The IHJR is pleased to announce the next set of student blogs for 2016 begins with Anna Klotz. She writes about the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in 2015. In the thought-provoking and interesting blog, Anna details how Armenian genocide was commemorated. From Armenia to Italy and France, she highlights efforts by states, and presidents (such as President Putin) who commemorated the genocide. Finally, Anna describes how the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation played a part in commemorating the Armenian genocide by publishing a book, launching a documentary and holding a photography exhibition. We want to thank Anna for her work and contribution and, the next blog will be written and published by Ben Krasa in the near future.
The 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide: Commemorative events in Yerevan and abroad
April 24th, 2015 marked the 100th anniversary of what is refered to by many historians as the ‘Armenian Genocide’ or Meds Yeghern ‘Great Catastrophe’. Turkey’s government avoids the application of the term ‘Genocide’ to the forced deportation of Armenian community leaders and intellectuals that marked the begin of the forceful expulsion. The debate about the appropriateness of the term ‘Genocide’ is an important factor that hampers a normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey. Historian of Turkey, Professor Erik Jan Zürcher emphasizes the necessity of an acceptance of the historical truth in order to improve relations and promote reconciliation. Taner Akçam argued that “the genocide needs to be faced if Turkey is to develop into a more relaxed, more democratic, more humanist society.” This blog outlines the main commemorative efforts that took place in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan and abroad. The main ceremonial commemoration at the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex in Yerevan as well as Peace marches, commemorative ceremonies and symbolic signs around the globe emphasized of world’s sympathy for the victims. Apart from government-backed efforts to further reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, there is an essential role attributed to Civil Society groups and NGOs to promote mutual dialogue between the two countries.
The Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex (Armenian: Հայոցցեղասպանությանզոհերիհուշահամալիր) is Armenia’s official memorial dedicated to the victims of the Armenian mass atrocities, located in Yerevan. Set high on the hilltop of Tsitsernakaberd (Ծիծեռնակաբերդ), dominating the landscape, it is in perfect harmony with its surroundings. The memorial is believed to convey the spirit of the Armenian nation that survived mass extermination.
The 44 meter stele symbolizes the national rebirth of the Armenians. The twelve slabs are positioned in a circle representing the twelve ‘lost’ provinces in present day Turkey. A memorial wall in the surroundings of the park portrays the names of places where deportations and massacres are known to have taken place. An alley of trees has been planted for the victims of the murders.
On April 24th, the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, there was a gathering at the memorial complex to commemorate the victims of the forced deportation. Many people laid flowers around an eternal flame at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex. Many of the mourners in Yerevan came from the large Armenian diaspora, from Russia, Iran and the United States, amongst other countries with large Armenian communities. Official delegations from 60 countries have arrived in Armenia, 4 of them at a presidential level, to take part in the commemorative events of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The Russian president Vladimir Putin, Cyprus’ President Anastasiadis, French President Hollande, and Serbian President Nikolic visited the Genocide Memorial Tsitsernakaberd.
In his opening remarks of the ceremony in Yerevan, Armenia’s President Sargsyan described the mass killings of the Armenians as “unprecedented in terms of volume and ramifications (…). Around 1.5 million human beings were slaughtered merely for being Armenian.” President Putin expressed his empathy for the “Armenian people who suffered one of the most awful tragedies in the history of mankind.”
Use of the word ‘Genocide’ in the context of the Armenian atrocities is still politically contested. President Obama called the systematic murders of the Armenians “the first mass atrocity of the 20th century”, consciously avoiding the word genocide in his statement. President Obama and Tukey’s President Erdoğan, amongst other leaders and influential people, have been avoiding to use the word genocide in relation to the mass murders of the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish government for example does acknowledges the fact that many Armenians died during World War I, but counters that the number of victims has been inflated. President Erdoğan points out that massacres were committed by both sides due to ethnic disputes and the context of World War I, in which many Muslim Turks died as well. The discussion about the appropriateness of the definition of genocide for the Armenian case has caused controversy and conflicts between mainly Armenia and Turkey, and has led to strained relations and limited cross border policies. At the memorial complex in Yerevan, many Armenians expressed their discontent with President Erdoğan’s refusal to acknowledge the genocide.
In the framework of the commemorative events, a Global Forum titled Against the Crime of Genocide was held in Yerevan. It was attended by around 600 participants from all over the world, as well as parliamentarians, lawyers, genocide experts and scholars.
The Armenian Apostolic Church held a ceremony outside of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Vagharshapat, a town located about 18 km west of Yerevan. This ceremony was held to coincide with the start of the killings and ended at a symbolic time of 19.15, with a bell ringing 100 times. All over the world, Armenian churches rang a bell 100 times at that time, in order to canonize the victims.
A music performance was given by the rock band System of a Down in Yerevan. An orchestral concert called Revival performed by over 100 musicians from more than 40 different countries followed.
In memory of the victims of the mass killings, many international movements and symbolic acknowledgements were held in different parts of the world. The Eiffel Tower lights were turned off on April 24th symbolizing the tribute to the Armenian Genocide victims. Likewise, the lights of the Colosseum in Rome were turned off for fifteen minutes. All public and private schools in Lebanon were closed in commemoration of the 100-year-old tragedy. Remembrance marches, accompanied with Armenian flags and ceremonial symbols, took place in Beirut, Baghdad, Brussels, Los Angeles, Moscow, and Simferopol.
In Den Haag, the International City of Peace and Justice, the Armenian embassy opened a newspaper exhibition on September 22nd, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The exhibition presented references of the world press to the massacres in the Middle East. The presentation of partially a century old newspaper articles aimed at informing the visitors at the Atrium hall of the municipality of Den Haag about the public attitudes towards the genocide. Photos of the massacres committed emphasized the severity of the human rights violations. Government-backed approaches to create an awareness of the Armenian Genocide play an important role in educating the public about the conflictual past of Armenia and Turkey.
Numerous events took place in Turkey during the centennial year that brought anti-Armenian sentiment to the forefront.On April, 24th Turkey hosted world leaders to commemorate the centenary of the First World Battle of Gallipoli. Turkish President Erdoğan hosted leaders of the World War I Allies, including 21 heads of state, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, New Zealand Premier John Key, as well as the heir to the British throne Prince Charles and his son Harry. Tens of thousands lost their lives on both sides in the Battle of Gallipoli. Armenia has expressed disappointment with Turkey’s decision to move the date to remember the Gallipoli landings from April, 25th to the 24th. Many Armenians accused the Turkish government of bringing the remembrance forward to overshadow the suffering of the Armenians.
Furthermore, in February 2015, graffiti was discovered near the wall of an Armenian church in the Kadikoy district in Istanbul saying: “You’re Either Turkish or Bastards” and “You Are All Armenian, All Bastards.” The graffiti was claimed to be done by members of a rally called “Demonstrations Condemning the Khojali Genocide and Armenian Terror.”
In the same month banners were spotted in many Turkish cities writing: “”We celebrate the 100th anniversary of our country being cleansed of Armenians. We are proud of our glorious ancestors.”
In September 2015, a crowd of Turkish youth rallying in Armenian populated districts of Istanbul spread the message: “We must turn these districts into Armenian and Kurdish cemeteries”.
Whereas political dialogue between Armenia and Turkey appears frozen, Turkish and Armenian civil society groups are increasingly fostering dialogue to achieve the normalization of relations between the two countries. The Armenian Genocide Centennial Fresno Committee (AGC-Fresno) located in the United States, comprises of representatives from religious, educational, social, and political organizations that work together to commemorate and raise awareness about the Armenian Genocide. A similar approach is followed by the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR), an NGO seeking to promote reconciliation between conflict affiliated societies.
Throughout the centennial year, AGC–Fresno organized various public events that educate the general community about the Armenian Genocide. From April to May 2015 AGC–Fresno organized a photo exhibition at the Fresno State Peters Ellipse Gallery. The AGC–Fresno organized various lectures, book presentations and movies dealing with the Armenian Genocide. Furthermore, the AGC–Fresno presented essays, photos, and other historical materials on their history web page. More about their past events and efforts to commemorate can be read here: http://agcfresno.org/.
The Hrant Dink Foundation was set up in 2007 in Istanbul, Turkey, to carry on Hrant Dink’s dreams of a development of a culture of dialogue, empathy and peace. The foundation undertakes various activities in order to develop amongst others, cultural relations between Armenia and Turkey and to support Turkey’s democratization process. From April 20th to April 26th, a group of nine Turkish journalists visited Armenia in the seventh year of the Turkey-Armenia Journalists’ Dialogue Program. The program aims at strengthening ties between journalists from Turkey and Armenia and contributing to the establishment of direct means of exchanging news, information and sources. The Turkish journalists were given the opportunity to visit the commemoration events in Armenia and contribute to a deeper understanding of the conflictual past of Turkey and Armenia.
A similar approach has been taken by the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR), an NGO affiliated with Leiden University working besides others, on the promotion of shared historical narratives between Armenia and Turkey. The IHJR published the book by Sonya Mirzoyan and Candan Badem: The Construction of the Tiflis-Aleksandropol-Kars Railway (1895-1899). The book explores the previously peaceful coexistence of Turkey and Armenia. The book can be downloaded in English, Armenian and Turkish on the IHJR’s website: http://historyandreconciliation.org.
Furthermore, the IHJR launched the documentary: In the Footsteps of Tchouhadjian directed by both an Armenian and a Turkish native, investigating into the cooperation between Turkish and Armenian artists. The documentary can be viewed on the IHJR’s website following this link: http://historyandreconciliation.org/resources/videos/. The documentary sets a positive example to continue cooperation between the countries, as well as to show that art can normalize relations and be a precursor to intercultural dialogue. Thirdly, the IHJR held a photo exhibition in Turkey and the Netherlands, entitled Crossing Borders Between Turkey and Armenia. The exhibition is a visual dialogue between three photographers from Armenia, Turkey and the Netherlands. The photo exhibition was presented both in the Netherlands and in Turkey. Crossing Borders Between Turkey and Armenia is planned to go to Bern, Switzerland. Most recently, the IHJR aims at fostering dialogue and understanding between Armenia and Turkey in its project Depolarizing the Past. Turkish and Armenian scholars came together in the IHJR on September 14th, in order to discuss the documentary series Bloedbroeders directed and featured by the students. The documentary investigates the findings of a Dutch-Armenian actor and a Turkish-Dutch journalist who travelled through the former Ottoman Empire in search of their family histories.
Commemorative ceremonies, events and projects around the globe highlights the world’s sincere sympathy and condolences to the families who have suffered loss and injury during the violence 100 years ago. World leaders such as President Putin and German President Joachim Gauck have emphasized the seriousness of the violence of the Armenian massacres in their speeches. Symbolic signs such as marches for peace, ringing the bell in Armenian churches around the world, and turning off the lights of the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum, are signs of sympathy and condolences with the Armenian people. Educational projects such as those launched by the AGC–Fresno and the IHJR, including lectures, movies and exhibitions, intend to create a deeper awareness of the historical past, and building sustainable peace between Armenia and Turkey.