I’ve been thinking about Balakian’s memoir and two points that stuck out the most to me were: the international community’s culpability/lack of proper response and Turkey’s complaints once the Armenians were murdered.
Starting with the Turk’s complaints, it’s so similar to the U.S. right now, it’s terrifying. Balakin writes that the Armenians were the core of Turkey’s economic, serving at its craftsmen, artisans, lawyers, farmers, etc. Balakian might have exaggerated the importance of his people to highlight the horror and stupidity of Turkish policy towards the Armenians, but there is some evidence to support his claims. When the Armenians were taken and killed, the Turkish peasants asked where the Armenians had gone, when were they returning, and when were the fields going to be plowed? Every time Balakian talks to a Turk, they complained about how no one was making anything, and people were starving because no one was harvesting, etc.
This is similar to the U.S. After the current president talked about building a wall, cracked down on undocumented immigrants, and seated families, American farmers complained about a lack of workers and their inability to harvest all their crops and tech companies worried about losing their immigrant workers. While a minority can be easy to blame when things go badly or when a nation needs to be ‘united’, they are often the backbone of the society and economy. Balakian wrote that during their march to death, his caravan would pass farms that once belonged to the Armenians. The crops were left on the vines and Turks were starving because they didn’t harvest the food.
The centrality of the minority to the economy, makes the arguments that they’re hurting the country almost believable. Even though they are the ‘minority’ and are being exploited, they seemed ‘everywhere’ and control ‘everything’ somehow making them responsible for everything going wrong. It’s a twisted and terrifying logic that contains enough ‘truth’ to be believed. The obvious solution, is to pull them out of the economy, separate them from everyone else, and then exterminate them.
The second point was the international community’s silence even though there were articles about the horrors that were occurring. The Germans knew and said nothing. Instead, the German military officers and political leaders looked the other way and the German engineers would help to a certain point. The Swiss engineers were far more helpful, but their country was silent. Even with Henry Morgenthau in Turkey as an ambassador couldn’t get the U.S. to formally say anything about the genocide until they entered the war. Wilson used the Armenians in his arguments for the fourteen points, but after the war, Balakian wrote that many of the Turkish officials who were not assassinated by surviving Armenians were either forgiven, escaped justice, or returned to politics.
Balakian’s complains that there were no formal international trials for the masterminds of the Armenian Genocide makes me think about the important of the Nuremburg Trials. If there had been a Nuremberg like trial for the Turks, would the Holocaust had ever happened? If it did, we would have already had a legal foundation on how to handle genocide. It also made me wonder when should a nation get involved with genocide? At what point could the Americans, Swiss, or other nations stop the Turks from killing the Armenians? Could they have? It’s easy to judge them, but, honestly, what could they have done at the time? It seems that they could have been far stricter when it came to ending the war, but as Balakian writes, Turkey has a strategic position connecting Europe and the Middle East, they did not want to upset the new Kemalist regime.
Reading Balakian’s memoir made me think of Syria and how there will be no punish for Assad or his regime. The Syrians have been slaughtered and someday some will say: “who, today, speaks of the Syrians?”