the Mediterranean coastal city of Sanary-sur-Mer, which was heard from as far as eight kilometers (five miles) away.
“It’s very likely that the victim is the father of the baby,” Houda Vernhet, director of the government’s regional authority for the Var region, told AFP.
He was unconscious when located and declared dead after rescue workers spent more than two hours removing him from the unsteady wreckage of the three-story building.
The two people still missing “are a mother, an elderly woman, and her son” who lived on the ground floor, Vernhet said.
“For now, we haven’t yet found any signs of life from the rubble, but we didn’t hear the baby right away, either,” said Col. Eric Grohin, director of the fire service for the Var department.
Authorities said rescue workers smelled gas when they arrived at the site.
“The causes aren’t known for now. There was smell of gas, but we can’t say anything more while the police inquiry is underway,” the regional authorities said in a statement.
Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary, a city of around 15,000 people southeast of Marseille.


Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
Updated 07 December 2021

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
  • Among the billionaire's collection were items from Egypt, Turkey and Iraq

NEW YORK: Billionaire hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt has agreed to turn over $70 million worth of stolen antiquities and will be subject to an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities, the Manhattan district attorney announced Monday.
In return, Steinhardt, a philanthropist who is chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and co-founder of Birthright Israel, an organization that sends young Jews on free trips to Israel, will not face criminal charges for acquiring pieces that were illegally smuggled out of 11 countries including Iraq, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Syria and Turkey, prosecutors said.
“For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a news release. “His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries, as reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb raiders he relied upon to expand his collection."
Steinhardt said in a prepared statement issued by his attorneys that he was "pleased that the District Attorney’s years-long investigation has concluded without any charges, and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries.”
Attorneys Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr. said that many of the dealers from whom Steinhardt bought the items “made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance.”
According to prosecutors, while complaining about a subpoena requesting documentation for an antiquity in May 2017, Steinhardt pointed to a small chest from Greece and said to an investigator, “You see this piece? There’s no provenance for it. If I see a piece and I like it, then I buy it.”
Many of the pieces Steinhardt acquired were removed from their countries of origin during times of war or civil unrest, prosecutors said.
Steinhardt, who turns 81 on Tuesday, founded the hedge fund Steinhardt Partners in 1967 and closed it in 1995. He came out of retirement in 2004 to head Wisdom Tree Investments.
New York University named its Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development after Steinhardt in recognition of two $10 million donations.
Manhattan prosecutors began investigating Steinhardt's collection of ancient artifacts in 2017 and raided his office and his Manhattan home in 2018, seizing several artworks that investigators said had been looted.
The items surrendered by Steinhardt include a stag’s head in the form of a ceremonial vessel for libations, dating from to 400 B.C., which prosecutors say appeared without provenance on the international market after rampant looting in Milas, Turkey. The stag's head is valued at $3.5 million, the district attorney said.
There was also the chest for human remains from the Greek Island of Crete, called a larnax and dating from around 1300 B.C., which prosecutors said was purchased from a known antiquities trafficker.


Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters

Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters
Updated 07 December 2021

Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters

Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters
  • Thousands of pleas for help via email were unread between Aug. 21 and Aug. 25
  • ‘These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as ‘please save my children’

LONDON: Britain’s Foreign Office abandoned many of the nation’s allies in Afghanistan and left them to the mercy of the Taliban during the fall of the capital, Kabul, because of a dysfunctional and arbitrary evacuation effort, a whistleblower alleged Tuesday.
In devastating evidence to a parliamentary committee, Raphael Marshall said thousands of pleas for help via email were unread between Aug. 21 and Aug. 25. The former Foreign Office employee estimated that only 5 percent of Afghan nationals who applied to flee under one UK program received help. At one point, he was the only person monitoring the inbox.
“There were usually over 5,000 unread emails in the inbox at any given moment, including many unread emails dating from early in August,” he wrote to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. “These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as ‘please save my children’.”
Former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who was moved from the Foreign Office to become Justice Secretary after his handling of the crisis, defended his actions.
“Some of the criticism seems rather dislocated from the facts on the ground, the operational pressures that with the takeover of the Taliban, unexpected around the world...” he told the BBC. “I do think that not enough recognition has been given to quite how difficult it was.”
The Taliban stormed across Afghanistan in late summer, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the US and its allies melted away. The Taliban took over Kabul on Aug. 15.
Many who had worked for Western powers or the government worried that the country could descend into chaos or the Taliban could carry out revenge attacks against them.
Many also feared the Taliban would reimpose the harsh interpretation of Islamic law that they relied on when they ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. At the time, women had to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative whenever they went outside. The Taliban banned music, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.