Sunday, October 11, 2009

Armenia & Turkey

Well, I'm of mixed feelings about the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey.

I'm glad they're at peace, for the time being, but I wish they had not normalized relations until the Turks had acknowledged national guilt for the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and made a formal apology. A settlement of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh would be nice too.

For a little background, my understanding is that Azerbaijian and Armenia have since 1991 been in a state of hostility (sometimes a shooting war, sometimes a cold war) over the Karabakh region. This is an enclave surrounded by Azerbaijian, but with a population (of about 140,000) that is about 95% Armenian (it was 76% Armenian before the war started). Armenia regards it as a traditional part of the Armenian homeland, and it was under Armenian rule prior to the Russian takeover in the 18th century. (For that matter, Armenia used to be at various points in history, much bigger than it is now- during the Empire of Tigran it included much of modern day Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, and then during the Crusades there were Armenian kingdoms in what is now Turkey and Syria).

Armenia and Azerbaijian, interestingly enough, have in common that they are both, like Israel, homelands for a people the majority of whom live elsewhere. Most Armenians live in the Diaspora (8,000,000 vs. 3,200,000, esp. in Lebanon, Syria, France, and the US, especially Massachusetts and California) and most Azeris live in Iran (15,000,000 vs. 8,000,000 in the Azerbaijian).

I will plead guilty to having a romanticized image of Armenia as a kind of fairy-tale mountain republic of plucky peasants who tend their orchard and sheep-herds in between trips to the monastery. Which like most romantizized images probably has a core of truth as well as much exaggeration. That said, I find it a fascinating country, something of an 'alternative mini-Europe': agrarian instead of industrial, and still highly religious instead of secularized. I would love to go visit sometime, including making a trip to the holy city of Etchmiadzin, where they supposedly have the Spear of Destiny (the lance that pierced Christ on the cross). It was the second country in the world to make Christianity the official state religion, before Rome but after Osroene (though the Armenians claim that Osroene had Armenian connections too). The Armenian Church broke from the rest of apostolic Christianity in the fifth century, arguing that Christ had one nature, not two, and since then have been mostly on their own track- in communion with the Jacobites of Syria and India and with the Copts of Ethiopia and Egypt, but not with anyone else). The current head of their church, Catholicos (Patriarch) Karekin seems to be a good & holy man.

Hell, maybe I can help Armenian farmers try and grow perennial grains. Wouldn't that be awesome? Armenian girls are, as I hear, pretty beautiful as well.

One of the interesting things about Armenia is that they have maintained their cultural identity for at least 2500 years, in spite of being usually at the margins of bigger and more powerful empires (Greeks and Persians, Romans and Arabs, Turks and Russians). Possibly out of geopolitical calculations, they allied themselves with the Western powers during the Crusades, and for a while Armenian refugees formed the "Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia" in northern Syria.

Boston, where I grew up, has of course a ton of Armenians- the last names ending in '-ian' or '-yan' is a tipoff.

They were the object of a horrible genocide in 1915. The Young Turks, seeking to replace Islam with ethnic nationalism as the cement of the Empire, decided to eliminate a good portion of the Armenian population by relocating them to the Syrian desert with inadequate food, water, or housing. They were sent on forced marches, and subject to frequent massacres and rape. Whole villages were burned to the ground with people inside. Armenian men, women and children were killed with poison gas and poison injection, as well as by burning and shooting. People were injected with the blood of typhoid victims. It was in many ways a kind of dress rehearsal on a small scale of the horrific genocides of the twentieth century that were to take place in the Soviet Union, Germany, Rwanda, China and elsewhere. All in all, about 1.5 million Armenians died, which is a big chunk of such a small people.

So yes, I think it's a good thing that there is peace, but I wish there had been an acknowledgement of the genocide, and a settlement of the status of Karabakh first (I would think in favor of Armenia, using the same principle that was used in Kosovo, but maybe not). Peace is good, but it should rest on justice, and on truth. The Turks of today are of course not to blame for the crimes of their great grandfathers, any more than Americans today are personally to blame for the genocides against Native Americans. But just as we, collectively, owe an apology and acknowledgement of the sins of our forefathers, so do the Turks. If you don't want genocides to happen in the future, we must do our best to start by acknowledging and decrying the ones that happened in the past. For Hitler himself, it is said, was inspired as much by the genocide against the Armenians, and by the extermination of the Native Americans, and by the Stalinist labor camps, as by the long history of European pogroms against the Jews. As the saying goes, "if you want peace, strive for justice", and justice can only begin with honesty and truth.

"Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end."

No comments: