Oftentimes it’s easy for bystanders on the outside of a fight between two parties (whether the parties are individuals or groups of individuals) to, in good faith, attempt to intervene and/or mediate.
Carole Weling, in her Mailbag letter (“Groups must come together for good,” Friday) offers advice to the Armenian and Turkish members of the community to “sit at a peace table for the good of the community” and attempt to reconcile the issue of the Armenian Genocide. It begs the question: What does it mean to “reconcile,” and how would this reconciliation manifest itself?
With an exasperated sigh, I’d like to once again examine the issue for those members of our community who believe this is just another petty ethnic squabble between two morally equivalent opponents.
We have a group of defiantly unrepentant people whose ancestors are responsible for the government-orchestrated mass murder of almost 2 million men, women and children, many of whose descendants now make up the large ethnic-Armenian population in Glendale, among other places where Armenians have scattered to during and since the event.
The overwhelming majority of ethnic Turks alive today toe the official line of long-standing denial by the Turkish government, despite the landslide of historical evidence and the majority of the developed world signing on to the label of genocide. So deeply rooted is this denial that it’s officially a crime in Turkey, punishable by imprisonment, to merely believe that the Turks committed genocide of the Armenians.
The attempt to muddy the waters has some Turks even going so far as to attempt to turn the tables and say that the Armenians committed genocide on the Turks! I’ve personally had that particular debate with a Turk who has attempted to argue that position.
To “reconcile” this vast divide between Turks and Armenians without the Turks first coming to terms with their past and requesting forgiveness, not only for the crime itself but the subsequent 90-year-long coverup attempt, would be an exercise in futility. Even after an official apology, it would still take years, perhaps decades, for this issue to be put to rest — having to overcome almost 100 years of active denial.
For now though, I would argue that the Armenian community should be held up as an example of how civilized people deal with issues such as this to the extent that one doesn’t pick up the newspapers and read about Armenians vandalizing, assaulting or acting out on their anger against members of another ethnic group that we hold accountable for an attempted coverup of mass murder.
Instead, Armenians organize and communicate with their government representatives in order to work within the system to achieve justice, even if that justice only comes in the form of recognition by their home countries.
Ironically (and unfortunately), in Turkey, even that form of peaceful activism would be a crime. Without repentance there can be no forgiveness.
Currently, the Japanese government has not officially come to terms with the wartime atrocities it committed during World War II, where they ravaged Southeast Asia to the tune of tens of millions dead Chinese, Koreans and others. To this day, there remains a tremendous amount of hostility toward the Japanese among many Southeast Asians. But I’m not about to tell them to just “reconcile” and put aside their differences without addressing the root cause, nor do I consider their resentment to be in any way irrational or unjustified. It’s an issue that they’re going to have to work out on their own.
Likewise, it comes across just as condescending for non-Armenians to tell Armenians that we should just sit down at some nebulous “peace table” with people who continually spit on the graves of our murdered grandparents. Perhaps in that same vein we should ask the Goldman family to sit down at a “peace table” with O.J. Simpson? Or perhaps we should ask the families of the Sept. 11, 2001, victims to sit down at a “peace table” with Osama bin Laden?
Nonetheless, does this resentment toward Turks consume me? Does it incite me to want to seek revenge? Absolutely not.
I, like so many other Americans of Armenian descent, go about my daily life just like anyone else. The difference is that we bear an unhealed wound whose scab continually gets picked open by the ones who put it there.
I fully expect that this issue may in fact never be reconciled within my lifetime, and quite frankly I’m perfectly content and justified to take my grudge to my grave. Further, I would ask that those members of our community who, while perched safely on the fence of relativism, cannot see the moral disparity between the Armenians and Turks to at least have enough courtesy to remain on that fence quietly.
MIKE MICHAELIAN is a Glendale resident.