The Smoking Gun

Ubiquitous greetings of “parev, hrametsek” along with “merhaba, hoşgeldiniz” were heard upon arrival to the event; Armenians were sitting side by side with Turks, attentively listening, waiting, and anticipating.

Hosted in the School of Oriental and African studies under the auspices of the Programme of Armenian Studies, historian, activist and writer Ara Sarafian was invited to give a talk entitled “The Smoking Gun: Talaat Pasha’s report on the Armenian Genocide”.

The talk itself was mainly about rebutting the claims of Murat Bardakçı who released the personal “Black Book” of Talaat Pasha with the argument that the book shows events of 1915 didn’t constitute genocide. Sarafian attacked this argument with cogent, logical and thorough analysis of the available diary showing that the numbers and figures used in the report were used erroneously without the use of a footnote commanding the reader to realise numbers should allow a 30% increased leeway, along with various other analyses of figures into graphs to show deportation stages throughout the different regions.

The most anticipated part on my part was the Q&A sessions where audience members could question Sarafian’s opinions on a variety of matters such as his approach to denial, the attempted joint commissions with Turkish historians, and the likening of Turkey to Nazi Germany. My own question was about Sarafian’s opinion on Robert Fisk’s route to solution – that the Turkish officials who refused deportation orders should be rightly praised by the Armenian community, thereby getting many Turks on the side of compassion and moral high ground instead of creating animosity between Armenians and Turks. Sarafian agreed and explained that Armenians can only claim the moral and factual ground if we do not falsify history in order to make the genocide seem more “genocidal”, but tell the truth of cases of regular Turkish people and officials saving Armenians.

Sarafian made points seen as controversial by some, but as realistic by others: He proposed that justice for Armenians would also mean justice for all Anatolians, be it Turk, Kurd, Greek, Assyrian, Armenian, and Circassian; in this, for Armenian rights to be defended, we also must defend the rights of other Anatolian peoples.

The real fight is and must always remain with the government not the people. Even in the 1950s, Sarafian explains government officials were taking the valuable empty plots and houses of Armenians left over from the genocide. They continuously deny the rights of Kurds living in Eastern Anatolia, they heinously deny the organised killings of the Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks during WW1, and they illegally occupy 1/3 of Cyprus. If we can link up with others suffering at the hands of the government, perhaps change can be made.

Travelling to Diyabekir, Bitlis, Erzurum and Van often, Sarafian went on to describe how no one in Eastern Turkey denies the occurrence of the genocide. Kurds in Eastern Anatolia hold Armenians highly in their culture, with many an Armenian story being stored in the form of Kurdish song, and many old Kurdish songs being saved in the form of Armenian phonetics. But these Turks and Kurds (who themselves were refugees of war and had very little to do with the massacres) are only “scared” of the Armenians as they are told by their government if they publicly go for recognition, they will be driven from their land by marauding Armenians.

This point really got me thinking: these lands were Western Armenia; our ancestors were driven out from their homelands through industrial ethnic cleansing. But for these Turks and Kurds who live there now it is also their homeland. I am not saying we must drop all claims to “Western Armenia”; rather these points must realistically be discussed, researched, and deeply thought about to find a peaceful solution that provides the justice we deserve without sacrificing the rights of many other who also call Anatolia their homeland.

Having a conversation with Sarafian after the event, my respect and admiration of his views, motivation and work grew even more; his desire to find a solution, make a proactive change with Turks and Kurds makes him a role model not just for me, but for many others who want to find a solution to end nationalistic hate and segregation. I shall definitely keep up with his work through the “Gomidas Institute”; I greatly recommend the same for others.

— Raphael Gregorian

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