The Armenians suffered an incomplete holocaust and, to the pain of the memory, we must add that of an historical injustice that continues with every day that passes. The genocide of their people is not yet admitted by all but is, instead, openly denied by the modern Turkish secular state, heir to the Ottoman Empire.
Not only is Erdogan’s Turkey not among the list of the countries that have officially recognised the deaths of a million and a half people as genocide, but is still doing everything possible to ensure that those deaths – using much reduced numbers – are ascribed to a series of events not connected to each other, for which, more importantly, the nation cannot be held responsible.
Furthermore, to speak in Turkey of genocide may bring accusations of anti-patriotism, with harsh fines and imprisonment and it is referred to adding the deceitful and insidious prefix “so-called”. The attempt to eliminate the genocide of the Armenians reached its peak when, in 2007, Erdogan himself, then prime minister, issued a rule to substitute the word “Genocide” with the harmless phrase “events of 1915”. Unlike Germany with respect to the Shoah and the Jewish people, modern day Turkey has not yet come to terms with its own history.
The fact that the remembrance of the Armenian genocide is surrounded by a political question becomes clear if we observe the behaviour of the various international actors. Starting with Greek Cyprus, the first country in the world to recognise the Armenian genocide and moving on to Greece which recently passed a law that punishes with imprisonment those who deny (among other things) the Armenian holocaust, and to the United States which, although urged to do so by various parties, and under the guidance of a progressive president like Obama, has not yet done so for fear of offending its important Turkish ally in the hostile environment of the Islamic Middle-East. It seems, then, that the memory of the dead of one hundred years ago must today be either observed or put on the back burner according to the way relations with Turkey are viewed.
As a consequence, the stubborn refusal of Ankara to come to terms with its past, for which, all things considered, it is not altogether to blame, amounts to an obstacle to relations with the European Union whose members, up to today, have shown they are sensitive to the Armenian question. Last April’s demonstration was the fiftieth in remembrance of the tragedy. People gathered on the hill of Tsitsernakaberd for the first time in 1965, when Armenia was a socialist republic within the Soviet Union, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the tragic event. There was as yet no monument. It was built the following year but it was not until after the fall of the Soviet Union that, in 1995, a museum totally dedicated to the genocide was opened.
Remembrance and national identity
Armenia today is totally united in its remembrance, with a mixture of memorial and national identity. For this reason, the event of the centenary assumes great importance, not only symbolic but also concrete, fully understood by the Armenian people. The anniversary of 24 April has become almost a sort of stock-taking of international relations. It is a test-bed for half the world’s diplomacy. It did not start in the best way possible. On that same day while representatives of the countries that had officially recognised the genocide were expected to visit Yeravan, the Turkish President Erdogan had invited 110 heads of state to Ankara to a celebrate in pomp and splendour the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign during which the Turkish empire inflicted the greatest defeat of the First World War on the allies. It must be noted that Turkey marks the battle annually on 18 March. The initiative was seen by Yerevan as a provocation, considering that, among those invited, there was the Armenian President, Serzh Sargsyan. That which might have seemed a sign of improvement in relations (invitations by Turkey to Armenian authorities and vice versa are quite a rarity,) has covered, according to some observers, an attempt by Ankara to distract the attention of the world from the centenary of the genocide. (D.E.)