Saturday, August 17, 2019

Armin Wegner

From The Irish Times:
What fascinated me about Wegner was not that he was witness to the attempted destruction of an entire race, or that he wanted to photograph such unspeakable horror, but that he had the bravery to do so. I wondered how many of us would have risked our lives to speak out as he had. Wegner continued to advocate for Armenians after the war, and at the Paris Peace Conference he lobbied Woodrow Wilson to create a sovereign Armenian state. The Independent Republic of Armenia was formed by the Treaty of Sèvres in 1918 but lasted only two years before being conquered by the Soviet Red Army. It would be another 71 years before it gained independence again. Wegner also testified at the trial of Soghomon Tehlirian, an Armenian accused of killing Talat Pasha, one of the instigators of the genocide. Partly due to Wegner’s evidence, Tehlirian was found not guilty on grounds of temporary insanity. 
That day in Taney Church, what came as a surprise was the familiarity the non-Armenians had with the circumstances of the genocide. It is hardly surprising that the invited guests would have thoroughly researched the topic, but it was a new experience for me. Last year I published Anyush, a novel set against the backdrop of the Armenian Genocide, and of all the readers’ comments I received, by far the most common was: “I never knew about this”. 
Most people of my generation will remember the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. More recently we’ve watched the Syrian tragedy unfold. Thanks to Armin Wegner, people of his generation knew about the Armenian Genocide. Because of his photographs and the accounts written by American ambassador Henry Morgenthau, news of the Medz Yeghern or Great Crime spread without the help of mobile phones, communication satellites or the internet. Donations flooded in to help Armenian refugees in the camps at Deir al Zor in the Syrian desert, but to little effect. Of the 45,000 Armenians who made it to Deir al Zor, only 40 remained alive at the end of the war. (Read more.)

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