The elimination of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks between 1914 and 1918 is a historical fact and should be acknowledged by all.
Armenians the fate of the First World War in the Ottoman Empire on what is now Turkey has come to the fore again when it was declared genocide by U.S. President Joe Biden. The events are reminiscent of the horrors experienced by Jews in World War II.
When negotiations on Turkey’s EU membership began in 2005, many Finnish politicians and journalists spoke of a “so-called genocide” or vague events in which “Turks thought” 300,000 people had died and “Armenians thought” 1.5 million. Presenting perspectives on an equal footing is a victory for Turkish propaganda that obscures historical truth.
Armenians fate between 1914 and 1918 is not a matter of opinion. Genocide can be verified by means of historical research.
The elimination of Armenians and other Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire – the Assyrians and the Greeks – was carried out systematically. The decision with its background, the factors and the progress of the orders are quite well known, although Turkey, despite its promises, has not opened the country’s archives to scholars.
German officers and diplomats in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War were well aware of what was happening. The Armenian genocide is believed to have inspired and encouraged Adolf Hitler to carry out his program of extermination in areas controlled by Nazi Germany during World War II.
According to the most reliable estimates, between 1.3 and 1.5 million Armenians, 500,000 Assyrians and 500,000 Greek Christians were killed in the genocide of 1914-1918. Many of them died as early as the summer of 1915. Men were usually killed, women and children forced into death marches of hundreds of miles.
Wounds are still open. The suffering of ethnic groups that have been systematically destroyed has never been properly addressed and compensated – the difference in the treatment of the fate of Jews after the Holocaust is great.
The large number killed is only part of the tragedy. The property, homes, factories, shops, churches and monasteries of the persecuted were destroyed, looted or illegally taken over by the state.
The Armenians and Assyrians lost their homeland, where they had lived for at least 2,500 years, the Assyrians for up to four millennia. Here is one reason why it is difficult for Turkey to talk about this. Another reason is the property looted from the victims, which would be costly for Turkey to replace.
After the First World War in 1919, the government of Damat Ferid Pasha admitted the genocide had taken place, and its perpetrators received death sentences. However, since the reign of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, the country’s governments have sharply denied genocide and continued oppression of minorities.
Before 1914, Christians made up a third of the country’s population, now there are hardly a thousand more of them today.
Genocide recognition is not just a political and moral issue. Some Turkish intellectuals, such as Taner Akçam and Orhan Pamuk, consider an honest approach to be important precisely for Turkey itself. Akçam has called the attitude of the Turks collective neurosis.
Denying the genocide prevents Turks from seeing and acknowledging the facts. For example, an apology alone could lead to the normalization of relations with Armenia and Greece and further facilitate the situation of the persecuted Assyrians living in the diaspora.
Above all, recognizing the genocide would free Turkey from its spiritual burden, which makes it difficult for Turks to integrate spiritually into Europe and European values. Finland could also promote this process by joining the ranks of the states that have recognized the genocide.
Simo Parpola and Serafim Seppälä
Parpola is Professor Emeritus of Assyriology. Seppälä is Professor of Systematic Theology and Patristics at the University of Eastern Finland.
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