Whitewashing genocide the easy way

How easy would it be to rewrite the history of the Shoah?

By
March 17, 2010 12:20
4 minute read.
SETH J. FRANTZMAN

SETH J. FRANTZMAN . (photo credit: AP)

 
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It came as a great surprise when reading Lonely Planet’s Turkish guide to see that reference to the Armenian genocide, in fact almost any mention of the once huge Armenian population that was indigenous to eastern Turkey, was nonexistent. The latest on-line version of the guide denies the genocide thus: “It was during this time of confusion and turmoil [World War I] that the Armenian scenario unfolded.”

Lonely Planet is a premier travel guide, the largest guidebook publisher in the world. So when it tells us the Armenian genocide is something open to debate, a series of events or a “scenario,” one has to wonder what is going on.

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First and foremost, it is not the job of a travel guide to be an arbiter of history. In addition, since guidebooks by definition must be carried by travelers, the book must legally be able to enter the country. Turkey’s law against “denigration of Turkishness” encapsulated in article 301 of the criminal code has been used to prosecute those, such as author Orhan Pamuk, who have spoken up about the genocide. Thus those carrying an offensive travel guide might
theoretically run afoul of the authorities. So Lonely Planet treads carefully in Turkey and in other states that have a thought police, such as China.

But that’s not the whole story. The authors of the guide tend to have become cheerleaders for the countries they write about, toeing the party line and thus spouting off the Turkish claim that the genocide should be “left to historians.”

It is common to other guides as well. Lonely Planet Egypt claims that the country is a land of “more or less easy coexistence,” despite the fact that every year minority Coptic Christians are rioted against and their churches are attacked by Muslims. A recent survey by the Pew
Research Center shows that half the Muslims in Egypt view Copts negatively. Egypt is a coexistence country in much the same way the American South of the 1950s, with its “colored” drinking fountains, was a land of coexistence.

THE EXTRAORDINARY thing about the whitewashing of the Armenian genocide is that with a magic wand the entire history of Armenians in Anatolia, which dates from the sixth century BCE, disappears. A whole chapter in the history of Turkey, how almost its entire minority Greek, Assyrian and Armenian populations disappeared between 1915 and 1922 is rewritten. To be fair Lonely Planet’s Armenia guide describes the genocide as “the first mass extermination” of people and cites the figure of 1.5 million killed, but this is no excuse for the Turkish version.

There is a tendency in the wider world of the media to portray massacres and genocides as something other than what they are. In the first week of March 2010 there was a massacre of Christians by Muslims in the villages of Dogo Nahawa, Zot and Ratsat in central Nigeria.
More than 300 women and children were hacked to death with machetes in scenes reminiscent of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.



However, there was immediately an attempt to cover up the religious killings are often painted by local politicians as a religious or sectarian conflict. In fact it is a struggle between ethnic groups for fertile land and resources in the region.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, “It would be a mistake to paint this purely as sectarian or ethnic violence... what is needed is a concerted effort to tackle the underlying causes of repeated outbreaks of ethnic and religious violence which Nigeria has
witnessed in recent years, namely discrimination, poverty and disputes over land.”

Even the Vatican’s Rev. Federico Lombardi didn’t have the guts to condemn the murder of his own constituents: “The conflict must be interpreted in the light of social, economic, ethnic and cultural factors rather than religious hatred.”

Really? Then why were all the victims Christian and the perpetrators Muslim?

THE SUDANESE genocide is another example. Economist Jeffrey Sachs argued that “the deadly carnage in Darfur, Sudan, for example, which is almost always discussed in political and military terms, has roots in an ecological crisis directly arising from climate shocks.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon jumped on the bandwagon, noting that “amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.”

How easy would it be to rewrite the history of the Holocaust? Had Germany not owned up to it and instead passed laws against “denigration of Germaness,” perhaps we would today have guidebooks that speak of the “Jewish scenario” in Germany and the need to let “historians decide.”

The BBC might inform us that the destruction of the Jews was “in fact a struggle between ethnic groups for fertile land and resources.”

Isn’t that what Hitler said about lebensraum? Were not the Germans and Jews simply “ethnic groups” vying for resources? Navi Pillay might tell us to address the “underlying causes of discrimination.” The Catholic Church might add that there are “social, economic, ethnic and
cultural factors.” Yes, too easily the Holocaust could be explained away, perhaps even due to climate change.

It is bad enough that millions of Armenians were slaughtered in 1915 and that thousands of Christian Nigerians are hacked to death and buried in mass graves. It is worse that their deaths are denied or ascribed to “underlying causes.” Make no mistake, such language is
akin to Holocaust denial.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University.

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