Christian Martyrs by Gustave Dore

Christian Martyrs by Gustave Dore

Friday, February 10, 2012

The 1915 Armenian and Assyrian Genocides: Inconvenient Precedents for the Arab Spring Revolutions

From The British Pakistani Christian Association:

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 09:51 AM PST
by Ranbir Singh of the Hindu Human Rights Group:

It was in a speech of 22 August
1939 that Hitler urged his volk to slaughter without mercy men, women and children
of the inferior Slavic race as he planned to invade Poland. He ended this speech with
these chilling words:

“Who, after all, speaks of the
annihilation of the Armenians?”

Of course it was not just the
Armenians who have been forgotten. The Assyrian nation were also prime targets
of the Ottoman policy to deliberately exterminate ancient Christian nations of
the Middle East. It has often been cited as a
template for the very Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis in which six million
Jews were deliberately wiped out in the name of racial purity. What makes it
more poignant as that there is one other very inconvenient fact that is ignored
in all this. For years we have been fed information that Israel is an
apartheid state and that the Zionists foisted their unwelcome colonialist
intentions on the Palestinian natives. But if we look back to the very genesis
of the Zionist project we find Jewish pioneers from Europe
make arable land and small communities in what was desert and malaria infested
marsh sparsely inhabited by nomadic Bedouin. This land was bought legally from
the Ottoman authorities but nevertheless alarmed the sublime Porte enough for
the caliphate to deliberately settle Circassians, Egyptians and Crimean Tatars
in the region. Sultan Abdülhamid II candidly admitted that this was because he
did not want Palestine
to become a “Second Armenia”.

The question of recognising the
Armenian genocide has become the subject of recent high level diplomatic
conflict between France and Turkey. France has made it a crime for anyone to deny
that the Armenian genocide took place, something which modern secular Turkey
continues to do so officially. For its part Turkey
has accused France of having
committed genocide on the natives in its colonisation of Algeria. There is
once again a deep poignancy to all this. It was to France
that Atatürk had turned in his efforts to make Turkey a secular, modern and
civilised nation. The French Revolution was his model and he prided himself on
being a product of the Enlightenment. But just as France
had suppressed diversity in the ideal of creating a common citizenship so too
did a secular Turkey impose
a homogenous ethnic identity on what remained of the previous Ottoman
Empire. Kurds were denied the very right to be Kurdish and were
pejoratively termed ‘Mountain Turks’. Was this so different from Algerian
schoolchildren reading history books which began with “Our ancestors the
Gauls”? Now when the Arab revolutions broke throughout 2011 there was
optimistic yet naïve talk that the new governments would steer their states
towards the much vaunted Turkish model which apparently emphasised secularism
and democracy. To say that this was clutching at straws is an understatement.
In any case it is apparent now that the new states will have strict Salafi
style governments to replace the pro-western despotisms which by contrast may
indeed have been ‘Salafist’ but were anything but moderate and secular. Just as
the National Party in South Africa did not actually invent apartheid in 1948,
but merely codified the racial segregation and discrimination against
non-whites which had been practised and even extended by the ‘liberal’
government of Jan Smuts into a statist ideological framework, the Salafi
regimes already have had much of their work done for them by dictators such as
Mubarak under whom official discrimination against minorities and rampant
anti-Semitism was rife. Calling the Salafi parties moderate will not change
this reality one iota.

To return to the relevance of Turkey how actually
secular was it? Atatürk salvaged the remnants of the Ottoman state in order to
build modern Turkey
and in doing so united all Muslims against the Christian enemy. The sultan had
actively used pan-Islamic sentiment to court Kurdish support in the First World
War and in the genocide against Armenians and Assyrians. Kurdish chieftans had
seized Armenian land after the deportations and genocide of 1915 and were
easily persuaded by Turkish nationalists to join with them as fellow Muslims in
a common resistance to wiping out the Armenians. In May 1919 the Grand Vizier
Ferit Pasha sent Mustafa Kemal to Kurdistan where he appealed to the population
using the self-styled title “saviour of Kurdistan”.
He championed the cause of the Khilafat in his appeal to Islamic sentiment to
expel the kuffar from sacred Muslim land in which he stressed the
Ottoman fraternity that bound Kurds and Turks together. Appeal to the Turkish
nation was not even on his lips here or in the Erzurman Congress of July and
August 1919. Turkish officers commanded Kurdish soldiers in order to defeat the
armies of Christian Georgia. These same largely Kurdish armies helped liberate
Anatolia for the Turks against the imperialist aspirations of Greece. But as the war progressed
Kurdish aspirations were crushed. On 1 November 1922 Kemal declared that the
new Turkish state had been created. The Treaty of Lausanne of 24 June 1923
carved up Kurdistan and established the borders of modern Turkey. Kurds were said to be equal
partners with Turks in this new state.

It was only after the
establishment of the republic that ethnic identities of Kurds, Laz and
Circassians were suppressed in favour of the surrogate faith of Turkish
nationalism which was to replace a state based on Islam. Turkish national and
racial identity is still extolled with schools, barracks and public buildings
prominently extolling slogans such as “What a joy it is to be able to call
oneself a Turk”, “A Turk is worth the whole universe” and that Turks are “the
most valiant and noble race on earth”. Republican secular Turkey
continues to deny the very historical fact of the Armenian genocide by the
Islamic empire of the Uthmani Khilafat. In ‘Hitler’s Apocalypse’ Robert
Wistrich of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem
has elaborated on how Kemal merely extended the nationalistic trends which were
evident even under the caliphate:

“The Turkish government’s objective was to
destroy the Christian Armenian population inside Turkey, which was deemed to be
actively seeking full independence or autonomy. Previously regarded as a
constituent dhimmi millet (a
non-Muslim relgious community in the Ottoman Empire) the Armenians found
themselves stereotyped as an ‘alien nationality’, especially after the
modernising rulers of Turkey adopted the new ideology of Pan-Turkism. This was
a xenophobic nationalism intended to underpin their dreams of a new empire
stretching from Anatolia to western China, based on Islam and Turkish
ethnicity. The Armenian nation, with its ancient ethnic culture and Christian
religion, stood in the way of the homogenising nationalism embraced by the
young Turks.”

Turkish-speaking Christians of Karaman were held to be Greek and hence expelled
to Greece.
But they spoke no Greek at all, only used Greek script to write their mother
tongue. When one realises that the “Turks” expelled in turn from Greece
actually spoke only Greek which they wrote in Arabic script, it was in fact a
forcible exchange of Muslim and Greek Orthodox Christian populations, since
Arabs, Kurds, Bosniaks and Albanians could be accepted as Turks because they
are Muslims. Hardly secular for a supposedly secular state. Indeed Turk
continued to equal Muslim, and non-Muslims are not considered to be Turks.
President Süleyman Demeril put it so succinctly in 1995:

“We are all
– barring non-Muslims – owners of this land.”

That same
logic was used to brutally suppress any hints of Kurdish identity as Atatürk
crushed this minority throughout his premiership. Kurds were forcibly Turkified
and forbidden from speaking their own language. In disturbing echoes of Australia’s
Stolen Generation, children were deliberately removed from Kurdish families in
order to remove the inferior racial and cultural strains. Again the genocide of
Christian minorities by both the Ottoman Empire and the caliphate’s successor
state of modern Turkey
is instructive here. Between 1925 and 1928 about a million Kurds were deported
and thousands died en route. While the survivors were dispersed throughout
Anatolia in order to make Turkification easier, ethnic Turks were settled to
dilute Kurdish demographics in Kurdistan.
Turkish language was of course enforced throughout the country, especially on
the Kurds. In 1927 in Bihandus, Lebanon,
the Hoyboun (Independence)
Congress brought together Kurdish nationalist groups who in desperation made
overtures to the Armenians. Indeed Vahan Papazyan from the Armenian nationalist
Dashrak Party attended the conference. Turkey
sensed a Kurdish-Armenian conspiracy and in 1930 persuaded Iran to cut off aid to the Kurdish revolt around
Mount Ararat. Kurdish villages suffered aerial
bombardment for months and yet again thousands were killed by the Turkish
military. In August 1930 Prime Minister Ismet Pasha triumphantly announced:

“Only the Turkish nation is entitled to claim ethnic and
national rights in this country. No other element has any such right.”

Minister of
Justice Mahmut Esat Bozhurt was even more forthright:

“We live in a country called Turkey, the freest country in the
world. As your deputy, I feel I can express my real convictions without
reserve: I believe that the Turk must be only lord, the only master of this
country. Those who are not of pure Turkish stock can have only one right in
this country, the right to be servants and slaves.”

In 1937 and
1938 the last Kurdish resistance was snuffed out in Dersim. In disturbing
echoes of the Armenian genocide, Kurds were burnt alive in barns, caves and
forests. Women and girls committed mass suicide. Kurdish identity was now
subsumed under the unconvincing label of “Mountain Turks”. Turks were a
civilised and valiant people who had attained victory over a savage and
backward enemy, an inferior race against whom Turkish nationalism could assert
itself; the Kurds. Savage repression followed with even the faintest stirrings
of Kurdishness being crushed. For example, in June 1967 the nationalist journal
Otuken carried an uncompromisingly venomous piece by one Nihaz Atsiz :

“If they want to carry on speaking a primitive language with
vocabularies of only four or five thousand words, if they want to create their
own state and publish what they like, let them go and do it somewhere else. We
Turks have shed rivers of blood to take possession of these lands; we had to
uproot Georgians, Armenians and Byzantine Greeks….let them go off wherever they
want, to Iran, to Pakistan, to India, or to join Barzani. Let them
ask the United Nations to find them a homeland in Africa.
The Turkish race is very patient, but when it is really angered it is like a
roaring lion and nothing can stop it. Let them ask the Armenians who we are,
and let them draw the appropriate conclusions.”

Colonel Alpan
Turkes enjoyed huge influence with his calls for pan-Turanianism. In 1965 he
formed Milliyetci Harekat Partisi (Nationalist Action Party) or MHP to
defend Turkey
against the twin threats of communism and Kurdish separatism. After 1967 the
MHP organised paramilitary units known as Bozkurt (Grey Wolves) to
murder and intimidate left-wing Turkish and Kurdish students. The party only
gained two seats in parliament but exerted much wider influence with its
extreme views that the Kurds had to either accept assimilation as Turks, or
face physical annihilation. Only in 2002 Turkey did make grudging reforms in
allowing Kurdish language broadcasting and education. Lack of major changes
meant that violent resistance to Turkish rule continued. Kurdish politicians
who have tried to use the existing parliamentary mechanisms to elicit change
suffer harassment by the state, including jailing and assassination. Turkey
still does not exactly encourage ethnic diversity. Many Turks are of Albanian
descent but outwardly conform as Turks. Albanian-speaking Muslim Kosovar
refugees in the 1990s were treated as outsiders. Even the late prime minister
Turgut Ozal suffered taunts from Turkish ultra-nationalists due to his
part-Kurdish origins. In Turkey
the unskilled workers operate closed shop trade unions that exclude marginal
and minority groups such as the Roma Gypsies.

Even the limited secularisation
by Kemalism has been rolled back. Since the time of Ismet Inonu, Islam has made
a comeback in Turkey.
The military is regarded as the stalwart of Kemalist secularism and the most
devoted disciple of Atatürk’s legacy. Yet after the coup of 1980 the ruling
military junta made religious lessons compulsory in order to counter the
influence of the Left. Özal’s Motherland Party had a strong Islamic element
within it. Even the pro-Islamic leader Erbekan, leader of the National
Salvation Party and later the Welfare Party, was a virulent Turkish nationalist
who wanted all of Cyprus
occupied by Turkey.

As it happens there can be no
doubt that even the much vaunted Turkish model is not going to be exported to
former Ottoman colonies. Indeed even within Turkey the Kemalist system is fast
ditching its secularism while retaining its nationalist core. Now the Arab
Spring has brought Salafi forces into dominance who seem intent on following
the Pakistani model of regression. Of course this failed state has been bolstered not just by western aid but has
become a vassal of Saudi Arabia
for some years where along with other Third World
guest workers Pakistanis toil in jobs which until 1962 would have been the
preserve of black slaves and which still offer them few rights. Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi is rife with ethnic conflict between
the country’s main ethnic groups of Sindhis, Punjabis, Pathans and Muhajirs.
The Baluch have had their aspirations crushed right from inception in their
native homeland. Failing to become full members of the Arab master race the
leaders of Pakistan
retain attachment to the language of Urdu while feeling it necessary to disown
or downplay the majority language which is often their own mother tongue of
Punjabi. Similarly we can expect to see the native inhabitants of the Maghreb know variously as Berber or Kabyle suppressed in
favour of Arabisation which has been carried out since the departure of the
French colonialists. Pakistan
also offers another sinister precedent which again brings us back to the
genocide of Armenians and Assyrians in 1915. At independence the area which is
now Pakistan
was about twenty per cent Hindu and Sikh. Where are these communities now? They
barely make up one per cent of the population. Along with much larger Christian
communities and the microscopic Kailash people extinction of these once vibrant
non-Muslim minorities is within sight as western democracies once again avert
their gaze from inconvenient facts. Of course one does not even need to look at
Witness how half of Iraq’s
Christians have fled, many into Syria
where the imminent fall of the Assad regime does not bode well for minority
Christian, Shia and the dictator’s very own Alawite community. The Assyrians of
Iraq have faced the unrelenting and uncompromising hatred of the state since
they were machine gunned by the regular army and massacred in pogroms by Arabs
and Kurds in 1933 whipped up by King Faisal’s prime minister, the pan-Arabist
Rashid Ali. While Saddam Hussain gassed the Kurds, there were elements among
the Kurdish ‘freedom fighters’ who vented their own genocidal hatred against
the Assyrians in their midst. Therefore to blame the genocide of ancient Middle
Eastern nations on simply Turkish nationalism is missing the point and is
inaccurate. Does it explain the demographic catastrophe suffered by Maronite
and other Christians who once formed the majority population in Lebanon? Or the
present situation of Iraqi Christians, the half century of slavery and genocide
against southern Sudanese, the grim future faced by Copts in Egypt? Ethnic
cleansing, forced assimilation, rape and conversion to Islam at the point of
the gun and dagger will become more commonplace. Again the precedent of Pakistan is
relevant. At partition Mahatma Gandhi urged Hindus and Sikhs to remain in the
new state of Pakistan.
The result was that they were driven out, raped, slaughtered or forcibly
converted. The same will happen to those minority groups in the post-revolution
Arab nations. Simply averting our gaze will not change this. While an earlier
generation of Jews from Iraq,
Egypt, Libya and former French North Africa found
sanctuary in Israel
where will the Christian minorities go? To a Europe
that has become increasingly secularised and simultaneously xenophobic as it
loses its cultural moorings while its economies fail? To America where
seemingly sympathetic voices on the Republican right also garner populist
support through anti-immigrant rhetoric? Hence why I have said newly
independent South Sudan may offer a way out.
This may be decried as unrealistic but is it any more unrealistic than
expecting the Salafi regimes to be ‘moderate’? Again averting our gaze will not
change the fact that we are not seeing the emergence of democracy in these
states but the growth of a lumpen flotsam element which through occasional
suppression (along of course with collaboration and co-opting) by ‘secular’
pro-western despots has made them experienced, nastier and more determined in
their dystopianism than ever.

As with Pakistan western
democracies have funded the very radical Islamic forces which now threaten the
precarious existence which minorities lived under what remained dhimmitude,
subject as they were to arbitrary powers of the state and lack of equality
before the law. In 1945 America
offered a Europe devastated by war financial
help in return for democratic governments. This Marshall Plan was aid with
strings unapologetically attached. Yet now after years of funding despots, America and Europe
think that the victorious Salafi and Wahhabi forces can be feted by what are
effectively bribes for good behaviour. As the present trials of American NGO
employees in Cairo
demonstrates this would be a disastrous miscalculation. The Salafis do not see
it as aid or assistance. They at least recognise it for what it is; a modern
updated version of the jizya tax. When will western democracies similarly open
their eyes and realise that they face an ‘Armenian’ scenario in the aftermath
of the Arab Spring? After all Saudi funded imperialism of the Maghreb will not
settle on remaining south of the Mediterranean.
Will this ‘Armenian’ lesson come too late for us? As the late Oriana Fallaci
wrote in ‘The Force of Reason’on her native Italy:

“Those coasts where still today
you can see the remains of the watchtowers used for spotting their arrival and
warning the towns and villages. And where still resounds the echo of the scream
which today is used as a mockery but at the time was a cry of terror and
despair: “Mamma, li turchi! Mother, the Turks!”.

But it is this next quote by her
which should inspire us with confidence and courage in the face of the present
adversity against those forces who would strive to take away the freedoms which
we take for granted but were only achieved after centuries of struggle:

“The moment you give
up your principles, and your values, you are dead, your culture is dead, your
civilization is dead. Period.”

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