‘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)
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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.

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


MI5 failed to share London terrorist’s heightened threat level: Probation officer

MI5 failed to share London terrorist’s heightened threat level: Probation officer
Updated 13 min 33 sec ago

MI5 failed to share London terrorist’s heightened threat level: Probation officer

MI5 failed to share London terrorist’s heightened threat level: Probation officer
  • Kenneth Skelton decided Usman Khan presented a low threat level, but was not privy to intelligence to the contrary
  • Khan killed 2 people in a knife attack in central London in 2019

LONDON: British intelligence upgraded a terrorist’s threat level due to evidence that he was planning an attack, but failed to inform the probation officer charged with monitoring his activity, an inquest has heard.

Usman Khan killed two people in a knife attack in central London in 2019, less than a year after he was released early from jail where he was serving time for terror offenses.

Now an inquest into the murder of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones at a prisoner rehabilitation event near London Bridge has heard that British intelligence services had evidence that Khan was planning an attack, but did not inform his probation officer.

While in jail for planning to bomb the London Stock Exchange, the court heard, Khan had associated with other terrorists and engaged in violence.

In the month of his release, MI5 upgraded his priority level after obtaining evidence that he was planning a post-release attack, but his probation officer said he was not informed about the heightened threat.

Kenneth Skelton said if he had known, “the whole management process would have been altered.”

Changes made could have included a re-evaluation of Khan’s permission to attend the event at which he carried out the attack — and was subsequently killed by police.

The inquest heard that Skelton was “disappointed” that information on the heightened threat level was not shared with him, particularly as he had attended nearly 30 meetings in which police and probation officers discussed the kind of permissions Khan should be entitled to.

Shortly before the attack, Skelton wrote an official assessment that concluded: “Khan’s likelihood of reoffending and risk of extremist offending is low.”

He added: “Since his release on 24 December 2018 … there has been no demonstration of attitudes supporting or justifying offending of any nature.”

Skelton said he was not made aware of a psychological report from May that year that suggested Khan’s engagement with prisoner rehabilitation programs was “superficial,” and he could not remember being shown a police document that described Khan as “calculating in his behaviour.”

Skelton told the inquest that he was “astounded” when he was told of Khan’s attack, adding: “From nowhere did I get any information that would suggest him returning to any of his (terrorist) behaviors.”

Representatives from MI5 will be called to give evidence at a later stage in the inquiry.


Philippine president lauds Saudi efforts on welfare, labor rights of Filipino workers

During a phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Duterte expressed thanks for the Kingdom’s inclusion of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its COVID-19 vaccination drive. (Reuters/File Photo)
During a phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Duterte expressed thanks for the Kingdom’s inclusion of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its COVID-19 vaccination drive. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 58 min 33 sec ago

Philippine president lauds Saudi efforts on welfare, labor rights of Filipino workers

During a phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Duterte expressed thanks for the Kingdom’s inclusion of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its COVID-19 vaccination drive. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • The Philippines and Saudi Arabia recently organized a virtual forum on labor mobility and human rights

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has thanked Saudi Arabia for looking after the welfare and labor rights of Filipinos living in the Kingdom.

During a phone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Duterte also expressed his appreciation for the Kingdom’s inclusion of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination drive, the Philippine leader’s office said on Thursday.

In a statement, the presidential palace, Malacanang, added: “President Duterte recognized Saudi Arabia’s efforts to ensure that the rights, welfare, and well-being of Filipinos in the Kingdom are protected and upheld, including recent efforts aimed at labor reform.”

It said that during Wednesday’s phone call, the crown prince assured Duterte that all Filipinos in the Kingdom would be inoculated, and they also agreed to ramp up joint efforts to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak.

“President Duterte has, in several public pronouncements, underscored the need for universal access to vaccines to effectively combat the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing that nations must work together toward equitable access to life-saving vaccines, particularly for developing and least-developed nations,” the presidential office added.

“King Salman also called on the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies (the G20) to work toward affordable and equitable access to vaccines,” the Malacanang statement said.

During a virtual press conference, Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said the president and Crown Prince Mohammed also used their phone chat to discuss ways “to further improve the protection of Filipino workers in the Kingdom.”

He added that Saudi Arabia was among a number of countries supporting calls for changes to the kafala sponsorship system (for the monitoring of migrant laborers).

New measures under the Kingdom’s labor law reforms, effective since March, ensure that migrant workers in Saudi Arabia’s private sector have improved job mobility and can switch jobs or leave the country without employer consent. The rules also allow foreign workers to apply directly for government services, with all employment contracts documented online.

Duterte had previously described the old kafala system as “unjust” and “exploitative,” claiming it made OFWs in the Middle East, particularly household workers, vulnerable to abuse.

The Philippines and Saudi Arabia recently organized a virtual forum on labor mobility and human rights to discuss the sponsorship system and what Middle Eastern countries were doing to reform it. During the meeting, Duterte called for the abolition of the kafala system.


At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry
Updated 06 May 2021

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry
  • Ontario is now the epicenter of the outbreak in Canada, led by more virulent variants
  • At the week's end more than 2,200 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in the province of 14 million

TORONTO: Intensive care nurse Farial says the health care system in Canada’s Ontario province is nearing the breaking point as it fights a fast-moving new wave of Covid-19 infections.
The caregiver at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital is looking after two patients in their 60s who are on ventilators.
“We’re overwhelmed,” she told AFP, conveying the feelings of her peers who often say they feel powerless against a tidal wave of new cases, and angry at times — especially with the Ontario government’s arguably slow response and with Ontarians who are not following public health orders to contain the coronavirus.
“We’re stretched thin. We’re tired and exhausted. Just exhausted.”
Ontario is now the epicenter of the outbreak in Canada, led by more virulent variants. The latest surge in the number of cases was so big that authorities this week dispatched the military and the Red Cross to help care for critical patients.
“It’s the worst wave I’ve ever seen,” says head nurse Kimisha Marshall. “We have younger patients coming in, sicker and lots more patients coming in.”
“We’re short of nurses. We had some nurses that left, but also we have nurses that are getting sick, too,” she adds.
At the week’s end, there were more than 2,200 people hospitalized with Covid-19 in the province of 14 million. Nearly 900 patients were listed in critical condition.
Medical staff have been redeployed from other wards to the ICU to lend a hand, and transferring patients to facilities in less affected areas has alleviated some of the pressure on this Toronto hospital.
But more than a year after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, “the team is tired,” comments Raman Rai, head of the intensive care unit where a few children’s drawings thanking caregivers hang on the walls, bringing a glimmer of cheer.
At times overcome by a deep sadness, Rai says: “You see people who have not only lost a loved one, but who have lost several members of their family. It is very hard.”
More than 60 percent of patients in Humber River Hospital’s intensive care unit on Wednesday were being treated for Covid-19. In one of the rooms, relatives and a priest gathered around a patient’s bed, praying.
Every day, several more patients must be placed on ventilators. On Wednesday, a 52-year-old man with low blood oxygen levels was intubated by a team of four caregivers fully dressed in protective gowns, gloves, masks and visors.
“He was so scared, he could barely breathe,” recounts Melody Baril, who performed the intubation.
“You try and give them a little bit of hope,” she says, “but the death rate is so high, once you get to this point.”
More than 8,000 people in Ontario have died from Covid-19, representing one-third of the nationwide pandemic death toll. The number of cases in the province has risen to over 450,000, or almost 40 percent of the total in Canada.
After peaking in mid-April, the number of new daily infections has fallen slightly over the past 10 days and a vaccine rollout is accelerating. But the number of patients in intensive care continues to rise.
Fearing the crisis will persist, some caregivers say they are angry with Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government — which has faced a storm of criticisms over its pandemic response of late — but also against a segment of the population that has stubbornly resisted following public health restrictions.
“I feel frustrated,” says nurse Sarah Banani. “I think perhaps things could have been shut down harder and faster as we saw the variants take hold within the population.”
“I think we all feel we have been let down a little bit by society,” comments physician Jamie Spiegelman, adding that many health care providers “feel powerless to change things.”
“When I go outside and see traffic, people in a shopping center not taking the necessary precautions, that’s a letdown,” he says.
“We’re sick of patients with Covid-19 dying.”


Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU
Updated 06 May 2021

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU
  • Sweden now has among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, said health official
  • With 1,002,121 covid19 cases recorded since the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data

STOCKHOLM: Sweden on Thursday announced it had recorded over one million cases of Covid-19, nearly a tenth of the population, as the Nordic nation struggles to rein in a third wave of the virus.
“In Sweden we now have among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe,” Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of microbiology at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, told a press conference.
Tegmark Wisell noted however that there had been a downward trend in recent weeks.
With 1,002,121 cases of the novel coronavirus recorded since the start of the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data compiled by AFP.
The Public Health Agency published a series of projections, with the most likely scenario showing the virus spread starting to subside in mid-May before reaching “very low levels” in July and August.
The Scandinavian country has famously never imposed the type of lockdown seen elsewhere in Europe, controversially relying on mostly non-coercive measures.
It has however gradually tightened restrictions since November, including a ban on alcohol sales after 8:00 p.m. and on public gatherings of more than eight people.
Since March, cafes, bars and restaurants have also been required to shut their doors by 8:30 pm.
Despite being in the midst of a third wave of cases, the rise in deaths has been much slower in recent weeks, with 156 deaths in the last seven days, which authorities say is the result of the rollout of vaccines among vulnerable groups.
The total number of deaths associated with Covid-19 since the start of pandemic reached 14,158 on Thursday, putting Sweden in the middle of the pack in Europe, although well ahead of its Nordic neighbors Finland, Norway and Denmark,
European mortality statistics however also show that Sweden had a lower than average excess mortality in 2020, compared to the rest of Europe.


Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances
Updated 06 May 2021

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances
  • Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the healthcare system
  • Delhi government and a non-profit organization kitted out over 12 autorickshaws with sanitizers and masks while oxygen cylinders are provided based on need

NEW DELHI: It’s not the most conventional way to get to hospital, but with Delhi running short of ambulances, authorities have turned some of the city’s ubiquitous three-wheeled autorickshaws into makeshift ambulances to ferry COVID-19 patients.
Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the health care system.
Families have had to make their own arrangements including paying exorbitant amounts to private ambulance operators to take the sick to hospital.
The Delhi government, in association with a non-profit organization, has kitted out more than a dozen autorickshaws with hand sanitizers and face masks, while oxygen cylinders are provided on a need basis. The service, which began officially on Tuesday, is free.
Autorickshaw driver Raj Kumar has taken patients to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, Delhi’s largest facility, which is overflowing with COVID-19 patients.
“We must all help each other out at this time of need to get out of this situation,” said Kumar, who wears a PPE suit. There is a plastic partition between him and the passengers at the back.
“If everyone stays home because they are scared, then who is going to help those in need?“
Mohit Raj, founder and executive director of the Turn Your Concern into Action foundation, said the response so far had shown the scheme needed more vehicles.
“Now we are getting calls not just of COVID patients but from front-line workers who are unable to find patient conveyance, as well as from people with other ailments,” he said.
Raj added he has received requests from other parts of the country to start services there.