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Khatchatur I. Pilikian
60th Anniversary of the UN Genocide Convention
9th December 2008 In Committee Room 17 of the House of Commons London
Sponsor and Chair: Dr. Bob Spink MP (Independent)
Co-organisers: Solidarity with the Victims of All Genocides, (SVAG)
Nor Serount Cultural Association, CHAK (Centre of Halabja), supported by Seyfo Centre

Allow me to announce loud and clear, at the onset: that the alpha and omega of my reflections on Genocide remains this: that deep in my heart I wish Armenians had no such experience to talk about. Indeed I feel perhaps I would even have been a happier human being if peoples all over the world whether Congolese, Nama, Herero, Abyssinians, Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, Jews, Palestinians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Poles, Serbs, Kossovans, American-Indians of the north and the Indigenous communities of the south, Timorese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Rwandans, Darfurians, and alas many others had also no such terrorising experience. But most importantly, I truly believe that our precious and only world will be a much better place to live, and die for that matter, if that ultimate state terrorism is banished out of existence for all times to come. No wonder this plea, mentioned in an Armenian dictum: “I pray God not to let this evil befall my worst enemy.”
The crucial question remains: to prevent Genocide ever happening again, what kind of human relations humanity should aspire to? Perhaps the first step is what the brave Archbishop Desmond Tutu wants us to consider, saying: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”
Hence the need to choose: to have or not to have a world cleansed of Genocide, that ultimate tool of the oppressor. Furthermore, let us also be aware that it is obscene to let a major inhuman calamity like Genocide monopolize intellectual resources to eventually establish an exploitative industry. Such an obsessive monolithic approach diminishes any cultural heritage—exactly what oppressors and Genocide perpetrators desire most.
An eminent educator and a renowned scholar, Paulo Freire has put that vital choice in perspective: “Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed […] Violence is initiated by those who oppress, who exploit, who fail to recognise others as people […] It is not the helpless, subject to terror, who initiate terror, but the violent, who with their power create the concrete situation which begets the ‘rejects of life’ [...] It is not those whose humanity is denied them who negate man, but those who denied that humanity (thus negating their own as well) […] For the oppressors, however, it is always the oppressed […] who are disaffected, who are ‘violent’, ‘barbaric’, ‘wicked’, or ‘ferocious’ when they react to the violence of the oppressors.” (Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Penguin Education 1977. Pp 31-32)
I firmly believe that a genuinely humanist Democracy, once best defined as “the rule of the people, by the people, for the people”, might prove to be the only guarantee to obliterate a major raison d’être of exploitative oppression and terrorism, the latter being the parasitic louse of reactionary, deformed democracy. Wherever hopelessness, insecurity and pessimism are injected as ingredients for the idealistic belief in violence, there violence manipulates terror as a cathartic pathos in an anti-historical, solitary action, a pathetically individualistic fetish that is only capable of and encourages an extreme reactionary change of the state/military power, leading to Fascism, the apotheosis for megalomaniac state terrorism—the fuel of Genocide.
Let us not forget that a substantial part of the history of empires or states, whether kingdoms or republics, past and present, especially those that entertain such megalomaniac status, not excluding the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey, is the history of the oppressed and their oppressors.
The literary genius John Milton, whose 400th anniversary of birth is exactly today, but it will be marked tomorrow at the Library, Conway Hall, once uttered this eye-opening remark in his Apology of 1648: “they who have put out the people’s eyes, reproach them of their blindness.”
Even in the first decade of our 21st century, the oppressors’ mantra has remained essentially the same: ‘if you don’t like to be oppressed, then accept your fate. If not, you better leave your abode, home and country. At best we will encourage such a move, and at worst we will force you to leave’. In other words, you are not free to stay and try to change the status quo of iniquity. If you choose the latter and struggle for your human rights -- enshrined in International Laws, Covenants and Conventions, not only as an individual, but also as a people, especially when diverse from the ruling and the oppressing class -- then individual terror or even murder might be your Damoclean sword. Otherwise deportation and probably state terror leading to Genocide might befall your ethnic community.
That is exactly why the eminent Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was murdered in January last year. And that is what the recent Prime Minister of the Turkish Republic, Recep Erdogan really meant, on November 4, this year, when he warned the disenchanted citizens of the Republic in general and the oppressed minorities in particular, saying: "Turkey consists of one nation, one flag and one land and that anyone who is not in agreement with this should leave the country". On November 10, 2008, less than a week after Erdogan’s warning, his Defence Minister Vecdi Gönül, was in Brussels, marking the 70th anniversary of death of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Gönül’s eulogy of Ataturk contained these revealing words: "Would it be possible today to maintain the same national State if the existence of Greeks in the Aegean region and of Armenians in several regions of Turkey had continued as before?"
Curiously enough, the recent Defence Minister of Turkey chose to forget what Ataturk himself had thought about such state terror accomplishments. The Turkish historian and sociologist Taner Akcam informs: “Mustafa Kemal has dozens of speeches in which he defines the treatments reserved to Armenians as "cowardice", or "barbarity", and names these treatments "massacre". (See T. Akcam’s books: The Geemnocide of Armenians and the Silence of the Turks; From Empire to Republic; A Shameful Act.)
We all know of course that Raphael Lemkin, who first coined the term "genocide" in 1943, did not mince his words, stating that genocide “happened so many times… First to the Armenians, then after the Armenians, Hitler took action." (Dadrian. History of the Armenian Genocide, p. 350)
According to the Turkish Justice Ministry, 1,700 people were tried in 2006 alone, under the racist Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. Prosecutors of the status quo have a field day in prohibiting so-called “insulting Turkishness”, utilizing Article 301 to silence those valiant intellectuals who dare challenge the false premises of the official state denials of historical truths related with the Empire’s and the Republic’s tragic acts of ethnic and cultural annihilations. Hrant Dink himself was victimised by Article 301, before his assassination. Not surprisingly, therefore, that the eminent Turkish civil rights campaigner and publisher Ragip Zarakolu was found guilty of “insulting the institutions of the Turkish Republic”. Just recently the BBC announced that a Turkish court has sentenced a Kurdish politician, the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights 1995 award winner, 47-year-old Ms Leyla Zana, to 10 years in prison. That is what the racist Article 301 of Turkey’s penal code is all about—annihilating dissent and multiculturalism.
It is indeed refreshing to note that all the major Universal Declarations, International Charters and Conventions are not in agreement with the monolithic and rabid nationalism of the past and the present Turkish ruling elite, the like of Erdogan and Gönül, mentioned above. Here are a few of those documents:
On December 2, 2005, in a presentation at the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights, Dr Fatma Müge Göçek candidly admitted the following: “I, as an ethnically Turkish citizen, am not guilty, but am responsible for what happened to the Armenians in 1915. I did an analysis of the Deputies of the first National Assembly, I have found enough documentation that implicates about 25-30% of the Deputies of having participated in the massacres against the Armenians... Not only was there no accountability and no punishment for those who committed crimes against the Armenians, but many of the perpetrators, unfortunately, then became leaders of the Turkish Republic.”
As if emulating Dr F. Müge Göçek’s example, few days ago, on December 5, 2008, correspondent Ayþe Karabat in Ankara signed this note in the journal TODAY’S ZAMAN: ”A group of Turkish intellectuals have apologized for the “great disaster that Ottoman Armenians suffered in 1915” but have fallen short of calling on the state to do the same. A petition initiated by a group of intellectuals, including professors Baskin Oran and Ahmet Ýnsel, journalists Ali Bayramoðlu and Cengiz Aktar, personally apologizes for the events.” The petition reads: "My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathise with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers. I apologise to them." This is a first step, but a courageous one, especially when taken in the home country.
During the tragic times of 1915, a scientist and one-time minister of Education in Turkey, Ahmed Riza, was appalled by the wide spread usurpation of the Armenian properties. Even though he was a Young Turk activist, but an anticolonialist sympathisor nevertheless, he was adamant that: “the Armenians […] did not abandon their properties voluntarily; they were forcibly, compulsorily removed from their domiciles and exiled. Now the government through its efforts is selling their goods… If we are a constitutional regime functioning in accordance with constitutional law we can’t do this. This is atrocious. Grab my arm, eject me from my village, then sell my goods and properties, such a thing can never be permissible. Neither the conscience of the Ottomans nor the law can allow it.” (Y. Bayur. Turk Inkilabz. vol. III, part 3 op. cit. in Dadrian. History of the Armenian Genocide)
But the law did allow it and with no regard whatsoever to any human conscience. On September 13, 1915, the Ottoman parliament passed the "Temporary Law of Expropriation and Confiscation". The ‘lawful’ plunder of homes, livestock, land and all was mercilessly unleashed. Months before that draconian Law, the proto-Nazi regime of the Young Turks gave no credance to the Triple Entente, when the latter warned them, on May 2, 1915 that "In view of these new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization, the Allied Governments announce publicly… to the Sublime Porte that they will hold personally responsible for these crimes all members of the Ottoman Government, as well as those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres." (FO 371/2488/51010 (May 28, 1915)
It’s worth noting that the notion “crimes against humanity and civilization”, thus had its first entry in the annals of human history, which still serves as one of the best definitions of Genocide, the latter to be coined nearly three decades later.
Trying to assess the enormity of the Aremnian cultural loss, the Editor in Chief of Documents on British Foreign Policy, Prof W. N. Medlicott, wrote, on September 14, 1974: “Hardly less tragic than the actual destruction of life has been the disruption of an age-long cultural and religious heritage and the loss of an ancestral home tenaciously defended for over 2000 years. It is well that these events should be recorded and that we should pay a tribute to the courage of the survivors of the massacres and their descendants, scattered though they now are throughout the world.”
History has taught us, time and again, that when racist ideology gets hold of politics and the power to oppress, then a ‘chosen’ race becomes the cult, or the ‘divinely’ cultivated one, and all the other races are expected or even forced to be their slaves to cultivate the soil of the world for the cult-race to cherish its ‘divine’ privileges. Characteristically, the human culture itself becomes abhorrent to the ‘divinely cultivated elite’. No wonder an arch racist Dr Goebbels, once confessed: “whenever I hear the word culture I release the safety-catch of my pistol”. The question remains, why the all-powerful Nazi cult leader was terrorised by the mere utterance of the word culture?
What a fantastic metaphorical term, culture, to denote the social, spiritual, intellectual and artistic endeavours of human societies, indeed of humanity as a whole. Culture has no proper antinomy, unlike Civilization, which can be contrasted with Barbarism. The so-called ‘barbaric’ people or societies were also thought to be in possession of culture, albeit ‘less civilized’ ones. The cultivated human beings became closer to being civilized. For many centuries, the meaning of culture was focussed on the concept of a process, as in the act of cultivating the soil of the earth, not only individually, but especially as a society of humans. Civilization, having the ‘city’ as its core, pushed the development of the metaphor to mean not only the process, but also the product of that process. As a result, language, being the most valued commodity of that product, became also the yardstick of civility.
When culture began to be recognised as the end product of a process, civilization was envisaged as the means for that end; in other words, culture signified the values and meanings of that process, while civilization implied its material organisation. It is in that contextual process that culture developed to express the most cherished desire of us all-- freedom, ultimately aspiring for its end product-- happiness. But it is in civilization or Civic Society that the human desire for freedom and happiness can be materialised. A Civic Society therefore essentially implies a non-racist, multi-cultural society-- the building block of multi-cultural civilization.
Here again Raphael Lemkin’s thoughtful contribution is welcome: “I understood that the function of memory is not only to register past events, but to stimulate human conscience […] It became clear to me that the diversity of nations, religious groups and races is essential to civilization because every one of those groups has a mission to fulfill and a contribution to make in terms of culture.”
All the above notwithstanding, UNESCO has been warning the world, for decades now, that the greatest shame of the current civilisation is the fact that thousands of children die of hunger every single day. Today that number has reached the staggering 44,000 hungry children dying each day of the year, as if a Hiroshima bomb is unleashed every single day just to kill children. I would like to pose the following: that the Goebbels’ of this world, “releasing the safety-catch of their pistols”—in modern parlance cluster bombs & co, ill-Ltd --should also be seen responsible for the modern massacres of the innocents. Can there be any doubt that this child cleansing is also the unmentioned genocide of humanity, ongoing and an authentic one at that, which surely is the outcome of our own socio-economic and industrial military system, now coined with cynical panache as Globalisation, whereby tens of thousands of nuclear warheads, each averaging at least 20 times the destructive power of a Hiroshima bomb, are already in deployment all around the world.
Meanwhile billions pour into the pockets of the warmongers of modern metropolises. These warlords of Mammon would eventually thrive in an ‘Inorganic Paradise’—a ‘paradise’ void of universal human rights and sustained by legalised torture; glorification of violence geared towards maximising profit at any cost; xenophobic state terror protected with religious fervour. And, topping as if the macabre orgy, genocide has been already tested, for a century now, to become the collateral damage of its inorganically modernised and sweat-shopped ‘global village’ of hunger and debt.
Sixty years ago this same day of the month, December 9, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. To morrow, December 10, 2008, will be the 60th anniversary of another momentous event—the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Its good to believe that the two documents will remain as beacons for lucid endeavours such that humanity at large might ‘rage against the dying’ of its dreams and refuse to become cannon fodder for Mammon, Racism and Terror, thus guarding its deeds of tolerance and justice, fair share and good care, compassion and conscience—the true wealth of nations, hence the health of the world.
Yet a crucial question still remains. How many of the 192 UN member states can genuinely welcome these two humanist documents with clear consciousness and not confront it with hypocritical adherences to the lustre of the texts? Nonetheless, the tenacity of those who dared survive the ultimate state terror and all its horrendous manifestations, persisting then to pass on that struggle to the next generation, aspiring to regain full justice, peace and humanity for all, is in itself, I humbly believe, a valiant act of altruism, of stretching out to the denier too that ultimate gift, worthy of all the material riches of the world--Humanism. Therein lies the essence and valour of truth, reparation and reconciliation, surely the happiest way towards welcoming the 60th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide—the Crime against multi-cultural civilization.

Khatchatur I. Pilikian. Sometime university professor of music (USA), Pilikian is a performing musician, painter and a writer. He has studied art and music at the Fine Arts and Music Academies in Rome and Siena. “Leonardo da Vinci on voice, music and stage design” was the title of his research as a Fulbright scholar at I.U. School of Music. In 1976, he designed and directed, at Wayne State University, the public radio WDET-FM series HARC-The Heritage of Armenian Culture. In 1984, he published Refuting Terrorism - Seven Epistles From Diaspora (in English and Armenian). He has contributed the entry Music and Turner in the Oxford University Press encyclopaedic publication titled THE TURNER COMPANION. The Spokesman for the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation published his paper for the 2005 European Network for Peace and Human Rights Conference, The Spectre of Genocide as Collateral Damage is Haunting the World. His most recent book is UNESCO Laureates: Nazim Hikmet & Aram Khatchaturian (Garod Books of the Gomidas Institute).

Khachatur Pilikian

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