Armenia Fires the First Shot on 90th Anniversary of Genocide
Harut Sassounian Commentary 2005 January
The Armenian government fired the first shot this week to begin the yearlong commemorative activities planned for the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian spoke on January 24 during the Special Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps. Mr. Oskanian's remarkable statement, along with several others, was broadcast live in Israel. Here are excerpts from his remarks that were delivered extemporaneously with a heavy heart and profound passion:
"On behalf of the people and government of Armenia, and as a descendant of genocide survivors, I feel compelled to be here today, to join other survivors and descendants of both victims and perpetrators, to take part in this commemoration....
"In the 20th century alone, with its 15 genocides, the victims have their own names for places of infamy. What the French call 'les lieux infames de memoire' are everywhere. Places of horror, slaughter, of massacre, of the indiscriminate killing of all those who have belonged to a segment, a category, an ethnic group, a race or a religion. For Armenians, it is the desert of Deir-El-Zor, for Cambodians they are the killing fields, for the children of the 21st century, it is Darfur. For the Jews and Poles and for a whole generation of us growing up after The War, it is Auschwitz....
"After Auschwitz one would expect that no one any longer has a right to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear. As an Armenian, I know that a blind eye, a deaf ear, and a muted tongue perpetuate the wounds. It is a memory of suffering unrelieved by strong condemnation and unequivocal recognition.
The catharsis that the victims deserve, which societies require in order to heal and move forward together, obligates us here at the UN, and in the international community, to be witness, to call things by their name, to remove the veil of obfuscation, of double standards, of political expediency....
"Recognizing the victims and acknowledging them is also to recognize that there are perpetrators. But this is absolutely not the same as actually naming them, shaming them, dissuading or warning them, isolating or punishing them....
"The Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana admonished us to remember the past, or be condemned to repeat it. This admonition has significance for me personally, because the destruction of my people, whose fate in some way impinged upon the fate of the Jews of Europe, should have been more widely seen as a warning of things to come.
"Jews and Armenians are linked forever by Hitler. 'Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?' said Adolf Hitler, days before he entered Poland.
"Hitler's cynical remembrance of Armenians is prominently displayed in the Holocaust Memorial in Washington because it is a profound commentary about the crucial role of third parties in genocide prevention and remembrance.
Genocide is the manifestation of the break in the covenant that governments have with their peoples. Therefore, it is third parties who become crucial actors in genocide prevention, humanitarian assistance and genocide remembrance.
"We are commemorating today, because the Soviet troops marched into Auschwitz 60 years ago. I am here today because the Arabs provided sanctuary to Armenian deportees 90 years ago.
"Third parties, indeed, can make the difference between life and death.
Their rejection of the behaviors and policies which are neither in anyone's national interest nor in humanity's international interest, is of immense moral and political value.
"What neighbors, well-wishers, the international community can't accomplish, is the transcending and reconciling which the parties must do for themselves. The victims, first, must exhibit the dignity, capacity and willingness to move on, and the perpetrators, first and last, must summon the deep force of humanity and goodness and must overcome the memory of the inner evil which had already prevailed, and must renounce the deed, its intent, its consequences, its architects and executors."
Mr. Oskanian's UN remarks are significant for several reasons:
- They were delivered by the Foreign Minister, and not by the Ambassador at the UN;
- They exposed once again the Turkish lie that Armenians in Armenia do not care about the Genocide. Several years ago, Pres. Kocharian himself spoke about the Armenian Genocide from the UN podium. Furthermore, the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide is one of the foreign policy objectives of the Republic of Armenia;
- They sent a message to the Turkish leaders that Armenians would keep raising this issue at every opportunity, and in every forum, until the Turks acknowledge the skeletons in their closet;
- By speaking about this issue at the UN, the Armenian Genocide was brought to the attention of the whole world.
As I reported in this column last December, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN had asked for a Special Session of the UN General Assembly to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. Since the US government would not make a similar request to have the UN observe the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, it was very commendable that Foreign Minister Oskanian made a personal appearance at the UN to deliver a major statement marking the anniversaries of both the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide.
It is noteworthy that during a press conference last week, when the Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, was asked if holding a Special Session of the General Assembly for the Holocaust "may open the gate for other groups such as the Armenians... to demand a similar treatment," he appeared to leave the door open for a UN commemoration of the Armenian Genocide by saying: "It is possible that, in the future, Member States would want to commemorate other events."
On this occasion, it is important to compare and contrast the attitude of the representatives of Germany and Turkey. While the German Foreign Minister very strongly condemned the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime, the Turkish Ambassador shamelessly lied about the abysmal human rights record of his country, stating that Turkey has always been a tolerant state that combated hatred and prejudice! While Germans offer profuse apologies and make amends for the crimes committed by their predecessor regime, Turks continue to defend their genocidal ancestors.
Turkish commentators had expressed the fear that an "Armenian Tsunami" was fast approaching Turkey on the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Despite these warnings, the first wave of the "Armenian Tsunami" caught Turkish officials by surprise. Their Ambassador was unprepared to respond to Mr. Oskanian's statement. He simply read his prepared speech that contained no answer to the Armenian Foreign Minister's call for the acknowledgment of the Genocide.
The Turks should expect more such bad weather in the next 12 months, as long as they continue to deny the first genocide of the 20th century.