Armenian Genocide and Diaspora history presented at University of Iceland
On January 23 in Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Armenian Genocide, the Department of World History, Yerevan State University in collaboration with the Armenian Association of World History and the Institute of History, University of Iceland, organized a lecture and discussion on the Armenian Genocide, its consequences and the Armenian Diaspora.
AAWH members postgraduate students Narek Mkrtchyan (“The Armenian Genocide”) and Tigran Epremyan (“The Armenian Diaspora as a Consequence of Genocide”) – emphasized the importance of the lecture and stated that the University of Iceland hosted Armenian historians for the first time.
The main purpose of the lecture was to introduce the Armenian Genocide to the scientific, educational and public circles of Iceland as a clash between the Armenian civilization heritage and the expansionist plans of late Ottoman Empire. More particularly, among the reasons of atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire, the European experience of Armenians in 19th and 20th centuries was singled out, which was a huge obstacle in the way of their genocidal plans. That is why the decision to get rid of Armenian intellectuals, who often advocated for freedom, social equality and even independence, was taken.
The second part of the lecture was dedicated to the phenomenon of the Armenian Diaspora before and after the genocide.
Renowned Icelandic historians, as well as journalists from Morgunblaðið, the leading news agency of Iceland, were invited to be present at the lecture. Among the attendants were famous historian Valur Ingimundarson, the Director of the Institute of History if the University of Iceland Anna Agnarsdottir, the Scientific Director of the Academy of Fine Arts of Iceland Ingibjörg Þórarinsdóttir, who studied Armenology in Fresno, USA, as well as representatives of the Parliament of Iceland and the political consultative departments of the Foreign Ministry.
“The Armenian Genocide”
The 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide will be commemorated on April 24, 2015. Ahead of that solemn occasion, a persisting question still troubles mankind: whether the future of our human race will continue to be marked with routine crimes against humanity, or will it witness the development of a workable international instrument to punish such crimes and offer compensation to their victims and their descendants? We will argue that as long as Turkey is let free to continue denying at its highest level the premeditated and genocidal nature of the Armenian deportations and massacres during the First World War, different ethnic, racial, religious or linguistic groups across the world will still face the danger of thought-out annihilation by a stronger state or non-state actor.
During the First World War, the Ottoman government took advantage of the global turmoil and organized the genocide of its Armenian subjects. Historian Arnold J. Toynbee has argued that Armenians were at the time the only native element in the empire with European training and character, a higher intellect and business ability. The war provided the Ottoman government with an opportunity to try and solve ‘the Armenian Question’ through the physical elimination of the Armenian people from their ancestral land. The confiscated Armenian property was, in turn, used by the Ottoman government and the ruling Young Turk party to consolidate a Turkish nation-state in place of the waning multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire. Consequently, 1.5 million Armenians were tortured and killed between 1915 and 1923. The 1915 genocide of the Armenians is not merely the isolated suffering of an entire people; rather, it is a crime against humanity, and was called as such as early as May 1915. The fact that the Armenian Genocide has remained unpunished continues to provide a major impetus for future crimes against humanity. Hitler’s cynical comment, “Who now remembers the Armenians?” is often cited to prove this argument. Therefore, efforts should persist for the international recognition of all crimes against humanity, and we should therefore try to raise awareness of the various genocides in the past decades, and even centuries, by “enlarging the circle of our humanity”.
“Armenian Diaspora as a Consequence of Genocide”
Armenians have established expatriate communities or colonies in various regions of the world since antiquity. However, the term ‘Armenian Diaspora,’ as we have come to understand it, began to be used widely only after WWI. It now describes the totality of the Armenian communities residing outside the Armenian Highland to the east of Asia Minor, the cradle of Armenian ethnicity and nationhood. The modern Armenian Diaspora was formed largely as a consequence of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, during which Armenians living in their historical homeland and neighboring Cilicia were systematically deported and exterminated by the Ottoman Turkish government. The relative few, who survived this genocide, found shelter in different countries across the world. Armenians of modern Turkey constitute a rare exception in this regard; they do not consider themselves as part of the Armenian Diaspora because, they argue, they continue residing in their ancestral homes.
Only a few years after the beginning of the genocide, an independent Armenian state re-emerged, for the first time in modern history, in the Eastern part of the Armenian Highland, which was until then under Russian Imperial rule. The genocide is the cause behind Armenia having a large and well organized global Diaspora, which comes to compensate to some extent the small size and the limited influence of the Armenian state. Moreover, more than one million Armenians have left their independent homeland and replenished the post-genocide Diaspora since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, largely because of the difficult economic conditions besetting the post-Soviet space, Armenia included. Currently, the worldwide Armenian population is estimated to be around 11,000,000. About 8,000,000 of these Armenians live in the Diaspora. The largest concentrations of Armenians outside the independent homeland are in Russia, the United States, France, Argentina, Australia, Canada, the Ukraine, Greece, Iran, Lebanon and Syria. Thus, the Armenian Diaspora exceeds the overall population of Armenia between two and three times. Through their successful integration in many of the host societies, a number of these Armenian Diasporan communities are active in the politics, economic and social life of those countries. Within the contexts of contemporary globalization and glocalization, the Armenian Diaspora has become a well-established phenomenon. It no longer consists of a series of exiled communities, fragments of a nation awaiting real or even symbolic return. Therefore, the issue of reparations in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide is pursued today not only by the government and populace of the independent state of Armenia, but also by the global Armenian Diaspora.