BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Eighty-five years ago, in this part of January, a man was born who would become one of the luminaries of the 20th century. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) came to lead a movement that initiated a transformation in the United States of America that continues even today.
The struggle for civil rights and equality of the 1950s and 1960s produced many positive results, but also backlash from those who held and abused power prior to that. One of the epitomes of that abuse was the murder of MLK. Along with the assassination of other leaders of the movement and many far-less-well-known activists, the killing took its toll, and the country was deprived of an historic opportunity to take a great leap forward. The presumption of the forces that opposed equality, and by extension, simple human decency and dignity, manifested itself in their self-anointed right to kill people they thought didn’t deserve to live, whether MLK or Bobby Kennedy.
It’s interesting that those murdered by whatever shady forces were “tolerated” until their agenda came to include economic issues, particularly MLK. For me this speaks to where the origins of these murders are.
But why is all this relevant to Armenians and Armenia? Simple. Today, we are confronted with analogous anti-decency, anti-dignity forces. The government in Yerevan cudgels its citizens with horrible and corrupt policies that induce people to emigrate in frightening numbers. In occupied Armenian territories we have a Turkish government that continues its unabated denial, and an egomaniacal Turkish prime minister who proclaims that he’ll be ready for 1915. To the east, we have the “junior Turks” and another egomaniacal leader who rips off his country’s wealth while blaming Armenians for Azerbaijan’s ills and having his snipers violate cease-fire conditions by picking off Armenians across the line of contact. Of course we have the world powers who turn a blind eye to all this while loudly asserting their commitment to peace, stability, economic well being, etc.
These are all grinding away at our “souls” and call for a response. One such response is the non-violent approach adopted by MLK. Activists in the Republic of Armenia have adopted this approach. But there are always questions as to whether this will work. Gandhi used it against the British, as did MLK against the racists of the U.S.
But will this continue to be effective in Yerevan? Would it work against the denialist occupiers of Western Armenia who have a murderous history? Who would dare to try? For that matter, who is THERE to try? What few Armenians live under the Turkish yoke have been understandably reticent, even cowed, and not just because of centuries of murderous Turkish persecution and repression. There is the far more recent murder, seven years ago in this part of January, of another man, one who dared speak truth to Turkish power, Hrant Dink. Even the Kurds, far more numerous than we are in Turkish controlled areas, have resorted to the use of violence.
But undergirding MLK’s approach was a philosophy of love. In our case, a similar ethic must be fully developed. Love of nation and country. Love of dignity. This love will provide the strength to go into “battle” non-violently. Even Gandhi argued that non-violence is not a license for cowardice. On the contrary, the cowards who avoid struggle under the pretense of non-violence earned Gandhi’s withering scorn.
Let’s go the route of putting our bodies peacefully on the line for our ultimate goals. If the Turks and other oppressors respond murderously, there is always the recourse to equal measures.