The Centenary of the Armenian Genocide: We must always take sides
April 2015 saw multiple services commemorating the centenary of what many view as the beginning of the Armenian genocide. The Wiener Library will mark the centenary this October with an exhibition telling the story of an Armenian family from Merzifon who survived the genocide.
In the exhibition the term genocide will be used judiciously. We believe there can be no attempt on our part to retain ‘neutrality’ on this issue. It is neither possible, nor desirable.
It is a matter of regret that in the UK the term genocide is being avoided in much of the commemorative discussion surrounding these events.
The Wiener Library, among others in the UK and internationally, is an organisation that people look to as a source of authority on the subject of the Holocaust and genocide. It is therefore up to us to seek out the best scholarship on specific questions and be guided by this. We have to make these judgements and we are under no obligation to take a narrow, legalistic approach. A clear majority of respected scholars argue that the term genocide does apply in this case.
Genocide as an issue may indeed have political and legal dimensions, but above all it is a moral outrage and should be met with an unambiguous statement of that outrage. Examining the known facts of the Armenian case and evaluating them using the United Nations definition of genocide and Gregory Stanton’s widely-recognised eight-stages of genocide, we conclude that it is not possible to avoid using the term in connection with these events. The moral imperative to recognise genocide outweighs political expediency or legal niceties. Indeed Stanton’s final stage of the process of genocide is its denial.
In this regard it is pertinent to highlight the following quotation, from survivor and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, which accompanied The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s announcement of the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2016 ‘Don’t Stand By’:
‘I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.’
The Wiener Library recognises that the refusal to recognise the Armenian genocide contributes to the long suffering of the victimised communities, and denies them resolution and closure.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has released a statement marking the centenary which explicitly uses the term genocide at a time when the US government has still not adopted official recognition. We believe this spirit of independence and leadership is vital, and the Wiener Library will continue to work in that same spirit in the UK context.
Added: Thursday 30th April, 2015