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Armenia's lost voices

April 21, 2015

The planned extermination of Armenians started a century ago. To remember all the voices lost, Armenian texts will be read worldwide on Tuesday. Yet recognizing the massacres as genocide remains politically contentious.

Armenien Völkermord Gedenkstätte
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Koerbel

April 24 is commemorated by Armenians as Genocide Remembrance Day. A hundred years ago on this day, hundreds of Armenian intellectuals, musicians, poets, community leaders and members of the clergy were arrested in Constantinople (now Istanbul).

The international literature festival berlin (ilb) and the Lepsiushaus Potsdam launched a call for a worldwide reading of literary texts by Armenian authors, as well as excerpts of Varujan Vosganian's "The Book of Whispers," which describes the horrors of the deportations and the extermination methods used by the Ottoman forces.

Political controversy

There is no international consensus on the recognition of the term "genocide" in reference to the "Medz Yeghern," the Armenian expression meaning "great catastrophe."

Less than two dozen countries formally recognize the mass murders as genocide. Many others, such as German and US officials, still sidestep the contentious term, fearing to damage relations with the Turkish government. However, the German government seems to be set to follow France and the European parliament in using the 'G-word'. Turkey refuses to refer to the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman army as "genocide." In the run-up to the centenary, Pope Francis did use the word at a Vatican mass and infuriated Ankara.

Armenien Völkermord
In 1915 Armenians were marched long distances and said to have been massacredImage: picture-alliance/AP Images

Support from Nobel Prize laureates

The initiators of the worldwide reading remind that these events were well documented by several international sources. As stated in their appeal, "As early as August 1915, 'The New York Times' reported on a methodically planned program of ethnic cleansing and extermination which was unprecedented in history up to that time. The German Reich's government, which was allied to the Ottoman Empire, reached the same conclusions without undertaking anything against what was happening."

More than 300 authors from all over the world are supporting this initiative, among them the laureates for the Nobel Prize for Literature Mario Vargas Llosa, Herta Müller, Elfriede Jelinek, Orhan Pamuk and John M. Coetzee.

On Tuesday April 21, over a hundred literary events will be held in more than 30 countries. No Turkish event has been announced. The complete list of participants can be found on the initiative's website www.worldwide-reading.com.

eg/jb (AFP/Reuters/worldwide-reading.com)