Shadows of the Empire

Shadows of the Empire

The hourglass measures time in a very strange way. Unlike our round watches, or digital timekeepers, it does not treat every sand particle equally. Towards the end it speeds up. Tiny sand particles that are left at the end drop so fast that one wishes to stop it at some point.

Such is the situation with the Armenian Tragedy for Turkey now. As the clock ticked towards the 24th, step by step all the parties of World War I started to admit their share in the fall of the Ottoman Empire and acknowledged the 1915 events as “genocide.”

The European Parliament’s (EP) decision to acknowledge the events as genocide was the first step. Nicholas Tavitian, the director of the Armenian General Benevolent Union in Europe (AGBU), who also was the architect of the EP text, told me this week in Istanbul that the resolution carries no accusation and in fact no reference to Turkey. “This is something we do for our governments to remember,” he said. “There are 1.5 million Armenians living in Europe and most of them are descendants of Armenians that fled Turkey during the genocide. This is something we have to do for them.”

Benjamin Abtan, the president of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM), was more direct. “The Turkish government has a right to fear, because it is a grassroots movement,” he said. “This is unstoppable now, despite the Gallipoli campaign, despite everything. And we will come again next year, until Turkey fully accepts the truth.” Abtan then showed me clipped newspaper articles that appeared in Europe. From Macedonia to Latvia, from Hungary to Italy, the diaspora’s call for the acceptance of genocide had gained ground.

Germany and Austria are important, because they were a party of the conflict at that time. So was Russia. The formers were Ottoman Allies; the latter was its adversary. These nations were fully aware of the fact that they were pushing the Empire to take measures it was not prepared to take, like sending its citizens to exile. Like putting them into trains and transporting them to Anatolia or Lebanon.

If Ankara reads this picture well, Germany, Austria and Russia’s acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide partly frees Turkey from the allegations. “We too were guilty,” they are saying. “The Turks were not alone and they cannot be held solely responsible for the atrocities.” This indeed was part of Doğu Perinçek’s argument while speaking against a systematic genocide in the European Court of Human Rights. 

On the other hand, in the shadows of the fallen empires of WWI, emerges the truth that indeed what had happened in 1915 was much more than we were told and Turkey has to accept the grief and sorrow of it. 
One simple look into a twitter account is enough. @Todayin1915, a daily chronicle administered by the Hrant Dink Foundation, has everything. Arrests in Ağrı, house searches in Malatya, Patriarch Zaven meets with Minister Talat… You name it. It is almost like a news channel of the dark days. So how can you say “it never happened” after all this?

A young French-Armenian woman, Chouchare der Maroutinovnian-Mozian, had arrived for the commemorations in Istanbul. She was excited and emotional. “I am perhaps walking on the streets that my grandparents walked,” she said to me. “It was not Turkey’s fault. But if you keep on denying it, it becomes a dark box in your past. One day it may open with other dark events.”