The Day Non-Sentient Algorithms Stood More Compassionate…
By Reverend Father Hrant Tahanian
“The Pianist” recently appeared as a recommendation on my streaming platform. I remembered watching it two decades ago as well as how successful it had become, but I was quite young then and the narrative was fuzzy in my memory. So I embarked on the famous pianist’s (Wladyslaw Szpilman) harrowing journey with adult eyes.
But why was my streaming service recommending it? Was it because it was in the top ten spot? Or maybe it was analyzing my recent search and audio history? We have been taught to be suspicious of artificial intelligence and its potential overreach into the fabric of our existence. But could it be that it was attempting to provide some solace by reminding me of similar stories of death and survival? Were non-sentient algorithms more compassionate than the very-sentient political leadership of much of our world?
This and many other such neurotic thoughts can be born from the mind of one witnessing human rights atrocities. “What’s the matter with you all? You’ve lost your sense of humor?”—Henryk, the protagonist’s brother, asks after sharing the story of a Polish doctor and a Jewish patient shot by SS soldiers. “The patient didn’t feel a thing, he was anaesthetised.” Humour is another neurosis that might be used to cope with the uncopable.
I couldn’t help but see all the parallels between the Warsaw Ghetto established in the winter of 1940 and the Blockade of Artsakh starting in the winter of 2022. It masterfully depicts (as much as it is proper to dubb movies portraying genocides) the reality of ghettos and blockades, from the lack of medical care for the infirm, to malnourishment; from inflation to insanity.
What struck me most was a scene from the first act when the Szpilman family is being relocated from their home in Warsaw to the newly designated Warsaw Ghetto—overcrowded and isolated. From the vantage point of their new appartment, they look outside and notice brickwork—the erecting of an impassable wall through a perfectly normal street.
Most of the population of Artsakh was also forced to relocate due to the 2020 war, overpopulating the small portion of Stepanakert that, unbeknownst to them, would soon turn into a Ghetto-like environment. On December 12th 2022, under the guise of environmental protests the Azerbaijani government (who had two years prior used white phosphorus to burn forests so no citizen of Artsakh could escape their blood-seeking drones) launched a blockade of the remainder of the Republic of Artsakh. They sent citizens claiming to be eco-activists to block the Lachin corridor, the only humanitarian passage remaining.
The Nazis established Warsaw and similar ghettos as the first step in their Final Solution—the weak and frail would die without them even needing to “waste” resources. Instead of the lesson becoming a deterrent, Aliyev and his dictatorship are using it as a blueprint in their current final solution vision of emptying Artsakh of all Armenians.
Hitler’s largest ghetto lasted for almost three years, but Aliyev decided on being more expeditious. After 9 months of hoping the residents who didn’t die from the blockade would voluntarily leave, he has now started the next phase—moving them to “shelters,” a term genociders routinely use when in reality alluding to concentration camps.
I cannot disjoin the image of Warsaw Jews waiting in masses, hungry and frightened, at the train station before the “relocation,” with the images now arriving from Artsakh’s airport where Armenians are facing the same fate. They went there with a promise to be relocated away from the bombings, but have in reality been left there without any transport, shelter, and sustenance.
In the midst of all this chaos, fear, and crimes against humanity
while the innocent population of Artsakh is forgotten by the world,
while the “leader of the Caucasus” has mediated and placed peacekeepers—who do nothing more than observe the lack of peace,
while the “leader of the free world” promises hundreds of millions of dollars of new weapons to Ukraine but no aid to Artsakh (except of course worded grievances to Azerbaijan)—incogently hoping that one dictator can be defeated by allowing another to commit atrocities with impunity,
the regime of Führer Aliyev continues its genocidal mechanization.
Their latest demand is for Artsakh to hand over a list of 400 residents (mostly the leadership) before providing any safety to the civilians fleeing the bombings. One cannot overlook the deportation of 235 Armenian Intellectuals from Constantinople on the night of April 24th 1915. The decapitation strike that worked so well during the first genocide was later also implemented during the Holocaust. The protagonists in The Pianists are also often asked to hand in “traitors.”
It has to be asserted however for the annals of history, that this has become one of the most systematic and well-organized Genocides in modern hisotry.
The first leg of their final solution was carried out at the height of the pandemic in 2020, when our globe was preoccupied.
And now, while the world is trying to deal with the sad phenomenon designated as “Ukraine fatigue,” and there seems to be no appetite for further sanctions and aid, Azerbaijan with Turkey’s guidance is carrying out the final leg—the full emptying of Armenians from the land.
Yes, they claim and use very delicately chosen wording of wanting to integrate the local population, but their own soldiers are uploading videos of their killings of the elderly who had stayed behind on the outskirt houses of Stepanakert.
The official message is eloquent, but the de facto communication is not difficult to decrypt—leave or die! Genocide by any means necessary. You are after all the remnants of the sword (a pejorative expression for survivors of the first Armenian Genocide, used until this day, including by Erdogan and Aliyev on many live-recorded occasions).
The last time we see Henryk is during Wladyslaw’s final conversation with his brother. He notices Henryk with a book and asks what it is. He reads a passage out loud:
“If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
Wladyslaw takes the book and notices the title: The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. He complains: “Very appropriate.” Henryk replies “Yes, that’s why I brought it.”
Humour once more? Neurosis? Despair? Or mere human sentience?
Abraham, founding father to the three monotheistic religions, was taking care of the poor Lazarus in heaven, while the unnamed rich man was suffering in hades for his apathy. The story starts with a comparison—stray dogs licking Lazarus’ wounds displayed more sentience and responsiveness towards his suffering than his fellow neighbor, the rich man of that story.
If Jesus were to speak a parable today, I reckon he would assert that artificial intelligence, even at such a nascent stage, possesses more compassion than today’s all-powerful men.