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The Independent (London)
January 28, 2000, Friday

by Robert Fisk

"WHO NOW remembers the Armenians?" Hitler asked, just before he embarked on
the destruction of European Jewry. Precious few, it seems. As the memorial
day for the Nazi genocide against the Jews was proclaimed by Mr Blair this
week, there was not a single reference to the slaughter of one and a half
million Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915. The world's first
holocaust - and Hitler's inspiration for the slaughter of the Jews - was

Why, I wonder? Mr Blair did not mention it. President Chirac is frightened
of the very subject, refusing even to condemn the slaughter when he last
visited Beirut, where the grandchildren of the victims live in their tens of
thousands. The United States government prefers to forget the holocaust of
Armenians, while the Turks - the inheritors of the empire that committed the
worst atrocities of the First World War - are studiously denying the
genocide. And we let them get away with it.

Who, I wonder, chooses which holocaust we should remember and which we
should not? The six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis must always
have a place in our history, our memory, our fears. Never again. But alas,
the Armenians who perished in the rivers of southern Turkey, who were
slaughtered in their tens of thousands in the deserts of northern Syria,
whose wives and daughters were gang-raped and knifed to death by the
gendarmerie and their Kurdish militiamen - they have no place in our memory
or our history. Turkey is our friend. Turkey might one day join the European
Union. Turkey is an ally of Israel.

History, of course, is a hard taskmaster, veined with inconvenient facts and
corrupted heroes as well as the massacre of innocents. The Armenian
community in Turkey had its Allied sympathisers when the Ottoman army was
fighting the British and French in the First World War, and Armenians also
fought in the tsarist Russian army against Turkey. But the proof of genocide
is intact. The Young Turk movement - once a liberal organisation which the
Armenians had supported - had taken control of the dying empire and adopted
a "pan-Turkism" which espoused a Turkish-speaking Muslim nation from
Constantinople to Baku. Within weeks of their victory over the Allies at the
Dardanelles in 1915, they fell upon the Armenians. Churchill was to refer to
the "merciless fury" unleashed upon the Christian minority. The US
ambassador in Constantinople - himself a Jew - wrote heart-wrenching reports
back to Washington of mass slaughter. Near the Turkish village of Mus,
hundreds of men were lined up on bridges and shot into the rivers,

Behind the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Poland, I was once taken by a camp
guide to a series of small lakes in which the Nazis dumped the ash of the
crematoria. Beneath the water and ice lay the powdered white bones of whole
cities of people. Yet in the north Syrian desert there are still skulls and
bones in caves and in the clay of river banks. This place of martyrdom is
visited once a year by the local Armenian community to commemorate their
holocaust. They even have a holocaust memorial day. Yet I wonder if a single
non-Armenian reader of The Independent knows what the date is?

Denial of the holocaust is in some countries a crime. I'm talking, of
course, about the Jewish Holocaust - because denial of the Armenian
holocaust is not only perfectly legal, it is big business. No American
company selling weapons to Turkey will discuss the holocaust of 1915. Chairs
of Ottoman studies are being funded by the Turkish government at American
universities in which US academics - who have to prove they have used
Ottoman archives to get their jobs and thus must never have condemned the
1915 slaughters - propagate the lie that the Armenians were merely victims
of "civil war" and that Turks also died in the chaos of 1915.

Turks did. But not on the Armenian scale. Anyone who was to write that the
Jews were victims of a European civil war and that, anyway, "Germans also
died" would be regarded as cracked or a neo-Nazi. Not so if you deny the
Armenian holocaust.

Take the following letter, for example: "The myth of the 'Armenian
Holocaust' was created immediately after World War I with the hope that the
Armenians could be rewarded for their 'sufferings' with a piece of the
disintegrating Ottoman state. As such, the main aims of the inventors were
political and territorial." Now substitute the word Armenian with the word
Jew. Who would ever get away with a letter about the "myth of the Jewish
Holocaust" as an invention of Jews who wanted to be rewarded for
"sufferings" (the quotation marks suggesting their falsity)? Who would ever
publish such lies?

But that letter was written about the Armenians. And it was written by a
Turkish ambassador. In fact - heaven spare us - it was written by Barlas
Ozener, the Turkish ambassador to Israel. And it was printed, in full, in
the Jerusalem Post.

But we Europeans are just as mendacious, if more discreetly so. Take Mr
Chirac in Beirut. The French Assembly had just condemned the Armenian
holocaust of 1915 - there are men of principle in French politics. But not
Chirac. When asked less than two years ago for his views on the resolution,
he replied: "I do not comment on a matter of domestic (sic) politics when
I'm abroad." Would that have been his response if the Assembly had just
denounced the Jewish Holocaust?

Mr Blair said this week that as the Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust
"age and become fewer in number, it becomes more and more our duty to take
up the mantle and tell each new generation what happened and what could
happen again".

But there are a few very Armenian survivors left. Why weren't they asked
this week about their memories? At Musa Dagh and later at Smyrna in 1920,
British, French and American warships rescued a few of the pitiful Armenian
survivors of that earlier Holocaust. But Mr Blair was silent this week. And
silence gives consent.

I am all for memorial days. Especially one that marks the Jewish Holocaust.
And especially memorial days for other holocausts. Armenians too. But
Hitler's ghost can have a little laugh this week. After all, who now
remembers the Armenians?

GRAPHIC: An Armenian priest hung in a street in Constantinople in 1915;

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