Serj Tankian, right, the lead singer of System of a Down 
has condemned the Armenian
genocide
[Getty]

The killing of Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist who publicised the killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians at the turn of the 20th century, is likely to turn a spotlight on a dark period of Turkish history.

 

Many Armenians say the killings, perpetrated in the twilight years of the Ottoman Empire between 1915-17, were deliberate acts of genocide.

 

Turkey however says the Armenians died in mass communal violence, and that many Turks also died in the violence. 

 

Dink's murder on the streets of Istanbul comes only days before the release of a documentary by a Pulitzer prize-winning author who teamed up with a rock band to raise awareness of the issue.

 

Carla Garabedian, an American film maker and former war correspondent, is trying to pressure Western governments to acknowledge that the killing of more than a million Armenians during the break up of the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923 was an act of genocide.

 

The US government, however, refuses to use the "g" word, as do the governments of the UK and Turkey (Amnesty International states that while the killings are a matter of fact, calling them genocide is a matter of legal opinion).

 

The film Screamers is likely to raise the ire of those in Turkey who argue that Ottoman citizens – Armenian and Turkish – died in great numbers during the final days of the empire, and who characterise the deaths as part of a much larger war.

 

Head banging politics

 

Whether the deaths of Armenians or Muslims  constitute genocide or some other no less horrific crime, or no crime at all, should be studied and openly debated by both sides

Garabedian's previous work includes the Emmy-award winning Beneath the Veil, about women in Afghanistan, and Dying for the President, a film during which she risked her life to sneak into Chechnya during the height of the conflict there.

 

Now she has teamed up with System of a Down, a Los Angeles-based metal band who are all of Armenian descent, two of which were born in Lebanon and known in the record industry for embracing political and human rights issues.

 

The documentary is interlaced with concert footage as well as interviews with Turkish dissidents, intellectuals, and Samantha Power, a Pulitzer-prize winning writer, whose book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, was Garabedian's inspiration for the film.

 

But it is unlikely that the film, already being shown in Los Angeles and opening in New York on January 26, will be screened in Turkey any time soon.

 

Open debate

 

Gunay Evinch, a Turkish-American Fulbright Scholar in international law, says: "Whether the deaths of Armenians or Muslims constitute genocide or some other no less horrific crime, or no crime at all, should be studied and openly debated by both sides.

 

"I also believe that the question of whether a crime has been committed is a legal inquiry in which historians should serve as expert witnesses."

 

Evinch and numerous other Turkish scholars argue that while, for example, the Jewish Holocaust was the very definition of genocide – and proven so in court – the Armenian issue is more complex.

 

System of a Down feature heavily in the
film and are political campaigners [EPA]
They also point to the strength of the Armenian lobby (both sides like to highlight the other's lobbying power), and argue that Armenians and their supporters are opposed to a court determination because a "public relations approach" is more likely to bring about a conviction.

 

And if there were a court case?

 

Evinch says: "My own opinion is that Turkey would win the case on the merits, and that all who seek the truth should explore the ICJ [International Court of Justice] option."

 

No more debate

 

We think we have a policy of 'never again' – never again will we let the Holocaust happen. But we let genocide happen underneath our noses

But for the director of Screamers, the moment for debate and discussion has long since passed.

 

"Had they wanted me to have a debate on it, I wouldn't have taken part. I just don't think you can be even handed about something like genocide."

 

Consensus may never be reached between the two sides (although letters have recently been exchanged between the Turkish and Armenian premiers with regard to a joint study), but the documentary also explores the West's reaction, or non-reaction, to events in Darfur, Rwanda and Halabja (a Kurdish town in north Iraq where thousands of Kurds were gassed in 1988).

 

On this point, Garabedian says it's no longer about Turkey but "about us [in the West] and our foreign policy".

 

She said: "We think we have a policy of 'never again' – never again will we let the Holocaust happen. But we let genocide happen underneath our noses, we know exactly what's going on and we have made a decision we're going to allow it to happen."

 

Source: Al Jazeera