On the Threshold of the 106th Commemoration of the Genocide
Sp. Diramayr, or Sp. Dirouhi, in the village of Khoshmat, Palu region, May 2012 (Photo: George Aghjayan)
By Tatul Sonentz-Papazian
Along the millennia that Armenia’s history has covered, a mere century may easily pass unnoticed. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of our last disastrous debacle in defense of Fortress Artsakh and the betrayal of Shushi, a random assessment of crucial times would stop us in our tracks and make us ponder with feelings of awe, sorrow and admiration the significance of certain years, months or days—certain dates that punctuate our nation’s recent history with overwhelming emphasis.
One such date, worthy of reverence—and surely destined to remain so—is the 28th of May, 1918, a date of miraculous renewal, a mere three years after the onset of the darkest date of our modern history, April 24, 1915. More than a quarter of a century ago, another date was added to these two historic ones: 21 September 1991—the day of the declaration of the 3rd (and 2nd Sovereign) Republic of Armenia.
These three momentous dates are interconnected over a relatively brief period of time yet profoundly different in their portent and consequences.
The Genocide of 1915 was the disastrous aftermath of a reasonable appeal to the heedless leadership of a decaying empire to allow the divided Armenian people to serve faithfully both their respective sovereigns, now at war with each other. This reasonable sounding yet precarious stance cost the Ottoman Armenians one and a half million casualties, and their ancestral homeland — some three quarters of historic Armenian patrimony…
Many prominent activists of the Ottoman Armenian leadership, having relinquished armed struggle after a long and costly endeavor to bring reforms to a physically and morally bankrupt empire, and euphoric over the advent of a Constitutional “Hurriet” and a new order were now occupying seats in the new Ottoman parliament, comfortable in their newly acquired status of honorable legislators, seemingly unaware of the coming storm and their own inevitable demise in the maelstrom of Turkish chauvinism…
The next watershed was, to a large extent, the result of the unprecedented ferocity of the crime of Armenocide. It was a genocidal onslaught that continues to be implemented to this day, in various forms, by the successive governments of Kemalist Turkey in order to annex, once and for all, the western regions of Armenia. It continues through denial and rejection—by falsifying history, by forced assimilation of the native Armenian population and systematic eradication of all physical and cultural evidence that may attest to a historic Armenian presence in Eastern Anatolia…
The First Armenian Republic —rising in the early spring of 1918 from the sweat, guts and blood of three heroic battles waged by the survivors of a battered and decimated nation fighting against a ferociously determined foe—was the re-manifestation of the cruelly extinguished aspirations of independence in heroic Vaspurakan, reborn on the plains of Ararat, under the shadow of the twin peaks of Massis, the sacred mountain of all Armenians…East and West.
The bitter truth is that if it hadn’t been for the Great War and the genocidal policies put into action in its murky shadow—if it hadn’t been for the heroic defense of Vaspurakan and the faith and confidence in one’s destiny, secured on the field of honor, in desperate battle against the superior forces of an imperial power, the Ottoman Armenians would, quite possibly, have continued to pursue the long-promised “reforms” and would have settled for a bearably secure life under the rule of the Ottomans and their European satraps. Independence, in those dark days, seemed so remote and unattainable…
Whether or not we accept it, the blood-soaked midwife of the painful delivery of our hard-earned, still-born independence was the Medz Yeghern, from whose smoldering ashes arose the revived springtime of our national sovereignty.
It is not surprising, either, that after her defeats at Sardarabad, Gharakilise and Bash Abaran, Turkey, changing tactics in its desperate rush to reach the oil fields of Baku, was the first to recognize the newborn Armenian state. And years later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in a repeat performance, Turkey was among the very first to recognize Armenia’s resurgence as a sovereign state…alone and vulnerable.
In its dreams of becoming the predominant power of the region today, Turkey strives to re-establish its old Ottoman dominance over her neighbors as vassal states—Erdogan’s ‘Nation State’ Turkey still follows chronic imperial dreams in its policies, craving dominance over the oil-rich Mediterranean, Caucasus and the Middle East.
To refresh our memories of the astounding state of wartime politics that prevailed in the strategic and tactical contortions of the belligerents over the last days of the Great War, it is worth relating the following: While representatives of the new Armenian Republic sent on a mission to Constantinople were requesting immediate assistance from the Imperial Government in order to feed and shelter a flood of refugees in Baku from the war zones, Armenian revolutionary fighters, along with a small battalion of British troops, were striving to stop Turkish-German forces from entering the city and occupying the oil fields. While the British and allied news media were describing the last ditch stand of the diminished Armeno-British forces, the War Cabinet of Great Britain, in view of the spreading revolution in the Russian Empire with its unpredictable consequences, passed a resolution in secret session to let the Turks occupy Baku—since they deemed the Ottomans’ defeat and surrender imminent—rather than let Baku remain in the hands of the Armenian and allied revolutionary forces, since they feared an eventual take-over by Bolshevik Russia…
Hardly aware of these goings-on, the fragmented Armenian leadership, with no united national agenda or focus, had set its hopes either on the countless promises of “Christian” Europe and the Allied powers or on “godless” Russian Bolsheviks’ “fraternal” protection. Thus, caught between a conflicted heaven and hell, between a rock and a hard place, the young Armenian Republic agonized, as the new Kemalist forces, backed by both East and West with gold and weapons and like a shrewd chameleon, picked up the genocidal campaign against the Armenians where the Ottomans had left it unfinished…
In a maelstrom of opposing doctrines and cultures, the faith and passion of national emancipation, which from Vaspurakan to the plains of Ararat had made it possible to open the actual and legal roads to Armenian independence, the Treaty of Sèvres and international recognition, had already started to drift away from its reliable ethnic sources. An alienation felt on the eve of the formal adjudication of the Wilsonian boundaries and the fall of the free Armenian Republic would continue to bear its destructive influence until 1965, when the extroverted watershed of a politicized 50th commemoration of the Genocide gave rise to almost two decades of united struggle marked by increasing commitment and determined militancy.
Up until the sixties, the prevailing Cold War had not only set the two superpowers and their allies against each other in a deadly competition, but also – in our reality – had pushed the Diaspora and the Homeland into a continuous confrontation, to the detriment of the higher interests of the Armenian nation.
Until the detente started during the days of Khrushchev, reaching its peak with Gorbachov’s “Glasnost” movement, both Eastern and Western establishments maintained a ferociously imperialist confrontation masked behind endless and misleading ideological slogans, in a greedy competition for the acquisition of global resources, seeking worldwide dominance at any cost.
This bi-polar era of global domination by two competing superpowers, forced on the world by a contrived threat of mutual annihilation by huge arsenals of nuclear weapons, finally came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
As an inevitable consequence of the demise of the Communist Russian Empire and the dismantling of its structure consisting of 15 interdependent republics, one more date, 21 September, the day of the re-emergence of Armenia’s sovereignty, was added to the calendar of the outstanding dates of our recent history.
Here, we need to face the truth and admit that on September 21, Armenia declared independence before being liberated, before it could cleanse itself from a foreign-imposed “nomenclatura”—an establishment that for some 70 years had tried to distort our history and language and eradicate in bloody purges clergy and non-conformist intellectuals alike while treating our forefathers’ faith and traditions with contempt and denying the very existence of an Armenian Cause, thus creating a deep chasm between the homeland and the diaspora… between our past and our present.
Were it not for the bloodshed in the heroic struggle for the liberation of Artsakh, we could hardly claim a valid reason for pride in the long-awaited reestablishment of our nation’s sovereignty in an independent state, that— unlike the heroic battles that led to the declaration of independence on May 28, 1918—historic events beyond our reach or control delivered to us on September 21,1991, as 14 other former Soviet republics, including Russia, were going through an identical process, willingly or not…
As we look back with a critical eye, we realize that—given the present dismal situation—it will take time for the relics of the old “nomenclatura” to relinquish power to a truly social democratic regime in Armenia and for the debilitating exodus of the dispirited population to decrease, then cease altogether.
Years had passed from the days of the Ter Petrosyan administration’s divisive and defeatist regime, yet fairly recently, our nation was faced with the challenge of foreign-inspired “Protocols” which threatened the very bases on which the entire structure of our “Hai Tahd” case stands…
As we know, it took collective action on the part of both homeland and diasporan groups and organizations to restrain the Sarkisian government from ratifying them in their present context.
In the meantime, it is sad to observe that aside from the concentrated efforts for international recognition of the Armenian Genocide very little had changed in essence in the dormant area of reparations and irredentism, until the united declaration drafted in Yerevan on the eve of the Genocide Centennial.
Periodically, we must take stock of our status as it actually is: out of around 11 million Armenians, less than one-third reside today within the boundaries of the 3rd Republic, the majority of whom are unemployed or destitute. The remaining eight million are Diasporans or live on foreign-occupied Armenian lands, such as Javakhk and Western Armenia, whose numbers are gradually dwindling due to brutal policies of coercive assimilation, leading to despair and exodus from ancestral lands: a process defined as genocidal by UN-ratified protocols since the end of World War II.
While these populations are melting away, large numbers from Armenia, Javakhk, Western Armenia and our Middle Eastern communities are ending up, among other regions, in Russia, Eastern and Western European countries, Northern and Southern American states and Australia, increasing our scattered numbers in the four corners of the Diaspora at the expense of our Homeland and our ancestral lands, making a mockery of a cherished Diasporan slogan of not too long ago: “Depi Yerkir.”
The panorama of consecutive upheavals across North Africa and the Middle East that we are witnessing today, is the delayed but direct result of the betrayal of the moral bases of Woodrow Wilson’s “14 Points,” conceived to create a just and open social order for the world that had just gone through the horrors of the Great War.
Drafted in the Wilsonian spirit, the Treaty of Sèvres formulated solutions which, if followed, would have eliminated most of the festering problems that we see re-emerging with bloody vengeance today in Eastern Anatolia and the Middle East…
Unfortunately, insatiable imperial and colonial interests interfered, and the result was the shameful Treaty of Lausanne that redrafted the political aspect of the region—not to suit the legitimate interests of the peoples living there, but rather to accommodate the ambitions of colonial powers and oil cartels within imposed, untenable boundaries…
Although never implemented, the Sèvres Treaty retains its legitimacy as an instrument drafted and signed by representatives of the great powers of the time and never abrogated by their successors.
Conclusions reached in that treaty and the solutions emerging from them are beginning to look not only possible after all these eventful decades full of crises but also acceptable as permanent solutions to most problems that plague the region, in direct contradiction to the Ottoman-inspired Turkish dreams of neo-colonial hegemony over former provinces of a defunct empire.
That is why, along with other memorable dates, we should remember with pride and celebrate with joy the date of the signing of the Treaty of Sèvres, August 10, 1920—not as an unfulfilled promise, but as a great diplomatic victory for the Armenian nation and an instrument of hope for the peoples of Asia Minor and the Middle East, still waiting for the blessings of freedom and justice.
The 101st anniversary of the Sèvres Treaty, the apex of international recognition of our endangered sovereignty, must now be the year of its revival by the united will of the Armenian people, led by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, summoning us all to continue the struggle with unshakeable determination, firm and resolute in the iron-clad fact that our demands for reparations and restitution are not, and shall never be, negotiable.
Tatul Sonentz-Papazian is the former editor of the Armenian Review and director of the ARF and First Republic of Armenia Archives, based in Watertown, Mass. He has been a contributor to the Armenian Weekly for over 50 years. He currently directs the Publications Department of the Armenian Relief Society.