One of the delights of our Istanbul newspaper is the daily insert that follows the lives of local glitterati: which wife of which well-known Turkish footballer was spotted at her neighbourhood shopping centre wearing clothes and accessories valued at 8,300 TL ($3,200) for example. The other day our social ‘butterfly’ supplement (Kelebek in Turkish) let us into the gluteus maximal secrets of a young lady with aspirations to becoming Turkey’s Kim Kardashian.
I can appreciate the appeal of a well-rounded derriere as much as any red-blooded male, and I am aware that Ms Kardashian’s charms in that anatomical region have attracted some media attention. Nevertheless, I am a little disappointed to learn that’s her major claim to fame. Well, that and blessing her baby with the name of North West.
How do I know these things? It’s hard to escape American pop culture disseminated through the international mass media posing as news and information for the global community. I haven’t seen Kim’s show, ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’. Thankfully it hasn’t achieved wide circulation in Turkey to date, but her doings still filter through. So I know, for instance, that Mrs Kanye West has just visited Armenia, the homeland of her paternal great great grandparents who immigrated to America in the late 19th century.
The young lady doesn’t speak Armenian yet, but she says she’s working on it. She did, however, visit the memorial in Yerevan with her sisters, and lent her informed voice to demands for international recognition of the 1915 Metz Yeghern, (‘Great Evil’) as genocide. In gratitude, apparently the Kardashians have been presented with a plot of land in their ancestral homeland, so it will be interesting to see if they take up the offer to immigrate back. I can’t see it, though, can you? According to the CIA World Factbook Armenia ranks 148th in the world for per capita GDP and its economy is largely dependent on financial support from Russia and the IMF, and remittances from the diaspora. According to Global Democracy’s 2014 list, the country ranks 92nd out of 112 countries. A Wikipedia entry on human rights cites use of torture and forced confessions by police as a serious concern. There were accusations of electoral fraud after the 2008 presidential election. The new president declared a 20-day state of emergency, and large-scale demonstrations were put down by police using truncheons and electric shock devices resulting in at least ten deaths.
Nevertheless, the anti-Turkey lobby is renewing its efforts to hold that country responsible for the large-scale deaths of Armenians during the First World War. Activists in the cause have chosen 24 April as their day for focusing on the issue, and 2015 as the 100th anniversary. A plenary session of the European Parliament on April 15 will apparently vote on the question of whether to officially recognise the events of 1915 as genocide. Anticipating the vote, Pope Francis, titular head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, trumpeted his opinion (in his role as the infallible spokesperson of God, I assume) that the “slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks was ‘the first genocide of the 20th century’”.
The Pontiff’s words won an accolade from Aram I, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, who was reported as saying that “genocide is a crime against humanity that requires reparation.” Here, of course, is the nub of the matter. The Armenian government would dearly love to force the modern Republic of Turkey to accept responsibility for whatever happened in 1915, opening the way to claims for enormous financial restitution.
The government of Turkey, needless to say, is extremely unlikely to shoulder the blame, and not merely from reluctance to pay up. First of all, the phrase “Ottoman Turks” is an historical inaccuracy. The Ottoman Empire was multi-national and multi-cultural, and anyway, came to an end in 1923. The Republic of Turkey that sprang from its ashes has no legal connection to that empire – no more than the modern United States has to pre-1776 Great Britain.
Modern Turkey is also unhappy that the Pope and other supporters of Armenian claims choose to ignore massacres and ethnic cleansing of non-Christian populations. The European Union’s two largest countries, France and Germany, have a pretty dark record in the business of genocide. Apart from the Jewish holocaust, it has been estimated that 1.5 million Algerians lost their lives in that country’s war of independence with France between 1954 and 1962. France, of course, is an almost exclusively Roman Catholic country, as is Spain, whose role in the virtual annihilation of the indigenous peoples of Central and South America is well documented.
As far as I can learn, the Vatican refused to involve itself in the Nazi German extermination of European Jewry (and Vichy French complicity) and subsequently refrained from condemnation of wartime atrocities. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “When mass killings began, the Vatican was extremely well informed through its own diplomatic channels and through a variety of other contacts. Church officials may have been the first to pass on to the Holy See sinister reports about the significance of deportation convoys in 1942, and they continued to receive the most detailed information about mass murder in the east. Despite numerous appeals, however, the Pope refused to issue explicit denunciations of the murder of Jews or call upon the Nazis directly to stop the killing.” Selective morality indeed!
Much has been made of Pope Francis’s Argentinian birth and upbringing, and this has been offered as one of the reasons for his sympathy towards the Armenian cause. It may have helped his election to the Papal See that his father and maternal grandfather were actually immigrants from Italy. Certainly, however, Argentina has a large Armenian diaspora – somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000, making it one of the largest Armenian populations in the world.
A less publicised migrant community is the 5,000 Nazi war criminals who were granted sanctuary there after the Second World War. An article published in the UK newspaper Daily Mail on 19 March 2012, based on previously secret files made available by the governments of Brazil and Chile, revealed that “during the war Argentine President General Juan Peron sold 10,000 blank Argentine passports to ODESSA – the organisation set up to protect former SS men in the event of defeat.” The article named several leading Nazis who took refuge in Argentina, including Adolf Eichmann, Heinrich Himmler’s right-hand man, and Josef Mengele who “was known for his horrific genetic experiments in concentration camps including the dissection of live babies and injecting dye into the eyes of prisoners.”
Can anyone inform me, are there equivalents in Spanish and Italian for the English proverb, People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones?