A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, April 24, 2017

Red Sunday at 102: Has the World Learned Anything?

On April 24, 1915, one day before the British  landings on the Gallipoli peninsula, Ottoman authorities under orders from the  Interior Minister, Talaat Pasha, rounded up Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople and deported them to the east. This event, which came to be known as "Red Sunday," has traditionally been seen as the beginning of the Armenian removals and subsequent massacres, and April 24 is now commemorated as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day,  a national holiday in Armenia, also marked in Lebanon, California, and elsewhere. Though numbers are still controversial, a number of 1.5 million dead is widely accepted.

The Armenian tragedy has had echoes throughout the 102 years since Red Sunday. In 1921, Talaat Pasha, with both British and Russian intelligence trying to locate him, was assassinated by an Armenian revolutionary. The following year, Djemal Pasha, a second member of the CUP triumvirate, who had been Governor of Syria, where most Armenians died, and had fled to Afghanistan, was sent to Tiflis in the Soviet Union (today Tbilisi in Georgia) to negotiate with the Bolsheviks. There, he too was assassinated by Armenian nationalists. In the course of 1920-1922, the Armenian revenge movement known as Operation Nemesis, assassinated seven former senior Ottoman officials.

One of the most notorious invocations of the Armenian Genocide is attributed to Adolf Hitler as war broke out  in Europe in 1939, on August 22, 10 days before attacking Poland, Hitler spoke to his Wehrmacht generals at a meeting in Obersalzburg. At Nuremberg, several variant transcripts were in evidence, but some contained the line, in urging his generals to treat Poland harshly in order to provide Lebensraum for Germany, "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" (Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?)

Like almost everything about the Armenian tragedy,the quote itself has been challenged, but its implication that Hitler might have moved from the Vernichtung of the Armenians to the European Holocaust is frequently cited.

In the 102 years from April 24, 1915 to today, genocide has reared its head many times, from Cambodia to Rwanda, and massive population displacement has become commonplace. It seems humanity has learned little. On this Armenian Remembrance Day, Armenians worldwide will take note, but non-Armenians may wish to pause and reflect as well.


David Mack said...

Recommend article in April 22 NYT: "Sherlock Holmes of Armenian Genocide’ Uncovers Lost Evidence." Taner Akcam, a Turkish scholar working in the U.S., has found smoking gun in form of copy of Ottoman document. His reason for continuing his long search is telling: “My firm belief as a Turk is that democracy and human rights in Turkey can only be established by facing history and acknowledging historic wrongdoings.”

Anonymous said...

While the Turkish government has never moved beyond its strict denialist position, the relative openness under the AKP for a few years allowed enough space for the Genocide to be discussed openly in the media and academia for the first time. The work of Armenian and Turkish scholars together have brought the facts to light, the murder of Hrant Dink and subsequent Turkish popular protest were turning points, as have been the books by Turkish authors, among them Hassan Cemal, grandson of Djemal Pasha and "My Grandmother, A Memoir" helped hidden Armenians and Turks and Kurds of partial Armenian ancestry feel it no longer necessary to hide their origins. Public memorial ceremonies on 24 April initiated by Turkish HR activists and the efforts of Kurdish-led municipalities in the southeast to honor the memory of a once multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society and take responsibility for their role in its demise were important to the political maturation of the country. Sadly, the very government that made this possible has moved backwards toward autocracy. The Turks who made the transition to a more open-minded worldview feel most betrayed.