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On Genocides and Classifications

Monday, 27th April 2015

Just a little non-academic rant

The context is not that complicated, actually. Or is it. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Genocides have always been an incredibly soft spot for politics, be it international or domestic, not only because of the complexity of each and every single one, but also because the concept of “genocide” itself is rather a frail political construct whose definition was modified on political reasons more often than not. Poor Lemkin. (I’d insert a footnote here, I swear.) Now, the Armenian case has longly been underlobbied, and the Turkish state definitely has some very important contributions to it. I’m not saying we’re talking about some national identities formed on wiping out any kind of minorities (another footnote almost avoided); it’s just that moving the date of Gallipoli commemorations to coincide with the Armenian genocide centenary is an abject, penurious thing to do.

But this year the Armenian diaspora emerged from wherever it was hiding, and produced a righteous comeback: Pope Francis pronouncing the g-word and causing some chills in Ankara, Obama being criticised for not saying the g-word, and a lot of press coverage.

This is where anger got me. Washington Post published some days ago an article featuring other “massacres” ignored. The title: “It wasn’t just the Armenians: The other 20th century massacres we ignore“. Hmm. Mkay. A fragment:

“[…] In fact, what happens far more often is that the difficult parts of history often are forgotten or ignored. The 20th century was bloody and violent, and while some horrors are at least relatively well-known – the Holocaust or the genocides in Rwanda and Cambodia, for example – others have become mere footnotes in history.

So, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian killings, here are some of the lesser-known massacres of the 20th century, many of which are considered genocides, too.”

Huh. Okay, this might be just an unhappy way of formulating a phrase. But this kind of argument has somehow started to reach the surface in much more various contexts, “deaths occured in the 1989 Revolution versus Mineriade” being a notable one. This is where I start to have a problem, and a question. Since when classifying piles of dead people – at a macro level – has become such a trendy endeavour? Since when have some piles become more important than others?

Indeed, death has a value equal to the memory of the lost one(s). The more we cherish their memory, the more we’ll take care of it. At the end of the day, cemeteries are probably the perfect metaphor: graves are esentially the same, a hole digged in the ground. What lies above them is the social construct of memory. And, following this argumentation line, differences in how we remember and commemorate atrocities are righteous. But there’s a huge “but” in here. Namely, how you put it. I don’t know, I probably am a bit too sensitive when it comes to semantics, but – according to where someone stands – not all tragedies are the same (brilliant article on this here).

Accounts of genocides will always be subjected to emotion; a most important part of memory is oblivion. Forgetting is not right or wrong, but part of one’s counsciousness. Can we get over it?

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