Given the many and dramatic events of our current time, it may seem strange that I would choose, on this day of December 4th 2017, to focus on the deeds of an empire that collapsed a century or so ago. In the face of the growing threat of nuclear war in Korea, our perpetual and collective nightmare that is the conflagration of the Middle East, the looming havoc of our destroyed environment and exceedingly unfair economic system, alongside that ultimately sophisticated propaganda machine, a genocide in Myanmar, and, of course, the compromised and morally bankrupt US government nearing the completion of the corporate takeover of the world’s only superpower (USA™), why then, on this complex and urgent Earth, would I turn my pen to the Ottoman Empire? Surely those other things are more pressing (besides, isn’t an Ottoman a piece of furniture, or something?)? Well, yeah – but what is the underlining themes of all of these events?
Fear, ignorance, hatred, and greed.
And what are the antidotes?
Trust, knowledge, love, and compassion.
& – Knowledge – this is the one I want to specifically focus on here. In WWI, during the death of the centuries-old Ottoman Empire, they committed an horrific act: the Armenian Genocide. A fact that approximately 2 million people, the majority of whom were Armenian (some were Greek and Syrian), were deliberately murdered is indisputable. The Republic of Turkey, which for all intents and purposes inherited the Ottoman Empire, denies that this mass slaughter of all those innocent people ever took place.
Now then, being that Turkey is located in the geopolitical nexus of the world, the control of it, or at least the allegiance of it, is incalculably valuable to the world powers of today. And, as it stands today, Turkey is a key NATO ally. However, with their recent ‘slip’ into Islamist autocracy, it’s unclear what the future would actually hold in regards to Turkey if NATO’s resolve was ever truly tested. It might depend on who is the aggressor – and who is the victim. Anyway, the point I’m making is that keeping Turkey ‘on side’, even in the face of their ‘transgressions’, is a crucial facet of their relationship with NATO. It is for this reason that the USA and the UK (in other words: two thirds of NATO’s nuclear heavyweights) do not officially recognise that the Armenian genocide ever took place. This is in no way any different than if they were to deny the Holocaust.
Last week, a curious political incident involving Golriz Garamahn took place here in New Zealand. Basically, the Green Party (of which she is a member) promoted the fact that she worked on the prosecution teams for various war criminals, but entirely glossed over the fact she also worked on the defense teams of some of those people.
Nobody serious denies that war criminals require defense lawyers, for otherwise the verdicts condemning them would hold no legal validity. Defending war criminals is an unpleasant but necessary job. What made the mini-scandal worse for Golriz, however, was the photograph of her smiling with one of the people she was defending. In the end – this was basically a ‘scandal’ where a politician learnt the ins and outs of politics. But it was the irate accusations that she was a genocide denier that caught my attention, for here is a fact that I suspect most of those ‘irate’ New Zealanders do not know, and indeed a fact which most non-irate New Zealanders probably do not know either – a fact which ties into my earlier point about knowledge being the antidote to ignorance:
NEW ZEALAND DENIES THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE.
Let that sink in. New Zealand, the place we all love to think of as being the progressive, inclusive, egalitarian, tolerant light in the oft-darkened world of human affairs denies a genocide of 2 million people. It’s fucking disgusting.
The reason for this denial, so far as I can assume, is because of our ‘special relationship’ with Turkey – i.e. we unsuccessfully invaded the Ottoman Empire over a century ago at the behest of our British colonial masters and as a result there are a couple of thousand dead New Zealanders buried underneath Turkish soil. If the New Zealand government was to recognise the Armenian genocide, would the remains/grave sites of those New Zealanders be desecrated? Would early 20-something New Zealanders on their O.E piss-up tours of Europe not be able to solemnly pretend to give a shit on the 25th of April each year in their hour or so detour out of Istanbul, probably while nursing a hangover they’ve had since Bucharest? (Wait, what is Constantinople?) Well, fuck – wouldn’t that just be awful?
To the people who have (legitimate) concerns that their ancestors’ remains or grave sites might be impacted upon by an official New Zealand recognition of the Armenian genocide, all I can suggest is that you consider how those ancestors of yours might answer this question; would they prefer to have a monument in their honour or for the country they died for to retain its own honour?
Disclaimer: I don’t really know what I’m talking about here. The only time I’ve ever spent in a university lecture theatre was when I worked as a caretaker at Victoria University here in Wellington, wiping the whiteboard clean of maths questions (which despite what Goodwill Hunting had lead me to believe, I was not the only person able to solve – in fact, I couldn’t solve them at all!). I’ve never been in a government funded intellectual policy think tank (in all honesty, I can’t think of anything worse). I don’t know shit about the international community, diplomatic relations, trade agreements, promises, pledges, corruption, nepotism – it all sounds like bullshit humans make up to make simple things sound complex so they can feel important. I’m an artist. My job is to scream out loud the obvious solutions to the simple problems society has decided must be complex. You’re well within your right to say, “What does this guy know?” I don’t know anything. All I know is the power of love, knowledge, trust, and compassion.
And I know that New Zealand, my country, my homeland, the nation born of a imperial treaty with the indigenous people in 1840, the place that gave women the right to vote in 1893, the place that fought fascism and stood up to apartheid and nuclear testing, cannot let this man be proven right:
“I have issued the command — and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad — that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness — for the present only in the East — with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
– Adolf Hitler
Here, Hitler is suggesting that because nobody remembers the genocide of the Armenians that the genocide of the Polish Jews, the Holocaust, will eventually be forgotten too. This is the very real danger in denying genocide; it emboldens hatred to play its hand again. And again. And Again.
I didn’t vote in the flag referendum, not because I didn’t care about the result, but because I couldn’t decide what was worse; the colonial Swastika that is the Union Jack or the neoliberal vanity project of ‘Sir’ John Key. “Colonial Swastika?” you ask, incensed and outraged. Yeah. Do the deliberate famines in Ireland and India – and that’s just the places that start with I – not offend you in the same way as the pogroms of industrial, assembly line murders committed by the Nazis? Why not? The crimes of the British Empire make the Nazis look like street punks. In fact, the British Empire are the root cause of the current situation in Myanmar. So you see, knowledge and recognition of the past does impact the ignorance of the present – and indeed the hateful dying of the future.
Your move, New Zealand.