The hundredth anniversary of the Armenian genocide caused many world leaders to blink, notably President Barack Obama, who abandoned his old campaign promises–and fiery criticism of the Bush administration–by refusing to acknowledge it. Much of this moral cowardice emanates from Western politicians who wish to curry favor with the Turkish government. The Turks have been trying to erase the genocide from history, shortly after they gave up trying to erase the Armenians from history.
Kurdish leaders, however, have been frank in acknowledging the genocide, and the role their own people played as soldiers of the Ottoman Empire. Turkish journalist Uzay Bulut took a long look at the Kurdish recognition, and the desire of Turkish writers to break ranks with their government and acknowledge the past, for International Business Times.
Bulut lays out the background of the Kurds living under Ottoman rule and serving in its military. “During the 1915 genocide, some Kurdish tribes were also exploited and encouraged by the Turkish Ottoman regime to attack the deportation caravans of Armenians,” she writes. “However, it should be noted that there were many cases where Kurds refused to attack the Armenians and rescued them from certain death.”
Kurdish leaders are not soft-pedaling the former to emphasize the latter. “Without hesitation, I recognize the Armenian genocide,” said Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the Peoples’ Democrat Party.
Demirtas added that “everybody, including the Kurds” was involved, but responsibility lies with those who gave the orders, meaning the Ottoman regime. He rejected the official Turkish history that treats the genocide as nothing worse than a severe battlefield defeat for the Armenians–or, worse, an auto-genocide–and noted that since the current Turkish government is eager to claim the Ottoman legacy in other contexts, they should acknowledge the genocide, as well. “As long as such problems are not resolved in Turkey, democracy will never prevail in this country,” he warned.
Totalitarians of every stripe are keen on controlling historical memory; they seek to shape the future by rearranging the foundation of the past. The amount of thought control and speech suppression required to replace memory with official “history” is incompatible with democracy. Bulut illustrates that point at the end of her article by noting that the Turkish penal code is often invoked to silence dissidents under the aegis of avenging “insults” to Turkey or its current government. These laws have been used to crush honest discussion of the Armenian genocide in the past.
The Kurds, to put it delicately, are not always worried about raising the blood pressure of the Turkish government. They will be accused of harping on the Armenian genocide as a means of sticking it to the Turks, something they have not always done metaphorically.
Kurdish recognition of the Armenian plight has been heartfelt, and often self-critical, however. Bulut also relates the Kurdish restoration of the largest Armenian Christian church in the Middle East, Kurdish leaders paying respects at Armenian genocide memorials, and the inclusion of the Armenians in their own monument to the victims of genocide.
Bulut gives Kurdish leaders and activists great credit for learning that “recognition of the genocide, respecting the rights of its victims and extending your hand in remorse, humility and penance to the grandchildren of the survivors” is the right way to deal with the memory of such a monstrous deed.
A cynic–particularly a Turkish cynic–might observe that the Kurds are relentlessly on message when it comes to laying ultimate responsibility for the genocide at the feet of the Ottoman regime. Even the stirring speech delivered by a Kurdish mayor at the dedication of the genocide monument mentioned above took pains to mention the true culprits: “Despite the sovereigns that put us through all these sufferings, we will live together. We will not make one another suffer any more.”
But they are not wrong about who was calling the shots in 1915 or what those leaders sought to accomplish. They are not wrong to believe that the centenary is the best time for people around the world, concerned with such momentous calendar dates as we are, to come fully to terms with what happened to the Armenians, to understand how their fate has been echoed in subsequent horrors, and to admit that dreams of “solving” racial problems through genocide did not die with the passing of the twentieth century.