Armenian, Assyrian and Hellenic Genocide News

Remember the First Holocaust

Posted: Wednesday, January 07, 2004 at 11:51 AM CT

"WHO NOW remembers the Armenians?" Hitler asked, just before he embarked on the destruction of European Jewry. Precious few, it seems. As the memorial day for the Nazi genocide against the Jews was proclaimed by Mr Blair this week, there was not a single reference to the slaughter of one and a half million Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915. The world's first holocaust - and Hitler's inspiration for the slaughter of the Jews - was ignored.

Why, I wonder? Mr Blair did not mention it. President Chirac is frightened of the very subject, refusing even to condemn the slaughter when he last visited Beirut, where the grandchildren of the victims live in their tens of thousands. The United States government prefers to forget the holocaust of Armenians, while the Turks - the inheritors of the empire that committed the worst atrocities of the First World War - are studiously denying the genocide. And we let them get away with it.

Who, I wonder, chooses which holocaust we should remember and which we should not? The six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis must always have a place in our history, our memory, our fears. Never again. But alas, the Armenians who perished in the rivers of southern Turkey, who were slaughtered in their tens of thousands in the deserts of northern Syria, whose wives and daughters were gang-raped and knifed to death by the gendarmerie and their Kurdish militiamen - they have no place in our memory or our history. Turkey is our friend. Turkey might one day join the European Union. Turkey is an ally of Israel.

History, of course, is a hard taskmaster, veined with inconvenient facts and corrupted heroes as well as the massacre of innocents. The Armenian community in Turkey had its Allied sympathisers when the Ottoman army was fighting the British and French in the First World War, and Armenians also fought in the tsarist Russian army against Turkey. But the proof of genocide is intact. The Young Turk movement - once a liberal organisation which the Armenians had supported - had taken control of the dying empire and adopted a "pan-Turkism" which espoused a Turkish-speaking Muslim nation from Constantinople to Baku. Within weeks of their victory over the Allies at the Dardanelles in 1915, they fell upon the Armenians. Churchill was to refer to the "merciless fury" unleashed upon the Christian minority. The US ambassador in Constantinople - himself a Jew - wrote heart-wrenching reports back to Washington of mass slaughter. Near the Turkish village of Mus, hundreds of men were lined up on bridges and shot into the rivers, Serb-style.

Behind the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Poland, I was once taken by a camp guide to a series of small lakes in which the Nazis dumped the ash of the crematoria. Beneath the water and ice lay the powdered white bones of whole cities of people. Yet in the north Syrian desert there are still skulls and bones in caves and in the clay of river banks. This place of martyrdom is visited once a year by the local Armenian community to commemorate their holocaust. They even have a holocaust memorial day. Yet I wonder if a single non-Armenian reader of The Independent knows what the date is?

Denial of the holocaust is in some countries a crime. I'm talking, of course, about the Jewish Holocaust - because denial of the Armenian holocaust is not only perfectly legal, it is big business. No American company selling weapons to Turkey will discuss the holocaust of 1915. Chairs of Ottoman studies are being funded by the Turkish government at American universities in which US academics - who have to prove they have used Ottoman archives to get their jobs and thus must never have condemned the 1915 slaughters - propagate the lie that the Armenians were merely victims of "civil war" and that Turks also died in the chaos of 1915.

Turks did. But not on the Armenian scale. Anyone who was to write that the Jews were victims of a European civil war and that, anyway, "Germans also died" would be regarded as cracked or a neo-Nazi. Not so if you deny the Armenian holocaust.

Take the following letter, for example: "The myth of the 'Armenian Holocaust' was created immediately after World War I with the hope that the Armenians could be rewarded for their 'sufferings' with a piece of the disintegrating Ottoman state. As such, the main aims of the inventors were political and territorial." Now substitute the word Armenian with the word Jew. Who would ever get away with a letter about the "myth of the Jewish Holocaust" as an invention of Jews who wanted to be rewarded for "sufferings" (the quotation marks suggesting their falsity)? Who would ever publish such lies?

But that letter was written about the Armenians. And it was written by a Turkish ambassador. In fact - heaven spare us - it was written by Barlas Ozener, the Turkish ambassador to Israel. And it was printed, in full, in the Jerusalem Post.

But we Europeans are just as mendacious, if more discreetly so. Take Mr Chirac in Beirut. The French Assembly had just condemned the Armenian holocaust of 1915 - there are men of principle in French politics. But not Chirac. When asked less than two years ago for his views on the resolution, he replied: "I do not comment on a matter of domestic (sic) politics when I'm abroad." Would that have been his response if the Assembly had just denounced the Jewish Holocaust?

Mr Blair said this week that as the Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust "age and become fewer in number, it becomes more and more our duty to take up the mantle and tell each new generation what happened and what could happen again".

But there are a few very Armenian survivors left. Why weren't they asked this week about their memories? At Musa Dagh and later at Smyrna in 1920, British, French and American warships rescued a few of the pitiful Armenian survivors of that earlier Holocaust. But Mr Blair was silent this week. And silence gives consent.

I am all for memorial days. Especially one that marks the Jewish Holocaust. And especially memorial days for other holocausts. Armenians too. But Hitler's ghost can have a little laugh this week. After all, who now remembers the Armenians?

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