via Asbarez, a video conversation with US vice president Joe Biden discusses the process of Armenian genocide recognition. Biden claims that he was asked by Armenia’s president not to press on the issue of genocide due to talks with Turkey regarding border reopening. He also says Turks must admit the past.
UPDATE: The US Embassy in Armenia has issued a press release effectively denying Biden’s claims that he was asked by Armenia’s president to delay Armenian genocide recognition.
The Turkish government has signed another prominent former congressional leader to join its K Street team.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and others at his firm, Dickstein Shapiro, are working on a $35,000-per-month contract for Turkey, according to records on file with the Justice Department.
One issue Hastert and others lobbying for Turkey will have to deal with this year is a congressional resolution that defines the killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks in the early 1900s as genocide. The Turkish government opposes the resolution and has lobbied against it every time it has been introduced in Congress.
The irony, of course, is that Armenian lobbies are indirectly benefiting their enemies by pushing so hard for the genocide resolution through Congress.
Maybe the lobby should prioritize solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for one year and put the genocide resolution on hold for a while? If they do so, Hastert and other political sell-outs will no longer be recession-proof – and a return of the resolution in one or two year would meet an unprepared opposition.
Barack Obama didn’t pronounce “Armenian Genocide” in Turkey, but he said the following in front of the Turkish parliament:
…An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens.
I say this as the President of a country that not too long ago made it hard for someone who looks like me to vote. But it is precisely that capacity to change that enriches our countries…
Another issue that confronts all democracies as they move to the future is how we deal with the past…our country still struggles with the legacy of our past treatment of Native Americans.
Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there are strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. While there has been a good deal of commentary about my views, this is really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive…
Earlier in Turkey, during a press conference, Obama had the following Q&A with his hometown newspaper Chicago Tribune’s Christy Parsons:
Q Thank you, Mr. President. As a U.S. senator you stood with the Armenian-American community in calling for Turkey’s acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide and you also supported the passage of the Armenian genocide resolution. You said, as President you would recognize the genocide. And my question for you is, have you changed your view, and did you ask President Gul to recognize the genocide by name?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, my views are on the record and I have not changed views. What I have been very encouraged by is news that under President Gul’s leadership, you are seeing a series of negotiations, a process, in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a whole host of longstanding issues, including this one.
I want to be as encouraging as possible around those negotiations which are moving forward and could bear fruit very quickly very soon. And so as a consequence, what I want to do is not focus on my views right now but focus on the views of the Turkish and the Armenian people. If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage them.
And so what I told the President was I want to be as constructive as possible in moving these issues forward quickly. And my sense is, is that they are moving quickly. I don’t want to, as the President of the United States, preempt any possible arrangements or announcements that might be made in the near future. I just want to say that we are going to be a partner in working through these issues in such a way that the most important parties, the Turks and the Armenians, are finally coming to terms in a constructive way.
Q So if I understand you correctly, your view hasn’t changed, but you’ll put in abeyance the issue of whether to use that word in the future?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I’d like to do is to encourage President Gul to move forward with what have been some very fruitful negotiations. And I’m not interested in the United States in any way tilting these negotiations one way or another while they are having useful discussions.
While some Armenians seem unhappy with Obama’s statement – there is now a SHAME ON YOU OBAMA Facebook group – I find Obama’s words tactfully affirmative. He indirectly said that genocide took place but that he won’t use the word “genocide” in Ankara as far as Turkey can demonstrate that there are fruitful negotiations for “full” normalization with Armenia which will itself, hopefully, result in genocide recognition. Specifically, he stated that 1) You know that I think Turkey committed genocide but I won’t use the word genocide since 2) there seems to be real hope for normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations, 3) but Turkey needs to demonstrate that the normalization is process is real and that the normalization is a “full normalization”, and (4) the latter should automatically include genocide recognition by Turkey. In Turkish professor Taner Akcam’s words, “[Obama] really pushed the borders, in a very positive and very smart way.”
In several days, Barack Obama will visit Ankara. In largely Muslim Turkey, America’s popular president is still a favorite. But how will Obama deal with a human rights issue he has long considered a matter of principle?
President Obama will undoubtedly be asked by journalists in Turkey of his views about a newly introduced Congress bill recognizing the WWI Armenian Genocide.
How will he react? How should he react?
Scenario A: Obama will avoid public questions about the genocide. Asked by reporters if he supports the congressional resolution, Obama will stay away from comment or say he doesn’t oppose it. This is what many Armenian-Americans hope for: if Obama stays out of the genocide resolution, it will pass. But by staying out from such a vibrant development, Obama will let Congress undermine his authority as foreign policy chief. He can’t afford Congress run the show.
Scenario B: Obama will acknowledge in his reaction the Armenian Genocide (like he did in 2005 in Baku when confronted by angry Azerbaijani journalists) and try to justify the move. Obama will have limited time and much pressure in his reaction. It won’t be a good articulation and he may regret the consequences. He can’t afford ruining a press conference in his first foreign policy trip.
Scenario C: Obama will say he doesn’t support the resolution, condemn the Armenian Genocide but use the most elegant linguistic exercise to avoid usage of “genocide” itself. If his does this, he will mimic George W. Bush. Obama can’t afford being George W. Bush.
Is there hope for genocide recognition without nationalist backlash in Turkey and without undermining the presidency in the US? Yes there is – but there may be one and only one option: Obama needs to be proactive.
Most scenarios on Obama’s handling of the Armenian Genocide issue are of reactive measure: how he will respond and what he will answer. Instead, Obama needs a proactive approach.
In his Turkey speech before the Q&A, Obama should talk about honor and genocide. He should say the following:
“I represent one of the best stories on earth, one of the best countries in history, and of the most proud places in the Universe. And the country I love more than anything else has its dark sides. You see, America was founded on the corpses of its native people who were subjected to genocide and destruction. Acknowledging this fact doesn’t make America a worse place. In fact, it is by recognizing history that Americans can claim greatness. It is my hope that the great people of Turkey will do the same – acknowledge and denounce the destruction of the Armenian community during WWI who, like Native Americans, saw genocide and destruction.”
Many Turks have justly noted that America should see its own problems before denouncing others’. If Obama recognizes the genocide of Native Americans in Turkey, he will maximize the chances of finding an audience ready to listen and accept. And after that speech, there won’t even be a need for a congressional resolution.
The government’s human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas. The public’s right to peacefully change the government was restricted in the October presidential election. Torture and beating of persons in police and military custody resulted in three deaths, and law enforcement officials acted with impunity. Prison conditions were generally harsh and life threatening. Arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of individuals considered by the government to be political opponents, and lengthy pretrial detention continued. The government continued to imprison persons for politically motivated reasons. Pervasive corruption, including in the judiciary and law enforcement, continued. Restrictions on freedom of assembly continued, particularly in terms of political organizing, peaceful protests, and religious activity. Restrictions and pressure on the media and restrictions on political participation worsened. The government imposed restrictions on the activities of some unregistered Muslim and Christian groups. Cases of violence against women were also reported. Trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation and forced labor remained a problem.
The US State Department has released the 2008 Human Rights Report.
The report on Armenia harshly – if not unprecedentedly – criticizes the government for human rights abuses, with the March 1 post-election clashes as the pinnacle of oppression.
The summary, in part, states:
The government’s human rights record deteriorated significantly during the year, with authorities and their agents committing numerous human rights abuses, particularly in connection with the presidential elections and the government’s suppression of demonstrations that followed. Authorities denied citizens the right to change their government freely and citizens were subject to arrest, detention, and imprisonment for their political activities. Authorities used force, at times lethal, to disperse political demonstrations. Authorities used harassment and intrusive application of bureaucratic measures to intimidate and retaliate against government opponents. Police beat pretrial detainees and failed to provide due process in some cases. The National Security Service (NSS) and the national police force acted with impunity for alleged human rights abuses. Authorities engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention.
Prison conditions remained cramped and unhealthy. Authorities imposed arbitrary restrictions on freedom of assembly and the press, particularly through harsh measures imposed during the state of emergency. Journalists continued to practice self-censorship. The government and laws restricted religious freedom. Violence against women and spousal abuse, trafficking in persons, and discrimination against persons with disabilities and homosexuals was also reported.
The full report on Armenia is at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/eur/119066.htm.
Three years after a cemetery dating back to the 9th Century was deliberately destroyed in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, bloggers recall an ancient culture annihilated and condemn the world for closing its eyes to what many consider to be an official attempt to rewrite history.
Today is the commemoration of the 3rd anniversary of Djulfa’s destruction. …This [is] not only a crime against Armenian culture, but against our collective cultural heritage as humankind. Don’t let it go unnoticed.
Between 10-16 December 2005 over a hundred uniformed men were videotaped destroying the Djulfa cemetery using sledgehammers, cranes, and trucks. The video was taken from across the border in Iran.
Азербайджанские власти на протяжении всего советского периода старались уничтожить этот некрополь, поскольку для них он был всего лишь свидетельством о том, что именно армяне были хозяевами этой территории на протяжении веков, вопреки тому, что говорилось в азербайджанских советских мифах о собственной “древности”… Это кладбище, вполне достойное названия чуда, было даже не внесено в реестр архитектурных памятников Азербайджана… После распада СССР, во время карабахского конфликта, продолжалось разорение кладбища, и, наконец, оно было окончательно уничтожено….
The Azeri authorities throughout all Soviet period tried to destroy this necropolis as for them it was only a testament that Armenians were owners of this territory throughout centuries in spite of Azerbaijan’s Soviet myths about own “antiquity”… This cemetery, quite worthy to be called a wonder, was not even placed on the register of architectural monuments of Azerbaijan… After USSR’s collapse, during the Karabakh conflict, the cemetery’s demolition continued, and, at last, definitively destroyed….
آنان از سنگ قبر ارامنه هم نگذشته اند و با تخریب دوازده هزار قبر با سنگ قبر هایی منحصر به فرد که متعلق به چند قرن پیش بوده و جزئی از میراث فرهنگی ارامنه به حساب می آمد، هیچ اثری از ارمنی نشین بودن آنجا، بجا نگذاشته اند.
[After acquiring Nakhichevan, Azeris] did not even tolerate Armenian gravestones. They destroyed twelve thousand Armenian graves. These unique gravestones with several centuries’ history were part of Armenian cultural heritage. However, through destruction of these gravestones, [Azeris] destroyed all signs indicating the existence of Armenians in that land. [translated by Loosineh M.]
iArarat, remembers Djulfa by discussing Robert Bevan’s The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War, a book that was “part of a class I teach at a Texas university on nationalism and ethno-political conflicts.”
While reading Bevan’s book I was inevitably reminded of the destruction of the medieval Armenian cemetery in Jugha, presently in Azerbaijan. Azeri soldiers at the command of their superiors without as much as blinking an eye would embark at destroying and erasing the last vestige of the Armenian civilization in that territory as if the Armenians had never as much as existed there, as if Armenians had never as much as created anything, something to celebrate their faith and commemorate their dead…
Adding insult to injury, earlier this month Baku, Azerbaijan hosted a little-noticed two-day conference of Council of Europe culture ministers to discuss “Intercultural dialogue as the basis for peace and sustainable development in Europe and its neighboring regions.” In his opening remarks to the attendees Azeri president Ilham Aliyev, astonishingly claimed:
“Azerbaijan has rich history and the cultural monuments here are duly preserved, and a lot is being done in this direction…”
[T]he Armenian Ministry of Culture failed to deliver a message by boycotting the conference. They either should have properly boycotted the conference by making an appropriate statement explaining the reasons for non-participation, or they should have participated there to raise the all important issues of destruction of Armenian cultural heritage in Azerbaijan, as well as protecting and restoring the multinational cultural heritage in all three South Caucasus countries [Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan].
old-dilettante [RU], says that Djulfa’s destruction was the last stage of Azerbaijan’s attempt to eradicate Nakhichevan’s Armenian heritage. Commenting on a post about churches in Georgia, she writes:
Теперь там не найдется ни одной армянской церкви, несмотря на фотографии и книги, изданные всего ничего – лет 20 тому назад. Все церкви уничтожены. Все могилы. Все хачкары.
И кто через 20 лет скажет, что там вообще жили армяне? … А ведь мой дед был “местным жителем”.
…Now, not a single Armenian church will be found [in Nakhichevan] despite of photographs, some as recent as 20-years-old. All churches are annihilated. All cemeteries. All khatchkars.
And who will say in 20 years that Armenians ever lived there? … It wasn’t that long ago that my own grandfather was a “local” there.
In Baku Armenian cemeteries with less historical but more immediate sentimental value to many (including my family whose three generations made their home in Baku for nearly a century) were paved over for roads or new construction. That does not justify the disrespect they were afforded but makes some remote sense.
In the case of Jugha khachkars stood in the middle of nowhere and were simply crushed, dismembered, thrown into the river. They were targeted and wiped out as the last remaining Armenian outpost.
Sarcastically, the journalist-blogger considers how other Armenian monuments on Azerbaijani territory could be protected.
Now I am thinking, perhaps Armenians should disassemble the remaining Azeri mosques and gravestones on their territory and exchange them for the khachkars and other Armenian heritage items of value?
Certainly some of the Azeri items have cultural value for Armenia and I would rather not see them go. But what other options are there?
Reacting to a comment on his above-mentioned post, Ivan Kondratiev [RU] also says that if Azerbaijanis wanted to cleanse their territory of Armenian heritage, they could have at least given the monuments to Armenia even if such a transfer would amount to acknowledging Djulfa’s Armenian history.
[T]here is reason to be optimistic that [Barack Obama’s] foreign policy team will… have a very different response to the ongoing stonewalling by the Azeris than [current US Secretary of State] Rice’s utter disinterest [about Djulfa’s destruction], which is rooted in the Bush administration’s pro-Azerbaijani, pro-Turkey foreign policy.
In addition to secretary of state nominee Hillary Clinton […] prospective U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has a particular interest in genocide and is an advocate of military action to stop mass killings, rather than ineffective “dialogue” as slaughters continue apace. And Harvard professor Samantha Power, author of “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” (2002), has been quietly advising Obama behind the scenes […].
Given that past is prologue, with these women’s combined emphasis on championing human rights and genocide prevention, it will not be easy for the Obama administration to ignore or overlook the genocide that preceeded – and encouraged – all others in the 20th and 21st centuries, or the ongoing “cultural genocides” in Azerbaijan and Turkey against the archeological remains of a once-thriving, centuries-old Armenian population that is no more.
More photographs of the cemetery, before and after its destruction, are available at www.djulfa.com.
Peter Balakian has published an essay in New York Times Magazine that will be included in the 10th, upcoming edition of his Black Dog of Fate. Balakian tells the story of how he smuggled bones of Armenian genocide victims from the Syrian desert to the United States. Here is much of the essay:
For Armenians, Der Zor has come to have a meaning approximate to Auschwitz. Each, in different ways, an epicenter of death and a systematic process of mass-killing; each a symbolic place, an epigrammatic name on a dark map. Der Zor is a term that sticks with you, or sticks on you, like a burr or thorn: “r” “z” “or” — hard, sawing, knifelike. Der Zor: A place to which hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915 and 1916 were forced to march, a final destination in the genocide of the Armenians carried out by the Ottoman Turkish government under the cover of World War I.
In May 2005, after I was invited to lecture in Beirut through the auspices of the U.S. State Department, the Armenian church arranged for me to travel into Syria — to Aleppo, an important city of refuge during the Armenian genocide, and farther east to Der Zor.
I realized now that Der Zor was a huge region of arid land. After a couple of hours of nothing but the occasional flock of sheep, the car stopped in the middle of nowhere, and up the hill at the side of the road I saw a small chapel of white stone.
“This is Margadeh,” my guide, Father Nerseh, said. “About 15 years ago, the Syrian government was doing some exploration for oil here and put their steam shovels in the ground, and piles of bones came up.”
“Right here,” I said pointing down.
“Yes.” He explained that the Syrian government had offered the Armenian church a plot of land for a memorial.
I walked up the slope toward the chapel. I put my hand in the dirt, grazing the ground, and came up with hard white pieces. “Our ancestors are here,” I muttered. Then I began, without thinking, picking up handfuls of dirt, sifting out the bones and stuffing them in my pockets. I felt the porous, chalky, dirt-saturated, hard, infrangible stuff in my hands. A piece of hip socket, part of a skull. Nine decades later.
I filled my pockets with bones, compelled to have these fragments with me as I continued up the hill to the chapel. The floor was cool, and behind the altar was a wall of alabaster with a carved cross. With the evening sun pouring through a yellow glass window, the whole space was floating in saffron light. I tried to empty my head and let go of the graveyard I was standing in, to let go of myself. Let the breath go in, go out.
On the plane back to the United States, I kept waking and sleeping. It wasn’t until we were over Labrador that I realized I was carrying organic matter from another country. The declaration card asked: Are you bringing with you fruits, plants, cell cultures, “soil, or have you visited a farm/ranch/pasture outside the United States?” The bones, now in resealable bags, were caked with soil, and although they weren’t cell cultures, what were they now, 90 years later?
I reached down into my briefcase and felt them through the plastic, glancing around to see if a flight attendant might be looking. What could I say? These are bones of my countrymen? I had visited a pasture of bones in the Syrian desert? This one might be from my grandmother’s first husband; this one from a farmer from Sivas. I filled out my declaration card. “Are you bringing with you … ?”
I put an X in the “No” column.
As I stood in line at customs at Kennedy Airport, I remembered my State Department hosts telling me that, because of where I’d been, they might want to check my bags. But the customs agent looked at my passport, looked at me, then stamped the passport and said, “Welcome back.”
Too short for Armenians and too long for the Turkish government, a two-hour CNN documentary by Christiane Amanpour on genocide includes a 45-second mention of the WWI extermination of Ottoman Empire’s indigenous Armenian population. Premiered on December 4, 2008, Scream Bloody Murder has made many Armenian bloggers angry, leading them to recall Hitler’s rhetoric for impunity, “Who, after all, remembers the Armenians?”
Armenia-based blogger, photographer and designer Arsineh had concerns even before watching the documentary. Writing on Ars Eye View, she says:
I’m preparing to watch the program for myself, but given this much prior information, I have to ask. If you are going to cover the epidemic of genocide, starting with the campaign to criminalize genocide, continue to show the struggle so many have endured to (as you titled your program) “SCREAM BLOODY MURDER” while the world turned a deaf ear only to allow genocide to continue around the world, shouldn’t you be talking about the biggest cover up of genocide, the very one which inspired Lemkin to coin the word, the very one which also inspired Adolf Hitler to follow through with the Holocaust? Afterall, it’s this denial that scares CNN from ever using the word “Genocide” in their reporting on related matters.
Writing in detail, West of Igdir says a previous CNN press release suggested the coverage of the Armenian Genocide was going to be more intense.
The release specifically mentioned Armenia as one of the cases of genocide it would be examining. This naturally created some excitement that finally a major news organization would be dedicating a program partly to the so often overlooked Armenian Genocide of 1915 and inform a nationwide audience about it.
I had been feeling hopeful about the documentary and might have given it more of a pass on this omition until I saw this interactive map on the section of Scream Bloody Murder section of CNN’s website about the world’s killing fields. It appears that despite the fact when it had first been announced Armenia was prominently mentioned as one of the examples of genocide that would be covered, it was overlooked as being pinpointed on the interactive map as an example of genocide.
Clearly the documentary did not go unnoticed in Turkey, despite the fact it says almost nothing about the Armenian Genocide, as the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet yesterday declared “Genocide feature worrisome.”