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Khatchatur I. Pilikian
19th January 2010, Hrant Dink Day
The Hrant Dink Society c/o The Temple of Peace, Cardiff, Wales House of Lords, Committee Room 3A at 7 pm Launch of 'Friends of Belge Press' and 'The Current Human Rights Situation in Turkey'
Speakers: Ragip Zarakolu, Desmond Fernandez and and Haci Ozdemir (International Committee Against Disappearances - British Section),
Khatchatur Pilikian on ‘Holocaust & Genocide’
Sponsor: Baroness Finlay of Llandaff

If I were to address an audience to day, January 19th, 2010, at St James Armenian Patriarchate, an ancient House of the Lord indeed, in Jerusalem, I would happily wish them Merry Christmas and Peace with Justice to the troubled Holy Land and to the many lands of our turbulent world. Yes, to day is Christmas day according to the most ancient calendar of Jerusalem’s Armenian Patriarchy. Hence, an auspicious coincidence this Hrant Dink Day is, I believe, at both houses of the UK Parliament.


We all know of course that Raphael Lemkin, who first coined the term Genocide in 1943/44, did not mince his words. He stated that, throughout history, genocide “happened so many times”, and that in the 20th century it happened “First to the Armenians, then after the Armenians, Hitler took action." (Dadrian, V.. History of the Armenian Genocide, p. 350)
Denying the historical veracity of genocide or complaisantly accepting it as yet one more ‘proof’ of an eternal human nature/condition, belittles the human soul, diminishing our humanity. To help eradicate this magnum state terrorism and all its ugly manifestations, anywhere in our precious world, enriches our humanity.
The theme of this year's Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration is The Legacy of Hope. With dignified humility, I am honoured to mention that both of my own and my wife’s parents who had dared to survive the genocide of 1915, graced their efforts to educate and encourage our generation with this same Hope--the heritage and the legacy of all the survivors of the Genocide of the Armenians.
But, alas, the choice of the term Holocaust seems now to act as a 'Berlin Wall' to 'exclude' all pre-Nazi acts of Genocide, hence the HMD phrase to: “Remember the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and those affected by subsequent genocides”.
Such exclusion of pre-Nazi acts of genocide is not only historically misleading but humanly outrageous, nay even hypocritical, as the HMD Trust website itself advises us: “to pause and reflect on what can happen when racism, prejudice and exclusionary behaviour are left unchecked”
It’s worth pointing out that the word Holocaust was even used during the massacres of the Armenians in the 1890's, to underline the religious aspect of the tragedy—Christian Armenians massacred by Moslem Turks and Kurds--as a large mass of Armenians were burnt alive in the Urfa Cathedral in 1895. Hence the word Holocaust was used by the noted missionary Corin Shattuck to visualize and characterize the horrible event.
In Armenian literature the word Voghcha-gizoum = Holocaust was used throughout many centuries (referring to other similar historical events). After Lemkin's coinage of Genocide, the better understanding of the political and economic implications of that inhuman act, let alone its aspect of religious intolerance, necessitated for the Armenians too to find its precise equivalence in their own language, hence the word Tsegha-sbanoutyoun was coined.
Modern Armenian translations of the Holy Scriptures have, nevertheless, kept the word Voghchagizoum = Holocaust in all the constituent books, faithful to the ancient translations, hence to the Word’s exclusively religious meaning. Leviticus, The Third Book of Moses, reveals the essence of Holocaust. In it, the rituals related to the act of Holocaust are deciphered with their various functions of atonement, cleansing from sins and all, as “an offering made by fire [Holocaust], of a sweet saviour unto the LORD.” (The Holy Bible. Authorized King James Version, Leviticus, 1:17)
The jurist and linguist Raphael Lemkin knew well all about those terms whether the religiously charged Greek word Holocaust=Whole-Burnt, or the Hebrew Shoa=Catastrophe, just to mention a few. Lemkin was adamant why he had to find a new, more precise, politically pristine and religiously unbiased word--Genocide.
Bearing in mind the total terror that genocide causes, I find it absurd to try to de-throne Lemkin's superb trove merely to refer back to archaic terms, such as Holocaust—the offering of a burnt sacrifice.
Does genocide ‘taketh away the sins’ of the murdered community whether massacred, gassed or burnt? Or does it perhaps cleanse the sins of the murderers for the bliss of purification? God forbid.
German Nazis, like their proto-models of early 20th century in Congo, Namibia, the ‘Young Turks’ of the Ottoman Empire and Ethiopia’s Italian Fascists, committed the ultimate crime against humanity rightly expressed as Genocide. After all, on his 50th birthday, in 1939, speaking to some Turkish generals, Hitler had eulogised, having in mind an ex-leader of the Young Turks, Ataturk, thus boasting about his own political pedigree, saying: "Ataturk has two great students in this world--Mussolini and me." (Lenox, G. (ed.) (2001) Fire, Snow and Honey – Voices from Kurdistan. Halstead Press, New South Wales, p 479. Quoted in Fernandes, D. The Kurdish and Armenian Genocides. Footnote 78, p.63)
With all respect to all concerned, I must say that Holocaust is an erroneous and misleading coinage of the reality it is hoped to illustrate and define. More importantly it is unfair to the millions of the Jewish victims of the ultimate Nazi crime-Genocide.
The Assyrians, in their turn, are now trying to emulate the Hebrew Shoa by using their own archaic word, Seifo = Sword, hence 'Hacked by Sword'. It seems, the Assyrians too are, unwittingly, 'singling’ out their boundless tragedy with the usage of Seifo, just as the Jews with the Holocaust or its wrong synonym Shoa.
Moshe Machover, the emeritus professor at King’s College, London, has this lucid comment on the use of the term Shoa. In a personal letter, on January 6th, this year [2010], Prof Machover wrote: “I would add that in the case of “Shoa” there is an additional ideological motivation. As you know, I have argued that use of this term is designed not only to single out the genocide of Jews by the Nazis, but also to harness it in the service of Zionism. The point is that it is a word in Hebrew, the language spoken in the State of Israel, but not the language of the victims—mostly Yiddish."
I firmly believe that adopting the word Genocide from the resources of our own languages is a challenge worth taking with scholarly passion.
Lemkin had also deployed the term Cosmos to explain that the philosophy of Genocide Convention of 1948 was based on the “formula of the human cosmos”. Characteristically, he was very explicit, saying: “The cosmos consists of four basic groups: national, racial, religious and ethnic”. Then he argued that the Convention was there to protect those basic four groups of the human cosmos, “not only by reasons of human compassion”, Lemkin insisted, “but also to prevent draining the spiritual resources of mankind.” (Decker, J. Raphael Lemkin’s History of Genocide and Colonialism, p11. Paper for US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Washington DC, 26 February 2004)
With the benefit of hindsight, we might as well venture to say that Lemkin’s ‘formula’, hence Article II of the Genocide Convention, needs an urgent amendment. Meaning, that the ‘human cosmos’ should now be reflected to consist of five basic groups: national, racial, religious, ethnic and political. The simple and obvious reason is that most atrocious acts of violence, including genocide, have been planned and executed to eliminate ‘political groups’ in opposition to, but mostly not tolerated by, the ruling powers of the day. Paradoxically, as Professor Decker of Georgetown University has unearthed, Lemkin himself had included “the genocide of political groups as a recurrent feature” in his unpublished essay “Nature of Genocide”. But, alas, Lemkin seems not to have pursued this crucial matter further. (Decker, J. op. cit. p 9)
In 2007, I attended the event in remembrance of 59th Anniversary of Nakba (PALSOC-SOAS-LSE SU, Khalili theatre, 21st May). There seemed to me an intellectual hangover around Nakba, which in Arabic means Calamity, Disaster, Catastrophe, exactly as in Hebrew. Shoa. It reminded me of the usage of Seifo in Assyrian. I did raise the following question to the panel: "Why the reluctance to use Genocide? I have in mind Lemkin's wide ranging and inclusive spectrum of its historical significance, when all the 'components' of the tragedy are already and even scholarly demonstrated, such as Ilan Pappe calling it Ethnic Cleansing; Moshe Machover drawing the parallel not with Apartheid but, significantly, with the Americo-Indian Reservation Camps' annihilation policy. Hence why Nakba, Shoah, Seifo, not to mention the religiously saturated Holocaust?”
To my astonishment the whole panel was perturbed. They all were adamant that the Palestinian tragedy had nothing to do with Genocide, although one of them unwittingly accepted that there were some instances of “genocidal aspects” to it. Finally, Prof Haim Bresheeth came to rescue the situation from the political left, as he claimed, lecturing with zeal that we all should respect what the national culture dictates concerning their own tragedy, and the proof of the matter is that even Intifada is now used internationally as a unique concept of struggle, hence the persistence of Nakba for more than half a century should be enough for us to keep it alive and not change it, he advised emphatically.
That meant, for me at least, that the Jewish resistance/uprising in Warsaw ghetto, perhaps now to be coined as the ghetto intifada, permits us not to use the word Genocide to denote the Nazi state crime!
Two weeks later, on June 5, 2007, during the Q&A session at the Amnesty International's No Justice, No Peace. The Occupation of Palestine 40 years on, I raised the same argument about the usage of the word Genocide to denote the tragedy of the Palestinians. Sir Geoffrey Bindman, the main speaker of the day, agreed uncompromisingly, though after a brief hesitation and worry about “misquoting” him by journalists.
All the above notwithstanding, the most puzzling coinage to date is The Anfal, now in use for the genocide of the Kurds in Halabja, Iraq.
Chapter 8th of the Holy Qur’an is titled as Al-Anfal, which is the name for the spoils and gains, or in fact the bounty taken after what it’s called a just, religious war, hence belonging to the Just Cause as a Divine Gift.
Lo & behold, the late Iraqi despot, Saddam Hussein, while still the staunch lackey of Western imperialism in the Middle East, had the appalling audacity to coin Anfal his robbery of Kurdish properties left after his genocidal massacres of the Kurds, as for example in Halabja,
But it’s worth to point out that the Holy Qur’an itself makes it absolutely clear that such “spoils are at the disposal of God and the Apostle” (IQRA Trust publication, The Holy Qur’an, p 415. Surat Al Anfal, 8:1).
Is it too far fetched to assume that the Kurdish survivors and their descendants envisage themselves as The Anfal or the true living bounty of the tragedy befallen the Kurdish nation? If so, we might as well say: fair enough. But the truth of the matter is, strange as it might seem, that Anfal is now used to specifically denote The Genocide of the Kurds, not unlike Holocaust, Seifo, Shoa or Aghed and Yeghern (or more often, Medz Yeghern = Big Crime/Murder) of the Armenians.
It may sound strange, but there are a couple of Armenian professors in American universities who prefer, even now, the Hebrew Shoa=Catastrophe’s precise Armenian equivalence, Aghed, to replace Tzeghasbanoutyoun=Genocide.
Poor old Raphael Lemkin! Latter-day sophists are trying to 'by-pass' him, particularly now that concepts such as Democracy, Socialism, Freedom, Human Rights, and what not, are made to lose their essential meanings, nay even are made to ‘act’ as their antinomies in real life through their post-modernist, neo-con and neo-liberal abuse.
Yes, even language is experiencing a collateral damage indeed
To top it all, the recent and most popular President of the USA since J.F. Kennedy, Barak Obama, chose to use the Armenian term Medz Yeghern=Big Crime in his April 24, 2009 commemorative speech in remembrance of the Genocide of the Armenians, without ever mentioning the word Genocide, let alone its modern and precise Armenian equivalence: Tseghsbanoutyoun. When addressing the American Armenian voters during his presidential campaigns, the word the distinguished Senator Barak Obama always used, was Genocide. Naturally he got most of the American Armenian votes.
As President of USA, Barak Obama chose to ‘balkanise’ Lemkin’s coinage of the word, singling out one of its national culture dictated pre-Lemkinian usage, as if unwittingly emulating Prof Haim Bresheeth’s advice (mentioned here above), thus avoiding the word Genocide.
The question remains: Why President Obama’s archaic choice?
Although the answer is not hard to decipher from the history of the last century, our turbulent times too will soon teach us new lessons, granted we are willing to learn and act upon it.
As the Preamble of the Verdict of the prestigious Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal of April 16th, 1984, concludes: “Indeed, acknowledging genocide itself is a fundamental means of struggling against genocide. The acknowledgement is itself an affirmation of the right of a people under international law to a safeguarded existence.” Let’s pray to God to let this grace of acknowledgement befall our brethren and sisters of denial, including those among our own UK Parliamentarians.
Khatchatur I. Pilikian. Sometime university professor of music (USA), Pilikian is a performing musician, painter and 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. In Dec 2004, Pilikian’s choice of the word Bareshen=Built-for-Goodness, graced, as its name, the new AGBU built village in Artsakh-Karabakh. In April 22, 2006, Khatchatur Pilikian produced and directed his original Audio-Visual Libretto—Harmonic Synthesis of Armenian Poems and Music, for the AGBU 100th Anniversary, Montreal Chapter, Canada. His latest book is UNESCO Laureates: Nazim Hikmet & Aram Khatchaturian (Garod Books of the Gomidas Institute). In November 2009, he was invited to Athens to mark the 140th birth anniversary of Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935), the most reverend Armenian composer, with a song recital, under the auspices of the social and cultural centre ARMENIA of Athens, Greece.

Khatchatur I. Pilikian

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