Will You perform a wonder for the dead? Will the shades rise and thank You forever?
Will Your kindness be told in the grave, Your faith in destruction?
Will Your wonder be known in the darkness, or Your righteousness in the land of oblivion?
– Psalm 88:11-13
Today is Armenian Genocide Memorial Day, so I’ve been reflecting on the historical events we commemorate in a particular way this day and trying to honour the victims by educating myself a bit more about what happened.
After attending the Philos Project’s Nexus conference in September during which historian Benny Morris was an invited speaker, I picked up his book The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of its Christian Minorities 1894-1924. Today I read through the first couple chapters.
The book is quite extensive (506 pages, plus 100 pages of footnotes) because Morris and his co-author Dror Ze’evi are extremely diligent in contextualizing what has often been called “the first genocide of the twentieth century” and what is usually pin-pointed to have happened within a span of a couple years when, in fact, it is almost impossible to grasp a cursory knowledge of the historical details without some broader background.
Morris and Ze’evi start, “In the course of three campaigns beginning in 1894, the Turks turned variously to tools of steady oppression, mass murder, attrition, expulsion, and forced conversion. By 1924, they had cleansed Asia Minor of its four million-odd Christians.”
They continue, “But from the documentation now available, it is clear that treating the three periods separately obfuscates the reality of what the Turks intended and what transpired. Nor does it make sense to view what happened to each of the victim communities–Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians–in isolation.”
Further nuancing they say, “As we hope to show, the annihilation of the Christian communities was not the product of a single cause. At play were fears of foreign machinations and interference, Turkish nationalism, ethnic rivalries, economic envy, and a desire to maintain political and social dominance.”
The first fifty pages have been informative, readable, and interesting. I appreciate that these authors offer such a solid analysis of the historical dynamics between several religious and ethnic groups in Asia Minor, the early rise of Armenian nationalism, the atrocities committed by the Ottomans, and the often disappointing prioritizing by outside powers of their own geopolitical interests over concern with the plight of persecuted minorities.
May remembering past genocides renew our urgency for defending minorities.