By Owei Lakemfa
TURKEY, one of Americaâ€™s staunchest allies in the Islamic world isÂ furious. Its anger is turned againstÂ theÂ United StatesÂ for a vote onÂ March 4, 2010 by theÂ House, Foreign Affairs Committee which characterised theÂ wholesale massacre of Armenian minorities as a â€œgenocideâ€.
So angry is Turkey that it recalled its ambassador, Namik Tan to Ankara. It had played a similar card when in 2007 an AmericanÂ Congressional Committee had characterised the massacres as genocide. On that occasion, then President George W. Bush had prevented the resolution from going to the full House when Turkey threatened to block US access to bases used for the unjust wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. History may repeat itself as American Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton said the Obama administrationÂ is opposed to the resolution.
Ironically, ObamaÂ had in his campaignÂ promises pledged toÂ characterise the massacres as genocide. But Clinton argues that: â€œThe circumstances have changed in very significant waysâ€. In truth, the Obama administration has developed cold feet. Also, Turkey is a member of NATO and during the Cold War, the Turks allowed their soil to be used by America in anti-Soviet Union operations. Committee Chairman, Howard Berman argued that the vote is in order because “at some point, every nation must come to terms with its own history. And that is all we ask of Turkey”.
Due to Turkeyâ€™s unrestrained anger on the use of the word genocide, only 20 countries have picked up the courage to so describe Turkeyâ€™s 1915 to1918Â holocaust against an helpless Armenian populace.Â Interestingly, 42 US states also describe thoseÂ crimes against humanity as genocide. But like those who deny the German holocaust against the Jews, the Turks deny the terrible sins of their grand fathers against the Armenians. Turkish President Abdullah Gul thundered: â€œWe condemn this resolution which accuses the Turkish nationÂ of a crime it has not committedâ€.
The fact that TurkeyÂ lives in self- denial and blackmails countries like America, will not wipe away its historical crimes. Armenia was madeÂ a province of the Ottoman (Turkish) EmpireÂ under Selim II (1524-1574).Â The Armenians were a Christian minority who were treated as a sub- human group. At a point, they had no right to life or property and were excluded from governance.
Under Sultan Abdul Hamid (1876-1909) some 300,000 Armenians were killed. The genocide period was, however, during the Second World War from 1914 when the Ottoman Empire joined the central powers of Germany, Austria and Hungary, while its neighbour, Russia sided with the Western allies. Armenia was tucked between the two countries.
Given the manner the Ottoman Empire had treated the Armenians and the fact that this race also existed across the border in Russia, the Turks did not trust them. On April 24, 1915, Interior Minister, Talat Pasha accused the Armenians ofÂ trying â€œ to gain an administrative autonomyâ€ and ordered the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. On that day, about 250 of them were detained in Constantinople.
Armenians in the army were disarmed and put on labour duties before many were executed. Having uprooted the intellectuals, community leaders and Armenians in the army, the government fell on the rest of the populace . On May 29, 1915,it passed the â€œTemporary Law of Deportationâ€ which authorised the deportation of any one â€œconsidered a threat to national securityâ€. Under this law, the Armenian populace was forced from their homesÂ and driven like herds of cattle towards the desert of what today is Syria. Mainly on foot, the deportees unlike cows were not provided with food, water or resting place. So they were death marches.
During the marches, the Turks unleashed death squads on the ArmeniansÂ putting many to death by the sword while rape was a legal weapon. Many were massacredÂ or burnt right in their homes or villages while those who survived the marches were in many cases executed, burntÂ or decapitated. The remnants fled across the globe or into neighbouring countries. Many who survived never returned to their ancestral homes.
The New York Times reported in August 1915 that: â€œThe roads to the Euphrates are sewn with corpses of exiles and those who survive are doomed to certain death. It is a plan to exterminateÂ the wholeÂ of the Armenian peopleâ€. Oscar S. Heizer, the American Consul at the time reported that: â€œMany of the (Armenian) children were loaded into boats and taken into sea and thrown overboardâ€. The Italian Consul, Giacomo Gorrini said: â€œI saw thousands of innocent women and childrenÂ placed in boats which were capsized in the Black Seaâ€.
The then American Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgewthau, Sr wrote in his memoirs: â€œWhen the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merelyÂ giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no attempt to conceal the factâ€.
The GermanÂ Military Attache, Major GeneralÂ Otto Von Lossow reported that the Turks have embarked upon the â€œtotal elimination of the Armenians…Talaatâ€™s government wants to destroy all Armenians, not just in Turkey but also outside Turkeyâ€.
Some 1.5 million Armenians wereÂ Â wiped out by the TurksÂ in what became the worldâ€™s first well documented case of holocaust.Â The crimes were so horrendous that there were no words strong enough to describe them. So a law professor, Raphael Lemkin coined the word â€œgenocideâ€ in 1943. Part of Turkeyâ€™s reasoning is that the word did not exist back in 1915, so it cannot be used retroactively to describe the Armenian massacres. For this, it is ready to go to war with whoever or whichever country adopts the word. Hence its fury against America.
If the world had stood against the Armenian genocide , it might have been saved the Jewish genocideÂ in the 1940s which claimed over six million lives.Â The Germans had simplyÂ copied the Turks. Let us stand against Turkeyâ€™s fury today.