The Armenian Genocide: Time for Turkey to Face Up to Its Own History

A line of naked, crucified Armenian girls The Armenian Genocide Museum

A line of naked, crucified Armenian girls
The Armenian Genocide Museum

No matter how much Turkish leaders today try to sugarcoat the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, the result will always come out bitter. Turkish President, Erdoğan can bemoan European imperialism as much as he wants, but that will never whitewash his own people’s history. It is time for him and his people to admit that the Ottomans, who they are often fond of praising, were some of the most ruthless imperialists humanity ever witnessed. The Ottomans were invaders and occupiers who wreaked havoc on the indigenous population of the eastern Mediterranean for centuries.

The Ottoman rule was cruel and barbaric, especially on the Armenians, who commemorated on April 24 the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. But, they were not the only ones to endure discrimination, starvation, displacement and slaughter. The Greeks, the Cypriots, the Assyrians and other Levantines, especially the Christians, the Alawites, Druze, Jews, Shia, and of course the Kurds did, too.

While the Ottomans were killing hundreds of thousands of Armenians, they were also blockading the entire eastern Mediterranean coast, especially the very important port of Beirut, preventing any food or medical supplies from reaching the Levant. The blockade caused thousands of deaths from widespread famine in the Levant. In Lebanon alone, one third of its population died. That was genocide in itself!

It was not only murder that the Ottomans committed. They systematically prevented the education and intellectual development of the population they ruled. Travel to any country that was formerly occupied by the Ottomans, from Greece to Lebanon, and one would not find one school or university built by them. Sultan Selim I, regarded as one of the greatest sultans of the Ottoman Empire, even passed a law that punished with the death penalty anyone who used the newly-invented printing press in his empire. The shrewd Italian merchants who were selling him the printing press convinced him to allow non-Muslim subjects to use the printing press. He acquiesced, allowing some minorities to use the new invention. The first Jewish press was established in 1494 in Istanbul and the first Christian press was established at the Convent of Saint Anthony of Qozhaya in Lebanon in 1610. Muslims, however, would not be allowed to use the printing press for centuries. The first Turkish press was only established in the 18th century, almost 300 years after the invention of the printing press. Thus, as Europe was going through the Age of Reason, which was a direct result of the invention of Gutenberg’s press, the population of the Ottoman Empire lay dormant in ignorance thanks to its sultans.

Moreover, the Ottomans committed a number of environmental atrocities. Their army, for example, cut down entire forests to fuel their trains. In Mount Lebanon 60% of the cedar forests were cut down in three years.

This is our truth, and Turkish denial will never change it. C. Northcote Parkinson once said, “Delay is the deadliest form of denial” so Turks can delay the apology, but it is inevitable because we will always insist on it. Turkey as the inheritor of the legacy of Ottoman Empire must apologize for its neighbors, starting with the Armenian Genocide but not stopping there. The Greeks, Cypriots, Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, and Kurds are all waiting for apologies, too.

Ignoring history does not make it go away. It only helps repeat it as we have seen over and over again, and most recently against the Christians and Yazidis in Iraq. It is time for Turkey to face up to its past. When Pope John Paul II apologized for the actions of the Crusader attack on Constantinople in 1204, he said to the Patriarch of Constantinople, “Some memories are especially painful, and some events of the distant past have left deep wounds in the minds and hearts of people to this day.” The wounds that the Ottomans left in the Armenians, Greeks, Lebanese, Cypriots, Kurds and other Levantines are centuries deep and passed from one generation to another. If Turkey wants an honest and a functioning relationship with its neighbors, an apology can go a long way. As Lynn Johnston, the Canadian cartoonist once said, “An apology is the super glue of life. It can repair just about anything.”

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Beirut’s Bright Future As A Tech Hub For MENA, If Its Politicians Will Allow It

Why is the internet so slow in Lebanon? “The reasons for this are simple. It’s entirely due to local politics. Youssef, the head of the public-private organisation (OGERO, set up by the late Rafik Hariri) has blocked the utilisation and distribution of the IMEWE and other cables that have been hooked up.” Time to end Ogero’s monopoly. Read on…

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BBC: Political impasse stops Lebanon exploiting oil resources

An interesting article from the BBC:

The announcement was supposed to bring with it the magical solution for many of Lebanon’s ills, among them chronic public debt, power shortages and poor public services.

Back then, the prospect of major oil discoveries off the Mediterranean coast triggered dreams of a prosperous future, but today it seems like the Lebanese were the victims of false advertising.

Read more…

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Bike paths in abandoned tunnels?

When a population is not obsessed with Medieval sectarianism like the Lebanese are, one can imagine and innovate like they do in the city of London.

Bike paths in abandoned tube tunnels: is the London Underline serious?

Could the answer to London’s congestion be a network of subterranean cycleways? A new project from design firm Gensler suggests that maybe – just maybe – it might. Dubbed the London Underline, the project would turn London’s abandoned tube tunnels into living streets beneath the city. While there’s still a speculative, utopian look to the proposals – renderings showing the tunnels packed with youthful Londoners resemble an updated version of Logan’s Run – the London Underline is being taken seriously enough in some quarters. Earlier this week, it won the Best Conceptual Project gong at the London Planning awards.  Read full article.

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Beirut Film Festival Defies the Odds and Censors

Forget Dubai and Doha, it’s only Beirut that can showcase truly boundary-pushing, issue-driven films!

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What Arabs can learn from the Scots!

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Saint Andrew’s Cross, the Flag of Scotland

Israel has decided to officially recognize Arameans as a distinct nationality in the country’s population. It allows Arabic-speaking Christians of Israel to change their status from “Arab” to “Aramean.” This has created uproar among Palestinians, and other Arabs, accusing Israel of dividing its Arabic-speaking minority to rule them much easily. While I am not here to defend Israel’s motives for this move, it is important to point out that in 1957, the Druze, an off-shoot sect of Islam, also requested that the Israeli government designate them a distinct nationality from the general Arab population even though they are native-Arabic speakers. So, there is a precedent.

Critics of this move often accuse the Arab Christians who reclaim their Aramean heritage of denying their Arabic one. But, why should it be this way? Is a Scot less of a Brit than an Englishman just because he is proud of his Scottish nationality, history and heritage? Why can’t an Arab Christian be also Aramaic? An Armenian a Lebanese? A Kurd also a Syrian? An Amazigh a Morrocan?  Why is it considered wrong or unpatriotic for Maronites to learn Aramaic, the tongue of their Church and forefathers, as they are doing in the small town of Jish?

Feeling a belonging to more than one cultural identity, be it national, religious or ethnic, doesn’t necessary negate one’s citizenship. In America, for instance, people are capable of reconciling their national, religious, or ethnic heritage with their American citizenship. People are proud to be Italian-American, African-American, and Jewish-American. In America and elsewhere around the world, Arab immigrants want, insist and often fight to hold on to their heritage, language and religion. It is hypocritical of Arabs to deny this same right to the minorities living in the Arab world.

The world, especially Arabs themselves, need to remember that not all Arabs are Muslims. Not all Muslims Arabs are Sunnis. Not all the citizens of the Arab world are Arabs. Enough homogenization of 300 million people!

It is time that Arabs realize, as was evident in the partition of Sudan, that homogenization does not lead to unification of people. It is time for everyone to acknowledge and accept that the Arab world, especially the Levant, is a multiethnic, multi-relgious, and multi-linguistic region just like Europe is.  And like the EU’s European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which protects, preserves and promotes its minority languages, including Cypriot Maronite Arabic, the Levant needs a similar multinational treaty to protect, preserve and promote its historical, regional, and minority languages.

What unites the Scots and the English is not their common language or their common religion. What unites them as this week’s referendum demonstrate is their belief in freedom and democracy and their acceptance of a very important democratic value: the belief that one has the right to self-determination and to freely join or secede from a union. Something Arabs, especially the Sunni majority, has yet to learn.

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What the Municipality of Beirut Can learn from New York’s Times Square

If this could be done on the busiest intersection in one of the most populated cities in the world, then what excuse does the Municipality of Beirut have?  The fact is that the people administering the affairs of our capital are visionless!  

Snøhetta Rethinks the Future of Times Square

The Norwegian architects on how they’re transforming public spaces into “platforms for living”

Designing public space is a tricky thing. It is often a contradiction in terms, since the best ones tend to feel organic and, in some mysterious way, undesigned, even inevitable. When public space is reimagined, the danger is often the overweening tendency of architects and planners to want to control it—to create Master Plans rather than Passion Plans. But as we like to say at Snøhetta: The best-made plans never get laid. People will appropriate space in unforeseen and wholly unpredictable ways. We shouldn’t fight this human tendency; we should embrace it.  Read more…

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