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COLUMNIST

History’s open wounds

Posted: Apr 26, 2015 at 12:02 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Sunday

One of my uncles had a phobia for the Voice of America (VOA) because of the kind of news it often spewed whenever he tuned to the radio station: 300 killed…, 53 shot…, 85 people have died…, 124 have drowned… “Are these human beings that spent nine months in their mothers’ wombs or just ants and flies?” he would scream.

I have felt like Uncle Simon as I read and watched on TV the story of the first genocide recorded in human history. It happened in the same year my uncle was born (1915) in the Ottoman Empire or present-day Turkey. On April 24 of that year, the “Young Turks” started the mass slaughter of scholars and political leaders from their nation’s Christian minority called Armenians. The victims were ambushed by soldiers and Kurdish gangs who received instructions from Ottoman government officials. For the next four or five years, the massacres continued until they claimed the lives of an estimated 1, 500, 000 innocent men, women and children. Human skulls littered roads, mountains and valleys as the victims were pursued up to the borders with Syria.

As Armenians mark the centenary of the genocide, the debate among world leaders has been over the number of those killed, not whether the evil happened or not. The Turkish authorities deny it was a genocide, but they have not stated what it was. Just a war crime? Or no crime at all? The old pictures I have seen on television and in newspapers are not those of skulls of birds or decaying corpses of wild animals. The only excuse invented to justify the genocide was that the Turks feared the Armenians would join Russia at the time, during World War I.

History has a way of telling us that evil has been in the world from ancient times. Evil people have also controlled governments that authorised the massacres of civilians and provoked wars between nations. Does it mean the rulers of this world do not learn any good lessons from history? The “Young Turks” of 1915 might have killed 1.5million Armenians during the war; we read, however, that World War I killed about 17million people – 10million soldiers and 7million civilians.

My uncle that used to lament the daily killings as reported by VOA did so, not because he was a coward but because he had human feelings especially at old age. Until he died in 2006, he often wondered when human beings would come to their senses and live in a world without wars and wickedness. As a combatant himself during World War II (1939-45), he witnessed the devastation of the war first-hand.

Again, history tells us that the World War II killed about 80million beings created in the image and likeness of God. The number included 6million Jews exterminated by bloodthirsty Hitler and his gang during the Holocaust. Since the end of World War II, there have been no fewer than 200 other wars provoked by megalomaniac leaders and their wicked collaborators. Rwanda of 1994 still evokes ugly memories, as does Vietnam of the ‘50s to ‘70s. At present, the monsters, now branded “terrorists”, are preaching vile doctrines and wreaking havoc in every nook and cranny of the world.

Sometime in August 1975, I asked an older friend whether the stories we read in history books were true or simply manufactured to entertain us. He told me they were all true and that when the story of the coup in Nigeria then that ousted Yakubu Gowon and led to Murtala Muhammad’s takeover would be told, those who were not alive when it happened would think it was made up. Whenever I hear people like the Turks deny the disaster caused by their ancestors, I remember my friend’s words. We were children then; now we are nearing old age.

Let the Turks of today admit the atrocities committed by their fathers. They should tell the truth and apologise to the Armenians and the entire world. Attacking anyone who suggested that a genocide happened (including the Pope) will not help matters. Are they ashamed of their past? They should make up for it by discouraging similar acts happening in the world today. After all, even we Nigerians have a shameful past: the civil war that happened in the late 1960s killed almost an equal number of people (1.5million), most of them unarmed civilians.

“Conscience is an open wound; only truth can heal it,” said Uthman dan Fodio. Those words also constitute the motto of The Guardian newspaper of Nigeria. Fodio was right.