By Elise Harris
.- On the day marking 100 years since the systematic killing of over a million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman authorities, a Catholic historian insists that peaceful coexistence is possible today in Turkey.
“It is very important today to celebrate the centenary of the Armenian genocide because history has shown without doubt that this genocide happened,” Marco Impagliazzo told CNA April 23.
However, from the memory of this dark point in history “we can start to build a new future in Turkey between Turkish and other Christian minorities. This genocide doesn’t divide us, but is a new step,” he said.
The Ottoman Empire was a strong example of “cohabitation, coexistence between people, religions and ethnicities,” before the rise in Turkish nationalism produced the racist attitudes which led to the slaughter of the Armenians in 1915, he said.
However, this “cohabitation” is not something of the past, but can still be an example of peaceful coexistence today.
Impagliazzo is a full time professor of Contemporary History at the University for Foreigners of Perugia and president of the Community of Sant’Egidio. He is also a consultor for the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples.
He recently authored a book entitled “The Martyrdom of the Armenians,” and spoke alongside the founder of the Sant’Egidio Community, Andrea Riccardi, at an April 23 event commemorating the “Armenian Martyrdom.”
Organized by the Sant’Egidio Community, the event also celebrated the publication of Impagliazzo’s book, as well as a volume written by Riccardi entitled “The Massacre of Christians,” which was published simultaneously with that of Impagliazzo.
Both of the books provide a historical account of what is commonly known as the Armenian genocide, the centenary of which is celebrated today.
Also referred to as the Armenian Holocaust, the genocide took place in 1915 when the Ottoman Empire systematically exterminated its historic minority Armenian population who called Turkey their homeland, most of whom were Christians. Roughly 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives.
Turkey has repeatedly denied that the slaughter was a genocide, saying that the number of deaths was much smaller, and came as a result of conflict surrounding World War I. The country holds that many ethnic Turks also lost their lives in the event.
However, most non-Turkish scholars refer to the episode as a genocide. Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Russia and Uruguay are among the 22 nations that formally recognize the massacre as a genocide.
Today Germany added also added itself to that list during an April 24 parliamentary session, making itself the 23rd country to recognize the massacre as a genocide.
Speaker Norbert Lammert told parliament that “we Germans cannot lecture anyone about dealing with their past, but we can through our own experiences encourage others to confront their history, even when it hurts,” the Associated Press reports.
The agency reports that Lammert made his comments at the beginning of a non-binding motion to recognize the Armenians’ fate as “exemplary for the history of mass destruction, ethnic cleansing, expulsions and genocides by which the 20th century is marked.”
Yesterday German President Joachim Gauck also referred to the slaughter as a genocide, which signaled a shift in his country’s stance on the subject, as previous officials have avoided using the term.
In their speeches for the commemorative event, both Impagliazzo and Riccardi stressed that the use of the term genocide in the case of the Armenian massacre is not a word of hatred, but one of truth.
“As St. Paul said, the truth will set you free. So now we have this freedom of knowledge of our past, to be more free to build a new future together,” Impagliazzo said in his comments to CNA.
He said it’s important for both sides to recognize what took place during the massacre, and that Turkey “(has) to know as we have to know, what happened in order to build a new future.”
The professor recalled Pope Francis’ own use of the term “genocide” during his April 12 liturgy for Divine Mercy Sunday, which he offered for faithful of the Armenian rite in commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of the tragic event.
In his homily for the Mass, Francis noted that “in the past century our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies. The first, which is widely considered ‘the first genocide of the twentieth century,’ struck your own Armenian people, the first Christian nation.”
The Pope’s words, Impagliazzo said, were “very important” and showed the freedom he had “to speak, not to accuse the Turkish people or the Turkish government, absolutely not.”
Francis, he said, “is aware of this fact, of these massacres, (and) he spoke as a free man, a free man that wants a new consideration of the facts in order to establish a new story.”
The professor expressed his belief that there is already a movement of reconciliation going on within Turkey, which he said was largely inspired by Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered in 2007 and was a prominent member of the Armenian community.
Dink was the editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, and had been outspoken in advocating for reconciliation for Turkey and Armenia, as well as for human and minority rights in Turkey.
Often critical of both the Turkish denial of the genocide as well as the Armenian push for its international recognition, Dink was killed in Istanbul in 2007 by a 17-year-old Turkish nationalist named Ogin Samast.
At his funeral, large numbers of both Turkish and Armenian citizens marched together “to demonstrate to the Turkish people that we don’t have to fear memory,” Impagliazzo said.
Even if an official recognition of the genocide could help in the process of reconciliation, “I don’t think it’s a legal step that will solve this situation, but a new mutual understanding between people, based on the truth of the history,” he said.