Thomas de Waal’s Futile Attempt at Trivializing the Armenian Genocide

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Thomas de Waal

BY SETO BOYADJIAN, ESQ.

“A half-truth is a whole lie” – Yiddish proverb

Thomas de Waal is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has penned an article, “The G-Word – The Armenian Massacre and the Politics of Genocide,” that will appear in the upcoming January-February 2015 issue of Foreign Affairs. This article is the precursor of his forthcoming book, “Great Catastrophe: Armenians and Turks in the Shadow of Genocide.” Given the timing of the publication of this article and the book, it is obvious that Mr. de Waal opens the first salvo of Turkish denialism against the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.

Mr. de Waal is an analyst who has repeatedly focused on Armenian-Azerbaijani relations over the issue of the independent Republic of Nagorno Karabakh and on Armenian-Turkish relations over the issue of the Armenian Genocide. But he has a peculiar way of showing integrity in his approach to these two fundamental issues.

It is peculiar because, as an “expert” in conflict resolution, Mr. de Waal utilizes the old gimmick of double standard. On the issue of Nagorno Karabakh, he is an ardent proponent of changing the status quo – in favor of Azerbaijan and against Armenia. On the issue of the Armenian Genocide, he is an avid defender of maintaining the status quo – in favor of Turkey and against Armenia. As it is obvious, for Mr. de Waal the concept of justice is a variable in his approach to conflict resolution, depending on the identity of the party to the conflict.

Given his biased reputation on issues involving Armenia and Armenians, Mr. de Waal’s article did not strike any intellectual surprises on the side of justice and truth in conflict resolutions. Through this article, his entire endeavor amounts to a futile attempt at trivializing the Armenian Genocide in order to reach his proposed conclusion that it is time for Armenians to “bury their grandparents and receive an acknowledgment from the Turkish state of the terrible fate they suffered.”

We should look beyond this insulting “advice” and, instead, focus on the facts Mr. de Waal advances in support of his conclusion. We must bear in mind that his attempt is to transform the Armenian Genocide into a non-existing issue.

First, he claims that Armenians “discovered” Genocide in 1960s. According to Mr. De Waal, for decades the “event of the Great Catastrophe” were “more a matter of private grief than public record;” that they spent more effort “fighting the Soviet Union rather than Turkey;” and that only in the 1960s did they “seriously revive” the massacres “as a public political issue” by being inspired from the “Holocaust consciousness.”

In making these blatant statements Mr. de Waal conveniently overlooks the facts that as of the beginning of 1920s Armenians expressed their collective consciousness of the Catastrophe and voiced their claims for reparations. It is true that they did not refer to it as Genocide, as they could not, because that term came into existence in 1944, when Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin coined it based on the Ottoman massacres of Armenians. Until that time, Armenians presented themselves to the world and to Turkey as claimants of their national heritage destroyed by Ottoman Turkey and of their national homeland occupied by Turkey. As the world turned a blind eye on Armenian demands for justice, in the 1920s they organized their own “Nuremberg trials” by punishing the chief organizers and perpetrators of the Armenian massacres – namely, Talaat pasha, Enver pasha, Jemal Azmi, Behaeddin Shakir, Jivanshi Bey, and so on… At the same time, Armenians established the Delegation of the Republic of Armenia to officially pursue their claims for territorial and economic reparations from Turkey.

Contrary to Mr. de Waal’s claims, Armenians actively pursued their claims for justice since the 1920s; at the same time they remembered their grandparents and they will do so forever.

Second, Mr. de Waal displays his irritation over the use of the word “Genocide” in reference to the Armenian massacres. He credits Raphael Lemkin for inventing that terminology and lobbying the United Nations for the adoption of the 1948 Genocide Convention. However, he attempts to discredit Lemkin as a “problematic personality;” he criticizes the ambiguity of the Genocide Convention; and he deplores the exploitation of the word Genocide. With that he arrives at the notion that “The Armenian Diaspora saw the word as a perfect fit to describe what happened” to them, thereby helping “activate a new political movement…”

Mr. de Waal ignores the fact that even back in 1944, when Raphael Lemkin coined the term Genocide he invoked the Armenian case as a definitive example of Genocide in the 20th century. Lemkin described the crime of Genocide as the “systematic destruction of a whole national, racial or religious groups. The sort of thing that Hitler did to the Jews and the Turks did to the Armenians.”

Mr. de Waal also ignores the records that the United Nations enacted on December 11, 1946, its first resolution on Genocide, known as UN General Assembly Resolution 95(1). Thereafter, on December 9, 1948, it adopted the UN Genocide Convention. Both the resolution and the convention recognized the Armenian Genocide as the type of crime the United Nations intended to prevent by codifying the existing customary international rules and standards. Again, in 1948, the UN War Crimes Commission invoked the Armenian Genocide as being “precisely . . . one of the types of acts which the modern term ‘crimes against humanity’ is intended to cover as a precedent for the Nuremberg tribunals.” Thereafter, in 1985, the UN Commission on Human Rights report, entitled ‘Study of the Question of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,’ invoked the Armenian massacres as an example of genocide. In the report, the UN commission stated, “The Nazi aberration has unfortunately not been the only case of genocide in the twentieth century. Among other examples, which can be cited as qualifying, are . . . the Ottoman massacre of Armenians in 1915-1916.”

As the official records stand, the Armenians did not see the word Genocide “as a perfect fit,” it was the United Nations who, on behalf of the world governments, established and declared through its resolutions and the Genocide Convention that genocidal acts of Ottoman Turkey against Armenians and of Nazi Germany against Jews are Genocide.

Third, according to Mr. de Waal, even if the word Genocide is granted to the Armenian massacres, the U.N. Genocide Convention does not have retroactive applicability. He claims, without identifying them that “Most international legal opinions are clear that the UN Genocide Convention carries no retroactive force and therefore could not be invoked to bring claims on dispossessed property.”

Again, Mr. de Waal makes blanket statements without any substantiation in fact or in law. And once again, he conveniently ignores the record, the law and the facts. The provisions of the Genocide Convention carry ex post facto applicability. They are indeed enforceable retroactively based on the following points:

1. The dual vocation of the Genocide Convention in preventing and punishing the perpetrator of the crime of Genocide provides the necessary basis for its retroactivity;

2. The retribution mandated by the Genocide Convention makes it retroactive, because, besides being condemned and punished for the crime of Genocide, the perpetrator of the crime is also not to be allowed to keep the fruits of the crime;

3. The Genocide Convention is declaratory of a pre-existing internationally recognized wrongful act, thereby giving rise to both state responsibility and individual penal liability. As such, the convention is not creating a new criminal law.

4. To provide solid legal grounds to the foregoing points, on November 26, 1968 the UN adopted the Convention on the Non-Applicability of the Statutory Limitation on War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity. This convention eliminated any time bar on the crime of genocide. Thus, the provisions of the Genocide Convention are applicable to any crime of genocide, irrespective of the time of its commission.

Mr. de Waal makes many other unsubstantiated statements in his attempt at trivializing the Armenian Genocide. He twists facts, to serve his purpose, as if to confirm Mark Twain’s observation to “get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

In the final analysis, Mr. de Waal’s entire attempt is based on uttering half-truths. And as the wise Yiddish proverb asserts, “A half-truth is a whole lie.”

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35 Comments

  1. Hratch said:

    Why is this Mr. Waal not being questioned, challenged or reprimanded by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace? Does this not reflect negatively on the whole institution?

    From the looks of things, this was not an opinion piece, it was penned by a Senior Associate. The complaint should be directed towards the institution that advances this type of denial policy.

    • Mike said:

      Hratch, re your question about Carnegie Endowment for International Peace allowing de Waa to push his anti-Armenian agenda… these days many think tanks resemble septic tanks.

  2. Raffi said:

    Asbarez Staff,

    While I agree that de Waal’s article lacks a coherent objective assessment, to assume that

    “Mr. de Waal ignores the fact that even back in 1944, when Raphael Lemkin coined the term Genocide he invoked the Armenian case as a definitive example of Genocide in the 20th century”

    is not true.

    Here is an excerpt from de Waal’s article:

    “As he [Lemkin] would later explain in a television interview, “I became interested in genocide because it happened so many times. It happened to the Armenians, and after the Armenians, Hitler took action.” 
”

    de Waal’s acknowledges that Lemkin coined the word ‘genocide’ as a term of what happened to Armenians.

  3. Norin said:

    A Englishman with Jewish ancestry making anti-armenian declarations again through propaganda outlets, nothing new here. These low life’s need to be dealt with the same way we Armenins used to deal with propagandists in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.

  4. Krikor Sarkissian said:

    Unfortunately persons like Mr. de Waal under the guise “intellectual” make statements that does not coincide with reality In my humble opinion those type are pseudo intellectuals.Usually they are driven with a per-concieved ideas before they do their scientific research.
    The Yiddish proverb’s assertion is absolutely. Just like saying “someone is half pregnant”.

  5. Zaven Zakarian said:

    Thomas de Waal’s article should be seen as part of a wider effort by Armenia’s enemies -in whatever shape or form they present themselves- to attack Armenia on the eve of genocide’s centenary. This article appears to work in tandem with similar articles that have appeared in Jewish publications in recent days by Jewish individuals echoing Baku’s racist approach to smear Armenia in the international arena. Although written in a more refined tone and with an appropriate academic language, Thomas de Waal’s article joins the other less refined propagandists in attacking and mocking Armenians, with their “eye-roll-inducing” tiresome demand for genocide recognition.

    Had the article been confined to only expressing personal views one would say he has a right to it, but in this case he goes out of his way to imply that Armenians are not respecting their dead ancestors (I guess he means confining ourselves in praying for their souls in churches) by pursuing the “futile” campaigns of international genocide recognition. In this regard, de Waal is ostensibly echoing some “thoughtful Armenians” who find such futile efforts as disrespecting the memory of our massacred ancestors.

    What I find the most outrageous aspect of this article is the inclusion of a racist Turkish website to construct his arguments. Such sites not only should not be used as a reference source, but altogether not mentioned at all in any serious academic study. The fact that this website is included in his article speaks volumes about his true intentions.

    I think it is incumbent on all of us to scream as loudly as we can. Not just be satisfied by posting comments on “comment section”, which can easily be deleted, as is the case with the Foreign Affairs website where all commentaries have been wiped clean as of today, but also write letters to the editor and politely complain about the printing of such frivolous and mocking articles in the name of “academic” study.

    De Waal’s article also appears regularly on the Website of Carnegie Endowment website, where there also is reluctance in publishing so-called “impolite” responses.

    http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/12/16/g-word-armenian-massacre-and-politics-of-genocide/hwp9

  6. Lazo said:

    Dear Mr. Seto Boyajian,

    Thank you for your lucid and powerful article.

    We Armenians often get lambasted for “preaching to ourselves.” However, when we do try to reach out to the world through the mainstream media, we are often purposely betrayed, silenced, co-opted, misquoted and put through the rigors in an attempt to divide and conquer our global community.

    This post is to encourage writers such as yourself to keep writing for the ARMENIAN PRESS, where the truth can be printed, absorbed and circulated by those who wish to tell, hear and learn from it.

    Long live the free (Armenian) press.

  7. Greg c. said:

    We know Carnegie Endowment has high Turkish influence, the Turkish ambassadors and foreign affair visitors often find platform for their appearances at Carnagie.
    Should investigate the funding sources of the organization and discredit them based on financial influence.

    GC

    • stepannos said:

      If my memory serves me right, we had an Armenian gentleman who was the head of Carnegie endowment he was also the head of N.Y. library at the time. May be some one could look in to this. The Armenians should demand his firing from this great institution. Stepannos

    • Alex Postallian said:

      It’s called back pocket money( bribes),like most of our diplomatic corps,sending us false messages,on jerky turkey,they built the erromonkey,a palace on billions the U.S. gave them,A $ 5.00 monkey,would be too much….

  8. Bagratuni said:

    Well done Mr Boyadjian. A very good expose of a long-time scoundrel masquerading as an academic and researcher. This Wally boy sold his soul for Baku petro dollars long time ago. His Black Garden is the best proof of that where he “cleverly” blames Armenians for provoking Turkish barbarity in Sumgait and Baku, to give just one example. More a case of indulging in the oldest profession in the world than 30 pieces of silver in his case considering the consistency of his output over the years. He is now serving a better paying client: Turkish racist-nationalist denialism has set aside big budgets for 2015, so expect more of the same shameless and shallow propaganda from the same stable in the months ahead.

  9. Jove said:

    I never listen to this nincompoop of de Waal, nor bother to read his emitic ruminations. He is an anti Armenian plant. There is nothing impartial about the scandalous pen of this conjurer, distorter of historical analyses. In any case who appointed him to the chair of Armenia and Caucasus studies ? The problem with this malodorous character is that he does not get challenged.

  10. krikor said:

    – Turkey, far weaker than the US, has never shied away from stating its view be that against the US, Israel, or the EU. Also, Russia, France, and Iran have recognized the AG and France went on doing business with them as usual. So, there is no reason for the US not to call a spade a spade
    As for turkey’s loyalty, I think it is clear that Turkey on the popular and governmental level is as anti-America as it gets. It is a very disloyal ally that has nothing but contempt towards America and is still acting as an ally because the US is the most powerful country on earth and beings friends with the US brings many benefits. In terms of values

  11. krikor said:

    The Armenians are not degrading the memory of their ancestry, the American politicians’ actions—saving those who have undertaken the moral high ground—reflects the sorry state of politics in general and the US in particular. After all “between politics and prostitution there is a step” and politics is a step lower.

    • Alex Postallian said:

      Get This;We give the turks billions,they turn around and bribe our polticians,and pseudo diplomats, to give us false info…It’s called back pocket money..

  12. krikor said:

    It is impossible to persuade the Turkish government—akp—and other Turkish Islmaists, nationalist—kemalists, and ultra-nationalists—MHP and groups to their right on Turkish political spectrum because, these people do not see Armenians as equal human beings. They, the majority of Turks, “knowing the history they’ve been taught” still dehumanize the Armenians and view them as the aggressors. This is dangerous because, the same mentality, motives, and approach that lead to the annihilation of the Armenians is clearly still alive and could be unleashed to commit another ultimate crime. The political party that is supported by majority of Turks wants to bring back the Ottoman Empire—in one way or another—to life. It sees that there is nothing wrong but, everything glorious and merrycious about that Empire.
    The Turkish counterclaims are worrying, extremely worrying because they are rife with the same conspiracy theories that lead to the annihilation of the Armenians. Today, Jews, Alewites, Kurds, Greeks, and, Assyrians etc. as well as the Armenians still live in an environment of extreme prejudice and chocking discrimination.
    Ironically, Erdogan, like many Turks think they have a righteous history and goes on to accuse people and countries of perpetrating Genocide. When he talks about justice, equality, and human rights one thinks that this is not the president of Turkey but, the president of Switzerland.
    As many Turkish liberal commentators state that Turkey keeps reproducing itself with new wrapping. To this day anyone who disagrees with anyone is labeled as a traitor there. Erdogan accused those who sell contraceptives of treason. Such an accusation could lead to death!
    Recognizing Genocide is a necessity today to shame the mentality that, at least in ultimate objectives is close to the ISIS up until today, and in ways and means it is the predecessor. It is important to recognize to prompt people in Turkey and the broader Middle East to question the conventional wisdom they know and to critically think about their past. Maybe then, just maybe a reformation will start in that part of the world.

  13. krikor said:

    As for Erdogan’s statement last April about the suffering of the Armenians: What does he mean by shared pain? Did the swordsman wrist ache when he beheaded an Armenian? Did the muscles of this who carried the stone to crush the skull of Armenians ache when lifting heavy stones? Were militants’ fingers at pain for pulling the trigger to kill Armenians?
    The worse and most painful explanation was penned down in an op-ed by Turkey’s deputy prime minister Emrullah Ishler in the Arabic Asharq Al Awsat newspaper on May 20, 2014. That op-ed is a must read. It says it all regarding what Erdogan meant by his statement!
    Further, the Ottoman Empire willfully participated in WWI. As a result Turks suffered and were killed. It is tragic and they did not deserve but, what do Armenians have to do with that? It was the decision of Ittihad and Tarraki.
    Btw, an Armenian saved Enver pasha when the ottoman army lost a battle with the Russians in the caucuses. However, enver was one of architects of the Armenian genocide. He blamed the Armenians for his loss even though it was his (Enver’s) military ineptness that lead to the destruction of the army he headed. Of course, he was a narcissistic megalomaniac who thought he was a “military genius.”
    Those who say Armenians were annihilated because they cooperated with invading forces conveniently forget that the annihilation started in the end of the 19th century—remember the Adana massacres. There was betrayal but, it was not Armenians who betrayed Turks!

  14. krikor said:

    The excuses and pretexts are many but, the ottomans started the extermination of Armenians decades before WWI. The massacres started under the reign of Sultan Abdul-Hamid the second and extended into the republican era. Hitler too considered the Jews treacherous and took that as a pretext or alibi to the holocaust.
    Regardless of the fact that Turkey is an ally or not, one should recognize the gravest crime against humanity. Borrowing from PM Netanyahu’s book “one needs only to be human to recognize” genocide.

  15. krikor said:

    – Should we get rid of democracy also because, Russia, Iraq under Saddam, Syria, Libya under Qaddafi etc. all claimed that they are democracies? It is the job of the sane people to be arbitrators. This is the gravest crime ever and it is bound to be exploited but, who can occult the sun?!
    It seems that Americans also punished an entire ethnic group because of the deeds of few when the Turkish consul was killed in LA.
    The US, instead of succumbing to Turkish embezzlement and terror, must do the morally right and the practically right thing and recognize the crime as it is: Genocide. Had it been done in 2007 or 1990s this would not be an issue today

  16. krikor said:

    These people conveniently forget that the term Genocide was coined by the polish/American diplomat Raphael Lemkin who wanted to define the annihilation of the Armenians and the Jewish holocaust. Therefore, one cannot simply avoid the term Genocide when describing the fate of the Armenians because, the term was coined (it came into existence) in the first place to describe the fate of the Armenians.
    So, if one accepts the term—Genocide—and its definition then, it becomes unavoidable to describe the annihilation of Armenians as Genocide

  17. Serop Mardirossian said:

    For God’s sake Seto Boyadjian! how did you arrive at such conclusions. I am a subscriber to the Foreign Affairs. So after I read your article no sooner than I got my copy I read the article penned by Thomas de Waal.His was a recapitulation of the events associated with the Armenian Genocide. I thought it was a thoughtful article looking at the issue from different perspectives, a practice to which any scholar is entitled. I did not detect any animosity, ill will or anti-Armenianism in this particular article.So let us not see enemies when none exists. If people say things different than what we like, let us challenge them on the specific point(s) rather than damning them ad nauseum.I think it might do us good to consider some of his ideas to create a common vision among us, Armenians, as to what we expect from Turkey IF one day by an incredible miraculous decision this so called “democratic” country comes to a conclusion that the criminal act perpetrated by its predecessors constituted a genocidal act and as a result we come out of this current impasse. What next? Who will represent the Armenian side? What is our strategy and what are our achievable demands.

    • Annie mellen said:

      A voice of reason – could you be that ‘Wise Old Armenian’ needed to broker a peace ?

  18. Hamasdegh said:

    It seems readers we are being over sensitive on issues that we need to discuss frankly, at the risk of hearing things we do not like hearing. There will be always people who for some reason or the other have a different perspective of the Armenian Genocide. The more we let them air their views, the better for us to articulate a response so that these issues are addressed once and for all. In the meantime what about a Pan-Armenian Research Center ( a truly Pan-Armenian) that addresses such issues on an authoritative, official fashion representing historical, political, human rights issues etc. in a comprehensive fashion of behalf of the Diaspora.Do you get me?

  19. Diran said:

    The following quotations from de Waal’s piece convey the inescapable fact that the Ottoman government committed genocide against the Armenians.
    1. One hundred years ago this April, the Ottoman Empire began a brutal campaign of deporting and destroying its ethnic Armenian community.
    2. The huge volume of primary source material, combined with Armenian oral histories, authenticates the veracity of what Armenians recall.
    3. Dink’s insights suggest that the word “genocide” may be the correct term but . . . .

    But–for some reason he calls it “the massacre” in the title of the article. That is like calling the Holocaust “the gassing”. The word massacre designates a violent act occurring in a short time in one particular place,
    not a whole program of extermination which uses every available means to destroy the selected group across a wide geographical area over a period of several years. No, that is simply not what massacre means, and he should know it. But–having completely misused the word ‘massacre’, he moves on to mistranslating ‘yeghern’ which, if he had done his research like a true scholar, he would have found out means ‘crime’ in Armenian not ‘catastrophe’. But that wouldn’t have fit in with his purpose: to depict Armenians as late-comers to the g-word who latched onto it only in the 1960s and, then, only for ulterior reasons.

    His piece represents the propaganda war that Turkey has been waging behind the scenes to deal with Armenian demands for genocide recognition not by outright, crude denial but by casting doubt on the very concept of genocide as well as the character of its author, Raphael Lemkin.

  20. Hratch said:

    Perhaps Vartan Gregorian can add his opinion on this issue. After all, he is the president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Carnegie Corporation has helped to establish and endowed a variety of institutions, including the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

  21. RZ said:

    Mr. de Waal, “A Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace” Wow! That must qualify you to insult the victims of the Armenian Genocide. If you listened to the eye-witness accounts of our grandparants who walked the desert to escape death, your conscience would have stopped you.

    Had you visited DeirZor, Syria and talked to the locals there, and learned about the pain & suffering that they witnessed during the genocide, I would have respected you. If you read 1915-1918 world newspapers along with US Amb. Henry Morgenthau’s cables, you would have thought twice before uttering your nonesense.

    How would you feel if some like you said the ‘Jewish Holocaust’ was an old wives’ tail? Insulting, right?
    How could you sleep at night, knowing full well that you are adopting the aggrssors’ criminal narrative?

    I am not sure why you decided to sell-out and cash-in on this issue, risking your reputation, intagrity and the intagrity of your institution. I hope it was worth it!

    Try reading a couple of books on the subject first, it may awake your dead conscience!
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5022464-armenian-golgotha https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/866656.Ambassador_Morgenthau_s_Story?from_search=true

    And since your obviuosly too lazy to do real research, here is the short version: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Genocide

  22. Vahe said:

    Foreign Affairs is a publication of the “prestigious” CFR: Council on Foreign Relations.
    It is full of Kissinger types.
    It has hundreds of members, but you can’t simply “join”. You must be invited in and approved.
    I doubt if more than a handful of its members, IF EVEN THAT MANY – and I have read the membership list in the past – acknowledge the Armenian genocide. Even the nicey-nicey liberals in the organization would not acknowledge the Genocide. That is how far gone it is.
    These are people largely without a conscience no matter on which side of the political spectrum they fall.
    So it is not surprising that FA has published De Waal’s “piece”.
    Notice the word “peace” name Carnegie Endowment for International “Peace”. What a joke.
    The word “war” would be more appropriate, or maybe “genocide”.

  23. 2.6 said:

    There was an article in the London Review of Books with the same title a few years back. DeWaal is ripping off Mark Mazower, the author of that piece.

  24. Raffi Bairamian said:

    At the eve of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide , I expect to see more De Waals , the so-called “educated” people publishing Anti – Armenian articles . Those people have sold their morals and values for a hanfull of dollars from their turkish masters. Shame on them .

  25. John Ibelin said:

    Although Seto has written a powerful (if a bit long) response, it will remain ineffective because it is in an Armenian publication. This article belongs in a wide circulation non-Armenian journal.

  26. Jack Kalpakian said:

    No one should have any “personal” issue with De Waal. He is just a Western mouthpiece with a mission — divert attention from Western responsibility for what took place and to remove any calls for a change of policy towards Turkey by the US and the rest of the West. That is all. Carnagie and other Western outfits are parastatal, they can not be thought of as independent of the US Foreign Policy establishment, regardless of their official status as private NGOs.

  27. Annie mellen said:

    What good will the humiliatiion of the Turks before the rest of the world do to help the Armenians ?
    Is it not possible for one wise old Armenian and one wise old Turk to say
    ‘This happened, it was terrible and it must never happen again’ and to take hands and go forward together ?
    We are supposed to be Christian and should try to remember what Jesus Christ taught us and set an example of forgiveness and peace, instead of stirring up yet more hatred.

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