Archive for the 'Genocide' Category

The Independent: Hidden Armenians

Robert Fisk has another moving and provoking column on the Armenian Genocide in The Independent:

“”It’s a tiny book, only 116 pages long, but it contains a monumental truth, another sign that one and a half million dead Armenians will not go away. It’s called My Grandmother: a Memoir and it’s written by Fethiye Cetin and it opens up graves. For when she was growing up in the Turkish town of Marden, Fethiye’s grandmother Seher was known as a respected Muslim housewife. It wasn’t true. She was a Christian Armenian and her real name was Heranus. We all know that the modern Turkish state will not acknowledge the 1915 Armenian Holocaust, but this humble book may help to change that. Because an estimated two million Turks – alive in Turkey today – had an Armenian grandparent.


As children they were put on the death marches south to the Syrian desert but – kidnapped by brigands, sheltered by brave Muslim villagers (whose own courage also, of course, cannot be acknowledged by Turkey) or simply torn from their dying mothers – later became citizens of the modern Turkey which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was to set up. Yet as Maureen Freely states in her excellent preface, four generations of Turkish schoolchildren simply do not know Ottoman Anatolia was between a quarter and a half Christian.

Heranus – whose face stares out at the reader from beneath her Muslim headscarf – was seized by a Turkish gendarme, who sped off on horseback after lashing her mother with a whip. Even when she died of old age, Fethiye tried to record the names of Heranus’s Armenian parents – Isguhi and Hovannes – but was ignored by the mosque authorities. It was Heranus, with her razor-sharp memory, who taught Fethiye of her family’s fate and this book does record in terrible detail the now familiar saga of mass cruelty, of rape and butchery.

In one town, the Turkish police separated husbands, sons and old men from their families and locked the women and children into a courtyard with high walls. From outside came blood-curdling shrieks. As Fethiye records, “Heranus and her brothers clung to their mother’s skirts, but though she was terrified, she was desperate to know what was going on. Seeing that another girl had climbed on to someone’s shoulders to see over the wall, she went to her side. The girl was still looking over the wall; when, after a very long while, she came down again, she said what she had seen. All her life, Heranus would never forget what came from this girl’s lip: ‘They’re cutting the men’s throats, and throwing them into the river.'”

Fethiye says she wrote her grandmother’s story to “reconcile us with our history; but also to reconcile us with ourselves” which, as Freely writes, cuts right through the bitter politics of genocide recognition and denial. Of course, Ataturk’s decision to move from Arabic to Latin script also means that vital Ottoman documents recalling the genocide cannot be consulted by most modern-day Turks. At about the same time, it’s interesting to note, Stalin was performing a similarly cultural murder in Tajikistan where he moved the largely Persian language from Arabic to Cyrillic.

And so history faded away. And I am indebted to Cosette Avakian, who sent me Fethiye’s book and who is herself the granddaughter of Armenian survivors and who brings me news of another memorial of Armenians, this time in Wales. Wales, you may ask? And when I add that this particular memorial – a handsome Armenian cross embedded in stone – was vandalised on Holocaust Memorial Day last January, you may also be amazed. And I’m not surprised because not a single national paper reported this outrage. Had it been a Jewish Holocaust memorial stone that was desecrated, it would – quite rightly – have been recorded in our national newspapers. But Armenians don’t count.

As a Welsh Armenian said on the day, “This is our holiest shrine. Our grandparents who perished in the genocide do not have marked graves. This is where we remember them.” No one knows who destroyed the stone: a request for condemnation by the Turkish embassy in London went, of course, unheeded, while in Liverpool on Holocaust Day, the Armenians were not even mentioned in the service.

Can this never end? Fethiye’s wonderful book may reopen the past, but it is a bleak moment to record that when the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was prosecuted for insulting “Turkishness”, Fethiye defended him in court. Little good it did Dink. He was murdered in January last year, his alleged killer later posing arrogantly for a picture next to the two policemen who were supposed to be holding him prisoner. It was in Dink’s newspaper Agos that Fethiye was to publish her grandmother’s death notice. This was how Heranus’s Armenian sister in America came to read of her death. For Heranus’s mother survived the death marches to remarry and live in New York.

Wales, the United States, even Ethiopia, where Cosette Avakian’s family eventually settled, it seems that every nation in the world is home to the Armenians. But can Turkey ever be reconciled with its own Armenian community, which was Hrant Dink’s aim? When Fethiye found her Aunt Marge in the US – this was Heranus’ sister, of course, by her mother’s second marriage – she tried to remember a song that Heranus sang as a child. It began with the words “A sad shepherd on the mountain/Played a song of love…” and Marge eventually found two Armenian church choir members who could put the words together.

“My mother never missed the village dances,” Marge remembered. “She loved to dance. But after her ordeal, she never danced again.” And now even when the Welsh memorial stone that stands for her pain and sorrow was smashed, the British Government could not bring itself to comment. As a member of the Welsh Armenian community said at the time, “We shall repair the cross again and again, no matter how often it is desecrated.” And who, I wonder, will be wielding the hammer to smash it next time?””

U.S. Report on the Caucasus

Asst. U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Fried has testified in front of the House Foreign Relations Committee on the South Caucasus countries.

In the introduction, Fried set the tone of the discussion. Talking about the South Caucasus countries’ relationship with NATO (which means alienation from Russia), he said:


Georgia has made a choice to join NATO. The United States and the nations of NATO welcome this choice, and Georgia’s neighbors should respect it.  Azerbaijan has chosen to develop its relations with NATO at a slower pace, and we respect its choice. Armenia’s situation is different, due to its history and currently complicated relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, and we respect its choice as well.


Speaking about Azerbaijan, Fried said that “Azerbaijan has had the world’s fastest growing economy for three consecutive years.” Talking about Nagorno-Karabakh, he said “While we support Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, Nagorno-Karabakh’s final status must be determined through negotiations and a spirit of compromise that respects international legal and political principles.” By “legal [principle] Fried means “territorial integrity,” by “political principles” he means “self-determination.” In other words, he hopes there is a golden mean to the conflict of the two. Fried finished the presentation on Azerbaijan by referencing the recent anti-Armenian rhetoric. “We hope that the Azerbaijani government will avoid the temptation of thinking that renewed fighting is a viable option. In our view, it is not. We have noted our concern with persistent bellicose rhetoric by some Azerbaijani officials.” Mr. Friend, again and again, failed to mention the 2005 destruction of the Djulfa cemetery by Azerbaijan. I will send him an e-mail shortly.

Talking about Armenia, Fried referenced the genocide by saying that Turkey needs to recognize it while Armenia needs to guarantee that it will not territorial claims against Turkey (ironically, official Armenia has always done the latter.

In Fried’s words:


Reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey, however, will require dealing with sensitive, painful issues. Turkey needs to come to terms with a dark chapter in its history: the mass killings and forced exile of up to 1.5 million Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire. That will not be easy, just as it has not been easy for the United States to come to terms with dark periods of our own past. For its part, Armenia must be ready to acknowledge the existing border and disavow any claim on the territory of modern Turkey, and respond constructively to any efforts Turkey may make.


The report went into great detail describing Armenia’s post election unrest. It said in part:


When peaceful mass protests followed the disputed vote, the United States and others pressed continuously for the government of Armenia to refrain from responding with force. However, on March 1, within hours of formal assurances by the Armenian government that they would avoid a confrontation, police entered the square. Ensuing clashes later in the day between demonstrators and security personnel led to at least 10 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Mr. Ter-Petrossian was taken to his residence by security forces, where he appeared to remain under de facto house arrest for weeks. A State of Emergency (SOE) was declared in Yerevan. Freedom of assembly and basic media freedoms were revoked. Opposition newspapers were forced to stop publishing and news websites were blocked, including Radio Liberty. The government then filled the information void with articles and broadcasts disseminating the government version of events and attacking the opposition. While it was alleged that some protesters were armed before the March 1 crackdown, there have been no convictions to date on such charges.


Ironically, Fried finished his remarks on Armenia by connecting the recent unrest (and the need to resolve it) to the absence of a US ambassador to Armenia (the Democratic-controlled U.S. senate has refused to appoint an Ambassador who refuses to refer to the Armenian Genocide as such).

Summarizing Georgia’s political situation, Fried said “Georgia’s young democracy has made progress, but Georgia needs to make more progress if it is to live up to the high standards that it has set for itself. The United States will help as it can to support democratic reform, urging the Georgian authorities to take seriously their ambition to reach European standards of democracy.”

The rest of the talk on Georgia was a detailed condemnation of Russia’s pressure on the ex-Soviet republic:


Moscow has in recent years put economic and political pressure on Georgia: closing their common border; suspending air and ground transport links; and imposing embargoes against exports of Georgian wine, mineral water, and agricultural goods. This year, despite recently lifting some of the economic and transport embargoes, Moscow has intensified political pressure by taking a number of concrete steps toward a de facto official relationship with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russian peacekeeping forces have been deployed since the early 1990s – up to 3,000 in Abkhazia, and 500 Russians plus 500 North Ossetians in South Ossetia. In March, Russia announced its unilateral withdrawal from Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) sanctions on Abkhazia, which would allow Russia potentially to provide direct military assistance (though the Russian government has offered assurances that it will continue to adhere to military sanctions). On April 16, then-President Putin issued instructions calling for closer ties between Russian ministries and their Abkhaz and South Ossetian counterparts. Russian investors are known to be buying property in Abkhazia in disregard of Georgian law. Some of these properties may have belonged to displaced persons, making their eventual return even more difficult. Russian banks maintain correspondent relationships with unlicensed and virtually unregulated Abkhaz banks, an open invitation to money launderers. 


Interestingly, if you take Fried’s words for real there is no discrimination against minorities in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. While the U.S. State Department official repeatedly refers to “separatists,” there are no talk about discrimination against minorities and destruction of minority culture in either of the South Caucasus republics.

The report also lacks mentioning human trafficking, which is very prevalent in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Fighting and preventing human trafficking is a major step of building democracy.

The Q&A transcript hasn’t been posted as of June 18, 2008.

Cambodia Bans Olympic Torch for Darfur Event

The traveling Olympic torch for Darfur – a symbolic gesture asking the Chinese government to press the Sudanese regime in order to stop the genocide in Darfur – has been denied a ceremony in Cambodia amid apparent fears by the leadership of the Asian country to not anger China.

The same concern was not voiced in other countries that experienced genocide – Rwanda, Armenia, Germany and Bosnia – where the torch was taken to before traveling to Cambodia.

According to Australia’s Courier Mail:

ACTOR Mia Farrow has been barred from holding a ceremony at a notorious Khmer Rouge prison as part of a campaign to pressure China to end abuses in Darfur, a Cambodian official said.

The American actor has started an Olympic-style torch relay through countries that have suffered genocides to draw attention to China’s close ties with Sudan, as Beijing prepares to host the Games in August.

The campaign aims to push Beijing to pressure Sudan into ending the violence in Darfur, where the United Nations estimates that at least 200,000 people have died in five years of war, famine and disease.

Her group, Dream for Darfur, had planned to hold a ceremony on Sunday outside the Khmer Rouge’s former prison, Tuol Sleng, which is now a genocide museum.

But interior ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the event would not be allowed.

“The Olympic Games are not a political issue. Therefore, we won’t allow any rally to light a torch,” he said.

“We will not support the activity. We will not allow them to politicise the Olympic Games,” he said, warning the group could face prosecution if they try to go ahead.

Farrow’s group said the ceremony aimed to call attention to the constructive role that China could play in the Darfur crisis.

“The symbolic Olympic torch relay is urging the Chinese Government, as both Olympic host and Sudan’s strongest political and economic partner, to use its special influence with the Sudanese Government,” the group said in a statement.

In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, China – which is by far the largest foreign investor in Sudan and absorbs almost two-thirds of its oil output – has been under mounting pressure to use its clout on Khartoum.

Cambodia would be the sixth stop for the group’s relay, which began in Chad near the Sudanese border and continued to Rwanda, Armenia, Germany and Bosnia.

Norway Ready to Send Troops to Darfur

Norway has a standing offer of sending 275 soldiers to Darfur, but so far there is no answer from UN regarding the offer.

This information was found out by a Norwegian national, a member of a Turkish-Armenian online workshop, after an Armenian member of the listserv posted a Guardian article from and suggested “we demand our governments to provide at least one helicopter.”

Maybe we can start asking our governments to send helicopters to Darfur?

Olympic Torch for Darfur in Armenia

A survivor of Darfur’s ongoing genocide (right) leaving the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, capital of the republic of Armenia, where the Olympic Torch for Darfur was lit by the eternal fire. Photo and Press release from AAA.

The torch relay is a message to China in asking to stop its support of the Sudanese regime that carries out the 21st century’s first genocide.

See story at

Genocide & Apathy: its intertwined journey

My good friend Oreet, who used to edit Blogian several years ago, has set up her own blog at  Titled the Mind of Oreety, the blog features her first post – “Genocide & Apathy: its intertwined journey.”

“Never again” the Jews proclaimed as they walked out of the ashes of Aushwitz- Birchenau, Buchenwald and all the other camps of terror, death, famine and injustice.

Such a thought, such a proclamation undoubtedly uttered and escaping out of the trembling mouths of countless individuals who have suffered at the hands of evil; the Armenians, Rwandans, and now the victims of Darfur.

The world watches, immobilized and thinking, “Such a calamity, what sorrow, but what can a mere person do under such circumstances?” Thus, one continues to view the atrocities unfolding, to take another breath, as those whom are helpless are taking their last.

The world is not in search of a savior, or a mythological creature that shall render all that is the epitome of injustice in this world nullified, but we are in search of human compassion and words to be not solely founded upon thoughts, but actions.

The Genocide and I

A story about my family (written for my Turkish friend)

Photo: Genocide survivor Takuhi holding her great-grandchild (me) in 1986

I will start telling the story of my family by saying
that I know very little about it. I know very little,
because my grandparents are now gone, and my father
doesn’t know whole a lot about yeghern because it had
been a taboo in my family for a long time. I know
very little, because there are no written documents
and written accounts about my family. But I know one
thing – I may never be able to trace my family’s
history before 1895. I always tell my girlfriend she is lucky. Her family,
who are Iranian-Armenian, have a tree, and I have a
copy, that dates back to the 1600s. 1600s, because
this was the time when Persia’s Shah Abbas forced
Djulfa’s residents to leave and establish in what is
now New Djulfa, Isfahan. Although I am jealous, she,
too, cannot trace her family’s history before 1604,
and will never be able to do so, especially when the
Azerbaijani authorities flattened to the ground the
ancient Armenian cross stones in Djulfa cemetery in 2005.
The cross stones might have included the key to her
family’s ancient history.

My own paternal family was from Urfa, now Sanliurfa in Turkey. We were known as “Magak Oglonts” (Maghakyan men), and there was a street with that name next to
Urfa’s St. Astvadzadzin (St. Mary) church. I found
the street on the 1915 self-defense map. My father
says our extensive family was very big. When his
grandfather, Hakop Maghakyan, would visit his families
in their street for holidays, it would take him the
entire day. Now, I can’t tell whether it was because
there were hundreds of Maghakyans or because they
would keep my great-grandfather in their homes for

Hakob’s father, my grandfather’s grandfather, was
Gevork Maghakyan. I know this because Hakop
Maghakyan’s gravestone says so. My father says Gevork
was shot on his head in the Armenian church of
Urfa by the Turkish militia. I suspect Gevork was one of the
3,000 Armenians who were burnt in the church in the
late 1890s.

Gevork had many sons. Some were killed, but my direct
ancestor, Hakop Maghakyan, survived. Hakop had served
in Algeria as a Turkish soldier – perhaps this would
make it easier to find out more about him – and after
participating in the self-defense, had fled to Syria
dressed up as a girl. He lost track most of his
relatives. Some had escaped and disappeared earlier
than him.

In Syria, Hakop met Sarah Ghasapyan – the mother of
his future wife. Sarah told him that she had given her
young daughter, Takuhi, to their Turkish neighbor in
an Urfan suburb village during the massacres. Sarah
thought she would never survive the deportation, and
knew that young Takuhi was safe with their friends.

When the Allies occupied Urfa after WWI, Hakob
returned to look for Takuhi, instead, she found a
Turkish child who did not recognize Sarah or anybody
from her family. The child, I think in her early
teens, did not want to leave her mother and go to
Syria. I don’t know the exact details, but she ended
up remembering her family, and agreed to go to Syria.

In couple of years, Hakop and Takuhi married. Their
first child was Sarkis, I think named after Hakob’s
murdered relative. Gevork (George) was the second one
named after Hakob’s murdered father. I don’t know who
the later brothers, Gaspar and Zaven, were named

In 1948, Hakob, Takuhi and their four sons decided to
immigrate to Soviet Armenia. In the 1970s, they were
among the ones to establish New Yedesia (Yedesia was
one of Urfa’s names) village in Soviet Armenia.

The first son of the emigrated family was Hakop
Maghakyan, my father. Before he was born, the story
says, Hakop Maghakyan Sr. woke her wife up and said,
“A king to Syria is going to be born.” I was Hakop
Jr.’s third child and second son, born in 1986.

In 2005, I went to Canada for the International
Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies
course. The president of the school, Greg
Soghomonian, said his mother was Maghakyan too. “FromUrfa?” I said. “Yes,” shockingly answered Greg. “Do you know Gevork Maghakyan?” I said. “No,” said Greg.

After a long conversation, we could not find the part
of the tree that connected us. Here we were – two
descendants of Urfa’s Maghak oghlonts who could not
connect their families. The warmness went away, and
the Genocide that had torn our stories apart was the
only thing that brought us together again. I was
there to learn genocide, and he was there to organize
genocide education. But we were not relatives any

Hope in Comedy

There is hope in the shameful comedy of the official Turkish opening of an ancient Armenian church as a museum.  Turkish newspapers are speaking out… with a surprisingly courageous and progressive voice. 

As I mentioned earlier, the Today’s Zaman has started referring to the name of the island where the church is situated on with the proper and historical name – Akhtamar.  The Turkish Daily News has published a powerful column – that makes a reference to cultural genocide of Armenian heritage in Turkey – and a reporting about the opening.

Saturday’s issue of The Turkish Daily New, for example, gives some details of the opening ceremony that nobody heard before:

A small demonstration by nationalists in Van preceded the ceremony. Everyone acted as if it had not occurred. Some Turkish officials appeared distressed when dignitaries from Armenia, which Turkey does not have diplomatic relations with, entered the church wearing small Armenian flags. There were a few strange looks when some of the Armenian guests crossed themselves at the end of the ceremony, placed dozens of candles from Armenia in various parts of the church and lit incense. And when the regional governor offered his remarks, his lack of a word of welcome to the Armenian Minister of Culture Gagik Gürciyan and Turkey’s Armenian Mesrop Mutafyan, was lost on no one. And the fact that none from the Armenian delegation were asked to speak at the ceremony was bit of silence that rang in everyone’s ears.


A column from the same newspaper’s Friday issue by Cengiz Çandar (that I encountered through made points that if they were made by Armenian authors the latter would be libeled “nationalists.”

I see hope in the Turkish newspapers.  I see more hope in Turkey overall when I found out that Taner Akcam has been acquitted of “insulting Turkishness” charges.”

It was not genocide

The International Court for Justice held today that the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s by Serb militias was not a genocide, reports the New York Times.

In short, Serbia is not guilty of genocide.

I am really confused. I mean, I am a graduate of the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies where we learned about the Bosnian genocide. An entire generation has been taught about the genocide, and today the Court says it is not genocide.

Is this to say that a court qualifies a crime a genocide? I don’t really have much to say at this time, but I have a thinkstorm going on in my mind right now and I will tell you later if I figure out what I think.

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