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Ovi Symposium; fifty-third Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2015-06-04 11:17:52
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Mr Nikos Laios, Drs. Paolozzi and Paparella
Fifty-third Meeting: 4 June 2015



Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

abigailAbigail George is an African activist for human rights, a feminist, writer and poet. She has received writing grants from the National Arts Council, Centre for the Book, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council). She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing fulltime. She has written two volumes of poetry, and her latest book is titled Winter in Johannesburg. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. All About My Mother (a collection of short stories) was published by Ovi magazine in July 2012.

laios_01Nikos Laios is a poet, artist, lover of philosophy and student of the human condition, currently writing poetry and producing art; he is also a sculptor, a photographer, widely read in the humanities. He hails from the highlands of Epirus in Greece; greatly influenced by the poetic traditions which have been passed down from his poet ancestor on his maternal side from the island of Cephalonia. He currently resides in North Sydney Australia, is an autodidact and a passionate ‘renaissance’ man, has always been a practical philosopher, throwing himself into the hard questions that life has to offer in search of elusive gems of wisdom.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.


Note to the readers: if you are wondering why the photo of one of our regular collaborators is missing, be informed that Edwin Rywalt, due to urgent family commitments, had to relinquish his pro bono editorial help for the Ovi symposium. We are grateful for the help he gave us in the past and wish him all the best.   


Subtheme of session 53: “Misremembering 20th Century Genocides” 

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Lemkin, Husserl, Petrarch, Descartes, Shoshani, Wiezel, Heidegger, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Aquinas, Derrida, Vico, Plato, Vortaire, Novalis, Mamonides, Paul, Lang, Kant, Dante, Cohen, Rosenweig, Alexander, Baynes, Runciman, Gemistos, Basileios, Scholarios, De Medici, Plotinus, Ramsay, Sinan, Willie, Ackman, Edip, Jacob,Gourewitch, Topouzian, Whitman, Carter, Molelekwa, September,Woolf, Botha, Brutus, Nortje, Biko, Lumumba, Plath, Austen.


Table of Contents for the 53rd Session of the Ovi Symposium (4 June 2015)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “The Holocaust vis a vis the European Philosophical Tradition in Emmanuel Levinas’ Philosophy.” A presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 2:  “The Forgotten Genocides of Asia Minor”  A presentation by Nikos Laios

Section 3: “Genocide.” A presentation by Abigail George


Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella


The late Tony Judt coined the expression “historical misremembering,” referring to the commemoration of the greatest ethical monstrosity of the 20th century: the Holocaust. He observed that while the monuments, the museums, the articles, the works of art commemorating the Holocaust increased year by year, the in- depth discussions and reflections on the phenomenon decreased in inverse proportion. It’s as if Western Civilization by a yearly commemoration wishes to alleviate its guilt on the commemorative day so that it can put the whole thing out of mind and go about its business the rest of the year. In other words, it wishes to have the cake and eat it too. Some have called this yearly commemoration of the Holocaust crocodile tears, for indeed, if we cannot discuss at length the lessons of genocide in general and particularly those of the Holocaust, what good is a commemoration once a year? It’s what Judt labeled “misremembering.”

So, following Nikos Laios’ wise suggestion, we are heeding Judt’s insight on historical amnesia so as to go beyond the mere historical commemoration of various genocides of the 20th century (at least seven can be listed) via a serious in-depth discussion and reflection on the subject. We begin with the examination by Emanuel L. Paparella of the philosophical underpinnings of genocide. The question arises: can philosophy and political science elucidate in some way enormous criminal acts against humanity, or should it heed Wittgenstein’s advice that there are events in the history of humankind when words fail to convey the meaning and the portent of the event, and in that case it is better to simply keep silent, just show the pictures? But alas, even those have been denied by those who are in denial, and not only individuals but nations too. Or, should we heed Derrida’s advise that the risk we run in naming our monsters is that they eventually become our pets?

Be that as it may, with all due respect to those two great philosophers, we at the symposium, and perhaps many of our readers, are of the opinion that it is ethically incumbent on us not to risk giving the impression of apathy and unconcern by exhibiting oblivion or silence before the enormity that is genocide. While it may be true what Nietzsche said, that we remember only what we wish to remember, it is also true that “misremembering” is a very inauthentic mode of remembering and does no honor to the victims of genocide.

True remembering would lead not only to a respectful reflective treatment of the subject, but also to regret, repentance, reparation, reform, designed to insure that a monstrosity such as genocide is not seen again on the face of the earth. We are convinced that without a genuine remembrance and commemoration we run the risk of repeating past mistakes and then having to build new museums and monuments to an even more monstrous ethical failure.

However, as Socrates taught us 2400 years ago, before beginning a discussion it is useful to clarify and determine the terms of what will be discussed, or it will go nowhere and will arrive at precious few if any valid insights. So we ask, and try to determine, what exactly is the definition of genocide? This is important given that nowadays that word has been bandied about to mean just about anything one wants it to mean, not excluding a defensive war. As the slogan goes: truth is whatever I decide it to mean; after all we are all entitled to our own opinions. The clear implication seems to be that we are also all entitled to our own ignorance. Undoubtedly ISIS too has good rational reasons for its sheer barbarity and inhumanity. There is indeed much epistemological and ethical confusion in this regard, but that’s another issue that would take us too far afield here and has already been partially dealt with in Ovi magazine.

The term 'Genocide' was actually coined in 1941 by Polish writer and attorney, Raphael Lemkin by combining the Greek word 'genos' (race) with the Latin word 'cide' (killing). Genocide as defined by the United Nations in 1948 means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including: (a) killing members of the group (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. It is important to note that the intent to destroy or cause serious bodily or mental harm on a race as a whole or in part is one of the criteria. The fact that the intent may not have been successful and the whole race was not ultimately exterminated, does not preclude the event being labeled genocide.

Applying the above definition we can detect at least seven major global genocides committed in the 20th century, a century that is so proud of its scientific and technological progress. It would appear, however, that the ethical progress in such a century was in reverse proportion to its scientific progress. In chronological order they are: 1) The Armenian genocide in Turkey (1915-1918),1.500,000 deaths; 2) Stalin forced Famine of farmers (1932-1933), 7,000,000 deaths; 3) the Rape of Nanking (1937-1938), 300,000 deaths; 4) the Nazi Holocaust (1938-1945), 6,000,000 deaths; 5) Pol Pot in Cambodia (1975-1979), 2,000,000 deaths; 6) Rwanda (1994), 800,000 deaths; 7) Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-1995), 200,000 deaths. That adds up to a total of 17,800,000 murdered people, innocent, and guilty only of having been born into a particular ethnic population or race. Three of those genocides happened in Europe, three in Asia, one in Africa.

In our presentations we shall focus on the Armenian genocide, the Nazi genocide otherwise known as the Holocaust, and the Rwanda genocide. The first presentation of this meeting explores the issue of genocide via the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, a greatly influential French-Jewish philosopher, who whose whole family was a victim of the Holocaust. While Levinas does not dwell obsessively on the particularities of that ugly event which affected him deeply on a personal level, his critique of the Western ethical philosophical tradition is generally considered to be the best explanation of how genocide can happen in supposedly civilized countries imbued with a rich and even glorious cultural heritage. Levinas’ philosophy is in fact the most serious challenge to the whole Western ethical philosophical tradition since Maimonides.  

Levinas’ critique is still relevant today when at the threshold of the new millennium we have sadly witnessed another genocide which was already in full progress in Bosnia with 200,000 Moslems killed and two million refugees created. It was partially averted by NATO’s intervention under the prodding of the US. Some historians have nevertheless called it the greatest failure of the West since the 1930s, not to speak of the failure to stop the previous Rwandan genocide in Africa where UN troops (composed of mostly Belgian soldiers) stood as observers to the outrage without lifting a finger to prevent it. The neglect that began in Africa was completed in the EU’s backyard. As the saying goes, for evil to triumph, it is enough that good men do nothing and just watch. If karma has any kind of validity, those reprehensible failures following two centuries of African and Asian colonization and imperialism may eventually came back to haunt Western Civilization. They make the Crusades and the Inquisition of old, invariably mentioned by those with an ax to grind against religion and/or the Church, look like a picnic in comparison.

The second powerful presentation by Nikos Laios delves mostly with the Armenian genocide which occurred at the beginning of the 20th century and is still being denied by Turkey, the nation that perpetrated it. The sheer documentation, visual evidence, and references (some by Turkish journalists and historians) that Nikos places on the symposium’s table us is hard to deny, and it is more than sufficient to convince even the greatest of skeptics. They are not subjective opinions by a Greek who harbors no sympathy for Turks, but rather, it is hard evidence which will condemn those who continue their posture of denial and will inevitably leave a strong suspicion of bad faith.   

The third presentation is by Abigail George. She focuses on the genocide perpetrated in Rwanda Africa and how it has existentially impacted her writer’s imagination. She points out that in her opinion genocide has been with humankind from its very inception; it seems to be integral part of an aggressive instinct within human nature. That human nature exhibits some flaws is also undeniable. The whole ethical enterprise in philosophy aims at mitigating that unfortunate condition by positing a more ideal nature, the way things should be and not the way things are. Antiquity thought of it as perfectible via virtue ethics. Without denying that perfectibility Christianity dubs this original flaw “original sin,” a blunder that can be traced back to the very origins of human nature; but logically original sin also implies freedom and responsibility, or it would not be a sin, and this is what all the three presentations are mainly interested in exploring and discussing. What exactly is man’s ethical responsibility vis a vis genocide in the past and in the present? What can be done to prevent it in the future?  While the focus may shift from objectively historical to subjectively psychological, the three presentations’ primary focus remains an ethical one as indeed it is generally in Levinas’ philosophy, even when that philosophy does not tarry too long on the repugnant monstrous particularities of genocide. It does however stress that to forge a viable future humankind cannot afford to forget, or worse, to deny its past crimes. But even remembering is not sufficient, it will amount to what Judt calls “misremembering” if it is not accompanied by repentance, reparation and resolution never again to fall into and to engage in such inhuman behavior toward other human beings, for to do that is to dehumanize oneself; it is to end up with what Kierkegaard calls “the sickness unto death.”



The Holocaust vis a vis the European Philosophical Tradition
in Emanuel Levinas’ Ethical Writings

A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella


I am quite sure that the European crisis has its roots in a mistaken rationalism

                                                                 --Edmund Husserl, University of Prague, 1935)

Modern Western Civilization presents us with a Janus-like face: On one side Renaissance Humanism which begins in Italy in the 14th century with Petrarch, on the other side Enlightenment Rationalism which begins in France in the 17th century with Descartes.

After Descartes, there is a dangerous tendency to separate the two cultural phenomena and consider Humanism either anachronistic, or superseded. The inevitable result has been sheer confusion in the area of cultural anthropology and identity; consequently, at this critical juncture of the new polity called European Union, there is an ominous talk of a “democratic deficit.” It is ominous in the sense that democracy constitutes an integral part of Western Civilization and to talk of its democratic cultural demise is in effect to talk of its death, death by suicide.

We are in urgent need of cultural guides to show us how to better harmonize the two above mentioned phenomena. One such guide is Emanuel Lévinas’ humanistic philosophy. In as much as it challenges the Western rationalistic philosophical tradition, it is extremely important for the emergence of a renewed European cultural identity. It explores in depth the threats to the authentic cultural identity of Europe, how modalities of thinking powerfully affect other ideas and how they shape a whole cultural milieu, sometimes with less than desirable consequences.


Emanuel Levinas (1902-1995)

A few biographical details may be useful to better understand Lévinas. He was born in Lithuania in 1902. In 1923 he moves to Strasbourg to study under Husserl and writes a doctoral dissertation on his philosophy. There, he also comes in contact with Heidegger’s philosophy. The dissertation on Husserl’s phenomenology gets published in France in 1930 and reveals that, even at this early stage, Lévinas is beginning to take his distance from Heidegger. He enlisted in the French army, was captured in 1940 and spent the remaining five years of the war in two prisoner-of-war camps.

Upon being liberated he returns to Lithuania and finds-out that his parents and siblings had been killed by the Nazis, while his wife, whom he had left behind in Paris, had survived thanks to the help of French nuns who hid her. He became a teacher and administrator in an institute for Jewish education in Paris (l’alliance Uneversel Juif); there he begins to study traditional Jewish texts under the directorship of the Talmudic sage Mordechai Shoshani to whom the Nobel laureate for peace Elie Wiesel (who also studied with him) devotes a chapter in Legends of Our Time.


In 1961 Lévinas defends the first of his two major philosophical works (Totality and Infinity) before the philosophy faculty of the Sorbonne becoming a professor of philosophy. His second major work bears the title of Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence.


Those are the basic events that dramatically change Lèvinas’ thinking. Prior to World War II he had merely criticized elements of 20th century Western thought; afterward he begins to attack the whole European philosophical tradition, especially its culmination in Heidegger’s thought, for what he considers its indifference to the ethical and its “totalizing of the other.” He begins to indict western philosophers in general for an uncritical reliance on vast concepts, such as Hegel’s “Spirit,” or Heidegger’s “Being,” which assimilate countless individuals to rational processes, thus negating their individuality. Levinas' philosophical project can be called constructivist. He proposes phenomenological description and a hermeneutics of lived experience in the world. He lays bare levels of experience described neither by Husserl nor by Heidegger. These layers of experience concern the encounter with the world, with the human other, and a reconstruction of a layered interiority characterized by sensibility and affectivity.


To be sure Kierkegaard had also criticized this Hegelian tendency, countering it with his existentialist philosophy. Those who understood his critique only too well, promptly proceeded to relegate his thought to the theological within a false dichotomy (shown absurd by Thomas Aquinas way back in the 13th century) of philosophy/theology, thus insuring that Kierkegaard would never be as influential as a Hegel or a Heidegger.


Barely Surviving Genocide Victims

In any case, Lévinas too argues that this taken-for-granted totalizing mode of doing philosophy in the West denies the face-to-face reality in which we—philosophers included—interact with persons different from ourselves. He argues that this “face-to-face” realm is not the same thing as the realm of abstract concepts. It possesses its own texture which is primarily an ethical one. In this domain we are challenged by “the otherness of the other person.” It is this “otherness,” which is an integral characteristic of human life, but the Western philosophical tradition has overlooked and even negated it, thus contributing to the dehumanization of Man.

Lévinas' life and thinking were deeply affected by the trauma of the Nazi genocide, better known as the Holocaust. But what is unique about his thinking is that it refuses to make those monstrous events its core subject matter. In other words, one cannot easily insert Levinas within the tradition of confessional writers. As Derrida, who admired Lévinas' philosophy, aptly expressed it once: the danger of naming our monstrosities is that they become our pets. That is to say, Levinas refuses to name the monsters lest they become our familiar pets. Even words fail at times vis a vis unmentionable monstrosities.


Holocaust Victims discovered in a Nazi Concentration Camp at the end of World War II

Lévinas' writings provide no extensive discussion of the Holocaust itself; therefore, the assumption, on the part of those who were thinking and writing on it, has often been that Lévinas could not be considered a valid source of philosophical insight into this dark period of human history. That is an erroneous assumption, just as invalid as the assumption that he unreservedly admired Heidegger's philosophy because he happened to have translated it into French. As a matter of fact, Lévinas' thinking is a reaction to the Holocaust by the mere fact that it asks the crucial question: What does it mean to be a human being?

Were one to encapsulate the whole of Lévinas' philosophy in two succinct words, they would be "being human." This philosophy insists throughout that an extreme, unbalanced rationality devoid of imagination, feelings, senses and spirit, unconcerned with the ethical dimensions of life, is the equivalent to a refusal to be human, to allowing oneself to become a monster. To be sure this conclusion had already been reached in the 14th century in the era of Humanism but somehow it had been forgotten.


Horrific Pictures of the Holocaust in process: Lest we forget

A little personal anecdote may be illustrative here: many years ago I took a course on Heidegger with a professor who was a staunch admirer of his philosophy. The students were made to read Being and Time on which the professor in question would offer in class brilliant comments and interpretations. However, not once during the entire duration of the course was it ever mentioned that Heidegger, for a short while, had joined the Nazi party and had heard echoes of "the voice of Being" in the speeches of Hitler; nor had he ever expressed any regrets for his adherence to the Nazi party; somehow those particular existential detail were not considered essential by the professor for any valid appraisal of the ponderous rational scheme of Being and Time.

I wrote a paper where this puzzling existential fact was mentioned and reflected upon. I received a C- for it. The comments of the professor chided me for straying from the concerns of Heidegger's philosophy which had nothing to do with his private life and beliefs. In hindsight, that rather insignificant academic event of my life proved to be my first serious existential encounter with modern Western rationalism and its Cartesian dichotomy intellect/life, body/intellect. It eventually led me to discover Vico and Lévinas.

Lévinas' attack on what he considers negative elements of the Western philosophical tradition begins with analyses of the philosophical roots from which sprout the extreme individualism of modern times, and the reaction to it, extreme nationalism. Not unlike Vico in the 18th century, he individuates such a root in the Cartesian ego, an autonomous center of consciousness which in modern philosophy has assumed the function of a paradigm for thinking about human beings. Lévinas does not deny this world-constituting ego, rather he leads it to the discovery of an ethical core within itself; which is to say, he uncovers another root growing within the first root which he calls the "self."

The conundrum seems to be this: if it is true that the ego does the conceptual work of philosophy by announcing what there really is in the world, how can this ego then acknowledge the essentially ethical "self" which lives within itself? Somehow a bridge has to be found between this limitless power and freedom of the independent intellect, and the particular concrete ethical obligations to another person. For, this ethical self, unlike the ego, finds itself caught up with the welfare of the other prior to a conscious, rational decision, in a recognition, even when unwilled, of his/her humanity. Indeed this ethical capacity seems to come from another place than our rational powers of analysis evidenced within the Cartesian ego. Even if we grant that such an ego is adequate in identifying the truths of philosophy, it somehow remains unable to acknowledge a domain where there is no choosing of the connection with the other; in fact the other way around may apply: the other chooses me, one is "already responsible" for the other prior to any rational analysis.

And here is the philosophical paradox: Lévinas' task becomes that of using rationality to take the Cartesian ego beyond rationality, somewhat similar to what Vico does with his concepts of fantasia, which for him precedes rational reason, and the concept of Providence who guides human events and is both immanent within history but also transcendent to it. Which is to say, the rational ego has to be brought to recognize a sort of enigmatic "ethical" truth which Lévinas calls "pre-originary," i.e., arising outside, prior to the usual time-line of the reflective ego.


In attempting this operation, Lévinas will proffer statements such as: ethics is "older" than philosophy, it is "first philosophy," on the scene before the arrival of rational philosophical thinking; something ingrained in being human. Within purely classical categories, that may be equivalent to the Socratic preoccupation with dying well by living a life of integrity and devotion to truth, as exemplified in Plato's Apology. It is this ancient voice of goodness, which even Vico's pre-historical "bestioni" possess to a degree, a voice often overlooked by rationalist philosophers, but powerfully present in Talmudic texts, that Lévinas finds strangely silent in the modern Western philosophical tradition.


In mytho-poetic language, it’s as if Lévinas were to come face-to-face with the goddess Europa, as she is being abducted by a white bull (Zeus in disguise), to journey to another shore, there to assume a different persona, and he were to ask her, “Europa quo vadis?” after warning her to remember her original identity: “nosce te ipsum”; which is to say, go back to the future and know yourself holistically: know your Greco-Roman origins, yes, but also the Biblical tradition (the foundation for Christianity), the Christian heritage, the Humanistic synthesis of Graeco-Roman and Christian civilizations, Celtic and Germanic cultures with their ideas of freedom, the universalizing Enlightenment rooted in the democratic-scientific tradition born in ancient Greece, the Islamic influences. Voltaire and Descartes yes, but Vico and Novalis too are part of your identity. Your unity will be a chimera if it is only a unity of a bank and neglects its spiritual elements.

Undoubtedly this hermeneutics, or re-interpretation of the Cartesian ego, placing at its core an non-refusable responsibility for the other without granting the ego any time to think it over and choose, so to speak, challenges some of the most basic assumptions of modern, and in some way classical, rationalistic philosophy. Not since the times of Mamonides in the 13th century had a Jew dared such a fundamental challenge from within the Western philosophical tradition. It is the challenge of Paul to Greek culture revisited. For indeed Lévinas is saying nothing short of this: the knowing ego does not exhaust what it means to be human. Some have called his philosophy one of “ethical subjectivity,” as a way of dismissing it as the raving of a lunatic, just as the ancient Greeks dismissed Paul in the agora. For the serious reader, however, it is rather a re-definition of subjectivity face to face with a totalizing kind of Cartesian reflection.

While Lévinas does not write directly about the Holocaust, other thinkers, who influenced Lévinas, were nevertheless reflecting upon the philosophical implications of this dark event of human history. One such was Berel Lang who wrote an essay titled “Genocide and Kant’s Enlightenment,” which appeared in his Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide. In this essay Lang uncovers certain lines of affinity between some classical aspects of Enlightenment thought, and the Nazi genocide. His conclusion is that there are two important aspects of the Enlightenment that formed the intellectual heritage, which needed to be in place, for genocide to occur in the heart of civilized Europe: namely, the universalization of rational ideals, and the redefinition of the individual human being in terms of its possessing or not such a universal rationality. The genocide, Lang argues, was aimed at those groups who stuck to their own ancient pre-Enlightenment sources of particularistic identity, considered “irrational.” Hence the racial laws and racial exclusion were expression of ingrained Enlightenment prejudices. Which is to say, the Enlightenment sheds light on everything except itself; it remains to be enlightened.


This powerful essay leads many cultural anthropologists comparing civilizations, to begin to wonder: which, in the final analysis, is more obscurantist: religious fanaticism and fundamentalism, or a so called “enlightened” era throwing out the window the baby with the bathwater and arrogantly refusing any suggestion that it ought to enlighten itself, and not with its own light?

This conjures up that terrible face to face encounter of Dante with the poet Bertrand Del Bornio in a cave in hell doing “light to himself” with its own decapitated head. There we have reason eating its own tail; internal logical thinking and assuming the grammar of lunacy. I dare say that such a question has not been satisfactorily answered yet. In that question lies the challenge of Lévinas’ philosophy: in its displacing of the centrality of Cartesian thinking within modernity, in order to re-center it around ethics: the face-to-face encounter with another human being which is always hopeful, unless it occurs in hell.


Bertrand Del Born doing light unto himself in Dante’s Hell

Everything we have discussed above begs this particular question: is Lévinas’ challenge to the Western philosophical tradition philosophically tenable? To answer the question adequately we need to be first aware that Emmanuel Lévinas, as well as Hermann Cohen and Franz Rosenzweig (the author of Echoes from the Holocaust: Philosophical Reflections in a Dark Time, 1988), are representative of learned European Jews with great familiarity with the texts of both the Jewish and the Western philosophical tradition. They challenge the latter exactly because they are so knowledgeable in both. Lévinas is fully capable of confronting the intellectual traps of those rationalists who would relegate him to the sphere of theology.


To the contrary, he insisted on writing in both spheres and claimed that Jewish religious textuality contains hitherto unexplored philosophical insights. For this is a tradition which puts great emphasis on interpersonal, social and familial relationships; phenomena not contemplated in traditional Western philosophy. Which is to say, the challenge is to Western philosophy’s totalizing pretense, beginning with Plato’s times, that it can gather everything up in one synchronic whole. It is that challenge that irritates control freaks, thought policemen, rationalists and mysologists galore. It goes a long way in explaining their attempt to relegate Lévinas’ philosophy to the sphere of the merely mystical.

Finally, let us briefly examine how Lévinas develops this fundamental challenge to Western rationalism. He names both the texts of Jewish tradition and philosophical discourse “the said,” while calling the living activity of interpretative struggle (its hermeneutics) with the texts, and the self which suffers for the other, “the saying.” The said always tries to capture the saying, which may partly explain the ancient grudge of Plato towards poets (see Plato’s Republic, book X, on Homer). In any case, it is the saying which launches the said and puts it into circulation. The saying echoes outside of space and time destabilizing the comfortable, rationally secure positions rationalists take up in the said, in conceptual truths (thought to be universal and eternal), in a secure totalizing kind of knowledge.

Yet it is this very destabilizing process that injects the ethical outward-directness into the said. Lévinas will often contrasts the saying’s vulnerable openness to the other (which he calls “being ex-posed) with the said’s relative security (which he calls “exposition”). He asserts moreover, that there is a rich unexplored relationship between the way we are “ex-posed” in ethics, and the life “exposition” we use to analyze and order the world. Indeed, this is a new, essentially Jewish, philosophical reflection which places into question the claim to totalizing completeness, by an appeal to the priority of ethics. It insists that any person that confronts me, needs to be placed outside the totalizing categories seeking to reduce her/him to an aspect of a rational system. Basically, what Lévinas is doing is relocating our dangerous ability to deny others their legitimate sphere of difference; an ability which is capable of destroying our own humanity.

This is nothing short than the core struggle for the achievement of moral humanity which was also the root ethical aim of Vico’s New Science. Like Vico, Lévinas shows us the way to keep the benefits of universal Enlightenment ethics while avoiding its perils. For, his ethics is not based on a totalizing sort of universalism, but on the particular concrete needs and demands of each unique individual, every “other’ that I meet within time and space. Every time I meet the other, she/he constitutes an ethical challenge to my self, a challenge as to who I am as a human being.

This kind of philosophy is a challenge to each one of us to go beyond nostalgic returns to Greek classicism, as important at that may be in itself, in an attempt to understand Western Civilization; to establish intellectual-background-assumptions which are different from those of the Enlightenment; to search for urgently needed new cultural paradigms, new ways of thinking appealing to the priority of ethics and the importance of the particular as a category of thought, a place in thought wherein genocide and hatred of the other becomes inconceivable; in short to prepare new wineskins for the new wine which is a “Novantiqua Europa.”



A Presentation by Nikos Laios




image courtesy of greek-genocide.net

The genocides perpetrated by the Turks against the Armenians and Greeks at the beginning of the twentieth century marks one of the most vilest and heinous periods of  human history, and one that still weighs heavily on the consciousness of the human community for the perpetration of the genocides by Turkey; for the collaboration by Germany through its alliance with Turkey at the time, and of the inaction and silence of the international community due to its vested economic and political interests at the time. To understand the causes of these genocides, one must examine a brief overview of the history of the region that we now call Turkey and an examination later on regarding the narrative of myth making of the Turkish national identity which directly lead to the genocides.


The nation of what is now called Turkey is situated on the geographical landmass of what is called Asia Minor, where the people of Turkey are not natives of the Mediterranean, or of Asia Minor but originated from deep from within the heart of Central Asia. Having moved from Mongolia to the Central Asian region Turkmenistan, east of the Caspian Sea and north of Iran; and it is this theft and usurpation of the lands from the rightful natives of Asia Minor that lies at the core of the insecurity of the Turkish identify. Until the coming of the Turks, Asia Minor was peopled by natives peoples like Greeks, Armenians, Kurds, Circassians, Assyrians, Jews and Laz people; who lived and evolved in Asia Minor for thousands of years before the Turks.

The Greek people have been living in Asia Minor since the middle of the second Millenia BC, whereby through the turmoils in Mycenaean Greece; Ionian, Aeolian and later Dorian Greeks settled the Aegean cost of Asian Minor. Founding glorious cities such as Miletus, Smyrna, Ephesus, Colophon, Halikarnassos, etc. In the eight century BCE Greeks started to navigate the Black Sea which they referred to as 'Euxinos Pontos', meaning 'hospitable sea'; founding the Greek cities of the Black Sea: Sinope, Sampsounta and Trebizond. The Ancient Greek geographer Strabo referred to Smyrna as the first of Greek cities in Asia Minor.

After the conquests by the brilliant Greek-warrior King Alexander the Great; he freed the Greek cities from Persian tyranny and spread Greek language and culture, which then dominated Asia Minor and which was further deeply ingrained and accelerated during the Roman rule, and the Greek Byzantine rule after it to such a degree that many native Anatolian languages became extinct while the Greek Koine language became the common language.

The Greek Byzantine empire flourished for nearly fifteen hundred years preserving the legacy of the Ancient Greek and Roman worlds; preserving science, maths, literature, philosophy, art, architecture, astronomy, medicine, music, food and many other features of the ancient world; thereby passing this back to Western Europe during its dark ages to spark a rejuvenation of European society and civilisation. Being able to use Byzantine diplomacy to play off one of the many hostile neighbours against another; it's dazzling golden cities a beacon  of civilisation and hope which enabled the civilising of those great Slav people the Russians and spreading the Christian religion to them; forever linking the Russians to European civilisation.

The city of Constantinople dazzling with its universities, hospitals, architectural masterpieces such as the church of the holy wisdom  -Agia Sophia - palaces and subterranean waterways and plumbing, or the height of its art. The noted Professor Norman H. Baynes stated: "With its love of luxury and passion for colour, the art of this age delighted in the production of masterpieces that spread the fame of Byzantium throughout the whole of the Christian world. Beautiful silks from the workshops of Constantinople also portrayed in dazzling colour animals lions, elephants, eagles, and griffins confronting each other, or represented Emperors gorgeously arrayed on horseback or engaged in the chase." [1]


Painting of Agia Sophia Greek Byzantine church in Constantinople by Nikos Laios

Then in 1204 A.D, through the perfidious and treacherous Western crusader Europeans, who diverted the fourth crusade and directed it to Constantinople and sacked the city of their fellow Christians. Sir Steven Runciman, a famous British historian of the crusades wrote the following about the sack of Constantinople:

For nine centuries,he goes on, the great city had been the capital of Christian civilization. It was filled with works of art that had survived from ancient Greece and with the masterpieces of its own exquisite craftsmen. The Venetians ... seized treasures and carried them off to adorn ... their town. But the Frenchmen and Flemings were filled with a lust for destruction. They rushed in a howling mob down the streets and through the houses, snatching up everything that glittered and destroying whatever they could not carry, pausing only to murder or to rape, or to break open the wine-cellars ... . Neither monasteries nor churches nor libraries were spared. In St Sophia itself, drunken soldiers could be seen tearing down the silken hangings and pulling the great silver iconostasis to pieces, while sacred books and icons were trampled underfoot. While they drank merrily from the altar-vessels a prostitute set herself on the Patriarchs throne and began to sing a ribald French song. Nuns were ravished in their convents. Palaces and hovels alike were entered and wrecked. Wounded women and children lay dying in the streets. For three days the ghastly scenes ... continued, till the huge and beautiful city was a shambles. ... When ... order was restored, ... citizens were tortured to make them reveal the goods that they had contrived to hide.[2]

The attacks on the Byzantine empire therefore terminally weakened it and it continued till the late fifteenth century, where even under the shadow of impending doom saw some of the most important flowering of culture. Where brilliant intellectual figures such of Plethon Gemistos (Γεώργιος Γεμιστός), operated a Neoplatonic school of philosophy and who taught other important intellectual figures such as Basilios Bessarion and Georgios Scholarios, and where eight hundred codices of Ancient Greek and Roman works where brought to Italy.

Where during the Council of Florence, he met Cosimo De Medici and influenced him to open a new Platonic Academy, and where the works of Plato, Plotinius and their Neoplatonic works where translated into Latin, thereby sparking the Renaissance. This is the Greek world of Asia Minor: a world where long established ancient peoples like the Armenians in eastern Anatolia forged their own long and glorious standing culture.


Tomb of Plethon Gemistos in Tempio, Malatestiano, Rimini, Italy

Then in the late fifteenth century, at the nadir of their power, the alien Turks invaded the Christian city of Constantinople and that ended the Byzantine Greek empire in Asia Minor; and it became dark days for the Greek, Armenian and other Christian people who had been hitherto long standing native citizens of Asia Minor; they became subject peoples in their own traditional lands to a new foreign people. The irony being that one of the instruments of the Turkish subjugation of Asia Minor where their elite Janissary troops who where not even Turkish by race but were Greek and other Christian peoples. The Janissaries were instituted by the Ottoman Sultan Murad the 1 in 1383 as an elite personal core of household troops recruited from Greek and Christian slaves whilst young boys; they were taken from their homes and became brainwashed and Turkified. So the irony is that Constantinople and Byzantium fell by Greek hands. The Turks had Turkified as thoroughly as they could Anatolia, where subject peoples where forced to convert to Islam, their women sullied and besmirched and placed into harems; even their greatest architect and builder of Mosques Mimar Sinan was a former Janissary soldier and Cappadocian Greek who was forcibly Turkified as a very young boy.

The Turkish Ottoman Empire by the end of the sixteenth century reached the zenith of its empire and started to slowly decline while at the same time the European states where emerging from the Reformation, a separation of church and state leading to the flowering of science and knowledge; to the enlightenment and the humanist achievement of the central paramount importance of the individual as the centre of society. The search and pursuit of learning, truths and philosophical self examination became the societal focus; the freeing of the mind to meet the stars. At this historical crossroad, the European states crossed the tired Ottoman Empire which started to crumble. For the Ottoman Empire had not contributed one civilisational legacy to mankind like the Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Chinese and Indian civilisations had. The Ottoman civilisation was known as an arrogant, barbaric, violent civilisation that brought nothing but blood and conquest before it and centuries of misery for its captured and subjugated peoples, who lived as second class citizens in the Ottoman Empire.

By the end of the eighteenth century, Europeans where starting to form a consciousness of nationhood and nation states where developing. Towards the end of the 18th century, Greek nationalists inspired by the ideas of the enlightenment and the French Revolution became self aware and yearned to regain their freedom after centuries of subjugation, and their merchant and intellectual classes started to mobilise ideas and organise for their emancipation. A missionary eyewitness was quoted as saying in regards to the Turks treatment of their subject peoples that they enjoyed massacring the Christians;

"The slaughter of the Christians was a joy to the Turks, a massacre was heralded by the blowing of trumpets and concluded by a procession. Accompanied by the prayers of the mullahs and muezzins, who from the minarets implored the blessings of Allah, the slaughter was accomplished in admirable order according to a well arranged plan.

The crowd, supplied with arms by the authorities, joined most amicably with the soldiers and the Kurdish Hamidieh on these festive occasions. The Turkish women stimulated their heroes by raising a guttural shriek of their war cry, the Zilghit, and deafening the hopeless despair of their victims by singing their nuptial songs. A kind of wild cannibal humor seized the crowd...the savage crew did not even spare the children."[3]

The Yazidi people also suffered greatly during the Ottoman Turkish empire, when their treatment by the Turks was extremely harsh, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; when they suffered seventy two massacres at the hands of the Turks and when punitive expéditions were organised against them by the Turkish governors (Wali) of Diyarbakir, Mosul and Baghdad, legitimised by fatawa edicts from Islamic clerics. The aim being the conversion of Yazidis to the Sunni Islam of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

By the nineteenth century, the European empires were becoming dominant, the Ottoman Turkish empire started to fall apart with the Greeks and other Balkan European peoples regaining their freedom by defeating and expelling the foreign alien Turks from their homelands. While in Asia Minor, the British ethnographer William Ramsay described the conditions of Armenian life writing in the late 1890s after a visit to the Ottoman Empire and stated the following: "We must, however, go back to an older time, if we want to appreciate what uncontrolled Turkish rule meant, alike to Armenians and to Greeks. It did not mean religious persecution; it meant unutterable contempt ... They were dogs and pigs; and their nature was to be Christians, to be spat upon, if their shadow darkened a Turk, to be outraged, to be the mats on which he wiped the mud from his feet. Conceive the inevitable result of centuries of slavery, of subjection to insult and scorn, centuries in which nothing that belonged to the Armenian, neither his property, his house, his life, his person, nor his family, was sacred or safe from violence capricious, unprovoked violence to resist which by violence meant death."[4]

In this environment the three great European powers; France, Russia and Great Britain questioned Ottoman Turkey's treatment of its Christians and pressured for the implementation of reforms. Where the Ottoman government instituted a series of reforms called the Tanzimat, designed for the better the treatment of minorities but were never implemented by the Muslims of the empire because they could never accept the Christians as equal human beings. In 1875, the Great powers invoked the treaty of Paris of 1856 claiming it gave them the right to intervene to protect the Christian minorities of the Ottoman Empire. Under this pressure, the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II entered into negotiations with the powers and declared a constitutional monarchy with a parliament. The Ottoman Empire was stripped of territory, and a hitherto proud conquering warrior people lost pride and felt resentment; that in the glistening light of the Belle Époque and the industrial revolution, could not reconcile and understand that their rude and backward steppe warrior culture was by now antiquated and had no place any longer in the modern world and that belonged more to the time of the thirteenth century instead.

This confusion and the national insecurity complex of its own identity haunted the Turkish psyche and was to play out in the most horrific manner in the early twentieth century when they allowed what Jung calls the 'dark shadow' of their individual and national archetypes to play out and express itself horrifically, instead of resolving itself in healthy manner; and this darkness was about to be harnessed by a new force and expression; The 'Young Turks'.


"I refer to those awful massacres.
They are the greatest stain that has ever disgraced our
nation and race. They were entirely the work of Talat and Enver[5]

In the eastern Anatolian hinterland of Turkey, the Armenians had come under the sway of Ottoman rule in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, with large communities present in the western provinces and the capital of Constantinople. The Armenian community was divided into three religious groupings; Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholic and Armenian Protestant - with most Armenians belonging to the Armenian Apostolic denomination. Under the Ottoman millet system of governance, the Armenians were allowed to rule themselves with relatively little interference by the Ottoman government; with seventy percent of their population living in poverty and squalor in the rural provinces.

However, the Armenians where regularly overtaxed and subject to the arbitrary whims of their Kurdish and Turkish neighbours who would exploit them without any interference of the authorities. Who would be forced at times to convert to Islam and be kidnapped and  subject to theft and brigandage; and were allowed certain freedoms like their fellow Christians and the Jews, under the dhimi system. The dhimi system was based on the 'Pact of Umar'  -  as implemented in other Muslim countries - where they where allowed the freedom of worship, a livelihood and the right to property, but where at all times considered as second class citizens; and who were referred to as the 'gavours', meaning infidel and unbeliever.

The Armenians where forbidden from riding atop camels or horses, were not allowed to carry weapons, they were forbidden to ring any church bells, their houses were not allowed to overlook those of any Muslims, and their testimonies against Muslims were inadmissible in any court of law. The Turkish trait of racism, bias and inhumanity continued unabated from the moment they stole the lands from the rightful natives of Asia Minor and were further entrenched and codified into a system of bigotry - where even with the few brief of horrors perpetrated by the Germans during World War Two against its Jewish communities - that this pales in comparison to the long term systemic abuse that the Turks perpetrated against its Armenian and Greek peoples spanning several hundred years.


Ethnographic map of Asia Minor with the Armenian people represented in blue,1914

The late nineteenth century brought with it pressure being exerted by the great European powers on Turkey for it to enact reforms aimed at improving the conditions of its Armenian and Greek subjects, and which the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II failed to enact; in an environment of the peaceful agitation by its Armenians for their rights. The Armenians came to see Russia in the aftermath the Russo-Turkish wars of 1877-1878 as the guarantors of their security; where the Armenians did not seek independence from the Ottoman Empire, but simply an autonomy. The Sultan paid lip service to the treaty of Berlin that he signed in 1878 which was designed to protect the rights of the Armenians in the Ottoman provinces; Sultan Abdul Hamid created a paramilitary corps known as the Hamidiye, consisting of Kurdish troops. This corps was entrusted with the duty in the Sultan's own words to "deal with the Armenians as they wished".[6]:40

The corps used the tools of massacres and oppression to deal with the Armenians, and where on 1st October 1895, the Armenians had gathered in Constantinople for the implementation of the rights reforms, where instead Ottoman police units broke the assembly of the Armenians violently. Where massacres of Armenians broke out in Constantinople, and the other Armenian populated provinces: Van, Trabzon, Sivas, Harput, Erzurum and Bitlis, where these massacres became know as the Hamidian massacres where estimates of the Armenian victims of the pogroms range between 100,000 and 300,000.[7]:57-8 [8]



Corpses of massacred Armenians in Erzurum in 1895

The advent of the twentieth century brought with it the Balkan wars, World War one, and a loss of power, prestige and territory to Ottoman Turkey and further increased the inherent insecurity complex of Turkey and Turks, both as a nation and as a people. The decision was made to bring a sense of security to the Turks by unifying them by undertaking a campaign to purge non-Turkish ethic groups from their territories to enable the formation of a modern nation state. This was attempted when the power shifted from the Sultan to a corps of army officers involved through the formation of the revolutionary movement called 'The Young Turk' movement, and through the 'Committee of Union of Progress'(CUP).

The CUP founded an organisation called 'Special Organisation' entrusted with the organisation and running of the deportation and extermination of the Armenians and Greeks through extermination camps and death marches of the Armenians and Greeks.

On the  14th November 1914, a religious fatwas where announced and signed by twenty nine religious figures, and approved by the Ottoman Chamber of Deputies and the Sultan.

The fatwa was announced to massive crowds in Istanbul from the balcony of the Fatih Mosque which was written to legitimise the jihad as supported by the Quran, and declared an Islamic Holy war by the Ottoman government against their internal non-Muslim enemies  and urged its Muslim followers to take of this fight [9]. The CUP passed the 'Temporary Laws of Deportation' on 29th May 1915, authorising the deportation of anyone it deemed a threat to national security [10].


In considering the causes of the massacres of the Armenians in Adana by the Turks in 1909, the English Vice-Consul Major Charles Doughty-Willie advised that; "The Turks, masters for centuries, found their great stumbling block in equality with the Christians... Among the fiercer professors of Islam resentment grew. Were God's adversaries to be the equals of Islam? In every cafe the heathen were speaking great mouthing words of some godless and detested change.."[10]. By 18th of April, over 1,000 Armenians where dead with further unknown casualties and 4,437 Armenian dwellings where torched and half the town raised.


Map of massacre locations and deportation and extermination centres

Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in her article 'Dead Reckoning, the Armenian genocide and the politics of silence' for the New Yorker, in regards to the Turkish historian Tamer Akman's account of the Armenian death marches and deportations to death camps in his book 'A shameful act: and the question of Turkish responsibility' where she states: "Around the same time, orders were issued to begin rounding up Armenians wholesale and deporting them. Some regional variations notwithstanding,Akman reports, the deportations proceeded in the same manner everywhere.Armenians would be given a few days or, in some cases, just a few hours to leave their homes. The men were separated from the women and children, led beyond the town, and either tortured or murdered outright. Their families were then herded to concentration camps in the Syrian desert, often bound by ropes or chains. Along the way, they were frequently set upon by Kurdish tribesmen, who had been given license to loot and rape, or by the very gendarmes who were supposed to be guarding them. A Greek witness wrote of watching a column of deportees being led through the Kemakh Gorge, on the upper Euphrates. The guards withdrew to the mountainsideand began a hail of rifle fire,he wrote. A few days later there was a mopping-up operation: since many little children were still alive and wandering about beside their dead parents.In areas where ammunition was in short supply, the killing squads relied on whatever weapons were at handaxes, cleavers, even shovels. Adults were hacked to pieces, and infants dashed against the rocks. In the Black Sea region, Armenians were loaded onto boats and thrown overboard. In the area around Lake Hazar, they were tossed over cliffs."[11]

Men were forced into labour battalions, women and children taken on death marches, and whole populations where taken to extermination camps. Rape was also used as a weapon of genocide - as it is being used by ISIS today - where Turkish soldiers during 1915- 1919 would use women as sex slaves and where their commanders advised them to "do to the women whatever you wish". Where Armenian women where sold as sex slaves in Damascus as reported by German consuls at the time, and where these women became important sources of income for the Turkish troops. Where Rossler, the German consul of Aleppo heard of accounts of Armenian women being raped by 10-15 men and then being left to die.[12]

The crimes committed by Turkey during the first quarter of the twentieth century were honorific, a time which saw Turkey allied with Germany and which also saw its defeat; the new Turkey emerged after 1923, and which saw the word Ottoman being replaced with Turkish, solidifying their Turkish sense of national consciousness. A Turkish politician of the time Celal Bay stated in a telegram that;  "Blood flowed instead of water in the river, and thousands of innocent children, blameless elderly, helpless women and strong youths were flowing towards death in this blood flow"[13].

On the 17th of October 1920, Hasan Fehmi (Atac), deputy of Gumushane stated in a secret session of the National Assembly the following:  "As you know, the issue of relocation was an event that made the world to yell blue and made all of us to be considered murderers. We knew, before we did it, that the Christian world would not tolerate it and they would direct their anger and hatred toward us. Why did we impute the title of murderer to our race? Why did we enter into such decisive and difficult struggle? That was done just to secure the future of our country, which we know to be more precious and sacred than our lives."[14]

The primary and secondary archaeological, historical and documentary evidence supporting these genocides are overwhelming, besides the first person testimonies of the German allies of Turkey at the time, the Red Cross and foreign consular officials. The Turkish novelist Halide Edip was critical of the decisions made by the Ottoman government towards the Armenians and wrote in the Vakit newspaper of 21st October 1918 the following: "We slaughtered the innocent Armenian population...we tried to extinguish the Armenians with methods that belong to the medieval times".[15]

The time came for the Turks to deal with their Greek subjects, and after living in Asia Minor for over 3,000 years, the Greek presence there was extinguished by the Turks by genocide , and by 1923 with the few remaining Greek population in the Pontus and Aegean exchanged with Greece in the population exchanges of the time.

In June of 1909, General Mahmut Şevket Paşa, who was the Ottoman Commander-in-Chief told the Orthodox Patriarch Ioakeim III, Greek Patriarch of Constantinople the following: "We will cut off your heads, we will make you all disappear. Either we will survive or you"[16]. Rafet Bey informed Dr. Ernst von Kwiatkowski, the Austro-Hungarian consul in Samsoun on 26 November 1916: "We must at last do with the Greeks as we did with the Armenians..."[17]. Three thousand years of a Greek presence was wiped out and they used the same techniques on them that they used on the Armenians; whilst at the same time the Australian and British troops were fighting the Turks at Gallipoli in the Dardanelles, the Turks wiped out the Gallipoli Greeks who have been living there since ancient times, and all across the Aegean coast of Turkey, the Greeks of the Pontus region, the Greeks of Cappadocia, and the Greeks of  Thrace.

In an excerpt from a book byGiannis Kapsis called 'The Black Bible' by a Greek genocide victim advises the following: "My name is Sophia Nicolau. I am from Ivrindi of Asia Minor. I along with my husband and 8 year old son Manolaki, escaped to the mill at Gioun-Yiorkes. Suddenly Turkish villagers appeared. They encircled the mill shouting wildly. Then they broke the door open and attacked us. In front of my new deceased husband and son's eyes they raped me many times. Then slaughtered my son and with their knives they cut my husband into pieces. They removed his skin and made me eat his meat" [18]

On 13 August 1923 Mustafa Kemal declared in the Turkish Grand National Assembly and which was validated by the French military colonel Mougin: "At last we've uprooted the Greeks ..." [19]. The city of Smyrna was sacked, burned, looted and pillaged and where Kemal afterwards lead a procession of victory into the city. The General Secretary to the Smyrna Y.M.C.A,  Enst Otto Jacob advised the following after arriving in Athens in late 1922: "The Turkish policy of the elimination of the Christian minorities in Asia Minor has been determinedly carried into effect. The Christian quarters of Smyrna have been practically wiped out; the populations are dead from massacre, fled, or banished into exile. When I left, only fifty thousand homeless and foodless refugees remained in the city"[20].

Ernst Jacob stated the following in his diary of 22nd September 1922: "In Smyrna, hunger and exposure are the least of the evils: persecution, deportation, robbery, rape, murderthose are going on now, and the victims are justified in dreading that they will go on until the last of their races are extinguished"[21].


Then as a result of the sustained policies of genocide by the Turks, the new successor nation of Turkey was born in 1923 built on the ashes, blood and bones of the victims, perpetrated by the great grandparents and grandparents of today's Turks. Where they have inherited and profited by this disappearance of the true natives of Asia Minor, dispossessing them and wiping them off the face of the earth, taking over their properties and possessions for today to leisurely be sipping their Turkish coffees on the Aegean cost and wondering what the past has to do with them.

The freedom of religion and choice is respected in Turkey, but only if one is a practicing Sunni Muslim. The claim that modem Turkey is a secular republic is a rather brittle claim, for from the day modern Turkey was established after 1923, bigotry and the unequal treatment of its minorities was enshrined within its institutions. Where the Turkish state was actively involved in the persecution of other religions, where hatred and intolerance was actively promoted against its non-Muslims. The institution of the Diyanet, the Presidency of Religious affairs came to being in 1924 post the Sultanate period by the Kemalist government. The Turkish journalist Uzay Bulut stated on the Diyanet's role the following: "Although the Diyanet has many branches, the first duty of the High Board of Religious Affairs, according to its official website, is "To make decisions, share views and answer questions on religious matters by taking into consideration the fundamental source texts and methodology, and historical experience of the Islamic religion as well as current demands and needs."

The problem with this institution is that "modern" Turkey claims to be a "secular" republic; a secular republic is supposed to treat all people -- Muslims and nonMuslims -- equally. A "secular" government also has the duty of embracing the principles of pluralism and objectivity in regulating matters of religion.


The objective of the Diyanet, on the contrary, is to keep religion (Islam) under the control of the state, and to keep the public under the control of the state by means of religion.

Since the founding of the Diyanet, mosques have been built by the state; muftis, muezzins and imams have been employed by the state, and their salaries have been paid from the taxes of all citizens, regardless of their religion. Also, the Friday sermons delivered by imams in all mosques across Turkey are written by the Diyanet" [22]. Discrimination was actively practised by Turkish society against Christians, where Christians were legally barred from certain professions; pharmacists, lawyers, bank employees and civil servants. On 16th of March in 1923, the founding father of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk proclaimed in a speech to the Adana Turkish Merchant Society the following: "The Armenians have no right whatsoever in this beautiful country. Your country is yours, it belongs to Turks. This country was Turkish in history; therefore it is Turkish and it shall live on as Turkish to eternity... Armenians and so forth have no rights whatsoever here. These bountiful lands are deeply and genuinely the homeland of the Turk"[23].

Ismet Inonu, Turkey's first Prime Minister stated the following on the 4th of May 1924: "Nationalism is our only factor of cohesion. Before the Turkish majority, other elements have no kind of influence. At any price, we must Turkify the inhabitants of our land, and we will annihilate those who oppose Turks or 'le Turquisme'." [24]

In 1946, the CHP, The Republican People's party stated in their published Minority Report the following: "We have to take serious precautions in Istanbul, especially against Greeks. There is only one statement to make on this topic: Not a single Greek should remain in Istanbul by the 500th anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul". Then in 1955, the Turkish government actualised this aspiration in a state sponsored pogrom against the Greeks, Jews and Armenian minorities in Istanbul in what can be characterised as Turkey's very own 'Kristallnacht' against its minorities. Where Turkish mobs devastated the Greek, Jewish and Armenian districts; killing thirty seven Greeks, raping two hundred Greek women, desecrating Greek cemeteries and places of worship,and forcibly circumcising many Greek men. The results of this modern day pogrom was that the majority of Greeks from Istanbul left Turkey for Greece; the population dropping from 100,000 in 1955 to 2,500 today, to Turkey's eternal dying shame.

The journalist Noel Barber who witnessed the events in 1955 in Istanbul on the night of 14th September advised of the following: "The church of Yedikule was utterly smashed, and one priest was dragged from bed, the hair torn from his head and the beard literally torn from his chin. Another old Greek priest [Fr Mantas] in a house belonging to the church and who was too ill to be moved was left in bed, and the house was set on fire and he was burned alive. At the church of Yeniköy, a lovely spot on the edge of the Bosporus, a priest of 75 was taken out into the street, stripped of every stitch of clothing, tied behind a car and dragged through the streets. They tried to tear the hair of another priest, but failing that, they scalped him, as they did many others." [25]

The Turkish writer Aziz Nesin in his accounts of the events of 1955 advised of the following: "A man who was fearful of being beaten, lynched or cut into pieces would imply and try to prove that he was both a Turk and a Muslim. "Pull it out and let us see," they would reply. The poor man would peel off his trousers and show his "Muslimness" and "Turkishness": And what was the proof? That he had been circumcised. If the man was circumcised, he was saved. If not, he was doomed. Indeed, having lied, he could not be saved from a beating. For one of those aggressive young men would draw his knife and circumcise him in the middle of the street and amid the chaos. A difference of two or three centimeters does not justify such a commotion. That night, many men shouting and screaming were Islamized forcefully by the cruel knife.

Among those circumcised there was also a priest." [26]


Since 1955, the discrimination by Turkey has continued against its minorities, where the prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was well know not only for his efforts for reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and his advocacy of human and minority rights but who openly wrote on and discussed the Armenian genocide, was assassinated in 2007 by Turkish nationalists on 19th of January. Where to the present day, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President and the AKP party continue with their jingoistic, racist Neo-Ottoman posturing threatening anyone legally that attacks the 'Turkishness' of Turkey; threaten Greece in regards to questioning Greece's sovereignty of the eastern Aegean, flirts and supports conservative Islamist parties and governments, and who turn a blind eye where material, men and support flows across their porous southern border to their Sunni coreligionists ISIS. Where ISIS utilises the same tools of terror and genocide that Turkey first used and successfully so over the last several hundred years against its religious non-Muslim minorities. The last Islamic caliphate passing on the baton proudly to the latest incarnation of the caliphate in present day Syria and Iraq - the original 'Turkey-ISIS' inspiring the new ISIS.

Is there hope for redemption for Turkey? For there are indeed small voices at present within Turkey who are attempting an honest self examination, of coming to terms with their past; but these voices at the moment are being sidelined by the dominant voices of the nationalists. The psychologist Carl Jung once stated:  "There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the dark conscious."

In trying to understand the reasons for the Turkish denial of genocide, Elizabeth Burns Coleman and Kevin White stated in their book 'Negotiating the Sacred: Blasphemy and Sacrilege in a Multicultural Society' the following: "Turkish denials of the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians is official, riven, driven, constant, rampant, and increasing each year since the events of 1915 to 1922. It is state-funded, with special departments and units in overseas missions whose sole purpose is to dilute, counter, minimize, trivialize and relativize every reference to the events which encompassed a genocide of Armenians, Pontian Greeks and Assyrian Christians in Asia Minor." [27]. They further provide the following list of reasons for the Turkish genocide denial:

" * A suppression of guilt and shame that a warrior nation, a beacon of democracyas it saw itself in 1908 (and since), slaughtered several ethnic populations. Democracies, it is said, dont commit genocide; ergo, Turkey couldnt and didnt do so.

* A cultural and social ethos of honor, a compelling and compulsive need to remove any blots on the national escutcheon.

* A chronic fear that admission will lead to massive claims for reparation and restitution.

To overcome fears of social fragmentation in a society that is still very much a state in transition.

* A ‘logicalbelief that because the genocide was committed with impunity, so denial will also meet with neither opposition nor obloquy.

* An inner knowledge that the juggernaut denial industry has a momentum of its own and cant be stopped even if they wanted it to stop."[27]

Turkey has been affected by the same 'dark shadow' that affected Germany after World War One, and that lead to the terrible events of World War Two; the dark shadow in the individual and national archetype that emerges when it dominates in an unbalanced national psyche and leads to a self-destructive and cannibalising tendency of the soul; for if the world had brought Turkey to task for the terrible genocide events during and after World War One, maybe the following war might have been prevented.


1.N.H. Baynes, Byzantium, An Introduction to East Roman Civilisation.

2.Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, Cambridge 1966 [1954], vol 3, p.123.

3.Marjorie Housepian, The Smyrna Affair.

4.Ramsay, W.M. (1897). Impressions of Turkey during Twelve Years' Wanderings. London: Hodder            and Stoughton. pp. 206–207.

5.Najmuddin; Najmuddin, Dilshad; Shahzad (2006). Armenia: A Resume with Notes on Seth's Armenians in India. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 1-4669-5461-2.

6.Balakian, Peter (2003). The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 25, 445. ISBN 0-06-019840-0.

7.Balakian, Peter (2003). The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 25, 445. ISBN 0-06-019840-0.

8.Akçam 2007, pp. 40–2

9.Olusoga, David (2014). The World's War. Head of Zeus. ISBN 9781781858974.

10.Dadrian, Vahakn N. Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict, pp. 71-72.

11.Dead Reckoning: The Armenian genocide and the politics of silence,New Yorker, Nov 6 issue  2006

12.Gust, Wolfgang (2013). The Armenian Genocide: Evidence from the German Foreign Office Archives, 1915-191. Berghahn Books. pp. 26–27. ISBN 9781782381433.

13.Halep Valisi Celal'in Anılar", Vakit, December 12, 1918, Turkish text: Nehirde su yerine kan akıyor ve binlerce masum çocuk, kabahatsız ihtiyar, aciz kadınlar, kuvvetli gençler bu kan cereyanı içinde ademe doğru akıp gidiyorlardı

14.Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Gizli Celse Zabıtları, Vol. I, Ankara, Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 1985, p. 177, Turkish text: Tehcir meselesi, biliyorsunuz ki dünyayı velveleye veren ve hepimizi katil telâkki ettiren bir vaka idi. Bu yapılmazdan evvel âlem-i nasraniyetin bunu hazmetmeyeceği ve bunun için bütün gayz ve kinini bize tevcih edeceklerini biliyorduk. Neden katillik ünvanını nefsimize izafe ettik? Neden o kadar azim, müşkül bir dava içine girdik? Sırf canımızdan daha aziz ve daha mukaddes bildiğimiz vatanımızın istikbalini taht-ı emniyete almak için yapılmış şeylerdir.

15.Insel,Ahmet."This Conduct Was a Crime Against Humanity:An evaluation of the initiative to Apologise to the Armenians.Birikim

16.Recorded by a German diplomat stationed in Constantinople in a 26 June 1909 report addressed to the German Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow. See, Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes (PAAA), Türkei Nr. 168, Beziehungen der Türkei zu Griechenland, Bd. 6, Nr. 170 (26.6.1909). See also, the German article "[Mahmut Sevket pasha and the Ecumenical Patriarchate]", Osmanischer Lloyd, 146

17.Wien Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, PA, XXXVIII, Karton 369, Konsulate 1916, Trapezunt, ZI. 44/pol., Kwiatkowski to Burian, Samsun (30.11.1916)

18. 1922 H Mavri Vivlos.Giannis P.Kapsis

19.Tsirkinidis, Harry, At last we uprooted themThe genocide of the Greeks of Pontus, Thrace and Asia Minor, through the French archives, Thessaloniki: Kyriakidis Brothers, 1999, p. 300.

20."Dr. Rechad and the Greeks", The Times, 17 October 1922, p.8.

21.Papoutsy, Christos, Ships of Mercy: The True Story of the Rescue of the Greeks: Smyrna, September 1922, Portsmouth, N.H.: Peter E. Randall, 2008, p. 62.

22.Uzay Bulut,"Secular" Turkey,Gatestone Institute,27 May 2015

23.Corporatist Ideology in Kemalist Turkey: Progress or Order?, by Taha Parla and Andrew Davison, Syracuse University Press, 2004.

24.Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, by Susan Meiselas (with chapter commentaries by Martin van Bruinesen) New York: Random House, 1997.

25.Noel Barber,London Daily Mail, 14 September 1955

26. Aziz Nesin, Salkım Salkım Asılacak Adamlar (1987) quoted in: (Vryonis, 2005, p.225), as quoted in: (Gilson, 2005)

27.Coleman, Elizabeth Burns; White, Kevin, Negotiating the Sacred: Blasphemy and Sacrilege in a Multicultural Society (PDF), pp. 82–83, ISBN 1920942475.



Genocide (Part I)
A Presentation by Abigail George


The Rwandan Genocide of 1994

“What distinguishes genocide from murder, and even from acts of political murder that claim as many victims, is the intent. The crime is wanting to make a people extinct. The idea is the crime.”

        Philip Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families

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“Do not tell me that it is not God-like to get angry or go into a fit of rage. God himself when enraged will grasp a star and hurl it through the heavens. And at night, you can see bits of the star flashing through the sky, fallen apart merely by the sheer force of which it was thrown. Know when He is angry and stay out of His way… And the same holds true for my grandson.” Yervant Yacoubian.
Keri Topouzian, A Perfect Armenian

view quote Facebook icon“It wasn't my choice to write this story...it was my responsibility.”
Rhonda Fink-Whitman, 94 Maidens

It was the year of literature for me but you, Rwanda no longer have any kind of album.

You Africa saturate me. Has Africa not only experienced genocide? I have seen glimpses of your trauma. As I progress towards you, towards possession with an almost criminal intent, carrion and Kevin Carter on my mind.

Moses Molelekwa, Dulcie September, George Botha, Dennis Brutus, Arthur Nortje and Biko, including Lumumba this is my story, suffering in silence is not unique. Making it is, making it through to the other side perhaps this is why communities are afraid of speaking about it. Soloists everyone.

Some say there is such a violent intent on this planet to destroy, to sabotage but there are still ways of finding peace, of finding yourself amidst sanctuary. Inviting people to your sanctuary is out of the question. Everyone must journey and find their feet on their own pilgrimage. I am still revisiting the past, still rewriting history and I guess I always will. I talk to the dead. I will always talk to the dead as if they are walking amongst us. They govern me like the wreck of the sea. I have never seen such a saint. It washes away all of our sins. I think that is what was meant by Noah’s ark.

Your suffering, the genocide, civil war, unrest, refugees, camps, the slave trade. I have seen glimpses of the brown color of your children’s skin. Albino, white, colored, black, mixed race, and everyone is as precious as porcelain. Under our sky, even the soft and hard Lolita, the promiscuous, the prostitute. Young men with that arrogant filter from their heads to their mouths. Our gathering of musicians and poets are like the circle of the golden sun. I do not care for the ego, for these things anymore – the paraphernalia of violence. And for the discontent for so many is a permanent assignment for them.

You who have survived genocide and migration. It was the year of picking out books that would make me feel glorious and unique for being a female writing in an age of iron still dominated by males. It was the year of missing people from childhood, from high school, an aunt who was so far away from me who died from cancer, another family member who I regarded as my second mother who passed on after a short illness. It was the year I first spoke those words. She did not have to go, I said. Her death was untimely, I said.

These days I am catching up on my reading. Reading all those books, I should have read in high school and university. I am reading The Waves by Virginia Woolf. Have yet to finish Mrs Dalloway. I can write about genocide from looking inside the glass walls that separates us but I have never experienced it. It is hideous to think that we are the cause of our own oblivion. Humanity is the cause of killing humanity. We know how to manifest, manifest, and to manifest the ‘glories of war’. We know how to kill but half the time we do not know how to live.


Welcome to Darfur. Genocide is a cancerous growth. When you confront that evil, death of the muscle of the ancients, that bloodbath you not only confront conflict, war, hatred, loathing of the worst kind and prejudice. You also happen to confront child soldiers, rape and sexual violence of the worst kind.  At the end of the day, the women and the girls of Darfur are like falling rain. There is beauty in that picture if you make contact with them but if you look closely enough you will see that there is something destroyed. They are no longer among the living.

Their survival means that they have to create a new identity, psyche, intellect, mental faculties for themselves if they wish to exist. From the beginning of time, there has been genocide. I cannot say you who are damaged and scarred let it feed you, let it nourish you if you are a refugee. It is not my place to tell you anything. The psychologically depressed. Let us call the victims and the survivors of genocide the psychologically depressed. The suicide of history is there. All I can see is a hopelessness and a terror. Falling and falling down. Dumbed down.


Rwandan Genocide at Darfur

I mean is that not the best way to describe them. Genocide teaches you to talk to the dead. Most importantly, your dead. It is a disease. This longing. This is how we live now. Girls, young boys and women living alongside men with guns, war, a slaughterhouse and no girl, woman and young boy. There was blood in the mud. Journalists stood on bones and their words became the words of prophets in a wilderness history. This is what pain (the bleeding lion) and insanity (the handsome tigers parading at the zoo) is at the same time. They have to meet somewhere.

Genocide meets many more witnesses than celebrities will ever meet. Genocide will meet watchers, dancers in the dark, sabotage, destruction and in the end destroys that word ‘stigma’. In the end, it builds the word ‘community’. You remember pain in childhood but there is a long-suffering ahead for someone who has experienced and lived through genocide that I cannot even begin to fathom. I write in long intervals of mourning. That is the name of the game.

Here in my hot bedroom that in post-apartheid South Africa I have yet to start on The Voyage Out and Virginia Woolf, her essays and lectures. Am feeling gloriously in tune with stream of
consciousness writing. Am positively glowing with it. I write best in that niche but was told to explore other avenues as well. The year is ending but a writer and a poet's work is never done. I am more tired in the evenings now. The more I think of the 'ballad of Sylvia and Ted', the more I think of the ballad of my own parents, of my own failing health problems.

How they do not fit anymore into that otherworldly wheel of perfectly matched individuals who get married fit into it. How my father is not a repair type of person or a repairperson. I think of waves. Their ghost stories haunt me. I do not know what happens to families when they lose their families to the horror of genocide. I only know that I am one of the privileged few. Educated and so forth. The ancestors are not responsible for the genocide in Africa. I think of waves. Woolf's waves.

From childhood to growing, becoming more set in your ways, becoming elderly. I think of the waves breaking against Sylvia Plath's adolescent shoreline and her years at Smith. My Hiroshima. The Hiroshima of my parents own making. When you write you have to get used to the solitude. It almost pains me to say this. You take all your wounds, all your walking woundedness, all your scar tissue, all your shouty emotions, you spread it all out in front of you, and then you begin to put everything in mental boxes.

Make arrangements out of them and label them all with 'Pandora'. Only if you feel like it.  Treasure your thoughts because they are precious. As precious as Rwandan ephemera, the miracles of glaciers on the opposite side of the world and Eastern Cape butterflies. There it was. The Rwandan genocide, hell on earth and the international community turned their heads and looked away. Remember, I tell myself there are also treasures, so treasure them. You believe in a God. For centuries men, women and children have believed in a God.

When genocide strikes a country or humanity, there is no God. Somebody should have said that already in every war that was ever fought that there is a genocide. On both sides. On all sides. Every human life that comes back in a body bag is not a conquest for the other side but it is a measure of loss on how that person could have shaped history either themselves or by their progeny. They say that the winner takes it all but instead it is the legacy of the history that remains of that fate of that person who was the victim of the genocide.

Instead of talking about genocide let us do this instead and talk about the milk of kindness of humanity. It seems as if only women think that way. A grandmother’s love will ravish you. For you as a child there are terrors. The terror of losing the mother figures in your life. Your mother, your grandmothers and other female mentors. You will know nothing of German revenge and Nazism, Auschwitz and SS soldiers. You will know nothing of Hitler and Mussolini. When you grow up you will see genocide everywhere you look. You will not be able to escape it.

I know you ethnic cleansing, Bosnia. You will say. Men worship war and the famine of it while women worship their children. I have come to this understanding that I must only see the insulation between the dead and the living, the savage that shatters and damages every living thing. Creation can heal itself but this only comes in the hereafter of the personal effects of death and the horrors of war. There is nothing magical about it but there is everything magical about the petulance, innocence, the irritation and the annoyance of a child. Do not forget their obedience.

War comes with admin papers held together terrifyingly with paper clips. First, put on paper. First, discussed, debated into the early hours of the morning upon before it is set into motion. I think that here is where genocide, trauma, propaganda ends and begins. In the minds of men before the word genocide is even mentioned they do think they are being set up to murder millions of people. For some men there will be an infinite freedom in war. They will raise up their rifles. They will kill not knowing for whom or what they are killing. Some men say they are doing it for their country. I think most of us can live with the threat of genocide hanging over us but in the end when it comes for all of us, the involved or the uninvolved it serves its purpose. Self-injury.

Homes lost. Children neglected. Nations abandoned. There is still the flood of a symphony in genocide. A grand piano. You have to have the necessary strength of the classical pianist to survive in the silence and when you are murdering millions of people, you face the same silence in other ways. I have died a succession of deaths and it has changed my genetic makeup repeatedly. I live on one side of the world in relative comfort, bliss while other women are uneducated refugees, and will remain so for the rest of their lives.

Xenophobia is a kind of genocide too. Anyone who undermines anyone is part of that system, is part of that establishment’s lungs. That anyone has a psychopathic identity. The bystander, the journalist, the child who witness’s xenophobia gets a satisfaction and so does a politician and for them the meaning of that is social cohesion. They become comrades then, friends even, emancipation of the soul is forgotten, and the spirit is withered away. All the operations of a genocide are organised. There is a chain of events in a hierarchy and that hierarchy is not going away anytime soon.

I am just a bystander and while I write this, I am just a bystander. These are just words. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. Can anything be mightier than the gun, than war, than conflict, than mass graves, than concentration camps and the people who are in government now? We think that people who have died in genocide that something is lifeless there. Once upon a time, they had struggles and hopes just like any other daughter, mother, son and father had so why should we forget them.

All this slaughter in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, Tibet, Burma. What I have learned is this. That people are eager for murder to take place. People are eager to destroy life by any means necessary. If they are not talking about it, they are certainly thinking about it. A life for a life. Those forgotten ghost trains to the concentration camps in Germany. The people who survived never forgot the sweetness of life although Hitler’s politics may have disgusted them as it should disgust the world. Life is unfair. That is the first lesson they should teach us as children.

If you talk about the concentration camps then you must talk about the mass starvation. If you talk about mass graves, you must talk about ethnic cleansing. If you talk about Bosnia and Rwanda, you must talk about rape. There are doors to the bloodlines of mad lands, and we keep on telling ourselves that it will never happen again in our lifetime yet it does happen from time to time that humanity’s violent nature gets the better of us. I am an earthling and what I know is this. As long as there is a political climate that cries out for us to carry guns and tanks man will go to war.

It is diabolical is what genocide is. It is a ruse. It is pure evil. Humanity is making people not to exist anymore. In raping women, they do away and sabotage the female of the species. In killing men, they initiate child soldiers. I do not know which one is worse. Getting a handle on the diabolical or getting a handle on what is evil. The two sound the same to me. For a man to submit to both, his entire psychological and physiological framework will be destroyed. In the end, the introverted man will have claw marks on him. The extrovert will exploit with intent and at will anything and everything that he can lay his hands on until there is nothing left of the sharpness of his intellect.

I am angry. In writing these words, it is my intellect, half-knowledge and half-intelligence talking. There are parts of me that wishes we could turn back the clock but men want to go to war and it seems they have always wanted to go to war. They want to come home to their wives and their children with limbs missing. They come home not because they want to and I am writing very bravely, very boldly here but because they fought for their country. They do not know it yet but something within them has already been destroyed.

The picture of innocence that they had before they left. I want to do good in the culture, this modern society that I live in now but everything is telling me to ‘go back’. To go back to the innocence of my childhood, the rules of my mother’s house, my father’s half-adoration and half-admiration and leave it to the boys, the Achilles’s, looking for signs. War is meant for the snipers, the ruling classes, for parliament, for shooting guns and accidentally killing civilians and so many more things. War does not taste like ice cream.

I can write a thesis on genocide but I know that it will not get me anywhere. Genocide is like visiting a museum. It is filled with beautiful things. Most of them dead beautiful things. War is you playing at Scouts when you were young. You with the Swiss Army knife in your other hand. I am a woman so I can be found lying on the couch reading Austen and thinking about desire instead or in front of a bathroom mirror brushing my hair. I have no other place in the world.


Learning from Genocide

Her soap, undergarments, silk stockings, strands of hair lay everywhere for-the-world-to-see.

Her perfume, cooking-skills and incense fills my head. She is preparing a roast, mapping it out with delightfully-nutritious-perfection-in-the-kitchen. We will all sit down to eat. With-the-family-life we’ve-been-storing-it-up. We are all starving with hunger. Pouring-the-stealing beauty-of-the-kitchen-table-and-the-lust-for-the-feast-in-front-of-us-into-all. Her eye is a map, her hands smell like jasmine, her hair like gossamer and she is his dream come true. Her laughter is a custard apple, a cabbage rose, never-ending. We drink tea for hours confiding in each other insanely hypomanic as we discuss men and the objects of her affection, her children, and her lover.

Bellies full of a pretty food chain, a location for a nurturing position, prep, even grief we tell each other comes with gifts (endurance and forgiveness, a reason to validate, to forget, have an opinion whether it be relevant or irrelevant), future leaders leaning towards being proactive. Even in a war, in Nazi Germany there are whores of Babylon, stockings, a Hitler with a moustache, a world where Mussolini an ally and propaganda, where all the dead can’t be remembered, names forgotten everyone but once there was a pianist according to Polanski.

My head is lost in films, the opposite of the dark, a woman reading in a library, our South Africa, the Group Areas Act, my violent home, the brutality of man against man in my country. Yellow stars once upon a time marked a Jew’s coat, their lovers and their spirits, scorched them, and burned their intellect, their talent, mocking seduction and betrayal, mocking a syndrome. Listen. Listen as it settles like violence, the sea. The mocking sea. One day it will say remember me like Ingrid Jonker’s (my superior older sister) black butterflies inside her either head or wash away your sins. I wonder about her contemporaries, her lovers, her Brink, her Andre. The sea is mocking me. This great event that lies before me dying and living, giving away and receiving, nurturing schools, shark teeth, and a feast of eyes. In front of the poet lies the landscape, the hill, the valley, the mountain, and the playing fields. The needle and the knife appall the intelligent mind.

There is a heavy sensation at play, a freeze and an arrangement of sorts that pales in comparison to anything else that life seems to offer, an appealing curation. It chills me to the bone that I am not wearing that white wedding lace, that ring and there is gossamer fairy thread in the clouds above and a silver lining in every one. I am a shell. Shadows lurk under the bed, in the closet. He does not turn back. I am falling (an antique). I am an old soul that no one can understand, fathom, explain love, passion, having a spouse and companion too. She is old before her time. They all say that whoever they, they might be.

The community, estranged and immediate family, the stigma, the neighbours. It is not normal not to have a child, children, drive a car (my mother is superior to me in every way but I know that a long time ago over a decade this was not the case). It is not normal to live in the reality that I live in with recovery after recovery after suicidal illness and how disability has become familiar to me. First in my father’s life and now in mine. I am left to dream. I am left to dream of a Saviour who will rescue me on this ghost planet. Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation. I find sanctuary, peace of mind reading in a sofa. I find myself amongst my books and writing grants. South Africa can learn from Germany.

South Africa can learn from Sarajevo. South Africa can learn from genocide, the holocaust, and the rest of the African continent. Her beautiful people, their diamond smiles, creamy-velvet skin and their bravery, their bold survival, their sensuality, how they have managed being silenced about slavery, their footsteps in the dark, the beating of the drums, watermelons and mangoes, donkeys and carts. The enemy is the thief, the man and the woman, the German who causes heartache, what was really behind the Nazi vision? Hitler and his moustache? Was it an altered state of mind and separation anxiety? The rat’s spine is broken. It is a bleeding mass on the concrete. The dog has got to it first before the glued mousetrap. People who are hungry enough eat rats, squirrels too. Rats can be people too. If children are lucky enough they only learn that later in life after layers and layers of experience.

Germany was like South Africa a time out of place for some time, walls were built brick by brick literally and figuratively amongst the different race groups. It is still not forgotten. The people here have a long memory. The haves and the have-nots in a time not of their own making, an identity theory that is misplaced yet idolised at the same time, represented as the highest ideal and idea to live for and we believe that there is no revolution, no personal space for it, it’s evaporated like smoke. Where do the moths go when daylight comes if they are so attracted to the light? Do they come and go like an angel comes and goes?

It leaves a white feather as a reminder to tell us, ‘I have been here watching over you, watching over your household, your garden, your memories of the people in your life who have passed on to the hereafter. I see you in the kitchen preparing meals for your family. I see your love, affection and adoration for the little ones, for the big ones, for the giants and the greats that have lived and struggled, who were valiant. I see you when you are working, when you are fighting with something deep within yourself, your hurt, your ego and how you pray and meditate for yourself and for the young people around you, for their intellect.’ So angels come and angels go like sadness and suffering and ritual and ceremony, thanksgiving and pilgrimages and the theory of identity in a time that is not fluent but sometimes fluent in energy and variety. In South Africa the Jews are a minority group like those of us who wear white masks and go by the name of Coconut.

I have been shamed, have felt ashamed, humiliated by the colour of my skin, the sound of my posh voice that bounced off walls sounding like a sonnet, British-English from Speech and Drama lessons, sounding so articulate for a mixed race young girl (how I remember how other girls made me cry in the school bathroom during lunch break until I could no longer hold my breath, called me ‘Alice  why do you talk that way funny little thing’ as I walked past them in the hallways, and in the street when I walked home after school. They called me other names, bullied me senseless until I became a mute like Princess Diana and Maya Angelou when they were children, lost myself, lost my voice only to find it on a stage, in the spotlight, in plays, rehearsals, reciting, reciting, learning lines parrot-fashion, garnered lead and supporting roles at the Opera House in Port Elizabeth and a house play, a school play).


Bullying in school

I only found my voice when I discovered other poets and poetry. Home wasn’t so great. Now I know all Southern Africans have accents. The margin is there in Southern Africa between the fortunate and brave and those who have no skills and are unemployed. Black faces, chocolate, white faces, vanilla and those of mixed heritage, Cape Malay, Muslim, coloured, Rastafarian. We’re all living together and not together in a scorched climate, a summer and a winter, rain pouring down which some of us receive with joy as we curl up with wine, olives and cheese and pasta and others, the invisible others whose homes are flooded, whose little food is washed away, wasted away. It’s still the same for them. Has always been for years, the Rainbow Nation and the African Renaissance has come and gone but they come to me in dreams. I see them in front of me. I feel what they feel. I see what they see and it isn’t pretty, dignified or nice in any way. Their suffering tears into me. I flinch.

And it’s always their hunger that is never diminished, that fact is not wasted on me. Their children do their homework by candlelight or not at all. What do they eat? Is it any wonder that they do not grow normally, tall, dark and handsome, and why is it only the younger children that smile and play. Toys are not enough for their world. They need to eat, bread and milk and sandwiches (no eggs and bacon for the poor, fried mushrooms that taste as slimy as snails are for the rich, as is shellfish). Where is the birthday cake with balloons the colours of crayons? And every day they remember when it rained? How do they sleep, at school?

How do they keep their wide eyes open with their long lashes when there is a gust of wind through a broken window, when the rain is also an element on the Periodic Table, when there is no roof over their heads in the classroom, when there is a protest march in the community over service delivery? Why do the rich get richer in South Africa and the poor get poorer in South Africa on a daily basis? Children need people, adults to believe in them, have faith in them. All I see now on television, in the newspaper before I turn to read the comics is violence and guns like the night there were police and plainclothes detectives in our house confronting my brother. It was almost as if it was Warsaw, Poland and we were playing dress-up. As if, we all were in futuristic costume. But I promised to look after him and they brought him back from the police station that night because he had promised to make no more trouble. No more trouble for my father who he had beaten up.

My father in his threadbare white vest, (no mistaking a potbelly) stained thick with blood, and sweat wearing a shorts showing his skinny legs. He’d smashed the windows with a brick scaring us all half-to-death like a tik-addict looking for a fix, an upper or a downer. And then he broke down, cried like a baby. The vulnerable part inside of him was shattered. I was shattered. They took him away but brought him back again. Jews. Jews. Jews. Yes, I believed in the inherent goodness of people (but then a genocide took place in Africa in front of the world’s eyes documented in the film Hotel Rwanda). Just like a serving dish of sky, the blades of Whitman’s grass, autumn leaves, trees almost-conjured-up-out-of-the-ground, youth-not-yet-cuckoo-in-the-bird’s-nests-of-their-brains you will never forget the films you see that changes you for life. The films of war-torn Germany, genocide and the fact that there isn’t a film or a documentary about the forced removals.

Oh, there’re museums but do they talk about the memory of that time’s frustration, ‘the struggle’, political activists that were recruited like my father when he was just seventeen years old along with his best friend and his brother. George Botha. Arthur Nortje. Dennis Brutus. Richard Rive. I want them to live forever like my ‘wild Sargasso’ sea. The District Six Museum, The South End Museum, The Red Location Museum, The George Botha Memorial Lecture by storyteller and Professor Cornelius Thomas of Rhodes University in Grahamstown who studied at Notre Dame University in North America.

The world does not promise everyone a rose garden, that you will be born with a silver spoon in your mouth, that the world will be your oyster. I think of Virginia Woolf ‘Her black butterflies’ and that fateful day of how if I had been there, a witness I would have said to her, ‘Turn back. Turn back because you are surely going to hell. You cannot take your own life. It is not your time.’ But I was not there. Faces of every hue, hair of every texture, here now in this South Africa surround me. Violence does not seem to fade into the night, the moonlight, gunshots ring out, and there are ganglands even as I write this.

Even as I speak to my father in the morning over mugs of lukewarm coffee filled with powdered cream, no sugar because he is a diabetic as he rests, does his exercises-and-recovers-from-them but are we as far away from the ‘war zone’ on the streets of Gelvandale, Port Elizabeth as we think we are? The sexual, physical, and domestic violence? The prostitutes in their flats in Central with their stiletto heels, boots, their lipstick, wigs, cheap perfume, powders and ointments to make their partner’s ‘experience’ more pleasurable.

And I remember the face of this girl. Her name long forgotten but not her dark mane. Jewess. And I think of Otto and his daughter’s diary.




Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

34th Meeting -35th Meeting - 36th Meeting - 37th Meeting - 38th Meeting - 39th Meeting -

40th Meeting -41st Meeting - 42nd Meeting - 43rd Meeting - 44th Meeting - 45th Meeting -

46th Meeting - 47th Meeting - 48th Meeting - 49th Meeting - 50th Meeting - 51st Meeting -

52nd Meeting -53rd Meeting -



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