spring, the Armenian community in the Netherlands
placed a monument in the graveyard in Assen in
commemoration of the victims of the 1915 genocide.
The commemoration was met with great resistance
from Turks in Holland and Turkey. Because speaking
of genocide, none of it is true, proposes spokesperson
Yusal of the National Federation of Turkish Associations
in Holland. Six months later Lejo Siepe went back
to Assen for Human and made a sequel of his previous
radio-documentary on this "Armenian case".
by Lokien de Bie
NIKOLAI Romashuk (48) had imagined
it differently. Three years ago he collected money
from his compatriot Armenians living in Assen
to make a long kept wish come true: erecting a
monument "in commemoration of the innocent
Armenian victims of the 1915 genocide". In
a letter to Assen municipality, where some two-hundred
Armenians live, he asked for permission to erect
a monument in a public place. Internally Assen
authorities rejected the request. Accidently an
initial letter that was sent to Romashuk did approve.
This approval could not be turned back anymore.
Cause for rage among the Turks in Holland, who
see the monument as intensely provocative. They
protested, intimidated, and threatened. E-mail
bombs from home and abroad caused the municipal
electronic postbox to collapse. Extremist Grey
Wolves sent letters saying they would travel to
Assen with two-hundred followers.
The threat had an effect. The
two-meter high monument, made of volcanic stone
from Armenia, has arrived, but not on the spot
that Romashuk had in mind, and with another, much
more neutral inscription. "In commemoration
of our ancestors 1910-1920" is now carved
in it. Because speaking of genocide, none of it
is true, proposes Yusal on behalf of the National
federation of Turkish Associations in Holland,
"for protection Armenians were transported
at the time to neighboring countries where they
all arrived well." The Turkish federation
began a procedure to prevent the placing of the
monument. The jugde dismissed the arguments.
Few cases in the historiography
of the twentieth century are as loaded and controversial
as the Armenian genocide. The facts: when the
Ottoman Empire got involved in a war with Russia
in 1915, the front was in Anatolia, in the east
of Turkey, where many Armenians lived. In the
winter of 1914/15 the Turks lost the battle and
Russians were able to advance. At that moment
the former Turkish government decided to deport
all present Armenians, who were considered dangerous
collaborators, in masses to Syria and Mesopotamia.
deportation, that led to genocide. Approximately
six hundred thousand people died of hunger, thirst,
disease or abuse. Or they were killed by the escorting
army and police. Between 1915 and 1922 an estimated
one million Armenians were killed and 400 thousand
died in prison camps. A few hundred thousand were
driven into exile.
The hope of the survivor part
of the Armenian people for the creation of a national
state was nullified when the republic Turkey was
announced in 1923. The designated "independent"
state (of the Soviet Union) was taken away from
Armenians within two years. Even recognition of
the cruel fate was not given to them. Because
although by now among historians there is a consensus
that a genocide was committed against the Armenians,
(supported with evidence like photos and eye-witness
accounts), Turkey does not want to recognize it
to this day. And a number of countries that for
political and/or economic reasons want to keep
Turkey a friend (among which the Netherlands)
want it equally less. Turkey insists that the
Armenians at the time were victim of war circumstances.
The measures to export Armenians from their territories
served exactly to protect them, because a part
of their militant compatriots conspired with the
Russian army. Thereby deaths fell, sure, but of
a deliberate, organized mass murder on a minority
is out of question. No genocide. The present international
relations allow Turkey to persevere that attitude.
Yet the ten thousand descendents of Armenian refugees,
spread across the world, and the eighty thousand
Armenians in Turkey are waiting for apologies
from the Turkish government.
"But apologies are not a
matter for discussion," says Erik J. Zürcher,
professor of Turkish linguistics and literature
at the University of Leiden. "It is not realistic
to make the present Turkish Republic responsible
for the murders of 1915. The Turkish government
could, however, express finding the events tragic."
This is not to be expected. Turkish pride and
fear for an Armenian claim to "Wiedergutmachung"
come in the way of normalization. Recognition
could mean that confiscated land has to be returned
and compensation payed. In Dutch politics Member
of Chamber Leen van Dijke of the Christen Unie
is the only one who stands up so strongly for
Armenian interests. He reproaches opportunism
among the governmental parties. "The purple
coalition recoils from a judgement in fear of
reactions from the Turkish community in the Netherlands.
The European Parliament recently announced that
recognition of the genocide is a precondition
for Turkey's accession to the European community.
Why should we not follow?" Six months after
the ceremonial unveiling, the tumult around the
monument in the Assenese graveyard has still not
died down. The Turkish Islamic Cultural Federation
has appealed to a higher court against the verdict
of the authority's judge, who earlier authorized
the placing of the monument. The Council of State
will pass a judgement soon. The Turkish community
continues to hold on to her vision of history.
"The monument has become a place of pilgrimage
for the Armenians," says A. Tonca, chairman
of the Turkish Islamic Cultural Federation, an
umbrella organization that fosters 143 mosques
in Holland. "And that is unfair, we feel
accused of an event that in our opinion never
occurred." Nikolai Romashuk, who was received
as an hero on invitation of the Armenian community
in America last summer, is optimistic despite
the counteractions. The monument is there, in
Assen. Indeed dedicated in commemoration to the
Armenian ancestors of Nikolai Romashuk, who died
between 1910 and 1920. But all Armenians in Assen
and surroundings understand that it is at the
same time a monument commemorating the one and
a half million Armenians who fell victim during
the genocide of 1915. Romashuk is not out to provoke
the Turkish community. It is not bitterness that
drives him, but frustration over the denial of
the murder on his people. For years when he was
young he read what was written on the board every
school day: "If our children forget the Turkish
atrocities, the world will curse them." Nikolai
Romashuk: "We want to commemorate, collectively.
Because we cannot forget.
That has been imprinted on us."
TUESDAY RADIO 747AM 4:02PM