Consequences of Denial: The Armenian Genocide

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"Consequences of Denial" seeks to provide some awareness and understanding of the horrendous tragedy of the Armenian genocide. This book illuminates the little known fact that over two million innocent Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Empire between 1894 and 1922; a genocide that has been, and continues to be, denied by successive Turkish governments. In this book, the author demonstrates the need not only for remembrance, but first and foremost for the acknowledgement of genocides, from government level downwards. Only by taking adequate steps at personal, group, national and international levels to acknowledge such massacres, and the trauma they create, can humankind attempt to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again. By documenting the psychological effects of the forgotten Armenian genocide and by linking these effects to crossgenerational trauma and processes of response and denial, this book aims to shed light from a psychoanalytic perspective on an insufficiently researched aspect of this genocide.

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CHAPTER ONE: History of the Armenian genocide to the present day

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“What unites most races, and keeps them together that way is not the manifestation of love, or friendship, nor the respect they have for one another. It is the common hatred they feel against their enemies”

(Chekhov, 1920)

Before Rwanda and Bosnia, and before the Holocaust, the first genocide of the twentieth century happened in Turkish Armenia. This was a terrible precedent that has come to haunt Armenians, Kurds, and Turks, as well as others throughout the twentieth century and beyond.

In trying to find out why genocide is happening, one needs to see how people in a community come to fall outside the constrictions of moral responsibility and commitment. It is also necessary to think and reflect in order to identify what it is that admired illusions and complicated enquiries concerning the nature of individuals, of nation-states, and of civilization. It is important to investigate to see what is the psychological mechanism that compels individuals to become part of a process of mass destruction. Is genocide an historical deviation or aberration, or an integral part of the culture of civilization that may impart a sense of inequality, of superiority and power?

 

CHAPTER TWO: Silence, denial, and trauma

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“Man is born as a freak of nature, being within nature and yet transcending it. He has to find principles of action and decision making which replace the principles of instincts. He has to have a frame of orientation which permits him to organize a consistent picture of the world as a condition for consistent actions. He has to fight not only against the dangers of dying, starving, and being hurt, but also against another anger which is specifically human: that of becoming insane. In other words, he has to protect himself not only against the danger of losing his life but also against the danger of losing his mind”

(Fromm, 1968, p. 61)

Although the recollection of the historical reality of killing innocents does not follow a straight or continuous path or the erosion of memory, the Armenian genocide does help us to understand many of the conditions for such acts and the relations between war, ethnic cleansing, persecutions, torture, and, indeed, genocide.

By and large, successive Turkish governments, with their academic arguments of denial of genocide, refuse to accept the fact that genocide is applicable to the events. They theorized the genocide as being an unfortunate event and purely circumstantial.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Trauma in relation to historical genocide

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The stage and severity of people's memories of trauma are influential in the individual's state of mind, which deter-T mines the impact of ongoing stressors and which might then have a different emotional impact on each individual. One of the most important components that people need in order to cope with such an atrocity as genocide is the avoidance of reminders of the trauma. It may be helpful if people can avoid these intrusive thoughts and want and, indeed, manage to start the psychological process of reconciliation in their minds and integration to the environment they find themselves living in. But unconscious avoidance commonly might also associate with numbness, rather than conscious and reflective avoidance, which is an ordinary way of managing trauma-related emotional pain. The most customary reaction is avoiding situations that are a reminder of the trauma, such as the place where it happened, and not reading or talking about it. Another way to enhance avoidance is to push away painful thoughts and feelings. This can lead to feelings of numbness, where people find it difficult to have both frightening and enjoyable and affectionate feelings. Sometimes, painful thoughts or feelings may be so intense that the mind blocks them out altogether, and in some cases people might not remember parts of the trauma. Lacking feeling in the here and now sometimes results in an inability to recall the traumatic situation, or to avoiding thinking about the trauma and anything or anyone associated with it. So, this may result in total isolation and alienation of one's own background and the relationship one may have with community.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Psychoanalytic perspectives on the causes and effects of genocide

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“All men dream: but not equally.
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds
wake in the day to find that it was vanity:
but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men,
for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible”

(Lawrence, 1926, p. 7)

One of the most noticeable consequences of genocide is the traumatic effect of the event that sometimes alters the survivor's capacity for symbolic thinking. This may cause difficulties, because when the capacity for symbolization is hindered it is poorly available for the process of working through. In trying to find a way forward, there is a need for understanding why genocide happens. As discussed at the start of Chapter One, in order to understand why genocide happens, and keeps happening, we need to understand the pathology operating in society where “ethnic cleansing”, torture, persecution, rape, and indeed, genocide occurs. To understand and gain a deep meaning, it is helpful to use a psychoanalytic approach.

Why is a psychoanalytic approach helpful in this context?

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Twentieth-century genocide: brief examples from history

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“The man who wrote that word upon the wall disappeared from the midst of the generations of man many centuries ago; the word, in its turn, has been effaced from the wall of the church; the church will, perhaps, itself soon disappear from the face of the earth” (Hugo, 1831, p. viii)

The twentieth century was marked by unparalleled human cruelty, ethno-political conflict, war, terrorism, and genocide. Unfortunately, the trend towards mass violence is continuing unabated into the twenty-first century. During the past century, government genocidal policies alone resulted in over 210 million deaths: eighty per cent of these were civilian deaths (170 million) and represent nearly four times the number of individuals killed in combat during international and domestic wars during this same period of time (Robinson, 1998; Rummel, 1996).

In a time when human rights violations and structural violence continue to occur in many countries, indicating enormous disrespect not just to human rights, but also to human life, in both physical and psychological terms, it becomes important to look at the historical roots and long-term effects of such violence. This can enable a closer and cross-cultural understanding of the psychosocial roots of human cruelty and organized mass violence, and the serious consequences of ignoring these. This is particularly important in relation to the prevention of such tragedies for future generations.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Psychological consequences for those who survived

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“If a man is killed in Paris, it is a murder; the throats of fifty thousand people are cut in the East, and it is a problem”

(attributed to Victor Hugo, 1827)

There are many historical studies of the Armenian genocide, yet few have sought to understand more deeply the trauma suffered by survivors and their descendents. The psychological consequences of the genocide are barely traceable in the narratives written by survivors of the Armenian genocide. Although it can be hypothesized, it is difficult to pinpoint the specific psychological diagnosis due to a lack of systematic rehabilitation and, indeed, mental health intervention documentation. Aside from having seen their families and friends annihilated in very frightening ways, the events of the time in general traumatized surviving Armenians deeply and, in some cases, irreversibly.

Survivor syndrome

Thus, in order to understand and explain the situation of the Armenians it may prove useful to draw from examples in history that have been extensively researched. For the Jews the will to return to normality without confronting the terror of the past, including dealing with issues of loss, had led to psychiatrists and psychologists identifying and naming a group of disorders, such as “survivor syndrome” and “concentration camp syndrome”, that are exclusively experienced by groups that have lived through these and similar circumstances and in some cases extend to their families.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Anger with no end: the tragic consequences of denial

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The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted in 1948, T years after the Armenian Genocide (see Appendix II). Armenians worldwide have sought from their respective governments a formal acknowledgement of the crimes committed during the First World War. Countries such as France, Argentina, Greece, and Russia, where the Armenian descendants live, have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide, as have influential individuals such as the Pope. However, the present-day Turkish government adamantly denies that genocide was committed against the Armenian people. Moreover, Turkey dismisses the evidence about the atrocities as mere allegations and regularly obstructs efforts for acknowledgement.

Social amnesia

The mode of forgetting by which a whole society separates itself from its ignominious past record could be termed social amnesia. This might happen at an organized, official, and conscious level, incorporating deliberate cover-ups and the false writing of history, or through the type of cultural slippage that occurs when information disappears. The result is a collective and far-reaching denial.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: Conclusion: moving towards healing and recovery

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In conclusion, whether or not Armenians can forgive the Turkish I people, at this stage the international community needs to give special attention to the issues involving the Armenian genocide. There is a need to look at the psychological consequences of not acknowledging the genocide through examination of the history, language, symbols, and politics, as well as focusing on the legal, media, and academic institutions. Empirical documentation is needed of the Armenian genocide and, indeed, the oppression in Turkey of those who survived the genocide and the consequent conflicts. This is important in order to gauge the possibility of creating the conditions that encourage alternatives to anger, fighting, killing, and revenge. Looking at the evidence, and the current state of events, it seems that even today the international community has come to rely too heavily on retribution as the only form of justice and is thus incapable of offering a sufficiently methodological approach of addressing atrocities such as state violence, ethnic killing, and genocide such as the Armenian genocide.

 

APPENDIX I: Maps of 1915 Armenian genocide

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APPENDIX II: United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

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Adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948.

See http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html

The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

 

APPENDIX III: Article 301

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Turkish Daily News Oct 7 2006

Cicek signals changes in Article 301 Saturday, October 7, 2006

Justice Minister Cemil Cicek, who has been determined in his opposition to any changes in the much-criticized Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), has begun to change his mind, according to recent reports.

Speaking to journalists in Berlin, where he is was attending a Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TUSYAD) meeting, Cicek said there was no such thing that Article 301 could not be changed, noting that the real problem was what changes were to be introduced.

Despite government arguments that the new TCK, which came into effect last year, constituted significant progress in terms of rights and freedoms, Article 301, which criminalizes insulting Turkishness, state institutions and Ataturk, has created an uproar with one celebrated writer after another being tried as a result.

While writers Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak were found not guilty of violating the article, many other lesser-known authors were victimized as a result without attracting too much media attention.

 

APPENDIX IV: Previous, recent, and current involvement in the question of the Armenian genocide by world leaders, significant figures, and the media

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Various media spokespeople, prominent figures within society, and government authorities worldwide over the past century have had their say about the Armenian genocide. Below are some examples.

Wangenheim, Report of Wangenheim, German ambassador in the Ottoman Empire to the Reichskanzler Behtmann-Hollweg on 17 June 1915:

Deportation of the Armenians from their homes in the vilayets of Eastern Anatolia, and their resettlement in other regions is implemented cruelly …

It becomes obvious that deportation of the Armenians arises not only from military necessity, the internal minister Talaat Bey told about it honestly to Doctor Mortsman, who is employed at the Empire Embassy now. Talaat said: “The Sublime Porte intends to make use of the world war for cleaning the whole country from internal enemies, the local Christians, so that foreign countries won't hinder doing it by their diplomatic interference. This measure will serve to the interests of all allies of Turkey, especially the Germans and so the latters will be able to consolidate.”

 

APPENDIX V: Turkish quotes about the Armenian genocide

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Talat Pasha, June 1915, in a conversation with Dr Mordtmann of the German Embassy:

Turkey is taking advantage of the war in order to thoroughly liquidate (grundlich aufzaumen) its internal foes, i.e., the indigenous Christians, without being thereby disturbed by foreign intervention.

After the German Ambassador persistently brought up the Armenian question in 1918, Talat said, “with a smile”,

What on earth do you want? The question is settled. There are no more Armenians.

Cemal Pasha, 1915, upon seeing the deportations in Mamure, said to a German officer:

I am ashamed of my nation (Ich schame mich fur meine Nation).

The Minister of the Interior of Turkey publicly declared on 15 March that on the basis of computations undertaken by Ministry Experts

800,000 Armenian deportees were actually killed … by holding the guilty accountable the government is intent on cleansing the bloody past.

Enver Pasha, one of the triumvirate rulers, publicly declared on 19 May 1916,

The Ottoman Empire should be cleaned up of the Armenians and the Lebanese. We have destroyed the former by the sword, we shall destroy the latter through starvation.

 

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