Robert Fisk: Genocide forgotten: Armenians horrified by treaty with Turkey

A new trade deal is set to gloss over the murder of 1.5 million people

Share
Related Topics

In the autumn of 1915, an Austrian engineer called Litzmayer, who was helping build the Constantinople-Baghdad railway, saw what he thought was a large Turkish army heading for Mesopotamia. But as the crowd came closer, he realised it was a huge caravan of women, moving forward under the supervision of soldiers.

The 40,000 or so women were all Armenians, separated from their men – most of whom had already had their throats cut by Turkish gendarmerie – and deported on a genocidal death march during which up to 1.5 million Armenians died.

Subjected to constant rape and beatings, some had already swallowed poison on their way from their homes in Erzerum, Serena, Sivas, Bitlis and other cities in Turkish western Armenia. "Some of them," Bishop Grigoris Balakian, one of Litzmayer's contemporaries, recorded, "had been driven to such a state that they were mere skeletons enveloped in rags, with skin that had turned leathery, burned from the sun, cold, and wind. Many pregnant women, having become numb, had left their newborns on the side of the road as a protest against mankind and God." Every year, new evidence emerges about this mass ethnic cleansing, the first holocaust of the last century; and every year, Turkey denies that it ever committed genocide. Yet on Saturday – to the horror of millions of descendants of Armenian survivors – the President of Armenia, Serg Sarkissian, plans to agree to a protocol with Turkey to re-open diplomatic relations, which should allow for new trade concessions and oil interests. And he proposes to do this without honouring his most important promise to Armenians abroad – to demand that Turkey admit it carried out the Armenian genocide in 1915.

In Beirut yesterday, outside Mr Sarkissian's hotel, thousands of Armenians protested against this trade-for-denial treaty. "We will not forget," their banners read. "Armenian history is not for sale." They called the President a traitor. "Why should our million and a half martyrs be put up for sale?" one of them asked. "And what about our Armenian lands in Turkey, the homes our grandparents left behind? Sarkissian is selling them too."

The sad truth is that the 5.7 million Armenian diaspora, scattered across Russia, the US, France, Lebanon and many other countries, are the descendants of the western Armenians who bore the brunt of Turkish Ottoman brutality in 1915.

Tiny, landlocked, modern-day Armenia – its population a mere 3.2 million, living in what was once called eastern Armenia – is poor, flaunts a dubious version of democracy and is deeply corrupt. It relies on remittances from its wealthier cousins overseas; hence Mr Sarkissian's hopeless mission to New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Beirut and Rostov-on-Don to persuade them to support the treaty, to be signed by the Armenian and Turkish Foreign Ministers in Switzerland.

The Turks have also been trumpeting a possible settlement to the territory of Nagorno-Karabagh, part of historic Armenia seized from Azerbaijan by Armenian militias almost two decades ago – not without a little ethnic cleansing by Armenians, it should be added. But it is the refusal of the Yerevan government to make Turkey's acknowledgement of the genocide a condition of talks that has infuriated the diaspora.

"The Armenian government is trying to sweeten the taste for us by suggesting that Turkish and Armenian historians sit down to decide what happened in 1915," one of the Armenians protesting in Beirut said.

"But would the Israelis maintain diplomatic relations if the German government suddenly called the Jewish Holocaust into question and suggested it all be mulled over by historians?"

Betrayal has always been in the air. Barack Obama was the third successive US President to promise Armenian electors that he would acknowledge the genocide if he won office – and then to betray them, once elected, by refusing even to use the word. Despite thunderous denunciations in the aftermath of the Armenian genocide by Lloyd George and Churchill – the first British politician to call it a holocaust – the Foreign Office also now meekly claims that the "details" of the 1915 massacres are still in question. Yet still the evidence comes in, even from this newspaper's readers. In a letter to me, an Australian, Robert Davidson, said his grandfather, John "Jock" Davidson, a First World War veteran of the Australian Light Horse, had witnessed the Armenian genocide: "He wrote of the hundreds of Armenian carcasses outside the walls of Homs. They were men, women and children and were all naked and had been left to rot or be devoured by dogs.

"The Australian Light Horsemen were appalled at the brutality done to these people. In another instance his company came upon an Armenian woman and two children in skeletal condition. She signed to them that the Turks had cut the throats of her husband and two elder children."

In his new book on Bishop Balakian, Armenian Golgotha, the historian Peter Balakian (the bishop's great-nephew) records how British soldiers who had surrendered to the Turks at Kut al-Amara in present-day Iraq and were sent on their own death march north – of 13,000 British and Indian soldiers, only 1,600 would survive – had spoken of frightful scenes of Armenian carnage near Deir ez-Zour, not far from Homs in Syria. "In those vast deserts," the Bishop said, "they had come upon piles of human bones, crushed skulls, and skeletons stretched out everywhere, and heaps of skeletons of murdered children."

When the foreign ministers sit down to sign their protocol in Switzerland on Saturday, they must hope that blood does not run out of their pens.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Day In a Page

The Liberal Left should stop feeling guilty about flying the flag of St George and have no qualms about celebrating Englishness, one of Ed Miliband’s closest advisers said  

Don't sneer at the white van driving flag waving man

Stefano Hatfield
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin