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Armenian genocide debate continues

 
 

Very few would doubt that Armenian-American Susan Gordone’s family has suffered. However, what to call the cause of their suffering is a ninety year-old debate.
In 1913, Gordone’s grandmother, Rose, was asked by her pregnant mother to help deliver her younger sister. At the time, her whole family lived in Turkey.
“Rose was eight years old. The baby, with its afterbirth, slipped through her hands and died. Three days later, her mother died,” said Gordone, who lives in College Station and is a former worker for the Texas A&M theater arts and English departments. “A week later when her father returned, he told the remaining members of the family that they must leave immediately, pack into a wagon or be killed.”
Seven years after the death of her mother and sister, Rose traveled to America to escape the danger in her home country.
“But in those seven years, she, along with my Uncle John and Aunt Tervanda, would persevere in the death caravans, watching other family members die along the way before arriving in Ellis Island in 1920,” Gordone said.
On Monday, Gordone, along with the Armenian community, will observe the 91st anniversary of the Armenian genocide, which some estimates indicate took the lives of as many as 1.5 million Armenians. However, others, including the Turkish Government, contend that the Armenian genocide never happened.
The events of the Armenian genocide occurred when the Young Turks, who had power over Turkey at the time, relocated or deported the country’s Armenian population during World War I. Most of the Armenians were relocated on foot causing many to die of exhaustion or starvation. Most Armenians and many scholars contend that the deaths were genocide.
The Turkish government acknowledges the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians between 1915 and 1917, but says the deaths were the result of a civil war and starvation that affected all members of the Turkish population.
The debate about the events has become so heated that it has sometimes prevented Armenians and Turks from becoming friends at A&M, said Yaman Evrenoglu, a Turkish graduate student in electrical engineering. He said he remembers at least five times when a personal friendship between an Armenian and Turk was halted when the pair’s nationality was revealed.
The most recent shake up in the controversy was an hour-long documentary, “The Armenian Genocide,” which aired on PBS and told the story of the genocide. The film featured many scholars, some of whom were Turkish, telling the story of death marches in which Armenians were pushed off cliffs, drowned, starved and exhausted. A 25-minute panel discussion about the Turkish involvement in these deaths followed the documentary.
“(The documentary) provides a blatantly one-sided perspective of a tragic and unresolved period of world history,” Turkish ambassador to the United States Nabi ?ensoy said in a statement after the documentary’s airing. “Its premise is rejected not only by my government, but also by many eminent scholars who have studied the period in question.”
Armenians and the myriad of scholars who contend that the genocide is a historical fact said the panel legitimized a view that hatefully refused to acknowledge the genocide.
“Turkish denials of the genocide are part of a state-sponsored policy of propaganda that serves only the interests of Turkey. The historical truth of the Armenian genocide has been established beyond reasonable doubt by abundant documentary and eye-witness evidence from thousands of sources,” Vako Nicolian said in an online petition he authored and sent the vice president of programming at PBS.
As of Sunday, the petition has gathered 22,195 signees.
Gordone said she had no problem with the airing of the panel discussion, which featured two scholars on each side of the issue, because it simply revealed the lack of depth to the Turkish government’s claims.
“If we are going to pretend that a stateless Christian minority population, unarmed, is somehow in a capacity to kill people in an aggressive way that is tantamount to war, or civil war, we’re living in the realm of the absurd,” said Peter Balakian, a professor at Colgate University in the debate.
Evrenosoglu said he was more upset about the debate than the documentary.
“The documentary was much more moderate compared to ones that I have witnessed,” he said. “It was too biased for us of course, but at least they presented the Turkish government and the Turkish point of view. The debate was a complete disaster because the theme of the debate was not about discussion of the Armenian genocide but why the Turkish government is rejecting it.”

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