Saturday, September 23, 2006

Excerpt from Black Dog of Fate: An American Son Uncovers His Armenian Past by Peter Balakian

Excerpt from Black Dog of Fate: An American Son Uncovers His Armenian Past by Peter Balakian:

    Scholars have noted that the Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide is singular. No other nation in the modern age has engaged in such a massive cover-up campaign about such a crime. Richard Falk, Milbank Professor of International Law at Princeton, writes that the Turkish denial is "a major, proactive, deliberate government effort to use every possible instrument of persuasion at its disposal to keep the truth about the Armenian genocide from general acknowledgment, especially by elites in the United States and Western Europe."

    Criminal behavior always is defined by the perpetrator's compulsion to "promote forgetting," writes Judith Herman in Trauma and Recovery. "Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator's first line of defense." If that fails, "the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim." And if he cannot silence his victim, "he tries to make sure that no one listens," by either blatantly denying or rationalizing his crime.

    After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.

    Bound up in the pathology of denial is the blaming of the victim. In denying the crime of genocide and blaming the victim, the perpetrator culture continues to create a false reality through which it attempts to rehabilitate itself. As Charrey and Lipstadt have written, the denial of genocide is the final stage of genocide; the first killing followed by a killing of the memory of the killing. The perpetrator's quest for impunity by denying continues to abuse the victim group by preventing the process of healing for the survivors and the inheritors of the survivors. In denying the crime, the perpetrator seeks to rob the victim of a moral order. Clearly, denying genocide paves the way for future genocide, for it suggests to the world that governments can commit mass murder with impunity. Hitler in 1939 was inspired by the collective absence of memory of the Armenian Genocide.

    Commemoration is an essential process for the bereaved and for the inheritors of the legacy of genocide. It is a process of making meaning out of unthinkable horror and loss. Because the dead have not been literally or emotionally buried in the wake of genocide, commemoration is also a ritual of burying the deadthat first act of civilization. Because genocide seeks to negate all meaning, to unmake the world, the survivors and their children must find a way back to civilization. Commemoration, then, publicly legitimizes the victim culture's grief. The burden of bereavement can be alleviated if shared and witnessed by a larger community. Only then can redemption, hope, and community be achieved.

    What then, if you are Armenian? True forgiveness can be granted only after the perpetrator has sought and earned it through confession, repentance, and restitution. If the perpetrator government stalks the victims in an effort to prevent the victims' acts of commemoration, there can be no full healing. The victim culture is held hostage in a wilderness of grief and rage, and is shut out of its moral place in history.

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