Don’t speak

A close friend of mine, mindful of my Turkish Armenian connections, forwarded this Tweet to me yesterday:

The Tweet, of course, was a response to Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks about President Erdogan, which in turn were a response to sentiments reportedly expressed by the Turkish president to a group of American Muslim leaders, ahead of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

On Monday, President Erdogan reportedly told a meeting in New York: “we view the Holocaust in the same way we view those besieging Gaza and carrying out massacres in it.” In his speech at the United Nations on Tuesday, he went on to attack the actions of the state of Israel, while holding up a long-disputed map purportedly showing the shrinking Palestinian territories. “The Palestinian territory under Israeli occupation,” he said, “has become one of the most striking places of injustice.”

This riled Benjamin Netanyahu, who fired back: “Someone who does not stop lying, who slaughters Kurds, who denies the massacre of the Armenians, should not preach to Israel.”

With Turkish Armenian family members living in Turkey, I suppose I was meant to agree with the Tweet my friend sent to me and forward it on to all of my friends too. But I didn’t.

Perhaps something had been lost in translation, and Hrant Enveryan was merely responding to Netanyahu’s comments as they had been reported in Turkey. There we give him the benefit of the doubt. But as for the widespread celebration of his Tweet, we must be fair: Netanyahu did not mention the present situation of Armenians in Turkey, but referred instead to the denial of the mass killings and exodus of Armenians from Turkey a century ago. Some might say he has a point.

Muslim leaders, strident in their criticism of Israel, undoubtedly have a blindspot when it comes to the parallel actions of their predecessors. In the partition of India and the creation of the state of Pakistan, founded in the same year as Israel, for example, over ten million people were displaced along religious lines and an estimated million died. Most people in Turkey deny that the killing of upwards of 700,000 Armenians at the fall of the Ottoman Empire was a systematic act of genocide, but instead claim that it occurred amidst the conflict of World War One in which millions of others also died.

Israel may feel justifiably aggrieved that it is uniquely singled out for particular condemnation for its appalling treatment of the Palestinians, when other nations engaged in equally bad or far worse abuses escape the wrath of populist leaders and the masses everywhere. Israel may claim that it is only responsible for 10,000 Palestinian deaths since 2010, whereas the Saudi coalition has been responsible for over 90,000 Yemeni deaths since 2015.

Which brings us to Netanyahu’s reference to the Kurds. Some might say there are indeed parallels here with the experience of the Palestinian people. Of course it is difficult to talk about this, because journalists who report on the conflict with Kurdish separatists in Turkey tend to end up in prison, charged with lending material support to terrorists. Indeed, as I write this, I am mindful that I must be careful what I say.

We may never know what really happened in Diyarbakır in 2016. If 30,000 really were forced to flee, as was reported in The Guardian, we are certainly not meant to know about it. If its ancient neighbourhood of Sur — a UNESCO World Heritage site — really was flattened by the Turkish army as satellite images suggest, all we are meant to know is that it is now at the heart of a massive redevelopment project. The largest investment in the region ever, as the copywriters would have it.

I am happy that Hrant Enveryan is safe and at peace in Erdogan’s Turkey. But then he and I both know that you have to be careful what you say. The rest of my thoughts on this have been redacted.

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