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Memory-Haunted News: Armenia, Iraq, and Genocide

Trailer for “Screamers,” a history of genocide and the Armenian tragedy*

Sometimes the news of the day seems random. At other times it seems to display a pattern, an outline of something that can be seen only dimly. Something … haunting. The star-crossed past of the Armenian people, driven from their home by an act of genocide, surfaces in two news stories today.

A House Commitee voted yesterday to affirm that the mass slaughter of Armenians was, in fact, an act of “genocide.” Predictably, the government of Turkey responded with outrage and threats. From the New York Times:

Turkish officials and lawmakers warned that if the resolution was approved by the full House, they would reconsider supporting the American war effort, which includes permission to ship essential supplies through Turkey and northern Iraq.

So another unintended consequence of this ill-conceived and devastating war is that it makes it politically unsafe for American politicians to condemn an atrocity and call it by its proper name. If they do, after all, they could be endangering what some still call the “war on terror.”

And, in Iraq, this news about the war’s devastating effect on that country’s tiny community of Armenians:

Mournful members of Iraq’s Armenian Christian population bowed their heads and recited the Lord’s Prayer over an altar of burning incense at a funeral here on Wednesday for two Armenian women killed by private security contractors, the second such fatal shooting in less than a month.

Relatives also called for justice on Wednesday, though security contractors are immune from prosecution under Iraqi law.

The two women left grieving family members behind – not only in Iraq, but in Europe and the United States. Deprived of a native land after the devastation of genocide, Armenians are now scattered worldwide. As the Times observes:

Armenians in Iraq, like other Christians, have at times been the targets of insurgents, though the Mamook family has not.

No. The Mamook family’s tragedy came at the hands of lawless renegades representing the Coalition of the Willing. After her husband died Marany (Mamook) Awanees started driving a taxi to put two of her children through college, and to support her youngest through high school.

““She was a lovely sister, my younger sister, a lovely, lovely sister,” her brother said.

Ironically, our war in Iraq has now apparently made one more country inhospitable for the Armenian people. And our ill-conceived foreign policy means that their plight will probably continue to go unnamed and unspoken in the halls of the government that was once seen worldwide as the Citadel of Democracy.

UPDATE – I made two corrections thanks to commenters.  It wasn’t Blackwater, and my language was unclear about the fact that the bill had passed committee rather than the full House.  Apologies …

And, synchronistically, this just in: “The son of a journalist killed earlier this year after calling the massacre of Armenians genocide was convicted Thursday of insulting Turkey’s identity for republishing his father’s remarks.” Ghosts are in the wires today …


(*I’ll admit that I didn’t fully understand the full importance of recognizing genocide, and of naming it, until I saw “Screamers.” It uses the family history of Serj Tankian, lead singer of System of a Down, to tell the story of the Armenians and other genocides. I interviewed both Serj and the film’s director, Carla Garapedian, when the film came out last year.)

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RJ Eskow

RJ Eskow

RJ Eskow is a musician turned corporate executive and consultant, with public and private sector experience in over 20 countries. Mostly health care and technology - plus, as the old song would have it, "a bit of what you fancy."