BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
We talk a lot about the Genocide. We do it fairly well. Of late we’ve even been improving on weaving in the dispossession that attended that greatest of our calamities as we include reparations and lands on our agenda when we put forth our demands.
Yet, there are missing pieces. Some, though not all, have to do with the Turks’ arrival on the Armenian plateau. In both variations, they can reinforce our claims by demonstrating the historical depth of the problem.
This doesn’t make for easy sound-bites, but it is important.
When was the last time any of us explained, in some political/national/international forum, how the Armenian population was weakened, the demographics changed in our highlands, as a consequence of the Turkic arrival there that led to Armenians migrating to Crimea and thence, later , to Poland The impact of tens of thousands or Armenians fleeing the path of advancing murderous hordes is hard to underestimate.
Similarly, when King Senekerim of Van cut a deal with Byzantium a thousand years ago, ceding 72 fortresses, eight cities, 400 villages, and 115 monasteries, in exchange for property in and around Sepasdia (Sepbastia), our population in Van was weakened. Once again, this was due to increasing Seljuk Turkish pressure on Senekerim’s borders, coupled with Byzantine pacification/centralization efforts.
The example with perhaps the most current relevance and living memory is what the Safavid Shah Abbas I of the Persian Empire did in 1604. As most people know, he forcibly moved a huge number of Armenians from Choogha/Joogha/Julfa (in Nakhichevan) and its environs. I have seen figures ranging from 100,000 to 150,000 as the initial expatriation, with half dying along the way to Abbas’ new capital of Isfahan. Certainly, this was no genocidal operation, any more than Senekerim’s move was. In those days, feudal lords and kings did as they pleased with their subjects. In this case, Abbas wanted Armenians for their skills and trades, especially in silk production.
Nevertheless, that demographic blow to Nakhichevan is why Azerbaijan today has legal ownership of the region. Do you think that if 300 years before the establishment of the Soviet Union, that province’s Armenian population had not been so depleted, the Turks/Azeris would have constituted roughly half of the population in the area, “legitimizing” its handover to Baku by Soviet authorities in cahoots with Kemal Ataturk?
Not only is that wound fresh, but the descendents of those moved by Abbas are among us and self aware as such. This came up in conversation some two-three months ago during a Genocide related discussion when a descendent of the relocated Chooghatzees felt “left out” – for want of a better term. Ultimately, it triggered my coming to the conclusion I am setting forth here: We must tell a better story that more integrates the wide variety of dispossessions that have led Armenia and Armenians to the conditions we now face.
Let’s develop and cultivate this broader, more inclusive, and consequently more powerful narrative so we can present it in a compact and impactful manner during all our discussions.