08/25 Worcester Telegram: Genocide is silent no more

Saturday, August 25, 2007
Genocide is silent no more

Armenians await an admission


Last March, the government of Turkey hosted a ceremony marking the $1.5 million restoration of a 10th century Armenian church on Akdamar Island, an event attended by about 3,000 people including high-ranking officials and the Turkish Armenian Patriarch, Mesrob II.

International political observers viewed the three-year rehabilitation of the historic church as yet another attempt by the government of Ankara to reach out to the minority Armenian population.

But at the time, Armenians in Turkey and elsewhere insisted that there could never be any real goodwill until the government acknowledged that the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1923 was a “genocide.”

The issue has made headlines again over the past few days, the result of a potentially divisive debate within the Anti-Defamation League over whether the nationally prominent organization itself should recognize the Armenian killings as genocide and whether the ADL should support a congressional resolution on the matter.

However, to Clark University scholars who have studied a number of global atrocities over the years, there is no gray area when it comes to the World War I era slaughter of the Armenians.

“It’s an absolutely settled matter with academics,” said Deborah Dwork, director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark. “It was murder under the cover of a world war. Period. Full stop.”

Armenians flourished for about 3,000 years in the land that now makes up Turkey, but in 1913 the so-called “Young Turks” seized control of the government and in March of 1915 began rounding up Armenian leaders, thinkers, writers and professionals.

The governmental effort widened and thousands of Armenians were abducted, tortured, deported and killed.

Many nations have recognized the genocide but Armenians charge that Turkey refuses to take responsibility for what happened.

Earlier this month, Andrew H. Tarsy, the league’s regional director, was fired by national Director Abraham H. Foxman for calling upon the organization to recognize the killings in Turkey as a genocide and to support a congressional resolution on the matter.

Mr. Foxman said he and the ADL acknowledged the massacre but feared that calling the slaughter a genocide might imperil Jews living in Turkey.

He said ADL action might also strain Israeli-Turkey relations. Turkey is one of the few Muslim nations that have a relatively warm diplomatic relationship with the Jewish state.

Under mounting pressure from Jewish and Armenian groups, the ADL finally labeled the killings a “genocide,” but stopped short of backing the resolution, which is co-sponsored by about 220 congressmen, including U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester.

In reaction to the change in the ADL’s position, the Turkish Foreign Ministry yesterday stated its continued opposition to the resolution but said Turkish Jews have nothing to fear.

“The Jewish community in Turkey is part of our society and its members do not have to worry,” said the ministry in a statement.

Ms. Dwork, the Rose professor of Holocaust History, believes Turkey will eventually call the killings a genocide but she added that it won’t happen soon.

“Denial is a bad idea that will always bite you in the end,” she said.

According to academics, a genocide is an organized killing of a people for the express purpose of ending their collective existence. Genocides target those of a particular race, social class, ethnicity, religion or political leaning.

Ms. Dwork theorized the Ankara government may be denying that the atrocity was a genocide because of the issue of restitution. Armenian lands, possessions and wealth were seized during the purge.

“I don’t really know why Turkey denies this genocide,” said Ms. Dwork, noting there’s been a reluctance in many quarters to also label the countless deaths in Rwanda and Darfur as genocides. “Only the officials in Ankara know.”

Clark University President John Bassett said Turkey’s denial could kill that country’s bid to join the European Union.

“Some Europeans believe that Turkey’s part of Asia, and shouldn’t be part of the European community to begin with,” he explained. “The genocide controversy could open up the door for critics.”

He said Turkish national pride may also be an issue. “Some people don’t want to know about the evils that occurred in the past.”

Concerning the firing of Mr. Tarsy, who received an honorary degree from Clark a few years ago, Mr. Bassett said there may be more to the issue than the genocide question. He said, for example, that there might have been some dissatisfaction with Mr. Tarsy’s job performance.

“We just don’t know,” Mr. Bassett said. “I think Abe Foxman made a mistake, however, in not trying to work things out before the issue turned into a very unpleasant situation.”

Source: http://www.telegram.com/article/20070825/NEWS/708250352