by Max Parry
“Did Armenia just dance its way to revolution?” Mass demonstrations that have shut down Armenia leading to the replacement of its prime minister have queued the obligatory western media push for regime change. Already dubbed a ‘Velvet Revolution’ after the 1989 protests that collapsed communist Czechoslovakia, there have been so many ‘color revolutions’ in former Soviet states that the colors are being recycled by the NGOs. The first crowds gathered in April in response to the Republican Party of Armenia’s decision to nominate outgoing leader Serzh Sargsyan as the sole candidate for Prime Minister after having already served as the country’s President since 2008. Despite its constitutional legality, this was perceived by many to be a consolidation of power as he would have retained the same authority since the country just transitioned to a prime ministerial system.
Predictably, the western media commentary has framed the protests in the context of the new Cold War by emphasizing the ruling party’s links to ‘Kremlin oligarchs’ and Armenia’s presence within Russia’s sphere of influence. However, they have been forced to admit that the stated aim of the critical mass thus far has been limited to preventing Sargsyan’s interpreted power grab. Otherwise, Putin would nefariously intervene like in Georgia and Ukraine, right? The Washington Post didn’t find it important to mention the enormous political and historical reasons Armenia maintains close ties to Moscow, because presenting an accurate account of a political crisis always takes a backseat to the priority of demonizing Russia.
The genocide of 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians, perpetrated beginning in 1915 by the “Young Turk” (Committee of Union and Progress) authorities of the Ottoman Empire, has been recognized as an indisputable fact by the vast majority of the world’s scholars and academics. There is overwhelming historical evidence both of its occurrence and premeditated planning. As a result, the governments of many countries have chosen to recognize it as a genocide. In addition to Russia and many countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America, the governments of France, Italy, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands and others (a total of 29 worldwide) have all officially acknowledged that what was done to the Ottoman Armenians constitutes genocide.
Some like France have even forbidden its denial by legal prosecution with a one year jail sentence as punishment. Although many individual politicians and institutions within America have acknowledged it, the U.S. government to this day has not officially done so and has taken deliberate measures in avoidance of it. The go-to excuse has always been one of ‘realpolitik’ and the complicated dimensions of the U.S. relationship with the government of Turkey, a thinly veiled admittance of its selfish political motivations. The Ottoman Empire’s successor state is a fellow NATO member and longtime strategic ally for the U.S. in the region as the bridge between the Middle East and Europe.
Although the U.S. has failed to call it a genocide, the Republic of Turkey and the Turkic state of Azerbaijan are the sole governments in the world who explicitly reject the use of the term. Only American exceptionalism could permit the media to push for regime change in Armenia while letting its own leaders get away with not recognizing the genocide.
The remains of Armenian children, drowned in the Black sea, Trabzon, 1916 (Photo — Armenian Genocide Museum and Institute Collection)
The empire’s fourth estate has neglected to take it to task for this controversial policy despite the genocide’s universal confirmation by the world’s intellectuals and historians. A perfect example is the broken campaign promise by candidate Barack Obama in 2008 after he reversed his position on the issue once in office as President, caving into the powerful influence and millions spent by the Turkish government’s lobby.
Once the Obama administration became intimately involved in a collaborative intervention with Turkey in transforming Syria’s conflict into an Islamist proxy war, any likelihood he would ever do so vanished. WikiLeaks revealed Hillary Clinton’s email exchanges with advisors on the issue leading up to the 100th anniversary of the genocide in 2015, giving an inside look at the cynical reasoning behind Washington’s denial in the strategic importance of relations with Turkey in the region. Trump’s language has been identical thus far with the Obama administration on the issue, as he attempts to repair recently damaged relations with Turkey which has only prolonged the frustration for the Armenian-American community. To this day a U.S. President has yet to visit the Tsitsernakaberd memorial complex in Yerevan.
The Armenian genocide took place during and under the cover of World War I as Russia advanced into Ottoman territory. The predominantly Christian Armenians had lived in the Caucasus of Eurasia for thousands of years and in the fourth century became the first nation in the world to make Christianity its state religion. Mount Ararat is even believed to be the supposed site of Noah’s Ark in the Book of Genesis. Armenia was then incorporated into Ottoman Turkey several centuries later at the peak of the Empire’s power when its territory spread across multiple continents.
As Christians living in a Muslim majority society, Armenians did not have full rights and liberties as a minority group. Despite their treatment as second class citizens who faced tax burdens based on religious discrimination, they were able to practice their religion with a degree of autonomy and the community persevered under their rulers. When the Ottoman Empire began to decline towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Armenians found themselves the scapegoat of Turkish nationalists both for their religious differences and their relative prosperity as a minority group. Sound familiar?
In 1908, as the Empire’s power continued to dwindle leading up to WWI, the Sultan Abdul Hamid was ousted and the Committee of Union and Progress, aka ‘the Young Turks’, a secret society turned political organization seized power. While they ushered in liberal, secular reforms that transformed Turkey into a constitutional monarchy during their ten year reign, Talat Pasha and the Young Turks were also Turkish nationalists who wished to restore the empire to its previous status on the world stage.
Its nationalism led to Turkification campaigns racially targeting minority groups, especially those perceived to be sympathetic to Russia like the Armenians. Russia had historically been protectors of Christians living within Ottoman territory, and the pretext used by the Ottoman authorities for the ethnic cleansing to construct a homogeneous state was a conspiracy that the Armenians were collaborating with them. The Young Turk authorities blamed the Armenians for the empire’s losses as its defeat in the Italo-Turkish war and the Balkan War of 1912 reduced its power significantly. This left it little choice but to side with Germany and the Central Powers once they declared war on Russia which proved to be an ill fated decision.
The Western jingoist narrative would lead you to believe the world ‘sleepwalked’ into World War I, an attempt by the victors rewriting history to claim the moral high-ground of fighting for ‘liberal values.’ In reality, the Allied and Central Powers both consisted of colonialists guilty of various genocides. Furthermore, preparations had been made for decades by the opposing sides with the buildup of their armaments and the development of naval and armed forces to eventually fight over the re-division of the world’s colonies.
The war came as no shock at all to the powers that be, but was only a surprise perhaps to the working class who were used as cannon fodder in the industrial scale slaughter of its battlefields. The Berlin Conference in 1885 partitioned the African colonies and regulated European imperial expansion, resulting in the emergence of a new German superpower that suddenly threatened its British and French rivals. This proved to be the final instance the colonial powers were able to negotiate their territorial disputes without war.
The increasingly powerful Germany wanted access to the British and French colonies and when they could no longer settle their festering differences peacefully, world war became inevitable. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo was the mere straw that broke the camel’s back — there had been many assassinations of leaders prior that didn’t lead to the outbreak of war, let alone a global conflict.
Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II had slaughtered tens of thousands from the Herero tribes leading to slave revolts — but were the British any more innocent? The Aborigines and numerous other indigenous populations that were halved under British colonies, not to mention the Irish who starved during the Great Potato Famine, would surely disagree.
Perhaps the worst crimes of all committed by one of the Allies was under King Leopold II of Belgium, with its massacres in the Congo famously inspiring Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Or maybe the most extensive slaughter would be that perpetrated by the United States with its large scale ethnic cleansing of Native American tribes and black slaves? Truth be told, the Allies were no moral superiors at all to the Germans or the Ottoman Turks. All of this is important to understand in the context of critiquing the U.S. for failing to recognize the Armenian genocide, because it still has yet to fully come to grips with its own bloody history, let alone what it is subjecting the world to today.
The Armenian genocide was also nearly a successful one in that the Ottomans virtually exterminated the entirety of its Armenian population. It began on April 24, 1915, when hundreds of Armenian political, religious, and intellectual leaders were all rounded up and mercilessly executed. The Turkish government then established Tehcir law and made ethnic cleansing a state policy, ordering the deportation of all Armenian inhabitants in “death marches” to the deserts of Syria and present-day Iraq. Women and children were forced to walk over mountains and deserts, many of them raped and purposefully starved to death by Turkish troops.
Some victims of the mass killing were even beheaded and burned alive. Those dispersed who were fortunate enough to survive fled to the Caucuses and Russia, while the refugees scattered elsewhere in the Middle East and those who emigrated to Europe and North America would form the Armenian diaspora that exists today. Any spared in Turkey were assimilated through forced conversion to Islam. Only a small remnant of the eastern-most part of Armenian territory remained to become the First Republic of Armenia.
In 1920, it was overrun by the Red Army and absorbed into the Soviet Union in a joint republic with the other caucuses, not gaining its own until the 1930s. Armenia then remained within the USSR until its dissolution whereby it became industrialized and modernized. Presently, it remains a key ally for Russia complicated by the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh with its caucus neighbor Azerbaijan where the Kremlin has played mediator.
Armenian refugees on a Black Sea beach in Novorossiysk, Russia.
The Armenian-American painter and genocide survivor Arshile Gorky famously changed his birth name Vosdanik Adoyan to one after the Soviet writer Maxim Gorky partly because he felt Russia had saved Armenia. In fact, Russia and Armenia’s enduring close ties today are based on Russia having historically given refuge to the Armenians from persecution. Armenians had suffered during all of the Russo-Turkish wars of the previous two centuries for being painted as sympathetic to Russia, but WWI brought unparalleled suffering for them in the form of systematic extermination.
During the genocide, the hundreds of thousands of Ottoman-Armenian subjects who were targeted by Turkish authorities were victims after being portrayed as a internal threat and potential traitors while Ottoman troops fought against the Imperial Russian Army on the war-front. The genocide itself had Russophobic origins and was ‘justified’ by the Turks as a militarily necessity, with losses such as the Battle of Sarikamish serving as a prelude to the genocide after Enver Pasha pinned their defeat on Armenians. The Turkish campaign to whitewash the genocide uses the existence of Armenian volunteer units who fought with the Imperial Russian Army as evidence to support their apologist narrative — discounting that the vast majority of the Armenians massacred were Ottoman citizens. Modern Armenia still stands because it was the sole province within its historical territory that was under the protection of Russia — without it, it is possible that no Armenia would remain at all.
Following the war’s end, the Turkish National Movement and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who had led the Ottomans to victory in Gallipoli formed a nationalist government based in Ankara. Concurrently, Britain and France occupied Istanbul (Constantinople), resulting in the Turkish War of Independence (1919–1923). In the initial stages of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, some of the Young Turk perpetrators were put to death for what they called ‘crimes against humanity’ in the Turkish courts-martial of 1919–1920 under the last Sultan, Mehmed VI.
However, many of the real culprits in the Young Turk leadership were allowed to escape and avoid any real punishment for their heinous crimes. Once the formation of the the Republic of Turkey occurred in 1923 after Atatürk and the Turkish National Movement drove out the Allies, they were given amnesty from their deeds. Denial then became official policy of the state and even the memory of the presence of Armenia was not safe from destruction. Even though the Kemalists were not the guilty parties themselves and the new republic ushered in many reforms such as secular education and socialized medicine, it excessively glorified the country’s military which still held significant power in post-Ottoman Turkey.
The former existence of Armenians was outright denied, with maps and history rewritten in schools falsely claiming that Turks had inhabited the region exclusively for centuries. Churches, monuments and all traces of Armenian culture were desecrated and renamed. Armenian children that were not killed were abducted from their parents, then renamed and raised as Turks. Recently revealed genealogy databases show the historical records that as many as 2 million Turks may have Armenian ancestry. The effects of this campaign are so widespread that even the most progressive elements of Turkish society harshly reject use of the term genocide to this day.
While the Turkish government was rewriting history, the Allied powers were preoccupied with more important things than prosecuting the Ottomans for war crimes. After all, the war had been fought for moral reasons, not over the subjugation of smaller nations — or had it? The Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France resulted in the partitioning of the former Ottoman territories for plunder and looting of their markets and raw materials with colonialism now acting under the banner of ‘mandates.’ Britain received Iraq and Palestine, while Syria and Lebanon went to France.
Though confirmation of the account is disputed, just prior to the invasion of Poland it is alleged that Hitler remarked in a 1939 speech “Who after all, remembers the Armenians?” Many have said in hindsight that perhaps if the Turks had been held to account for their crimes, the holocaust could have been prevented — but this naive view discounts the fact that the Allies were guilty of many genocides themselves.
The Armenian genocide also predates use of the word itself which was not until the 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe by holocaust survivor Raphael Lemkin, nor officially defined prior to the Genocide Convention of 1948. Lemkin coined the term as a hybrid of the Greek word génos (a social group of descent) and the Latin suffix -cide (an act of killing), specifically with the Armenians in mind. Genocide is also a heavily politicized term with regards to the west, which now exploits the word to justify its ‘humanitarian interventions’ abroad, often using it to mischaracterize bloody civil wars and ethnic conflicts (Rwanda, Yugoslavia) while failing to recognize its actual historical occurrences that fit its definition such as that perpetrated upon the Armenians.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Armenia as an independent country has maintained close ties to Russia with the reduced energy prices provided by its Gazprom natural gas giant, military bases and trade relations. Since 1991, its economy has been obliterated by the ‘shock therapy’ of mass privatization by the IMF and World Bank who imposed their own demands as a pretext for their economic bailouts. According to IMF statistics, Armenia’s post-Soviet economy shrank by three quarters during the nineties and it has remained one of the poorest countries in Europe ever since.
Armenia is currently a member of Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), from which the other ‘color revolutions’ in Eastern Europe keeping pushing former Soviet states into EU integration. The liberal opposition leader and parliament member who just became the country’s new Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinian, has stated he does not wish Armenia to become a client state in a geopolitical chess game between the west and east. Indeed, the protests have not become violent on any large scale nor have they been infiltrated by far right nationalists, making any comparisons with the Maidan in Ukraine seem premature. While the full outcome of the protests is yet to be determined, Pashinian is clearly a shameless opportunist who cannot be trusted. Perhaps a comparison with the Orange or Rose Revolutions is a better one.
Washington’s plan to surround Russia installing favorable puppets is part of a larger plan to recolonize Russia and contain China’s growth to maintain its global hegemony. Pashinian has hijacked the legitimate grievances of average Armenians such as rising unemployment (nearly 20%) and economic stratification within the country to advance his own interests, namely re-alignment with the EU and the U.S. plan to undermine Moscow.
Pashinian had objected to the Sargsyan government joining the EAEU in 2014, instead favoring a signing of the European Union Association Agreement which was not completed until last year, although with the negotiated term of Armenia not having to enroll as a EU member. The idea that entry into the EU will bring anything but more austerity is a scam, and is Armenia really in a position to move away from Moscow? Unlikely considering they just signed a joint military force agreement. We will have to wait and see what changes a Pashinian term will bring as he is set to meet with Putin in Sochi shortly.
While Armenia is in the grip of infighting amongst its political elites, Turkey is the midst of a power struggle between rival Islamists. The U.S. relationship with Turkey has also been in jeopardy and become increasingly strained since the failed coup d’etat attempt in July of 2016 to remove its Islamist President, Recep Tayipp Erdoğan, who glorifies the Ottoman Empire while supporting terrorism across the region. The failed ouster instantly shifted the world’s geopolitical alignment after Erdoğan responded by accusing the U.S. of involvement. This development may have consequences for any eventual U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide, as Trump balances both trying to win back Turkey’s favor while facing international pressure to condemn Erdoğan’s purges and increasing authoritarianism. While it is possible that Erdoğan staged the coup in a ‘false flag’ power grab considering its poor execution and the small amount of troops involved, the end result further sabotaged the U.S.’s plan to control key resources in the form of oil and gas pipelines from the Persian Gulf to the EU that had been the motive behind its involvement in Syria.
An elimination of Russia’s grip on more than half of Europe’s natural gas market remains the ultimate geopolitical aim of the U.S. On his first day in office, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the trade bloc designed to undermine China, but it has done little to stop what appears to be an increasingly relentless drive toward WWIII. The possibility of a potential global war continues to arise from a deepening global economic crisis and desperation on the part of the U.S. to halt the rise of China and Russia on the world stage that is occurring simultaneously.
Obama’s so-called ‘pivot to East Asia’ regional strategy, which concentrated more than half of American armed forces in the continent by taking troops to Australia, the Asian Pacific and Indonesia, had intended to build up America as a Pacific Power encircling China behind a missile defense shield. Just as its attempt to oust Bashar al-Assad was unsuccessful, Obama’s pivot to Asia proved to be a nothing short of a colossal failure.
America’s involvement in the Syrian conflict also took risks in their support for Kurdish proxies that undermined its ally Turkey, with its decision to arm the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) in Northern Syria particularly ruffling Ankara’s feathers. The YPG’s role in the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces coalition was instrumental in the fight against ISIS, but the U.S. payed little regard to Turkey’s objection to their support for them over the group‘s ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK’s insurgency has been in an armed conflict with Turkey for almost forty years fighting to establish an autonomous Kurdish state.
In the aftermath, Erdoğan insisted the failed coup was supported by the U.S. and orchestrated by his former ally, the pro-American Islamic cleric, Fetullah Gülen, who is based in exile in Pennsylvania. Gülen’s large cult-like following within Turkey is believed by the government to have infiltrated institutions, banks and the military. Blame was even placed on Gülen for the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov in late 2016. Yet Turkey’s suspicion of the Gülen movement being a cover for the CIA is not implausible. It was Russian intervention that crushed the U.S. goal of ousting Assad in Syria — was the coup attempt part of a reset of U.S. policy in the region in an effort to install a preferred puppet? The souring relations between the U.S. and Turkey will likely prolong any potential recognition of ‘the other holocaust.’
The world finds itself in circumstances not unlike when Germany rose as an existential threat to the British and French leading up to WWI. As Germany challenged the already divided world, their imperial ambitions led to what was supposed to be ‘the War to End All Wars’ which facilitated the Ottoman extermination of the Armenians. More than a hundred years later, the world is now facing a similar historical moment to that which preceded the Great War which only ended after the Russian Revolution ousted the Tsar and its autocracy was replaced with socialism.
The only reason capitalism was not overthrown in the rest of Europe was the treachery of the social democrats, but despite socialism’s failure to spread west across the continent, the unrest was enough to frighten the powers that be to end the war — there was no heroic decisive victory on the part of the Allies like the west has depicted. Today, no one can claim the world is ‘sleepwalking’ into WWIII, as it has been given more than ample warning. The only thing preventing its outbreak is the dignified response of Russia to NATO’s expansion, and we can only hope the world wakes up to who the real aggressors are before its patience runs out.
It was Russia that had saved Armenia from the expanding Ottoman Empire and provided refuge to its people from the genocide. If the west hopes to drive a wedge between them, it will have a difficult task ahead of it.