Saturday, May 24, 2014
The former senator Bob Carr, when premier of New South Wales, personally recognized the Armenian genocide. He wrote several letters in which he referred to the genocide as a genocide and a crime against humanity and argued that Turkey must apologize. Last year, in the wake of the Parliament of New South Wales recognizing the Armenian, Assyrian and Pontian genocide, in the guise foreign minister of Australia, Bob Carr, when asked, commented that Australia had no stance on the issue. And this from someone who was previously very vocal in his recognition. Similarly, Armenian-Australian activists in particular are dismayed at the Liberal government’s retreat from the unequivocal position held by many of its prominent members while in opposition.
These two ostensibly disparate fact-bytes are in fact connected when it is considered that, up until now, campaigners of the recognition of the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia are convinced that genocide recognition is linked to the domino effect – that is, that if enough Australian states recognize the genocide, then the Commonwealth of Australia will recognize the genocide and if the Commonwealth of Australia recognizes the genocide then other countries inevitable shall follow suit. If the vast majority of countries around the world recognize the genocide, then the pressure on Turkey to do the same will be so inexorably great that it will have absolutely no other choice than to recognize the genocide, crushed as it will be, under the weight of global public opinion.
However, the Macedonian example above appears to indicate that in reality, the dynamic of lobbies and pressure groups are complex and calculations of domino effects are far from simple. To wit: Even if Greece is the last country left alone in the world, in refusing to allow FYROM to appropriate the term Macedonia, it will conceivably, not bow to world opinion and afford FYROM the recognition it seeks, both for domestic reasons and also as a matter of principle. As a corollary, it is reasonable to assume that even if the entire world recognizes the genocide, Turkey will not, solely for fear of being isolated in the issue and in absence of other intervening considerations.
Given the above, though well meaning, committed and energetic, it is not unreasonable to suggest that if genocide campaigners are determined that Turkey should recognise the Genocide, (rather than just creating global public awareness, which is also intrinsically important ), then they are going about things in the wrong way, focusing their efforts at the broader base rather than at the top. After all, it is not as if the Western Powers were blissfully unaware of the Genocide while it was being carried out. Thousands of newspaper articles published in the Western world attest to its concern for the victims and outrage against the perpetrators of this heinous crime. Indeed, so moved were the Allies by the weight of western public opinion that they issued the Ottomans the following warning in 1915: “In view of these new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization, the Allied Governments announce publicly to the Sublime Porte that they will hold personally responsible for these crimes all members of the Ottoman Government, as well as those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres.” The fact that these same western powers, with the exception of France now choose to resile from that recognition, should remind Genocide campaigners that other, more profane considerations that justice and historical proof are at play here. Consequently, it is logical to suppose that if Turkey of its own accord recognizes the genocide then all the other countries would lose nothing in doing the same and finally, justice will be afforded to the innocent victims of intolerance.
One often overlooked consideration that should be noted, is that to some extent, Turkey has already recognized the genocide. It did so in 1919, after the war, when Constantinople was occupied by the Allies and the Sultan’s administration was coerced to conduct War Crimes Trials, an eerie and ineffective precursor of the Nuremberg Trials. These trials focused extensively on the chain of command and the often harrowing testimonies of Ottoman military officers, suggesting that there truly was an organized plan to rid Anatolia of its Christian population. Furthermore, ample evidence exists of Ottoman Muslims, even army officers actively hiding their Christian neighbours, or refusing to carry out deportation and slaughter orders. If no massacres took place, what were these protected and privileged Muslims protecting their Christian friends from?
Nonetheless, the Trials were problematic. Being held under occupation, the judges were under the scrutiny of the occupying forces. Due process did not exist, and there were gross absences of legal rights. The Ottoman penal code did not acknowledge the right of cross-examination. The decision was taken by evidence submitted during the preparatory phase, the trial, and how the defendant present his defence. Of great concern was the fact that none of the presented evidence was verified and validity of the evidence presented, such as letters and orders have been in study, with some of them proving to be forgeries In some cases hearsay was an issue, though many officials did testify to receiving orders to carry out the Genocide. Nonetheless, during the trials, testimonies were not subjected to cross-examination, and some of the materials were presented as "anonymous court material." So tainted by the absence of proper process were the Trials that John de Robeck, the Commander-in-Chief, of the Mediterranean forces stated that “its findings cannot be held of any account at all.”
It comes as no surprise that after the Ataturk regime assumed power, the Military Trials were hushed up, denied and referred to as victor’s justice. Events such as the ethnic cleansing of 15,000 native Greeks from the Gallipoli peninsula were also covered up and it is only in the context of the rediscovery of Australian contemporary accounts of massacres that such information is now re-entering the popular consciousness – a process that is being strenuously resisted by the Turkish state, which has even sought to punish local Australian politicians who are at the forefront of such endeavours.
The process of erasure seems to suggest that one cannot force an unwilling nation to admit something it doesn’t want to admit to, unless that force is sustained and tied to punishment, as was the case with Nazi Germany, where the Allies, learning from their mistakes in the Ottoman Trials, made a concerted effort in the Nuremberg Trials to punish the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Failing the imposition of external sanctions, the perpetrator nation needs to mature and become ready to listen, before recognition of its deeds is at possible, domestically or otherwise. As of today, that maturity has been late in coming, though the Turkish PM recently hazarded the oblique opinion that the events that took place at the expense of the Armenians were “our shared pain,” and that this “should not prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes towards one another.” Coming from the same person who stated: “We should all be ready and well-equipped so that the 1915 events can be dealt in an objective, scientific and realistic way. The Armenian diaspora is making its preparations to turn the events of 1915 into a political campaign by [distorting] the historical reality. In contrast to this political campaign, we will firmly stand against them by highlighting historical and scientific data,” we can question the motivation for the expression of such ostensibly moving sentiments. Next week we will examine some of the obstacles impeding Genocide recognition in modern Turkey.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 24 May 2014