The Armenian Genocide: Consciousness vs. History vs. Politics
The Armenian Genocide: Consciousness vs. History vs. Politics
I never write about politics. I do not read about politics as often as I have made myself believe I should. I do not watch the news. I do not educate myself on new legislation as the officials on Capitol Hill unleashes it upon their constituents. I do not watch political debates—at least not willingly and independent from school assignments. I do not engage in world affairs or international relations. I convince myself that there’s no point in following, that I don’t know enough about it all to keep up or to form an intelligent opinion. I convince myself that I’m not “smart enough.” But I realize that in doing so, I turn away from it on purpose by convincing myself that I don’t have any other option. I continue to make an unconscious choice to keep my world small. But at the same time, I am still completely conscious of it because it’s there whether I am looking at it or not. And therefore I cannot even really look away. I was aimlessly scrolling through social media, my eyes barely processing the information on the screen—unconscious again. Then I came across one headline and had to scroll back up. I’d almost missed it. The U.S. had voted on a resolution to acknowledge the Armenian genocide that took place more than 100 years ago. I knew of it, but not much. So I reclaimed consciousness and started my research.
The genocide took place in 1915, on the backend of the reign of the Ottoman Empire in modern-day Turkey. It was one of the most powerful states in history, spanning from the thirteenth century until the twentieth, remaining intact until 1922. The Turkish tribes formed their civilization and eventually controlled a significant amount of southeastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and part of the Arabian peninsula. Their territory also included Anatolia, where Muslim Kurds shared the land with Christian Armenians. When the Ottoman Turks invaded the area in the eleventh century, it marked the end of Armenian independence and they became part of the Ottoman Empire. Armenians were a minority—and therefore second-class—community. Although the Ottoman Turks allowed them to maintain and practice their own religion and social customs, the empire almost recognized the ethnicity as a subculture and any subculture that deviates from the norm faces adversity. The Armenian citizens were treated harshly, taxed disproportionately and courts did not protect them from violence or other crimes. When World War I began, the empire was suffering and the Ottoman Turks joined the war as a German ally. In 1915, they lost the battle of Sarikamish. As a result, the empire blamed the Armenian citizens in that area who aligned themselves with Russia on the opposing side. The empire began to portray Armenians as enemies of the state, painting them as a threat to the already crumbling empire. The genocide began in 1915 when the Ottoman Turks arrested a few hundred of their Armenian enemies and later executed them. The Ottoman Empire surrendered in 1918 and it finally fell in 1922. During this time, it also stole about 1.5 million Armenian lives in the first genocide of the twentieth century. But for the last century, Turkey has refused to acknowledge it as so, rejecting the word “genocide” completely. So did the United States until a few days ago. Turkey’s foreign ministry rejected the House’s resolution that recognized the massacre as a premeditated, systematic operation that aimed to specifically execute the Armenian people—a genocide. In a tweet, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu labeled the decision as “shameful,” an attempt to exploit “history in politics.” After the vote, Turkey released a statement saying that the decision was “meaningless” and lobbied toward the Armenian government and “anti-Turkey groups.” It continued to claim that “the events that occurred in 1915 belongs to the realm of history, not politics.” History is already in the past. It can’t jump from past to present and from context to context on its own. So by demanding that history should stay in the past implies that we have to be the ones to leave it there, making an active, conscious decision to do so. We have to adjust our point of view and turn the other cheek. We have to look away or look at it as something different, something we can accept. We have to be careful about the language we use. We have to call it a “massacre,” an “atrocity,” but we can’t call it a genocide. We can’t call it for what it is or look at it as something new because change brings it out of the past and into the present. It brings it back into our minds, forcing it into the vulnerable consciousness from the safe unconscious. “The events that occurred in 1915 belongs to the realm of history, not politics.” As if those two things aren’t the same. As if they don’t go hand in hand. As if it is possible to fully understand one without understanding the other. As if history doesn’t bleed into everything that happens today. The Turkish ministry condemns the resolution on the claim that it interferes with political relations between Turkey and the U.S. That claim alone implies that there is already a relationship between history and politics. In order to reject something, it has to already exist. But that claim is an active, conscious attempt to erase an unconscious stain on history, a memory that we don’t necessarily want to remember. I realize now that turning my attention away from politics is a luxury, one that I do not even actually have. I unconsciously assumed it didn’t affect me because my attention was always focused on something else, but it does. It exists exactly where it is, no matter how I look at it from wherever I stand. Politics isn’t necessarily the large, looming idea of white houses and high opinions and legacies. It doesn’t have to be Politics with a capital “P.” It’s just a set of activities that govern our actions. It’s a way of thinking and behaving. It’s being able to vote on how to recognize a documented event and whether to accept it. It’s the power to be able to validate the experiences of someone else, regardless of the actual experience. It’s the ability to decide who experiences what and for how long and for what reason. It’s the luxury of being able to forget and ignore. It’s the ability to either tiptoe around that experience or look it head-on and call it by its name.