Saturday, May 25, 2013


Imagine, if you will, the German government, instead of abjectly apologizing for its predecessor’s role in the Holocaust, the most heinous crime of the twentieth century, turning around and denying that it ever existed. Not only that, try to imagine the German government then stating that while the Holocaust is a myth, such Jews that were killed, deserved to die because they were fifth columnists, supporting Germany’s enemies and thus had to be removed. Further to this, try to stretch your incredulity a degree further and attempt to conceive of Germany that then proceeds to impose political sanctions upon countries and prohibits its Members of Parliament from attending such important commemorative events as the Fall of the Berlin Wall on the basis that they recognise the enormity of the genocide that was the Holocaust.

Inconceivable, no? Yet further south-east, another country has been doing exactly that ever since 1923 and while in the case of the Holocaust, it was overwhelming international pressure that caused Germany to assume responsibility for the almost total destruction of the European Jewish community. This was not an easy process and took time.  It was widely reported that when footage of the extermination camps was played prior to feature films being screened in movie theatres, most Germans averted their eyes, not wishing to admit or be accountable for what had transpired. It was only thanks to a prolonged and concerted effort by the occupying powers and world opinion that Germany was able to come to terms with its past and take steps to ensure that such a crime would never be repeated.

In the case of Turkey however, responsible for the extermination of millions of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks during the death throes of the Ottoman Empire, no such pressure has been exerted, by anyone. Instead, the world community has presided in silence for almost a century over the Turkish government’s successful attempt to erase any remnant of the thousands of years of history of the Christian peoples of Anatolia, deny their genocide, foist the blame on the victims themselves and bully other countries to keep silent.

It seems that the Turks have so far got it right. The West does not care about the Christian genocide, despite the fact that the Ottoman propensity to massacre Christians was condemned in the English parliament by Gladstone as far back as 1878, and US diplomats on the ground, such as George Horton and Henry Morgenthau wrote extensively on Ottoman officials’ attitudes to the genocide as it was taking place. The West does not care that Turkey continues to treat what little is left of its minorities on a quid pro quo basis, closing the Halki Theological School, but allowing Christian worship in Panayia Soumela on 15 August, reconstructing an Armenian church in Diyarbakir (why does it need reconstruction if the genocide did not take place?) but re-converting Saint Sophia in Trapezounta, a unique example of Byzantine Pontian artistry and until lately a museum, into a mosque, thus denigrating the memories of all those hapless Pontic Greeks who have been slaughtered because of their religious persuasion ever since the downfall of the Empire of Trapezounta in 1461. For the West, Turkey’s strategic position, its role as a power broker in the volatile Middle East, its burgeoning economy, all these considerations have taken precedence over any human rights considerations.

The hypocrisy is stark and blatant. Syria is a terrorist state whose leader must be removed while on the other hand, Turkey is permitted to invade sovereign nations such as Cyprus, with impunity. Enough said.

Proof of the indulgence of Turkey in relation to its culpability for the terrible crime of genocide is the audacity and cynicism with which Turkey treats its ‘friends,’ when they raise the issue. Despite Kemal Ataturk’s assertion that: “Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace,” which supposedly underlies Australian attempts to popularize the ANZAC legend by linking it to an ‘honourable’ enemy, it has become apparent of late that the slumber of slaughtered Australian soldiers upon “friendly” soil is now negotiable.

In a cynical and insulting attempt to hold Australian history to ransom, the Republic of Turkey has sensationally stated that certain Australian legislators are not welcome to take part in Anzac celebrations in Gallipoli, as a consequence for the New South Wales Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament  passing a motion recognising the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Genocides.

In response, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has released a statement stating that those who were responsible for this motion will “doubtlessly be deprived of the hospitality and friendship  normally extended to Australians. ..These persons who try to damage the spirit of Çanakkale/Gallipoli will also not have their place in the Çanakkale ceremonies where we commemorate together our sons lying side by side in our soil.”

Of course, no mention is made of the fact that in order to facilitate the defence of Gallipoli, that peninsula was ethnically cleansed of tens of thousands of Greeks. We can’t mention this, lest Turkey has another hissy fit and bans us from importing Turkish delight. Further, we are not permitted to mention the fact that one of the soldiers decorated by Ataturk himself for the defence of Gallipoli was an Armenian, Sarkis Torossian. Turkish historiography has repeatedly attempted to write him out of history. The Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglou has stated: “We are going to make the year of 1915 known the whole world over, not as an anniversary of a genocide as some people claimed and slandered (sic), but we shall make it known as a glorious resistance of a nation – in other words, our defence of Gallipoli.” As Robert Fisk points out, Turkish nationalism is supposed to win out over history. Descendants of those who died with the Anzac troops at Gallipoli, however, might ask their Turkish hosts in 2015 why they do not honour those brave Arabs and Armenians – including Captain Torossian, who fought alongside the Ottoman Empire and now are being deleted by what appears to be racist regime that cannot permit the existence of the other within its history, let alone the peaceful co-existence of the native Christian peoples of Anatolia within its boundaries.

«Ηθικός αυτουργός» is  a Greek expression that literally signifies a moral perpetrator – that is, not an actual commissioner of a crime but rather a person who, either aided, abetted, encouraged or otherwise covered up a crime. The West’s inability or disinclination to take Turkey to task about the first European genocide of the twentieth century, renders them «ηθικοί αυτουργοί»  of that crime. It is the West’s indifference to the Armenian Genocide after all that led Hitler to remark famously: "Who after all speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" on22 August 1939 and to consider that he could perpetrate the Holocaust with immunity.

Turkish diplomacy is clever. My guess is that instead of inspiring feelings of outrage among veteran groups and ordinary Australians as to how its elected MP’s and indeed the ANZAC legend is being held to ransom for political purposes, those self-same groups and the populace at large will instead turn its outrage at the victims of the Genocide and their descendants and blame them for tainting the ANZAC celebrations with petty politicking and lobbying on an issue of no concern to the ANZAC’s or Australians in general.

This is because firstly, we have failed to educate Australians that their legend is based on the mass slaughter and ethnic cleansing of the Greeks of Gallipoli. Secondly, even if we did adequately explain this, it is doubtful whether this would elicit any sympathy, for the same reason that while the Boston shootings can cause a deserved outpouring of sympathy for its victims, thousands can perish miserably in Bangladesh, Syria or Iraq daily without the public batting an eyelid. Quite simply: the West’s treatment of such catastrophes reeks of orientalism and is based on political and racial considerations. Quite frankly, Australian citizens will resent having national myth yoked to events pertaining to some of its minorities. And in doing so, they and the Federal Government who will now doubt go into damage control and reassure Turkey that there is no question of the Genocide being recognised on a federal level, are also quite happy to allow denialists to pour salt in the wounds of survivors and their descendants, sending the message to other would be genocidal criminals that such behaviour can bear no ill consequences, if you have the right friends who need you.

Whatever other low act of obfuscation is attempted by a Turkish government feverishly insecure about its past and increasingly unable to explain the inexplicable in the face of a growing acknowledgement by scholars that the Christian Genocide in Anatolia is a fact,  we at least can be satisfied in this: Despite their best efforts, the perpetrators of this crime did not manage to wipe us off the face of the earth, as they intended. We are here and always will be, mute reminders of the fact that we, as a people survived and that as long as we do survive, they know that they will not get away with it.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 25 May 2013