BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
February focuses attention on Black history since it is designated for that celebration. As a result, the soaring rhetoric of Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. gets heard. And that set my thoughts in motion this year.
The similarities between the Armenian experience under Ottoman rule and that of Africans in the U.S. is surprisingly similar, analogous.
The biggest similarity to my mind is the indignity heaped upon both groups. Long-term second class citizenship is one of the degrading conditions borne. Armenians, as Christians in an empire rule by Islamic precepts effectively had no rights, outside of s very small segment that constituted a financial elite in the capital or who were traders. Our word was not equal to that of a Moslem in the courts. Our women, children, and property could be stolen on some the whim of a local Kurdish or Turkish tribal leader or potentate, and we might even be murdered, with no effective recourse in law. Effectively, we were no more than serfs. Periodically, we were forced to convert or die. Our tongues were cut off if we spoke Armenian. We were slowly being decimated in our own homeland.
Blacks in America lived through Jim Crow segregation. Schools were black or white, and supposedly “separate but equal” even though in reality they were not. Blacks were lynched for perceived offenses against whites, often having often been blamed unjustly. The song “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday is a haunting presentation of this grotesque phenomenon. And this is all AFTER emancipation. Naturally, Africans were deprived of their native languages and religions.
After things “got better” for both groups, the degradation and humiliation continued in different ways.
In our case, we have the ongoing denial. How debasing is that? Not only do we got murdered, robbed, and thrown out of our home, but the culprit sneeringly denies doing anything except maybe, just maybe, having caused a tiny bit of discomfort. Turkey’s wealth, industry, is built on looted Armenian (Assyrian, Greek, plus Jewish) wealth. Our centuries-old architectural heritage is systematically decimated. Even Ani, which nominally enjoys some protection, is an ongoing target of desecration. Human mistreatment also continues. Not only were survivors forced to live as wives of rapists, or children of parents’ murderers, but some Armenians who had “become” Alevis were subsequently massacred when Turkey’s murderous government set its sights on that group, the hidden, or crypto, Armenians are still subjected to discrimination and hatred if they “come out” with their true identity. Turkish society as a whole still resists coming to terms with its sordid past.
And with the black community, a similar process of denial and debasement is evident. One glaring example is the CIA-crack-cocaine-black-Americans connection, designed to destabilize those communities. This was revealed in the “San Jose Mercury News” two decades ago by reporter Gary Webb (who was driven to suicide by the harassment he subsequently received). There is the ongoing killing of blacks by law enforcement, frequently, if not overwhelmingly, inappropriately. The DWB (driving while black/brown) phenomenon has been documented wherein blacks are pulled over disproportionately. Meanwhile, a significant portion of the American population refuses to recognize that a huge chunk of U.S. wealth stems from the stolen labor of black slaves. There is no sense that somehow, this must be repaid.
You seem the parallels. It would be good to have a discussion with your black neighbors, coworkers, or clients. Exchange perspectives on our experiences of oppression. That interaction might even generate modes of cooperation or insights that serve both groups in their struggle for justice.