It has already been a century since the Armenian massacre occurred and only 20 countries recognise it as genocide. The question in my mind looking at this minimal number is: why do countries continue to deny this historical fact?
Recently, Germany openly recognized the killing and expulsion of 1.5 million Armenians during the Ottoman Empire (1915). This decision caused the Turkish response with the declaration that there would be economic and military consequences. This situation arises amidst a long and tense dialogue between the two countries regarding immigration towards Europe, and the Bundestag’s decision may cause an increase in Turkish citizens at the German border.
The Turkish President Erdogan keeps defining the massacre as “a historical error”, “null” and “something that never happened” and he is ready to break the relationship with Angela Merkel in order to maintain the honour of the country and the name of Turkey clean.
However, while Germany did not regret the recognition even after Turkey’s threat, Denmark did not have the same courage. In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in 2015, Denmark decided to raise a sculpture in the centre of the capital city of Copenhagen. “The Draem” (pronounced ‘dream’, the Danish Remembrance Armenian Empathy Messenger), a nine-meter high sculpture, was supposed to be placed in Kultorvet Square for 10 days.
The plan raised the opposition of the Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen, which demonstrated its disappointment by labelling the commemorative sculpture as “morally indefensible”. Although the left-wing Danish newspaper Politiken’s interviews with the city’s deputy mayor for culture Carl Christian Ebbesen conveyed the liberal intention of the Danish action, Denmark has not yet recognised the Armenian massacre as a genocide. This is perhaps because the consequences of such a decision might be economically and politically disadvantageous for Denmark.
The Turkish opposition to admitting the Armenian genocide seems to influence our knowledge of the historical facts: countries recognize the fault of Turkey, but they do not declare it. Isn’t that controversial? The Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said to Politken: “The Danish government does not keep silent about the tragic events of 1915”. Why do they not recognize it openly though? Denmark is home to approximately 1200 Armenians living mainly in Copenhagen, Aarhus and Odense. How these citizens feel about their country’s refusal to recognize the massacre of their ancestors is easily imaginable.
However, what is truly concerning is not how these two countries manage to approach each other on historical matters, but rather how this example can be expanded to a more generalized, universal view: is it fair to deny history in order to maintain a stable bilateral relationship between countries? History is our past, our roots and our identity, and it should be consulted in order not to repeat the same mistakes and to build a better future. If a historical fact is denied, it might not be written down in a school book and therefore have an impact on our knowledge of the facts. Let’s try an example: if the Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy hadn’t written down his treatise on astronomy in The Almagest – in which he theorizes the Geocentric assumption – the Renaissance mathematician and astronomer Claudius Copernicus might not have formulated the Heliocentric one, and today we might not know that it’s the Sun, rather than the Earth, at the centre of the universe. This example illustrates that actions of the past have an impact on the future and by studying history we may avoid repeating mistakes made in the past. If we assume that nobody today knows about the Armenian Genocide and all the other ones that have happened in the last century, maybe today we might not be as intolerant towards “the greatest crime” and there would not be the UN Declaration supervising our human rights.
As a result, looking at history as a matter of convenience and hiding its value for political interest is a demonstration of indifference, a lack of respect towards all the people who were killed during the wars and ethnocide. The acceptance of the Armenian Genocide is not only a way to show our recognition of their past pain to these people, but a duty to ourselves for a better world.