Armenian Patriarch of Turkey Issues Bold Message on Genocide
Harut Sassounian Commentary 2005 January
Over the years, as various Armenian Church leaders in Turkey, under pressure from Turkish officials, made disparaging remarks about the Diaspora's efforts for the recognition for the Armenian Genocide, I never hesitated to criticize them. Therefore, it is only fair that these Church leaders are to be commended whenever they bravely speak out on the Armenian Genocide, jeopardizing their own position and personal safety.
Patriarch Mesrob II, in his New Year message to the Armenian community of Turkey, made such a bold statement last week. Surprisingly, a portion of his lengthy message is devoted to the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. That segment of the statement, issued in three languages, is entitled "The Great Disaster," in English, "Meds Yegherni Hishadage," in Armenian; and "Buyuk Felaket," in Turkish. The Patriarch's statement appeared on the Patriarchate's web site and in the Armenian press of Istanbul. It is understandable that under the repressive conditions in Turkey, the Patriarch is forced to use substitutes for the word genocide. For the benefit of non-Armenian speaking readers, we should point out that "Medz Yeghern" was used by Armenians to describe the Armenian Genocide before the word genocide existed. "Medz Yeghern" could be translated alternatively as " Great Disaster," "Great Calamity," or "Great Cataclysm." Armenians sometimes still refer to the Armenian Genocide as "Medz Yeghern," just as the Jews use the Hebrew word "Shoah" for the Holocaust.
Here is the English version of that segment of the Patriarch's Message:
"Beloved Church members: one of the painful historical events ... has become known in Armenian literature as Medz Yeghern (The Great Disaster).
The Ottoman government of that time of the Committee for Union and Progress, citing security reasons in the circumstances of the First World War, exiled Armenian citizens living in the Ottoman Empire to the deserts of Syria. However, because the necessary precautions were not taken, hundreds of thousands of Armenian citizens lost their lives either near their own homes, or on the journey, or in the desert, or were the victims of inhuman attacks by opportunists. Of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire, only a small proportion was saved from annihilation.
Whatever the given justification, this great unconscionable disaster has passed into history as a human drama that took place at the beginning of the 20th century. Wherever on the globe, every Armenian still feels the imprint of this Great Disaster in his or her identity and still lives with the trauma, in some way or another. Throughout the year 2005, on the 90th anniversary of this event, Armenians will offer to God their prayers and incense for the souls of their martyrs."
While the Patriarch is careful not to use the word "Genocide," - it is a crime to do so in Turkey -- his statement makes it amply clear that the government of the Ottoman Empire was the organizer of the deportations that led to the deaths of "hundreds of thousands" of Armenians. In addition to outright murder, the United Nations defines as genocide the act of "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part."
We should point out that the Patriarch, in his statement, uses the term "annihilation," meaning extermination or total destruction, which is another way of saying genocide.
The Patriarch Mesrob II who is fluent in Armenian, Turkish and English, has probably written the statement himself in all three languages. A careful comparison of the three versions reveals subtle differences in the words used to describe the Armenian Genocide. Even though it is practically impossible to translate verbatim a text from one language to another, it is noteworthy that the Armenian version contains the strongest words.
Finally, it is significant that the Patriarch made his bold remarks on the genocide less than a week after the Prime Minister of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, announced that the Turkish government would do everything in its power to counter the Armenian efforts, particularly in view of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
For the first time, and on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the Patriarch is properly and bravely suggesting that Armenians in Turkey would be joining their compatriots around the globe in remembering the "annihilation" of their ancestors. While Armenians might not be able to hold any public commemorative events in Turkey on that date, the Patriarch is certain that they carry in their souls the trauma of the Genocide and the memory of their martyrs!