10/11 Belmont Herald: Column wrong about Armenian Genocide issue

Kaligian: Column wrong about Armenian Genocide issue

Thu Oct 11, 2007, 03:24 PM EDT

Belmont, Mass. - It is hard to believe that anyone could belittle the Genocide of 1.5 million Armenians more than the present-day Turkish government, but Anthony Oberdorfer has managed to do just that [“The local level victimology culture,” Oct. 4]. Even the Turkish government recognizes that hundreds of thousands of Armenian civilians perished during WWI, yet Mr. Oberdorfer reduces one of the most horrific examples of mass extermination in history to “the Turks did terrible things to many of their Armenian population 90 years ago.”

How do you like that? One and a half million Armenian men, women, children and elderly systematically and brutally raped, butchered, or slowly starved to death, and it's just reduced to some "terrible things" done by some Turks. Mr. Oberdorfer then calls on Belmont Armenian-Americans to put aside their own personal experience with these atrocities and think in terms of "our common American national interest." This, of course, is to let Turkey off the hook, because they don't want to be reminded of the past atrocities perpetrated by the Turkish government of the time — an injustice that has never been admitted or recognized by the Turkish government, and for which they continue to occupy the lands of my grandparents.

To Mr. Oberdorfer, the Armenian Genocide may seem like a distant event in time and history, of 90 years ago and 10,000 miles away, but for Armenians it's much closer than that — we grew up with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who had gone through these horrific acts of torture and cruelty, and were plagued by the memories of these tragic events their entire lives.

Mr. Oberdorfer then goes on to call the Congressional resolution (House Res. 106/Senate Res. 106), which is already co-sponsored by more than 220 Representatives to Congress and 30 U.S. Senators, as something “designed to accumulate brownie points with favored ethnic groups,” rather than what it really is, a principled stand on a moral issue. As our own Congressman, Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA, proclaimed in the Capitol last month, "Properly recognizing the Armenian Genocide here in America is essential to ensure that all past genocides are never forgotten and all future atrocities are never permitted."

Mr. Oberdorfer then claims that "the real beneficiary of the recent controversy, of course, has been the Human Rights Commission … for this group of self-appointed do-gooders the opportunity to get the whole town involved in such an issue was the answer to their prayers" — as if the HRC engineered the whole controversy for their own benefit.

Rather, the HRC took a very responsible and commendable approach to the entire issue, did its research, heard the voices of the Belmont Armenian-American community and of the ADL regional executive director, and in just two weeks time resolved the whole issue calmly and cleanly. Only two hours of HRC meeting time and only one hour of the town selectmen's meeting were required for hearings, and the issue was resolved with the unanimous support of the HRC and the selectmen, and to the satisfaction of most of the Armenian-American community.

It was resolved until Mr. Oberdorfer decided to resurrect the issue and to insult the memory of our parents' and grandparents' suffering so he could take a pot-shot at the HRC. The Armenian-American community is wholly supportive of the HRC and applauds its actions and efforts to combat bigotry and prejudice in Belmont. We commend the HRC for comprehending that recognition of the Armenian Genocide is not a political issue — it is a moral issue. As our elected officials recognize, the mass extermination of an entire people should be denounced, just as all human rights violations should be denounced — whether it is the extermination of Jews in Central Europe, Sudanese in Darfur, or the oppression of African-Americans enslaved in the South. When civilized nations are confronted by a sordid episode in their past, they recognize the injustice and admit to and atone for their guilt. This is what was done by Germany regarding the Holocaust, the US regarding slavery and the internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII, and the Japanese regarding their own government's atrocities during WWII. This is what Turkey must do if it hopes to be recognized as a true democracy and accepted into the European Community.

In refusing to insist that the Turkish government admit to its guilt in one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century, Genocide deniers encourage other barbarian such as Saddam Hussein, Adolph Hitler, and the Janjaweed in Sudan, to commit similar atrocities themselves. As Rep. Markey noted in last month's address in Congress, "as Adolph Hitler plotted the Holocaust, he was emboldened by the failure of the international community to note the first genocide of the 20th century, writing in 1939 'Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?'"

As Mr. Oberdorfer is in a hurry to get back to "the real problems the town of Belmont is facing" instead of "waste the kind of time it evidently was forced to do," I simply implore him to stick to his potholes and parking meters, or whatever it is he feels is more important than the extermination of 1.5 million people. It's hard to believe that anyone wouldn't be interested in stopping human rights abuses and mass murder, but if Mr. Oberdorfer isn't interested, so be it — he can leave the moral and ethical issues in the capable hands of the Belmont Human Rights Commission, and get back to his potholes.

Aram Kaligian, MD, MPH, lives on Pine Street.

Source: http://www.wickedlocal.com/belmont/news/lifestyle/columnists/x870914908