Saturday, 25 April 2009
The photographs, never before published, capture the horrors of the first Holocaust of the 20th century. They show a frightened people on the move – men, women and children, some with animals, others on foot, walking over open ground outside the city of Erzerum in 1915, at the beginning of their death march. We know that none of the Armenians sent from Erzerum – in what is today north-eastern Turkey – survived. Most of the men were shot, the children – including, no doubt, the young boy or girl with a headscarf in the close-up photograph – died of starvation or disease. The young women were almost all raped, the older women beaten to death, the sick and babies left by the road to die.
The unique photographs are a stunning witness to one of the most terrible events of our times. Their poor quality – the failure of the camera to cope with the swirl and movement of the Armenian deportees in the close-up picture, the fingerprint on the top of the second – lend them an undeniable authenticity. They come from the archives of the German Deutsche Bank, which was in 1915 providing finance for the maintenance and extension of the Turkish railway system. One incredible photograph – so far published in only two specialist magazines, in Germany and in modern-day Armenia – actually shows dozens of doomed Armenians, including children, crammed into cattle trucks for their deportation. The Turks stuffed 90 Armenians into each of these wagons – the same average the Nazis achieved in their transports to the death camps of Eastern Europe during the Jewish Holocaust.
Hayk Demoyan, director of the grey-stone Museum of the Armenian Genocide in the foothills just outside Yerevan, the capital of present-day Armenia, stares at the photographs on his computer screen in bleak silence. A university lecturer in modern Turkish history, he is one of the most dynamic Armenian genocide researchers inside the remains of Armenia, which is all that was left after the Turkish slaughter; it suffered a further 70 years of terror as part of the Soviet Union. "Yes, you can have these pictures, he says. "We are still discovering more. The Germans took photographs and these pictures even survived the Second World War. Today, we want our museum to be a place of collective memory, a memorisation of trauma. Our museum is for Turks as well as Armenians. This is also [the Turks'] history."
The story of the last century's first Holocaust – Winston Churchill used this very word about the Armenian genocide years before the Nazi murder of six million Jews – is well known, despite the refusal of modern-day Turkey to acknowledge the facts. Nor are the parallels with Nazi Germany's persecution of the Jews idle ones. Turkey's reign of terror against the Armenian people was an attempt to destroy the Armenian race. While the Turks spoke publicly of the need to "resettle" their Armenian population – as the Germans were to speak later of the Jews of Europe – the true intentions of Enver Pasha's Committee of Union and Progress in Constantinople were quite
clear. On 15 September 1915, for example (and a carbon of this document exists) Talaat Pasha, the Turkish Interior minister, cabled an instruction to his prefect in Aleppo about what he should do with the tens of thousands of Armenians in his city. "You have already been informed that the government... has decided to destroy completely all the indicated persons living in Turkey... Their existence must be terminated, however tragic the measures taken may be, and no regard must be paid to either age or sex, or to any scruples of conscience." These words are almost identical to those used by Himmler to his SS killers in 1941.
Taner Akcam, a prominent – and extremely brave – Turkish scholar who has visited the Yerevan museum, has used original Ottoman Turkish documents to authenticate the act of genocide. Now under fierce attack for doing so from his own government, he discovered in Turkish archives that individual Turkish officers often wrote "doubles" of their mass death-sentence orders, telegrams sent at precisely the same time that asked their subordinates to ensure there was sufficient protection and food for the Armenians during their "resettlement". This weirdly parallels the bureaucracy of Nazi Germany, where officials were dispatching hundreds of thousands of Jews to the gas chambers while assuring International Red Cross officials in Geneva that they were being well cared for and well fed.
Ottoman Turkey's attempt to exterminate an entire Christian race in the Middle East – the Armenians, descended from the residents of ancient Urartu, became the first Christian nation when their king Drtad converted from paganism in AD301 – is a history of almost unrelieved horror at the hands of Turkish policemen and soldiers, and Kurdish tribesmen.
In 1915, Turkey claimed that its Armenian population was supporting Turkey's Christian enemies in Britain, France and Russia. Several historians – including Churchill, who was responsible for the doomed venture at Gallipoli – have asked whether the Turkish victory there did not give them the excuse to turn against the Christian Armenians of Asia Minor, a people of mixed Persian, Roman and Byzantine blood, with what Churchill called "merciless fury". Armenian scholars have compiled a map of their people's persecution and deportation, a document that is as detailed as the maps of Europe that show the railway lines to Auschwitz and Treblinka; the Armenians of Erzerum, for example, were sent on their death march to Terjan and then to Erzinjan and on to Sivas province. The men would be executed by firing squad or hacked to death with axes outside villages, the women and children then driven on into the desert to die of thirst or disease or exhaustion or gang-rape. In one mass grave I myself discovered on a hillside at Hurgada in present-day Syria, there were thousands of skeletons, mostly of young people – their teeth were perfect. I even found a 100-year-old Armenian woman who had escaped the slaughter there and identified the hillside for me.
Hayk Demoyan sits in his air-conditioned museum office, his computer purring softly on the desk, and talks of the need to memorialise this huge suffering. "You can see it in the writing of each survivor," he says. "When visitors come here from the diaspora – from America and Europe, Lebanon and Syria, people whose parents or grandparents died in our genocide – our staff feel with these people. They see these people become very upset, there are tears and some get a bit crazy after seeing the exhibition. This can be very difficult for us, psychologically. The stance of the current Turkish government [in denying the genocide] is proving they are proud of what their ancestors did. They are saying they are pleased with what the Ottomans did. Yet today, we are hearing that a lot of places in the world are like goldmines of archive materials to continue our work – even here in Yerevan. Every day, we are coming across new photographs or documents."
The pictures Demoyan gives to The Independent were taken by employees of Deutsche Bank in 1915 to send to their head office in Berlin as proof of their claims that the Turks were massacring their Armenian population. They can be found in the Deutsche Bank Historical Institute – Oriental Section (the photograph of the Armenian deportees across the desert published in The Independent today, for example, is registered photo number 1704 and the 1915 caption reads: "Deportation Camp near Erzerum.")
A German engineer in Kharput sent back a now-famous photogaph of Armenian men being led to their execution by armed Turkish police officers. The banking officials were appalled that the Ottoman Turks were using – in effect – German money to send Armenians to their death by rail. The new transportation system was supposed to be used for military purposes, not for genocide.
German soldiers sent to Turkey to reorganise the Ottoman army also witnessed these atrocities. Armin Wegner, an especially courageous German second lieutenant in the retinue of Field Marshal von der Goltz, took a series of photographs of dead and dying Armenian women and children. Other German officers regarded the genocide with more sinister interest. Some of these men, as Armenian scholar Vahakn Dadrian discovered, turn up 26 years later as more senior officers conducting the mass killing of Jews in German-occupied Russia.
Computers have transformed the research of institutions like the Yerevan museum. Poorly funded scholarship has been replaced by a treasure-house of information that Demoyan is going to publish in scholarly magazines. "We have information that some Germans who were in Armenia in 1915 started selling genocide pictures for personal collections when they returned home... In Russia, a man from St Petersburg also informed us that he had seen handwritten memoirs from 1940 in which the writer spoke of Russian photographs of Armenian bodies in Van and Marash in 1915 and 1916." Russian Tsarist troops marched into the eastern Turkish city of Van and briefly liberated its doomed Armenian inhabitants. Then the Russians retreated after apparently taking these pictures of dead Armenians in outlying villages.
Stalin also did his bit to erase the memory of the massacres. The Armenian Tashnag party, so prominent in Armenian politics in the Ottoman empire, was banned by the Soviets. "In the 1930s," Demoyan says, "everyone destroyed handwritten memoirs of the genocide, photographs, land deeds – otherwise they could have been associated by the Soviet secret police with Tashnag material." He shakes his head at this immeasurable loss. "But now we are finding new material in France and new pictures taken by humanitarian workers of the time. We know there were two or three documentary films from 1915, one shot approvingly by a Kurdish leader to show how the Turks "dealt" with Armenians. There is huge new material in Norway of the deportations in Mush from a Norwegian missionary who was there in 1915."
There is, too, a need to archive memoirs and books that were published in the aftermath of the genocide but discarded or forgotten in the decades that followed. In 1929, for example, a small-circulation book was published in Boston entitled From Dardanelles to Palestine by Captain Sarkis Torossian. The author was a highly decorated officer in the Turkish army who fought with distinction and was wounded at Gallipoli. He went on to fight the Allies in Palestine but was appalled to find thousands of dying Armenian refugees in the deserts of northern Syria. In passages of great pain, he discovers his sister living in rags and tells how his fiancée Jemileh died in his arms. "I raised Jemileh in my arms, the pain and terror in her eyes melted until they were bright as stars again, stars in an oriental night... and so she died, as a dream passing." Torossian changed sides, fought with the Arabs, and even briefly met Lawrence of Arabia – who did not impress him.
"The day following my entry into Damascus, the remainder of the Arab army entered along with their loads and behind them on a camel came one they called... the paymaster. This camel rider I learned was Captain Lawrence... Captain Lawrence to my knowledge did nothing to foment the Arab revolution, nor did he play any part in the Arab military tactics. When first I heard of him he was a paymaster, nothing more. And so he was to Prince Emir Abdulah (sic), brother of King Feisal, whom I knew. I do not write in disparagement. I write as a fighting man. Some must fight and others pay." Bitterness, it seems, runs deep. Torossian eventually re-entered Ottoman Turkey as an Armenian officer with the French army of occupation in the Cilicia region. But Kemalist guerrillas attacked the French, who then, Torossian suspects, gave weapons and ammunition to the Turks to allow the French army safe passage out of Cilicia. Betrayed, Torossian fled to relatives in America.
There is debate in Yerevan today as to why the diaspora Armenians appea r to care more about the genocide than the citizens of modern-day Armenia. Indeed, the Foreign minister of Armenia, Vardan Oskanian, actually told me that "days, weeks, even months go by" when he does not think of the genocide. One powerful argument put to me by an Armenian friend is that 70 years of Stalinism and official Soviet silence on the genocide deleted the historical memory in eastern Armenia – the present-day state of Armenia. Another argument suggests that the survivors of western Armenia – in what is now Turkey – lost their families and lands and still seek acknowledgement and maybe even restitution, while eastern Armenians did not lose their lands. Demoyan disputes all this.
"The fundamental problem, I think, is that in the diaspora many don't want to recognise our statehood," he says. "We are surrounded by two countries – Turkey and Azerbaijan – and we have to take our security into account; but not to the extent of damaging memory. Here we must be accurate. I have changed things in this museum. There were inappropriate things, comments about 'hot-bloodied'people, all the old clichés about Turks – they have now gone. The diaspora want to be the holders of our memories – but 60 per cent of the citizens of the Armenian state are "repatriates" – Armenians originally from the diaspora, people whose grandparents originally came from western Armenia. And remember that Turkish forces swept though part of Armenia after the 1915 genocide – right through Yerevan on their way to Baku. According to Soviet documentation in 1920, 200,000 Armenians died in this part of Armenia, 180,000 of them between 1918 and 1920." Indeed, there were further mass executions by the Turks in what is now the Armenian state. At Ghumri – near the centre of the devastating earthquake that preceded final liberation from the Soviet Union – there is a place known as the "Gorge of Slaughter", where in 1918 a whole village was massacred.
But I sensed some political problems up at the Yerevan museum – international as well as internal. While many Armenians acknowledge that their countrymen did commit individual revenge atrocities – around Van, for example – at the time of the genocide, a heavy burden of more modern responsibility lies with those who fought for Armenia against the Azeris in Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s. This mountainous region east of the Armenian state saw fierce and sometimes cruel fighting in which Armenians massacred Turkish Azeri villagers. The Independent was one of the newspapers that exposed this.
Yet when I arrive at the massive genocide memorial next to the museum, I find the graves of five "heroes" of the Karabakh war. Here lies, for instance, Musher "Vosht" Mikhoyan, who was killed in 1991, and the remains of Samuel "Samo" Kevorkian, who died in action in 1992. However upright these warriors may have been, should those involved in the ghastly war in Kharabakh be associated with the integrity and truth of 1915? Do they not demean the history of Armenia's greatest suffering? Or were they – as I suspect – intended to suggest that the Karabakh war, which Armenia won, was revenge for the 1915 genocide? It's as if the Israelis placed the graves of the 1948 Irgun fighters – responsible for the massacres of Palestinians at Deir Yassin and other Arab villages – outside the Jewish Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem near Jerusalem.
Officials later explain to me that these Kharabakh grave-sites were established at a moment of great emotion after the war and that today – while they might be inappropriate – it is difficult to ask the families of "Vosht" and "Samo" and the others to remove them to a more suitable location. Once buried, it is difficult to dig up the dead. Similarly, among the memorials left in a small park by visiting statesmen and politicians, there is a distinct difference in tone. Arab leaders have placed plaques in memory of the "genocide". Less courageous American congressman – who do not want to offend their Turkish allies – have placed plaques stating merely that they "planted this tree". The pro-American Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri left his own memorial less than a year before he was assassinated in 2005. "Tree of Peace," it says. Which rather misses the point.
And yet it is the work of archivists that will continue to establish the truth. In Yerevan you can now buy excellent witness testimonies of the genocide by Westerners who were present during the Armenian Holocaust. One of them is by Tacy Atkinson, an American missionary who witnessed the deportation of her Armenian friends from the town of Kharput. On 16 July 1915, she recorded in her secret diary how "a boy has arrived in Mezreh in a bad state nervously. As I understand it he was with a crowd of women and children from some village... who joined our prisoners who went out June 23... The boy says that in the gorge this side of Bakir Maden the men and women were all shot and the leading men had their heads cut off afterwards... He escaped... and came here. His own mother was stripped and robbed and then shot... He says the valley smells so awful that one can hardly pass by now."
For fear the Turkish authorities might discover her diaries, Atkinson sometimes omitted events. In 1924 – when her diary, enclosed in a sealed trunk, at last returned to the United States, she wrote about a trip made to Kharput by her fellow missionaries. "The story of this trip I did not dare write," she scribbled in the margin. "They saw about 10,000 bodies."
Anatomy of a massacre: How the genocide unfolded
By Simon Usborne
An estimated 1.5 million Armenians died between 1915 and 1917, either at the hands of Turkish forces or of starvation. Exact figures are unknown, but each larger blob – at the site of a concentration camp or massacre – potentially represents the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
The trail of extermination, and dispute about exactly what happened, stretches back more than 90 years to the opening months of the First World War, when some of the Armenian minority in the east of the beleaguered Ottoman Empire enraged the ruling Young Turks coalition by siding with Russia.
On 24 April 1915, Turkish troops rounded up and killed hundreds of Armenian intellectuals. Weeks later, three million Armenians were marched from their homes – the majority towards Syria and modern-day Iraq – via an estimated 25 concentration camps.
In 1915, The New York Times reported that "the roads and the Euphrates are strewn with corpses of exiles... It is a plan to exterminate the whole Armenian people." Winston Churchill would later call the forced exodus an "administrative holocaust".
Yet Turkey, while acknowledging that many Armenians died, disputes the 1.5 million toll and insists that the acts of 1915-17 did not constitute what is now termed genocide – defined by the UN as a state-sponsored attempt to "destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group". Instead, Ankara claims the deaths were part of the wider war, and that massacres were committed by both sides.
Several countries have formally recognised genocide against the Armenians (and, in the case of France, outlawed its denial), but it remains illegal in Turkey to call for recognition. As recently as last year, the Turkish foreign ministry dismissed genocide allegations as "unfounded".
One authority on extermination who did recognise the Armenian genocide was Adolf Hitler. In a 1939 speech, in which he ordered the killing, "mercilessly and without compassion", of Polish men, women and children, he concluded: "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
“Reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide took another step forward today,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny.
“As we mark Genocide Prevention Month throughout April and the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, support continues to build for unequivocal U.S. affirmation. By affirming the Armenian Genocide, we further the cause of genocide prevention,” added Ardouny.
“When Obama was a Senator and a presidential candidate, he said numerous times that the Armenian Genocide must be recognized. And we expect that he will keep his promises,” says Vartanian. Though, she found it difficult to predict whether Obama would utter the word genocide on April 24 this year or not.
Vartanian believes that the historic events that happened recently, such as Obama’s announcement at the Turkish Parliament stating that he did not change his position concerning the issue, as well as his speech on the Rwandan Genocide’s anniversary commemoration, stating that all genocides must be prevented, do give hope.
Referring to the works carried out by the AAA, Vartanian emphasized that the AAA works not only in April, but also during the whole year for the US recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
“We work with Congressmen, Senators, the Obama administration. But the work with the community is the most important,” said Vartanian, “It was even harder before - we were working on the adoption of the Resolution by Congressmen.”
H. Res. 252, a congressional resolution which reaffirms the historical record of the United States on the Armenian Genocide, was modeled after H. Res. 106, which passed the House Committee on Foreign Affairs during the 110th Congress. H. Res. 252, was introduced by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA), George Radanovich (R-CA) and Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-Chairmen Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL).
In January, the Assembly launched a website, ArmenianGenocideAffirmation.com, dedicated to U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide. The website affords visitors the opportunity to send a letter to President Barack Obama or their respective Member of Congress, view the current list of all H. Res. 252 co-sponsors, join the Assembly's facebook group or become an Ambassador of Affirmation, as well as view its latest video messages.
In a much-anticipated White House statement, Obama took note of the "great atrocities" that occurred in the Ottoman Empire from April 24, 1915, until 1923. While saying that 1.5 million Armenians were "massacred or marched to their death," the president said that the most important thing now was to look ahead.
"I strongly support efforts by the Turkish and Armenian people to work through this painful history in a way that is honest, open and constructive," Obama declared.
The president also twice used the Armenian phrase "meds yeghern," which often is translated as "great calamity."
The most important part of his statement, though, was the word that was missing. Armenian-American activists and their political allies denounced the 389-word statement as a sellout because it didn't characterize the events as genocide.
"I am outraged," said Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., a co-sponsor of a congressional Armenian-genocide resolution. "The president chose, for political reasons, to abandon his commitment to the Armenian people."
Bryan Ardouny, the executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, charged that Obama's "failure ... diminishes U.S. credibility with regard to genocide prevention," while Armenian National Committee of America Chairman Ken Hachikian voiced "sharp disappointment" with the president's "retreat."
Obama's carefully calibrated statement was consistent with the traditional advice of Pentagon and State Department professionals, who warn against alienating Turkey. It reversed the promise he made while seeking Armenian-American votes, however.
"As president, I will recognize the Armenian genocide," Obama said on his campaign Web site.
Samantha Power, an Obama adviser and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, accentuated the point with a widely viewed YouTube campaign video addressed to Armenian-Americans. Now a member of the National Security Council, Power said then that Obama would "call a spade a spade and speak truth" about the historic events.
Once in the White House, however, Obama became subject to the broader diplomatic and military considerations that have prompted presidents before him to retreat from similar promises. Turkey is a crucial U.S. ally within NATO - bordering Iraq and Iran - and Turkish officials say the 1915-1923 wartime events remain subject to interpretation.
In a two-day visit to Turkey earlier this month, Obama stressed the important ties between the United States and the strategically located nation of 78 million people. Turkish officials have warned consistently that the United States could lose commercial opportunities and military advantages, which include the use of Turkey's busy Incirlik Air Base, if an insulting genocide commemoration were issued.
"President Obama has sent a clear message to America and the world that his administration will not sacrifice long-term strategic allies for short-term political gains," said Lincoln McCurdy, the president of the Turkish Coalition of America.
The Turkish and Armenian governments, with Switzerland as a neutral mediator, are working to normalize their long-strained relations. Diplomats have warned against any incendiary U.S. statement that might interfere with these talks, described in a recent joint Turkish-Armenian statement as reaching "tangible progress and mutual understanding."
"I suspect they think they're making real progress on their dialogue, and they want to see it completed," said Rep. Jim Costa, a California Democrat and genocide-resolution supporter who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush broke similar pledges. President Bill Clinton, too, leaned on congressional leaders not to pass genocide commemoration measures.
In 2000, only minutes before debate was set to start in the House of Representatives, then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert yielded to Clinton's request not to bring the genocide resolution, authored by Radanovich, up for a vote.
Hastert is now a lobbyist with the firm Dickstein Shapiro, one of a number that Turkey hired to press its cause on Capitol Hill. Turkey pays $35,000 a month for help from Hastert and his team, Justice Department foreign-agent filings show. Turkey is paying former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt's firm, DLA Piper, $100,000 a month, filings have shown.
Currently, 107 House members co-sponsor a nonbinding resolution that says, "The failure of the domestic and international authorities to punish those responsible for the Armenian genocide is a reason why similar genocides have recurred and may recur in the future."
A similar resolution fell short in the last Congress, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said she'll bring it to a vote only if it attracts at least 218 co-sponsors.
The following is President Obama's statement on Armenian Remembrance Day:
Ninety four years ago, one of the great atrocities of the 20th century began. Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The Meds Yeghern must live on in our memories, just as it lives on in the hearts of the Armenian people.
History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Just as the terrible events of 1915 remind us of the dark prospect of man's inhumanity to man, reckoning with the past holds out the powerful promise of reconciliation. I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.
The best way to advance that goal right now is for the Armenian and Turkish people to address the facts of the past as a part of their efforts to move forward. I strongly support efforts by the Turkish and Armenian people to work through this painful history in a way that is honest, open, and constructive. To that end, there has been courageous and important dialogue among Armenians and Turks, and within Turkey itself. I also strongly support the efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize their bilateral relations. Under Swiss auspices, the two governments have agreed on a framework and roadmap for normalization. I commend this progress, and urge them to fulfill its promise.
Together, Armenia and Turkey can forge a relationship that is peaceful, productive and prosperous. And together, the Armenian and Turkish people will be stronger as they acknowledge their common history and recognize their common humanity.
Nothing can bring back those who were lost in the Meds Yeghern. But the contributions that Armenians have made over the last ninety-four years stand as a testament to the talent, dynamism and resilience of the Armenian people, and as the ultimate rebuke to those who tried to destroy them. The United States of America is a far richer country because of the many Americans of Armenian descent who have contributed to our society, many of whom immigrated to this country in the aftermath of 1915. Today, I stand with them and with Armenians everywhere with a sense of friendship, solidarity, and deep respect.
Barack Obama was unequivocal during the campaign: As president, he would recognize the nearly century-old massacre of Armenians in Turkey as genocide.
In breaking that promise Friday, the president did the same diplomatic tiptoeing he criticized the Bush administration for doing.
Like George W. Bush before him, Obama did not want to alienate vital ally Turkey by declaring the slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians to be genocide - especially with Turkey and Armenia now exploring reconciliation.
Instead, he said he had not changed his view from the campaign, even as he declined to state it, and added: "My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts."
In a statement on the anniversary of the start of the killings in 1915 - a day when U.S. presidents typically honor the Armenian victims - Obama said: "Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire."
The statement was less than the full and frank acknowledgment he promised Jan. 19, 2008, when he vowed that as president, "I will recognize the Armenian Genocide," and repeatedly used the word.
An excerpt from that 2008 campaign statement, one of several he released on the subject:
"I also share with Armenian Americans - so many of whom are descended from genocide survivors - a principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide. That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history. As a U.S. Senator, I have stood with the Armenian American community in calling for Turkey's acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide.
"Two years ago, I criticized the Secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term 'genocide' to describe Turkey's slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. I shared with Secretary (Condoleezza) Rice my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy.
"As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide."
Scholars widely consider the events of 1915 to be the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey contends the death toll was inflated and resulted from civil war and unrest, not genocide.
Ken Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, said Obama's statement Friday "represents a retreat from his pledge and a setback to the vital change he promised to bring about in how America confronts the crime of genocide."
Friday, 24 April 2009
What happens when an emerging artist is given one of Newcastle's funkiest art spaces for a week of creativity? Australian Artist Todd Fuller's animated installation, with very special thanks to Newcastle's 'Watt space' gallery! For more of Todd's works head to www.toddfuller.com.au
Monday, 20 April 2009
Margaret Parsons, Executive Director of African Canadian Legal Clinic. She participated in the original Durban conference in 2001 and all the preparatory meetings for the review conference.
Ingrid Jaradat, Director of the Bethlehem-based BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights.
AMY GOODMAN: A growing number of Western countries are joining the United States and Israel in boycotting the United Nations World Conference on Racism, which opened today in Geneva, Switzerland. Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand all announced they would boycott the conference soon after the US announced it formally decided not to attend on Saturday. Israel and Canada—or Israel said Canada had decided to shun the conference many months earlier. France and the UK are attending, but France says it will walk out immediately if there are racist comments made against Israel. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the opening session he was “profoundly disappointed” at the boycotts.
As the conference began, Israel said it was recalling its ambassador to Switzerland. The protest came as the Swiss president met the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is to address the UN conference later today.
The meeting is a follow-up to the first world conference to discuss racism which was held in Durban, South Africa, in August of 2001 and is meant to review progress that’s been made in the fight against racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance.
President Obama defended the boycott decision at a news conference in Trinidad on Sunday, citing concerns over adopting language from the 2001 final document and its expressions of, quote, “antagonism towards Israel.” He said participating in the conference, quote, “would have involved putting our imprimatur on something that we just don’t believe.”
I’m joined now on the telephone from Geneva by Margaret Parsons. She’s the executive director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic. She participated in the original Durban conference in 2001, as well as all the preparatory meetings for the review conference.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Margaret. Can you explain what has happened so far?
MARGARET PARSONS: Well, today, thank you for inviting me. Today, it was just mainly foreign ministers and other high-level officials that have brought greetings and, you know, sharing their commitment to fight and eradicate racism and other forms of discrimination. And basically, it’s been pretty calm today.
You know, NGOs have had displays, and there are different side events, voices of victims. You know, there will be side events throughout the entire week on issues like the trans-Atlantic slave trade, indigenous peoples, what’s happening with the Dalits and Romas around the world. And it’s just people just sharing what is taking place in different regions and countries globally.
AMY GOODMAN: And your reaction to the US, Israel, Canada, Australia, a number of countries pulling out of the conference?
MARGARET PARSONS: Well, we are extremely disappointed by the boycott of these Western nations. While we’re disappointed, we are not surprised, because this is about accountability. These countries have not come to the table with clean hands. They have never really meant to participate and really be held accountable for the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action, a document they all signed onto in 2001, the exception of Israel and the United States. At least the United States and Israel are being consistent in their position. However, these other countries are quite hypocritical in their withdrawal. You know, many here feel that if these countries had come, they would have received a failing grade, because they have done little to nothing to implement the Program of Action.
The Durban Declaration and Program of Action is an excellent blueprint. There was nothing in that document that was racist, anti-Semitic. It was an expression of goodwill. It was an expression of encouragement in terms of the peace process in the Middle East. And it is an excellent document and a blueprint that countries should adopt in working to eradicate racism.
AMY GOODMAN: The US and other Western countries say the draft final document contains objectionable language that could single out Israel for criticism. But all references to the Israel and the Middle East were removed from the draft document, and Palestinian civil society groups are critical of how Israel’s actions against Palestinians have now been excluded from the framework of the conference.
We’re also joined on the phone from Geneva by Ingrid Jaradat, the director of the Bethlehem-based BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights.
We welcome you to Democracy Now! Explain your response to the pullout of the United States and a number of other Western nations.
INGRID JARADAT: Well, our first response has been the question whether these governments have actually read the original documents and the draft documents, because neither the original Durban Declaration and Program of Action nor current drafts include any inciting language against Israel. In the initial Durban documents of 2001, the only time Israel is mentioned it’s mentioned as a state entitled to security like all other states. So there is no—there has never been any sort of language that could be declared racist. And it makes you really wonder which documents people are referring to when they say they are antagonistic.
And so, I would appeal to everybody who has good faith to go back to the documents and read the papers. And especially since we are dealing with a Durban review conference, it would be good to read the papers. So, that would be reaction number one, and—because much of what is now being said by governments and in the media about the debates and about the documents has no factual basis.
AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask Margaret Parsons what this means for the US pulling out, the first African American president of the United States, Barack Obama, a conference on racism.
MARGARET PARSONS: Well, this is very disappointing. And many of the people of African descent here have expressed their disappointment in Barack Obama, that we feel that he has come in, and he has talked about change. And we have seen where he has extended a hand to Cuba after fifty years of the embargo, where he’s willing to make change. He has extended a hand to the Muslim and Arab world and trying to get people to take a different view or move back from their stereotypical positions on the Muslim and the Arab world. He’s shown in many ways—he’s gone to Turkey, and he’s willing and said that he’s willing to sit down and meet and talk with the president of Iran, with North Korea.
And so, we feel that at the very least he should have expressed and shown some goodwill and some good faith and, in his whole agenda on change, to come here, to actually read the document and not listen just to the pro-Israeli lobby, but to send a delegation and to show that he really is committed to change and he really is committed to an anti-racism agenda, and to do the right thing and to have participated. We are very surprised, we are very disappointed. And quite frankly, I think that this is a black eye on the Obama administration.
AMY GOODMAN: What can be accomplished at this conference with a number of countries, with Germany and Holland and Switzerland and Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Canada, also boycotting? What now do you hope can come at the end of this conference?
MARGARET PARSONS: I think it’s important to note that this unholy and cynical alliance between what is predominantly white Western countries is them not wanting to have to address the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonization, the occupation of Palestine, and the expropriation of indigenous people’s lands and resources.
And I think still a lot has been accomplished, because a lot has been achieved since 2001. Many regions of the world, many countries have taken the Durban Declaration and Program of Action very seriously and have moved it forward, countries such as Brazil. The Afro-Latino and indigenous communities in regions in South America have seen not full and complete progress, but significant progress. We’ve seen the same thing happen in places like South Africa, with the Dalits in India. And so, I think that we are here now to support those countries, to support those regions and those governments, and as they move forward in the implementation.
But also we are here in defiance of our governments—Canada and the US and New Zealand and the Netherlands—to say we are not giving up the fight, and we are going to continue in our struggle to end racism, in our anti-racism agenda, and to continue to hold our countries accountable and these Western countries accountable, because this is our very lives, this is our very human rights that’s at stake here. And whether or not they are here, we will continue to move and continue to speak out against atrocities around the world, human rights abuses, and to ensure that racism and discrimination is combatted everywhere.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Margaret Parsons, executive director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, as well as Ingrid Jaradat, the director of the Bethlehem-based BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian residency and refugee rights, both speaking to us from Geneva.