“And when they come to ethnically cleanse me, will you speak out? Will you defend me?” Laid out back in 1994, Pop Will Eat Itself’s marching call for action “Ich Bin Ein Auslander” reflected their awareness and anger at the rise of the right in Europe while nation states, by in large, were unresponsive to these troubling turns in humanity. And while many are quick to acknowledge its roots to Hitler, most fail to recognize that long before the Holocaust, the first genocide of the 20th century occurred in the former Ottoman Empire (now Turkey). Beginning in 1915, between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 Armenians perished while the world did nothing, despite diplomats and journalists recognizing its occurrence. Such is the case of former US Ambassador to The Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau whose critical overtures were silenced by “national interests.”
Addressing this forgotten and/or marginalized dark chapter in history before all survivors of the Armenian Genocide disappear, Dr. Carla Garapedian alongside fellow Armenian-Americans, System Of A Down, coalesced their passions, skills, histories as well as with others to produce a much needed supplemental material for all curriculums. Whether disseminated on the street, at home or in a school, her 2006 documentary Screamers shows the repeating machinations of atrocities realized when a government turns on a certain segment of its populace.
In Tokyo for the Japanese premiere of her film at the burgeoning 3rd Annual Refugee Film Festival, Dr. Garapedian divulged much about her experience in witnessing the ingredients of this repeating sickness within our world underway and of ways to face it as it continues in Darfur and elsewhere shared alongside RFF Director Kirill Konin:
Thirsty: Well, thank you for your time this day and for being a part of the UNHRC’S 3rd Annual Refugee Film Festival.
Dr. Garapedian: It’s my pleasure (warm smile).
Thirsty: And you know, just as when something horrible happens, you always look for what’s survived…and after a fire entirely wiped out my house in Kamakura, this tile survived. Please take a closer look at it…
Dr. Garapedian: Okay (studying it)…
Thirsty: Look on the back of it.
Dr. Garapedian: Oh cool… Wow, “Made In Occupied Japan.”
Thirsty: Yes, however, when I told one of my close Japanese friends about this, he said, “Japan was never occupied.” And I didn’t know what to say. It was a really uncomfortable…
Dr. Garapedian: Moment.
Thirsty: Exactly. So, like a part of genocide and anything else that’s evil, what fuels it?
Dr. Garapedian: That’s a very good question… I think part of what fuels denial is a political culture and um, we have a political culture of not only denial, but also appeasement of denial. So, it’s a two-sided thing. So, in the case of Turkey, the denial is institutionalized: The educational system is institutionalized. In the case of government, every ministry is part of the denial. Um, and so people in their hearts and minds actually believe it didn’t happen. And if it did happen, it was something else. Then on the other side of it, you have the United States and Europe, a belief that we will never let it happen, never again. That slogan after the Holocaust and yet we have allowed genocides to continue through the 20th century over and over again.
Video clip from Screamers
Thirsty: Why is that?
Dr. Garapedian: I think… Well, it’s a complicated question actually, but what got me interested in making film was Samantha Power. She wrote this book called A Problem From Hell: America In The Age Of Genocide. It won a Pulitzer Prize and got the attention from people around the world. And she did propose this radical thesis that we allow it because we really don’t want to intervene. We basically have a policy of non-intervention in the face of genocide. We say we want to stop it. We actually don’t want to stop it. Some of reasons are geopolitical, we don’t want to offend people that could help us in the world so in the case of Turkey, we didn’t want to offend them for they could help us against the Soviets. Even before that, Bolshevism. And in our film, we have a person argue it’s a case we cannot identify it. And with Bosnia, it was one of the best examples how television brought into the living rooms of ordinary people that an genocide was happening and they could identify with these people because they looked very Western and some of them spoke English.
Thirsty: It’s like Argentina where many are fair-skinned and you just would never know.
Dr. Garapedian: Yes, that’s true. Part of the problem of not stopping genocide is that if you cannot identify with the people who are being killed or victims, you don’t see them as potentially your father or mother, your child, your sister, then you don’t feel the moral obligation to do something about it. So that’s been a real problem, but general speaking with what Samantha Power argues that I also believe in is that our governments, whether they be Republican or Democrat, on the left or the right, have not wanted to intervene in the last 100 years. And the reason we call it ‘Screamers’ is that she (Power) identified ‘Screamers’ as people who see what’s happening on the ground. Even during the Holocaust, we had people reporting what they saw on the ground. This is going on. This is going on. We got to do something about it. In Cambodia, same thing… In Bosnia, same thing... Rwanda. And in the Armenian Genocide, we had American diplomats on the ground reporting. It’s on the record. Other missionaries and diplomats is on the record. The problem is not that we don’t know what’s going on. We just don’t take that information and feel that absolute obligation to do something about it.
Armenian victims - 1915
Thirsty: So what makes someone go to that next level?
Dr. Garapedian: If, I think it’s two things. If you have politicians being silent, you have that problem. They don’t want to intervene. They’re not going to want to talk about it. The Bush Administration had begun to start to talk about it Darfur now, but they started talking about it in 2004. It called it genocide, but have they done anything about it? Um, when politicians are silent, unfortunately, um, unless you have a public media like the BBC in Britain whom I’ve worked for, most media will follow the agenda set of foreign policy by politicians. If politicians aren’t talking about, then in a commercial media world, you’re not going to have journalists covering that genocide. And also, it is very expensive to cover genocide. In the case of Sudan, you have to send a crew there. You have to get in the country. The government will make you sit around in Khartoum for a couple of weeks and…
Thirsty: And the visas will take forever of course.
Dr. Garapedian: You then get to a refugee camp and you hang around in a refugee camp and you get news of something happening and you manage somehow to get to that place. And by the time you get there, in the case of Darfur, they burn villages. You’ll see burning embers. So to actually show the bodies, the proof of genocide or ethnic cleansing or whatever it may be, it’s actually very difficult to show those pictures. So to build a mass of public opinion we find this in many charitable organizations and I hate to use that word charitable organizations. You know, the United Nations has its problem in raising awareness of whatever problem. UNHCR probably does too. How do we get people to feel something? You need to see the pictures. If you don’t have the journalist getting the pictures, you have a problem.
Thirsty: I understand. I used to work for the United Nations’ FAO organization. The Food and Agricultural Organization is actually the largest agency within the UN and there’s just a lot of bunched up bureaucracy. Well intentioned, but… I would call Darfur and all these places.
Telegram from Ambassador Morgenthau
(click to enlarge)
Dr. Garapedian: Even the BBC, funded on public money…
Dr. Garapedian: You don’t have to make a case for a program on Africa. You won’t have someone saying to you, “We’re not sure where the public knows where that country is and we’re not so sure to do something about it?” That’s some sort of argument you’ll get from an American network. “Ah, we don’t know.” So, the BBC is completely opposite, publicly funded. But even they have their limits. They’re going to send crews out there and hang out for so long. They’ve made at least 4 documentaries on Darfur since 2004. So people know about it. But then the question comes, what is our government going to do something about it? And there you are looking for international leadership. They’re saying let’s leave it to the United Nations to do something or it’s an African problem. Let’s let the African countries do something about it. Genocide… You don’t feel strongly about your leadership???
Thirsty: Within that, it’s Obama and McCain now and I’m just assuming, rightly I think, that Obama will win and he will make history, but he is inheriting… Well, I have been in and outside Japan over the past 8 years and I have seen our world standing just go down and down and down and down. It’s tough. I have a lot of German and French friends, etc., but there’s a lot of homework to be done. It’s been piling up.
Dr. Garapedian: Yes. It’s interesting. Well, I heard it in Hillary’s campaign and Obama’s and it’s now kind of hip to say, “What are we going to do about Darfur?” And what I have been trying to say in traveling with Screamers, if there’s not one issue in our generation, obviously the environment is critical, but genocide seems to me that it is a test to who we are in our civilization in our generation so somehow we have to find a way to stop this pattern of behavior. And I have also met some people who have been studying the pattern of run up to genocide and who are studying the similarities between all of the genocides in the last 100 years, so looking at the 10 years preceding genocide. And if we know what the pattern is, maybe we can intervene sooner.
As they disturbingly continue, the answer isn’t violence, but neither is your silence: