Munich American Peace Committee (MAPC)
Radio Lora, 14. Januar 2008
Araxie (und David) Barsamian
Der armenische HolocaustRobert Fisk ist Mittelostkorrespondent der englischen Zeitung "The Independent" Der Autor von "Pity the Nation, The Abduction of Lebanon" ist Träger des UK Press Awards von Amnesty International und des Lamnan Prize for Cultural Freedom. Zuletzt erschien von ihm: "The Great War for Civilization"
Araxie Barsamian wurde 1905 im Südosten der Türkei, in der Nähe der heutigen Stadt Diyabakir geboren. Sie überlebte den Völkermord an den Armeniern, ihre Eltern, vier Brüder und zahlreiche Verwandte nicht. 1986, kurz vor ihrem Tod, schilderte sie Geschichtsstudenten der Universität von Colorado ihre Erlebnisse.
April ist der grausamste Monat, er treibt
Flieder aus toter Erde, er mischt
Erinnern und Begehren, er weckt
Dumpfe Wurzeln mit Lenzregen
T.S. Eliot, Das wüste Land, übersetzt von E.R. Curtius.
Für Armenier ist der April ein grausamer Monat mit grausamen Erinnerungen, denn am 24. April 1915, begann die von der türkischen Regierung von langer Hand geplante Vertreibung und Vernichtung der Armenier. 1,5 Millionen Menschen fielen diesem ersten Völkermord des 20. Jahrhunderts zum Opfer. Die Überlebenden waren über den Mittleren Osten und über die ganze Welt zerstreut.
Adolf Hitler blieb es nicht verborgen, dass kein einziger türkischer Amtsträger je für diesen Völkermord zur Rechenschaft gezogen wurde. Er sah, dass es möglich war, eine Minderheit ungestraft auszulöschen. Mit dem Leugnen dieses Verbrechen verhindert die Türkei bis heute dessen juristische Aufarbeitung. Von Völkermord zu sprechen gilt noch immer als Verbrechen. Als der Literaturnobelpreisträger Orhan Pamuk es dennoch tat, wurde er nicht nur vor Gericht gestellt, sondern erhielt ebenso wie der Historiker Taner Akcam und der Schriftsteller Elif Shafak massive Todesdrohungen. Der armenisch stämmige Journalist Hrant Dink bezahlte seinen Mut mit dem Leben. Seinem Sarg folgten Zehntausende Türken und Armeniern, viele von ihnen trugen Transparente mit der Aufschrift: "Wir alle sind Armenier."
Vor drei Tagen erhielt meine Redaktion folgende Email: "Sehr geehrte Herren, mit seinem heutigen, von einseitigen, dummen Tiraden strotzenden Artikel, wie man sie sonst nur von ungebildeten, schlecht informierten und blutrünstigen US-Armeniern der 3. Generation kennt, hat Herr Fisk gezeigt, welch Geistes Kind er ist." Ich weiss also wovon ich zu Ihnen spreche.
An einem grauen, nasskalten Tag im März 1992 wanderte ich in Nordsyrien den Hügel von Margada hinab. Eine alte Armenierin hatte mich dorthin geschickt. Da der Regen das Erdreich weggeschwemmt hatte, fanden wir auf dem darunter liegenden Vulkangestein, das, was wir dort zu finden erwartet hatten: menschliche Schädel und Knochen, die dort seit 77 Jahren, seit dem Massaker von 1915, dicht an dicht verscharrt gelegen hatten. Der kleine Sohn meines armenischen Begleiters meinte "das war es also."
Die Beweise für den ersten Holocaust des 20. Jahrhunderts liegen unter dem Sand der nordsyrischen Wüste, unter türkischen Feldern, an Flussufern und in Höhlen am Khabur Fluss, in denen Menschen wie in primitiven Gaskammern in Rauchschwaden erstickt wurden. Solange die Geschichtsbücher diese Qualen verschweigen und die Wahrheit verleugnen, können die Wunden nicht heilen.
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Bei meinem Besuch nationalsozialistischer Vernichtungslager, in denen 6 Millionen Juden ermordet worden waren, fielen mir in der Nähe vom Lager Birkenau in Ausschwitz kleine Weiher auf. Dorthin hatten die Deutschen tonnenweise menschliche Asche gekippt. Die Asche der Bewohner ganzer Städte, die Opfer des jüdischen Holocausts geworden waren, liegt noch heute am Grunde dieser Teiche. Niemals darf dieses massenhafte Töten in Vergessenheit geraten!
Warum aber tut man den Völkermord an den Armeniern als bloße Behauptung ab, während niemand die historische Tatsache des jüdischen Holocausts bestreitet? Als Hitler die europäischen Juden abschlachten ließ, konnte er davon ausgehen, dass sich niemand an das Schicksal der Armenier erinnern würde. Aber ist das eine Entschuldigung dafür, dass man die Armenier am britischen Holocaust Gedenktag nicht erwähnt und die BBC so beiläufig über die 1,5 Millionen getöteten Armenier berichtet, dass es die Leugner und Revisionisten erst gar nicht bemerken.
Wir alle kennen die türkischen Lobbyisten, die beharrlich behaupten, dass es nie einen armenischen Völkermord gegeben habe und Ihre Vorfahren in einem Bürgerkrieg umkamen, der sogar mehr türkische als armenische Opfer gefordert hat. Als die Türkei gegen Frankreich Wirtschaftssanktionen verhängte, nachdem Präsident Chirac den armenischen Völkermord offiziell anerkannte, fürchtet Großbritannien um seine Wirtschaftsbeziehungen mit der Türkei und Präsident Clinton versuchte sogar mit dem bizarren Hinweis auf die angebliche Gefahr für Leib und Leben der US Bürger, die Anerkennung des armenischen Holocausts zu verhindern. Nie hätte er eine ähnlich ungeheuerliche Behauptung aufgestellt, wenn Deutschland im Falle einer Anerkennung des jüdischen Holocausts Wirtschaftssanktionen angedroht hätte.
Doch auch meine eigenen Journalistenkollegen messen mit zweierlei Maß. Wie kann es sein, dass man Leugner des jüdischen Holocausts völlig zu Recht als gefährliche, rechtsextreme Spinner kritisiert, aber gleichzeitig den Leugnern des Verbrechens an den Armeniern Glauben schenkt? So schreibt die New York Times vom 25. März 1998, von einer "großen Menge" von Armeniern, die im Frühjahr 1915 einer "umstrittenen" ethnischen Säuberung durch "pro-osmanische" Truppen zum Opfer fielen. Kein Wort darüber, dass es mehr als eine Million Opfer waren und es damals nicht um begrenzte ethnische Säuberungen ging, wie wir sie seit dem Krieg der Serben gegen die Muslime in Bosnien und die Albaner im Kosovo kennen. Die Mörder waren auch keine Türken oder Osmanen, sondern" pro-osmanische Truppen". Und mit der Formulierung "umstritten" macht sich der Autor dieses Artikels vollends zum Sprachrohr derjenigen, die den armenischen Holocaust leugnen. Seine Überschrift "Armenien sollte endlich vergessen!" dürfte der türkischen Regierung gefallen haben
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Auch in der Türkei gibt es immer mehr Stimmen, die sich zu dem Völkermord bekennen. Während im türkischen Fernsehen ein Film über die angeblich von den Armeniern begangenen Massaker lief, forderte Yavuz Baydan von der Zeitung Milliyet endlich Mechmed Talaal Pascha, den ehemaligen Innenminister und Hauptverantwortlichen des Völkermordes an den Armeniern und seine Helfershelfer zur Rechenschaft zu ziehen. Im Anschluß an diese Sendung plädierte der türkische Armenienexperte, Dr. Taner Akcam, für ein Ende sowohl der türkischen Unschuldsbeteuerungen als auch der Rufe nach Vergeltung für die Gewalttaten, die die in der Armee des russischen Zaren gegen die Türkei kämpfenden Armenier begangen haben. Laut Akcam spiele es auch keine Rolle, ob man das türkische Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit als Völkermord oder als Massaker bezeichnet, wichtig sei allein, das armenische Volk um Vergebung zu bitten und den innertürkischen Streit darüber beizulegen.
In Israel werden nichtjüdische Männer und Frauen, die versuchten, Juden zu retten, in der Allee der Gerechten geehrt. Könnten die Armenier nicht etwas Ähnliches für die Türken und Kurden tun, die den Mut hatten, Ihre Vorfahren zu retten? .
Ich denke dabei an Jelal Pascha, den Gouverneur von Aleppo, an Rachmi Bey aus Izmir oder den Albaner Ismael Kemal Bey der seines Gouverneursposten enthoben wurde, und ich denke an die vielen kleinen Leute, die Armenier bei sich versteckten, ihnen, als sie in den syrischen Bergen ausgesetzt wurden, Essen brachten oder gefangene Mädchen wieder freigaben. Tahin Bey aus Erzerum widersetzte sich lange dem Befehl, alle Armenier zu ermorden. Dabei war er - wie Oskar Schindler - keineswegs ein Heiliger. Türkische Soldaten retteten junge Mädchen vor kurdischen Vergewaltigern, kümmerten sich um Neugeborene, besorgten Trinkwasser für die Deportierte. Warum sollen Sie, die Nachkommen der so geretteten armenischen Überlebenden diese mutigen Taten nicht anerkennen? Sie erwarten von den Türken die Anerkennung des Holocausts, den türkische Offizielle immer noch als "Mythos" bezeichnen. Doch wie würden diese Leute reagieren, wenn die Armenier dem Mut und der Selbstaufopferung der türkischen Retter ein ehrendes Andenken bewahrten? Könnte sie es ablehnen, ihren eigenen mutigen Bürgern Ehre zu erweisen? Und würden sie, in dem sie ihr Andenken ehren, damit nicht auch den armenischen Völkermord anerkennen? Damit wäre unter die Geschichte noch kein Schlußstrich gezogen, aber ein kleiner Schritt getan in Richtung auf die Toten in der syrischen Wüste.
Vielen Dank für Ihre Aufmerksamkeit.
Es folgt ein Augenzeugenbericht meiner Mutter, Araxie Barsamian, die den Völkermord überlebte. Ihre Eltern, ihre vier Brüder und zahlreiche Verwandte überlebten die Katastrophe nicht. Araxie wurde 1905 im Dorf Dubne nördlich der heutigen Stadt Diyabakir geboren. Als es dort im Frühjahr 1915 eine Heuschreckenplage gab, sahen viele darin ein böses Omen. Während der Getreideernte brach die Katastrophe herein. Die Türken überfielen das Dorf und erschossen alle Männer und Jungen. Frauen und Kinder mussten sich vor der Kirche versammeln. Sie sollten in Hunderte von Kilometern entfernte, unbewohnbare Wüstengebiete "umgesiedelt", also deportiert werden. Schutzlos den ständigen Angriffen und Überfällen ausgeliefert, von Entführungen und Vergewaltigungen bedroht, starben viele an Hunger, an Krankheiten und erschöpft von den Anstrengungen des Fußmarsches. In Urfa wurde Araxie von ihrer Familie und ihren kleinen Brüdern getrennt. Auf Umwegen landete sie schließlich in einem Waisenhaus in Aleppo. Im August 1921 heiratete sie in Beirut meinen Vater. Drei Monate später waren sie in New York. Im darauffolgenden Jahr - sie war gerade 17 Jahre alt - kam das erste ihrer vier Kinder zur Welt. 1986, kurz vor ihrem Tod, schilderte sie einer Gruppe von Geschichtsstudenten der Universität von Colorado,. was sie und mein Vater erlebt haben.
The Armenian HolocaustRobert Fisk, based in Beirut, is the Middle East correspondent for “The Independent.” He is the author of “Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon.” He is winner of the Amnesty International UK Press Award and the Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom. His latest book is “The Great War for Civilization"
San Francisco, CA 3 March 2001
University of Colorado, Denver 26 Sept 1986
Araxie Barsamian was born in 1905 in Dubne, a village north of the historic Armenian city of Dikranagerd, today called Diyarbakir. She survived the Turkish genocide of the Armenians. Her parents, four brothers, and other members of her extended family were not so fortunate. In 1986, just a few months before her death, she spoke about her experiences to a history class at the University of Colorado at Denver.
From T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land –
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
April has special resonance for Armenians everywhere. It was on April 24, 1915 that the Turkish government launched a premeditated, organized campaign to eliminate the millennia old Armenians from their historical lands in what is now southeastern Turkey. As many as 1.5 million people perished in the 20th century’s first genocide. Survivors were scattered all over the Middle East and the rest of the world.
The Turkish officials responsible for the genocide were never brought to account. This was not lost on Adolf Hitler. He saw that a minority could be wiped out with impunity. Just days before launching World War Two he told his generals, “Who today, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?” What makes the genocide of the Armenians unique is that Turkey refuses to acknowledge it ever happen. And that denial is the final stage of genocide: closure and justice is denied to the victims and their descendents.
In Turkey today to speak of the genocide is a crime. Orhan Pamuk, author of “Snow” and Turkey’s Nobel Prize winner for literature, was prosecuted for mentioning it. Pamuk, under death threats, has left Turkey. Others who have spoken out such as historian Taner Akcam and novelist Elif Shafak have also been threatened. Journalist Hrant Dink was murdered on January 19, 2007 right in front of his newspaper office on one of Istanbul’s most prominent boulevards. Dink too, dared to utter the unutterable. A Turkish citizen of Armenian origin, Dink was perhaps the most visible and prominent member of that beleaguered community. His murder and funeral brought large crowds of Turks and Armenians onto the streets of Istanbul in solidarity. Many signs said, “We are All Armenians.” Elsewhere, in another demonstration, a woman held up a sign that said, “1,500,000 million plus 1.”
Robert Fisk - I don't use e-mail, but about three days ago my paper received this e-mail from Mustafa Gulek of Ankara. It's to me, of course. “Dear Sir: I had no idea what bad feelings Mr. Fisk harbored until I read in your paper today the one-sided, ignorant rantings that one usually only hears from badly educated, ill-informed, and bloodthirsty third-generation U.S. Armenians.” So, obviously, ladies and gentlemen, we have a lot in common tonight.
Ladies and gentlemen, eight years ago, on a gray, cold, damp day in the first week of March of 1992, I walked the side of the hill of Margada, a place of the volcanic stones high above what had once been the valley of the Khabur River in northern Syria. An old Armenian woman, Serpouhi Papazian—she's dead now—had sent me here from her village 12 miles away. She thought, she said, she thought she remembered finding the bones of Armenians below the hill of Margada 77 years earlier. She was looking for the bones of her sisters and father.
So I had gone to Margada, found the hill, realized that the river had changed course over the decades, and I wandered down the hillside in the steady rain. It had poured rain so much over the previous weekend that small streams had opened fissures in the hillside. It was almost at the bottom that we saw what we suspected all along lay in this volcanic earth: a mass of skulls and bones embedded in a wall of earth on the side of a crack in the hill. I used my car keys to scrape away the mud, and the bones began to fall out of the earth into my own hands—rib cages, femurs, an entire skeleton, then another and a third, so closely packed that the bones had become tangled with each other. There were sets of teeth, fibulae, eye sockets, tightly squeezed together, as they had been on the day they had died in terror in 1915, roped together to die in their thousands. Each skull became clammy as I held it in my hand, and in its the first contact with the air since the Armenian genocide, they began to become soft and disintegrate. The teeth were clean, undamaged, the teeth of young people—children, teenagers. My Armenian companion and his little boy held one of the skulls. “It is finished,” he said. We later handed these bones to the Armenian church in Deir-el-Zor for proper burial.
Yes, the evidence of the 20th century's first Holocaust—and yes, I call it a Holocaust, not an Armenian claim—lies under those desert sands of northern Syria. Countless thousands of those skeletons, of course, lie beneath Margada and beneath the fields and riverbanks of Turkey. Further north up the Khabur River, I came across caves with bones inside. Armenians there remember that this is where their ancestors were driven below ground and asphyxiated with the smoke of bonfires. They were, of course, the world's first, primitive gas chambers.
But my Armenian friend, I think, was wrong. It is not finished. For I believe, after 25 years, watching the tragedy of the modern-day Middle East, that history cannot be buried or denied beneath the earth. As long as a people cannot receive acknowledgment of their torment, it is never finished. Until the history books are accepted and honored as true, the story has not ended.
When I wrote my book on the history of the Lebanon war, Pity the Nation, I decided to visit, for reasons too long to explain here, some of the Nazi extermination camps in which 6 million Jews were murdered in the Second World War. Next to the Birkenau camp at Auschwitz there were small lakes in which the Germans had tipped tons of human ash. And they still lay there, whole cities of people, the people of the Jewish Holocaust, as ash at the bottom of the ponds. For every good and honorable reason, we should never forget that mass human slaughter nor doubt its extent. But the Holocaust which began the 20th century happens to have taken place in the lands that I now cover as a correspondent. Indeed with my frequent trips to the Balkans, I sometimes think I must be the Ottoman correspondent of the Independent rather than the Middle East. So the Armenians met their fate in the lands I now regularly visit and on which I now report.
So I found myself thinking, not long after I arrived in the Middle East, how come the first act of genocide was so often referred to as a claim, when the second great act of genocide, the Jewish Holocaust, was accepted as a terrible fact of history? Of course, we all know that Hitler, before planning the slaughter of Europe's Jews, asked if anyone still remembered the Armenians. But is there any excuse for us to cast doubt on what happened to the Armenians? Is this any reason for the Armenians to be virtually excluded, as they virtually were, from Britain's Holocaust Day memorial in January?
What was the BBC producer —and I have the letter here—Daniel Brittain-Catlin, doing writing to an Armenian group in France last 16th January? “BBC coverage,” he wrote, “is likely to include reference to, albeit briefly, the Armenian genocide.” I liked the “albeit briefly” bit. So briefly, so briefly perhaps, that the deniers and revisionists of the Armenian Holocaust might not notice the BBC's puny supply of courage in making any reference to a million and a half murdered Armenians at all.
Of course, I know and we all know in this room of the Turkish lobby groups which perpetuate the myth that there was no Armenian genocide, that your ancestors died in a civil war in which Turks died in even greater numbers. We all know about the economic sanctions levied on France after President Chirac signed the document acknowledging the Armenian genocide. We know how Britain, my country, fears to lose its own economic contracts in Turkey. And we know surely, as many of you do, the extraordinary, in other circumstances I would say bizarre, way in which President Clinton persuaded your lawmakers not to acknowledge the Armenian Holocaust because, he said, it might put American lives and interests at risk. What was he thinking? That an American genocide might follow the Armenian genocide? What was this great danger? What would have happened, for example, if today's Germany had threatened economic penalties if any acknowledgment was made of the Jewish Holocaust? Would Mr. Clinton have made the same incredible statement? Of course not.
But let's turn to my own profession, journalism. How is it that we free people, we reporters, we who are supposed to be the first witnesses of history, play a double standard over the Armenian and Jewish Holocausts. How can we lend credence to one group of deniers while rightfully denouncing the other group as right-wing fanatics. Let me take, for example, a New York Times report of the 25th of March, 1998, about those few Armenians, 70,000 in all, who survive in present-day Turkey. Here now is a key paragraph from that report by the New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer. Please do not chuckle at various points. Listen to these words.
“Relations between Turks and Armenians were good during much of the Ottoman period, but they were deeply scarred by massacres of Armenians by pro-Ottoman forces in eastern Anatolia carried out in the spring of 1915. Details of what happened there are still hotly debated but it is clear that vast numbers of Armenians were killed or left to die during forced marches in a burst of what is now called ‘ethnic cleansing.’”
I have, ladies and gentlemen, a serious problem with that paragraph. First of all, the figure of a million and a half Armenians, or even a million Armenians, the all important statistic that puts you in the genocide bracket, indeed marks the Armenians as victims of the first Holocaust, has totally disappeared from the record. It's not in that paragraph. We are left with what Mr. Kinzer calls vast numbers of killed, which keeps The New York Times out of harm's way with the Turks. Then genocide is reduced, you will notice, to what Mr. Kinzer calls “ethnic cleansing,” a phrase familiar to us from the Serb war against the Muslims of Bosnia and against the Albanians of Kosovo, but on an infinitely less terrible scale than the massacres of 1915. So the million and a half has been deleted and we've lowered the potency of what actually happened.And note the reference to”pro-Ottoman forces,” not even Ottoman forces, and certainly not Turks. Note that the word “Turks” is not used in reference to the killers at all. Then we are told that the issue is “hotly debated.” How very fair of The New York Times to remind us so tamely that a campaign exists to deny the truth of the Armenian Holocaust. It's a lie every bit as evil, in my view, as those who wickedly claim that the Jewish Holocaust never happened. What am I as a journalist to make of this? Did I imagine, did I imagine all those bones tumbling into my hands in northern Syria? Were they not real? And what am I to make of this headline, from the same series on another of Mr. Kinzer's articles? “Armenia Never Forgets—Maybe It Should.”
Now let me speak frankly. I think the New York Times reporter didn't want to offend the present Turkish government, he didn't want his feature article to be called controversial, he didn't want to stir things up. So he softened the truth. And the Turkish government must have been delighted. Note, by the way, how it was a “burst” of ethnic cleansing that destroyed the Armenians in this article. A burst. A sudden, spontaneous act. Not an act of genocide. Words, words, words tell us all.
Now let's apply a simple test. Let's turn to that later and more numerically terrible Holocaust, that of the Jews of Europe. Would Mr. Kinzer have written in the same way about that mass slaughter? Would he have told us that German-Jewish relations were merely “deeply scarred” by the Nazi slaughter? Would he have suggested, even for a moment, that the details were “hotly debated”? Would he have compared the massacre of the Jews to the Bosnian war? No, he would not. But Mr. Kinzer did raise doubts about the Armenian Holocaust. He called it “hotly debated.” Even Reuters and the Associated Press, I notice today, now always add a paragraph about Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide. Why? Who are they afraid of?
I've written frequently of the Armenian slaughter, and I did so again at the beginning of last year. I had been deeply moved by a meeting I had with a 101-year-old blind Armenian in the Armenian old people's home in Beirut. He was called Haroutioun, and he remembered how in the Syrian desert in 1915 his mother pleaded with Turks not to rape her 18-year-old daughter, Haroutioun 's sister. “As she begged them not to take my sister, they beat her to death,” he told me. “I remember her dying, shouting ‘Haroutioun, Haroutioun, Haroutioun,’ over and over. When she was dead, they took my sister away on a horse. I never saw her again.” Then, after years of bitterness and longing for revenge, what Haroutioun called his Christian belief overcame him, and he decided to abandon the notion of revenge. “When the Turkish earthquake killed so many people,” he told me, “I prayed for the poor Turkish people.”
In my article in which I wrote of Haroutioun, I used a capital H in my reference to both the Armenian and Jewish Holocausts. Chatting to an Armenian acquaintance, I mentioned that I had used a capital letter for both genocides. I believe that capital H should be attached to all holocausts. Little could I have guessed how quickly the dead would rise from their graves. When my article appeared in my paper, a paper which has never failed to dig into human wickedness visited upon every race and creed, my reference to the Jewish Holocaust remained with a capital H, but the Armenian Holocaust had been downgraded to a little h. “Tell me, Robert,” my Armenian friend asked me, “tell me, didn't the Turks kill enough of us?”
Of course, I at once investigated what had happened. There are no conspiracies on the Independent sub-editor's desk, just a no-nonsense rule that our articles follow what is called a house style. Through common usage, as it's called—I love that term, “common usage”—the Jewish Holocaust takes a capital H, other Holocausts don't. No one is quite sure why, though the practice has been followed in books and articles worldwide.
A debate then opened within my own paper, the Independent, encouraged, by the way, by my editor, who is a friend of mine. One of our top word experts was asked to comment. Why not a capital H for the Armenian Holocaust? He cited Chambers Dictionary, which stated that the Jewish Holocaust was usually capitalized. “And,” our expert said, “it's in the nature of a proper noun to apply to only one thing. Thus,” he said, “there could be many crusades but only one Crusade, with a capital C; only one Renaissance,” a European one, of course. I love the Eurocentric quality of these arguments. “Is the Jewish Holocaust really unique?” he asked. “Yes.” I'm quoting him. “It was perpetrated by modern Europeans. Its purported justification was a perversion of Darwin. Above all, in the gas chambers and crematoria it manufactured death by modern industrial methods. The Jewish Holocaust,” our word expert went on, “says to modern Western man that his technological mastery will not save him from sin but, rather, magnify the results of his sins. There have been acts of genocide throughout history,” he said, “but we call the Nazi Holocaust the Holocaust, with a capital, because it is our holocaust.”
“Powerful arguments,” I replied, “but ones with which I disagree. The Jewish Holocaust should be capitalized,” I said, “not because its victims were European Jews, or that of any other race, but because its victims were human beings.” It was, after all, the Independent's editorial policy, my paper's policy, that the world must fight against all atrocities, a belief which underlay our demands for humanitarian action in Bosnia, Kosovo, and East Timor. This did not mean that I regarded Kosovo or East Timor as holocausts but that we should never accept the idea that one group of victims have special status over the other. When Armenians in Israel speak of their people's suffering they use the Hebrew word “shoah,” which means holocaust. Common usage,” I said, “can't decide morality.” As for there being only one crusade, my dad, who was much older than my mother, fought in the 1914-18 war. And when my father originally spoke of it, he called it The Great War. But when the Second World War happened, he called it the First World War.
So the Independent then ran an article by a Turkish Cypriot academic denouncing my own report on the Armenians, but on top of his article we used the words “Armenian Holocaust,” with a capital H. And so we always have since. The Turks did not complain. The world did not end. There was an Armenian Holocaust. Those skulls I found in the desert were real.
But you should not believe that the debate over the Armenian genocide does not take place inside Turkey. It does. I have several good Turkish friends who tell me privately that they believe there was a genocide, that Ottoman Turkey was responsible, and the statistics are right. One of these Turks is a senior government civil servant in Ankara. And though most of you may not realize this, a debate has just actually occurred on Turkish Ankara television, beginning with film of what the program claimed were massacres perpetrated by Armenians. That same day, in the newspaper Milliyet, the journalist Yavuz Baydar was quoted as saying that “I was always convinced of the necessity to show courage and to take to task Talaat and company for their misdeeds. These men are our Pol Pots, Berias, and Stalins, and the sooner we call their crimes to account, the better our chances of redeeming ourselves from this scourge of being accused of genocide.” This, of course, doesn't go quite far enough. But on the program phoning in, Dr. Taner Akçam, author of several Armenian studies, said, “The constant refrain of we Turks are not guilty and the parallel blaming of the Armenians who are the victims, very much hurts the cause of Turkey.” Unless we distance ourselves from the perpetrators of this crime, which was a genocide”—soykirim in Turkish—“we will never be able to relieve ourselves of this terrible burden.” And Dr. Akçam condemned the mentality of wholesale retribution, this in reference to those Armenians who fought in the Czarist army.
At this point the voice of the past came bursting into this television program. It was Semra Özal, wife of the late Turkish president Turgut Özal, shouting, “How dare you let this man speak? Shut him up.” But Akçam had the last word, saying that “[t]he destruction of the Armenians is a historical fact, organized by the government of the day. If you can't bring yourself to describe it as genocide, call it a massacre if you want,” he said, “but it was a crime against humanity.” Then Akçam added, “Ask for forgiveness from the Armenian people and make a commitment within Turkey political dissent and disagreement should no longer be treated as an offense.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to ask you an important question. It's not a proposal. I'm a newspaper reporter, and nothing I'm saying to you tonight I haven't written in my paper or spoken of before. But it's a question I'd like to put to you. In Israel they honor the non-Jewish men and women who tried or succeeded in saving the lives of the Jewish victims of the Jewish Holocaust. They include people of every nation. They honor what they call the righteous Gentile. And I've always thought this a fine idea. And I've wondered from time to time—I'm just asking this question—why you haven't thought of doing the same? I don't just mean thanking the foreigners, the German missionaries, the Swiss, the Dutch, the English and American teachers, the French and British and American navies, the saviors of the people of Musa Dagh. No, I'm thinking of those examples—I've heard about them from aging survivors and I've come across them in contemporary documents—I'm thinking of those people who tried to help your ancestors and who were Turks. I'm talking about the good Turks, the very occasional Ottoman official who was appalled at the atrocities committed against the Armenian people, the Turkish or Kurdish villager whose courage stood out when his own people were turning so brutally against your ancestors.
Many of you will remember from your school books, I think, the story of Jelal Pasha, the vali, governor, of Aleppo. He said he was a governor, not an executioner, and thus saved thousands of Armenian lives. It was he who said that “[i]t is a natural right of the human beings to live. The Armenians will defend themselves.” In September 1915, Rachmi Bey of Smyrna (Izmir) was quoted as saying he would not expel the Armenians. Then there is Ismael Kemal Bey, an Albanian, a governor who was dismissed because he refused the genocide orders of the Turkish Committee of Union and Progress.
Then there are the little men. Zakar Berberian, who was 12 when the Turkish Army and gendarmerie came to Marash in 1915. Before he died in Beirut, he told me how he saw babies being dropped on the roadway by Turkish gendarmes, how if they survived, their brains would be beaten on the road, how his parents died of cholera. “I should have died,” he added, “but a Turk gave me food to survive.” Indeed, in almost every interview I conducted of that time, Armenian survivors would recall few but individual Turks who, driven by their Muslim religion or common humanity, disobeyed the fascistic orders of the rulers in Constantinople and sheltered Armenians in their homes.
You can find their ghosts even in the great Bryce report (The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916) on the Armenian genocide, published by the British Foreign Office in 1916, a volume unlikely to have recorded the good deeds of Turks or Kurds or Arabs had they not been true. An Armenian report included in a State Department dispatch of the 17th of September, 1915, quotes a report from Arab deputies from Baghdad and Syria who recall that “[t]he railway to Aleppo discharges into the mountains vast numbers of Armenians, who are abandoned there without bread or water. In the towns and villages the Arabs try to bring them some relief.”
A statement by the Reverend William Shea of the Presbyterian mission during the Urmiya massacres of 1915. After describing the vile treatment of civilians at the hands of Turkish troops and militias, who participated in the worst of the slaughter, records that “[t]here were many villagers who showed only kindness. The Persian governor made it possible by his cooperation for the American missionaries to do what they did. The Kurds responded to appeals for mercy and in some cases returned captive girls unsolicited and did other humane service. A few individual Turkish officers and a number of their soldiers took strong measures to keep order. One such officer saved the city from loot when riot had already begun.”
There are words of praise for the humanity of Tahsin Bey, governor of Erzurum in 1915. “About this time,” two American clerics wrote, “orders arrived by which Tahsin Bey was instructed that all Armenians should be killed. Tahsin refused to carry this out, and indeed all through the time he was reluctant to mistreat the Armenians but was overruled by force majeure.” Tahsin Bey, I should add, does not always appear in such a humanitarian light, but, then again, Oskar Schindler was a member of the Nazi party.
Then, on the deportation to Ras-ul-Ain in 1915, Maritza Kedjedjian was a witness to the rape of young women by Kurds. “When they were going to carry off another girl,” she wrote shortly afterwards, “I asked Omer Chavoush, a man from Mardin, to help us.” Chavoush shows the Turk was a sergeant in the army. Maritza goes on, “He stopped them at once and did not let them take the girl away. The Kurds from the surrounding villages attacked us that night. Omer, who was in charge of us, immediately went up to the heights and harangued them in Kurdish, telling them not to attack us. We were hungry and thirsty and had no water to drink. Omer took some of our drinking vessels and brought us water from a long way off. The wife of my brother-in-law had a baby born that night. The next morning we started again. Corporal Omer left some women with her and kept an eye on her from a distance. Then he put the mother and the newborn child on a beast and brought her to us in safety.”
There are other examples, in the Bryce records and elsewhere, of such humane behavior by men who clearly disobeyed the orders of their brutal masters. So terrible was the year 1915 in the Armenian lands under Turkish control and in the deserts of northern Syria and so wicked were the Turkish authorities of the time that I think it is necessary to remember that Muslims, including brave Turks, sometimes risked their lives for your doomed ancestors.
And so I ask again why the descendants of those Armenians don't acknowledge in some form that courage. Armenians demand that the Turks acknowledge their Holocaust. The Turkish authorities still call it a myth. But how would they react to an Armenian démarche to remember the Turks who showed bravery and honor during that time of atrocities? Those Turks may be painfully few in number, but you would be showing modern-day Turkey that you acknowledge the humanity of some of their former citizens.
How would the Turks react to such a gesture? By refusing to honor their own brave Turks? Or would they remember the courage of those Turks and by the same token accept the fact of the Armenian genocide? It's only a question I'm asking. Taner Akçam might be able to respond to it. So might journalist Yavuz Baydar, Corporal Omer would be remembered, and the Turk who gave 12- year-old Zakar Berberian food. So would Jelal Pasha of Aleppo. And it might be a very small step in the story of the Syrian desert, of those skulls which prompted my Armenian friend to say it is finished when, in my view, for the historical record, the story has still not ended.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for the invitation to address you tonight and for your patience in listening to me.
Next is eyewitness testimony from Araxie Barsamian. She survived the Turkish genocide of the Armenians. Her parents, four brothers, and members of her extended family were not so fortunate. She was born in 1905 in the village of Dubne, north of the historic Armenian city, Dikranagert, now called Diyarbakir. Her parents were Giragos and Maryam Giragosian. Her younger brothers were Sarkis, Mardiros, Hovsep and Tavit. Unaware of the looming calamity about to envelop her she remembers an omen. Early in 1915, the village was covered with grasshoppers. Elders said it was a bad sign. A few months later, the wheat was ripe and about to be harvested when the end came. The Turks came to the village, took all the men and young boys, marched them outside of town, and shot them. The remaining women, and children were told to assemble at the church. They were going to be resettled, deported, exiled to the uninhabitable desert wastes hundreds of miles to the south. They were to walk to their new homes. Promises that they would be protected en route were quickly broken. The defenseless caravans were waylaid and attacked throughout the deportation march. Girls were kidnapped and raped. Starvation and disease took care of many of those the Turks did not kill. Araxie walked as far as the city of Urfa, where she was separated from her mother, brothers and other relatives. She eventually found her way into an orphanage in Aleppo in northern Syria.
In August 1921, she married my father Bedros Barsamian in Beirut. Three months later, they were living in a tenement walkup on Horatio Street in New York's West Village. The following year, at 17, she had the first of her four children.
In 1986, she spoke to a history class at the University of Colorado at Denver. I was there with her, helping with translation. She begins by describing what happened to her father.
Araxie Barsamian - When we left, my family was 25 in the family. They took all the men folks. They asked my father, “Where is your ammunition?” He says, “I sold it.” So they says, “Go get it.” So when he went to the Kurd town, to get it, they beat him and they took him all his clothes. And when he came back—this is my mother tells me story—when he came back there, naked body, he went in the jail, they cut his arms. “Where is ammunition?” He says, “I haven't got it. They didn't give me.” So he die in the jail. And
They took all the mens in the field, they tied their hands, and they shooted, killed every one of them. I remember they collect the only 15-years-old boys, just like this they were sitting in. Their hands are tied back.
And they took all the mens in the field, they shoot them, too. Nothing left, only woman and small children. We were deported in some city. No food, nothing to eat. They took everything from us. They say—they put in the church—“When you come back, we will give you back.” Which is not true.
So we wented some city. My aunt give birth, she left her baby over there. And then we walk, walk, walk, so many, no water. I remember my mother used to damp her handkerchief in, excuse me, horse urine and wipe our mouths, we were so dry. Just think that. And then I forgot.
Lots things. If I remembered things, day and night I tell and not finish. And then we came to Diyarbakir. We sit there. My mother covered me with a blanket. They took all the good-looking ladies, young ladies and girls, they captured it. My mother put my young brothers on top of me so they wouldn't see me. So from there. And then the news came that kaimakam—what’s kaimakam means?—
—he says that “Take them and throw all these ladies in dijlees ked—
The Tigris River.
—the Tigris River. I remember very well it was a moon and then gendarma came—
Kind of a police.
—police came, say, government has forgived them. Take this different city. And we walk in the night, night, night, and we walk. We came in city that they were very well Turk, they were very well. Also, my aunt save me under the blankets so they will not capture me. I had a girlfriend, she had hair long as here and gendarma came. They grab her by the hair and throw her back of him on the horse. And they give us bread that was made from the hay. But we got to eat, because we were hungry. This took a month, you know, we came there. And then we came Urfa, they call it. Every refugee was in Urfa. And my mother got sick. Also, they want us to move from there. So my grandmother made herself sick and stayed by my mother, three children, one my aunt—five, six children around my mother. And my aunt grabbed me and we went. We went Aleppo, Syria. Later on, I met my grandmother. They took her to Deir el-Zor. Main thing, Deir el-Zor, they kill so many Armenians over there. Most Armenians they kill in Deir el-Zor.
Deir el-Zor is in the Syrian desert, and that was the main killing field. In these deportation columns, in these caravans of hundreds of thousands of people, those who were “lucky enough” to survive were killed in the Syrian desert. That was the final destination. Henry Morgenthau, who was the U.S. ambassador to Turkey at the time, confronted one of the genocidists, Talaat Pasha, and he said, “What are you doing with the Armenians? Where are they going?” And the quote was—and that was documented in Morgenthau's autobiography—that “[t]he final destination of the Armenians is the abyss.” And that was Deir el-Zor, the Syrian desert.
And then we came to Aleppo. My aunt took me to the orphanage. I stayed there a few years. And then she was working in American missionary, so she says, “They're going to deport us again. I want you come with me because since this time I saved you, I don't want to leave you in orphanage.” So we went to Hama. That's also Syria. That's big place. The ditch was five times longer than this room. Anybody, dead or not, they throw in there. Somebody had a tent. Me, my aunt, and her sister they grabbed under the tent. We got saved that way. And then from there-many people they have no tent—they had to go more into Syrian, more Arabic desert.
And then from that people who saved us, we went to Selemyah. They called Christian Arab. Nice people. They give us a room. My aunt stay one of the family working there. And I was playing with the children, speaking Arabic like anything. But I forgot later. Then my aunt heard that year after that everybody is going to Aleppo, it's clear now. So nighttime we used to walk and daytime we hide ourselves until we reach Aleppo. And then she put me in the same orphanage again and she went to work American missionary.
Not long—I don't know how long it last—again we have to move. My aunt says we have to go to different city now. So she came to me, she says, “You have to come with me again.” So we went—we were sitting on a train, and I said, “Aunt, look, look. The mountain is running.” I never saw anything like that. But I was in a train. We reach Dortyol place. Dortyol means 4 roads, Dortyol, they call it, and the people they are doing their living with the orange and lemon and grapefruit. Also, we were lucky. Somebody took us, gave us a room. And my aunt—oh, I didn’t tell. My mother died when we left there. Later on, I found out my mother and four children, four brothers, my aunt, everybody died. And then this Dortyol, my aunt start working with somebody. And she was speaking English, so anybody came to town, they came to her house. And her husband was collecting orange and lemon and grapefruit to send city to city. So he says to me, “Araxie, you come. You watch these people how they doing, how they pack orange.” There is a funny way, you know, in the boxes. And we did for a while over there again. And then we moved again.
The AGBU (Armenian General Benevolent Union) built two buildings, orphanages, one for boys and one for girls. For the girl is the Sisvan and boys Kelegian, and separate places. I didn't like to go to school. I liked to sew. And my teacher's wife know how to sew. She says, “Araxie, we take you to America, and I buy you a sewing machine, I send you to school.” Which is nothing happen. And then we came—my principal says that “You can do this way. I want to know my students where to go.”
He sent a letter to my husband, future husband. He was just new came out from army, 1918. Discharged from Mississippi camp. He got his citizenship. My principal says, “I want to know his background. Is he healthy or not? You know, to send it. So my principal give his nice clothes, I wear it, and my picture came out nice. We send it to my husband. So when he receive it, his friend says, “Peter, this girl if comes America, she's not going to marry to you.”
My husband hasn't no penny in his pocket. He borrow money, took an affidavit, and then comes Beirut.
He came Beirut. We were in Dortyol. At that time was small—1921 also they were bombing all over. He stayed three months in Beirut until I come to Beirut. We got married over there. And consul, says, “Where are you taking this little girl? She's too young.” I was 16 years old.
So anyway, I got married, I became a citizen, and we came America. God bless America. I had four children, nice husband. So here I am today.
This program is dedicated to my mother Araxie Barsamian, Hrant Dink and the victims and descendants of the first genocide of the 20th century.
Other related AR programs:
Peter Balakian – Remembering the Armenian Genocide
Robert Jay Lifton, et al – Turkish Denial of the Armenian Genocide
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