The Armenian genocide

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire began to crumble and to resent the European empires who pitied this sick man of Europe, yet on whom the Turkish elite depended for their brittle rule. As its authority collapsed, more or less at the same time as the fall of the Chinese imperial dynasty, modern Turkey sought to strengthen itself by turning on one of its former loyal nations, the Armenians.

From the 1890s massacres occur, and these massacres and deportations are only accelerated by World War One and the rise of the young Turks. This group of the Muslim elite feared the loss of their state, and so in a kind of radical nationalism they forged a modern Turkish state through the genocide of the Armenians and massacres of other minorities such as the Pontic Greeks. Forced marches into the Syrian desert, labour camps, mass killings, starvation and mistreatment of refugees, forced conversions, mass deportations, renaming villages and places, changing churches to mosques.

Briefly at the end of World War One the young Turks fell from power, and a liberal group ruled briefly. They sponsored trials and other exposures of these crimes. The historian, Arnold Toynbee, led a historical commission that documented many of the crimes against humanity. Woodrow Wilson led a conference at Sevres, a side meeting to Versailles, that defined the boundaries of an Armenian state to be excised from the new Turkish Republic. But a revolt against the liberals defeated this plan and Mustafa Kemal came to power. Ever since, the Turkish state has dedicated itself to the extinguishing of Armenian identity, culture and memory. Of course, it denies its crimes, and perpetuates myths of innocence that present Kemal, Attaturk, as the founder of the nation, opposed to the imperialists, a warrior of honour who purified Turkey against collaborators with imperialism.

Kemal, it turns out, not without some controversy and uncertainty of documentation, was an inspiration to Hitler and his Nazis. Germans were directly involved in the massacres and forced marches, and there is considerable evidence that the Nazis applied the Turks methods to their own genocide and modelled the adulation and style of the Fuhrer on Kemal himself.

Still in Australia each Anzac Day Attaturk is honoured for his tribute to the johnnies he fought against. We ought to do better. We ought to read this likely fabricated statement as a warrior code tribute, insinuated against British imperialism. We ought especially to know these things, and say these things as Anzac Day is tomorrow to the day, April 24, chosen to commemorate the Armenian genocide.

Lest we forget.

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