Leo: Hochberg: Alternative Paths to Reconciliation After the Armenian Genocide

In a recent blog post that I wrote concerning reconciliation and forgiveness for the Armenian Genocide, I noted briefly my own predictions on the near future of acknowledgement on behalf of Erdogan’s government, and, predicated upon that, the future of forgiveness and reconciliation:

“[T]his is the era of nationalism. Brexit, the American election, and Marine Le Pen’s campaign name, ‘Madame Frexit’, are just three examples of sickening modern nationalism that have swept across the world in the past year. Turkey has hardly escaped that either, and given that toxic nationalism is inherently non-conducive to reconciliation with any minority that is still considered an ‘outgroup’, immediate chances of an acknowledgement of genocide on the part of Erdogan’s government look bleak”.

Thus, forgiveness must pursue other avenues in the meantime if reconciliation is to be achieved. This brings into question whether acknowledgement is indeed necessary to promote forgiveness as opposed to just one of many potential paths. A significant body of scholarship disagrees – of note here is Paula Green’s perspective: “Acknowledgment is the cornerstone upon which apology, remorse, reparations, and reconciliation can be built. While extremely difficult for members of perpetrating communities, acknowledgment is essential for victims, allowing them to feel that violators and bystanders at least recognize their losses and grief,” (Green, 261). And yet, I believe that a counterargument can be made for the circumvention of forgiveness post-genocide if the victim elects to offer it in their own best interest. It is not an easy path, and requires enormous personal introspection and fortitude on behalf of individuals, but given that the standard path of ‘acknowledgement precedes apology precedes forgiveness precedes reconciliation’ is barred for the time being, moving forward without a Turkish statement of admission may be the only means of securing a healthy ethnoracial future for the Armenian diaspora. One might look to Christian and Islamic ethicists for the answer, as these two religions promote forgiveness as required and virtuous, respectively, regardless of circumstance, and can certainly illuminate some possible paths towards forgiving by means of self-development and religious fulfillment.

Anthony Bash considers just this in his writing on unconditional forgiveness. For that is what is necessary here – forgiveness on the part of a group that may receive nothing in return, and objectively has no standing motivation to initiate the process of reconciliation. He begins by citing a personal anecdote of a woman he knew, a Christian missionary who went to preach the gospels in a dangerous and unwelcoming area. She was attacked, violated, her home was destroyed, and she suffered some forms of PTSD for years afterwards. Despite this tragedy, she indeed managed to find forgiveness through faith for attackers that, because of their unknown identities, will almost certainly never be found or receive justice for their crimes. This she attributes to God, who she claims helped her to heal emotionally and to forgive almost immediately. This situation is of course different in many aspects from that of the Armenians. The missionary woman did not know the identity of her assailants and thus there will never be a chance at retributive or punitive justice, which is counter to the simple fact that the survivors and descendants of the Armenian Genocide know exactly who their persecutors were. But it still proves that one can forgive unconditionally as a means of continuing an internal narrative of overcoming past tragedies for which there may be no possibility of revenge or acknowledgement. Furthermore, Bash argues that, “[A] victim may model an act of unconditional love and mercy that stimulates the wrongdoer into repenting… and in consequence be important for the further healing and restoration of the wrongdoer,” (Bash, 66-7). In this paradigm, Bash notes that perhaps the Armenians do indeed have something to gain – their unconditional forgiveness may uplift the Turkish government in the eyes of the international community, thus jump starting the process of reconciliation from the victim’s side as opposed to the persecutor’s side. Bash supports this argument by referring to the fundamental Christian truth that, “Forgiveness is not earned; neither is it deserved. It is the gift of the forgiver, given in response to the ideal that it is morally virtuous to forgive,” (89). Since the Armenians are majority Christian, this is of special relevancy to their futures as both an ethnoracial and religious identity. Muslim ethics may not carry as much weight here as Christian ethics in predicating internal narratives of forgiveness, but given Islam’s general sway on the decision and cultural norms of the Caucasus and Anatolia, it worth uplifting that the Islamic assignment of virtuousness to forgiveness supports some forms of unconditional forgiveness as well.

Al-Ghazali puts together a handy compendium of teachings concerning forgiveness for those who do wrong, particularly as a means of promoting friendship and brotherhood amongst sinners and wrongdoers. A common Hadith of the Prophet states, “Go steady in loving your friend, for he may one day become your foe. Go steady in hating your foe, for he may become your friend one day,” (Ghazali, 69). In the case of a significantly more complex international and interethnic example of forgiveness, it may be difficult to apply such simple Hadith notions of ultimately befriending one’s enemies, but the logic of keeping oneself open to the possibility of loving one’s enemies is distinctly applicable here. That there is no necessary Islamic precedent for forgiveness does not change the fact that if the door of reconciliation is locked on one side, it may not be opened from either. It is critical now more than ever that the international Armenian community approach this situation with an attitude of openness towards unconditional forgiveness, given that, as mentioned above, traditional paths appear to be closed for the time being. Al-Ghazali furthers this conversation by introducing the concept of brotherhood. “[I]t is neither blameworthy nor reprehensible to avoid initiating brotherhood and fellowship; indeed some authorities hold that is it preferable to go one’s own way. But as for interrupting the continuance of brotherhood, that is forbidden and intrinsically blameworthy,” (65). Here, Al-Ghazali upholds the sanctity of forgiveness as a means of promoting friendship of any kind, be it between individuals, ethnic groups, or nations. This does not necessarily demand forgiveness from an injured party, but it does maintain that actively preventing it in order to disestablish the possibility of brotherhood (which can be seen on an international scale as akin to reconciliation) is inherently condemnable.

I recognize that none of these paths to achieving ethnoracial liberation for Armenians are ideal. I also recognize that acknowledgement is by far the most supported and accessible means of obtaining that ideal. But in a world where elements that are non-conducive to interethnic recognition and solidarity are on the rise, those elements must be combatted through seeking other forms of reconciliation. The paths mentioned above of openness to brotherhood and seeking personal narratives of forgiveness are two means by which the international Armenian community can indeed make a great positive impact on the world. On an international scale, the road of forgiveness always ends with reconciliation, but in truth, it may start anywhere, be it with acknowledgement, openness, education, or attention to personal development. All of these things can be a strong first step in promoting a more peaceful and reconciliatory international community for all.

 

Citations:

Bash, Anthony. Forgiveness and Christian ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Ghazzālī, Muhtar Holland. The duties of brotherhood in Islam. Leicester: Islamic Foundation, 2002.

Kalayjian, Ani, Raymond F. Paloutzian, and Paula Green. Forgiveness and reconciliation: psychological pathways to conflict transformation and peace building. Dordrecht: Springer, 2009.