Forgotten Holocaust

Turkey's offer to check the historical documents from the first world war era in both Armenia and Turkey is a prudent step. However, the on going denial of responsibility of possibly systematic killings of as hign as millions of Armenians by the old Ottoman Turks is not conducive. There should also be serious investigation on British role when the British ships anchored in the port but did not intervene in the massacre.


Forgotten holocaust

It is not every day that there is a chance to ponder the significance of events that happened in the distant past, so tomorrow's 90th anniversary of the start of what Armenians call their genocide at the hands of the Turks should not pass unnoticed. This subject cannot be tackled without negotiating a minefield of claim, counter-claim and fury. Many historians believe that between 1915 and 1923 the Ottoman Turkish authorities orchestrated the killing of 1.5 million Armenian Christians. Turkish governments have always insisted that a few hundred thousand died in "spontaneous" violence that constituted neither extermination nor genocide, and that in any case began in wartime, when the Armenians, seen as a fifth column, were fighting alongside Russian forces.

Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's most famous writer, was vilified recently for referring to a million deaths, many of starvation on a long march into exile in the Syrian desert. When France, home to the largest Armenian diaspora community, planned to commemorate the killings, it received threats from Turkey. Henry Morgenthau, then US ambassador to Istanbul, reported "cold-blooded, calculating" slaughter. But American governments speak only of "tragedy" to avoid offending their ally. Armenians, marking the catastrophe in Yerevan and beyond, call it the forgotten holocaust and say Turks should no more be allowed to deny their responsibility than Germans for exterminating Europe's Jews. (Hitler, whose crimes are remembered, once scornfully asked who remembered the Armenians).

With emotions still running so high, it is encouraging that Turkey has asked Armenia to join a commission with unfettered access to the records of both countries, including Turkey's first world war military archives. Armenia rejects this, saying the historical facts are clear. Ankara fears the issue is being exploited by those, especially in France, who oppose Turkish membership of the EU. To some extent, the response is defensive. But whatever their motives, it will be welcome if Turks are now ready to look at their past with a more open mind.