Category: Islam

Looking in From the Outside: The Arab-Israeli Conflict, an article by David Garyan

12/05/2021
Ravenna, Italy

 

Looking in From the Outside: The Arab-Israeli Conflict

For a sensible person, aware of history’s complexities, it should not be difficult to feel sympathy for the plight of the Jewish people; aside from the well-known atrocities committed against them during WWII, the more “obscure” cruelties, such as those perpetrated by the Russian Empire, for example, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are mostly topics for academics; in other words, everyone knows places like Auschwitz or even Dachau, but rarely do you ever hear about the Odessa pogroms, which, starting in 1821, occurred on average every twenty years or so until 1905.

In addition, the historical persecution of Jews, which, according to some scholars can not only be traced back to a place in antiquity, the Roman Empire, but also be given a specific date, 38 CE—the advent of the Alexandrian riots, which began under Emperor Caligula when he sent the King of Judea, Herod Agrippa, unannounced to Alexandria, something that angered the Greeks, causing riots to break out. Subsequently, the more brutal 66 CE riots of Alexandria reveal a continuation of tensions between Jewish inhabitants and their neighbors. A primary account by the historian Josephus describes the following: “The Romans showed no mercy to the infants, had no regard for the aged, and went on in the slaughter of persons of every age, until all the place was overflowed with blood, and 50,000 Jews lay dead. And the remainder would have perished as well, had they not put themselves at the mercy of city’s governor, Tiberius Julius Alexander. He felt pity and gave orders to the legionaries to retire.” A gruesome picture and it only gets worse four years later, when Emperor Titus together with that very same governor, Alexander, at his command, go on to capture the city of Jerusalem, totally razing both the city and its Temple (indeed, this is that destruction which many Jews to this day view as the ultimate catastrophe for their people because, for one, unlike the first time under Nebuchadnezzar II, it was never rebuilt, and secondly, in many ways, the Jews once again became an “exiled” people).

Throughout the Middle Ages, things don’t change much for the better. Jewish communities are blamed for the Black Death, accused of witchcraft or poisoning wells, and many innocent people are killed as a result in massacres such as those which occurred in the German city of Erfurt in 1349.

Indeed, right down from antiquity, the Jews have not had the most pleasant historical legacy, and this by any stretch of the imagination. Consequently, the curious question we must ask ourselves, hence, is the following: Why do Jewish authorities in Israel now subject Palestinians to experiences which aren’t radically different from the ones they themselves suffered living under the Roman Empire, and later all across Europe? With poverty rates as high as eighty-five percent in some Palestinian areas, the conditions depicted below not only rival but exceed those of the historical Jewish ghettos.

After the 2007 Battle of Gaza, the narrow stretch of territory with access to the sea, bordering Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, fell under the control of Hamas, which can be considered the more “militant” wing seeking Palestine’s liberation, and things have not improved one way or another; the problem is that, precisely, in some ways, it may not really matter who ultimately governs Gaza—saints or sinners, for lack of better words; the area, although under de facto Palestinian control, remains utterly dependent on Israel. According to a recent article in Al Jazeera, Gaza “relies on Israel for most of its energy needs. Its population of two million currently receives about six hours of electricity followed by a 10-hour power cut.” In addition to this, Israel has exacerbated the situation by closing “its lone commercial crossing with Gaza and banned sea access, shutting down commercial fishing.” Routine actions like this are naturally a response to Hamas’s occasional escalations of violence; these phenomena, however, can likewise be interpreted as a reaction to the frustration of living under Israeli occupation, and it would be rather hard to believe that the only thing Hamas really wants to do is harm innocent Jewish civilians.

Aside from electricity, water sanitation is another major problem. As with electricity, Palestinian water resources are largely controlled by Israel, and, according to a report published in 2017 by the Rand Corporation, “a five-year-old boy died in the Gaza Strip after swimming in seawater polluted with sewage.” Further, the report states that incidents like this, unfortunately, are more common than we want to believe. While the West Bank certainly fares much better in terms of the aforementioned issue, “less than 11 percent of Gaza’s population had access to safe drinking water through the public network,” according to the same report. In addition, the highly-prized Area C of the West Bank, where, according to the UN, Israel retains near exclusive control,” is precisely the place in which most of the “West Bank’s natural resources and open spaces, including the sparsely populated Jordan Valley, are located,” according to a National News article. And yet, according to a 2013 World Bank report, less than “one percent of Area C, which is already built up, is designated by the Israeli authorities for Palestinian use; the remainder is heavily restricted or off-limits to Palestinians, with 68 percent reserved for Israeli settlements, 21 percent for closed military zones, and 9 percent for nature reserves.” Having access to Area C, hence, would perhaps not cure all of Palestine’s economic woes, but it could “expand their struggling economy by a third and halve their budget deficit if Israel allowed them to use the 61 per cent of West Bank territory that is now largely off-limits.” The image below from Gaza summarizes the entire situation quite well.

It can thus be said that the majority of Palestinians living in Gaza and some of those in the West Bank as well have nothing but poisonous water to draw from their wells, literally and metaphorically speaking; this is unacceptable and regardless of which position we may choose to take in this conflict, the dignity of people must be protected, but this is merely the humble opinion of a human rights student.

Being Armenian, I sympathize greatly with Palestine, mainly because of Jerusalem, which, as many know, is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim (listed in no particular order of preference); appropriately, then, we can say that the city is neither Jewish, nor Christian, nor Armenian, nor Muslim, but it’s all of those things at the same time. In this respect, the easiest way for Christians, let’s say, to best feel the plight of Palestinian people is to be told that Jerusalem is entirely Jewish in character and has no connection to Christianity whatsoever. Just for a second, take a look at this photo—it depicts the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and it has stood there since approximately 335 CE; this, however, isn’t the most fascinating part. In the most unexpected fashion, the main caretakers and guardians of this church, for over a thousand years, have been the Nusseibehs—an aristocratic family of neither Christian, nor Jewish origin, but, followers of Islam, capable of tracing their roots back to Jerusalem more than 1,300 years, all the way to the prophet Muhammad, that is. As you may have noticed by now, Jerusalem is complex, and it belongs to everyone who has a genuine claim.

It’s infuriating, hence, to hear Israel tell not only Palestinians but also the entire world exactly the opposite—indirectly for years and now overtly with the 2018 Nation State Law, that Israel is a country “that is different from all others in one way, that it is the nation-state of the Jewish people.” And yet, even the most ignorant simpleton strolling through Jerusalem’s Armenian or Muslim quarter will somehow sense that Israel isn’t just the nation-state of the Jewish people. For thousands of years, different people have inhabited the Holy Land—some are still there while others are gone—and telling Palestinians that Israel is a Jewish state is precisely like telling me, an Armenian, for example, that I have absolutely no connection to Jerusalem, even though there’s a quarter there. A well-written Reuters article from ten or so years ago describes how with gradual measures such as refusal of identity cards and withdrawal of residence rights, Israel is slowly trying to edge out its Armenian presence as well.

The 1980 Jerusalem Law, which is nothing but a covert guise for East Jerusalem’s annexation—utterly and totally unrecognized by the UN—is an ideology that not just politicians hold in high regard. Initially-innocent-looking, well-meaning, but really rather ridiculous articles such as this one from 1975, by what must’ve been, and probably still is (if alive) a disgruntled rabbi by the name of Yakov Goldman have attempted to use words instead of missiles or rather a missile of words to achieve their political objectives.

Ah, fascinating! Indeed, quite fascinating, Rabbi Goldman. So, you’re telling me that if other people live in the Armenian Quarter and we call it the Armenian Quarter that, somehow, is a travesty? Well, if that’s the case, why don’t we go ahead and stop calling Jerusalem a Jewish city, and, while we’re at it, let’s also stop pretending that Israel is a Jewish state, because, clearly, the Palestinians have and continue to live there, and if, by God Almighty, it has to have a name, as you’ve so correctly pointed out, let’s find a different moniker for your state—isn’t that a more wonderful suggestion? I think so.

Both the American historian David Howard-Pitney and US President Barack Obama (two figures whose level of fame is diametrically opposed—nothing we should hold against one or the other) believe that history is a burden. “For both of them,” according to Jennifer Mercieca and Justin S. Vaughn, authors of The Rhetoric of Heroic Expectations, “it was as much a burden foisted upon them by tradition as one taken up by choice. And for both of them, this burden inspired action. Whether it is the divine history of the Exodus or the divinized history of the Founders, the memory of the past functions as a goad to social action, a profound investment of political agency.” History, in this sense, has been precisely that burden for both the Israelis and Palestinians; for the former, the Holocaust was and continues to be viewed as a great tragedy and yet it was exactly this event which at once and finally convinced later Zionists of the key tenet in Herzl’s philosophy—that anti-Semitism will always exist and, thus, the only resolution is a Jewish state, which was eventually formed.

For Palestinians—a people fortunate enough never to have experienced the horrors equivalent to such destruction—the burden of history has paradoxically been far less kind than it has to the Jewish people; as of today, they’re individuals of a nation without a state living under the occupation of a nation who for the longest time didn’t have a state themselves, but were forced to create one precisely on those territories which the current people without a state had historically inhabited, and the reason for the creation of this state had to do with the persistent historical persecution of those people who had lacked statehood before but are now inhabiting precisely those territories on which the current people without a state feel they have a right to establish their own.

It’s all very complex and the history isn’t something that will be dealt with here, but what isn’t complicated at all is something I’ve not only hinted at but have said directly: Human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and Israel, being the occupying power, has largely not lived up to those ideals. Problems largely stem from Israel’s aggressive expansionist and annexation policies, most of which, if not all, are considered illegal under international law. To be fair, as part of the peace plan with Egypt in 1979, along with agreements in the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel did dismantle many of the settlements in Palestinian territories, but since then, it has largely continued its previous modus operandi of encroaching on lands which aren’t meant for them. When Israel annexed the Golan Heights (territory internationally recognized as part of Syria) only two years later, along with Trump’s subsequent recognition of that annexation in 2019, it was under the guise of providing a safety buffer for its actual borders, but, in reality, such encroachments are merely strategies to give Israel a more Jewish character; tactics like this may seem appealing in the short-run, but given that no nation state is really composed of one homogenous population, the subjugation and repression of minority voices is always bound to backfire, and, indeed it has.

Not only have the decisions of Israel and Trump led to an escalation in the conflict, but they have also seriously crippled whatever diplomatic channels may have existed in helping to foster dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 has formally brought an end to what was achieved during the Oslo Accords in 1993—the PLO’s recognition of Israel and its right to exist, along with Israel’s recognition of the PLO as the sole voice of the Palestinian people. Since those most recent events two and four years ago, respectively, the PLO has withdrawn its recognition of Israel and cut ties with the US; in addition, Palestine threatens to sever relations with all those nations which move their embassies to Jerusalem, a move which could potentially further isolate Palestine, as some US allies will invariably choose to go ahead anyways.

Most news outlets, naturally, portray the conflict with broad brushstrokes—Palestinian “terrorists” launch rockets from Gaza and Israeli “forces” defend against this “aggression.” No subtlety, little historical awareness, and even less understanding, in many ways, also of current events—strangely. For some odd reason or other, no one is really quick to point out that Netanyahu’s constant, and, more unfortunately, blatant disregard of international law is a type of terrorism—indeed, there are no guns or rockets fired, but people’s lives are uprooted and metaphorically disfigured forever. Why should Palestinian residents freely give up their homes to illegal Jewish settlers in Sheikh Jarrah, for example? In addition, the (not) good PM’s pledge to annex all Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories have led a major Jewish newspaper to label him the “undertaker of the two-state solution.”

It’s no secret that this so-called funeral director for all non-Israeli ambitions has repeatedly stated, according to The Guardian, that no Palestinian state will ever come into existence so long as he’s in power; this, ladies and gentlemen, is terrorism in its most white-collar form, and yet the only thing that most major credible news outlets besides Al Jazeera choose to focus on are the horrible actions of perhaps some frustrated Palestinian “terrorists” in Gaza who’ve somehow managed to get a rocket past Israel’s incredibly sophisticated air defense system (the notorious Iron Dome in service since 2011); when the rockets, however, start flying the other way—to a place which cannot shoot down 90 percent of trajectories coming their way, it’s all for the sake of defending the state, all because Palestinians simply don’t have one, and, thus, have nothing worth defending.

In response to a friend’s despair that General Burgoyne had been defeated at Saratoga, which effectively brought about the end of British ambitions in Colonial America, Adam Smith said the following: “Be assured, young friend, that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation.” The quote has been interpreted in a number of ways—from strong countries can cope with poor policies to it takes a whole lot of work (in this case bungling) for political leaders to bring down a country which is prosperous and powerful. Despite what Smith may or may not have meant, I prefer the following interpretation: For a new nation to rise, it must first be ruined in order to be truly born anew. It’s hard to deny that Israel has done anything but bring Palestine to that brink. If Palestinians can hang on long enough, I truly believe that like all people who’ve ever wanted to be free, they may not get everything they wanted, but they will eventually find their freedom.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

Why Armenia Can’t Survive Without Artsakh, an article by David Garyan

09/10/2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

Why Armenia Can’t Survive Without Artsakh

In 2011, my cousin, Ashkhen Arakelyan, who lives in Armenia, visited Ankara, Turkey to participate in a chemistry and mathematics olympiad. At the young age of 26, she’s already the mother of three boys, and although it seems like parenting is all she was destined for, Ashkhen is actually a very smart individual. For her academic achievements she was recognized by the former president, Serzh Sargsyan himself. In the end, and for our purposes, it really doesn’t matter what prize she won at the olympiad or that she got to shake the hand of the most powerful man in Armenia at the time—what matters is the thing she witnessed during her journey almost ten years ago. Walking into one of the rooms where the competition was being held, she saw this “map” hanging on a wall—go on, take all the time you need; it shouldn’t take long, however, to realize that this isn’t really a map but an ambition, an ideology, a dream, even.


(Photo by Ashkhen Arakelyan)

Images like this are rarely circulated outside Turkey proper—and for good reason. If you’ve ever heard of the word “pan-Turkism,” you’ll probably understand the meaning of this cartography—you’ll understand why the tiny nation of Armenia is nowhere to be found in between the two aforementioned countries and why Artsakh is depicted with the colors of Azerbaijan’s flag—it is after all recognized as a part of that country’s territory by international law; it’s a strange thing, however—this so-called international law. What power does it have anyways when Turkey has illegally occupied Northern Cyprus since 1974 and that very same international community which tries to do Azerbaijan justice has been unable to punish Turkey for the very thing that Azeris have accused Armenians of doing—occupying their territory; that’s another point, however. Turks have a right to protect Turkish-speakers in Cyprus, but Armenians can’t use the same justification to protect their own in Azerbaijan simply because the “brotherly” countries have already committed a genocide against us more than a hundred years ago and they won’t do it again. Thus, we should simply return all of Artsakh to a country which has already been complicit in trying to cleanse our populace and happily receive the highest autonomy they’re willing to give us in exchange, along with accepting the promise that they’ll protect our people—if you believe that, I have four words for you: Talysh-Mughan Autonomous Republic.

The Talysh people are an Iranian ethnic group who are indigenous to a region that’s shared between Azerbaijan and Iran, a territory spanning the South Caucasus and the southwestern shore of the Caspian Sea. They have their own language (called Talysh), and it’s one of the Northwestern Iranian languages. While this is all good and interesting, the problem was that in 1993, the Talysh decided they wanted to be independent—so they seized some territory in the southeast and formed their own state—which lasted a grand total of 66 days; this is the flag of their long-lived republic. Nice, isn’t it?

All jokes aside, however, the plight of the Talysh proves that Azerbaijan can’t be trusted with protecting the minority rights of Armenians—a Christian people their own children are taught to despise in grade school. If they couldn’t protect the rights of a Muslim minority—the Talysh—they surely won’t protect those of Armenians; this fact is even harder to deny for the very simple reason that an Azerbaijani historian by the name of Arif Yunusov has himself revealed that school textbooks describe Armenians with slurs such as “bandits” and “aggressors.” In Russian he writes: “В дальнейших разделах учебника авторы все больше и больше внимание уделяют армянам, которые и начинают восприниматься как ‘главные неверные в черных одеяниях.’ При этом, в отношении армян также используются все возможные негативные эпитеты (‘бандиты,’ ‘агрессоры,’ ‘коварные,’ ‘лицемерные’ и т.д.). Именно ‘коварные’ армяне помогли России в покорении Азербайджана, именно в результате ‘восстания армянских бандитов’ в Карабахе в 1920 г. основные силы азербайджанской армии оказались оттянуты от северных границ, чем воспользовалась 11-ая Красная Армия и вторглась в Азербайджан. Таким образом, ‘неверные в черных одеяниях вновь сделали свое черное дело.'” And so on and so on, tovarish.

With my more or less functional Russian, I’ve translated Yunusov’s statement in this way, but you’re more than welcome to copy and paste the text into Google: “In subsequent sections of the textbook, more and more attention is devoted to the Armenians, who are perceived as ‘the main traitors in black robes.’ In this respect, all the possible slurs (bandits, aggressors, insidious, hypocritical, and so on and so on) are also used in relation to Armenians. It was the insidious Armenians who helped Russia conquer Azerbaijan; it was due to the ‘uprising of Armenian bandits’ in Karabakh in 1920 that the main forces of the Azerbaijani army were pulled from the northern borders, which made possible the Red Army’s invasion of Azerbaijan.” Can the citizens of a country who go through such a school system possibly protect the rights of Armenians? This is a country in which hate against the Armenians isn’t just a fact, but an institution.

Moreover, according to Akram Aylisli, an Azerbaijani author and the first Turkic writer to publish a story on the Armenian Genocide, “The word ‘Armenian’ is a terrible curse in Azerbaijan, akin to a ‘Jew’ or ‘Nigger’ in other places. As soon as you hear ‘you behave like an Armenian!’ — ‘No, it’s you, who is Armenian!’ — that is a sure recipe for a brawl. The word ‘Armenian’ is equivalent to ‘enemy’ in the most deep and archaic sense of the word, something like ‘Tatar’ for our Russian forefathers, an evil and an age-old enemy.” Well, it’s good to know all that the next time I travel there. Wait a minute—with the “yan” at the end of my name (a dead giveaway of my ethnicity), I don’t think they’ll let me in anyways.

Although there’s really no time for any asides here, I must take a moment to acknowledge the contributions of Akram Aylisli. A highly decorated author in his native Azerbaijan, Aylisli was awarded the most prestigious honors that President Aliyev could bestow upon a writer; after publishing Stone Dreams, however, a novella about the Sumgait and Baku pogroms, the People’s Writer award so generously presented to him was revoked by the very same president who had conferred it; but the state didn’t stop there—his wife and son were fired from their jobs and he endured countless instances of harassment.

I’ve stated many times before that it’s always the artists who make real changes, rarely the politicians. As Thomas De Waal, an expert on the region and author of the book, Black Garden, writes, “With the dispute still unresolved, it is too much to ask to have the leaders acknowledge their own side’s guilt for these episodes—as a Serbian president finally did in 2013 for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. But both Aliyev and Pashinyan are actively obstructing conflict resolution by recycling conspiracy theories.” Indeed, this is also true for everyday people. For the Armenians all that matters is the pogrom of Sumgait, and for the Azeris they only remember the massacre of Khojaly.

Despite the existential danger Armenians face in Artsakh, international law has largely remained oblivious to the plight of minorities in general. The fact that bona fide independence is no longer so easy to win as it was before has something to do with the changing norms and attitudes about self-determination. According to Neil MacFarlane’s book, Western Engagement in the Caucasus and Central Asia, the international community, in the modern day, prefers to protect minority rights within the borders of existing states: “For better or worse, the West is committed to the attempt to address problems relating to minority rights within the context of acceptance of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the new states.” What does this signify? Well, that self-determination today has come to mean protecting the rights of persecuted individuals within the territory of an existing state, rather than compromising territorial integrity to safeguard the population—even a child can tell this formula is a little ridiculous. If the people are persecuted it’s because the dominant group hates them, so why would you expect the territorial borders (which are inherently there to secure the majority from invasion by foreign powers) of that country to protect a minority population residing precisely within the very boundaries of a nation that considers them “foreign” to itself?

As with almost everything in international law, however, which, after almost fifty years, hasn’t managed to kick Turkey out of Cyprus or prevented a single genocide, nothing really makes any sense, and this is just another reason why Oded Haklai writes the following in his own academic article—the title of which is much too long: “Thus, whereas self-determination provided the premise for the formation of new states on territories ruled by empires and colonial powers, in the contemporary statist world, the principle of territorial integrity checks the capacity of minorities within existing states to win independent statehood.” Again, all that’s good and well in the context of international law, but theory often conflicts with the facts on the ground. It has already been shown that Azerbaijan is more or less incapable of protecting minority rights, and should the Armenians of Artsakh give up their ancestral homeland in exchange for the highest autonomy, it’s almost certain that within a short time, Azerbaijan will “find” some excuse to intervene in the territory—any reason will do here, but let’s try this one: The Armenians are acting up, and in the interest of the state we must quash their “rebellion” which is threatening the existence of Azerbaijan; shortly thereafter, the government will “encourage” Azeris to settle the area and that will be all she wrote for the “autonomy” that an authoritarian state had so generously bestowed upon Artsakh Armenians. It’s not like Artsakh has the privilege of being Basque Country or Catalonia—autonomous states within a peaceful, democratic country, allowing them to be (relatively) sure that Spain will keep on respecting their rights, should they never attain independence.

No, especially after the murder of Gurgen Margaryan in Hungary by an Azeri officer whose name I won’t pronounce (my article on this), it’s especially evident that Armenia can’t settle for anything but full recognition, no matter how much that demand goes against the norms of modern international law. Why should Kosovo be allowed to secede and not Artsakh? In this sense, the international community is picking and choosing. Territorial integrity for Ukraine, independence for Kosovo, territorial integrity for Azerbaijan, and so on and so on. Perhaps, the Armenians of Artsakh could accept a deal in which they agreed to return everything in exchange for the highest autonomy possible—were it not for this map. Look at it again and tell me if we can really do that?

The image above will show you precisely what the ambitions of those two “brotherly” countries are; it will show you that Armenia is the last obstacle between the existence of an entire nation and the “fraternal” desire to revive the Ottoman Empire. Where is Armenia? If you don’t see it, you’re not alone, because in the eyes of Erdogan and Aliyev, it doesn’t exist. Who cares, however, what two dictators think? According to the Armenian Community Council of the UK, “Armenia is the only country remaining from 3,000 year old maps of Anatolia,” and even though two dictators would like to change that, they won’t wipe away our borders. They can’t achieve their goal unless Artsakh falls and they know this very well.

Take a look at the more modern cartography which depicts Armenia’s territorial boundaries precisely according to international law. On the left, you have the exclave of Nakhichevan (belonging to Azerbaijan) and on the right you have Azerbaijan itself; the tiny strip of land that separates the two is called Zangezur and it’s not difficult to imagine where the offensive to swallow up Armenia would begin if Artsakh were to fall. Look at this map and tell me how long Armenia can survive without holding on to the territory that neither exists in the eyes of international law, nor in the minds of Erdogan and Aliyev?

This is no longer a war about territorial integrity; contrary to their claims and assertions about international law, it’s never been about that. Why does the enemy need to recruit Syrian jihadists to fight for them (a fact which can no longer be disputed) if this is a war for their own righteous goal of territorial integrity? Do they really want to win it with the help of terrorists? And if this is really just a war for that aforementioned goal and nothing else, why bomb a nineteenth century church that’s situated in a place where no military or even civilian targets are in the immediate vicinity? This is the cathedral in Shushi before it was shelled. Do you see anything worth targeting around it?

Of course, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry has denied singling out the religious site, saying its army “doesn’t target historical, cultural and, especially, religious buildings and monuments,” but if that’s the case, what exactly were they aiming at and how did they miss it so badly?

Many often wonder why Armenians are so “hysterical.” They don’t understand why we amplify our grief beyond reason. They can’t grasp why we subject ourselves to suffering more than we should. It’s because very few people really understand our history. Almost no one notices the precarious position we find ourselves in, surrounded by rocks upon rocks, which are harmless, and two hostile powers with whom both our borders are closed.

One of the most important American novelists of the twentieth century, William Saroyan, wrote the following in a short story called “The Armenian and the Armenian,” published in his second book, Inhale and Exhale in 1936:

Saroyan was wrong, however. He died in 1981 and didn’t live to see Artsakh return to Armenia; Artsakh is Armenia—it can only be this way if we’re to survive as a nation. I know this statement will offend some people. I know that as someone studying human rights, I must be objective. I must protect the lives of all individuals. In my eyes, a persecuted Azeri must be no different than an Armenian in the same circumstance, and I’ll always believe in that; however, the loss of this territory doesn’t threaten the very existence of Azerbaijan, whereas Armenia’s survival depends entirely on holding it.

Many individuals I study with are afraid of speaking out—afraid of offending anyone, but that’s precisely what human rights work will require of us. If you can’t stand to be uncomfortable and risk making others angry, how will you ever protect the rights of those who are persecuted by a government that hates you for protecting them? No, if you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t embark on this profession and that’s why I must offend my colleagues at this time to stand up for the truth in which I believe, a fact which is captured in the statement made by the great Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov: “For Azerbaijan, Karabakh is matter of ambition; for the Armenians of Karabakh, it is a matter of life and death.” May peace come to you all.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

 

 

The Rohingyas and Their Plight of Denial: An Armenian Glance, an article by David Garyan

August 26th, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

The Rohingyas and Their Plight of Denial: An Armenian Glance

On August 24th, I received an email from one of the representatives of Free Rohingya Coalition, an organization which, according to its own webpage, describes itself as a “network of Rohingya activists and friends of Rohingyas who share common concerns about Myanmar’s on-going genocide and the need for Rohingya survivors to play an active role in seeking a viable future for their group,” inviting me to join an event called “FRC Global Virtual Rally to Commemorate Myanmar Genocide of 2017,” which would take place on Facebook Live the following day.

Not only as a descendant of genocide survivors, but, also, more importantly, as a student of human rights at the University of Bologna, I certainly felt sympathy for the plight of the Rohingyas. It’s incidentally the University of Bologna which conferred Aung San Suu Kyi (the Nobel Prize laureate who’s now the State Counsellor of Myanmar) with an honorary doctorate in philosophy—a regretful decision given the fact she’s been largely silent about these issues. Our cohort signed a petition asking the university to strip her of the aforementioned degree, but that’s really another matter.

Although the blood of our own cause is now fully dry on the pages of history, having occurred over a hundred years ago, genocide remains genocide—nevertheless, it’s hard to deny that the more recent the tragedy is, the more immediate and pressing its concerns are. At the same time, the old argument of what happens when we constantly relegate history to the dustbin in favor of the future also remains—horrors of the past are both repeated and simultaneously also seen as something new, mostly because people forget that these “current” events are just repetitions of the past situated in new circumstances. Yesterday they killed people with swords; today they kill them with guns.

Let’s, however, return to the argument, which isn’t about the relevance or irrelevance of tragedies; what it’s really about is the Rohingyas who’ve been systematically persecuted by the Burmese government and continue to suffer. The genocide could be said to have begun in October 2016 with the military crackdown of the Muslim population in the northwestern region of Myanmar. The UN, various newspapers, and independent journalists have documented the crimes and reached the conclusion that the military’s actions constitute genocide.

Sexual violence, burnings, and forced displacements are just some of the tactics employed by the government to institute its policy of ethnic cleansing. The government, naturally, rejects any notion that it’s committing genocide and, in this respect, denial is precisely the final stage of genocide.

The argument about denial being just another form of ethnic cleansing holds for this reason: First you literally destroy the people, then you metaphorically murder the memories of the event by denying that the crime ever took place. The noted UCLA Professor Emeritus Richard G. Hovannisian said the following regarding denial: “Following the physical destruction of a people and their material culture, memory is all that is left and is targeted as a last victim. Complete annihilation of a people requires the banishment of recollection and suffocation of remembrance.” It will certainly take some time before the actual killings of Rohingya people stop and the genocide moves into a space entirely governed by philosophical annihilation—cleansing through rationality, if you will; after more than a hundred years, this aforementioned “logical” frontier is the one on which the Armenian Genocide is now currently occurring, with the government of Turkey doing everything in its power to silence all research which has already produced conclusive proof about the matter and continues to do so. But again, current events are always more pressing and so here’s another image from Myanmar.

In the past, the Institute of Turkish Studies, a United States research foundation established in 1982—with the help of a three million dollar grant from the Turkish government—occupied a considerable space in various history and Middle East departments, issuing scholarships to undergraduates, providing grant money to researchers, and giving language study awards, among other things, in order to “influence” both students and professors in how they approached the sensitive issue of the Armenian Genocide. Thus, it’s no longer a secret that in the late 80s, the government of Turkey began founding chairs and sometimes even entire institutions focused on Turkish language and history—the most prominent example being the Atatürk chair in Turkish studies at Princeton University—along with a research center in the Capitol called Institute of Turkish Studies. Many prominent academics—and by no coincidence whatsoever also the most fanatic deniers of the Armenian Genocide—ended up being products of those departments; Justin McCarthy, Heath W. Lowry, and Stanford Shaw making up some of the more well-known examples. In 1985, Lowry was the key figure in convincing roughly seventy academics to sign a statement arguing against the recognition of the Armenian Genocide—something which was printed in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

It was a great victory for the Turkish government, but sweet success didn’t last too long. Just over ten years later, the New York Times ran an article called “Princeton Is Accused of Fronting For the Turkish Government,” in which it was discovered that “the university accepted $750,000 from the Government of Turkey to endow a new Atatürk Chair of Turkish Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and hired a professor, Heath W. Lowry, who had worked for the Turkish government, as executive director of the Washington-based Institute of Turkish Studies.” A year later, in 1997, UCLA returned a one million dollar grant given to them by the Turkish government to create a department in Ottoman studies after an investigation revealed that scholars who attempted to use the archives in Istanbul wouldn’t be allowed to access any material that could be sensitive to the tragic events of 1915.

Even more poignantly, in the year 2000, three years after UCLA had returned the one million dollar “donation,” when the US House of Representatives was scheduled to discuss the Armenian Genocide resolution, a Turkish politician by the name of Şükrü Elekdağ openly admitted that Lowry’s 1985 statement had not only become irrelevant but furthermore useless because not one of the original 69 signatories besides Justin McCarthy had agreed to sign a similar declaration.

In a surprising move, Turkey ceased funding the institute in 2015, yet its policy of denial has continued in more subtle, nuanced ways.

The country’s main strategy has always been to sow doubt in the minds of both ordinary citizens and scholars regarding the events of 1915, which is the real reason why it calls for repeated historical investigations—not in the interest of truth but to fish out academics willing to “interpret” the facts in ways which would justify Turkey’s stance of denial on the issue.

And who better to do the interpreting than historians? In a healthy academic environment, interpretation is precisely what’s necessary to arrive at an objective conclusion, but in the hands of those seeking to distort history, this very same “interpretation” also works very well if you have people who are willing to play ball only for your side—the latter type of interpretation and historical “research” is precisely what the Turkish state is after, mainly because it has already lost the main battle long ago; in this respect, various governments such as France, Germany, and more recently the US congress, have implemented legislation recognizing the Armenian tragedy as a genocide.

Furthermore, the International Association of Genocide Scholars wrote the following in a 2006 open letter: “Scholars who deny the facts of genocide in the face of the overwhelming scholarly evidence are not engaging in historical debate, but have another agenda. In the case of the Armenian Genocide, the agenda is to absolve Turkey of responsibility for the planned extermination of the Armenians—an agenda consistent with every Turkish ruling party since the time of the Genocide in 1915.” Pretty strong statement, I would say.

Victories like the ones I’ve mentioned have, thus, forced Turkey to look for other ways to sow doubt in the minds of both people and academics, which brings me back to the case of the Rohingya; in this sense, I must ask why a spokesperson for Anadolu Agency was so enthusiastic to speak on behalf of the aforementioned oppressed and to defend them against the horrors of ethnic cleansing when they themselves have devoted numerous pages to doing everything possible to manipulate and discredit the validity of the genocide their own government has committed? Taking advantage of the fact that it’s utterly impossible for the Free Rohingya Coalition to do complete background checks and investigate all of the panelists which they either invite or those who submit unsolicited proposals to speak, Anadolu Agency must have slipped through the cracks, but I really can’t say for sure. In all honesty, with regard to our Turkish friends, I don’t know which scenario we’re dealing with here, but I don’t believe the organization responsible for protecting the Rohingya is to blame in this matter. After all, Anadolu Agency did agree to broadcast the event “through its 13 world languages programme,” probably bringing considerable attention to the plight of Rohingyas, but we must nevertheless question Turkey’s motives for doing so.

As far as motives are concerned, let’s begin here: When reading any Anadolu article regarding the Armenian Genocide, one initially does get the sense that they’re simply reporting on the incidents surrounding the event, but a simple search reveals that the news agency hasn’t published a single piece regarding the positive gains Armenian activists have made in securing justice for themselves—no, all the reports are either about an obscure “expert” challenging the events, Turkish officials slamming other countries that go on to recognize the events as genocide, and, likewise gleefully reporting on those nations which have refused to recognize the plight of the Armenians. Not a single article in the style of their Rohingya campaign can be found on the Anadolu Agency website regarding the need for justice in the case of 1915; nor is there anything about the necessity to help Armenians in their cause—not one piece. I’m tempted to ask: Why is their solidarity nowhere to be found in this particular case?

In that sense, I wasn’t surprised to read the following in a scholarly article by the Turkish intellectual Dağhan Irak: “the state-run media Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) and Anadolu Agency (AA) companies have been subsidized and restructured in line with the government agenda. These public news producers, especially during the most recent term of the AKP government, have been controlled by officials from a small network close to the party leadership.” Since the official government line has always been to deny classifying the Armenian tragedy as genocide, it’s no surprise why Anadolu Agency takes such a passive-aggressive view towards the issue.

More pertinent to the point, however, is their strategy to deflect their campaign of historical distortion by precisely supporting the causes of other populations who’ve endured genocide—people like the Rohingya—in order to give the impression that their editorial policy really isn’t based around genocide denial. In other words, by supporting the campaign for justice with respect to other countries, Anadolu Agency tries to portray itself as a benevolent force which is only out to seek truth and that no matter how negatively it portrays the struggle for recognition on the part of Armenians, this is more about the doubtful validity of the Armenian Genocide itself and really has less to do with its own dishonest stance on genocides in general.

Again, nothing but negative coverage of 1915, and, in fact, Armenian issues in general is published. Accusations of Armenians keeping their genocide archives closed (which as we already saw is an issue that Turkey is really guilty of), Spain’s rejection of Armenia’s genocide motion, and the tired old Turkish national line of propaganda, which is copied and pasted verbatim into at least four other articles I’ve read—excellent state-sponsored journalism:

Just to drive the point home, here’s another article about Anadolu Agency’s gleeful reporting about Serbia’s rejection of the genocide bill—with the same copied and pasted journalism as the Spanish article.  They really need to pay their writers better.

And for a good laugh, here’s the Dutch version of good old copy and paste journalism so graciously provided to you by the Turkish state.

And since we’re already having so much fun exposing the assembly line tactics of state-sponsored journalism factories, why not show this one about the Swiss as well?

As already stated, these “joint commissions” are dishonest ways to try, for the last time, to rewrite the honest scholarship which has already been done numerous times in this area. “Good” historical research which has gone so far as to make a definitive statement on an issue really doesn’t need to be repeated for the millionth time. In other words, why is it considered a downright insult to form those so-called “joint commissions” to verify the veracity of the Holocaust while the attempt to do the same for the Armenian Genocide is seen as a normal occurrence?

It’s no surprise, then, that Turkey is now finding different ways to make itself look like the good guy—standing up and speaking on behalf of other groups currently experiencing genocide while doing everything in its power to silence the people against whom the state has committed violence itself. It’s hard to imagine who they’re trying to fool, but, like the academic “bribery” campaigns of the 80s and 90s, this too shall pass.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

Video/ I Can Be Gay AND Muslim | LOVE DON’T JUDGE

Video/ I Can Be Gay AND Muslim | LOVE DON’T JUDGE.

 

DEATH THREATS and acid attacks should be the last things you have to worry about on your wedding day. Unfortunately, this was the reality for Jared Choudhury, 26, when he married the love of his life Sean Rogan, 22, at a ceremony two-years ago in Walsall, UK. Due to safety concerns, the service was boycotted by Jared’s entire family after sinister threats were made by members of the local conservative Muslim community. Anxiety induced by fear of violence is a regular problem for Jared, who has spent the last 15 years conflicted about his sexuality and religion.