April 24, 2021
Above, the Armenian Apostolic church of Akdamar Island, Van, Turkey, raised in the 10th century, was photographed in 2011, almost 100 years after the events of 1915, described today as genocide, which occurred in the general region of Van. The fact of the presence of Armenian relics still standing in the region shows that the history of the ethnic cleansings of WWI is more complex than the political narrative that surrounds it, and was not purely ethnically and culturally motivated.
An example is the constrasts of the church history. During the ethnic pogroms of the 1915 era, the church, its priests, and some of the monastic buildings were reported killed, looted, and destroyed. Yet, the church itself was saved at a later date by Turkish-Kurdish literary giant and human rights activist Yasar Kemal, who learned that it was meant to be destroyed in 1951, after it remained unusued after the First World War, and reached out to Turkish military contacts to stop this process. This contrast shows that the narrative of continued politicization of Turkish-Armenian relations may not contribute to the realistic possibility of rapprochment and healing between the two groups, as exhibited by Kemal’s interference in the church’s destruction. Experts and human rights analysts have called upon the international community to pay heed to these conflicts of narratives, to depressurize politics, rather to relate to historic facts, and to bring a balance and peace among all social demographics that were involved in this tragic history. “Bas Reliefs on Facade of 10th-Century Akdamar Church (Akdamar Kilisesi) – Lake Van – Turkey – 02” by Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Global Photo Archive is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
On April 24, U.S. President Joe Biden recognized pogroms that targeted Armenians during World War I as “a genocide.”
NPR News reported that this would now test the ties between the United States and Turkey, and NBC echoed this sentiment, calling it a signal of the “fall of status” for Turkey and Erdogan in its strategic relations with the United States. Amid political figures’ responses, Azerbaijani presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev referred to the decision as a “historic mistake.”
This was because the historic record of the ethnic killings of 1915 has been a highly politicized issue for the better part of 100 years, contributing to the origins of the Karabakh conflict. Many unresolved issues in the region today stem from the war propaganda that was contemporary with the sequence of events both of 1915, during the Soviet Union, and with regards to post-Soviet conflicts.
On April 24, Irina Tsukerman, media vice president of Timberwolf-Phoenix Media, spoke with Trend News regarding Biden’s decision. Tsukerman stated that Biden should call for a full investigation of the historical events of 1915, noting the complexity of issues that affected the region during the First World War.
“We would hope that the U.S. administration would not make a historic mistake,” said Hajiyev, referring to records of the pogrom era in which ethnic Armenians of Turkey were displaced by the hyper-partisan conflict between the Ottoman Turks and Tsarist Russia.
Ümid etmək istərdik ki, ABŞ administrasiyası tarixi səhvə yol verməyəcəkhttps://t.co/KrQSgGkxI7
— Hikmet Hajiyev (@HikmetHajiyev) April 23, 2021
“If Biden really wants to make an international impact and be perceived as a promoter of human rights, he would call for an international and open historical investigation and call for scholarship and committee to study all war crimes and human rights abuses against all groups that had suffered injustice in the course of World War I,” said Tsukerman, in an interview with Trend News Agency.
Tsukerman explained the issue of using the Armenian ethnic displacement and killing of the era as a “matter of leverage” in current western politics.
“History should not be reduced to a matter of leverage over particular administrations or countries, but rather should be studied and understood to increase collaboration and cooperation and decrease opportunities for polarizing figures and demagogues to create and perpetuate divisions. There is no reason for Armenians, Turks, Greeks, and others not to come together to understand history, to find a way to overcome grievances, and to cooperate over a better future for the new generations rather than use past events merely as a way to antagonize each other,” said Tsukerman.
In this article, Republic Underground explored further contemporary accounts of the Armenian-targeted ethnic pogroms, including the reports of the U.S. military in Van, Turkey contemporary with these events. Research by these historians finds a record that conflicts with the political narrative and calls on all parties to maintain unbiased records and investigation of the historicity of these events.
The pain of 1915 and the years to immediately follow it has been a source of deep human rights debate in the Caucasus region ever since. The politicization of the pogroms against Armenians in that era has created friction among Armenia’s regional counterparts, who note that World War I resulted in several ethnic killings and displacements against a variety of racial groups including Armenians, Meskhetian Turks, Azerbaijanis, and Jews. Historians and human rights activists alike have called on the international community to recognize the complexity of this history and to view the ethnic killing question of that day through an unbiased lens, and to approach the issue in a way that would create channels of peace between the descendants of those parties involved.
Tsukerman noted that even though it would be in the best interests of all parties to seek peace and full understanding of these events, current political agendas conflict.
“That is not in the interests of any people and any countries, and Biden, if he wants to be seen as a man of peace and concerned for human rights, should be pushing for a diplomatic push for unity and initiatives that bring a vision of peace and appreciation of each people’s positive contributions and ability to overcome past wrongs, rather than for scoring cheap political points that kick the can down the road and only create opportunities for the US to be seen as a divisive force that speaks loudly but plays no real role,” Tsukerman told Trend.