In Denial

Roundup
tags: Armenian genocide



Atom Egoyan is an acclaimed filmmaker and director.

They are disappearing.  When I arrived in Toronto in 1978 and first became involved with Armenian issues, there were many survivors still alive. Every year on April 24—the day commemorating the Armenian genocide—we would head to Ottawa. There, survivors would present testimonials, and offer living proof of the systematic campaign of extermination carried out by Ottoman Turks a century ago.

These people would tell their haunting stories—stories that Canadians needed to hear. Unlike the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide has not been universally acknowledged. Turkey—the successor state to the Ottoman Empire—still refuses to admit the historical fact of the event. And with each passing year, there are fewer and fewer survivors left to disprove the deniers with eyewitness recollections.

In the immediate aftermath of World War I, there was hope for accountability. When the Young Turk government collapsed in 1918, many former senior party members fled to Germany, a wartime ally. But the incoming Turkish administration arrested hundreds of those officials who remained in the country—and their collaborators—on suspicion of having participated in the orchestration of the deportations and killings. The suspects were charged with a variety of offences, including murder, treason, and theft. In a series of trials that took place between 1919 and 1920, former Young Turk officials delivered startling confessions and revealed secret documents that outlined the tactics they employed in carrying out their genocidal program.

After the war, the victorious Allies originally had advocated tough punishments for the criminals, as well as an independent Armenian republic in northeastern Turkey. But Turkish nationalists, led by Mustafa Kemal, opposed this. Kemal, who in 1934 was granted the surname Atatürk (meaning “Father of the Turks”), believed the ongoing trials exemplified the desire of foreign powers to tear apart his country. He moved to shut them down and also sought to abrogate the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, under which Turkey was to recognize Armenia as “a free and independent state.” He promised to help Western nations gain access to the region’s valuable oil fields in return for their support of his cause.

The author Christopher Simpson provides a detailed account of what transpired during this period in his 1993 book, The Splendid Blond Beast: Money, Law and Genocide in the Twentieth Century:

Britain, France, and the United States were at that time vying with one another to divide up the vast oil and mineral wealth of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire. Kemal skillfully played the three powers against each other. . . . Though often overlooked today, the Ottoman holdings were of extraordinary value, perhaps the richest imperial treasure since the European seizure of the New World four centuries earlier. The empire had been eroding for decades, but by the time of the Turkish defeat in World War I, it still included most of what is today Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and the oil sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf. The European governments sensed that the time had come to seize this rich prize. ...




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