Saturday 22 October 2016

Good to recall Gallipoli - but don't forget Armenia

Published 03/05/2015 | 02:30

Last week, we had a lot of talk about two centenaries. Micheal Martin talked about 1916 at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis. President Michael D Higgins talked about April 1915, Gallipoli. But the media missed the most significant aspects of these speeches.

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Few reports on the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis marked the most significant moment - the spontaneous standing ovation he got for his searing indictment of the Provisional IRA.

Most reports on Gallipoli failed to note that no visiting head of state asked their Turkish hosts to acknowledge that last week was also the centenary of the Turkish massacre of 1.5 million Christian Armenians.

Amnesia about the atrocities of the past do not advance the cause of liberty and justice. Let's take a closer look at these two topics.

* * * * *

First, Fianna Fail and 1916. Why did the media play down the delegates' reaction to Martin's attack on the Provos?

RTE viewers could see how savagely both Martin and his warm-up, Jack Chambers, tore into Sinn Fein. And how Martin's attack brought delegates to their feet in the only standing ovation given to any speech.

Charges of criminality were made in connection with the Provisional IRA Northern campaign without a word of protest.

Charges were also made about the murder of members of the Republic's Defence Forces, gardai and prison officers. The charges were cheered loudly.

But, only a few years ago, any aspiring FF TD who made a speech depicting the Provisional IRA as criminals would have provoked walkouts.

But young Chambers was cheered to the rafters for his courageous rejection of the Provisional campaign.

Above all, the sight of Fianna Fail delegates' display of moral anger dispelled the fiction that a vote for Fianna Fail is a vote for Sinn Fein lite.

This change is good for democracy, because it rejects the dangerous strategy of FG spindoctors to polarise the electorate between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein.

Alas, even the sharp Martina Fitzgerald of RTE followed her colleagues in not fully teasing out the meaning of Martin's standing ovation. Beware consensus, Martina.

On a lighter note, a canvass of political anoraks prompts me to point out another angle: the special status of Cork politicians when taking on the Provos.

A Cork politician can tap into a deep folk memory of who did what in the War of Independence. And here I admit to being in a bit of a bind.

Although I am no longer a fan of Michael Collins or Tom Barry, I still feel a certain local pride in the fact Cork did the heavy lifting during the Four Glorious Years.

Accordingly, Cork politicians can credibly lecture Northern nationalists about what the word 'Republican' really means. And what actions are not permitted in its name.

Again and again, Martin has blasted Adams & Co in republican terms. He talks down to them. And they are forced to take it.

And why? Because deep down in republican folk memory, it is Cork, not Tyrone or Armagh, which is the keeper of the republican sacred flame.

Listen to the roll call. Kilmichael, T om Barry, Michael Collins, Beal na Blath. In the crunch, Crossbarry trumps Crossmaglen.

Micheal Martin is not the first Cork leader to loftily lecture leprechaun nationalists. Jack Lynch could do it too, as Haughey, Blaney and Boland found out.

Finally, and this the clincher, the Cork accent carries natural authority in matters republican. Micheal Martin's Cork accent exudes an historical entitlement to lecture the Provos on real republicanism.

Martin's Cork accent eats like acid into Gerry Adams's House of Cards, easily exposing his empty and perfunctory excuses for a largely wasted past.

Reading the above, my Sinn Fein critics might conclude a revisionist like me is not being serious in saying these things. To which I say: go figure.

* * * * *

Let me now turn to Gallipoli and Armenia. Cathal McCarthy, in his wiry and witty column for Cork's Evening Echo, rightly gave a five-star review to David Davin-Power's fine film, Gallipoli - Ireland's Forgotten Heroes.

Castigating the compulsory amnesia about Irish soldiers' service in World War I, which was for so long enforced by tribal nationalists, McCarthy reclaimed the word republican.

"I regard myself as an Irish republican inasmuch as I'm Irish and I believe that a republic is, by far, the noblest method by which any society can govern itself."

With the ground cleared, McCarthy went on to point out that the process of making peace with our past had been smoothly moved along by David Davin-Power's Gallipoli - Ireland's Forgotten Heroes.

But the core of McCarthy's column concerned the marginalised Munster Fusiliers. These poor devils came home from the bloody beaches of Gallipoli, but were forbidden by Sinn Fein to tell their tale.

We are only now taking these hidden heroes down from what McCarthy memorably calls "the national attic".

Alas, the Turkish government was allowed to impose the same kind of amnesia on Irish and foreign functionaries who gathered at Gallipoli last weekend.

Shamefully, not one statesman spoke out to call on the Turks to accept their guilt for the Armenian genocide. And for the first time I find myself in full agreement with Robert Fisk.

A few days before the Gallipoli gathering, Fisk asked a hard question in the London Independent: "Can the Allies' failed invasion of Gallipoli be honestly commemorated without remembering the Armenian genocide?"

Certainly, the Turks were concerned at the closeness of the two centenary dates.

On April 25, 1915, the Turks began the battle against the Allied invaders. But the day before, April 24, 1915, the Turks began the Armenian genocide by arresting, torturing and executing their political leaders.

So it is hard to argue with Fisk's charge that Turkey used the Gallipoli ceremonies to smother attempts by modern Armenians to force Turkey to end its denial of genocide.

But genocide is the right word. Because the mass murder of Armenians is closely linked to the later German attempt to exterminate European Jews.

The word 'genocide' was coined by an Armenian. German officers were present at massacre sites. Hitler famously asked, "Who now remembers the Armenians?"

The catalogue of cruelty is barely credible. Much of it took place where Isil holds sway in Syria. Then, as now, there was sexual violence on an industrial scale.

The American ambassador Henry Morgenthau documented one incident where thousands of Armenian men, women and children were driven without warning from their homes. Most of the men were murdered on the spot.

The traumatised and sobbing column of 18,000 women, girls and babies were forced to walk without food or water into the Syrian desert.

Along the way, bandits repeatedly robbed and raped the defenceless women. Their daughters were abducted. In one place, babies were piled on bonfires and burned alive.

Morgenthau observed that of the 18,000 driven into the desert, only 170 demented, naked women survivors staggered into the city of Aleppo.

Jim Cogan's grim illustration is based on a still from an American film called Auction of the Souls, based on the book Ravished Armenia by a young Armenian girl, Aurora Mardiganian, who had survived.

Acting on Aurora's account, the film depicted the crucifixion of 16 young Armenian girls.

But in 1989, Aurora admitted to film historian Anthony Slide that the scene was false. What actually happened was far worse.

"The Turks made little pointed crosses. They took the clothes off the girls. They made them bend down, and after raping them, they made them sit on the pointed wood, through the vagina. The Americans have made it a more civilized way. They can't show such terrible things."

Amnesia about Armenia compounds the cruelty. We should have spoken out at the Gallipoli gathering. We must not let Hitler have the last word.

Sunday Independent

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