GUEST COLUMNIST OWEI LAKEMFA
Pope Francis unfortunately fell victim of the academics and politicians who coloured the commemoration of the centenary of the Armenian genocide. To this group, genocide is genocide depending on the perpetrators and the victims. However, if the perpetrators are powerful or have strong allies, genocide becomes mere murder, killings or at worst, massacres. Even the April 24, 2015 date marked as the centenary was a political decision to coincide with the day the Allied troops from France, Britain, New Zealand and Australia invaded Turkey.
Although it was on that day Turkey started rounding up the Armenian minority Christians thought to be sympathetic to the invaders, it was on May 29, 1915 that the Temporary Law of Deportation was passed under which about one and a half million Armenians were exterminated. Genocide is the wholesale, systematic extermination of a people, nation or ethnic group. Despite this simple and straight forward definition, it has taken Europe a hundred years to agree that what happened to the Armenians was genocide.
Until now, the United States and countries which see Turkey as ally, do not acknowledge this as genocide. As for Turkey, it was a war, and no crimes were committed. Many Western academics claim that this was the first genocide in history. They do so because they do not want to accept centuries of genocide perpetrated by their countries against non-white populations. Pope Francis almost fell into this trap, but modified it; the Armenian genocide was not the first, but it was “…the first genocide of the Twentieth Century.” Even on this score, the Pontiff is wrong. While the Armenian genocide was over two years from 1915, that of the Namibians by the Germans was for over three years from 1904. The Namibian genocide in which the Germans, after series of massacres, then at gun point, forced whole populations into the desert with no water, food or medicines, was eleven years before the Armenian genocide began. In that process, the Germans wiped out eighty percent of the Herero people and fifty percent of the Nama.
It was in Namibia that Germany experimented with various means of mass extermination and using human beings for medical experiments to validate racist hypothesis that non-whites are inferior beings. These same methods and experiments were put to use thirty five years later by Nazi Germany in the genocide against Jews and blacks. Contrary to claims that the Armenian genocide was the first, or one of the first cases of genocide, the fact is that human history is replete with such cases mainly by Europeans against non-white populations. One of the most serious was on the Australian continent where from January 26, 1788, Britain started off-loading the worst dregs of its prisons. Violent criminals and convicts on death row received reprieve if they agreed to be transported to Australia.
With British Government backing, these criminals simply wiped out whole populations of the Aborigines. It was an undeclared, dirty war in which the British colonialists and settlers used massacres, poisoned local water sources, introduced small pox as a biological weapon, and paid financial rewards for whites who captured Aborigines. The official policy was to kill the men, abduct the women and if possible, stop them from further procreation, while the children were kidnapped, de-personalised and brainwashed. They became known as the Stolen Generations. Great Britain and the settlers went to great lengths to destroy records of their atrocities in Australia.
But some of the records that survive show that, for example, the Tasmania Island, the size of Ireland, had a population of six thousand indigenes when it was invaded in September 1803 by settlers, seventy five percent of them convicts. Within eleven years, even with births, the locals had been reduced to two thousand, the rest, wiped out. In 1832, the indigenes had been reduced to two hundred, at which point they were packed off to a prison called Wybalenna where the rest of them died. In other words, the inhabitants of Tasmania became extinct.
Between the 18th and 19th centuries, the British exterminated ninety percent of the Aborigines; by 1900, one million Aborigines had been killed and over 100,000 children abducted. What is this but genocide? In Fiji where the colonialists deliberately introduced measles in 1876, forty thousand of the local populace of 140,000 was wiped out. The Europeans got to America in 1492. By 1900, the indigenous Indian population had been reduced by eighty percent, mainly through warfare, the introduction of blankets infected with small pox and forced mass relocations.
When under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Cherokee Indians were moved, half of the population died in what became known as the Trail Of Tears. Genocide was a weapon used in the Spanish colonisation of Latin America. In one of the documented cases by Dominican Friar, Bartolome de las Casas, the local population of four hundred thousand in Hispaniola, was reduced to two hundred within a few decades. In the Congo Free State which Belgian King, Leopold II regarded as his personal estate, sixty percent of the populace was wiped out by the Belgians.
The genocide list which includes those of Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia is long. But how can humanity learn and say ‘Never Again!’ if almost all the perpetrators, with the notable exemption of Germany in the case of the Jews, refuse to admit their guilt? How can we build a new humanity when many academics and politicians seek to conceal historical genocide because their race perpetrated these against nonwhite people?
Why would Turkey not threaten countries over Armenia when it has friends like the US and Italy that massage its ego? Pope Francis in commemorating the Armenian genocide centenary argued that “…concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.” This is true, not just for the Turkish, but also all who deny genocide by whatever colour or colouration.