Archbishop highlights Armenian experience in genocide remembrance

By staff writers
27 Jan 2011

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has issued a statement marking Holocaust Memorial Day, which emphasises the need to hear the 'Untold Stories' of those who suffered similar tragedies to those experienced during the Shoah - the calculated mass murder of European Jews and other groups by the Nazis during World War 2.

"If the stories are not told over and again, we lose the memory of those who suffered and we risk losing something that protects our humanity...I commend for our remembrance the untold stories of Jewish people living in Britain during the medieval era, those of the Holocaust and the stories from the genocidal tragedies of many other contexts in our deeply damaged world today," declared Dr Williams.

Among the crimes he mentioned was the Armenian genocide of 1915-23, for which there has been a longstanding campaign for full international recognition. At present the Turkish government still denies the genocidal nature of what occurred, despite overwhelming historical evidence.

Campaigners say that hearing the hidden crimes and unheard voices is vital to the task of challenging and ending the kind of systematic murder visited on 6 million Jews and others during the Nazi Holocaust - which remains unique in scale and execution - but also many other victims, including recent ones such as those in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 5.4 million people have been killed since 1998; Cambodia, where an estimated 1.7 million were murdered by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979; the war in Bosnia in the 1990s which claimed at least 98,000 lives; Burundi, with 50,000 deaths in 1993 and Rwanda, which saw 800,000 deaths in 1994, due to tribal conflict.

Dr Williams' inclusion of Armenia in his statement was welcomed by Dr Harry Hagopian, an ecumenical, legal and political expert on the region. He told Ekklesia that those who still carried the memory of these events and those working to reverse the climate of denial around them would be "profoundly grateful" to the Archbishop for his acknowledgment.

In November last year, Dr Hagopian gave the Constantinople Lecture 2010, sponsored by the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association, on the theme of 'The Armenian Genocide: A way forward?' The lecture was published by Ekklesia (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ConstantinopleLecture) and others.

The annual Holocaust Memorial Day in Britain, and related observances across the world, have been marked across the country, in local communities and places of worship, on 27 January 2011.

The full text of the Archbishop of Canterbury's message is as follows:

"On this national Holocaust Memorial Day we are asked to remember the 'Untold Stories' from other genocides that have occurred since the Holocaust. The poems of Paul Celan attempt to express the inexpressible: to tell the 'Untold Story' that chronicles each detail of human degradation and loss during the Holocaust. Although other poets have spoken for those killed in Armenia, Cambodia and Darfur, many stories from these and other genocidal events remain untold. They do not lessen or relativise the unique horror of the Holocaust, but rather serve to remind us of the loss of humanity that remains present in our midst to this day.

"Testimony, poetry and autobiography allow us to attend to the distinct stories of individuals rather than trying to comprehend the statistics of different genocides of recent history. Writers like Paul Celan and Etty Hillesum create the most vivid remembrance because their voices are so distinct and their suffering can be felt in every detail of their work.

"Sometimes objects and mementos themselves can carry a story and the recently launched Jewish Museum in Camden displays hand-crafted sacred objects alongside small items carried by Jewish children on the kinder transport as they escaped from Germany. The crafted objects, such as a roll of scripture in a silver fish case, reveal something of the soul of the craftsman. The children's toys likewise still carry the marks of the soul of their owner. But there at least are the memorials of survivors. It is impossible ever to forget the sight at Auschwitz of children's toys taken from those killed in the camp. Who can speak of what they signify of pain and degradation?

"The Jewish Museum presents an overview of Jewish life in Britain starting with immigrations first recorded in 1066. There is no Paul Celan or Etty Hillesum telling the story of medieval Jews in Britain. However, the timeline on the wall preserves an important memorial of events now almost completely lost to public awareness - who can now tell the full story of the blood libel case surrounding William of Norwich in the 12th century or of King Edward's expulsion of all Jews from England? If the stories are not told over and again, we lose the memory of those who suffered and we risk losing something that protects our humanity.

"On this 2011 Holocaust Memorial Day I commend for our remembrance the untold stories of Jewish people living in Britain during the medieval era, those of the Holocaust and the stories from the genocidal tragedies of many other contexts in our deeply damaged world today."

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