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Turkey, Armenia, and the Burden of Memory

All wars end, eventually. But memories of atrocity never seem to fade, as the government-fanned anti-Japanese riots now taking place in China remind us. The 90th anniversary of the Armenian massacres of 1915, ordered by the ruling Young Turks of the Ottoman Empire and carried out with the help of the Kurds, is another wound that will not heal, but one that must be treated if Turkey’s progress toward European Union membership is to proceed smoothly.

It is believed that the Armenian genocide inspired the Nazis in their plans for the extermination of Jews. However, in comparison with the Holocaust, most people still know little about this dark episode.

Indeed, it is hard for most of us to imagine the scale of suffering and devastation inflicted on the Armenian people and their ancestral homelands. But many members of today’s thriving global Armenian Diaspora have direct ancestors who perished, and carry an oral historical tradition that keeps the memories burning.

It is particularly ironic that many Kurds from Turkey’s southeastern provinces, having been promised Armenian property and a guaranteed place in heaven for killing infidels, were willingly complicit in the genocide. They later found themselves on the losing end of a long history of violence between their own separatist forces and the Turkish army, as well as being subjected to an ongoing policy of discrimination and forced assimilation.