Most people of conscience feel a frightful crime of unspeakable brutality was executed against more than a million Armenians when they were horrifically slaughtered by the old Turkish Ottoman Empire beginning especially in 1915.
We weren’t around then, of course, but some of our ancestors—it pains me to admit—unfortunately embraced the Turkish butchering orders, and helped themselves to the bountiful spoils.
In fairness, some Kurds (I wish there were many) refused to attack the helpless Armenians—and other brave souls rescued them (alas, not that many) from certain death.
But because many more did embrace the cold-blooded criminality, it is encouraging to see some Kurdish leaders acknowledge our tarnished role.
“Without hesitation, I recognize the Armenian genocide,” declared Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, on April 24, the hundredth anniversary of that hideous holocaust.
But is that enough?
Do the Armenians even hear us?
Many probably don’t.
They want the Turks—the real criminal culprits in the matter—to do the apologizing, not the Kurds, who were merely secondary players.
Like the Jews of World War II, Armenians feel wronged, and want the Turks to step forward and apologize to Armenians the way German Chancellor Willie Brandt did to Jews and Poles for Nazi atrocities.
In 1970, the German leader visited the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw and solemnly sank to his knees in a moving gesture of atonement.
The inspiring photo showed the world how to apologize for genocide.
It vividly memorialized: “One picture is worth a thousand words.”
Asked why he did so, Chancellor Brandt answered:
“Under the weight of recent history, I did what people do when words fail them. In this way I commemorated millions of murdered people.”
Armenians are still waiting for a similar act from the stubborn Turks.
But, sadly, there is no sign of a Turkish version of Willie Brandt in Ankara.
Perhaps Turks don’t do remorse.
Maybe they need help in how to show humility, not just in Eastern Europe, where they were defeated by the Russians, but also in Eastern Anatolia, where they not only exterminated unarmed Armenian men and then gleefully helped themselves to their women, but also told us it was our “religious duty—jihad” to do the same.
Germans, executors of the Jewish Holocaust, have the experience to help them, but—if they decline— I have a man warming up in the bullpen: Ben Affleck.
The Hollywood superstar and Turks are not paired often, but maybe they should be, given their recent coverage.
Mr. Affleck found himself in a pickle, just as Turks have found themselves for the past 100 years.
He had agreed to be interviewed by the producer of “Finding Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates Jr., only to discover that he had a slave-owning ancestor on his mother side!
Mr. Affleck urged the producer to ignore that part of his past, which he did.
Like the Turks, Mr. Affleck tried to rearrange history, but the past “is never dead,” as William Faulkner shrewdly observed. “It's not even past.”
When details leaked out about his ancestor’s slave-owning history—and the attempt to hide it—Mr. Affleck promptly apologized for the lapse in judgment.
Now that he is fully liberated, he should help the 50 million or so folks who call themselves Turks to also sip from the cup of truth.
The actor could perhaps make a movie about the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The Turkish leader did not bloody his own hands in the genocide of Armenians, but he didn’t mind benefitting from it.
And when he built a presidential palace in Ankara, he didn’t hesitate to erect it on the confiscated estate of an Armenian family.
But what he did to confiscated Armenian lands in places like Elazig, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Mus, Bitlis and Van, just to name a few, has a Kurdish angle to it.
He promised to give Kurds living there the Armenian lands—provided they helped him defeat the Greeks in his war of independence for the “Muslims,” which included the Kurds.
Some Kurds sided with him, and he won his war.
But he spat on his promise—and his faithful Kurdish allies.
The Armenians were exterminated, for “inwardly” siding with the Christian Russians.
The Kurds, though Muslims, were now declared “savages” who must be “civilized”—meaning Turkified—whether they liked it or not.
Nine decades later, the Turkish-Kurdish hostility is as fresh as when it was reignited by the founder of “Modern” Turkey.
A documentary covering these issues with Mr. Affleck’s voiceover might, just might, instill some sanity into the debate of who-did-what-to-whom.
The Kurds would also benefit from it.
For example, in today’s Turkey, 2,900 Armenian settlements have Turkish names, but are inhabited primarily by Kurds.
If Turks decide to adopt decolonization as a policy, the Kurds, if honest with themselves, should restore the Armenian names to these settlements.
A free Kurdistan should also pay reparations to Armenia, as Germans are paying to the state of Israel.
That would be an astonishing, highly commendable first!
Doing something so down-to-earth humane, something so unexpectedly civilized, would be so totally opposite to the uncivilized brutality heretofore shown by the Islamic State that it would turn the world on its ear, and proclaim: “Look what these Kurds are doing!”
Here would be a Muslim Kurdistan showing lofty charity to a Christian nation!
If Kurds did such an amazing thing, Armenians would surely accept our contrition as genuine—and the world would sit up and take notice too!
- Kani Xulam is a political activist based in Washington D.C. He runs the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN)
- The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.