Editorial, 9 February 2015
“No other nation and ethnic group seems to see such a degree of antagonism, misinformation, misappropriation and distortion against their own history more than the Armenians.”–Vahan A. Setyan
“Language as a Fingerprint” (page 72, The Armenian LLC, 2014).
Mr. Setyan’s overstatement is understandable considering the centuries of unfair and unjust treatment Armenians and Armenia have been dished by Western historians. The ugly tradition continues today not only in history books but also in the general mass media.
How many times have you looked into the index of history books to check whether Armenia/Armenians are mentioned and then shut the book in frustration because we don’t exist in the book? And sometimes, when we are mentioned, it’s in a repetitive boiler-plate format: “Alexander the Great/Romans/Persians/Arabs/Turks (take your pick) conquered Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, Armenia…” Always conquered, always occupied. Never making a difference; never contributing to civilization. About 4,300-year history and not a single significant person or achievement to show for it, if one is to believe these “scholars”. We are the Invisible Nation.
In 19th century history books we play two roles: agitator; victim of massacre. We also couldn’t please the Westerner chronicling his/her trip through the Ottoman Empire. If the Armenian was poor or dressed in traditional costume, he was mocked or vilified for his backwardness while his clergy was branded obscurantist, superstitious. The churches were decorated in bad taste. If the Armenian was educated and had adopted some Western ways, he was dismissed for his ‘airs and pretensions’ while the brigand Turk or Kurd was hailed as a natural or heroic-looking man in colorful traditional costume.
In history books of the early 20th century we were given a “half a pass” by these writers because the West was fighting the Ottomans, our executioners. When Armenia became part of the “godless” Soviets, we vanished for 70 years. Western historians, who mentioned Armenians and the First World War, also made the point that we had egged the Ottoman Turks by aiding its enemy Russia…and thus, sort of, got what was coming to us. This narrative persists today.
After independence we had some lukewarm attention (hopes for a staged ‘Pomegranate Revolution’?), but since then because of Azerbaijan’s petrol, caviar diplomacy and junketeering ethos, we have been pushed in the background or accused of being the offending party in the war with Alievstan.
The denial, the hiding of the Genocide is also widespread among Western “scholars”. To commemorate the First World War, leading German magazines recently published special issues about the war. Not one of them, except “Die Zeit” mentioned the Genocide. Meanwhile at the Berlin German Historical Museum, a small section was dedicated to Genocide documentarian Armin Wagner but “genocide” was again absent from the display. Earlier this month, MSNBC featured “10 Special Anniversaries Across the Globe”. The Genocide was, of course, not among them, although “80 Years Since Aya Sofia Became a Mosque” was.
As if the standard anti-Armenian narrative or dismissal of the Armenians were not enough, in the past few months a group of mercenary writers (Ilan Aran, Tal Buenos, Ariel Cohen, Amanda Paul, Brenda Schaffer, Thomas de Waal, etc.) have made a brand-new concerted attempt to attack Armenians so as to strengthen relations between Azerbaijan and Israel. Dragging that 100% fail-proof “anti-Semitism” tag, they have accused Armenians of hating Jews. The root of the falsehood is the notorious Anti-Defamation League’s “survey” (See Keghart.com June 1, 2014). The “facts” revealed by that unscientific survey is parroted as God’s truth by these dubious journalists. There’s, of course, no mention in any of their articles that many Armenians are disappointed by Israel’s refusal to recognize the Genocide and thus may bear negative feelings towards Israel but not against Jews. Israel not only denies the undeniable but its US lobby has been Turkey’s most effective anti-Armenian weapon in the US. It’s that lobby which has made sure the US will not recognize the Genocide. So why shouldn’t some Armenians be unhappy with Israel? Armenia recognizes the Holocaust and has a monument dedicated to it. Jews in Armenia have never complained about discrimination. Armenians have also preserved ancient Jewish cemeteries.
Countless acres of forests have been felled in the past year to meet Western publisher demand for fat history books on the occasion of the centenary of the First World War: “World War I” by Jennifer D. Keene, “Gardens of Hell” by Patrick Gariepy, “The Month That Changed the World” by Gordon Martel, “A Mad Catastrophe” by Geoffrey Wawro, “War of Attrition” William Philpott, “The Sleepwalkers” by Christopher Clarke, “Catastrophe” by Max Hastings, “The Great and Holy War” by Philip Jenkins…With rare exceptions these tomes (average page count 600) do not mention Armenians, let alone the Genocide. In Margaret MacMillan’s 739-page “The War That Ended Peace”, Armenia is mentioned once and in passing, along with Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The First World War was the result of European colonial greed and rivalry for dominance. Although Armenians had no say in the war, they were among its primary victims: the European conflagration gave the opportunity to Ottoman Turkey to slay 1.5-million Armenians and drive the rest from their 4,000-year-old homeland into the four corners of the world. Yet, to this day, no European historian has come forth and acknowledged that the Genocide couldn’t have occurred had it not been for the European martial madness. We were just collateral damage. What counts are the bravery and casualties at Mons, Dieppe, Somme, Ypres, Marne… their sons who were victims of their rulers’ greed and folly.
And when these same Western historians accuse Armenians of siding with Tsarist Russia, they neglect to mention that IF the Armenians sided with Russia, they had every reason to do so: they had been subjected to centuries of persecution, pogroms, and massacres (as late as in the mid-1890s and in 1909) by the Ottomans. Besides, it was the Ottomans who attacked Russia first and the Armenians who fought on the Russian side had no option: they were conscripted as they were citizens of Russia. Finally, these same Western writers who cast aspersions against the Armenians, shy away from mentioning that the West made promises before, during, after the Genocide that were not kept.
Why the hostility towards Armenians? Why do we continue to get short shrift in the Western media?
Did it start in the Middle Ages with our refusal to recognize the Pope as the head of our Church or because Cilicia Armenians became hostile to the Crusaders when they discovered their so-called Christian saviors were colonialists? Was it because we—as “Levantines”—were not sufficiently humble towards Western travelers in the Ottoman Empire or that our merchants posed serious competition to Western carpetbagging merchants? Was it because the Ottomans had to be courted for commercial, military, political reasons? Was it because Armenia was part of the Soviet Union? Consider that soon after the Genocide, when America decided it was more advantageous to come to terms with Turkey, its high commissioner in Istanbul said Armenians as “…have little or no national spirit and have poor moral character.”
What can we do to change the false perception?
Petroleum is thicker than blood. ‘Turkbeijan’ has the money; but we have the truth. We can’t change the posture of vile “think tanks” (the petrie dish of some of these ‘writers’) that are the strategic instruments of their pro-Turkey governments. We can’t change the policies of media outlets which are mostly owned by multinationals whose heart belongs to the Wall Street or London’s City. Consider that before being a media outlet, a publication, TV or radio is first of all a profit-making business. Most of their employees, aware of corporate interests and prejudices, practice self-censorship. They claim to be independent but in fact they have internalized the basic assumptions of the corporations which employ them. Thus, no mainstream publication has dared declare George W. Bush and Tony Blair war criminals. They know not to cross the red line.
We should build bridges with independent and progressive publishers, authors, editors, writers willing to tell the truth. People like Robert Fisk, Jeremy Scahill, Laura Flanders, and outlets such as The Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, Salon, Al-Monitor, Harper’s, Nation, AlterNet, Democracy Now, Mother Jones, Canadian Dimension and Tomorrow Magazine. Let’s arm them with the facts so they can tell the truth about Armenians with a louder voice. 1915 is crucial. Let’s try to change the perceptions of, at least, some of the global public. Let’s find sympathetic ears and hearts.